What’s the best fitness tracker?

tracker_Jenny davis

FitBIt Charge

With the increased popularity of smartwatches, you might think the humble old fitness tracker is a thing of the past. However, while smartwatches can handle many of the tasks of the fitness tracker, a basic fitness tracker is still tough to beat in terms of price and durability. There are now so many high-quality devices on the market that choosing the right one has become confusing – even for the tech-savvy. Fear not! We’ll have you running down the right path in no time.

The first thing you need to know is that there is no “one size fits all” for fitness trackers. Choosing the right one should be based on individual needs and preferences. Expect to pay anywhere from $50-$250 for a high-quality fitness tracker. To simplify your search, we’ve broken it down to the basics:

Form: Bracelet, Watch, or Clip-On

There are three common forms of fitness trackers: the bracelet, the watch, or the clip-on. (Most clip-on devices can also be worn on the wrist, but not vice versa.)

Most bracelets and watches are harder to lose. Watches typically have a more secure closure than bracelets, such as a traditional belted closure, whereas some bracelets don’t fasten at all. Some bracelets have been known to snag on clothing as well. Clip-ons can fall off and tend to get misplaced more easily.

One drawback for both watches and bracelets is that they can get in the way during everyday activities such as typing on a computer or doing the laundry. They also aren’t especially conducive to high fashion. If you’re bothered by having something on your wrist 24/7, you’re probably better off with a clip-on, which can be worn on the waistband or the front of a bra.

Heart Rate Monitoring

Garmin Forerunner

Garmin Forerunner

Heart rate monitoring is all the rage right now. By monitoring your heart rate, you can tell if you’re working too hard or if you’re not working hard enough; however, a built-in heart rate monitor drives up the price, and many people may not need them at all. Also be aware that there are different kinds of heart rate monitors – ones that continuously monitor your heart rate and ones that only monitor it during workouts. Make a point to know the difference before you purchase.

Optical heart rate monitors are the ones built into the device itself. Some very good fitness trackers, such as the ones made by Polar, don’t have a heart rate monitor built in, but can be paired with a chest strap. Because there has been some controversy regarding the accuracy of heart rate readings with some brands, experts recommend wearing the monitor strictly according to directions — snug against the skin — and double-checking it a few times by taking your pulse manually. While fitness trackers with heart rate monitoring have been shown to be fairly accurate, at high intensity activity they have shown to be less so; keep that in mind when pushing yourself during workouts. Always listen to your body above your device.

Sleep Tracking

Many fitness trackers record your sleep. When they do, they generally watch for movement to a more sensitive degree than they do during the day. Some devices report graphs showing the times when you were in light sleep vs. deep sleep based on motion. Some monitors have to be manually put in “sleep mode,” while others do it automatically based on motion (or lack thereof). Some devices pair with an app, such as Jawbone’s Up Coffee, that can compare caffeine intake to sleep quality.

Data Output

Making sense of the data collected by your fitness tracker is important for most people. Many trackers have accompanying apps, mobile and/or web-based, that allow you to make sense of the data collected and manipulate it to varying degrees. Fitbit, in particular, is known for their app and website, as they let their customers record all kinds of data including blood pressure, calories consumed, and stress level. Fitbit is also known for allowing users to follow their friends, much like Facebook, and issue each other challenges.

Sport-Specific 

If you like to run, bike, or swim on a regular basis, you may want to consider a sport-specific fitness tracker or watch. Sport-specific trackers usually include heart rate monitoring as well as built-in GPS for accurate time, distance, pace, laps, calories burned, and so forth. Additionally, swimmers will want one that is waterproof.

The bottom line: Fitness trackers can kick start change to a healthier lifestyle, but you have to select one that will meet your needs in regards to both comfort and degree of data feedback. It won’t do you any good if you don’t wear it. Shop around and do your homework. Get recommendations from friends who like the same activities as you. Then get ready, get set – GO!

Jill Prouty

Jill is a reader, writer, and professional librarian who enjoys spending her free time with her husband of twelve years and their two sons. She has an MSLS from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a BA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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