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Gadgets Galore! The Pros & Cons of Trackers, Monitors and More…

I still remember my first pedometer. It was a freebie – given out by my then employer as part of a campaign to get employees moving. It was a simple thing- about the size of a tic tac box, recorded about one in every 30 steps I took and died in about 3 days. My, my, my how far we’ve come! Everywhere you look there is a new activity tracker, heart rate monitor, sleep analzer, body fat tester (I could go on and on) popping up. Last year’s biggest contenders for top gadgets included the Jawbone Up, Fitbit, Nike Fuel Band, Polar Loop, and Shine. All of these devices measure a person’s daily activity and most monitor their sleeping patterns. Add to this line up the tried and true line of Polar Heart Rate Monitors, Garmin GPS watches, Nike GPS watches, etc. And round that offering out with new scales that monitor body fat, water weight, bone density, muscle mass… oh, and general weight, too.

So the question is – Who are these devices right for? Rather than giving you the lowdown on each and every contender, I’m simply going to give you the pros and cons of using various gadgets and offer up my best recommendations for products that will give you bang for your buck. But before I start, let’s get real – if you are looking for something that is magically going to melt fat off your body or prevent you from eating crappy food, your looking in the wrong place. Save your money and schedule a consultation with one of your favorite trainers at Push Functional Fitness.

Activity Monitors
The new generation of activity monitors and trackers give you a detailed view of your daily activity, including sleep patterns: steps you’ve taken each day, calories you’ve burned both at rest and during active periods, miles you’ve walked, hours you’ve slept – both light sleep and deep sleep – and much more. Are they right for you? Here you go:
– If you are a goal-oriented person, these devices will help you focus in on specific objectives on a daily basis, thereby holding you accountable. You’d be surprised how few steps we take even on days when we work out. The trackers help you get moving all day long, rather than letting you slip into the mindset of “I worked out this morning so I can chill the rest of the day.” Because they link to applications like MyFitnessPal and Lose It!, they are very good at capturing a snapshot of the three primary components of good health: diet, fitness and sleep. Additionally, you are able to connect with friends who wear the same bands, so if you are like me and a little competitive, it drives you to move even more!
– The new activity trackers are not cheap – ranging in price from roughly $120 – $220. We live in a society where we look for a quick fix to our weight woes. As mentioned above, there is nothing magical about wearing a tracker. If you aren’t goal-oriented or interested in data about your activity and sleep patterns, the devices probably aren’t for you.
Personal Recommendation:
– Between my personal experience and those of my clients who have tested various activity trackers, my recommendation is the Jawbone UP. The original model retails for $129 and the new model which syncs wirelessly now retails for $149. Another strong contender is the Shine. The upside of the Shine is it can be worn as a bracelet, necklace, or clipped on to shoes or belts. This makes it easier to pick up on activities beyond walking or running.

Heart Rate Monitors
Heart rate monitors have been around for a long time, but now there are endless models to choose from. Polar, for example, has monitors that schedule your weekly fitness programs for you and monitor the time you spend in each heart rate zone. If, at the end of the week, you hit the prescribed time in each zone, you get a little trophy on the screen. (My husband is CRAZY about his and if it weren’t a healthy habit I would have hid the thing a long time ago.) These monitors can more accurately track calories burned during exercise and many of them have a GPS built into them which is great for runners.
– It is more common than not that we overestimate how many calories we are burning during exercise, so for that reason alone I think everyone should invest in a heart rate monitor. Even a base model, which can cost as little as $30-40, can open your eyes to more accurate estimates. Understanding exactly how hard your heart is working during activity is also important- not only for someone who is training for performance, but maybe more importantly, for those who are starting from square one and shouldn’t be pushing themselves above their prescribed target heart rate.
– I’m not going to lie, the heart rate monitor strap isn’t always the most comfortable thing to wear. If you use it regularly you barely notice its on, but for those who are just trying to monitor heart rates during specific activities, it can become a little restricting.
– There are few cons. As I said, the data that heart rate monitors provide is extremely beneficial.
Personal Recommendation:
– I’m a big fan of Polar for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is it universally syncs with just about every piece of exercise equipment known to man. So if you hop on a Life Fitness elliptical, for example, the machine will automatically pull your heart rate and be able to display an accurate estimate of calories burned. You can spend anywhere from $30-400 on these things. If you aren’t interested in GPS, don’t buy a model that has it. If you aren’t interested in a model that prescribes a weekly fitness program, take a pass. I recommend going to their site and comparing the various models to determine just how many bells and whistles make sense for you.

Body Fat Scales
Body fat scales look similar to regular bathroom scales but provide more data than a traditional model. In addition to overall weight, most models also provide body fat percentage, water weight percentage, muscle mass and bone mass.
– I’m a believer that knowledge is power, so the more data I have about my body the quicker I can close in on my fitness goals. I’m also a big believer that scale weight can be very deceiving. When I started my journey with Push Fitness as a client in 2008, I weighed 133 pounds and had a body fat percentage of 28%. Today I weigh in around 135 and have a body fat percentage just below 20%. If I were going by scale weight alone, I would have thought my fitness and diet program was failing me. I encourage you to read my post “Breaking it Down: Scale Weight vs. BMI vs. Body Fat Percentage” for more color on this subject.
– If you are looking for an EXACT read out on your body fat and other variables, you need to keep looking. These scales provide data within 2-4% of actual percentages. So you may record a body fat percentage of 20% on your scale and then head to the gym where your trainer’s read out is closer to 23%. You need to be aware of these possible discrepancies so you don’t get frustrated.
Personal Recommendation:
– Only buy one of these scales if you are REALLY interested in understanding the composition of your body and TAKING ACTION once that composition is known. Once again, there is no magic in these scales. They are intended to provide you data that will help you properly track progress. And that progress is made through good eating habits, regular activity and quality sleep. The model we currently own is the Ozeri Touch II, and I’ve found it to be as accurate as any other model I’ve used.

At the end of the day, you can hook yourself up to a dozen different gadgets that can monitor, track, or record your every movement. The question you have to ask yourself is “What am I looking for this xxx to do for me?” If the answer is “walk for me” or “sleep for me” or “staple my mouth shut when I grab a donut” than you probably already know that your money could be better spent on a pair of good workout shoes and some quality foods at the local grocer.

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2 replies

  1. I love the Jawbone UP! It really does push me to get moving, and pair that with a calorie tracking site, I see my goals and progress in real time. It’s very motivating!

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