The fitness market is EXPLODING all over the world. Everyone is offering fancy new gadgets and products that are supposed to beef up your workouts while giving you valuable information on how to make them better in the future. It seems that a new product comes out each day that is supposed to be a gazillion times better than the last fifty products that came out, and the only way to find out for sure is to, of course, make 3 easy payments of $49.99.
That might be an exaggeration. You really just wander on over to Amazon and drop it in your cart. If you’re one of those super lucky Prime members like myself, it’s at your door before you have the time to decide what your first butt-kicking workout will be.
But there are SO MANY options. It’s easy to get lost in the advertising hype or the vitriolic hate for some of these products that can be found all over the Internet. Let me make it a little more simple for you.
Three Ways To Take Control
Devices that track movement and exercise really fall into three main categories: pedometers, fitness trackers and heart rate monitors.
Seems pretty simple, right? Well, not entirely, but we’ll get there. There are important things to know about each of these categories that will help you sort out what kind of device you need. Hopefully, that will point you in the right direction instead of leading you to buy a device that has too few features or alternatively wasting a bunch of money on a device that sounds fun but is actually much more than you need or want.
Pedometers – The Old Faithful of Workouts
To begin, pedometers represent the simplest technology that you can find with most exercise devices. They have been around for decades and were just primarily designed to track your steps.
Though newer ones offer memories that will tell you how many steps you have walked that day as opposed to previous days, they are more limited in their capability to hold information. There aren’t a lot of pedometers that will track your movement for more than a week. Also, these devices were made to be step counters without much other fanciness and they are not likely to sync to a parent website that allows you to queue up with your phone and keep track of your movement.
Pedometers represent a technology that, despite advances, does almost the same thing today as it did 20 years ago, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Old Faithful May Fall A Little Short
Pedometers won’t however, be able to see how effective you are on gym equipment or when you’re doing incredibly strenuous, movement based exercise that is anything other than walking or running. It’s not that they aren’t good in those situations. They just weren’t made to work like that.
Step counters are great for people who are going to walk or run the pounds away while wanting to get credit for the movement that they do during the day. That’s really it. They are valuable little tools that tend to be less expensive then a lot of the newer and fancier technologies. Though they’re limited in their scope, they work pretty well in general to achieve that one goal.
Fitness Trackers Track More Than Fitness
Fitness Trackers, on the other hand, represent the other end of the fitness spectrum. While pedometers try to be minimalistic and basic, fitness trackers try to do everything from one device. Some have displays and others just represent bands that show a subtle reminder of what you need to continue to do for the rest of the day. Workout bands are designed to be worn all the time so that they can literally track your every move.
All The Gadgets
What’s important to keep in mind with exercise bands is that they try to do a lot of different things which means there is much more for them to do poorly. A typical fitness tracker will have a pedometer, a calorie counter, a distance monitor, an online community, the ability to design a personalized fitness plan and a sleep tracker. There may even be five or ten things more that I didn’t add to that list.
More sophisticated fitness trackers also have altimeters to measure when you’re moving upstairs, and some have GPS for running so that you don’t get lost and can track your route. Most newer models have Bluetooth syncing so you don’t have to plug it in to share data as well as a communication device that speaks directly to life on Mars.
Okay. I made that last one up, but you get the point. These devices do a lot, and some of them do it all really, really well. Others, however, leave something to be desired in the more basic functions while mastering the quirkier elements like pros. There are devices that do everything passably without standing out as a forerunner in any one area. The hardest part is that no one seems to be able to agree on which is the best and which ones don’t work at all.
Data Data Data
That being said, the data that you can get from a good fitness tracker can be endlessly impressive. You can track information on your daily movements, the amount of time you were sedentary, how much valuable sleep you got and how many calories you burned through your workout that day. That information and more is usually synced to your phone and your computer program where you can share your achievements and set new goals.
Fitness trackers are great for people who need the boost of motivation that don’t have unless someone is constantly reminding them to get moving. It’s also great for numbers people who want to know the details of their daily activities. Competitive people also do well because they can compete against themselves.
Have a Heart Rate Monitor
Fitness trackers, in many cases, include a heart rate monitor or the capability to connect to one. Heart rate monitors are really important for tracking workouts because the only way to appropriately track the calories burned during an exercise session is to have an accurate picture of beats per minute throughout the workout.
Heart rate monitors for exercise can be purchased in two ways. Some are bought as part of a bundle with a fitness tracker. Others are purchased as stand alone devices with their own displays to forgo the use of an exercise tracking band.
Either way, heart rate trackers provide an important element to your workout that you would not have without the chest-mounted device that checks your heart beat. The value of a heart rate monitor, aside from calorie counting, is that they allow you to set the range that you should be in for your workout based on the kind of fitness you want to achieve.
The appropriate range differs based on whether you’re trying to achieve general fitness, weight loss or muscle building. Some devices require the user to set the range, and other smarter devices set the range for you after a period of monitoring that tells the device where you should fall. It’s only a little scary that a device can do that, right?
The way that most heart rate monitors get their information is by attaching a transmitter to your chest that watches your actual heartbeat and then sends the information to the watch-like device that sits on your wrist. Some of them do it with wires and others do it wirelessly. A newer technology can actually cut out the chest-mounted part of the system, but it isn’t quite as reliable yet.
As the transmitter sends information to the watch piece, the watch will then alert you when you are out of range based on the pre-set zones. They either make subtle beeps or more annoying squawk-like sounds to make sure that you’re on track.
Three Devices. One Goal.
All three different kinds of devices can be used to get a great workout and make sure that you’re improving. The value of them really depends on what you want out of your workout and what features you’re actually going to use. I always thought that I was a simpler-is-better person, but there are so many options out there now that store massive amounts of valuable data that I’m just not sure.