Friday, April 21, 2017

Stonewall Fitness: Do Fitness Trackers Really Improve Fitness?

By David Smith

Fitness trackers such as the FitBit and Apple Watch have become very popular no doubt, they can do everything from tracking steps, calories and heart rate to giving you an almost complete profile of your bodily processes throughout the day and night. While the technology has certainly become more advanced, it’s hardly anything new. Endurance athletes have been using heart rate monitors for years and I am sure a lot of people will remember the step counters from the mid 2000s. Yet how will your average gym goer or person looking to improve fitness benefit from all this data?

​One of the basic functions of wearable fitness trackers is to track steps. After wearing it for a day or so, a lot of people are surprised at the number of steps they take, usually between 7000-10,000 steps a day. Thus the first goal someone will make is to reach a certain number of steps per day, even if that means walking laps around your living room at the end of the day to see that final number appear. The same process might happen when you track your calories burned or even your average HR (heart rate) through physical activity. Many gyms even have posters and charts for “HR Zones” that provide a point of reference for the number you might be seeing.

​While all this data might be great to see, it’s important to understand what it means and how to utilize it toward improving your fitness. A wearable fitness tracker is simply a tool, nothing more. While you can accomplish the same results with or without the device; if you plan on using one, be sure you get your money’s worth!

Wear your fitness tracker for a week or so and go about your daily routine, establish a baseline of your daily physical activity. This is also a good opportunity to learn how it works, play around with the settings and get used to wearing it.

  • Why are you wearing a fitness tracker?
    • Key question. Wearable Fitness Trackers can be expensive so you should have a specific reason for your purchase. If you cannot answer this question, proceed no further until you can.
    • Everybody has their own reasons, they might include wearing it to track daily steps, reminders to get up and move around, track calories burnt throughout the day for weight loss or to achieve a certain HR level during physical activity/ exercise.
    • Whatever reason you might have, it should be personal to you. What specifically do you want to improve on and how will a fitness tracker help you?

  • Set ambitious yet attainable goals for yourself.
    • You can build your goals based off the baseline data you’ve already tracked on your first week of wearing it. Of the data you receive, you can determine where you need to make improvement and center your goals on that.
    • For example, if you’re baseline steps you achieve every day is 7,000, a good goal would be to double that. Take 14,000 steps a day. The fitness tracker will keep track of the steps but it’s up to you to figure out when and how you’ll take them.
    • If you use cardio machines at the gym, track your HR and compare it to a HR Training Zone chart. Could you be pushing yourself a bit harder during your workout? 

  • Keep track of your daily goals.
    • Take the data from your day and write it down in an app, journal or log. Even if you didn’t reach your daily goals, keep track of it. Write down a few notes on what you did really well and what you could do better.
    • Always strive for improvement, if you stay consistent with your training, you will find the things you once were challenging have become easier. So you will have to find ways to push yourself even harder. With a journal you can reflect back on days that were tough back then when today you find yourself working just as hard but accomplishing even more. 

  • Stay consistent!
    • Fitness trackers are only useful if you continue to collect the data and use it to move forward. Nobody is perfect, nor will they ever be; especially when they start. Each day you will find yourself working toward reaching your daily goals and every step (sometimes literally) counts.
    • Even with the best intentions when you purchase the device, if it’s just going to end up in a drawer after a couple months. Why did you buy it in the first place? 

Ultimately fitness trackers do just that, track your fitness. It is up to you to decide how you will utilize that data to push your limits and step outside your comfort zone to accomplish your goals. 

“Strive for progress, not perfection”

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