SHFT – detailed review of a dual app- and pod-based running coach that’s also a power meter

SHFT RUNFirst Impressions

My initial view of SHFT was that it looked to have well-made hardware pods with a fairly comprehensive, ‘proper’ run coaching app. Proper in the sense that it gives ‘instant’, personalised, actionable, corrective, audible feedback on your running form. Some of its competitors promise the same, yet do not convincingly deliver.

SHFT also looks to give ‘relatively holistic’ and ‘fairly detailed’ metrics on your running form ie the two pods look at both your torso and your feet. Most similarly-priced alternatives only measure in one of these locations..

If that was not enough, it also offers running power! Potentially making it a limited competitor to STRYD in the future.

The main drawback that stood out was that the runner is 100% tied to having an Android/iOS app present when in use.

The product has potential BUT “does it deliver?”

Who would buy this?

The product seems to be squarely aimed at the mass market for runners looking to improve their form.

If you keep getting injured then your running form is one of the most likely causes of your injuries.

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A casual, improver runner might have devoted 3 or 4 or 5 years at their local 5k parkrun and noticed that they are starting to plateau. The improvement of running form is one of the aspects of training that could well lead to a positive step change in performance and get that runner off from that performance plateau. Alternatively, if you are embarking on a running journey, you might be clever enough to realise that it is FAR better to sort your technique out before you start than once you realise it is wrong.

Even high level runners will be looking for fabled ‘marginal gains’. Again, improvement of technique can deliver these gains. Admittedly high level runners are more likely to have access to professional running gait tools such as Runscribe and high-end lab systems like 3D Gait.

Potentially a coach could use one, or several, SHFTs for his/her protégé(e)s.

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The Review

This review is NOT a re-hash of the manual. (Here) is a link to the online userguide.

I’ll look in quite some detail at how the product works – both from a usability point of view and verifying against other tools to see if it REALLY works or if it is just ‘smoke and mirrors’. It’s usually priced over $/£/Eur200 and I don’t want you to waste your money.

I used these versions: Android app v1.26.8 and POD firmware v2.21.

Unpacking & Contents

SHFT.RUN

I don’t want to dwell too much on this. It comes in a very well presented tubular container. You will get two lightweight and well-constructed pods, a proprietary USB charger (as shown above) and a chest strap. It’s fairly obvious, below, how to attach and charge them.

Also shown are the LEDs on the front of each pod which activate with movement – officially by ‘tapping’. Blue means ‘ready to pair’ and red means ‘charge now’

SHFT RUN

You create an online account. You know how to do that.

With the LEDs on blue and Bluetooth enabled, you pair within the SHFT app which gives the slightly daunting MAC address of your devices. You’re nearly ready to go.

settings-paired-pods

settings-paired-pods

POD Placement – Getting Ready To Run

The footpod is easy to attach. It clips on the SIDE of your shoe. The clips are shown on the image above and the image below shows correct shoe placement on the RIGHT SHOE. Both PODs are exactly the same and their positions are interchangeable with each other.

SHFT RUN + Garmin HRM-TRI + Runscribe + STRYD

The clip makes it super-easy to change between shoes and saves the annoyance that other pods have when requiring to be entwined with your lace via a fiddly plastic cradle. This shoe position is VERY handy for me to simultaneously compare and use other sensors like STRYD & RUNSCRIBE.

The SHFT pod is NOT A HRM.

Attaching the chest strap is another matter. Here you can see two possible methods of clipping the POD to a strap – both to the proprietary strap (shown, below, not fully inserted) and then attached to a high-end Garmin HRM-TRI strap. Any old strap will do the job.

SHFT RUN + Garmin HRM-TRI

SHFT needs to be worn like a chest strap HRM but the SHFT pod needs to be central…as does your HRM pod/sensor. The positioning requirements of the POD creates a potential problem for capturing HR – an essential requirement for me.

