Best Fitness Tracker Reviews and Buying Guide
Fitness trackers are the best way to keep an eye on your health, especially if you’re busy with work or family commitments. They help you monitor your daily activity levels, sleep patterns, heart rate, calories burned, etc. Fitness trackers are also an effective calorie counter because they track your food intake and exercise activities. This article will share our picks for the best fitness trackers.
How A Fitness Tracker Works
A fitness tracker is essentially a wearable device that tracks your physical activity using various sensors.
For example, it may have GPS capabilities to record your location at all times. Some even feature heart-rate monitoring and track your blood oxygen levels (or blood oxygen saturation levels).
The information collected from these sensors is then sent wirelessly to your smartphone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. You can view the data in real-time on your phone or sync it later to analyze trends.
There are many different types of fitness trackers available today, each designed for specific purposes.
Why Are Fitness Trackers Good?
There are several reasons why fitness trackers are good:
1. Automatic tracking
They automatically track your activities and store them, so you don’t need to remember to take your phone everywhere you go.
2. Instant feedback
Fitness trackers provide instant feedback about how active you were throughout the day.
The data collected from your fitness tracker can help you improve your lifestyle.
4. Goal management
Fitness trackers enable you to set goals and track your progress towards achieving those goals.
The positive feedback from your fitness tracker can help you stay motivated to achieve your fitness goals.
Fitness trackers help you improve your fitness level without spending big blocks of time working out every day.
But the things we love best about fitness trackers are:
7. Automatic Reminders
Reminders make it easier to form new healthy habits.
Fitness trackers free you from the burden of monitoring your activities and counting calories and enable you to focus on the fun things in life instead.
How Much Do Fitness Trackers Cost?
The price range for fitness trackers varies depending on their features and functionality. However, most of them cost around $100 – $200 new, and even less if you buy a refurbished one.
In addition, most of the top-rated models come with a variety of advanced features such as GPS, heart rate monitoring, smart notifications, and other helpful tools.
The best fitness trackers are usually water-resistant and have long battery life. They are also easy to use and offer great value for money.
Coach Debbie's Choice for #1 Best Fitness Tracker: Apple Smartwatch
Why I Needed A Fitness Tracker… and you might want one too
Is it surprising to learn that a fitness coach needs a fitness tracker? Believe me; it surprised me too. For years, I thought my intense 20-minute workouts were “enough” to be healthy, so I didn’t give fitness trackers much thought.
But a few years ago, I realized something super important about myself that totally changed how I looked at fitness and health.
Do you know what I’m good at? Being lazy, I love lying around and doing nothing! While I think it’s wise to rest and relax, I also know that being sedentary isn’t healthy. They say “sitting is the new smoking,” right?
A few years ago, I realized I sat a lot more than I should. And I didn’t take leisurely walks… ever… because walking was too slow and undoubtedly ineffective . . . or so I thought.
Still, I knew I wasn’t active throughout my days. I wasn’t moving enough. And every piece of research I read repeatedly pointed to the fact that we need to be mobile throughout each day.
But I was not motivated. I needed help. I knew I’d forget to stand up and procrastinate on taking walks.
So I decided to buy a fitness tracker to help me become more active. I purchased a used Apple Watch from Facebook Marketplace and am so glad I did! I did spend a couple hundred dollars, but it was so worth it! I saved a ton by getting a used one.
What Makes My Apple Smartwatch The Best Fitness Tracker For Me?
1. Automatic reminders make it easier to achieve goals
I love that my Apple Watch reminds me to stand up every hour for 1 minute. That sounds silly until you realize you’ve been sitting for 60 minutes doing work!
We need a mental break to get up and physically step away from screens and our job. It promotes creativity, boosts energy, and reduces stress. I still rely on this reminder, though I see improvement and am walking around more.
I use that minute to change the laundry, stir the crockpot contents, go to the bathroom, take my dogs outside, refill my coffee cup, and do light cleaning. If I do this 12 times in a day, I “close my ring” for standing, which is a fun reward.
2. Motivation and reasons to celebrate
My daily exercise goal is set to 30 minutes. And I can select a variety of activities to help me meet that goal! You see, my fitness watch tracks ALL my exercise and helps me stay in the optimal calorie-burning zone.
Here’s an important thing you should know… I do not lift weights or have a structured sweat session seven days a week. That is crazy and ineffective.
Instead, since I wanted to become a “walker,” my fitness tracker has become the perfect prompt to take 30-minute walks around the neighborhood or on my staircase. It tracks my heart rate and calorie burn each minute, which helps me stay in the low-impact zone.
