With activity trackers being so popular these days, you’ve probably had multiple conversations with clients about all that these tech devices can do. Even so, there are features and capabilities about which many people know very little, if they are aware of them at all. The more you learn about activity trackers in general, the more you can help clients get the most out of using a wearable for improving health and fitness. Here are five things you might not know about activity trackers and their metrics. Share this info with your clients who wear trackers and see if it makes a positive impact on their health and fitness goals. 

1. Lifestyle Metrics Aren’t the Same As Workout Metrics

A lot of clients and even fitness pros are confused about what their trackers measure under what conditions. The majority of trackers collect two types of health and fitness data: (1) lifestyle/everyday activities, and (2) workout/sports performance.

Metrics involved in lifestyle activities generally include steps taken, daily calories burned, continuous heart rate and total miles/kilometers walked in a day. Generally, these measurements provide insight about health behaviors and how much you move around every day. To get credit for daily activities, you need to wear your tracker all day long. Typically, you don’t have to press or start anything on the tracker for it to measure everyday activities; it’ll do so automatically. 

You can also collect fitness-related metrics by tracking a dedicated workout or sports activity. In this case, you only need to wear the tracker for the 30 or 60 minutes you work out (although most people still wear their trackers all day to get credit for lifestyle activities, too). 

While some activity trackers can detect when you start working out and begin to measure accordingly, most require you to manually launch a workout app that’s built into the tracker. In other words, you must let the tracker know you want it to measure a dedicated workout.

Workout metrics often overlap with lifestyle metrics—calories burned or heart rate—but you might also see numbers related specifically to exercise performance, such as pace, duration and intensity (according to heart rate zone). Some trackers turn on a heart-rate sensor only when the workout app is running. Others measure continuous heart rate whether you’re exercising or not. Finally, some trackers don’t include a built-in heart-rate sensor at all, requiring you to sync the tracker to a chest-strap heart-rate monitor. 

FYI, it’s possible for a tracker to just measure lifestyle activities and not dedicated workouts. Some bracelet-like trackers with basic features fall into this category and might be all that certain clients want or need for exercise or weight-loss motivation.  

2. Most Trackers Have a Companion App 

You can usually view metrics right on a tracker’s display screen or watch-face, but that screen is extremely small and can only fit so much data. Plus, what about trackers like those from Jawbone that don’t have a display at all? Tracker companies solve these issues with a companion app, which allows you to access a dashboard of metrics on your phone or tablet/iPad. This dashboard usually reveals more analytics and/or graphics than what you’d find on the tracker itself. A companion app might also issue reward badges for goal achievement, connect you to other tracker users, allow you to post your workouts to social media and more.

If you aren’t already using your tracker’s companion app, you’ll find it in the App Store, Google Play, etc., according to your mobile device. Or, check your phone—it might already be there. For example, the companion Activity app for Apple Watch appears on your iPhone when you first pair the watch and phone. From this app, you can take a closer look at and compare lifestyle and workout metrics. 

Not Keen on the Traditional Activity Tracker? Here Are Alternative Wearables

You might have clients who like the idea of tracking health and exercise, but aren’t crazy about the look or feel of traditional activity wristbands or watches. Luckily, there are alternatives that still let them reap many benefits of health tracking.

  • Clips: Brands like Runtastic and Fitbit provide the option of a clip that attaches to the waistband of your pants or workout tights.
  • Jewelry: Track health by way of a necklace, wrap bracelet or clip using LEAF by Bellabeat. For more bling, clients might like Swarovski Crystal Activity Bracelets, compatible with Misfit.
  • Bras: The OMBra wirelessly records real-time biometrics and sends them to your phone; connects with Apple Health, Map My Fitness, Strava and more.
  • Fitness Clothes: Tech-designed, smart workout wear can track exercise and provide biometric feedback. Examples include: Hexoskin, Athos and Lumo.
  • Footwear: Shoe brands like Under Armour offer built-in tech capabilities. There are numerous smart insoles on the market as well.

3. Third-Party Apps Can Enhance Clients’ Experiences

In addition to a tracker’s own companion app, many wearables are compatible with third-party apps that are not necessarily owned or created by the tracker company. Fitbit syncs with multiple standalone apps, including MyFitnessPal, Strava and MINDBODY, which makes it possible to measure workouts via these third-party apps while still earning credit in the tracker or its companion app. This is how some people track yoga, a format that isn’t always represented in a tracker’s built-in workout app. 

Depending on the features and capabilities of the tracker itself, you can either download third-party apps right onto the tracker and/or into your phone. Native apps (those that can be downloaded onto the tracker, such as what’s possible with Apple Watch) allow you to control select app settings and features from your wrist, which saves you from having to dig into your pocket or purse for your phone.

4. You Can View Metrics From Multiple Clients All in One Place

A common predicament associated with clients using activity trackers is determining how to view their respective data in an unobtrusive and efficient way. You could look at each client’s metrics in the individual companion apps they use. However, there are other options for gathering at least some of the data all in one place.

Third-party apps and platforms allow you to track and analyze metrics from a single dashboard. One such app called Leaderboard for Fitbit lets you watch real-time activity for any participating client who uses a Fitbit. With Trainerize software for personal trainers, you can view clients’ body measurement data from devices like Fitbit and Withings. There’s also the free inKin app, compatible with Android, iOS and Microsoft. Through this app, you can create challenges for clients who’ve also joined the app and keep an eye on their metrics. The inKin app is compatible with many trackers—including Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, Misfit and more—so it's possible to aggregate clients’ health and fitness data even if they use a range of tracker brands and apps.  

Further Your Knowledge

Interested in learning more about how to use activity trackers with your clients? Check out these great resources from the American Council on Exercise (which also include opportunities to earn continuing education credits):

Activity Trackers: A Tool to Promote Client Achievement [Recorded Webinar]


ACE-sponsored Research: How Will Wearable Activity Trackers Impact the Fitness Industry? [Article]

If you and a number of your clients have the Apple Watch, you can share, compare and even compete with those clients using Activity sharing (to get it, update to watchOS 3). You’ll receive notifications to Apple Watch about a participating client’s progress, such as when he or she closes an Activity ring or completes a workout, with an option to quickly and easily send a message to that client. When using this feature as part of your professional services, you have two options with each client: (1) two-way access, where you see the client’s metrics and he or she can also see yours, or (2) one-way access, where you see the client’s metrics but he or she can’t see yours. 

At this stage, most aggregate third-party apps and features provide a good snapshot of data points and progress. For a deeper dive into individual client metrics, you’ll still want to periodically ask clients if you can check out the specific companion app associated with their tracker.  

5. Trackers Are Still Customizable Even After the Initial Set-up

When you first set up your tracker, it might ask you to choose your movement goals, such as how many steps you hope to take in a day or how many daily active calories you’ll burn. Some trackers set goalposts for you by default. Either way, people tend to forget after the initial set-up that many tracker features are adjustable. You can change certain daily goals at any time through the tracker itself, through the companion app, or both.

If a client starts out feeling exuberant about reaching a high step count but frequently misses that milestone, suggest a goal reset. Trackers are meant to be motivational, not discouraging. To that end, set the bar for success. However, keep in mind that a lot of trackers are also smart! That means they’re able to suggest loftier goals when they detect a user is continually reaching established markers. Prepare to adjust upward, as well.

Anything that encourages your clients to take advantage of all the health-promoting offerings associated with their activity tracker will help them reach their goals faster.