Fitness apps are a growing business, but not all of them are created equal. Some offer great tracking for running and biking. Others offer a few broad cross training choices, but nothing more substantive. Pear Sports aims to be a bit of everything, from cross training to cardio, with training programs and experts from multiple fields all in your pocket!
Pear has a cardio focus, which isn’t surprising since it’s far easier to quantify cardio workouts than strength training. It asks you to start with a calibration workout, where you can establish a baseline heart rate as well as your lactic threshold, which is your heart rate at a tough endurance pace. The calibration workout is run by Matt Fitzgerald, a very well-known running coach, and he explains clearly what you need to do at each stage. This does require you to wear a chest-based heart rate monitor (I used one provided by Pear), and carry your smartphone while wearing headphones. I am not a fan of running with headphones in, partially for safety reasons and partially because I just don’t like it, but I was able to hear the instructions clearly with only one earbud in use.
It was certainly an interesting experience, since I learned that my heart rate even after 15 minutes of sustained cardio is 51bpm, and my heart rate hovered around 106bpm even when pushing myself. Pear saves this information and uses it to get a better picture of how hard your body is working in other workouts you do through them. This adds another layer of detail, and it means Pear genuinely knows if you’re working hard or not. It’s not relying on a heart rate reading in a vacuum, but capable of comparing it to an existing baseline. The disembodied voice of Matt Fitzgerald did suggest rerunning the calibration workout once a month or so to capture any changes in your fitness levels.
Once you’ve established your calibration, you have a number of choices. You can do a freeform workout, where Pear will track your heart rate, time, and distance (if applicable). Or you can follow a prepackaged workout from Pear, or purchase a calendar of workouts from various fitness experts. I tested out the “TRX-Sweat”, which was a 15 minute high intensity circuit that consisted of bodyweight strength moves combined with TRX workouts. It was a solid, tough workout that left me feeling pretty tapped at the end, and what made it really great was that it managed to cram a lot into 15 minutes. It covered everyone’s “favorites”, from jumping jacks to mountain climbers, as well as TRX moves like Atomic Pushups.
Overall, I liked the program, though I personally see it as a one-off type workout for days when I don’t have time for a full workout. It crams a lot in, and it covers your full body, but it’s not a program designed to replace regular strength training. Having said that, if you’re a runner looking to add some general cross training into the mix, this would work quite well; if you focused on running most days, and threw in 2 rounds of TRX-Sweat, that would give you a nice all-around workout that hits your whole body.
Pear provided us with a few of their hardware accessories to get the full experience of their ecosystem. They sent along their Stride Earphones that locked nicely into my ears, plus the earbuds had a button on the right ear side that could pause a workout. It also has a microphone, so you can field calls or chat with Siri while you’re working out. Call quality sounded fine when I tested this (not while working out) and the people on the other end didn’t know I was on a headset.
I was also sent a chest strap for heart rate monitoring, and that was very comfortable. Normally I hate chest straps, but the Pear one was comfortable enough to wear without being constantly irritated by it. It used Bluetooth Low Energy, and connected immediately to my Nexus 6 without an issue. It also connected to the LifeTrak R420 I reviewed, so you aren’t tied to just using it with Pear alone. There is a very big emphasis on heart rate monitoring with Pear, so whether you use their chest strap or one of your own, you probably want one to get the full Pear experience.
Finally, Pear also provided a TRX system for the workouts. I’ve reviewed the Jungle Gym XT, and so it’s impossible to discuss the TRX without also addressing the Jungle Gym. The biggest similarity between the two is that both are suspension straps with handles on the end that can be used for various workouts. Beyond that, they’re actually fairly different, and most of those differences come from their anchor points. The Jungle Gym XT is two separate straps, while the TRX is one unit that splits into two straps below the anchor. This is actually a bigger difference than you would think; it means the Jungle Gym XT has more flexibility with how you space out the straps, so you can do dips and even assisted pull ups with it, while the TRX is far better for workouts that prescribe using the straps for a specific range of motion.
(The TRX is set to the highest the handles will go, while the Jungle Gym XT has several more inches to go)
You can certainly do all the TRX moves with the Jungle Gym, but you’d have to mount a TRX fairly high to get it adjusted high enough to do assisted pull ups, for example. On the other hand, setting up the Jungle Gym for something like a TRX Squat to Y is going to be a bit tougher than with a TRX, because that’s a workout that’s designed around having one focal point for both straps.
Basically, here’s what it comes down to: if you’re planning on using a TRX for workouts designed specifically for the TRX system, then you really benefit from having a TRX (or any suspension system where there’s one focal point). On the other hand, if you’re planning on using straps for dips, or pull ups, or deep rows, you benefit more from having two separate straps. So for the purposes of what Pear’s program presents, the TRX is the better piece of equipment.
I mentioned that Pear has a number of workout plans, and that’s where I do see one drawback to the Pear system. Some of the plans are free, and some are paid; that alone is fine, as I would expect to pay for a more complex training plan. What gives me pause is that Pear doesn’t offer any preview of the plans beyond a general description. I have a hard time imagining someone would spend $24.99 without any hint of whether the program is a good fit or not! If they offered a preview video or an intro video or article from the trainers who design these premium plans, I think it would go a long way towards encouraging people to buy them, since they could be better educated on whether it’s a good fit.
Overall, I’m impressed with the Pear system. There’s plenty of free options for workouts, and if you do need earphones and/or a heart rate monitor, Pear sells their “Pear Mobile Training Intelligence System” for $59.95, which gets you their Stride earphones, the Pear Mobile Bluetooth heart rate monitor, and a little bag to hold the whole kit when you’re not using it [this is what we used to review Pear]. That’s a pretty reasonable price, since a decent chest strap will run you $30-$50, and as I mentioned above, the Stride earphones were comfortable and easy to use while running. You’re on your own for any other equipment a plan might call for, but for reference a TRX system is $199.99, though I’ve seen them as low as $99.99 on sale. My only issue, as I mentioned above, is that it’s tough to encourage someone to pay for a plan without any sort of preview or trial run to make sure it’s a good fit.
If you’re looking for an all-around ecosystem to take your fitness to the next level, Pear Sports might just be what you’re looking for!
Source: Pear provided us their Pear Mobile Training Intelligence System and the TRX system for this review.
What I Liked: Large variety of workouts; many free choices; calibration workout gives the program a chance to best track your fitness; can follow a plan or do a freeform workout; can be done with very little equipment.
What Needs Improvement: Heart rate monitor is almost mandatory to get the most from the system; no preview of paid training plans.