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I'm working on building a fitness tracker for indoor climbers and I'd love your feedback! (demo video inside)


Original Post
Aaron Larner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 0

Hey Y'all,

For the past several months I've been working with a buddy on building a fitness tracker for indoor climbing. The goal is to automatically log each climb attempted, flashed, sent, etc. in the gym so that we can get an idea for how we're progressing, help new climbers stay motivated, and add a new fun twist to traditional gym climbing. There's also a ton of other data that we are going to be collecting including time spent on wall vs. resting, vertical distance, etc. If you're curious to see one of our earlier prototypes in action below.

We're now starting work on our fourth prototype and I'm trying to do some research into climbers motivations for getting to the gym. If you have a few minutes to take a short survey I'd really appreciate your feedback:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Q49Qtp6-z3xw6p9lYi1hN9FdVnUZ7cMcqk2kij4C_pg

I'd also love you hear any other feedback you have on the project!

Cheers, Aaron

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 250

A lot of the questions asking "which are you most interested in" are hard to answer, because IMO most people will be interested in more than one item on that list, without a clear strong preference.

Aaron Larner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 0

Hey Lena, that's a great point. In the future I'll have to do another survey that allows for picking multiple answers. Which pieces of information / features would you have liked to pick that you weren't able to or were on the fence about?

Mike Mellenthin · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 70

So I went through like a year of really obsessively tracking everything I did in the gym in a spreadsheet. In retrospect the data wasn't that useful for seeing trends in ability over time -- gym grades are just too subjective. This is partially a function of the fact that I'm not a new climber and my performance gains are slow at this point.

What was useful was seeing my performance on problems or routes outdoors that I had gotten on many times over the course of years. Likewise in the gym, it was seeing my improvement on the hangboard and campus board.

With that in mind, what I _really_ want for training is an app that makes tracking my hangboard/campusboard/etc performance on over time easier, as that is much more objective data. This is probably a much smaller addressable market than people who just want to know how many V3s they sent last week though.

On a different tack: I'd be worried that strapping a thing to my wrist and climbing would affect performance and also aggravate tendon issues.

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 250
Aaron Larner wrote:

Hey Lena, that's a great point. In the future I'll have to do another survey that allows for picking multiple answers. Which pieces of information / features would you have liked to pick that you weren't able to or were on the fence about?

Which of these pieces of information are you most interested in?
Total attempts
Total vertical distance traveled
Number of unique routes attempted
Total time spent on wall vs. resting

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 250
Mike Mellenthin wrote:

So I went through like a year of really obsessively tracking everything I did in the gym in a spreadsheet. In retrospect the data wasn't that useful for seeing trends in ability over time -- gym grades are just too subjective. This is partially a function of the fact that I'm not a new climber and my performance gains are slow at this point.

What was useful was seeing my performance on problems or routes outdoors that I had gotten on many times over the course of years. Likewise in the gym, it was seeing my improvement on the hangboard and campus board.

With that in mind, what I _really_ want for training is an app that makes tracking my hangboard/campusboard/etc performance on over time easier, as that is much more objective data. This is probably a much smaller addressable market than people who just want to know how many V3s they sent last week though.

On a different tack: I'd be worried that strapping a thing to my wrist and climbing would affect performance and also aggravate tendon issues.

Yes! I have Excel spreadsheets from hangboard/campus training, and I can make graphs over time for each 4-week period when I do hangboard, and compare different 4-week periods over years, especially if it is the same hold. But having an ability to do that in a simpler app would be great!

And good point about having something on your wrist. Unless it is very lightweight. I haven't seen anyone climbing with a fitbit... yet.

Nate Doyle · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 10

Seems like a fun project.

Aaron Larner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 0
Mike Mellenthin wrote:

So I went through like a year of really obsessively tracking everything I did in the gym in a spreadsheet. In retrospect the data wasn't that useful for seeing trends in ability over time -- gym grades are just too subjective. This is partially a function of the fact that I'm not a new climber and my performance gains are slow at this point.

What was useful was seeing my performance on problems or routes outdoors that I had gotten on many times over the course of years. Likewise in the gym, it was seeing my improvement on the hangboard and campus board.

With that in mind, what I _really_ want for training is an app that makes tracking my hangboard/campusboard/etc performance on over time easier, as that is much more objective data. This is probably a much smaller addressable market than people who just want to know how many V3s they sent last week though.

