Fitness trackers prompt you to be more active and serve as motivator toward health improvements. The best fitness tracker is one you will use daily and will not get left on your nightstand and forgotten. If you are searching for a fitness tracker as the final piece to reach your goals such as weight loss or improved heart health, you need to select one that provides the right data, is easy to use and is fairly accurate.
The variety of types and places to wear a tracker should make your decision an easier one. If you already wear a watch every day, adding another watch-based fitness tracker to your arm may not work for you. Instead, select a clip on that you can place discreetly on your waist band. Another option is a fitness wearable that looks more like a bracelet than a watch. Often, these can be converted into necklaces as well, so keep searching until you find a fitness tracker that suits all your needs. Then, you will look forward to wearing your tracker each day and see it as a motivator and not an obstacle to overcome. Fitness is fun and using a fitness tracker is an enjoyable way to display and appreciate your personal success.
Ease of Use
When you compare fitness trackers, consider how you want to wear the device. You can choose to wear a wrist band or slide a monitor into waistband or bra strap. Unlike a traditional pedometer attached at the hip which only records steps when your leg moves up and down, waistband fitness trackers and wrist watch fitness trackers use a combination of movement, GPS and velocity to identify how many steps you take.
A wrist wearable fitness tracker also acts as a visual reminder of your personal goals. As you see the device on your wrist, you remember to move more throughout the day to reach your step goals. Keep in mind that some wrist fitness trackers do not display your information. Instead, you install an app on your smart phone to read your steps, heart rate and distance measurements. Also, certain top fitness trackers only work if connected by Bluetooth to your phone. You may not always want your phone with you when you exercise as it may be an inconvenience during cycling, tennis or swimming.
This also leads into asking how many apps you want to track your progress. Try to limit your fitness apps to two or three, such as the My Fitness Pal fitness tracker app, the Android app fitness tracker or the iPhone app fitness tracker and connect as many as possible so you have all your fitness tracking information in one place. This clearly displays your progress and shows you where improvements can be made. Also, check your phone to see if it tracks your steps on its own. You may already have fitness monitoring device that goes with you everywhere and can sync it to a wearable tracker.
Another consideration for the ease of use is battery life of your fitness tracking device. If you have to charge the unit each night, will you remember to put it on your wrist in the morning? If your fitness tracker for cycling, running or swimming uses batteries, how often do you anticipate changing them? You want a wearable tracker that you can put on every day and it works. The less fuss, the more likely you are to get the most use out of your tracking device.
Consider the display on your fitness tracker. Look for wearable trackers that are easy to read. Some trackers have backlighting on their displays so you can view your results even in dimly setting such as a yoga studio. Others, have LED lights to show your progress, but do not have numerical displays. These are important distinctions between the types of fitness trackers. Some people want to see actual step count while others need the motivation of a circle or target display.
The GPS function on fitness trackers is beneficial if you enjoy outdoor workouts. If you strictly exercise indoors on treadmills, stationary bikes or elliptical machines, the GPS feature is not worth the money. Instead, invest in a tracker that accurately counts steps and can be set for these various activities. Most fitness trackers for walking count steps accurately and completely. They are a step up from a pedometer that attaches to your waist in that they also monitor distance and calories. These basic units are ideal for a quick and easy way to count steps and progress. A GPS function also uses up battery life. If you are participating in a lengthy outdoor event and want to be able to use the GPS function, consider a higher-end unit with a longer battery life.
Not all fitness trackers are compatible with all sports. For example, if you participate in mainly leg-driven activities such as cycling, you need to select the best fitness tracker for cycling and one that you can connect to your ankle if needed. If you swim and want to track your strokes, consider if your device is waterproof or water resistant. The best fitness tracker for swimming allows you freedom of movement while it records your progress. In addition, for swimming, cycling and other outdoor sports, select a fitness tracker that does not require your phone for measurement recording.
