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The Right Way to Use Your Fitness Tracker

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Whether you ripped open a new fitness tracker on Christmas morning, bought yourself one to help you reach your 2015 goals, or have been tracking since before it was popular, consider yourself warned: you may not be getting as accurate of a measure as you could be. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recently released a study looking at the precision of several popular fitness trackers: Overall, the five trackers they looked at were pretty reliable when tracking steps through running, walking, and the elliptical; however, their readings were less accurate during agility drills and at estimating calorie burn (see: Your Fitness Tracker Is Lying). Don't be too concerned, though—fitness trackers are still a great way to monitor your activity levels and stay accountable. You just have to use them correctly, which is where this handy advice comes in.

Set Your Own Goals
Most fitness trackers come with a preset goal of 10000 steps per day, but depending on your job and current activity level, this could be too few or too many steps for you to realistically take. Start with 10000 steps per day and see how many you get on a typical day. 7000? If so, 10000 could be a great new goal, but if you're only logging around 4,000 steps a day, try for 7000 before you slowly increase your daily average. If 10,000 is an easy goal for you, try for 12000 or even 14000 steps. If you rack 12500 steps a day, you could even counteract the negative impact of sugar, one study found. Your goal should change with your fitness level. With sleep, if 8 hours (the recommended amount) is unrealistic, change your goal to 7 or 7.5 hours. Making your goals more reasonable helps you get to 100 percent of your goal each day, which will be more motivating to stick with it than a 70 percent!

Wear on Your Non-Dominant Wrist
A study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that when participants wore a wrist and a waist tracker throughout the day, the wrist trackers were more accurate at determining steps taken. But which hand you wear it on can also play a big part in precision. Most trackers will suggest wearing the band on your non-dominant wrist because it moves less (and just because your wrist is moving it doesn't necessarily mean your feet are). If your tracker allows, adjust the setting to specify which wrist you are wearing it on.

Calibrate Your Stride
A 6'5" male probably isn't going to have the same stride as a 5'5" female, right? That's why calibrating your tracker to the length of your steps is so important. Similarly, your walking stride and running stride are probably pretty different. Most trackers will determine your stride length based on your height and gender (so be sure to set those!), but many also allow you to adjust the stride to be even more accurate by running and/or walking a specific distance and counting the steps you take as go. Fitbit recommends going to a track or somewhere you know the exact distance of, then counting your steps for at least 20 paces along that distance. Divide the total distance in feet by the number of steps that you took for your stride length. Do the same for your running pace, then adjust both measurements in your app's settings. Jawbone lets you calibrate similarly in the "settings" by choosing a previously timed activity of a known distance (like a one mile run on a track) and adjusting the dial to the exact distance you traveled.

Tag Certain Activities
While some of the newer models of fitness trackers can automatically detect and distinguish between activities like running, walking, biking, and swimming, many trackers have to be set into active mode, by either pressing a button or entering a new mode through the tracker's app. Some trackers also allow you to tag specific activities to get the closest calorie burn, so telling your tracker when you're starting a spin class and when you're at cardio dance will help you get credit for your moves. Just don't forget to tag out of the activity afterwards!

Sync with Other Apps
Get all your wellness data in one place by connecting your fitness tracker app with other health apps, like MyFitnessPal for food tracking, Strava to get more accurate measurements on your bike rides and runs by using your phone's GPS, or Nest, which links to your Nest Thermostat to automatically change the temperature of your house to the temperature you prefer the moment you go to bed or wake up. (Try these 5 Digital Coaches to Help You Reach Your Health Goals.)

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