Wearable fitness tech has really come into its own over the past year, with the launch of a slew of new products like the Microsoft Band and a whole new line of Fitbits. At this time of New Year’s resolutions, picking up one of those new gizmos seems like a great way to kick-start a commitment to fitness.
But over my years of talking with friends about their fitness trackers, and watching other people discuss them on social media, it has become increasingly clear that these devices don’t just work on their own. Instead, they require a lot of commitment from their user in order to really show results.
At the same time, using a tracker has been a key part of improving my own fitness.
Here are my top tips for getting moving with the help of some technology.
Step 1: Start simple with a smartphone app
The easiest way to start tracking your activity is by using the sensors built into your phone. There are a bunch of apps out there that already offer tracking – Apple’s built-in Health app will work for iPhone 6, 6 Plus and 5S users, while Android Fit is a good pick for people on Google’s platform.
They’ll run in the background, and use your phone to figure out what you’re up to. After that, I’d recommend you use that data to develop a feedback loop with whatever key goal you have, whether that’s losing weight, increasing your performance, or even just getting out of the house on a regular basis.
The next biggest step is to check in with your data, and make sure you’re on your way to achieving your goals. I look over my step data every night to see how active I’ve been, and I usually end up weighing myself every other day to see how my activity and weight are correlated. That feedback has been key to keeping me engaged with my fitness.
The one downside to smartphone-based tracking is that it requires users to keep their phone on them at all times in order to get an accurate count. I’ve found that it’s good enough for basic tracking – and it picks up the vast majority of my steps when I’m out of the house – but people who spend their days puttering around at home may find that their phone doesn’t pick up anything a dedicated tracker would.
Step 2: Pick up some dedicated hardware
More consistent collection is the biggest reason to pick up a dedicated piece of fitness tracking hardware. With a tracker, you never need to worry about leaving your phone behind, and you will often get some benefits in the form of increased accuracy.
There are a bunch of trackers out there on the market, and they break down into two basic types.
Wrist-mounted trackers are basically bracelets with an embedded sensor package designed to determine how many steps you take. The Fitbit Charge is one of the best in breed, but there are a bunch of options out there at a variety of price points. Depending on how you use your hands, they may be less accurate. I got a decent count working at my desk, but people who spend a lot of time working with their hands in a stationary position (say, chopping wood) may see some anomalies.
There’s also the matter of fashion: many of these devices are more designed for function than form. They’re not ugly per se, but they look more like a piece of exercise equipment than a classy watch. If that’s a concern, it might be worth contemplating a different kind of tracker.
[resolutions]Clip trackers are a bit less obtrusive – they clip onto an item of clothing and track your steps from there. I usually stick my Fitbit One in the little pocket of my jeans that doesn’t usually get any use, but most of these devices can be clipped anywhere, including a user’s waistband, bra, shirt collar, or any other surface. These are great for people who want to track their activity without showing off that they’re wearing a fitness device. Unless I point it out, nobody really notices the clip in my pocket, and i still get all the data.
The downside is that it’s easy for me to forget about it. I have to remember to check the number of steps I’ve taken over the course of a day, since there’s not something on my wrist reminding me.
No matter what kind of tracker you use, it’ll connect to the manufacturer’s proprietary data platform. Some of them integrate with Android Fit or Apple’s Health app, but others like Fitbit choose to keep their data to themselves.
Step 3: Complete your feedback loop with calorie tracking
Your fitness tracker is a great way to track your level of activity, but eating well is also an important piece of the fitness puzzle. Most tracker apps also include an area where you can enter what you eat by scanning barcodes and punching in recipes. I can’t speak to other ecosystems, but Fitbit’s is pretty good.
People who want a dedicated experience with a solid community might also take a look at MyFitnessPal, an app that has a vast database of foods, along with support for generating nutrition information given a single recipe. It’s a good way to easily keep track of what you’re eating, which is incredibly useful, especially if you’re like me and can eat just based on sheer force of habit.