Tuesday, 28 May 2013

How to make the richest game in football worth a few extra points

Format: Live televised sport
Entertainment: Championship Playoff Final
Duration: 90 minute game + 30 minutes extra time as it turned out
Exercise Equipment: Cross trainer at home
Gamification Rules: +1 resistance level per goal scored & level 16 max during goal celebrations, +1 per yellow card, +2 per red card, -1 per substitution. Under 4 minutes rest per goal, 2 minutes rest per substitution. Rest breaks during intervals. Minimum resistance = level 5, maximum resistance = level 16. 

Summary: Its estimated that £145 million was resting on this game to gain promotion to the English Premier League. Rather than resting myself on the sofa or nursing a pint in the pub, I decided to get on my exercise machine and work out to the climax of the English domestic football season. 

In my first exercise session since injuring my back, I was a bit apprehensive going into the match. I think some of that may have rubbed off on the players (more likely it was the aforementioned promotion/money at stake) as the game itself was tense and pretty dull. I don't know exactly how the contest was received by casual neutral fans as I had a bit more riding on the events of the match. 

The ResultsWith both teams not wanting to make a costly mistake, the first half - 45 minutes of exercise - was a stalemate, with an early injury substitution and a handful of yellow cards keeping my exercise resistance level down near the foot of the 'difficulty table'. 

Another injury substitution shortly after the interval was followed by a handbag scuffle only professional footballers could get away with. The resulting two yellow cards meant two levels up. Chances increased as players tired but I was able to see out the full 90 minutes with relative ease given the lack of goals. 

With all substitutions used as the game drifted into extra time, I knew the resistance level on my cross trainer was only get higher with more cards and the potential for a precious goal still driving both teams on. The problem was I had exercised for 99 minutes and was thinking of bowing out, worried about re-aggrevating my injury. Then football happened. Moments before I was going to take my place on the subs bench, Manchester United bound Wilfred Zaha wins a penalty for Crystal Palace. Up steps 39 year-old Kevin Phillips to fire his team ahead. The stadium irrupts and after a minute or so of the highest resistance level, I find the motivation to play on in the second half of extra time until the final whistle. 

At the end of my workout I had exercised for 1 hour 58 minutes 4 seconds, put a 35.6 kilometre shift in and burnt 717 calories. Imagine what kind of GamiFit score I would have put up if it had been a good game to watch?

Daily Fuel Intake: Not surprisingly, the extra game time made the extra difference to my Fuel score and I reached my goal for the first time since starting this blog! 

So congratulations Crystal Palace on winning promotion and for providing me with some exercise entertainment. I'm looking forward to seeing their legend of a manager back on MOTD next season. By the looks of it, so is Ian Holloway. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Made to weight for it

Day two of the new me and 
an old injury hit back. Well it started in my back and remains a pain in the neck two days later. It was the free weights that did me in, so I've decided to cut them out of my exercise routines until I'm back into my stride. Feeling like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, what options are left besides endless cardio?

When I was hitting my teen years I became a big fan of Bruce Lee. Mermerised by his martial art skills and seemingly superhuman strength, among his films and poorly edited postumous releases, I purchased a book that detailed his exercise routines. I was surprised to learn how much emphasis he placed on isometric exercise as a method of building power without muscle mass. It's worth noting that Bruce used weights in his isometric workout to achieve his dynamic speed and core strength. I'm not trying to enter the dragon anytime soon so I'm going to try my hand at weightless resistance-band isometric exercises. 

Using the same range of motions without the extra stress of dumbells should be a good way to get my back and the rest of my body into a regular exercise routine without increasing my risk of injury. Because the bands take up next to no space and don't require weight adjustments like normal free weights, I'm thinking of ways to introduce some curcuit training into my GamiFit experience. Resistance bands have also been recently used in console fitness gaming with titles such as UFC Personal Trainer, so I'll report back on the results once I'm fighting fit. 

