When I first started exercising, if you wanted to track your workouts, you used a stopwatch and then wrote down what you did in a training diary. Then you could look back over the last few weeks and months to see how your workouts were progressing.
This might sound simple, but it was actually quite time-consuming. It was also easy to forget to write in your journal, and the information you could record was pretty limited.
Because I’m a bit of a hoarder, I still have most my old training diaries and every now and then I dig them out and read them. Half the time I can’t tell what it was I was recording! They must have made sense when I wrote them, but now they don’t mean a thing.
That’s why fitness trackers are so useful, and why I’m such a big fan. Fitness trackers do all the hard work for you and they don’t forget to record your workouts. Also, using apps, you can easily compare one workout to another to see how you are progressing. This is very motivating and shows you how far you have come.
What to Look for in a Fitness Tracker
There are lots of different fitness trackers to choose from, and that can make deciding which one to buy quite difficult. After all, you want the best tool for the job, and don’t want to buy one that doesn’t do what you want.
Because of that, make sure you consider these points before buying a fitness tracker. Don’t worry though, I’ve also reviewed the best fitness trackers on the market to help you choose the right one for you. More on that later.
1. Distance tracker – most fitness trackers count steps, but some use GPS to calculate distance too. If you are just walking for health, a step counter is probably enough, but if you are a serious walker or runner, a tracker with GPS may be more useful. GPS trackers can also measure the distance you have swum or cycled, handy if you do more than just running and walking.
2. Calorie tracker – if you are exercising for weight loss, a calorie counting function may be useful. However, it’s important to understand that even the best calorie counters are not 100% accurate, and there is more to losing weight than eating less and moving more.
3. Heart rate monitor – some fitness trackers double as heart rate monitors. That can be useful if you want to make sure you are exercising at exactly the right level of intensity. Some use a chest strap while others monitor your pulse at your wrist. The chest strap type is more accurate.
4. Sleep tracker – sleep is an important consideration for health. Some activity trackers monitor the length and quality of your sleep. If you know you are a bad sleeper, this feature could be useful and help you to break unhealthy, sleep-related habits.
5. Display clarity and size – do need glasses to read small print? Do you wear your glasses when you exercise? Make sure you consider the size and clarity of the display if you have trouble reading small print or prefer to exercise without wearing glasses. Some models have big, simple displays, while others are quite small and cluttered.
6. Waterproof – most fitness trackers are water resistant, but if you want to use yours for swimming, you’ll need to check it’s fully waterproof. Some fitness trackers are specifically designed for swimming and can even count the number of laps you swim.
7. Connectivity – most fitness trackers work with an app, so you can download and store your workout information for easy comparison. This is much easier if it can be done wirelessly. If you want to be able to do this, make sure your fitness tracker is compatible with your preferred device i.e. smartphone, tablet, desktop computer etc.
8. Battery life – most fitness trackers are rechargeable, but the battery life varies from one model to the next. The last thing you want to have to do is charge your tracker every time you use it, of for it to run out of power part way through your workout. Make sure the battery life is sufficient for your needs.
9. Design – some fitness trackers are small and neat, while others are big and chunky. Do you want something that looks elegant and even can double as a normal watch? Or do you want something you will only wear for exercise, and don’t really care how it looks?
10. Don’t forget the app – most activity trackers are designed to be used with a specific app. Some users prefer to use third party apps instead. Can you use your preferred app with your fitness tracker? Or do you have to use the app that comes with the tracker? Make sure that you can use the app you like best otherwise you may end up not getting the most from your tracker.
Best Fitness Trackers
Now you know what to look for in a fitness tracker, here are some of the best around, grouped according to their features and target users.
Best fitness tracker for under $100
Fitness trackers used to be super-expensive, but technological advancement and mass production means that you can now get a good tracker for less than $100. That’s great news because fitness trackers are really useful and almost everyone can benefit from using one.
It’s also good to know that a lower price doesn’t automatically mean you have to make do with fewer features. In fact, some of the newer, cheaper models have the same features as their more expensive counterparts.
