How Wearable Technology Can Enhance Your Fitness Experience
– Gavin McKay, Founder Unite Fitness
- Would you work harder if you had specific data feedback?
- Is tech just another distraction?
- How can tech motivate you to workout more often?
These are the questions our exec team asked in our year of research and testing of various NEW fitness tech wearables, tools and apps. Find out what actually works and what it means for the future of fitness in this article!
What We Found
Essentially, what we found is that most fit tech devices and systems are able to measure just a few things and some just track data you need to input yourself. But this article isn’t about ranking the best fit tech wearables, apps and systems. We want to understand what actually motivates people and changes their behavior.
The premise behind fit tech is that people will alter their behavior when they have access to certain data feedback or analysis. This makes sense! The only way we generally change is because we have some information that influences us in a certain direction.
For example, if you have an in-person trainer, they can give you feedback on your form so that you can then fix it. If you workout alone, you likely won’t know how to fix it or might simply forget to or get lazy. So then it’s really how technology can provide us with accurate feedback that we don’t already know and in a convenient way so that we actually enjoy using it.
As we assessed the fit tech marketplace we saw that there are three main behaviors that fit tech is attempting to influence:
- Train Harder – By providing workout data, in real time or immediately after workouts, against various standards, they try to motivate more effort to achieve a certain level.
- Eat Better – By providing dietary data on what you are consuming or thinking of consuming, as well as body measurements, they try to motivate healthier eating choices.
- Train More Often – By providing cumulative attendance data against various standards and at the right moments, they try to motivate training more often. This behavior was addressed the least but we believe to be the most important.
Which behavior a wearable or app was targeting — and how they go about achieving it — varies quite a bit. For each behavioral goal there are a few critical pieces of data and strategies that we have found actually work for many (but not all) people.
If you can find and use technology that provides any of these you should consider investing. And hey — sometimes they are free or provided by your fitness studio.
Data That Motivates HARDER TRAINING:
- Knowing your heart rate versus the recommended workout zones either during or after the workout.
“When I see my heart rate is in a lower zone I immediately want to get it up.”
We like Wahoo or MyZone
- Know how many calories or effort points a workout achieved versus what’s recommended or other people’s information.
“I feel more accomplished and good about myself when I reach the recommended number.”
“Being able to compare to others has pushed me to step it up a notch.”
We like Wahoo or MyZone
Data That Motivates EATING HEALTHIER:
- Knowing your body fat versus various standards (healthy, athlete specific, to see abs, etc.).
“I was surprised my body fat was so high, because I’m not that big or heavy in weight.”
“I always wanted to see my abs but until I knew my body fat, I had no number to work toward.”
We liked SKULPT
- Seeing your daily caloric intake and the macronutrient breakdown versus your target goal.
“Until you really understand the caloric and nutrient value of food, you cannot control it.”
We like MyFitnessPal
Data That Motivates TRAINING MORE OFTEN:
- Being automatically reminded of your attendance in a period versus the recommended amount.
“If I just add Sundays as a workout day, I’ll hit the standard and get my results.”
Your studio/gym could but likely doesn’t provide reminders.
- Seeing when your training buddies are working out encourages you to workout.
“They’re able to make it happen, so I should be able to, too.”
We like MyZone
- Having a tracked workout challenge with a goal amount in a set period and leaderboards.
“They are able to make it happen, so I should be able to, too.”
We like MyZone
The most critical factors missing from many apps and hardware are the standards to compare the data to, which could be personal goals, recommended guidelines or your peers’ information. You don’t want to buy a $100 device to get data for data’s sake.
Tip: Be careful that you don’t get so focused on checking your wearable data or watching a leaderboard screen that you lose sight of everything else involved in a workout. In particular people can get too competitive and lose out on the mental break and stress reduction a workout provides most people. Things can also become seriously unsafe when people are looking at screens instead of paying attention to form or the other people working on in the space. We all have bumped into things, ignored people, forgotten what we were doing because we were staring into our smart phones. Let’s not bring these mindless ways to our workouts.
Another Tip: Try to avoid fit tech that isn’t consistently accurate (wrist heart rate monitors) or requires you to input too much data. The real goal of using fit tech should be to automate the data and alerts that motivate us so we don’t have to remember or work too hard for it, because after a few weeks we won’t.
The effectiveness of fit tech is just starting to be measured, since this is such a new industry, but if sales are any indication, fit tech works and is here to stay. More than 50 percent of people who regularly workout have bought a piece of fitness tech or used a fitness app.
That said, fitness tech is a trend like any other which means many people are going to treat it as the end-all be-all only to realize it’s just one part of the lifestyle and behavioral equation for health and fitness. There really is no replacement for the feedback that a real trainer can provide or the energy and camaraderie that a social group can provide. So while fit tech is here to stay, so are trainers and group workouts!