Are Fitness Trackers Worth It?

June 4, 2017

It is about time for me to share my opinion about those fitness trackers that everyone is so hyped about.

After trying out a few of them myself, testing them with quite a few clients in the past and hearing/reading different experiences, I believe my opinion about them is formed enough to let you all know what I think.

Let’s start from the boring technical details. When I say “fitness tracker” I relate to devices such as FitBit, Polar Loop and others (along with the cheaper knockoffs) that are meant to work as pedometers, heart rate monitors, calorie counters, sleep trackers and all that jazz.

 

 

 

Accuracy

After testing some fitness trackers myself and comparing with other more accurate devices to measure the difference, plus reading some studies that were done on this topic, I can pretty much say that the only good working function there is the pedometer. The heart rate is measured not bad while at rest, but as soon as you start an exercise slightly more intensive than a walk, everything messes up. The only devices that measured my heart rate well enough during exercise were the ones that had a chest belt, which are the more professional ones made for performance measuring more than for general daily activity tracking. The calorie expenditure is way off, and all studies can show that. The difference is very big between the devices, and the manufacturers won’t even share the formulas so no one can critique its accuracy, which leads to the thought that they are just afraid of the public knowing the truth (sorry, I don’t buy the “it is confidential because we want to stay unique” stuff). Sleep tracker- I won’t even get into it. The only accurate sleep tracking way is in a lab, so don’t bother.

 

User Experience

Some are better than others, some are worse. In general there are quite a few out there with very convenient apps, where you can choose the activities, get grades, set reminders to achieve your daily goals and more. But (!) most of them have a lot of issues. I’ve seen a lot of apps that do not give you an option that is not walking/running/cycling. I mean, seriously, do you think that you don’t burn calories when you’re lifting weights? Doing other physical activity? And you don’t even have to care about calories (I personally used to track workouts just to see how consistent I am or which one I need to do next), so it is a bit disappointing not to have those options. Is that really the way to encourage people to be active? By limiting their options to a minimum? I don’t think so… The good thing about those gadgets is that for some people it can be fun seeing the numbers and being motivated to hit a better mark on your daily goals.

 

Effectiveness

It really depends on the user. Whilst there are a lot more efficient ways to achieve any goal you might have, those devices can still work for some people. Let me explain. It is a lot more effective to stick to even the most basic, rubbish workout program that was made by a two-days-of-experience laziest gym instructor (and no, I do NOT think that lack of experience is necessarily bad, there are some awesome and very thorough people out there that are doing amazing stuff even with little experience…), along with some extra goal setting for daily activity, and some necessary changes in your nutrition, and it will be better than any bracelet. After all, most of what it does is saying to you: get off the couch and go for a walk. You can pretty much say that to yourself. What will that daily walk do? Sure, it will burn some extra calories. You could burn the same amount of calories by doing a workout that will actually improve your skills, make you stronger, faster, healthier and less prone to injuries. Walking will not do that. Another problem with those gadgets is that when you see your calorie expenditure (which is not even accurate) you are more likely to go and eat those calories (or even more) which won’t help you with any weight nor performance related goals. It is a lot more efficient to focus on gradually building new habits that involve raising your physical activity levels and adjusting it according to your goals (whether it is general health, performance, weight and body composition management or appearance), along with eating healthier and ideally stick to a nutrition programme that supports your activity levels and goals (no, it doesn’t have to be a menu, it can be general guidelines). Now, given that most of the people who use those devices either want to lose weight or to generally improve their health and activity levels and become less sedentary, you can achieve those without wasting your money. Just set a reminder (or use an app on your phone) to get off the chair and go for a walk. Next time do it longer or faster. Do some pushups. See? That is already more than the bracelet will do for you.

Those devices are often used as an excuse to not do anything more. And excuses just hold you back. “I bought it so it is one step towards…, right?”, yes it is a step, but this step is like buying new gym clothes and never wearing them. “I walked 5000 steps today, I will consider it as a workout”. Sure, it is WAY better than nothing at all, but do you want to do better than nothing or you want to get to where you want to be? I will put it that way: going down slower is better than going down faster, but it still isn’t good enough to get you up on that hill you want to climb on. If you’re just trying to “slower your way down” then that will work. You just need to decide what actually your expectations are. (Seriously, it is totally fine if nor health or fitness are your goals and you just want to live your life the way you choose to live it. I am the last person on earth to tell you what to do with your body without being asked)

 

With that said, I still believe some people can benefit from those devices.

If you are absolutely not willing to do anything more than to hit some step minimum to make sure your body is being somewhat moved, or you want to add more activity in addition to your gym sessions and you need external motivation for that, they are okay. Keep in mind that there are free apps that do the exact same thing for free. Another type of the population is those who are still not ready to hit the gym and want to baby-step their way into living a more active lifestyle. I am all about baby steps and building new sets of habits gradually. Again – free apps are way better than wasting your money on a toy you will stop using quite quickly. Also, remember not to get tempted to be stuck there for too long. The steps should be taken with reasonable intervals otherwise it will not be “one step at a time”, it will just be “one step. Period”.

Obviously, if those are working for you and you find them useful please go for it. After all, what matters is what works for YOU. There are as many opinions as there are people in this world, feel free to disagree with me. I am more than happy to hear your opinion on that so feel free to comment below 

*PHOTO BY MATTHEW HENRY

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