Stepping into the New Year: What to Look For in Fitness Devices

Excerise Devices for 2017by Michael Bauman

As the snow begins to fall and the world wraps itself up in a blanket with some hot chocolate by the crackling fire, thoughts begin to turn to Christmas, carols, and presents. With January, and the lines of people with their signed New Years Reso-lutions in hand right around the corner, you might have considered looking at some of the fitness devices that are out there as a stocking stuffer or a gift for a friend. But with all the options to choose from, how do you know what will fit their style and preference? Here are some factors to consider.

All day vs Training

Any tool that can be used for motivation or to help facilitate more movement throughout the day is a “step” in the right direction. But what should you look for in a fitness device? It really depends on what you are using it for and what you want to track.

There are two main types of fitness devices: the all day trackers (for general fit-ness and health) and the training trackers (primarily for training for a specific event or sport). Most fitness devices track steps, stairs, calories, and quality of sleep. The training trackers do all of the above but also typically include your heart rate, and have GPS features to give you data about distance, speed, pace, and your route. They are usually waterproof, and sync with your smartphone to show texts, calls, and emails.


Style and size are also important. What lady wants to be wearing a brick around her wrist while she could be wearing the sleek, stylish, Fitbit Alta and stepping out of a sports car in high heels? You should also make sure the display is easy to read, check the battery life, how often you have to charge it, and always check the compatibility with your phone.

While most fitness devices are quite accurate when tracking steps, unless the steps are from household chores or other activities where the movement is not quite as linear, you may want to take the heart rate and calorie readings with a grain of salt. I have spent years in the health and fitness industry as a personal trainer and Assistant Department Head of a Lifetime Fitness gym facility and have performed hundreds of heart rate assessments analyzing people’s metabolisms during exer-cise. Many of my clients would come in with fitness devices on their arms that tracked heart rate and I was always curious to see how accurate they would be at different intensities compared with our measurements. Most of them performed within 3-5 beats per minute while walking or slow jogging. But when it came to the higher intensities the deviations and errors became quite pronounced. A lot of the fitness devices were unable to pick up the heart rate or their tracking would fluc-tuate from 90bpms to 170bpms as the devices struggled to get a reading. Fitness devices that pick up the heart rate through a chest strap as opposed to the wrist are more accurate, but let’s be honest, who wants to strap a band around their chest while they are exercising?

Pricing and Error Rates

Our very own Channel 13 WTHR news team came to similar conclusions when they brought a Fitbit Charge HR, a Fitbit Zip, a Jawbone UP3, a Garmin Vivosmart HR, an iFit Vue, and a Misfit Flash to Ball State’s Exercise Physiology lab. After performing a series of tests all of them performed within 2-3% on steps but the distance measurement could be off by 14%, the caloric burn was overestimated by 30-40%, and there was between a 10-14% error in the heart rate readings. So keep that in mind when you are wanting that extra Christmas sugar cookie.

Overall, I have found that Garmin products like Vivofit ($99) and Vivosmart HR+ ($199) are usually more accurate than Fitbit. But the Fitbit Flex 2 ($99) and Fitbit Charge 2 ($149) also typically perform quite well. For style, the FitBit Alta ($129) definitely takes the cake and for screen resolution, quality, and features the Samsung Gearfit 2 ($179) is at the top of the list. So decide what you want to track and how you want to look and rock your fitness style into the new year!

Michael Bauman is CEO of Thrive Culture, an online habit-based nutrition coaching company.