Most fitness trackers accurately record steps during walking. The American Council on Exercise, ACE, compared the top fitness trackers such as those developed by FitBit, JawBone and Nike. During walking or walking on a treadmill, the devices were very close to steps that were counted visually. During agility training, which uses quick steps and side to side movements, the top fitness trackers were not as accurate.
Another study presented in the July 2016 issue of Gait & Posture, found the top fitness activity trackers to be accurate when counting steps during normal-paced walking. If the walking was slow, the trackers did not count correctly. Also, when used during stair ascending and descending, although the step accuracy was close, the distance was overestimated by almost 50 percent.
Some fitness trackers will automatically adjust the counts when it senses your activity. Others, can be set for specific workouts such as yoga, rowing and weight training. The more you use your tracker, the better you are able to see where it excels and where it lacks. No fitness tracker is perfect, but you can find a match to fit your personal tastes and workout preferences.
The Role of Fitness Trackers
Fitness trackers are a tool to help you reach your fitness goals. Although they provide motivation so you can see your progress, you still have to do the work. You are responsible for motivating yourself and reaching your daily goals. If you need a heart rate monitor and fitness tracker in one to help you remain in your target heart rate zone to lose weight, then select a monitoring device with this capability. One that displays your heart rate on your wrist is needed for quick adjustments during your workout session. If you need help in getting better sleep for recovery, select a fitness and sleep tracker to monitor your quality of sleep. Just do not let the worry of wearing the device interfere with your sleeping habits. Another example is using a fitness tracker for dietary needs. Fitness and food trackers help you monitor your calorie intake and calorie output to move toward your goals.
Keep in mind that fitness trackers are not the most accurate calorie counters. The number of calories you burn during activities depends on a variety of factors including your age, weight, height, fitness level, genetics, hydration and food intake. A fitness tracker provides an average amount based on the number of steps, duration of activity and distance, but often overestimates calories burned. In other words, do not use this number as an excuse to eat more food if one of the reasons you are wearing the fitness tracker is to lose weight.
Fitness trackers do encourage you to move more. When your steps are being counted, you want to succeed in reaching your daily goals. Plus, the fitness tracker for daily use gives you an idea of how sedentary or active you are throughout the day. For instance, if you exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day and then spend the remainder sitting at your desk or on the couch, you may think you are active, but the step count will show you otherwise. This encourages you to walk around periodically every hour to circulate blood and stimulate your brain. You will be more productive for it. The goal-reaching depends on your dedication. Set a daily goal and stick with it for a month. After a month, try to increase your step count if you are seeking to improve your health or want to lose weight.
Fitness trackers are also beneficial for competition training purposes. The best fitness trackers for running help you determine your pace, distance and time. You also see your heart rate response and can adjust your pace accordingly. If you are competing in CrossFit or bodybuilding events, the best fitness trackers for CrossFit will not overestimate your steps due to the arm movements, which is a common complaint among users who wear wrist watch fitness trackers. One wearer who is a sign language interpreter, for example, recorded many more steps from the arm movements than she did from actual forward movement.
Trackers have their limitations, but when used for motivational purposes, you will enjoy their benefits. A word of caution- if you have an addictive personality, avoid becoming obsessed over your daily step count or sacrificing your friends, family or work to attain a number on your tracker. As with all things in life, keep your step count in perspective, but be aware of your activity level so you can make health improvements when needed.
Proper Fitness Tracker Placement
If you select a clip on tracker and waist band fitness tracker, position it in a vertical line from your knee. This helps to provide a more accurate count of your steps. If you are participating in cycling consider attaching the tracker to your sock to get a better count of each pedal push. Some fitness trackers are connected to your bra strap and these should be placed in an area that is snug to avoid excessive bouncing of the tracker and an inaccurate count of steps. Other clip-ons work when attached to your sleeve, key chair or the pocket of your shirt. Try various placements and compare the results to determine the accuracy.
