Do Fitness Trackers Get You Fit?
Pros of Wearable Trackers
Dan Roberts, strength and conditioning coach: The distinction between a smart watch and wearable tracker is increasingly blurred, but the main benefit of all trackers is that they build awareness. For many of us, it’s interesting and useful to get real, live data about two key components of health: our activity levels and sleep pattern. Also, the more advanced ones have pretty good GPS functions—particularly handy for runners.
Jane Wake, fitness expert: I am all for fitness trackers, but I think it’s important to recognize what they can and cannot do for us. They are very useful monitoring tools that can boost an individual’s motivation to start moving and to continue to move. They are also far more accurate now than they used to be—GPS signalling being the revolution that made tracking easy even from a basic app on your phone. And I think this is the key. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to find a tool that actually works for you—most apps can be downloaded for free.
Joanna Hall, sports scientist: Fitness trackers have been an invaluable tool for increasing individuals’ awareness of their base activity levels. In today’s society, we lead such busy, fast lives that our perception of our physical activity levels is often far higher than reality—research has shown that individuals considerably overestimate their daily physical activity levels.
Sam Murphy, running coach and fitness expert: It’s been shown in studies that quantifiable measures, like counting steps, do lead to an increase in activity, and I do believe that having targets to work towards can be helpful in motivating people to be more active. You set a baseline and then feel motivated to try and beat it. So, simple trackers, which count steps, or miles walked or run, are often very useful. I use a GPS tracker which monitors pace, heart rate, and distance, as well as a daily step counter.
Cons of Wearable Trackers
Mr. Roberts: There are no physical cons; however, having more measurement and more data isn’t necessarily a good thing. The obsession with improving metrics can take you away from the spiritual benefits of exercise. To love your body, you have to see it not as a machine, but as something to enjoy and as a tool of expression. I personally don’t use them for this reason.
Ms. Wake: Fitness trackers cannot make you fit. They cannot change your life, or be the answer to your prayers.
Ms. Hall: While they can tell you how much you are doing, they are not so good at showing you how well you are doing.
Ms. Murphy: There are much more complex devices out there that measure everything from your oxygen saturation to your vertical oscillation during running, but I would question how useful this information is to the majority of people. Even if you know, for example, that you oscillate more than average, what do you actually do about it?
Shift your focus to the quality of your movement, not just the quantity. (pexels)
Mr. Roberts: Long term, I think for both the very unfit and the very fit, a wearable tracker can make a difference and is useful.
Ms. Wake: There are, psychologically, several stages at which you can fall in or fall out of your fitness regime and if someone is up and ready and raring to go, then a fitness tracker can work wonders, particularly in those early stages. And this is where I think it makes a massive difference.
If, however, you really aren’t in the right place to go for it, like times when you may feel too sluggish or don’t know where or how to start, then you should be careful before you buy something like this. And be really careful if you’re buying it for someone else; catch people at the wrong stage psychologically, and it can act to demotivate them. Find your willingness first, then think about a tracker that could work.
Ms. Hall: Poor movement quality can limit your fitness results, contribute to injuries, and create poor posture. Focusing on your technique, specifically when walking, can make your results far more meaningful and give greater results to your fitness and activity efforts recorded on your trackers.
In this new year, shift your focus to the quality of your movement, not just the quantity. Even if clients struggle with fitting in exercise or motivation and struggle to increase their exercise levels and daily step counts, by applying scientifically proven techniques we have found clients significantly improve their posture, increase their walking speed by up to 24 per cent, and reduce joint stress at the knee and ankle.
Ms. Murphy: I think people have become a bit obsessed about monitoring and measuring without stopping to question what all this data is actually for—what it means and how it’s useful. You may learn that you had a poor phase of deep sleep, but unless you’re willing to change your lifestyle to make it more favorable to a healthy sleep pattern, what use is it? Don’t just measure for the sake of it—but if you’re motivated by data, then pick something that measures the variables that you can actually change.
Dan Roberts is a strength and conditioning coach and founder of one of Britain’s leading well-being and fitness companies. DanRobertsGroup.com
Jane Wake is one of the U.K.’s leading fitness experts, with a master’s in sport and recreation management. She writes, speaks, and presents, but mostly moves. JaneWake.com
Joanna Hall is a sports scientist and the creator and founder of the WalkActive System fitness program and the WalkActive phone app. WalkActive.com
Sam Murphy is a running coach, fitness expert, and author based in East Sussex. Sam-Murphy.co.uk