Fitness trackers are nothing new. I was probably in grade 9 or 10 when I pulled my first pedometer out of a box of Kellogg’s cereal. I wore that thing clipped to my hip for a total of three days before the novelty wore off.
Oh, how technology has changed.
Since then, we’ve become acquainted with Fitbits (did you know they launched in 2007???), running and cycling watches, and an array of gadgets that can measure everything from your steps to your heart rate to your menstrual cycle.
And while these tools aren’t new by any means, they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. As we become more technologically advanced it seems we’re becoming more and more obsessed with monitoring every aspect of our lives.
While this can be a good thing (you know how much I love self-awareness), I also feel it’s a scary foreshadow into our future as human-robot-cyborg beings.
Or maybe I’ve just been watching too much Black Mirror.
In any event, with an array of brands, models, appearances, and inclusions, I decided to review a few popular varieties to help you decide where to spend your hard-earned money (and whether or not it even needs to be spent!).
Benefits of Using a Fitness Tracker
One of the biggest benefits of using a fitness tracker is greater self-awareness. These things don’t (intentionally) lie, so it won’t be long until you learn how much you move on a regular basis.
In my years of coaching, I’ve learned that, when it comes to the small stuff, we humans tend to overestimate the good stuff and underestimate the not-so-good stuff.
“My eating habits are pretty good; I don’t snack that often” – while forgetting about the multiple trips to the office chip bowl throughout the day.
“I don’t sit a lot; I’m always up and about throughout the day” – until the Fitbit says otherwise with a total of 4.5k steps in a day.
[Quick note on the overestimating/underestimating: while I find it’s common for us to fall into this trap when it comes to smaller things, I’ve found that for many, we tend to UNDERESTIMATE what we’re capable of in the long-term, and OVERESTIMATE what we perceive to be our shortfalls that will hold us back. That’s another post for another day, but it just seemed fitting to throw in here 😊]
But when used on a regular basis, fitness trackers tell the truth. You think you’re getting 10k steps in a day, your fitness tracker says otherwise.
When I started working for myself full-time, I had a brutal reality check when I decided to throw my Fitbit on one day.
“Five thousand steps??? Seriously?! That’s ALL?!”
Since I no longer walked to and from work, and around the hotel while I was at work, I was missing a big chunk of steps. And because I hadn’t been paying attention to my dip in activity, I figured I was still moving as much as I had been before. #Oops
Fitness trackers are also great because they can motivate you to MOVE more! You bet your ass as soon as I saw that side five-thousand-something number I resolved to get my booty moving more on a daily basis. Whether it was through taking the stairs more often, taking a mid-day walk break, or adding some agility drills into my workouts, I was determined to get my steps up.
Daily step tracking is a tool I also use with my personal training clients. In addition to our regularly-scheduled workouts, I also encourage them to set and reach daily step goals. Because physical activity is so damn cool.
And finally, fitness trackers can increase accountability. I know many people who are literally OBSESSED with Fitbit challenges with their friends and co-workers. Whatever works, right? When you know your daily step number is going to be plastered on a screen for all to see, you’re building accountability into your life!
Hopefully you have encouraging friends that tell you to move more and not asshole friends who heckle you for not getting “enough” steps.
Downfalls of Using a Fitness Tracker
Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot. An argument could be made that they’re expensive and you’re paying for a lot of stuff you don’t need, but I disagree. Any investment in your health and well-being is a worthwhile investment in my books. Plus, if you got the money and you wanna spend it, why not??
The main instance where these handy gadgets become more of a pain in the ass than anything is when people become reliant on them. Do you get frustrated if your Fitbit doesn’t record your steps today? Or if your Garin didn’t properly track your workout?
Guess what? They still count.
But in the moment, it can be fruuuustrating. I know, because I’m experiencing that with my Garmin right now 😉
The more specialized trackers meant to be used for endurance sports are really handy for dialing in your training; this is especially important when you’re prepping for a race, making them a worthwhile investment since you’ll likely be using them for years.
But I personally view the act of tracking your daily movement like I do your daily food intake; it’s great to do for a few months, maybe even a year, while you get acquainted with your habits and make some changes. But over time, it can be beneficial to only use them on occasion.