On a different tack: I'd be worried that strapping a thing to my wrist and climbing would affect performance and also aggravate tendon issues.

Yeah it will be interesting to see the results. I would imagine that the audience from mountain project might skew towards your preference for training data over climbing data.

I totally agree about the subjectivity of gym grades. We have a kind of "crazy enough that it might work" idea for coming up with objective grades. If we can get the tracker in the hands of enough climbers we think we can aggregate the data (attempts, sends and climber grade) to come up with an automatic grade for each route. We may even be able to give personalized grades based on height / arm span.

Bread Pirate Rahsahbi · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

number of hand movements completed might be a good metric for people more focused on training, i'm not sure how difficult this would be to do compared to the other options you are considering

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 250
Aaron Larner wrote:

Yeah it will be interesting to see the results. I would imagine that the audience from mountain project might skew towards your preference for training data over climbing data.

I totally agree about the subjectivity of gym grades. We have a kind of "crazy enough that it might work" idea for coming up with objective grades. If we can get the tracker in the hands of enough climbers we think we can aggregate the data (attempts, sends and climber grade) to come up with an automatic grade for each route. We may even be able to give personalized grades based on height / arm span.

That seems rather far-fetched. :) But I'm curious how it would work.

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 277
Lena chita wrote:

Yes! I have Excel spreadsheets from hangboard/campus training, and I can make graphs over time for each 4-week period when I do hangboard, and compare different 4-week periods over years, especially if it is the same hold. But having an ability to do that in a simpler app would be great!

And good point about having something on your wrist. Unless it is very lightweight. I haven't seen anyone climbing with a fitbit... yet.

I went through 2 fitbit charge HR's in the course of about a year. I wore one all the time, including when I climbed and slept. The only time I didn't have it on was when it was charging, or if I was showering/swimming. It never hindered my climbing, and I liked that it was able to track my heart rate during my workouts. (The HR function wasn't particularly accurate, but it was at least consistently off in the same direction.) It also counted my elevation changes in my stair count for the day.

Unfortunately, it just wasn't durable enough for the way I used it. The first one started to fall apart within 9 months (The band started delaminating from the body of the device). Fitbit replaced it for free, under warranty. When the second one fell apart as well, I just stopped wearing it.

I'd certainly be willing to try out a new device as long as it was burly enough for the rigors of regular climbing. (And I'd really want one that's waterproof.)

Mike Mellenthin · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 70

I'm less worried about the durability and more worried about weird tendon stuff. Putting pressure on the tendon sheath and then crimping hard seems to be asking for it, although my hands are admittedly already fragile. I'd happily wear a tracker on my bicep or something though.

If it wasn't clear though I think this is a pretty cool project!

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 277
Mike Mellenthin wrote:

I'm less worried about the durability and more worried about weird tendon stuff. I've climbed with my wrist taped and it hurt over time.

I'd happily wear a tracker on my bicep or something, putting on my wrist just seems like asking for weird things to go wrong with my (admittedly already fragile) hands. This probably matters more the harder you climb/the tweakier the holds get and also the more predisposed to tendon issues that you are.

If it wasn't clear though I think this is a pretty cool project!

That was never an issue for me, personally. I wore the tracker loose enough that it didn't affect the movement of my wrist. That said, everyone is different, so YMMV.

Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 125

Are you planning on getting the gyms to "subscribe" or something like that, so the can upload their climbs/layouts?  I have a fairly active gym in terms of routesetting, and I sometimes go to a few others, so loading up this data myself would be difficult, cumbersome, time consuming, and/or just not worth it.

I do use Strava when I am outdoors, partly for the social aspect, partly for the competitive features, and partly for tracking purposes, so a Strava-like app for climbing would be handy, though I have a tough time seeing how it would be automated.  Maybe you can talk the gym into hanging scannable codes on each climb with the name, grade, and height.

Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 5

It's a neat idea. Personally I wouldn't wear anything on my fingers, hands, or wrists when climbing, but that preference might be in the minority. I have a HRM I use for running that's a chest strap, and the wristband is nothing more than a receiver. The chest strap is more accurate for HR too. If it was a chest strap with a receiver that just clips to your harness, I'd wear that. 

For what it's worth, I'm not your target market anyway and would probably never spend much money on this no matter how perfect it was, so keep that in mind. Good luck with your project! 

