Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
The promise of fitness trackers, of course, quantifies and optimizes fitness. It’s always better to be active than no activity, but the best results are figuring out how many calories and nutrients you are consuming and learning to work harder, better, and faster. Before removing a device from Fitbit, Samsung or PolarIt’s important to know that all of the major trackers are geared toward cardio workouts.
It should be noted that in this case, “bias” does not imply that the companies are unfair or even necessarily intentional. On the contrary, trackers (and their Android and iPhone apps) are primarily optimized for cardio. Modes for activities like yoga and strength training are commonplace – but the value of fitness trackers is diminished for them.
For our purposes, we’ll define cardio as workouts like running, walking, or cycling, and to a lesser extent, things like ellipticals, rowers, or combat ropes. While most workouts will make your heart beat faster, cardio is the primary focus.
Fitness Tracking Problem # 1: Motion Sensors
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Apart from a few chest belts and other exceptions, most trackers are equipped with gyroscopes. Comparing live data with expected patterns helps track repetitive movements, such as running and walking. A Fitbit, for example, calculates a wearer’s “steps” based on their swaying motion.
The number of steps can be a useful measure for the average person. However, they’re easy to tamper with, and even when someone is completely honest, trackers often get it wrong. This is because companies are already starting to switch to different metrics such as active minutes. Serious runners pay no attention to their steps at all – they are more concerned with pace, efficiency, heart rate, and oxygen levels.
If gyroscopes aren’t reliable for something as simple as running, this makes them even less suited for complex activities like dancing or those with little wrist movement like pull-ups. Even barbell squats and bench presses are difficult to follow consistently because weightlifters use different grips and ranges. A few companies are making an effort in this regard – Garmin, for example, allows users to track sets and reps, but this data usually needs to be corrected later, which takes away their convenience. It is often easier to write things down on paper.
Problem # 2: heart rate doesn’t tell you everything
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The only type of sensor with universal value is heart rate. Combined with details like age and weight, a properly worn optical or ECG sensor can give an idea of your performance and a rough figure for calorie expenditure. In fact, a lot of people engage in something called zone training, in which they try to keep their core within a target range. Fitbit, Garmin and Polar watches, in particular, respond to the concept of zone.
However, many activities do not lend themselves to zone training, and wrist-based heart rate sensors are less accurate as the intensity drops and increases, such as launching into a 300-pound deadlift after a rest. 60 seconds. It should be noted that some high-end wrist heart rate sensors can track more accurate chest straps, but this is a rare case.
Heart rate also fails to fully assess performance in many cases. Weightlifters are more concerned with power and lift totals, while activities like yoga and pilates are as much about mobility and endurance as anything.
See also: The best heart rate monitors and watches
It cannot be stressed enough that for calories, even the best heart rate sensors – like ECG units on chest straps, usually the most accurate consumption option – can only provide a rough estimate. Many factors determine the real world burn calories, so trackers can often lose hundreds of calories, which makes all the difference if someone is trying to gain or lose weight. An estimate can be useful, but only as a starting point for personal adjustments, and this is especially true for people operating outside of the cardio realm.
Issue n ° 3: The fickle nature of public demand
Very Shy Attempt at Kettlebell Juggling!
All device makers thrive or die depending on consumer demand. Given the limited resources, it therefore makes sense to target the products on the largest demographic. The upshot with fitness trackers is that they are marketed to cardio fans – there are more people running, walking, and biking than there are irons. This, in turn, is because people are more often concerned with weight loss or heart health in general than with things like strength or flexibility.
All device makers thrive or die depending on consumer demand.
The effect of this can be seen not only in the hardware specifications, but in applications like Apple Fitness and Google fit, which favor cardio activities. The former encourages people to close their daily Move rings, while Fit rewards users with “Heart Points”. Some apps take it a step further and assume that your goal should be weight loss. Polar Flow, for example, will regularly reprimand you if your weight increases. It doesn’t matter if those extra 10 pounds are mostly muscle.
Is anyone trying to get around the cardio bias?
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Beyond Garmin, perhaps the best effort to deal with the situation comes from Coros. The fitness watches in this latest outfit allow people to create structured strength training exercises through a mobile app, even targeting individual muscle groups through a range of selectable exercises. It actually addresses a bigger concern than rep counting – making sure the workout hits each muscle often enough to trigger growth. Coros devices start at $ 200 for the Pace 2, although the cheapest model with a touchscreen (by no means required) is the $ 500 Apex Pro.
There have been some extremely specialized efforts, such as the $ 495 Flex barbell sensor. One of the earliest wrist strength trackers came from Atlas Wearables in Austin, but its products never reached the mainstream as a solo business. That could be about to change – Atlas was purchased by Peloton in March 2021, and Bloomberg reports that the company is developing an armband that will partner with Peloton’s cycles and treadmills. While the emphasis should obviously be on cardio, Peloton incorporates strength training and could use Atlas’s algorithms.
Recommended trackers for non-cardio workouts
Choirs’ Rhythm 2 and Apex Pro are logical choices for strength-oriented people who insist on going the watch route. If you don’t need a new watch and / or aren’t interested in strength, it may actually be easier (for fitness enthusiasts) to choose a chest strap or armband. The gold standard for chest straps is the Fleece H10, a model that supports Bluetooth and ANT + connections and can cache data from a single session, so you don’t need to have your phone nearby. Because it’s a few years old, it can periodically be found below its $ 90 price point.
Optical armbands are less precise than chest straps but generally more comfortable and can be a happy medium for people who want to keep their wrists free. Polar is once again the leader in this field thanks to the $ 90 Sense of truth, which can store up to 600 hours of data and even clip onto swimming goggles to track heart rate from your temple. A solid alternative is the $ 90 from Scosche Rhythm + 2.0, which has no memory but has a 24 hour rechargeable battery.
Realistically, as long as there is a decent heart rate sensor, most people can get along with a standard wrist tracker or smartwatch, especially if non-fitness-related functions are the priority. It is simply a matter of recognizing and adapting to prejudices, which every fitness product currently demands. It may be a few more years before hardware and software can close the gap.