You’ll learn how much you need to move in a day in order to hit 10k steps. You’ll know what walks to go on, what days you need to up the ante after work, and what days you totally dogged it.
In my opinion, the goal is to get to a point where you don’t need to be reliant on these things to move on a regular basis. It just becomes habit.
Which Fitness Tracker is For You?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’ve covered a few different varieties here to help you decide which one might be a good fit for you and your goals.
Fitbits are the Queen of fitness trackers right now 👑. Ranging in price from $69.99 to $349.95, there’s something for everyone and every budget.
On the lower end of the scale, you’ve got the Fitbit Zip – a basic activity tracker that’s a wifi-enabled, good-looking pedometer. Moving up to the Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Alta, you start moving into sleep monitoring, reminders to move, and the ability to receive messages from your phone to your wrist.
The Fitbit Charge measures all of the above as well as your heart rate, and the Ionic and Blaze also offer GPS tracking. You’ll even get your own personalized coach with the Ionic! It’s only a matter of time until my profession is replaced by robots living in a watch.
All in all, Fitbit is a trusted brand with great customer service and a variety of products you can’t go wrong with.
Garmin is one of the leaders in the GPS-tracking world, and they’re a relative newcomer in the activity tracking world. If you’re looking for advanced GPS tracking and fitness monitoring (think VO2 max and lactate threshold estimates), you can opt for one of their fancy watches. I happen to love my Forerunner 735XT despite its aforementioned occasional malfunctioning.
The vivoki is similar to Fitbit’s Zip, and it’s basically just a glorified pedometer. The vivosport wrist bands offer activity tracking, some with heart rate monitoring, and the GPS-enabled vivoactive 3 Smart Watch tracks all of the above, and also includes various sport apps and the ability to use Garmin Pay.
While doing my research online, I found that all of the Garmin activity trackers had relatively positive reviews. However, I will note from personal experience that many of my clients have been unhappy with their vivosmart trackers. Just sayin’.
Polar is another GPS leader-turned activity tracker. These trackers are a little more simple and straight forward than some of the other brands’; there’s four to choose from, including a basic activity tracker, a heart rate-enabled activity tracker, and two variations of wrist bands.
If you want to take your tracking game to the next level, you can opt for one of the GPS-enabled sport watches, ranging in price from $189-$619.
While I’ve never used one of Polar’s activity trackers, I had a basic Polar running watch and heart rate monitor that I don’t think is even made anymore, and for years I loved it. Plus, Polar products sync with Keiser bikes so you get your heart rate displayed on the screen. Bonus!
Bellabeat is a relatively new brand of fitness trackers, if you can even call it that. Founded in 2014 and geared towards the female population, Bellabeat tracks your daily activity, as well as your daily stress levels, meditation minutes, and menstrual cycle.
On top of that, it’s super visually-appealing and doesn’t even look like the standard watch or wrist bands. The company is doing some cool (/crazy) things, by creating water bottles that remind you to drink, baby heart rate monitors, and even a wellness coach that learns your needs by talking to you, and then makes recommendations. Kinda creepy, kinda cool.
As I said before, this is not the be-all, end-all list of fitness trackers. You’ve also got the Apple Watch, Mio, Michael Kors activity tracker (yes, you read that right), Striiv, and more. Your tracker can be as simple or as complicated as you like. And don’t forget, if all you’re looking for is step counting, most phones have a pedometer these days as well. And if you’re anything like me, your phone is always in your pocket.
So the question remains – do you need a fitness tracker?
Just like most things in health and fitness, it depends. The technology is getting more and more advanced, allowing you to learn even more about yourself and your daily habits. I personally get super motivated by tracking my steps and am always making an effort to squeeze in some extras, thanks to my watch.
But the key is to not become too reliant on these things. Remember that your steps count regardless of whether you’re wearing the tracker or not. And as you work at increasing your daily activity, try and make a conscious effort to learn what an extra 500-1000 steps feels like in a day.
Take that awareness and put it into action!
Do you use a fitness tracker? If so, what’s your favourite brand?
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