Best fitness tracker with heart rate monitor
To get the most from your workouts, you need to work at the right level of intensity. For things like walking, running, and swimming, that means checking your heart rate. You could take your pulse manually at your wrist or neck but that’s not always easy or practical.
To make it easier to exercise at the right level, some fitness trackers have built-in sensors that take your pulse for you. They will then measure your heart rate in real time, warning you if you are exercising too hard or not hard enough. It’s like having a fitness coach on your wrist.
To help you choose the best product for you, check out my article Best fitness tracker with heart rate monitor.
Best waterproof fitness tracker
Most fitness trackers are sweat resistant, but that doesn’t mean they will survive full immersion in water. If you swim for fitness, or just like to keep your watch on when you wash up, shower, or have a bath, you really should buy a waterproof fitness tracker.
Waterproof fitness trackers are sealed so that no water can get in – even if they are fully immersed in deep water. Some are even designed specifically for swimmers and swimming workouts. That’s good news if you enjoy swimming as well as or instead of running and walking.
Find out which model is right for you in my article Best waterproof fitness tracker.
Best fitness tracker for kids
Kids need to be more active if they are to stay healthy and avoid gaining weight. After all, overweight kids are a common problem all around the world. That’s why it’s a good thing that some manufacturers have produced fitness trackers especially for kids.
The best fitness trackers for kids turn exercise into a game. Some even reward them with messages and badge icons when they reach their daily activity goals, which are set by the parents.
If you want your kid to be more active, using a fitness tracker for kids will help. Check out my article Best fitness tracker for kids to discover the right model for you.
Best heart rate monitors with chest strap
While a lot of fitness trackers will measure your heart rate, they do so by taking your pulse at your wrist. This is not always the most exact measurement. If you want EKG accuracy, you need a heart rate monitor with a chest strap. These dedicated devices aren’t fitness trackers but can help make sure your workouts are pitched at the right level for your fitness goals.
Easy to use and made for dedicated exercisers, check out my article Best heart rate monitors with chest strap to find the best product for you.
Which Kind of Fitness Tracker is Best for Me?
If you are a serious exerciser who wants to make sure they are exercising hard enough but not too hard, you should consider buying a fitness tracker with heart rate monitor or a heart rate monitor with chest strap. Both options will ensure that your workouts are as effective and productive as possible.
If you want to wear your fitness tracker 24/7 or think that you might want to use it for swimming, you’ll need a waterproof fitness tracker. Some are even designed specifically for swimming workouts.
If you aren’t sure if you even need a fitness tracker, you won’t want to spend a lot of money on something you might not enjoy using. If that sounds like you, you should buy a budget fitness tracker for under $100. I’m willing to bet that after using one for a few weeks you’ll become a big fan.
If you want to help you kids be more active, teaching them the importance of exercise and health from an early age, fitness trackers for kids are your best bet. You could buy an adult fitness tracker, but these junior versions are designed specifically for kids and are a much better option.
Questions and answers
I hope I’ve answered most your questions already but, in case I’ve missed anything, here are the most common questions I get asked about fitness trackers.
1. What is a fitness tracker?
A fitness tracker is a wearable piece of technology that monitors your movements. They are a lot like sports watches and you can wear one all the time without looking out of place. They display and record a variety of information, depending to the model you have bought, including time, date, number of steps, calories burnt, and distance walked or run.
2. What features can you expect from a fitness tracker?
The exact number of features depends on the model and how much you are prepared to pay but they include:
- Steps taken (pedometer)
- Total exercise time
- Heart rate in real time
- Average heart rate
- Maximum heart rate
- Minimum heart rate
- Time spent in correct heart rate zone
- Recovery time after exercise
- Fitness tests
- Sleep monitor
3. What should you consider when buying a fitness tracker?
Make sure your intended purchase does everything that you want it to do. For example, if you want to wear your fitness tracker for swimming, make sure you get a waterproof model. Also check that it has good reviews, and that other users have said that they enjoy using it before you buy. Also consider things like ease of use, warranty, and your budget. Remember though, more expensive doesn’t always mean a better product.
