Pear Sports’ new monitor is the workout coach you always wanted


Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac
Pear Sports' workout system pairs a heart rate monitor with comfortable earbuds and a mobile app. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

I’ve been a runner for a long time. I trained for (and ran) the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon. I’ve run 5K races, half marathons and relays for full marathons up here in Alaska, too. I find that running gives me the best bang for my buck: All I need is a pair of running shoes, some appropriate clothing (it gets cold up here), and some music to keep me getting out there.

Recently, though, I’ve been playing with a new bit of gear: the Pear Sports heart rate monitor, paired with a set of earbuds engineered to stay in your ears while working out, plus a pretty fantastic mobile app to make sense of the heart rate data.

The heart rate monitor consists of a stretchy band that fits around your rib cage just below your pectoral muscles, attaching to a little blue plastic rectangle via snaps on each side. You need to wet down the sensors built into the band before wearing the thing to make sure there’s a good connection between the band and your body. It’s really simple to use and easily adjustable.

Connecting to the monitor with the free app is just as easy. It was a simple matter of launching the app and then choosing the Pear Sports monitor from the connection screen after making sure that my iPhone’s Bluetooth was on and connecting.

I’m really enjoying changing my training regimen with nothing more than a heart rate monitor, a pair of earbuds and my iPhone.

The earbuds offer decent sound quality, and have an inline mic to make and receive phone calls. Better still, they fit right inside your ear, with a bit of soft plastic that hooks to your ear just above the concha, a bit of cartilage that sits just above your ear canal. It’s a much more comfortable fit than headphones I’ve used that utilize an outer clip to hold them around the outside of my ear. Press the button on the outside of the right earbud and you’ll get real-time info like calories burned, heart rate, distance and more.

I downloaded a half-marathon training plan from within the Pear Sports Mobile app, and then realized I needed to calibrate the app to define my specific heart rate “zones.” The first zone is defined as a super-easy pace, one at which I could talk, breathe easily, etc. Basically, it’s my walking pace. The app had me run for 40 minutes, pushing myself up through zone six (working hard, breathing hard) with some interval training broken up with zone one recovery periods. The coach’s voice talked me through it, giving me verbal prompts to get ready for the next interval as well as describing how much effort I should be putting into each one. You can recalibrate these zones as you get into better shape; the app recommends doing so every so often.

Then I went for a 45-minute “inverse pyramid” run, part of the half-marathon training plan. It coached me through zone five, then one, then four, then one, and so on until I had run a couple of minutes at each pace for the whole training period. It was a lovely way to run, and a fantastic contrast with my usual method, which is to run at one pace for the whole time, with walk breaks scheduled in for recovery, as per the Jeff Galloway method.

I’m really enjoying changing my training regimen with nothing more than a heart rate monitor, a pair of earbuds and my iPhone, which I normally take along with me, anyway. You can drop into the app and see a history of the runs you’ve done.

The only niggling issue is the support for music in the app. I like to run with music, and the app allows you to choose songs from your iTunes library, and then set the relative volume of your music to the audio prompts. It didn’t work with some iTunes songs I purchased via the iTunes Store, claiming that the DRM wouldn’t let them play. Also, the volume adjustment isn’t available for music apps running in the background, which is bad if you’re a streaming-music fan.

While I’ve used apps like RunKeeper to track the length and pace of my runs, this is the first heart rate monitor I’ve used to really fine-tune my training. There are tons of training plans available — not just for running, either. Pear offers plans for biking, core strength, yoga and even kayaking.

If you’re looking for a solid, science-based way to focus your own training, or just want to change things up and keep from burning out on the same old workout, the Pear Sports kit seems an obvious choice. For a hundred bucks, you get a simple-to-use, high-quality heart rate monitor, a pair of decent earbuds that sit in your ears without hurting, and a great app that seems to cover all the bases, with customizable and downloadable workout plans. What’s not to like?

pear earphones PEAR Mobile Training Intelligence System by Pear Sports ($99.95)
The good: Easy-to-use heart rate monitor with a fantastic app; downloadable workout plans are the killer feature; earbuds stay put with no pain.
The bad: Adjusting the relative volume has to be done within the app; DRM iTunes music doesn’t work.
The verdict: With downloadable workouts, this easy-to-use heart rate monitor training system is a fantastic way to target your training time.
Buy from Pear Sports


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