Here are the options that I considered to still enable me to get HR, the first two seem like good options:

  1. You wear your HRM sensor off-centre and clip the SHFT pod onto it centrally. You hope your HRM will work!! Some HRMs WILL just work and others will work as they are more sensitive than others. The Garmin HRM-TRI just worked for me.
  2. Use an optical HRM on your wrist instead of a chest strap – easy for me I have lots of them but most people will have to go out and spend a further $/£Eur100 on a new one – which is not ideal for you. MIO Link or Scosche RHYTHM+ are good AND cost-effective options if you want to go down that route with a product that generally works. Beware!! you will have YET another device to ensure is fully charged. This WILL BECOME A FAFF and eventually you will get bored and stop using one of more of your bits of kit.
  3. You don’t use your normal HRM for ‘coached’ sessions with SHFT. IE you choose not to record HR – not ideal for me.
  4. You wear two straps with the SHFT strap over the top of your HRM. If you have a thin/low profile HRM like a Suunto MOVESENSE or Garmin HRM-TRI then that might work. I suspect the SHT.RUN will bounce around more than it should so I didn’t try this, if you want me to test this please ask, my suspicion is that it may not work.

To be clear: there really is no guarantee that you can use the method I described in point 1 by clipping to your existing HRM. I tried this with other straps eg the supposedly super-sensitive 4iiii Viiiiva V100 but that HRM did NOT WORK when off-centre. The HRM-TRI DID WORK for me.

Your First Run

I’m running with a normal sport wrist-watch (Garmin 920XT) AND with a smartphone in a running armband running the SHFT app.

The pods do NOT cache data and the smartphone app is REQUIRED to be present and ‘on’ when you use SHFT.

Your digitally-coached first session by SHFT revolves around 3x 6 minutes coached effort periods with 2 minutes rest. Your first run will also be slightly different to normal as the app performs a technique assessment as another 6 minute effort.

At the end of your technique assessment SHFT determines which aspect/metric needs to be worked on. In my case it chose Ground Contact Time. I couldn’t see how to manually chose a metric to be coached on.

I’ll talk a bit about Ground Contact time first only because that’s what the app chose for me. If the app chose ‘cadence’ for you then you would have a very similar experience, just different data.

It got me to run between 244ms<GCT

The intervals then ensued and I was instructed to run at a comfortable pace.

The app was GOOD at monitoring the metric telling me to higher/lower/maintain it as well as giving explanation and guidance around that. I suspect that by the end of 20 minutes of running the messages will start to get repetitive! Buy hey, I suppose running is VERY repetitive.

The voice coach is VERY clear and easy to understand. It sounds, near-enough, like a real person speaking properly. I chose to use the smartphone’s loudspeaker but you will probably be more considerate to others and use earbuds! All of the audio is also displayed on screen as text – as shown on this example of the post-run feedback,:

post-run-coached-feedback

post-run-coached-feedback

The app says my GCT was mostly in the target zone between 244ms and 264ms when running. As I will show below, GCT seems to be overstated compared to Garmin/Runscribe BUT the general pattern was similar between both sources of GCT.

Audio-Visual Feedback and General Coaching Experience

The slideshow below gives you a good idea of the visual experience of using the SHFT app. The layout and general experience is typical of many running apps – although the coaching experience stands out positively.

Coaching is provided based on one of these metrics which SHFT selects for you based on your first run assessment:

  • Stride Per Minute
  • Ground Contact Time
  • Landing Position
  • Watt
  • Running Efficiency

The INFO and  MAP screen are generic, the exception to commonly available information on other apps being that the INFO screen shows the key coaching metric (GCT=227ms in my case, below) in a large pitched font.

The DATA screen shows the other detailed SHFT metrics as you run and a summary/average of those metrics appears at the end of a run.

To be frank I would NEVER look at smartphone when running outside. It’s cold right now (Jan 2017) and I wear two pairs of gloves. The smartphone is in a strap on my armband and I can’t see the screen. Even if I could see the screen my gloves would prohibit me from doing anything with it.

One benefit for me with the app (that I couldn’t see) was that I was able to focus on what the coach was saying – probably a good thing.

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I suppose that the visual feedback is fine, if you can see it. The only thing that would improve things for others that I showed this app to, would be the ability to display 1-3 additional metrics on the INFO screen in real-time. Those metrics would be IN ADDITION to the training metric. eg My GCT is being trained, I might like to see cadence as well as braking.

I like the audio feedback. And I am surprised I am saying that as I thought I would hate it!

