You can’t buy motivation. But, you can buy a fitness tracking device that lights a fire under your ass to take more than 500 steps in a day, and that’s not nothing.
The rhetoric around fitness has changed quite a bit over the past few years (as made clear by Every Fashion Brand Ever releasing a line of matching leggings and sports bras). We can thank the self-care revolution for this one. Actively monitoring your fitness progression isn’t just for athletes or people training for their hometown’s 5K — and this was not the case when I was in high school. It’s a building block of wellness that people are baking into their daily groove, just like keeping up with a skincare routine or eating your vegetables.
Ever since the pandemic closed most gyms (with some starting to open back up), home fitness and smart home gyms are having a moment — and we don’t think it’s going anywhere, even when it’s 100% safe to fight with sweaty strangers over the last elliptical again. Some people need a flexible workout schedule and can’t rely on the times a gym is open or not busy. Some people just don’t feel comfortable going to the gym.
Fitness trackers fit really nicely into this widening self-made fitness market, which is one of the main reasons they’re such a popular gift during the holidays. Yes, they’re a cool gadget — and who doesn’t love grabbing some cool gadgets on sale come Black Friday? But beyond building up your tech arsenal, fitness trackers can help people find their way into self-care and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
When it comes to exercising, they’re the next best thing to having a trainer — suggesting workouts, watching your heart get stronger, and letting you know when it’s time for a breather — all on your own time. Whether your preferred form of exercise is the gym, a long run, a few laps in the pool, a 10-minute workout on YouTube, or a casual walk around the neighborhood, it’ll be there to catch all of your PRs and motivate you with challenges.
It’s not just the time that you’re sweating that matters: Restorative exercises and recovery are just as imperative to keep an eye on. At-home yoga could be therapeutic on your days off from HIIT, with meditation sprinkled in there to keep stress or anxiety from eating at your will to get off the couch. A great fitness tracker can help with both of these things, as well as lay out a recovery plan when your body needs to rest — a constant reminder to love yourself just as hard as you push yourself.
This type of mindfulness isn’t always easy, and the best fitness trackers are the ones that will keep you in check throughout your workout as well as the rest of your day. Casual activity tracking, trackers that monitor your sleep (sometimes going as deep as times spent in each stage of sleep), heart rate, body temperature, and blood-oxygen levels can provide insight as to how much energy you can put toward a workout on a given day. They’ll also give you a head’s up if you’ve been exercising too hard — all of which can aid in optimal performance and overall health.
What’s the difference between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch?
It’s been over 10 years since the first Fitbit came out. In that time, Fitbit and other popular tracker brands have solidified ~the look~: a skinny band with a screen that fits in line with that band (unlike the face of a watch). Most of these screens are touch screens and can be synced with a smartphone to display call and text notifications alongside simple activity metrics, like steps.
But a screen and the ability to read texts doesn’t automatically meet “smart” guidelines. A fitness tracker is essentially a bracelet with sensors that send data to your phone to provide an expanded picture of the data it collects, and usually requires a phone for GPS and music, too. A smartwatch is essentially your phone, but on your wrist — so no, you don’t need to bring your phone along. It has GPS built-in (sometimes using cellular data, which usually just acts as an extra line on your smartphone carrier bill) and can download apps from Spotify to Tinder. With something like an Apple Watch, you can send voice messages or take calls, or have a full conversation via iMessage.
Let’s put it this way: You wouldn’t be that screwed if you were stranded in the middle of nowhere with your Apple Watch, even if your phone was long gone. But for people strictly focused on black and white fitness metrics or people who want a hands-off tracker that doesn’t require a super-involved setup process or daily charging, we’d make the case that a fitness tracker without high-end connectivity is the smarter, more cost-effective choice.
Are all fitness trackers waterproof?
Any respectable tracker should be able to accompany you on a run in the rain without spazzing. At this point, almost every tracker goes past splash and sweat resistance to hit a 5 ATM rating, meaning the device can withstand pressure equivalent up to 50 meters (164 feet). These should be fine to wear in the shower, in the ocean, or in a hot tub.
Swimmers have a bit more to consider than the waterproof rating. Look for a tracker with built-in GPS that can not only follow you underwater, but accurately track your laps and pace. Dedicated modes for pool swims and open water swims are ideal. (Even the most rugged, most swim-friendly watches and trackers probably aren’t suitable for extreme water sports or activities that involve high-velocity, deep submersion.)
What is the best fitness tracker for spinning?
Anyone who said “screw it, I’m dropping $2,000 on an exercise bike” over the past year would probably like to know which tracker can best log their cycling data.
In the past, indoor cycling was hard to track because most trackers gather biking data through GPS and how far you’ve biked. A reliable pedometer was the best option for stationary spinning up until an easier way came along: Simply sync the bike with your tracker’s app so your tracker has your exact progress — rather than expect a tracker to keep up in real-time.
If you already have an indoor bike, check to see which watches or software the bike is compatible with. For instance, the Peloton Bike+ features Apple GymKit integration for Apple Watches and can also be synced with a Fitbit account, but NordicTrack’s iFit doesn’t play as well with others yet. Most modern trackers and watches are equipped with an accelerometer to accurately measure “distance” on a treadmill.
So, now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, here are the best fitness trackers you can get in 2021: