Fitness Trackers – How to Use Them Effectively

By Jiri Kaloc

Fitness trackers provide you with a lot of data and they can be a source of motivation but you have to use them right. First, you have to define what exactly you want your tracker to help you with. Then you have to make sure you are wearing it right and taking advantage of the supporting features. Let’s go over a few tips to help you get the most out of your fitness tracker.

Define what the fitness tracker should help you with

As we discussed in the beginning of this series, using a fitness tracker without a clear intention can easily turn every training session into a race and cause overtraining. Similarly, it can make you feel like a failure when tracking sleep, resting heart rate, or steps if you don’t set a goal. That’s why you have to define your goals and what progress looks like before you start.

Be as specific as you can. Don’t just say things like I want to lose weight. Define how much weight you want to lose and by when and how will the fitness trackers help you. Also, make sure you understand what is fueling your goal. Do you want to lose weight because you want to look good naked? Or is it because of your power to weight ratio so you can win races and impress friends? Or is it for health reasons? Knowing your true reason why will help you stick to the plan.

Smart watch
It’s clear that fitness trackers can be very beneficial in making people do more physical activity and offer data that can improve training effectiveness. © Profimedia

Define what you’re testing

The second most important thing is to know that you’re testing your training plan, not yourself. You know from the last article that a lot of people take data from fitness trackers very personally. If your goal is to improve VO2max and your fitness tracker is showing that you’re lagging behind, it’s your training plan that’s broken, not you. And it’s the same if you want to improve sleep. If your fitness tracker shows poor sleep quality, it’s probably because the intervention you put in place isn’t working. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you.

For this reason, you have to define what part of your training plan or what intervention in your lifestyle you’re going to test. For example, you can test if adding one more VO2max session per week improves your time on that local climb. Or you can test if setting a fixed go-to-bed time helps improve sleep quality.

Focus on patterns and trends

As you know from the previous article, fitness trackers can be inaccurate, especially when looking at individual granular data. Plus, your results might vary from day to day as well. What trackers are best at is showing you trends.

For example, when losing weight, your weight will fluctuate, you might be seeing an increase right when you feel like you’re doing well. That can be crushing. Similarly, when training for a race that is many months away, you’re going to have weaker weeks and stronger weeks. In each case, the long-term trend is what matters most. Is your weight trending down over several weeks in a row? Is your aerobic capacity improving over the span of the season? Fitness trackers shine at answering these questions for you.

Make it social

Studies show that people are more likely to stick to an exercise regime if they do it with a friend. If you want to get the most out of your fitness tracker, it will really help if you have someone to share the journey with. Some fitness trackers like Garmin offer social features on their app and others can be connected to platforms such as Strava, Map my run, and many others. That’s where you can discover friends, see how your peers are doing, or simply share your successes with a circle of close friends or family. Depending on what your goal is, you can also take advantage of joining relevant challenges and making the whole thing into a sort of a game.

Be consistent

The more data you give to your tracker, the more accurate trends and numbers you will see. If you have a device that continuously measures heart rate, sleep, and step count, make sure to wear it all day (and all night) to take full advantage. Also, Garmin trackers that offer VO2 Max readings will need you to run consistently to get an accurate reading and they can offer race predictions after a few consistent training runs.

Wear it right

Last but not least, make sure you’re wearing your fitness tracker right. It can significantly improve accuracy. Pay special attention to the following three things.

  • The right fit – A fitness that features a wrist-based heart rate sensor benefits from a snug but comfortable fit during an activity. Wear the tracker two finger widths above your wrist, and remember to loosen it after the workout.
  • Keep it clean and dry – Thoroughly rinse and allow your fitness tracker to dry after exposure to sweat from a workout or water from swimming or showering. Prolonged exposure to moisture may result in your skin being irritated.
  • Care about your skin – If you feel your skin getting irritated from long term wear, switch up the wrist on which you wear your device to help prevent skin irritation.

The last article in this series is focused on helping you decide whether a fitness tracker is really a good choice for you. It will also offer alternative ways to keep track of important metrics that help you improve as an athlete.