Since the beginning of time fitness has always been progressive in the arena of technology. From the day that Ug the Caveman realized that the heavier the boulder he carried, the stronger he got.
These days our lives are inundated with portable technological devices. Smart phones, tablet computers, GPS, and so on are as regular a part of daily lives as a shirt and pants.
Fitness trackers have really flooded the fitness industry within the last five years or so. What began as a pedometer that counted your steps has evolved into a one stop fitness database strapped on your wrist or downloaded to your phone. The fitness tracking industry has actually become a 1.5 billion dollar enterprise with offerings from such major companies as Nike, Apple, and Samsung. Random fact to tell your friends: The first device designed and implemented to measure your steps was invented in 1780.
These days you can buy everything from a simple device that costs $10.00 all the way up to something like the Mondaine Helvetica No.1 Smartwach that will run you $950.00. That figure in itself proves that these devices have gone from gym rat tech gadgets, to high scale accessories.
Let us go ahead and examine the up and the downside to these devices so you can get the most out of your decision to buy (or to not buy) one.
THE UPSIDE of Fitness Tracking Devices
It is a natural human desire to want to see results. Well that in essence is the main purpose of fitness trackers. They do everything from tracking your steps, measuring heart rate, calculating caloric expenditure, counting sets and reps, etc. This is great to fill that result desire. Sure, you can run a set of HIIT intervals and know you burned some calories. Or you can see a number and feel that much better about yourself. These devices can be a great motivator. Seeing those numbers makes you think your effort was worth it!
Additionally, trackers hold the user accountable. Accountability dictates pretty much every decision in life. Remember that old saying that every action has a reaction? A director of Rehabilitation Services for a Harvard affiliated medical program was quoted in an article published by Harvard Medical School to the fact that accountability translates to motivation. Put simply, you are more apt to do what needs to be done if someone is watching.
Most trackers will also feature a component to monitor your heart rate. This can help to determine and judge the intensity of aerobic exercise. The benefits here are of course the hard numbers of your effort, but also that accountability factor.
DOWNSIDE Fitness Tracking Devices
What could be wrong with something that holds you accountable for making an honest effort?
- Cost. Low end heart rate monitors can be purchased at stores like Wal Mart, Target, and K Mart for as little as $10.00 or less. This is effectively the digital companion to taking your pulse.
Multifunctional fitness trackers (heart rate, pedometer, timers) go for an average range of $49.00 with upscale models like the Garmin Vivoactive HR costing you $250.
Like most technology it is handy and serves a lot of purposes. On the flip side it costs you money for the convenience of doing tasks that can otherwise be done for free.
- Accuracy. Activity trackers for the most part can accurately count your daily steps (the average target being 10,000.) An American Council on Exercise related study found that of the five devices tested, that the devices recorded accurately within 10% of the actual controlled numbers. However, in the same study, John P. Porcari, PhD (head of University of Wisconsin’s Clinical Exercise Physiology Department) concluded that determining caloric expenditure is rather difficult, hence not garnering as accurate results. This is due to the wide variances in exercise activity including bodily movement or as Procari puts it “biological variability”.
It should be noted that Smartphone apps tend to be less accurate in their counts and can vary greatly.
- Dependence. You’d be hard pressed to find someone to argue that the average adult is not dependent on their mobile device. In fact, these devices have become sort of an addiction. You not only depend on them but trust them. The same goes for fitness devices. I have witnessed people of the assumption that their effort, (be it steps, aerobic, or resistance exercise) did not matter today because they forgot their Fitbit at home. Either that or they forgo their usual efforts because it’s not counting. In reality it always counts whether a tech gadget tells you or not. It’s sort of the double edged sword to that accountable factor. Furthermore, inaccuracy can lead individuals to question their progress and in turn their efforts. Real results are determined by visual factors such as body composition and weight, not the number on an electronic gadget.
Conclusion. As with any piece of technology there are pros and cons. The absolute undisputable truth here though is that it is not necessary. I’m not saying don’t buy the Fitbit or don’t download the app on your phone. You are more than welcome to do so, with the knowledge that they are in fact a crutch, an aide, and a cushion. They are tools of ease.
If you decide that these tools are right for you, consider these things before you buy
- Am I naturally motivated without the device? (answer should be YES)
- Am I buying the minimum priced and featured device for my needs? (answer should be YES)
- Will this device determine my overall fitness/health goals? (answer should be NO)
- Is any part of the reason for my purchase/use a trend factor? (answer should be NO)
Technology is not going anywhere. It is here to stay in our homes, pockets, cars, and gyms. In a perfect world we will learn to live with it, not for it.
Fun fitness fact to go: Scientists at King’s College London have developed a fabric that can detect muscle fatigue.