4. How do fitness trackers measure your heart rate?
Many fitness trackers monitor your heart rate at your wrist. That’s quite accurate but not 100%. If the strap and sensor move, the reading will be affected. The reading is then displayed on your tracker. If you want a more exact reading, consider getting a heart rate monitor with chest strap. These use EKG technology to accurately detect the electrical pulse that happens every time your heart beats.
5. How do fitness trackers count steps?
Budget fitness trackers have built-in sensors called accelerometers that detect movement when you walk or run. Some can differentiate between incidental movements and “real” exercise such as running and walking. Others use GPS (global positioning system) to track your movements via satellite. These are much more accurate but tend to be more expensive too.
6. Should I get a GPS running watch, a fitness tracker, or a smartwatch?
The answer to this question really depends on your budget and your specific tracking needs. A GPS running watch will accurately track and measure your running or walking routes, mapping you as you go. This means you can compare your workouts and track your progress.
Most fitness trackers are designed for general use and will monitor your daily activity levels 24/7 – often including your sleep. Fitness trackers are often the cheapest option.
Smartwatches are like mini-computers onto which you can download a variety of fitness apps including pedometers, fitness trackers, and even GPS mapping. They do pretty much everything but, because they have so many other functions, they may be harder to use during exercise. They can also be expensive.
7. How accurate are fitness trackers?
The answer to that question depends on several factors including the make and model, whether they have GPS, and how they are used. Some are very accurate whereas others offer an estimate of things like calories burned and distance covered. If accuracy is important to you, make sure you look at the product specs and reviews before buying.
8. How do fitness trackers measure sleep? How exactly are they?
Fitness trackers measure sleep by monitoring your movements. They assume that, if you aren’t moving, you must be sleeping. They make the assumption that the less you move, the deeper your sleep must be. Some will also measure your heart rate, comparing your nighttime reading to your heart rate in the daytime. Your heart rate should be lower when you sleep.
The only way to properly measure sleep is to use electrodes to measure brain activity, so activity trackers are not 100% accurate. Some people even find the idea of sleep monitoring keeps them awake! Fitness trackers that monitor sleep can provide useful information about sleep but should not be considered to be foolproof.
9. Do fitness trackers work for yoga, HIIT, swimming, walking, running etc.
Some do, and some don’t. It all depends on which functions are on offer. Some fitness trackers only monitor steps and are best for running and walking. Others, like the Moov More measure all types of movements. If you only want to track walking and running, almost any fitness tracker will work. But, if your workouts are more varied, you’ll need a more advanced product.
10. Is buying a fitness tracker a good idea?
Yes! A lot of people exercise but don’t know if they are doing enough. A fitness tracker will reveal if you are active enough, and help you track your exercise from one day to the next to make sure you aren’t being overly sedentary.
Most users also find that they can use their tracker to set daily and weekly exercise goals and that can be very motivating. Many of the other features found on fitness trackers (such as heart rate and sleep monitor) mean that using a tracker enhances many aspects of health and fitness.
11. Can I use a fitness tracker without a computer or smartphone?
Most fitness trackers are designed to be used alongside an app. This makes collecting and reviewing date much easier. That doesn’t mean you have to use an app – most fitness trackers also save the details of your workouts, so you can view them on the device itself. This does mean you’ll have to make do with a small screen. To get the most out of your fitness tracker, using it in conjunction with a smartphone, tablet, or computer is best, but with some models this is not essential.
12. Do fitness trackers need batteries?
Most fitness trackers are rechargeable. You simply plug them into a USB-type adapter and they’re good for several days or even weeks of use. Some fitness trackers offer contactless charging via a charging mat.
The battery life depends on the size and quality of the fitted battery and how long and how often you use your fitness tracker. Battery usage is often listed in the technical specifications. If you want a tracker that doesn’t need charging all the time, make sure you select a product with a long battery life.
Heart rate monitors with chest straps usually need batteries for the chest strap. However, those batteries are very long lasting and cheap and easy to replace.