When shopping for a fitness tracker, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. We constantly see new technologies, new designs and new features designed to sweep us off our feet. Unless you know what you’re looking for, though, you could end up with a dud.
This article breaks down 7 key things you need to consider before you buy a fitness tracker. It’s essential reading for anyone considering entering the fitness tracker waters.
Key Consideration # 1: Design
Most fitness tracker designs resemble a thin wristband. The minimalistic look is the most popular, as most people want to wear their device in the gym, at the office as well as when they’re out on the town. Some manufacturers, such as MisFit, have created trackers that look like pieces of jewellery.
Look for a tracker that is not too bulky. You should feel comfortable wearing the device in a range of settings. It should also have an attractive, easy to read display. You’ll find LCD displays on the majority of trackers. There are a few, however, such as the Jawbone UP 3, that do not feature a display.
Key Consideration # 2: Waterproof Feature
Being able to jump into a pool with your fitness tracker on your wrist will allow you to monitor your swimming exercise activity. While most trackers are water resistant, only a handful are water proof. Water resistant trackers are ok when taking a shower or washing the dishes. But, if you want to monitor your swimming workout, you’ll want a device that is waterproof.
While most trackers will only give you information about your swimming heart rate and the amount of calories burned, there are a few that will drill down deeper to give you more information.
To find out how waterproof a tracker is, you need to consider its IP Number. The IP number relates to a rating system established by the International Electrotechnical Commission. It has two digits following the letters IP. The first digit tells you how dust resistant the device is. The second tells you how resistant to water it is. The higher the number, the better the level of protection you’ll receive.
Key Consideration # 3: Heart Rate Tracking Technology
Not all fitness trackers will track your heart rate. Those that do may take the reading from sensors on the base of the tracker or through a chest strap heart rate monitor. The chest strap based trackers will give you the most accurate reading.
Some fitness tracker will provide you with constant monitoring of your heart rate. Others will only give you periodic readings or a maximum exercise reading. For the most accurate monitoring of your training pulse, look for a device that gives you a continuous reading.
Key Consideration # 4: Data
Before you buy a tracker, decide what data is important to you. Otherwise, you could end up with an expensive device with lots of cool features that you never use. If all you want is a tracker of your steps, all you need is a cheap pedometer. The basic data monitored on devices is steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled, and pulse rate.
If you do a lot of weight or CrossFit training, you will need a tracker that can give accurate activity monitoring for non-aerobic activity, such as the FitBit Surge, which has built-in GPS technology. The Surge is our recommended weight training band.
You’ll want a tracker that can personalize to the type of training that you are doing. The best trackers will have built-in programs for running, cycling, rowing and other exercises. Others will require you to program in your workout details.
Key Consideration # 5: The App
The App is the engine that drives your fitness tracker. It analyses your data, produces result graphs, challenges, goals and social media notifications. Check the app that matches your device to make sure that it is easy to interpret, provides the information in an interesting, motivating way and gives you detailed breakdowns with charts, graphs and comparisons.
Check if the app offers challenges, sets goals and offers incentives to keep you on track. You’ll also want to know if it provides social media functionality so you can compete with your friends.
You’ll need to verify that the tracker’s App will work with your mobile phone. That shouldn’t be a problem as the majority now support Android and iOS.
Key Consideration # 6: Battery Life
The vast majority of fitness trackers run off batteries. Because you’re wearing the tracker all day long, you will need a watch with a good battery life. The last thing you want is to have to constantly take it off your wrist to recharge. And, if its charging overnight, you won’t be able to take advantage of the sleep feature.
When it comes to battery life, there are two types of tracker:
- Trackers that need recharging every 5-6 days
- Trackers that come with a watch battery that will run for about 6 months
Those that have to be recharged every week generally feature better metrics. Those that can run for 6 months use a watch type coin battery that will need replacing.
Key Consideration # 7: Calorie Tracker
You’ll want a tracker that provides as accurate a calorie count as possible. Recent studies have shown huge discrepancies in the accuracy of the calorie count function of popular trackers. The most accurate trackers are those that have chest strap heart rate monitors or built-in GPS.
Some manufacturers have been experimenting with ways of including calorie counts of the foods you consume as part of the fitness tracker data display. This advancement is still in its infancy, however. At the moment it involves manually inputting data about each food that you eat. For most people, this process will be too time consuming.
A couple of brands that are taking the lead in simplifying the calorie count equation are FitBit and Jawbone. For people who reside in the continental United States, the FitBit has a cool barcode scanner that dramatically simplifies the process.
Want to know how accurate fitness tracker really are? Check out this amazing video which reveals the truth . . .
The fitness monitoring market is overwhelming. The seven key considerations we’ve outlined above will allow you to wade your way through the massive fitness tracker market. As a result, you will be able to identify the fitness tracker that best suits your needs. Use this 7-step guide to help you to choose the fitness tracker that is right for you.
By Jim Roose: Jim is a long time fitness enthusiast and former powerlifting coach and gym owner. He recently retired and now blogs and writes about fitness tips and tricks that are based on over 35 years of industry experience.