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The Fitness Zone

The Truth About Fitness Trackers and Their Benefits
November 13, 2014

Since improvements in technology first made mobile fitness trackers mainstream, there has been much skepticism as to whether or not they are useful. According to their promoters, fitness trackers encourage users to set and pursue goals, improve motivation, offer accountability, apply consistency, plan workouts and track fitness - but how true are their words? Does the data supplied by such devices really lead to better fitness results?

What fitness trackers claim

It seems that anyone and everyone these days has experienced some usage of a fitness tracker, and not a week goes by without a new app or device hitting the market. Ever since the launch of the Fitbit Tracker and NIKE’s Fuelband, hundreds of manufacturers have jumped on the fitness tracking bandwagon, all claiming to offer something ‘different’ in the way of activity tracking. Since Apple announced its upcoming launch of the Apple Watch there has been high hopes for the device but, according to Lifehacker, it fails to measure some of the things promised.  

The Apple Watch claims to track intensity (via your heartbeat), distanced travelled (using Wi-Fi and GPS in your iPhone) and total body movement (with an accelerometer). It says it will “get to know you like a good personal trainer would”, and is designed to deliver intelligent reminders that will keep you on top of your fitness.

First up, no amount of data from a smartwatch can substitute the expertise of a personal trainer. Fitness is an individual thing and no one exercise produces the same results for everyone, so personal feedback is important.

Secondly, Apple’s promo video for its watch shows people doing exercises like box jumps and stationary cycling, both things that couldn’t be measured using the device. The accelerometer and pulse monitor is great when running long distances, but not so good when tracking non-cardio activities, such as strength training, weightlifting, and resistance exercises.

So does this mean that tracking devices, even the new ones like Apple Watch are bad? Not necessarily.

What’s true

While there are many things a fitness tracking device can’t monitor well, there are a number of things it can, such as general activity. As a rule, sitting less and moving more will always be of benefit to your fitness, so gentle reminders from a device to get up and walk can’t be a bad thing.

Fitness trackers are great as Internet-connected pedometers, and can give you immediate feedback on your activities. Most devices will tell you how many steps you’ve taken and how far you’ve gone on a given day, and many can now integrate with social networks to allow you to work out with friends. Some also track your movements as you sleep, allowing you great insight into how often you toss and turn at night. A fitness tracker won’t be able to tell you the reasonings behind your tosses and turns, but by monitoring regularity you can tell whether or not you have a problem getting a full night’s sleep. You can then present the data to your doctor, who could help you get to route of the problem.

Other benefits of fitness trackers include calculating the number of calories burned, which can then be configured with third-party diet applications.

Essentially, fitness trackers are ideal for those wanting to take the guess work out of their workouts. For those who like running and cardio-intense workouts they are great, and if you are a data-junkie you’ll love the information you receive from your chosen device.

However, fitness trackers are not to be relied upon solely, and it’s essential that you monitor your progress in other formats such as photos to ensure you are on the right track. For those starting out their fitness journey, the data can make things fun and promised rewards can help keep you motivated. 

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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