Fitness might not have changed, but technology has.
The way we train has adapted to the science and technology around it – and fitness trackers are a great example of this process.
The big question you might be asking yourself is “do I need a fitness tracker?”. This question is actually pretty simple – and today we’re going to take you through the answer, based on your approach to fitness and your goals.
What are fitness trackers?
Fitness trackers take a lot of forms, but you’d usually expect it to be a watch or other wearable device. There are tons on the market – from independent tech companies all the way up to the big players.
You’re going to see a bunch of different designs, but they share something very simple: they gather data on you while you move/exercise.
They take measurements and give you some data on your physiological response: it might be steps taken, it might be heart rate, whatever. The features vary, but they’re basically just sensors for detecting what’s going on in your body.
This is the whole point of these devices, though they can do some cool stuff like talk to you about your workouts and provide on-the-fly recommendations. The software is constantly evolving, but we’re just going to talk about the key points.
What Should You Track?
In an ideal world, you’d have all the information on your body while you’re training – everything from blood pressure to some complicated hormonal changes.
In reality, you can only get a few important pieces of information – and they’re used by fitness trackers to keep you up to date on your workout.
Heart rate is one of the most important. This is a big factor for endurance exercise, where you need to try and keep to certain zones of intensity: you don’t want to be training too hard or too light when you’re training. Heart rate variability is also a big deal for overall health and wellbeing!
Steps are also worth counting, since they play a big factor in your overall movement throughout the day. This can be useful for training, but is primarily about NEAT: the amount of energy you use for movement that isn’t exercise. Tracking this can be a great way to keep on top of your calorie output.
GPS data is an essential one for a lot of types of endurance exercise. How do you know your exact mileage or splits if you don’t track it? This data can be linked up to apps like Strava – a social media and metric system for runners, and parallels exist for other types of training.
Timings are another great metric you can pull from these. There are a lot of things you can do with time – measure splits, heart rate variability, time to exhaustion and beyond. These devices are a great way of measuring these without relying on a stopwatch and a buddy.
The Challenges of a Fitness Tracker
There are some problems with fitness trackers – either because they’ve been over-marketed or because the software just isn’t up to date.
These challenges set out who shouldn’t buy a fitness tracker – or at least who benefits least from them.
Weight training will not see much benefit from a fitness tracker. This isn’t a huge deal since you can figure out everything you need from reps, sets, weights, and some other bits and pieces.
A fitness tracker won’t help, but you usually don’t need it – only the cutting edge really requires machine-data.
Secondly, you’re probably not going to need data on your exercise if you’re just training for fat loss at a very basic level. You can make simple change with simple methods: if you’re in your first 6 months of training, you’re probably not going to need this level of depth.
Obviously, this isn’t true if you need the GPS data, but for most people it isn’t going to play a huge role right away.
Our final point is obvious: money is always a concern for getting the most out of any new technology. Any money you’re spending on a fitness tracker is not spent on sports massage, high-quality nutritional support, or 1-1 coaching. It might be the best use of your money, but you need to look at it in terms of what you could’ve gotten instead.
Final Thoughts: Do You Need A Fitness Tracker?
That depends on what you’re going to be doing in training, and what sort of thing you’re looking for.
The only people who need a fitness tracker are those who aren’t able to pre-plan their endurance training route and need to track after the fact. This is a pretty cool technology to optimise your training, and make sure you’re sticking with your plan.
There is a huge range of “maybe” categories, too. For example, if you do a mix of weight training and cardio then maybe you need a fitness tracker if you do your cardio outdoor. Equally, if you’re tracking your steps and daily output, it might be a great choice for upping your NEAT.
If you’re not in any of the three groups mentioned above – such as training for physique, size, or strength, then a fitness tracker might not be the best use of your money.
Ultimately, your own goals determine the amount of value that a fitness tracker will bring to your life. They’re great for some, but not for everyone. You have to consider what brings the most benefit for the price you have to pay – and for many people that will be a fitness tracker, while others would be better spending it on something simple like improving diet or exercise technique.