Daily Fuel Intake: Looking on the brightside of a Fuelband lacking bright lights in the last few days, I now have a benchmark for the minimum Nikefuel points I could hope to achieve. 211 calories, less than 1km and just under 2,500 fuel points short of my goal. 

"A goal is not alwaysmeant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.". Bruce Lee said that and he's not a guy to disagree with when you are feeling a bit poorly. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The perfect exercise match of the day

Format: Recorded TV programme
Entertainment: Match of the Day
Duration: 90 minute show
Exercise Equipment: cross trainer at home
Gamification Rules: +1 resistance level per goal scored, maintain highest resistance for an additional goal per red red card, -1 resistance level for every penalty missed/saved, rest periods during interviews and game analysis. 

Summary: You can't beat the drama and excitement of the final day of the season. With the majority of major league standings in the Premier League in the bag, I decided to make the final 2012/13 BBC Match of the Day (MOTD) programme more engaging by exercising on my cross trainer with a few simple GamiFit rules. 

A cross trainer won't give you the most intense work out, but that's why I believe it works for the GamiFit exercise programmes I'm promoting on this blog. Your heart rate stays in the "fat burning zone" and it's possible to exercise for long durations and go again several times a day (if you want to). 

With all 20 league teams playing at the same time - the only time it happens all season - there was 90 minutes of action and analysis to pound through. Mercifully the BBC decided to go with the two Alans as the 'experts' instead of Mark LawrensonIt wouldn't be MOTD if you didn't hate one of the presenters with a passion. I would most like to collar Mark. Mostly because of his shirt collars.  The worst offence this season had to be the chocolate brown and lime emsemble below. Thanks to www.savile-rogue.com for the pic and for never failing to spot a Lawrenson shirt FAIL. 

The Results: 36 goals, 1 red card, no penalties later, I spent 59mins 31secs on the machine. Based on my physical attributes and performance, my cross trainer reckons I burned 508 calories. 

I clocked a distance of 18.3km. That is the equivalent of 182 lengths of St James' Park, home of my beloved Newcastle United, who were true to form this season and rounded of the campaign playing badly. Looking on the bright side, at least NUFC will still be on MOTD next season. TFFT!

Daily Fuel IntakeI came up short on my 3,000 fuel points target, ending on 2,395. I gained 827 fuel points during my main exercise session yesterday. 

I was surprised to see the Nike+ Fuelband suggest I travelled 5.78km . With the constant arm motions used on a cross trainer, I expected it to be closer or beyond the 18km my cross trainer registered. I guess the triaxial accelerometer isn't a fan of stationery exercise equipment, even though I was wearing Nike shoes! 

Burning over 1,000 calories was pleasing, but with no sport on today, I'm going to have to find another way of getting my gamified exercise kicks. 

Monday, 20 May 2013

If life is a sport, make sure you know how to cheat with the Nike+ Fuelband.

What do you get a man that has everything for Christmas? Far from being that man, I was void of ideas last year and asked my better half for a Nike+ Fuelband. Along with the promise (from me) that this precious bracelet would kickstart my health kick. 

Costing £129.99, it was the ideal price point and timing for a fitness-related present. At the time of writing, Nike has stuck to this RRP despite new competition from Fitbit and Jawbone 'fueling' the fitness accessory marketplace with arguably better tech and features. 

Once the wrapping paper was off, the packaging design had a reassuring air of Apple about it. However, I didn't take my new toy out of the box until after the Christmas leftovers had disappeared. I connected the well-designed USB cable and was greeted with a request for my height and post-turkey weight, as well as how many 'Nikefuel' points I wanted to target. Eager to please myself, I decided to go for the minimal 2,000 Nikefuel goal. After all, who asks for failure on a daily basis as their Christmas present, right?

The dotted colour bar on the band was a nice gamification touch and kept me motivated to reach my goal before bedtime for the first few weeks. Charging the band meant syncing my data with Nike+, where winners are treated to a dancing naked Nike+ ninja and fireworks for streaking (achievements together).

