We live in an age where technology is involved in pretty much every aspect of our daily lives and it didn’t take long before the sports world caught on and for our fitness spaces and conversations to be saturated with gadgets and wearables, designed for every occasion.
If you have never owned a fitness tracker or wearable, this guide will go into what they are, what they do, why you should and shouldn’t use one and what to look for in your first purchase. Think of it like this, we’re doing all the hard work, research and thinking so you don’t have to.
Better yet, even if you have owned a fitness tracker before, this guide will still be incredibly useful as a quick refresher course on what to be looking out for in your next sports tech wearable. Or it might even help you discover new features or ways to get the most out of your tech.
Do I need a fitness tracker? NO
This first point will probably upset a few people. But, no you don’t always need a fitness tracker. Or at least, you don’t always need an electronic fitness tracker or wearable gadget.
The first thing to note is that fitness trackers in the electronic sense aren’t essential for most people. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when the only bits of equipment even the best athletes and performers in the world had available to them, was just a stopwatch and a notepad.
With a stopwatch and a notepad, you are more than able to track and break down your performance effectively even without a smart watch, GPS, heart rate monitor or app. And certainly, if you are new to fitness, activity or sport we would definitely recommend starting here and starting simple.
If you are starting a running program or perhaps you are involved in a sport or activity that scores against time, then with your stopwatch you can easily track how long it took you to complete a set distance or activity. And for every time you do it you can see if you can do so faster and for the same if not less effort than the previous time.
This in reality is the most basic principle of exercise and training and can be tracked and achieved with just a stopwatch. Then with your notepad, you can keep a physical record of your times, distances, efforts; even how you felt whilst doing them. This allows you to clearly see the progress over time and you also don’t have to rely on our ability to remember what we did or how we felt when doing it
When we start becoming more accomplished at what we are doing, we may want to start measuring the intensity of our training more accurately so that we can get the most out of every workout and progress more quickly. But this is where it starts to get a little more complicated and perhaps where technology will come in handy.
Do I need a fitness tracker? YES
Our ability to measure intensity is often left to our perception of effort. The most common being a 1 – 10 scale of RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). This is a great beginner’s tool to start developing a natural understanding and awareness of our body and what exercise feels like but it can also be really inaccurate and is exactly why a smart fitness tracker would be useful here.
Our perception of effort can be influenced by so many things and without the ability to accurately measure and track it, our workouts may start to become less purposeful and we run the risk of wasting our own time.
One of the most obvious and (mostly) reliable indicators of physical exertion is heart rate and nearly all fitness trackers have the ability to measure your heart rate.
Having the ability to see your beats per minute in real time is invaluable as this will give you an excellent indicator of how hard you are actually working or not working in some cases!
Fitness trackers don’t just track heart rate. Fitness trackers come in all shapes and sizes and can track any number of the following: calories burned, step count, blood oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, heart rate variability, sleep… the list goes on.
If your smart watch or fitness tracker uses GPS you can also use this to accurately record speed, distance and time. Perfect for your running, cycling and even swimming workouts.
Pros and Cons of Fitness Trackers
Having access to so much data quite literally in the palm of your hands can be both a blessing and a curse. Having the data available to you is a great way to really tune in to your body. Think of it as running your own experiments and tests on yourself every single day. That sounds like fun if you ask me!
Too much data on the other hand can be quite distracting and often if you are left to interpret the data on your own; unless you’re a sports scientist or coach, this can be quite confusing and distracts from your goals and the enjoyment of simply being active.
Even the most experienced sports people switch off the tech from time to time and simply enjoy being active. If it’s good enough for them, it’s more than good enough for you and me.
Keeps you accountable – just like exercising with a buddy, having a fitness tracker can help keep you accountable to your short and long-term physical activity goals.
Motivating – being able to see your daily progress is the motivation we all need and having available in the palm of your hands is a big bonus.
Keeps you connected – these days it’s hard to escape how connected we are to the world around us and that’s why many smart watches and fitness trackers not only keep a log of your heart rate and workouts, but also your text messages and incoming calls too.
Expensive – fitness gains don’t come cheap both in time spent working out but also in actual cost. Sure, there are cheaper options but if you are looking to really hit the next level in your performance, the trackers and software to help you do that will come at a price.
Distracting – all that data comes at a cost too. For the most serious of athletes looking to find every marginal gain they can, there is no such thing as too much data. For you and me, often there definitely is too much data. Especially if we’re tracking it purely for the sake of tracking it. Eventually we may find ourselves buying and using gadgets for data that we are not using in a meaningful way.
Battery – just like us, tech needs an opportunity to recharge too and this can sometimes mean having to be without your device for period of time every couple of days. There are wearables out there that you can charge whilst still wearing and using them, but again, the convenience of that will most likely come at an extra cost.
What fitness tracker is right for me?
We’re hoping that over the course of this article so far, we’ve outlined exactly when and where fitness trackers are necessary and when they are not. If we haven’t, we’re going to make one last effort and bring it home for you.
When shopping around for new wearables or even an upgrade there’s a couple of things to think about. Keep in mind: budget, features, usage. These three things will ultimately help you to find a device that you are going to get real value from and should be a top priority.
Your fitness level and even the nature of your sport, activity and the goals you are working towards may also influence the choice of wearable as you may need more or less features and data options.
From the price you can get a rough indication of the level of features and battery life you will get from the device. More isn’t always better though. So, if it has features and tracks data you don’t feel you actually need or would use effectively, take a look at cheaper and simpler options.
But, if you’re looking for greater connectivity and integration, you will have to look at the more expensive options.
Right, on to features. For experienced athletes, they know exactly what they are looking for so this should be an easy choice. If you’re not so experienced, stick to the basics.
Heart rate, steps and calories are simple and accessible ways to help you get and stay more active whilst having some (but not too many) data points for you to track meaningfully throughout the day.
Last but by no means least, usage. If you are very active and you also like to be very connected, having a device with a longer battery life and more interactive screen may be something for you to consider, but again this will come at a cost.
Do you use a fitness tracker or smart watch? What are your favourite features? Let us know in the comments below. Don’t forget to share this with someone who you know would benefit from reading this. The U Perform family loves sharing ideas and encouraging each other.