Wrist band fitness trackers are divided into two categories: watch bands and wearables. Both can be worn loose like a watch if you are recording steps and distance. However, for heart rate activity, the heart rate fitness tracker needs to be snug against your skin. If you do not find accuracy in the heart rate counting, slide the band up your forearm for a snug fit and more complete pulse count. Some fitness wearers have skin sensitivities, so you should avoid wearing the unit 24 hours a day. If you do plan to wear your sleep fitness tracker, switch wrists at night to give your skin a break and then return it to your more comfortable side throughout the day.
Using a Fitness Tracker
Setting your step goals is a personal choice that depends on your fitness targets. The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps a day for overall health and heart-improving benefits. If you desire weight loss, you may need to increase your step count. However, if you are just beginning, 10,000 steps may seem too large of a goal. Begin with 5,000 to 8,000 instead and aim to add 1,000 steps each week until you can complete 10,000 steps a day.
If you are using a calorie counting fitness tracker, remember that these devices tend to overestimate calorie usage. You can combine your fitness tracker with an app that more accurately details calorie intake from a completed food log and calorie output based on your weight and activity.
A fitness tracker works when you use it on a daily basis. After a few months, you may have a better idea of how much activity is required to reach 10,000 steps and may not need to wear your tracker as often. It is nice to use when you participate in a new activity to gather information on distance, pace and steps and to use when you are preparing for a competitive event.
The majority of people who wear fitness trackers have purchased them as a fitness fad. Unfortunately, these wearers do not understand the value of the information displayed on their wrists, they just succumbed to the pressure of having what everyone else has. This is not a valid reason for purchasing a fitness tracker. For one, trackers are expensive and if you are not using them to improve your health and wellness, you should not buy one. Many smart phones have GPS tracking capabilities as well as step counters that you can use for free.
The benefit of a fitness tracker depends on your capability to read the information. Let’s examine the basic and sometimes advanced information supplied by fitness trackers.
- Steps Count- the number one reason for wearing a fitness tracking device is to count your daily steps. This provides an indicator of your activity level which correlates to your overall health. The more you move, the better your body operates. Your heart and lung functions improve, your stress level reduces and you lessen your risks for chronic health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Calories- steps are just one piece of the healthy puzzle. You also have to monitor your daily calorie intake and output. Many fitness trackers with food log applications are available to provide a detailed daily breakdown of your caloric balance. Although fitness trackers often overestimate the number of calories used, you can still gain a better understanding of how to create a calorie deficit to lose weight.
- Distance- measuring the distance covered each day is another way to track your fitness goals. 10,000 steps is approximately equivalent to 5 miles of walking. As your fitness level improves, you also see if you are covering more distance with less steps or in less time.
- Mileage- GPS fitness trackers are able to more accurately measure the miles you cover during outdoor activities. Use this information in combination with your times to determine if your running or cycling times are improving.
- Maps- the GPS function also renders a map of your location. This is beneficial if you want to repeat the same route and compare times or if you find a truly enjoyable path and want to share it with other local runners, walkers and cyclists in the area.
- Heart Rate- if your tracker measures heart rate, the display may show your pulse throughout the day. This helps identify stressors that are increasing your heart rate so you can deal with these issues and reduce stressful side effects such as headaches and confusion. During your workout, a heart rate tracker is essential to keeping you within your training heart rate range. This ensures that you are using fat for fuel during your cardiovascular workouts.
- Stairs climbed- some trackers are set to count the number of stairs you ascend and descend. This is helpful if you work in an office building that covers multiple floors as many of your steps may be stairwell based.
- Activity Minutes- this tool identifies how many minutes you are active. If you find yourself performing your morning or evening workouts but then sitting idle throughout the day, activity minutes show you where you can make changes. Aim to walk for 100 to 500 steps each hour, which should not take you more than 5 minutes. You deserve an active break each hour to enhance circulation and blood flow to your working brain.
