As a fitness journalist who has run eight marathons in the past few years, I like to think I’m in pretty good shape. But as every runner knows, the road to race day isn’t always smooth sailing—especially when you’re juggling a busy schedule with work, family, and social commitments.
I’ve run into problems along the way – earlier this year that was the case gluteal tendinopathywho (*touch wood*) works with a physical therapist and a regular strength training since then he has stayed away.
And of course, running a marathon it’s not just about running. You also have to consider things like good diet and sleep for your recovery. These days, there’s plenty of technology to help you do that – GPS watches, heart rate monitors and even glucose monitoring devices. But unless you’re a data buff, it can be difficult to interpret all this information and get the overall picture of how your body—and mind—is really doing.
I was curious to see what my score would be and if it could teach me anything valuable to help me in my training. So, in the name of journalism, I went to see the team at stone personal training in London that will experience me.
How does it work
HAWQ combines personal testing with lifestyle analysis to give you a health score (called the ‘HAWQScore’) based on five key pillars: body, mind, movement, nutrition and sleep.
I took HAWQOne, designed for individuals, but HAWQTeams is available for employers looking to improve the well-being of their teams (HAWQSport, I’m told, is a new service coming soon for professional, semi-professional and everyday athletes, analyzing strength, power, skill, cardiovascular agility and mobility).
At HAWQ headquarters, I was put through a series of assessments. These are all clinically reliable and validated tests, including blood pressure, fasting glucose, memory (testing inhibition and visuospatial working memory), flexibility, balancestrength and VO2 max. The whole process took about an hour.
I then filled out a questionnaire covering areas such as my sleep, movement, stress levels, and eating, drinking and exercise habits. All of this is then combined to give me my ‘health credit score’, which, just like a traditional credit score, is rated out of 1000.
“Most people score between 400-600,” says Livvy Probert, co-founder and head of science at HAWQ. ‘If you reach 500, you meet the minimum recommendations for key health indicators. And a score of 800 or above is really quite difficult to get unless you are in the best mental and physical condition of your life.’
You also get an individual score out of 10 for body, movement, sleep, mind and nutrition.
Unpacking the results
So…*drum roll*…how did I do? My HAWQScore was 733 (after the clinical tests and lifestyle assessment were combined), which of course made me quite elated. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
As a runner, I was most interested in my VO2 max results – a measure of the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. Knowing your VO2 max is a good measure of fitness, especially for endurance athletes, as well as one of the best indicators of longevity.
We used the VO2 master analyzer for the measurement. This is a face mask with a gas analyzer that directly measures gas consumption. It takes a sample of the air around you and what you exhale. From there it is calculated how much oxygen is used and how much CO2 you produce.
My VO2 max was 49ml/kg/min, which means I’m in ‘excellent cardiovascular fitness’, says Probert, ‘especially in terms of fat utilization and low-intensity efficiency’ – all ideal for someone preparing to take part in an endurance event like a marathon.
But the test provided more than just an ego boost. It turns out that I hyperventilate a bit at rest and during exercise, breathing faster and less deeply than is ideal. While this may not directly affect my performance, it could interfere with my perceived effort levels and mean I’m not getting the most out of my workouts – which indirectly limits performance. Probert suggested some breathing exercises, including two to three minutes of breathing after running. This involves breathing in slowly for four seconds, holding the breath for another four seconds, before exhaling through the mouth for four seconds. The idea is that it helps to return the breath to a normal rhythm.
The test also revealed that even in zone 2 (working at 65-75% of my maximum heart rate), I burn 560 calories per hour. This is useful information for the endurance runner, as they can use it to guide their fueling strategy in the future.
Next, my blood pressure, resting heart rate, waist circumference and fasting glucose put me in the lowest risk category for poor health outcomes, so there was no cause for concern here. But while I’m active in terms of exercise, like most people, I spend several hours sitting at a desk. Finding ways to break up my sedentary time is definitely something to focus on in the future.
Strength is the only area where I scored below average, but I also found it to be one of the biggest limitations of the assessment. Strength was measured by the amount of push-ups I could perform, so lower body strength was not considered (which makes up about 70% of my strength training regimen). Overall, this seemed pretty reductionist and probably not a true reflection of my current state.
Nutrition, sleep and stress were less of a focus for me, as those are the areas where I’ve done well, but for many runners I can imagine some big gains in those areas. It was a good reminder to focus on marginal gains wherever possible: limiting exposure to artificial light before bed (I’m guilty as charged) and making sure to aim for a high carb snack 1-2 hours before the run.
For everyday athletes like myself who want to know their data a little better, HAWQ is a useful way to gather everything in one place and spot any changes that can help you get more out of your training. But even if you’re not a ‘runner’, from a holistic health perspective it’s a useful tool for anyone looking to increase their knowledge and awareness of their health – especially if you’re just starting out on your fitness journey.
However, it’s important to remember that tests like the HAWQ are designed to provide an overall picture of your health and are not without limitations. They rely on your honest reporting of things like stress, sleep and sitting time (the latter of which people are known to underestimate, says Probert). There is also the reductionist nature of tests of strength, balance and even memory.
In addition, the price should be considered. A full HAWQ assessment (including an hour of testing and a 30-minute follow-up session) is £225. The VO2 max test alone costs £150. It’s definitely a matter of budget, but as with anything related to your health and fitness, it’s up to you what price you want to put on it.
For me, the ‘credit check’ provided much needed reassurance before the New York Marathon – and the VO2 Max test in particular gave me things to focus on that could improve my performance over time. Will I be back when HAWQSport launches? Watch this space…
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