Fitness Trackers: Should You Get One?

By June Kellum Fakkert, Epoch Times
May 31, 2016 1:54 pm Last Updated: June 21, 2016 9:41 pm

Spring is here and with the warm weather comes new motivation to get fit. If you’ve been looking at fitness trackers and are still not sure whether one will help you reach your summer workout goals, here are some pros and cons to consider.

Eva Pelegrin, founder of Attune Holistic Fitness on the Upper East Side, said all her clients have very different opinions and uses for fitness trackers. Whether trackers are useful boils down to personality and goals.

“Wearables can be a boon or a bust, depending on the personality of the user; how he or she uses them; and to what degree the wearable pulls the person’s focus away from awareness of their body and its reactions to the real world,” she said in an email.     

Here are some of the boons and busts.

Can Jumpstart Your Workout

(Maridav/Shutterstock)
(Maridav/Shutterstock)

Roy Alexander, creator of FITCampNYC, which offers bootcamp style and personal training, said he’s been using wearables to track fitness for the past 40 years (and used many different brands). He said trackers can help jumpstart start a workout regime.

“Fitness trackers are ideal to get you started and give you an idea of how important movement is to your health and to alert you to how sedentary we really are,” he said in an email.

Good for Trackable Goals, Focus, Social Interaction 

Trackers are most helpful for specific goals that can be quantified. Seeing your numbers improve can validate your perceived effort, help you assess progress, and keep motivation high.

Alexander noted that while the numbers a tracker gives you might not be totally accurate, they still give you something to work with. And they can help keep you focused and add a social element.

“Having something on your wrist helps as a reminder that you should move/workout at some point,” he said.

For the social aspect: “You can post on social media.  You see someone wearing it you may have something in common,” he said.

Heart Rate Monitoring

Epoch Times heard from more than 30 fitness professionals and people who use fitness trackers and the most-used device was the Fitbit for sleep tracking and heart rate monitoring.

One user, who uses and loves Fitbit’s heart rate monitor, wrote it was helpful for keeping workouts at a good pace:

“For me, a goal is to constantly be making the heart stronger and therefore lower the resting heart rate to that ‘pro athlete’ range. Another goal is keeping the heart rate high during workouts/training sessions where it’s easy to kind of aimlessly be resting a lot, looking at my wrist and saying ‘Oh … I’m not working hard at all’ is a nice reminder.”

(Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock)
(Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock)

Help With Sleep

Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain and a host of other serious health problems. Trackers can help you get the Z’s you need.

Nikkie Zanevsky, a trainer with the Parkour group, The Movement Creative, said that while a tracker is not very useful for Parkour—a movement discipline based on spontaneity and play—she finds the Fitbit good for her sleep habits.

“Mine are terrible. I’d like to sleep more and be more consistent,” she said in an email.

Numbers Can Become an Obsession

“Keep … focused, not obsessed” with your numbers if you use a tracker, Alexander said.

Some users had trackers but stopped using them because numbers became an unhealthy focus.

One user wrote:

“I was really committed until I got frustrated and stopped cold turkey as it started having a negative effect, in that I felt bad about myself. After a while, I kinda felt like I was a slave to the numbers and stats and couldn’t keep-up with the goals that were set.”

Another said:

“I’m not a competitive person and seeing my low stats and/or my friend’s high stats, didn’t encourage me most of the time, they just made me feel worse or wish I had the time to do more.”

May Not Be Accurate

The numbers trackers give you may also not be accurate.

One study done by researches at City University of New York suggests that fitness trackers may not be able to accurately assess calorie output. The authors say this is because our survival-oriented body wants to maintain energy expenditure within a certain range so when you increase your level of activity over a period of time, it compensates by conserving energy in other ways.

Lead author of the study, Herman Pontzer, said fitness trackers assume “a very simple, one-to-one relationship between activity and daily energy expenditure,” which according to the research is not accurate in the real world.

Not the Whole Picture

Focusing on data from trackers can also take your focus away from the quality of movement.

Pelegrin said she finds it more helpful and to work on body awareness.

“I prefer to focus on building body awareness and teaching people how to improve their movement quality. These are the biggest missing links in terms of improving performance in any activity and achieving sustainable results related to any fitness goal. You can gain body awareness with or without a wearable, but wearables alone cannot give you body awareness,” she wrote.

Other Important Considerations 

  • Does the device sync well with the other systems you use?
  • Is it intuitive enough for you?
  • Is it a big enough brand that it won’t be discontinued?
  • Does the aesthetic appeal to you?
  • Has other features you want such as a stopwatch timer that will work while you’re tracking other things (one user reported the Fitbit heart rate monitor does not do this).

Other Brands People Use

Besides the Fitbit, other trackers recommended by users are the Apple Watch and UP by Jawbone.

Alexander said his preferred brand for fitness trackers is Polar, which he’s been using since the late ’80s.

“Polar is still the gold standard, which is one reason you see Polar on a majority of gym cardio equipment, (treadmills, elliptical, stair master-like equipment). The accuracy; the first to create the wireless heart rate monitors; the quality; and the preponderance of its name in equipment makes it my No. 1 choice,” he wrote.