What fitness trackers are good for, what they suck at and how to use one to without sabotaging your gainz.
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Every year since we’ve been together, my wife and I will head down to Newport, RI to walk the Cliff Walk and walk around downtown. We will legit spend 6-8 hours walking around. I’m not sure if it’s the ocean, the mansions or the two hot 20 something girls I saw making out in the street-which got a Wayne’s World reaction from me – regardless of what it is we love it.
After we finally sit down at dinner we like to check how many steps we’ve done (fitness nerds I know). My wife on her Fitbit watch and me on my iPhone Health app.
This last trip we logged about 40k steps. Not bad for a day in the sun and checking out the sweet views (wink, wink).
That’s when I realized there was a problem.
My wife at 115 lbs. soaking wet, burned 3000 calories according to her fitbit.
I, on the other hand, using the internet (because I do not have an app for that), burned anywhere from 1500-2000 calories in the same amount of time for roughly the same amount of steps. What is odd is that I outweigh her by 80 lbs. I should be burning more calories than her just to feed my muscles, not even taking into consideration the fact we walked close to 20 miles that day! I should have been in the 3500-4000 range by her Fitbit’s calculation.
Helen Keller could see there is something wrong here. Oh don’t get butt hurt on me.
This peaked my interest, because if we were getting whack numbers then other people must be getting the same whack numbers and basing what they eat on their calories burned. If that’s the case, then there are a lot of people going in the wrong direction for fat loss.
FITNESS TRACKERS. WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR?
Before we dive knuckle deep into what they are good for, let’s figure out how they work. If you don’t care, skip to the What is it good for? section. I at least found this interesting.
HOW DOES MY FITBIT WORK?
Fitbit, Garmin, Striiv, the iPhone health app and Jawbone all basically measure motion through 3-axis accelerometers. That could be through arm movement or hip movement – I bet Shakira has accurate data considering her hips don’t lie.
These sensors then put the data through fancy equations – these are unique, highly protected secrets (like the KFC recipe) to get your steps, sleep patterns and calories burned. The more sensors the more accurate the data. The Jawbone UP3 for example, also has temperature and bioimpedance sensors to measure heart and respiration rate. Sensors on fleek.
A majority of the fitness trackers either use a formula to calculate calories burned using the general inputs. Stuff like age, gender, weight are all generic but important factors to figuring out calories burned. Unfortunately, muscle mass and exercise intensity are assumed by the tracker and that’s where the inaccuracy comes in. Muscle is expensive and requires a lot of calories to maintain.
This is why football players consume more than 4000 calories a day and are still ripped. We on the other hand we would look like the blob.
Going back to my situation, I outweigh my wife by 80 lbs. with most of it being muscle – I should be burning more calories than her in every aspect of life.
WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
If you’re looking to accurately track how many calories you burn so you can figure out how many beers you can pound later, I think your going be more depressed than when that girl turns down your sexual advances later.
As of right now, the gold standard to measure calories burned is through a metabolic cart which will run you a couple thousand and is incredibly cumbersome to lug around on your wrist.
Other than using a metabolic cart, these fitness trackers are about as accurate in measuring calories burned as playing beer pong with a blindfold on.
But this section is about what is it good for, not what it sucks at. So if you are just trying to track your steps and heart rate while rocking some sick wrist jewelry, then it might be worth the investment. All the trackers out there were originally designed to measure steps and studies have shown that they are accurate in doing so.
From a motivational aspect, I think it’s good to have the steps visible. Like they say, out of sight out of mind. Anyone with half a competitive bone in their body will want to at least keep up with the weekly average if not exceed it.
Also, the ability to compete with friends and family adds a little incentive to get your ass up.
HOW TO MAKE IT MORE RELIABLE
If you are going to invest in one – here is a few things to make it more accurate.
- Enter your information. Height, weight (correct weight ladies!), age, gender. Stride length (used for counting steps) is based off height. These parameters are used in the calculation to give you an approximate calories burned. Correct information will give you more accurate results.
- Placement consistency. Don’t switch wrists, pockets or hip placement. Not everyone walks/runs symmetrically. Most people tend to favor their dominate side which could throw your results off.
- Calibrate your tracker. Usually this entails walking on a treadmill for a mile. The instructions will outline this for your device. More accurate the input the more accurate the data.
- Watch your stimulants. If you are tracking heart rate keep in mind the days you have caffeine or other stimulants. Caffeine and other stimulants increase your heart rate considerably depending on the dose.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
Instead of wasting money on expensive fitness trackers to get inaccurate information, opt for a cheap one or download an app. The technology isn’t there yet to measure metabolism or activity accurately.
If motivation is your issue go with one that has a community or challenge portion to the app. The sense of accomplishment of competing against your friend will be worth it when you can show the weight you lost compared to their sorry ass.
This post in 7 words
Save your money, use your phone instead.
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