Activity Trackers: Why You Need One and How to Choose
The ISSA strives to keep our fitness professionals abreast of the latest trends and technology. If you find that you need to keep better track of your client’s physical activity away from the gym, then pay attention. Though research has suggested there are some psychological downsides to fitness trackers—some users reported they no longer enjoyed walking—still other studies paint a different picture;
“…we find trackers to provide multiple psychological benefits… they enhance feelings of autonomy as people gain more control about their exercising regime. Others experience relatedness, when family members purchase a tracker for relatives and join them in their efforts towards a better, healthier self 1.”
Autonomy and relatedness are key factors of self-determination theory (SDT). Found in this article about client motivation, SDT states that people need three things to become motivated; competence rounds out the list.
Additionally, fitness trackers facilitate cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable feeling in your client’s gut after they’ve completed their fasted morning cardio then find themselves eating a donut (or three) in the break room at work. That feeling isn’t just the rush of sugar and fat into their digestive tract, it’s a feeling of disconnection between their goals and behaviors. Over time, fitness bands can help clients identify and change their behaviors—with the help of a knowledgeable fitness professional.
What does an activity tracker do?
The ISSA stresses the importance of collecting information to guide program development. This includes paperwork, fitness assessments, and body composition measurements. Activity trackers add another layer of data for the trainer to use.
Many fitness bands connect to fitness tracking apps which gives clients (and you) the ability to monitor physical activity, active vs. inactive time, and fitness goals. Why is this data valuable for fitness professionals?
- You can easily track heart rate in real-time during workouts to illicit a training effect.
- Monitor your client’s active vs. inactive time and help them fit exercise into their busy schedule.
- Track calories burned during daily activities to motivate clients to keep moving.
- Devices with built-in GPS track distance, location, and pace. With this data you can help runners improve speed and endurance in any terrain.
Clients can share their sleep data so you know whether they’re getting enough recovery between workouts. This is especially valuable when working with high school students (due to the shift in their circadian rhythm), post-partum moms, or shift-workers.
Calories and Water
From the fitness tracking app, you can monitor your client’s reported water intake and calories in vs. calories out to help them improve their dietary habits. Many apps calculate net calories to help with weight loss goals.
Activity trackers are helping people improve health conditions, manage sleep and stress, and meet weight loss goals because of the data they share. According to recent research 3, student athletes who wear fitness trackers are benefiting from more targeted training and competition schedules created by trainers who track the performance measures provided by fitness tracking apps. This has proven especially valuable when students also have heavy academic commitments. What’s that old saying, “Train smarter, not harder?”
What’s more, the technology behind fitness wearable devices could eventually help save lives. Researchers at UC San Francisco are developing software that will parse data from activity trackers to help detect atrial fibrillation, a nearly undetectable predictor of stroke 2.
What are the main features of fitness trackers?
Your client’s fitness goals should determine the type of fitness tracker they select. For example, triathletes need a wearable that is water resistant and has a built in GPS. Sedentary clients need something to track their steps and encourage them to move more. Clients in high-stress work environments might benefit from sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, and blood pressure readings.
Regardless of your client’s fitness goals, here are some points to consider:
The display should be easy to read in low- or bright-light and for those with poor eyesight. Some trackers do not have a digital display, only lines or dots, which may become a barrier to use.
The device should be compatible with their smartphone or easily sync with an online service. If you want to track their progress, it is preferable that they find an app from which they can share the data with you.
Accuracy is important for elite athletes or those training for extreme sports. The heart rate sensor and built-in GPS should be accurate without the added need for the smartphone to be on the client’s body.
Battery life needs will vary between clients. Most trackers can go on a single charge for several days. (Hybrid smartwatches never need to be charged, but instead have watch batteries.)
- Karapanos, Evangelos, et al. "Wellbeing in the Making: Peoples' Experiences with Wearable Activity Trackers." Psychology of Well-Being 6.1 (2016): 1-17. ProQuest. Web. 1 Dec. 2018.
- Ng, Kwok, and Tatiana Ryba. "The Quantified Athlete: Associations of Wearables for High School Athletes." Advances in Human - Computer Interaction 2018 (2018): 8. ProQuest. Web. 1 Dec. 2018.