The audio feedback is a complete offering as it:

  1. Clearly describes what is to be done;
  2. When executing the coached run you are clearly told how well you are performing;
  3. When executing the coached run you are clearly told of any remedial action that needs to be taken; and
  4. At the end of a coached period you are told how you did.

Sure too many words can get annoying BUT the coaching voice is configurable from ‘No feedback’ through to feedback ‘every 2km’. It is also configurable with which of distance/pace/speed/time are announced.

FWIW: SHFT has a LOT of spoken words. there is a depth to the language spoken. It really is NOT a few 4 sentence phrases repeated and sounding like Stephen Hawking – it’s a female voice for a start!. Every voice instruction that was given is also visible afterwards on the SHFT online portal.

Treadmill Use: Using SHFT for indoor treadmill  has the benefit of having a smartphone in front of the runner on the treadmill this makes the smartphone display more meaningfully usable to more people. HOWEVER pace derived metrics do not work when on a treadmill – that includes stride length, for example.

Metrics: Although SHFT chose GCT as the coached metric it changes to get you to work on others over time. For example, my third run started to look at getting my cadence up from 180spm. Coaching above this kind of level of SPM in my opinion has dubious foundation. However, to be fair to SHFT, my ideal-fast stride rate seems to be 186spm…maybe SHFT knew that 😉

Coaching Summary

I tend not to pay too much attention to my end-of-run stats when training normally. However SHFT’s audio summary is good as it is giving feedback based on a specific training session’s technical performance so certainly worth listening to while your memory of the session is still good. In fact if you had 1-2-1 coaching with a personal coach then you would of course listen to their summary at the end. SHFT is the same.

There are summary metrics and a summary audio message – transcribed by the app and shown below in the slideshow:

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A Non-coached Run

SHFT can be used with the coach turned off.

screenshot_2017-01-24-17-44-34In this scenario the display is the same as in a coached session EXCEPT all of your chosen metrics appear IN TURN on the main screen display area at the bottom of the screen.

Accuracy

It’s fairly hard to compare data between devices measuring the same session at the best of times. It’s harder than normal with SHFT, mainly due to the app-centric nature of the device. SHFT only offers limited data export facilities via their online portal.

The online SHFT portal (here) does allow export to TCX. However not all of the data is exported. Indeed just the basic data seems to be exported, namely; location, time, cadence, speed and distance.

I was able to directly compare pace and cadence.

Accuracy – Cadence

Active cadence data, below, seems near perfectly matched when compared to the Garmin HRM-TRI/920XT. I would assume that cadence is relatively easily measured.

clickable

clickable, note that the Garmin is also showing walking cadence. SHFT ignores that.

Pace data seems well-matched too, although this data’s accuracy is not critical to the raison d’etre of the app. In any case the accuracy of pace in SHFT will be down to the accuracy of my smartphone’s GPS…which isn’t very good (see here using Ghost Racer)!

Clickable

Clickable

Accuracy – Power

Here is a quick pseudo-comparison of the power data. One graph from STRYD and one from SHFT:

power-data

Green curve is smoothed/averaged power

Below is the comparable STRYD footpod data.

Clickable: STRYD power

Clickable: STRYD power

Both charts show right-foot-only-power.

A few things to note in this session. Firstly it  was a technique session and so changes in technique may well exhibit different power levels for the same pace at a different time in the session when technique is different. Secondly a technique session may well unduly affect muscular fatigue of certain muscle groups as the session progresses. Thirdly I was very fatigued going in to the session.

Surprisingly both have a similar average (STRYD 208w and SHFT 199w). There are noticeable visual differences and broad similarities in the two graphs. However I think it reasonable to say that a casual observer would spot significant differences in the charts. Although it is important to note that we can’t assume that either of them show ‘correct’ power outputs, STRYD claim to have some validation of their algorithm against direct force plate measurements and so I would tend more towards trusting their power data. Having said that, changes in the SHFT power data do seem to be broadly indicative of effort and reflects my feeling of ‘effort’ from the session, so there may be some use for the data in the context of a coaching app (STRYD could be seen as a power meter sensor hence requiring accuracy).

