Comparing my Fitbit heart rate data for yoga vs. running vs. weights: which workout is best?

I finally managed to wrangle my heart rate data from the Fitbit API site. Here I’ve plotted the minute-by-minute heart rate profile during three distinct forms of exercises: yoga, run, weights.

Heart rate during 90 minutes ashtanga yoga; calories = 415 (graphs created using R package ggplot2; color scheme from Wes Anderson Palette, Moonrise Kingdom, with hex color codes “#DBB165”, “#2E604A”, “#D1362F”)

The most complex profile is for the Ashtanga yoga primary series. Not surprising since this involves a sequence of poses that vary in energetic demand. I’ve annotated this graph quite a bit. On this particular day, according to Fitbit estimates, I burned 415 calories (~4.4 cals/min). Also note that throughout the practice, I’m trying my best to control my breathing and stay relaxed and not have my heart rate go off the chart. Another interesting bit: the “teacher effect” around 62 minutes during an uncomfortable pose. Unless you’re total a freak, supta kurmasa does now feel good when you’re in it… so it feels really good when you come out of it. I heave and puff, but I’ve been training myself to stay calm, and every now and then, I oddly find relaxation.


Heart rate during 34 minutes run; calories =330

The simplest profile is for running. It stays pretty consistent throughout. The most interesting blip happened around 30 minutes when I paused to tie my shoelace and cross the street. The calorie burn rate is pretty high for this (usually over 9.5 cals/min).


Heart rate during 53 minutes weight training; calories =270

For the strength training, I alternated between dumb bells and pullups. I’m surprised at how little calories I used up. The pullups are tough. But weight training is the least of my favorite and I lift less than 20 lbs. dumb bells. The heaviest weight I lift is my own body weight during pullups. For someone who likes lugging heavy weights around, this mode of exercise will probably be more calorically intense.

So if I had to pick one workout, which one would I choose?

To me, yoga is the most appealing because I like physical challenges as well as brain challenges. But calorie-wise, it varies widely depending on how much I decide to exert myself that day (anywhere from 350 to 475 calories for the primary series) . Overall, the energy consumption is rather modest compared to running. But burning calories is not the main reason I do yoga. For me, the main benefit of yoga is that it helps inculcate a deeper awareness of ones own body. And aside from developing flexibility and sense of balance, yoga is also like learning music: it’s a physical activity that challenges your brain. For instance, being able to figure out how to stay in a state of equilibrium while you’re upside down on your head takes an immense amount of focus and engages different parts of the brain. Like music, I think yoga is a way to maintain neural plasticity and a “young(er) brain” as we get older.

And then there is the strenght training. As much as I dislike it, I think it helps build a strong foundation for other types of workouts. As an example, some of the yoga poses and moves takes a lot of strength (think pendant pose, vinyasa jump throughs, kukkutasa). If you only practiced yoga, you’ll eventually get very strong, no doubt. But it will take a long time, maybe years to progress. Incorporating strength training may help expedite the transition from beginner to advanced versions of the pose or move.

So which is the best workout? I’d say a well-rounded menu that incorporates all three forms: (1) high cardio activities like running (or biking, kickboxing, dancing etc.) for better cardiovascular conditioning, (2) strength training because being strong is good and it’s also protective against injuries from activities like running and gives you an edge in yoga, and (3) calisthenic or yoga type activities that emphasizes complex movements and balance and flexibility.

[please excuse typos and errors; not proofread and author is typo prone]

Notes on data access and plots: It was no easy task accessing my own data from Fitbit (although it should be since it is my data). I’ll probably and eventually post a how-to tutorial on getting you own data and how to generate graphs using R codes. The graphs were generated using the R package ggplot2. Color palette link is here and hex color codes were obtained from here.




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