Jon Nelson · · Bellingham, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 4,675

Aaron, have you checked trackyourclimb.com? 

The app seems to overlap with some of your goals, so you might get some ideas there. 

Aaron Larner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 0
Matt Himmelstein wrote:

Are you planning on getting the gyms to "subscribe" or something like that, so the can upload their climbs/layouts?  I have a fairly active gym in terms of routesetting, and I sometimes go to a few others, so loading up this data myself would be difficult, cumbersome, time consuming, and/or just not worth it.

I do use Strava when I am outdoors, partly for the social aspect, partly for the competitive features, and partly for tracking purposes, so a Strava-like app for climbing would be handy, though I have a tough time seeing how it would be automated.  Maybe you can talk the gym into hanging scannable codes on each climb with the name, grade, and height.

Yes that's a great question. We have a special "setters app" that gyms can use to easily upload the routes while they are setting them so you don't have to do any manual data entry. A Strava-like app is just what we're shooting for. You won't even have to scan the codes. With the wristband that we're developing you can just climb like you normally would and at the end of the session sync all of your climbing history and stats to your phone.

Aaron Larner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 0
Jon Nelson wrote:

Aaron, have you checked trackyourclimb.com? 

The app seems to overlap with some of your goals, so you might get some ideas there. 

Thanks for sharing! I hadn't heard of them, but I'm curious to try out their app. Have you used it before? If so, what did you think?

climberish · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 10

Although an interesting idea I think you are trying to market a training tool to climbers, but the vast majority of climbers that take training seriously would not bother with something like this as they are already going to be keeping a notebook of sorts for non-climbing training. If you care about your training you would be adding in notes about each climb, the type of climb it is (holds, type of movement, wall angle) etc which is quite a bit more qualitative, but gives the athlete information about potential weaknesses that need to be address. I'm sure you will get some non-training focused climbers that are interested in this, but IMO that's about it.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

Fwiw, I think I have seen at least 3 or 4 of this type of product in development in the last year or so. One came to our gym and pitched it to me and at the end, the cost for the facility was so high, I can't imagine any gym anywhere putting into use. 

I think these sorts of things are kind of cool, and I'm inclined to think that someone is going to figure it out so customers want it, gyms can afford it, and setters can actually take the time to set it up. In my mind, I'm thinking $10-20/climb tops for the gym and less than 2 minutes for setup for the setter once the problem is done (maybe another 5 during setting). You figure out how to do that, and I could see gyms actually using a system like this. Anything more involved or more expensive, and most gyms will pass- its just not worth it for the vast majority of their customers. In most gyms, 90% of customers are there for fun, not for training. There are very few exceptions to this rule. 

Aaron Larner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 0
John Wilder wrote:

Fwiw, I think I have seen at least 3 or 4 of this type of product in development in the last year or so. One came to our gym and pitched it to me and at the end, the cost for the facility was so high, I can't imagine any gym anywhere putting into use. 

I think these sorts of things are kind of cool, and I'm inclined to think that someone is going to figure it out so customers want it, gyms can afford it, and setters can actually take the time to set it up. In my mind, I'm thinking $10-20/climb tops for the gym and less than 2 minutes for setup for the setter once the problem is done (maybe another 5 during setting). You figure out how to do that, and I could see gyms actually using a system like this. Anything more involved or more expensive, and most gyms will pass- its just not worth it for the vast majority of their customers. In most gyms, 90% of customers are there for fun, not for training. There are very few exceptions to this rule. 

I think you and climberish bring up great points and your insights echo what we suspect but don't have hard data to prove yet. It sounds like most climbers are not going to the gym to train hard. Instead the vast majority see climbing as a fun way to hang out with friends and stay in shape. The problem is that all of the online forums that we've been targeting have the more hardcore climbers, so our data is skewed. We have a bunch of ideas to make this device something that the 90% of casual climbers would use, and that might be the group that we target initially.

In terms of price, we are doing something slightly different than others who have tried this. Instead of putting the RFID reader (the expensive part) on the wall, we are putting that on the wrist. The inexpensive tags go on the wall, making it much more affordable to gyms. Is your suggested $10-20/climb a one time fee? monthly fee? annual fee? There is some materials, support, server costs, etc to maintain a system like this, my initial gut reaction is that that price range doesn't sound outrageous.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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