Accuracy – Ground contact Time

Garmin Connect (via the HRM-TRI) was giving values consistently lower than 244 – and typically 220ms as shown below. You will notice the 4x coached interval periods as troughs on the graphs below, the first trough being the assessment. Clearly the graphs all show that the app WAS getting me to lower my GCT as the intervals progressed whether you looked at the app’s figures or Garmin’s figures. Later on in the graph when I ran home, after 40 minutes, my GCT according to Garmin was more like 200ms, below, which is broadly what I would expect when running faster than the prescribed comfortable pace. Note: GCT falls as you run faster!

gct-garmin-connect

Garmin connect GCT Data (ms) from HRM-TRI

The Garmin data comes from the HRM-TRI and so will be averaged over the GCT from both feet. However an alternative graph, below, shows data from RUNSCRIBE PRO (right foot only). The data is more in line with Garmin’s view of GCT but different again.

runscribe PRO

Runscribe PRO – Right foot GCT (ms)

We could argue about left-, right and average-GCT; and that the HRM-TRI was not central on the torso. I’d rather not argue about it and don’t think it particularly matters so long as the SHFT is measuring consistently, which it seemed to be doing when recorded over several runs.

I assume that SHFT measures consistently over the entire population.

Accuracy – Vertical Oscillation

Body Bounce/Vertical Oscillation is necessary to some degree when running. According to Garmin Connect my VO is typically between 5.5 and 7cms, probably averaging somewhere near 6 for the key parts of the run in question. Runscribe did not provide this data for comparison, presumably as Runscribe has no chest pod.

SHFT also have my VO averaging ‘somewhere around’ 6cms. Other than visually looking at two graphs it was hard to compare the data. However, whilst the average was similar, there seemed to be a lot more smoothing with the SHFT data and, as with the power tracks, the data did not seem to quite follow the same pattern as the Garmin source.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the Garmin data is correct either. Both could be wrong or one of them could be right.!!

Accuracy – Braking effect and others

Some other metrics superficially appear to have a vaguely equivalent metric in either RUNSCRIBE or GARMIN CONNECT but they appear to be different enough to make a comparison pointless. For example braking is measured in watts in SHFT and ‘g’ in RUNSCRIBE.

Interesting Stuff

This image from the footstrike portion of the web portal nicely shows one of my running problem-areas. It looks at the force distribution across my right foot’s footstrike.

Clickable

Clickable

Once you have completed a run you can see an animated video of YOUR foot motion based on your: Ground Contact Time; Steps Per Minute; Landing Angle; and Toe off Angle.

your-foot-motion-in-video

your-foot-motion-in-video

That’s nice but a bit gimmicky. I would like to see how that compares to the ideal motion.

SHFT also contains some running drills a flavour of which is shown below and each drill comes with written instructions (app) and a short video to demonstrate how to do each drill…nice!:

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SHFT supplies the following metrics (click to see the detailed description by SHFT on their site):

Competitor Comparisons

STRYD: The SHFT device is not really in the same ballpark as STRYD when it comes to running with power. If you are a Suunto/Garmin-centred, power-mad triathlete you will buy STRYD and not SHFT. If you are a cash rich triathlete (many are) you’d probably buy both and ignore the power data on the SHFT app. If you want a power sensor then buy STRYD. If you want technique coaching then buy SHFT.

RUNSCRIBE: The SHFT device is also not really a competitor of RUNSCRIBE PRO. Runscribe is more for a data-driven athlete who wants to analyse and self-interpret the detailed data metrics of their footstrike on both feet. SHFT ‘feels’ less comprehensive than RUNSCRIBE with the data it captures BUT it captures enough to enable it to focus on its key aim to provide the runner with INSTANT AND ACTIVE COACHING. Two totally different approaches.

Garmin HRM-RUN/HRM-TRI: Garmin have a great product but in the end all that is provided is the data and limited interpretation of some of the data as ratios or as zones. It’s a little bit hard to know to how to move from that data to changing your technique. SHFT bridges that gap.

Kinematix TUNE: Kinematix have an insole-based solution and probably capture the most accurate footstrike metrics. I have some doubts over the hardware and some doubts as to how running performance is translated into personalised, corrective drills. SHFT seems a better hardware solution and is more convincing when it comes to personalisation of the coaching.

