The good, the bad and the ugly on fitness trackers

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It sure seems like everyone and their dog has a fitness tracker these days, myself included. I was lucky enough to be gifted one of the fancy-shamnsy smart watches, and boy do I LOVE it (kid in a candy store status). Mine is the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch because I am team Android, but it is essentially the same as the Apple Watch with almost identical features.

The purpose of this blog is not to compare and contrast all the myriad of fitness trackers available, but whether or not smartwatches in general are worth the money because let’s be real…they cost the big bucks. Personally, I love having one for a whole host of reasons, but there are some potential negatives as well.

The Good

Man. I could really go on and on about all the features I love.
– Steps: This is probably the most basic of features, but it is still one of my favorites simply because I am a big fan and proponent of being active throughout the day outside of organized exercise. It keeps me motivated to get those steps in throughout the day and not just be a lazy bum.

– GPS: Probably my favorite feature as I like to consider myself sort of a fare weather runner. By no means am I a hard core racing girl, but I still like to know the “stats” of my runs – distance, pace, etc. Plus, it is really nice not to have to use an app on my phone as it is big and clunky, and I never did find a great way to transport it while running outside. I mean those arm sleeves either cut off my circulation or jiggle around. Tucked in my clothes somewhere means a sweaty phone. And don’t even get me started on those belts as that is just an ordeal. Anyway, I digress.

– Music: Again, music right on my watch means no phone to lug around! I am kinda weird in that I ultimately prefer the silence to some tunes, but in that last stretch you might just need a little INXS to power you home. Anyone else feel me?

– Calories: It is nice to have a general (emphasis on general) idea of my calorie count for the day as it prevents me from eating a small farm animal, holding me more accountable to a moderate calorie range.

There are a lot of other amazing features that would be more or less attractive and beneficial depending on who you are and what you do. For example, I use the timers all day long as I am constantly using a stopwatch for group fitness classes. Smartwatches track your sleep, heart rate, floors climbed and more. You can use it to pay, set alarms and even take guided relaxation sessions. Wal-Mart would be proud as it is truly a one stop shop.

BUT…

As much as I personally love my own smartwatch, I do see some pitfalls.

THE BAD

If you skim over everything else in this blog, listen up or should I say read up on this. The tracking on any of these bad boys is just a general estimate. I repeat. There is no way of getting an exact reading for any of it.

One of my biggest pet peeves is in regards to the calories burned during a workout. Do NOT take this number as cold hard facts. There is so much that goes into a workout that the watch CANNOT determine.

First, smartwatches will always show a bigger calorie burn during a cardio workout than a strength workout, which is true – I will not deny that cardio does burn more calories DURING actual exercise – but strength and HIIT training…

1. Create a bigger EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which means you will burn more calories AFTER the workout is done.

2. Build more muscle, and muscle burns more calories at rest. So you will burn more just sitting around being a lazy bum. Now we are talking my kind of language.

The watch doesn’t really account for these things.

Beyond that, your watch doesn’t track well with certain kinds of workouts. For example, it can’t tell that your abs are on fire during a brutal core circuit, but it would be ridiculous to say that it isn’t an effective workout because it didn’t burn as many calories.

Your watch can only generate a general estimate based for calories burned based on things like your age, weight and HR, which leads me to my next point.

The heart rate indicators are not super accurate. Let me give you an example that will prove my point. My watch consistently tells me that my heart rate is higher when I am doing a conversational pace jog than when I am doing a Tabata set of burpees. Now anyone that has ever done one burpee let alone 4 minutes of them knows that HR would clearly be higher during that rather than taking a conversational stroll in the park.

This of course will effect the caloric burn on your watch because it relies heavily on heart rate to generate that stat. So don’t take the calories on these bad boys as written law or the barometer for how effective and beneficial your workout is because it is not telling the whole picture.

THE UGLY

If you have any tendency towards obsessing about your health and fitness, I would highly recommend avoiding a smartwatch as it will only feed into that issue. It will simply be more numbers to “haunt” you that you will obsessively strive for each day. As I always, always say our health habits should always enhance our quality of life never hinder it.

In my book, smartwatches are generally a big plus for any fitness minded individual. I admittedly geek out about all the different features and think they are not only beneficial, but also fun.

Just keep in mind that the stats are not going to be 100% spot on and that the watch cannot accurately account for certain things in regard to exercise. So please don’t start basing the efficacy of your workouts by how many calories you burned according to your watch.

If you do happen to have an obsessive personality when it comes to fitness, my advise would be to just not go there. You don’t need more “numbers” in your life.

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2 comments on “The good, the bad and the ugly on fitness trackers
  1. Donna says:

    I have a Fitbit charge 2 and I love it too, mainly for the steps, as well. I love that it buzzes 10 minutes before the hour to make sure I move and get my 250 steps. I agree whole heartedly about the accuracy information and what really makes me laugh is I can get all the steps I need when I play the piano or when I crochet! But it is a great motivator for daily movement.

    • admin says:

      Yes exactly Donna! I love that it buzzes at me too, and I think I am generally and honestly more active because I have one. But you do have to take them with a small grain of salt ;). Ha!

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