Fitness trackers are popular for good reason. With fitness trackers, ordinary people have access to health information and data that was previously limited.
But while some people thrive on fitness tracking, it’s not a perfect solution for everyone. Here are some reasons.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution with fitness trackers
As with many types of commercially available technology, fitness trackers are perfect for the vast majority of users they are intended for. For this reason, everything from its size, strap length, features, and even pricing is designed to maximize its target market.
In 2018, the Journal of Internet Medical Research published a study that identified 423 unique devices from 132 different fitness tracker brands. Of these, 47% of fitness trackers launched only one device, with the highest number of new devices launched in 2015.
There are several brands of fitness trackers in the market, such as Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple. However, they are not all tested with the same degree of accuracy. According to the study, Fitbit is used in twice as many validation studies and registered in clinical trials 19 times more than other brands.
Understand the usefulness of fitness trackers
In 2020, SAGE Journals published a mixed-method observational study to examine which features of wearable fitness trackers are used and found to be helpful. Of the various benefits of fitness trackers, motivation cues (83.3%), general health information (82.4%) and challenges (75%) were rated as the most useful.
The study was an interesting way to gauge a general understanding of the usefulness of fitness equipment. However, it is also important to understand that its participants (and many participants in similar studies) are generally healthy individuals.
Despite all the advances in fitness tracking, smaller segments of the population with more complex needs are still often left out. In many cases, fitness trackers don’t take into account individual conditions such as medical conditions or disabilities, which can lead to a lot of frustration for potential users.
Additionally, normal targets and ranges of motion that may seem normal to others can isolate people with autoimmune disorders, physical restrictions, recovering from pregnancy or injury, etc. For this reason, fitness trackers may not be ideal for everyone, especially those with special conditions that can affect the consistency of their energy levels and their ability to move around like normal people do.
Why Not All Athletes Benefit From Fitness Trackers
While the benefits of fitness trackers in non-athletes are still up for debate, fitness trackers may not even benefit all types of athletes. Although marketed as tools for fitness enthusiasts, it’s important to understand that fitness trackers aren’t even ideal for all types of sports.
In 2019, Research portal published a study on how athletes use fitness trackers during training to improve their physical and functional abilities. For fitness tracking to have a positive effect on athletes’ performance, researchers have discovered the importance of customizing their fitness tracking devices to suit their individual preferences.
However, customizing a tracker for a specific sport requires two parts: owning a fitness tracker that can measure the data needed for your sport, and learning how to make the most of its tracking capabilities. Unfortunately, for some sports, fitness trackers cannot accurately identify data that shows significant progress.
For example, most commercially available fitness trackers can’t measure how hard you punch, how high you jump, how stable a plank is, or how wide your gap is. Moreover, fitness trackers can even negatively affect certain exercises, such as martial arts. Not only can the physical act of wearing a fitness tracker under gloves increase the risk of wrist injury, most fitness trackers can’t even accurately count steps during a fight.
Unlike walking, sparring has a slightly different foot motion, which not all fitness trackers can identify as steps. With that, having a tracker on your wrist while hanging on can risk damaging the screen if you’re thrown into the ground with enough force.
Other than that, most commercial fitness trackers are only water resistant, not waterproof. For this reason, fitness trackers like Fitbit aren’t ideal for people who spend a lot of time doing water sports.
Finally, cult fitness trackers often focus on fitness goals like calories burned and exercise. While increasing movement is a necessary part of improving overall fitness, it’s not the only way to become a healthier person. For example, there are things like managing nutrient deficiencies, hormonal elements, diet changes, medications, etc.
Overreliance on fitness trackers can lead to problems
While there are plenty of ways to get the most out of your fitness tracker, the root cause of most fitness tracker issues is rooted in an overreliance on them. We see it in our friends who refuse to sleep until they close their Apple Watch rings or those who push a little harder to snap a photo of their calories burned to post on Instagram.
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to do better and increase your ability to train, this type of mentality is a slippery slope for a variety of reasons, especially for people who lack impulse control or who have addictive personalities.
Not listening to your body during training can be dangerous, as it can lead to issues such as over-exercising to the point of over-exertion, under-eating to compensate for not taking enough steps, etc. .
Can fitness trackers derail your journey?
In 2012, many preliminary studies were done on the short-term benefits of fitness trackers, such as those published in the Obesity Society. However, it is still important to understand that it is activities, such as exercise and dieting, that contribute to weight loss, not fitness tracking per se.
In 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in which people fitted with fitness trackers lost less weight in the long term. Over the 24-month experiment, the group with wearable armbands lost an average of 7.7 pounds. In contrast, those who didn’t wear armbands lost an average of 13 pounds (or 5.3 pounds more).
Many factors can affect the effectiveness of fitness trackers for some people, but not for others. Regarding the studies above, one is that their fitness goals may not be measurable by weight loss alone. Another is that test subjects may be in the phase of their weight loss journey where they hit a plateau.
Either way, there’s data to support that, whatever the reason, fitness tracking doesn’t necessarily help people trying to improve their fitness levels or those hoping to change their long-term fitness habits.
But what differentiates them from those who thrive with a wrist tracker? There are a lot of possible reasons, but it could just come down to a mindset.
Improve your fitness tracking mindset
Despite its issues, fitness trackers are still great tools for people looking to optimize their fitness journey. However, it’s important to remember that fitness trackers of all kinds are just tools, not perfect guides. Ultimately, no one knows your body and what it can (or can’t) do better than you do.
Because fitness is a lifelong endeavor, it’s always a good idea to cultivate the mindset that you’re a fit person leading a healthy life, whether measured or not. If fitness is truly an important aspect of your life, the desire to eat healthy and move is worth cultivating, even if there’s no fitness tracker on your wrist.