Amanda Vogel by Amanda Vogel

As a health and fitness pro, you might be engaging in conversations with clients about the popularity of activity trackers and their features. Clients who don’t yet have an activity tracker could be wondering which one they should purchase. And those who do have one might seek your guidance about getting the most out of it. Here are suggestions for handling five FAQs about activity trackers.  

1. Do I really need an activity tracker for health and fitness?

No. Fitness still happens even if it’s not being tracked. (Smile.) However, some clients could truly benefit from using one. Consider each client’s personality and challenges when answering this question. Anyone who’s a techie type or likes to crunch numbers might find tracker data especially motivating. Someone who could use more accountability might appreciate the extra incentive to move more—and prove that they did it.

With a tracker, you can easily follow up with clients about exactly how much activity they accomplish each week, and that can be enormously helpful for clients who seem to hit a lot of roadblocks.

2. What is the best tracker out there?

There is no one tracker that’s best for everyone. The best tracker depends on what your client wants to use it for, what kind of phone the client has, and his or her budget. The most expensive trackers come with a multitude of features. But having all those cool features is somewhat irrelevant for clients on a strict budget or those who just want “the basics” anyway, like daily step count.

Interest in technology can also determine what’s “best.” A simple wristband tracker with few features might be just the right option for certain clients, while others would find that boring and too barebones.

You might have a favorite wearable to recommend, but it might not work for all clients. For example, Apple Watch is a top pick among some trainers, but it only works if you have an iPhone. A Fitbit, on the other hand, is compatible with more devices. Look at the home page or FAQ page on most tracker websites for compatibility info. This informative roundup from shows, at a glance, which top trackers are compatible with which devices: The Best Fitness Trackers of 2017.

3. Will the tracker automatically know when I’m working out?

Possibly, but don’t count on it. Some trackers, like certain Fitbit models, do come with a built-in workout/sports app that automatically detects when you begin select workouts like walking, running, outdoor biking and using an elliptical machine. In other words, you don’t have to do anything to tell the tracker you’re going for a run or a bike ride; the workout/sports app launches automatically.

But most wrist-worn wearables don't do that. So even if the tracker automatically records your activities of daily living—walking around, taking breaks from sitting, climbing stairs—you still need to manually launch the workout/sports app on the tracker. Doing so triggers the tracker to collect exercise-related data, such as calorie burn, heart rate, pace, distance, etc. One drawback to the manual launch is that clients might sometimes forget to turn the workout/sports app on or off.

4. What are the most important metrics to track?

The best metrics to track are entirely dependent on each client’s goals. Although some trackers tally up numerous data points, you don’t have to pay attention to all of them. In fact, doing so might distract from the most important numbers: the ones that are relevant to a person’s everyday lives and goals.

For example, if a client wants to improve her health profile or lose weight, draw attention to how movement goals like steps taken or minutes doing brisk exercise add up to something beneficial. If a highly fit client has set his sights on running a 5K, analyze and compare weekly metrics from running workouts.

5. How accurate are the metrics, anyway?

Wearable trackers get more sophisticated every year, but accuracy can still be a problem. An ACE-commissioned study showed that devices were pretty accurate when it came to counting steps, but less accurate for other, more complex types of exercise like agility drills. The study analyzed five different activity trackers and was published in early 2015; keep in mind that technology has already advanced since then.

For clients who want to get in shape and improve their health profile, the best approach is to consider how clients’ own metrics compare over time. Look for evidence of consistency and improvements with daily activity and exercise. Emphasize positive differences compared to one month or three months or six months ago. This type of tracking can be quite motivating, despite any slight inaccuracies in metrics like steps taken. Note that accuracy may be more important to clients who have serious performance expectations for a sport or competition.

Educate your clients about activity trackers to help them determine the pros and cons of using one for general fitness or performance.  

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