The 10 Best Fitness Trackers
We spent 46 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Leave expensive personal trainers to the Hollywood types. The rest of us can stay motivated with one of these high-tech fitness trackers that will ensure we stay on target with all of our goals and get us in top shape in no time. Many of us aren't always aware of how sedentary we tend to be on a daily basis, but any one of these devices will make it clear, so we can step up our game. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best fitness tracker on Amazon.
What Makes Fitness Trackers Work?
To truly calculate how many calories you are burning, a fitness tracker must be able to measure your heart rate.
It looks so magical, that simple band on your wrist that converts your every movement into data points for analysis.
What a great question. It looks so magical, that simple band on your wrist that converts your every movement into data points for analysis. There's actually a ton of stuff going on inside though, and worth taking a look at:
Accelerometers are the nifty sensors that exist in your Wii controllers, your iPhone, and many other devices these days. They measure orientation and - you guessed it - acceleration, and then send these signals to the software so that it can respond appropriately. Some even have a gyroscope inside. Without them, fitness trackers couldn't exist.
Another vital sensor is the altimeter: Whether you're big into mountain climbing or just trying to take the stairs more often, the altimeter measures your altitude and converts that data into stairs climbed by way of a mathematical formula. For example, the iPhone health app assumes a certain number of feet equal one flight of stairs.
To truly calculate how many calories you are burning, a fitness tracker must be able to measure your heart rate. Most of the monitors embedded in fitness trackers these days shine a light onto your wrist and track how much light bounces off your blood. Changes in light are then converted into a heart rate.
How Do I Narrow Down My Options?
If you've gotten this far, you're probably aware that there are a mind-boggling number of options out there if you'd like to add some data to your fitness (and really, who doesn't want to play with pretty graphs?). Let's assume for the sake of simplicity that you've decided that your smart phone and/or smart watch aren't quite up to the task, and you want a dedicated tracker that can provide you with more accurate information. Now it's time to figure out exactly which models work best for you so you can make a purchase decision.
Be honest with yourself, because unless you wear your fitness tracker every day, it's nothing but an expensive paperweight.
Start by considering what kind of exercises you'll be doing most often. Not all fitness trackers are made for swimming, for instance, and you can seriously damage your brand new toy if you aren't nice to it and play by its rules. If you plan on involving yourself in a lot of water-based activities, it is vital that you choose a waterproof model. Check the specifications of the fitness tracker you are considering and ensure it states that it is waterproof, not just water resistant. It is important to understand the differences between these two specifications, as you may ruin a water-resistant fitness tracker if you fully submerge it. Sometimes it may not be labeled simply waterproof or water resistant, but will instead have an ingress protection rating specified with a number like IP-55 or IP-67. Take a moment to learn what each of these ratings mean.
If you're training for a marathon or triathlon, you'll need solid GPS data to track those (very, absurdly) long training runs. Not all models come with this. If you want to know exactly how far you have traversed in miles or kilometers, rather than just the number of steps you've taken, choose one that offers GPS tracking.
You'll also need to assess your level of vanity. Are you going to feel self-conscious wearing something that resembles a calculator watch from the 80s? Does style beget substance on some level? Be honest with yourself, because unless you wear your fitness tracker every day, it's nothing but an expensive paperweight.
Last but certainly not least, make sure the tracker's app works with your phone's operating system. While the vast majority of apps are now available on Android and iOS, it's always good to double check.
Fitness Trackers Are Way Old
You whippersnappers out there may not believe me, but once upon a time, fitness was tracked.... with a pencil and paper. Yep, you read that right: our athletic ancestors had to figure out their split times themselves. Be glad you live in the 21st century.
While this seems like a truly late 20th/early 21st-century concern, the pedometer - the fitness tracker's ancestor - was conceptualized as far back as Leonardo da Vinci. His design was based on a pendulum that would swing in time with one's steps.
His design was based on a pendulum that would swing in time with one's steps.
It is believed Jean Fernel, a French physician, created the first working pedometer in the early 16th century. He crafted it in the shape of a pocket watch and it had four dials to count units, tens, hundreds, and thousands. Inside of the unit was a small lever with a cord attached to it. Users would wear the pedometer on their belt and attach the cord to their knee. Each time they took a step, the cord pulled the lever inside the unit causing the needle on the tens dial to register that step.
Speaking of steps, *did you even wonder when 10,000 steps become the norm, anyway? for a healthy lifestyle?
Amazingly enough, devices were sold in Japan in 1965 by one Y. Hatano, who asserted that 10,000 steps was the ideal amount of fitness and caloric expenditure to ensure healthiness.
The goal stuck in the collective hive mind not because of some massive scientific study, but because the name, Manpo-kei, was catchy. More than 50 years later, and nearly every device out there still assumes you have a goal of 10,000 steps. Of course this number is relative and the ideal amount of daily steps should be determined by your personal fitness goals.
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