If you’re at all interested in improving your health, then you may be interested in potentially getting yourself a fitness tracker. They’ve been gradually getting more popular over the last couple of years and in 2015 we saw some very compelling offerings get released. No longer are these glorified pedometers; now they have all kinds of other great features like heart rate monitors, GPS and even sensors that can work out if you’re stressed or not.
But do you actually need any of them? Are these useful additions to your training arsenal or are they just distractions that make you feel like you’re taking strides in the right direction without actually doing anything? Let’s take a look and find out…
How Fitness Tracking Can be Useful
The first thing to recognize is that no, fitness tracking isn’t going to change your life. If you’ve always lacked motivation and if you hate working out, then strapping an expensive watch to your wrist is not going to do anything much to change that.
BUT if you’re already improving in your fitness, they can be a boon depending on how you use them and whether or not you know how to make the most out of them. It’s the nature of the data collected as well as how you act on that data that really matters.
For instance, the step-counting is something that on the face of it might seem fairly useless. And actually it is fairly useless at first – until you start thinking about what those steps actually mean and how you can act on the information to improve your health and fitness.
For instance, what you might find is that you barely move at the weekends. During the week you run around going shopping and commuting to work, but come the weekend you collapse on the sofa and you manage about 2,000 steps if that. A long way off the 10,000 we’re recommended to aim for! Right now you’ve identified an issue that might be affecting your health in a negative way and if you’re so inclined, you can act on that to try and make the necessary changes.
The calorie count at the end of the day should also be viewed as more than just a fun number. That number is actually very useful (assuming your tracker is accurate) because it gives you a more accurate idea of your average calorie burn. That means you can then calculate how many calories you can consume while still maintaining a deficit. In other words, how many calories do you need to remove from your diet in order to start losing weight?
Tracking your calories coming in through an app like MyFitnessPal is frustrating work and not something anyone particularly enjoys. However, if you can push through for just a few days, you can once again get an idea of your average and use this information to know where to make changes.
Likewise, the data you collect while running isn’t all that useful in itself but when you know how to act on that data it suddenly does become handy. That’s because it allows you to start monitoring how much you’re improving as well as to set goals for yourself on runs. Instead of just setting out and running randomly, or running boring laps in order to keep the variables consistent, you can now run wherever you like while knowing exactly where you went and how quickly you got there. Trying to improve on your pace, your split and your total calories burned will ensure you’re constantly improving.
Sleep tracking is also helpful when you know how to use it. This time you should be looking at how changes to your routine might affect the amount and quality of sleep that you’re getting and when you do this, you can then identify things you need to do more or less often in order to feel better on a regular basis. The quality of your sleep can make a huge difference to the way you feel and the way you perform, so this is a metric that is very much worth tracking and improving on.
There are other ways you can use this data to take action too but the key point to take away here is that you should be taking some sort of action in order for the data to actually be useful. If you just wear the device and never think about how to improve the numbers it’s showing, then you won’t get any benefit from it and you’ll probably get bored of it pretty quickly!
Motivation and Ideas
There is another angle to fitness tracking that’s useful though as well – which is that it helps to give you motivation and even sometimes inspiration.
The other day I was waiting in for a parcel which didn’t arrive until 9pm. I really wanted to do a cardio workout but my small flat and wobbly floorboards don’t exactly lend themselves to that idea.
Fortunately I had my Microsoft Band which lets you load ‘guided workouts’ onto it. I found ‘lunge tabata’ which was something a bit different and a bit of fun.
Even where guided workouts aren’t an option, there’s still motivation to be found here. I personally am quite OCD about my fitness tracking and I hate the thought of having data that looks bad (God forbid I have a 3-day row of no exercise!). This alone is enough to motivate me to get off my backside when I might otherwise have thought about just lying there.
And while I don’t use these features myself, a lot of people also enjoy the social aspects of their fitness trackers that let them compete with friends or even strangers to see who can generate the best stats.
Overall then, I would definitely say that a fitness tracker can be a highly useful tool and it’s something you should think about picking up.
Just don’t think that this is the answer to all your problems, or something that will completely change your physique. This is a simple data-collection device and the power of that will depend entirely on your ability to act on that information.