Engineers from the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan originally working on a wearable device to help correct your running form, have created the first power meter for runners called Stryd
Runners have a problem—heart rate monitors suck. Okay, well they don’t suck, they do give us a glimpse at how hard our hearts are working. However, anyone who’s ever used one knows they are far from perfect. At any given time your beats-per-minute (BPM) readout lags behind your effort considerably. A wide range of outside factors also affect accuracy and reliability including your morning coffee, if you are running near power lines, and how much sleep you’ve been getting. It’s simply been all that runners have had to go on. Until now.
Engineers from the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan originally working on a wearable device to help correct your running form, have created the first power meter for runners called Stryd. The device, which is the size of three quarters and attaches to your waist belt similar to a pedometer, measures your oscillation in all directions with a proprietary blend of sensors. Like Google, however, the real magic is in the algorithm used to make sense of the data.
The competition in the wearable technology space is coming on strong with new form factors, but most are bringing the same old data to you in a shiny new package. Stryd promises to change the game when it comes to run training by bringing you absolute effort, measured in wattage.
Since the late 1980’s cyclists have been using power meters to measure how much wattage they are actually putting into the pedals as a proxy to how hard they are working. Their muscles push crank arms, and the amount of deformation of the arm tells the meter how much power the rider is putting into the pedals. Cycling coaches consider this unadulterated and accurate data about a rider’s effort. Tour de France teams have even figured out the approximate power to weight ratio it will take to be a contender on cycling’s biggest stage. Measuring run power, or force put into the ground to propel a runner forward, is far more difficult simply because you aren’t dealing with a fixed mechanical system like on a bicycle.
The more accurate the measurement, the more precise the training can be. The more precise the training, the easier it is for an athlete to detect fatigue, guard against overtraining, and assure their volume and effort are appropriate. A hard training session can more easily be distinguished from moderate one, and a baseline effort can be determined to help an athlete set their training zones and paces for any given day. An accurate measurement, when properly employed, is simply a better guide.
Before heart rate monitors, athletes used perceived exertion—how hard do you feel like you are working right now? A valuable measurement to be sure, but one that can be misleading. Then came heart rate, though flawed, it gave us a glimpse at how hard our hearts were working.
“Heart rate isn’t the best gauge for runners and it’s even less effective for trail and mountain runners,” says Joe Friel, a coach and author of the popular Training Bible books for cyclists and triathletes. This is obvious to anyone who’s ever used their training device to plot their heart rate against their pace. Heart rate lags behind, a lot.
“It’s just not representative of your effort,” says Li Shang, Stryd’s lead engineer. “Stryd’s measurement of power actually matches your pace.”
In the same way power has revolutionized cycling training, run power will more clearly allow us to prescribe appropriate doses of running intensity and load.
“We can, for the first time, make every runner understand their pacing, form, efficiency,” says Li.
Because Stryd was born in a biomechanics lab and was originally designed to be worn on your foot to analyze your running form, these features are built in. The device provides real time feedback on impact, oscillation, and what exactly makes you more or less efficient as a runner. This will allow athletes to challenge common run form theories like 180 foot-falls per minute, or whether they are most efficient with a midfoot or forefoot strike.
Another problem the Stryd will fix is one of pacing. Runners, from beginner to professional, have a hard time ensuring they are running easy enough at the beginning of a race to last the entire duration and hard enough at the midpoint to reach their goal time. Even on undulating or mountainous terrain, Stryd will allow a runner to easily figure out their best pace for finishing their first 5 km or their 20th mountain 100-miler.
The founders of Stryd have begun it’s soft launch by providing the device to about 1,000 early adapters and power-users, like famed running coaches Bobby Mcgee and Friel, who are both helping with the development. They will be available in stores this summer.
“Runner’s have been using the same technology for the past three decades,” says Li. It’s time for an upgrade.