Runteq ZOI: The manufacturer has asked me to test this later this year. Judging by the specs the product is directly comparable to SHFT in many respects.

LUMO – no opinion yet.

Price & Availability

Here are some buying options for you. You help support this site in a small way if you use either direct manufacturer link (10% discount with the code THE5KRUNNER10) or the Amazon links. The direct manufacturer link should normally be cheaper.

 

 

flag-icon-germany-the5krunner-37x37Eur309 flag-icon-spain-the5krunner-50x37Eur309

Summary

As an overall package I like it and with some limited reservations I would recommend it for the ‘general’ runner

At Eur/$/GBP200 I would say the pricing is right – above that I’m not so sure. Then again, how much would 5x physio appointments cost when, instead of improving your technique, you get injured?

SHFT could be bought and shared by a club or group of runners.

For most runners this will be a great and relatively complete technique-coaching tool. It may well not be perfect but it WILL help you with your technique, hopefully in a sensible way that won’t get you injured.

SHFT isn’t trying to get you to move away and become dependent on their data ecosystem. I like that. Most people would probably carry on using Garmin connect, Movescount, Flow or whatever other system they currently use. Perhaps the runner would get the smartwatch out once a week for a coached run? As in my case, above, the runner would use SHFT alongside their current devices.

It is well designed and most things have been thought of. The main bug-bear for me is how the chest POD can be worn in conjunction with a HRM. For me it just ‘happened’ to work with my Garmin HRM off-centre, allowing the SHFT pod to be centred on the chest. You may not be so lucky with your HRM.

Slight tinkering with the app could improve the metrics and display but on the whole it provides just the right info for the purpose. A few little tweaks like being able to choose the coached metric would be nice (to a degree this can be achieved in non-coached mode). The audio perhaps needs some more thought to provide some variety rather than saying the same sentence repeatedly.

I am not too convinced about the accuracy of all the data. However it is difficult to say if SHFT is right and other data providers are wrong.  It seems that SHFT is consistent in how it captures the data and in how it interprets it SO it does seem to be giving consistent advice in the right area. Although my personal view on the accuracy of some of the advice is another matter. I would also like to understand how and why a target zone for a particular metric is determined for ME…is it based on a population of SHFT data or scientific research?

Futures:

SHFT note that many, but not all, of the following are being actively considered in-house:

  • More refinement and extension of the metrics would be welcome;
  • Better handling of treadmill use would increase the attractiveness of the product – the device collects power and I would imagine footpod pace should be fairly straightforward to estimate automatically handling a variable incline;
  • One option to pursue would be to hook up with a training plan app and integrate the two offerings;
  • Other technical options to improve could be to integrate more sensors both on the other foot and on other body parts;
  • Integrating with other data ecosystem and making SHFT ‘open’ could be a good strategic move eg through fitnesssyncer.com, syncmytracks or tapiriik (there are others);
  • Perhaps supporting Garmin CIQ, AndroidWear, Fitbit/Pebble &/or Apple’s Watch OS could be another direction. But I think it covers most of the market with Android/iOS as-is; and
  • If it could broadcast power by BTLE/ANT+ that might open up a new market – if accurate then people like me might use it as a running power meter as well as a coaching app.

6 thoughts on “SHFT – detailed review of a dual app- and pod-based running coach that’s also a power meter

  1. Your review was very informative. The SHFT.run site should refer to your review also. Whether you use
    SHFT.run pods, Sryd Pioneer Chest unit or their Foot Pod, I believe Power measurement is the way to go presently. Also if you use Matt Fitzgerald’s PZI ( Pace Zone Index) as seen in the book “The Runner’s Edge”, for drills leading up to your desired faster 5/10 K race times, the proof is in the Pudding. We all want to become faster and more efficient Competitive runners, whether by Power, Ground Contact Tim, Cadence or Power Zone training. And these 3rd party devices can achieve your goals.

  2. Great post, made me glad that I chose a Stryd when I did, now all I need is it not to be in the negative degrees here so I can do a decent run.

    Also I don’t know if it’s my setting here, but both Amazon links are defaulting to “Shaft” and not “SHFT.” I mean, Shaft is great and all, but I don’t to run him… 🙂

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