- Stationary Minutes- another indicator of how much time you spend each day just sitting or standing in place. Since sedentary lifestyles have been linked to higher health risks, you can use this measurement to monitor your stationary time. Then, make changes to increase your active minutes.
- VO2 Max- VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen used at your maximum heart rate. This measurement helps you see where you can perform cardio bursts during High Intensity Interval Training or when training for sprints.
- Sleep- fitness trackers for sleep measure how much you toss and turn. If you do not feel you are getting quality sleep, a fitness tracker is a fun way to provide you with information. However, wearing a fitness tracker at night may cause you to focus on your sleeping habits and actually interfere with a quality night’s rest. Many people use the night to charge their fitness trackers for the more valuable information you measure throughout the day.
- Lactate Threshold- your lactate threshold is the heart rate at which lactic acid begins to accumulate in your blood. Lactic acid is formed when exercise is at a level where oxygen is not readily brought into the cells. For example, during weight training or sprinting. Your heart rate is at a higher level and your body converts fat and sugar stores to energy without oxygen during these workouts.
- Pace- pace is the number of minutes you take to cover a mile. This helps you track your speed for competitive events and can provide a goal to reach for.
- Stride Length- fitness trackers for runners often monitor stride length. This is the distance you cover with one step. The longer your stride length, the faster you cover longer distances.
- Ground Contact Time- an advanced fitness tracker for running is able to tell you how much time your foot is in contact with the ground. The faster you run, the shorter your ground contact time.
- Vertical Ratio- this is another way of stating the amount of bounce you get with each running stride.
You may or may not want all of these features in your fitness tracker. If the information seems overwhelming, select a fitness tracker that covers the basic measurements such as steps, calories and distance. Once you realize how often you use the tracker, if you discover you want a more advanced monitoring system, it will be worth the investment.
What to Look for in the Best Fitness Tracker
Consider where you want to wear your tracker. Do you want it to be noticed and used as a visual reminder or would you prefer it be tucked away? Do you want your fitness tracker to connect to your smart phone, computer and a variety of applications, or do you simply want to view the display for your information? Remember to keep in mind the activity you are participating in to determine which fitness wearable is best for you. For example, if you are a swimmer, be sure to purchase a water proof or water resistant model.
Fitness trackers are set up to evaluate steps, calories, distance, sleep habits and heart rate. Some provide visual prompts if you have been sedentary for too long. Others use auditory signals such as a beep or a ding. Trackers have visual displays for a quick look at your progress or must be connected to your smart phone for your results. Select the type that fits into your needs. If you keep your phone with you at all times, you may want a tracker that links to it. If you are a minimalist, select a tracker that does not need to be connected to an app but provides information on the display.
Another benefit of top fitness trackers is the ability to link with your smart phone. Many tracking devices sync with your phone to display incoming calls and texts or allow you to play music from your fitness watch. These advanced features offer more than a basic fitness tracker and enter into more of a smart watch category.
Determine which apps you want to use with your fitness tracker. Many fitness trackers have their own health apps, but you can also import your information to apps such as My Fitness Pal. Avoid having too many apps stored on your phone. It is best to keep all your fitness information in one place for easy monitoring.
The companies that make fitness trackers typically make more than one. They provide a variety of styles and monitors to fit your lifestyle. This list contains the top 10 fitness trackers based on ease of use, accuracy and type, but there are numerous more fitness trackers available. If you see one that has the majority of the values you desire, but want it in a different style, visit the company’s web-site and you are sure to find what you seek. Remember to select only the measurements you want to monitor. If you choose a fitness monitor that has too many variables, you may find it overwhelming and discouraging.
The best way to begin is by measuring the basics and using a fitness tracker for its intended purpose- to track your step count. This sets you up for success with goals that are reasonably attainable. Always listen to how your body feels when you are exercising and do not workout to the point of pain. Check with your physician before starting an exercise program and speak with him or her about reasonable step, calorie and heart rate goals.