Despite the vast increase in consumer spend on fitness, we are at an all-time low in actual physical fitness across the board.
Fitness trackers are big business; data suggests that more than 75 million Americans will be using a fitness tracker by 2021.
Currently there are insurance companies offering free wearables to their customers, but are we getting to the crux of the problem?
I’m not sure simply providing a tracker or monitoring activity is the answer. Clearly a step calculator wouldn’t accurately assess calorie burn for an activity like boxing, or gymnastics…
The 10,000 steps rule:
This sweeping method of keeping/getting fit basically generalises people into one category – ‘you must walk 10,000 steps to be healthy’. It’s about as scientific as saying ‘as long as you eat 2000 calories a day you won’t be overweight’.
We must find out what forms of exercise makes each person tick. Handing out trackers could be a huge waste of money.
Using a Tracker / Wearable
There are downsides to quantifying every aspect of your life. For some, the desire to track every step taken and calorie burned becomes an unhealthy obsession. Before you strap on that wearable, keep in mind some of the unintended mental and physical consequences of fitness trackers so that you can avoid them.
- Data Obsession
While tracking your steps and heart rate can be a helpful tool, what happens when you become too fixated on a certain number? Keeping tabs on the onslaught of data from fitness trackers can become an obsession.
What you need is a good “note to self”. Remind yourself that there are days where you won’t perform as well as you did in your previous session due to stress, lack of sleep, etc.
When you continually try to outperform the numbers your fitness tracker collected, this can and will lead to burnout.
- Focus on Quality
Overuse injuries or mental and physical burnout from focusing too much on numbers. Sacrificing form in an effort to get more minutes or calories burned on your fitness tracker is more likely to lead to injury than ultimate results. Remember to enjoy your workout.
- Making Data More Important Than Body Messages
Fitness trackers can become a hindrance when you rely on the data it provides to dictate the success of a workout.
Consider how your body feels before the start of a workout. If you know you slept badly the night before your exercise session, then perhaps it would be smart to change the training focus, say, from a new personal best barbell squat, to something a little more forgiving!
While a fitness tracker can provide some helpful feedback, it shouldn’t be the sole determinant of the success of your workout.
Remember that no two workouts are the same. When I use the Watt Bike, I often track my average watts over the course of the hour. I use the word ‘track’ not ‘measure my success’. I’ve become well aware that a Zone 6 and 7 workout (think max effort sprints) will kill me, but it’ll also require long periods of active rest on the Watt Bike, so although the session was productive and physically VERY demanding, if I considered tracking the watt average over the hour then I could leave feeling despondent.
As simple as it sounds, I like the good old rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This basically implies ranking how hard you’re working out of 10 (or out of 20). 10 would be MAX EFFORT, 1 would be the gentlest of strolls.
A training session will have peaks and troughs over the hour. You cannot work at a RPE10 for more than about 7 or 8 seconds.
When you finish your next workout, spend a moment reflecting on it. Vary your intensities.
- Falling into the Comparison Trap
While many fitness trackers allow you to connect and compete with friends and family, this ability to compare results isn’t always helpful.
If you find that the comparative and competitive elements of your fitness tracker are more of a hindrance than a help, remove yourself from groups and instead focus on beating your own personal fitness goals.
- Diminished Intrinsic Motivation
External rewards tend to diminish intrinsic motivation for activities you initially find interesting and enjoyable. But maintaining that intrinsic motivation for exercising is key.
Intrinsic motivation for exercising is a more powerful predictor of long-term exercise engagements than external motivation.
In order to succeed long-term, it is imperative that you are self-motivated.
- Thinking It’s a Magic Fix-All
Some people may falsely assume that just because you wear a fitness tracker, you’ll be more motivated to get moving. Studies have shown that those people who are self-monitored with their diet and exercise lost more weight than those who used a fitness tracker to monitor their workouts.
- Aggravated Mental Health Concerns
While fitness trackers can be safely used by many, individuals with mental health issues such as obsessions, perfectionism or even eating disorders can overuse and abuse a fitness tracker.
How do you know if your tracking is an issue? – look for these warning signs:
- Neglecting friends, responsibilities, children, family and other obligations in order to exercise
- Spending a large portion of your day thinking about when you will exercise
- Skipping more pleasurable activities in favour of one that burns more calories
- Consistently feeling shame, guilt, depression or anxiety about working out or eating
- Exercising only for the calorie deficit
If you are to invest in a tracker, or more so, if you are going to invest in your health, my advice would be this: Speak to a professional. Perhaps some simple expert guidance and a bit of self-motivation is all that’s required.