If you believe the Nike marketing gods, the problem was that I found myself playing the game and not using the Fuelband to record my life as a sport. I started to cheat. Cheating is probably a stretch - like any game - I found the glitches and used them to my advantage. 

As a lefty I tend to wear watches on my right wrist - the same wrist I use to move my desktop mouse at work. While working late one night, I found that I had reached my goal when my only activity had been shuttle runs between my desk and the kettle in the office kitchen. I found taking a bus over the tube to work every day would earn me more points, while I would go to sleep just short of my goal, knowing a few tosses and turns would get me across the line.

Then the inevitable happened one fateful day when I forgot to put my Fuelband on. From that day on it all went to shit. The streaking ninja party animal was nowhere to be seen and he (I'm guessing) might as well have pulled down a 'GAME OVER' banner. Several false starts later and my appetite for Nikefuel was empty. If life was a sport, then I had gone into early retirement. 

The thing is, the Nike marketing gods got it wrong. Life isn't a sport, it's a game. And that is what the Fuelband has going for it over its competitors. Everyone with a Fuelband earning Nikefuel is playing the same game, regardless of how many calories they burn or steps they take. If the Nike+ Fuelband was life imitating sport, I would still be looking for a way to cheat and Lance Armstrong would have been choosen by the Nike PR department as the face of the launch campaign. Oh wait, he was...

This morning I decided to reboot my Nike+ Fuelband. I realised that it wasn't game over, I just needed to restart on a harder level. I have gone for a daily 3,000 Nikefuel points target on this "run" rather than the maximum 5,000. Like all good games, I figured it's important to ensure there is replay value.  

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Gym rant

I hate gyms. I'm a big guy so it's not a frame inferiority complex that gets my blood pumping. It's the rules. Not just the shit everyone hates - the contracts, limited time on equipment and limited equipment - but the unwritten rule of every gym. Every gym tries to define it's members through its gym culture. Only a minority of gym bods truly feel like they are part of the community they subscribe to...usually for 12 months at a time. A lot of people realise this after signing up and before their first gym shower, never to return. 

If you were going to define me, I would be that (big) guy who doesn't love exercising but knows when its time to put the beer and cigs down to go for a run. I should point out that I also hate running. My definition of a 'run' is committing to regular exercise, usually lasting a few months. The problem is that I haven't, until now, found a formula for turning one of my runs into what healthy people define as "a lifestyle choice". 

I've tried home exercise equipment with mix results. I lack the mindset of either main protagonist in Rocky IV, so I tire easily of isolated home gym routines. Ivan Drago's camp were on to something though - technology has a part to play in the future of fitness. Maybe if the tech in 1985 didn't just consist of flashing lights, he might have won. Okay he was never going to win, but I'm not writing a Hollywood script here. 

For people like me, technology has thankfully now reached the point where the personal trainer can be replaced by a wrist band and your smartphone allows you to connect globally with people that share a similar mindset and exercise goals. Gamification and the Quantified Self look set to become integral in taking this movement forward, along with more sophisicated console gaming. Even before the internet and Xbox came along, people exercised to classes on their TVs. My girlfriend has an eclectic collection of work out dvds and my parents had questionable VHS tapes before that. 

The problem I've found with the myriad of mobile apps, handy hardware and DVD drills is that they still cling to that gym formula of trying to define you and what you should be doing. Once you've experience them once, they fail to recreate the unexpected excitement of participation sport or video games. 

So what is GamiFit about then? 

I've decided to start my own regime before embarking on my next run. Like all good ideas, it borrows a bit from everything that has made established exercise formulas popular. I'll be using digital fitness aids to track my progress while developing my own gamification rules to work out to TV programmes I would be watching anyway. I plan to track my progress and share my results on this blog. 

The only thing that's missing is the community, so hopefully you might be reading this and think maybe this plan could work out for you too.