During my walks, I like to burn no more than 4 or 5 calories a minute (instead of burning more, which becomes a jog). A slow walk doesn’t drain my energy or cause hunger or cravings, and I also avoid huffing and puffing. It gives me time to clear my head and unwind, especially after a particularly busy and stressful day.
I do lift weights 3 or 4 days a week, so there are days that, between my walking and my workout, I exceed that daily 30-minute goal.
Some days, I just don’t “close the ring” for exercise. On those days, I do not allow my fitness tracker to be a source of condemnation. Instead, I remind myself that its purpose is to help me remember to walk, be active, and not become obsessive about fitness.
And seeing the watch “celebrate” my daily accomplishment is a source of motivation!
3. Encouragement that the “little things” really DO matter
When it comes to fitness, many people mistakenly believe that only the big things count - like an hour of cardio, strength training, or jogging. But, the Mayo Clinic advises, “don't worry if you can't find a large chunk of time to exercise every day. Any amount of activity is better than none at all. To reap the benefits of exercise, just get more active throughout your day — take the stairs instead of the elevator or rev up your household chores. Consistency is key.”
And when it comes to increasing our daily amount of movement, every step counts! Although I’m not one of those people who insists on achieving 10,000 steps a day, I have found that sometimes we are more active than we realize. And checking our step count can reveal that right away!
Since my watch is in sync with my phone, I can see how many steps I’ve walked in a day. Some days I forget to check it. There are also days when it’s low or high. And I’m thankful that my smartwatch keeps count so I can see my results with the touch of a button instead of tracking it all myself.
4. Objectivity rather than an obsession with my health and fitness goals
Another feature I love about my fitness tracker is that it calculates my daily calorie burn. And this has allowed me to step back, see the big picture, and be more objective about my fitness activities and goals.
Like you, there are some days that I burn hundreds of calories over my daily goal, and others that I burn less than half of my daily calorie goal. Some days my workouts burn seven calories a minute; on other days, only four calories a minute. Some days I walk once, some days I walk twice.
I learned that I am better able to take it all with a grain of salt when I don’t constantly have to track and calculate this myself. Thanks to my fitness tracker, I can now view this information as data (with a margin for error - because no system is perfect or flawless) that helps me learn how my body operates instead of measuring my worth. It’s great to have a fitness goal, but it does not convey my significance.
If you have a history of dieting or exercise compulsion, you may find this a bit tricky. Individuals who have an unhealthy relationship with movement should not get a fitness tracker. It’s that simple.
5. Customizable fitness goals
The Apple Watch fitness tracker does offer options to change my fitness goals. Personally, I would NEVER increase my fitness goals because I don’t want the pressure to do more.
However, if you are just getting started and need to work your way up to a healthy daily activity level, you’ll be happy to know you can do this with the Apple Watch fitness tracker.
What the Apple Smartwatch Is Missing
Unfortunately, my smart watch doesn’t prioritize sleep or reward users for resting, so they’re missing a big piece of the health puzzle.
And for me, the battery life is about one day. So, because I have to charge my Apple Watch every night, there’s no way to add any sleep tracking apps to my device. I would literally need a second tracker.
Thankfully, I already prioritize sleep and have no sleep problems, so the Apple Watch works great for me!
Coach Emily's Choice for #1 Best Fitness Tracker: Garmin VivoActive4S
How I Use My Fitness Watch
About five or six years ago, my friend showed me her super cool new running watch that tracked her runs, heart rate, and steps. While I didn’t jump the gun to purchase right away, I was very intrigued as the metrics helped improve her running performance.
I purchased my first big bulky Garmin watch about five years ago refurbished off eBay (not a bad way to buy). At the time, I was doing a lot of 5K and 10K races and found some of the features really helpful in my running.
As an Android phone user, I was never really interested in an Apple watch, and because I wanted to use it primarily for fitness, Garmin made a lot of sense to me.
About two years ago, I switched over to a Garmin VivoActive4S watch. It’s smaller, more feminine, and looks more like a “real” watch than many. Additionally, it offers all kinds of metrics that help me in my daily life and my fitness journey. While Garmin’s app that connects to the watch provides a lot of insight, I prefer to use the Strava app, which offers better long-term fitness tracking.
So Why the VivoActive4S?
In addition to the aesthetics described above, the watch gives me SO much insight into my day. Here are some of the features that I use:
1. Sleep Tracking
Sleep tracking might be the MOST crucial feature because, as busy moms, we all struggle to get enough quality sleep. And studies show that chronically sleep-deprived adults are more susceptible to weight gain, significant health problems, and poor cognitive and emotional functioning. (Sleep Research Society, Journal of Neuroscience)
I try to charge my watch every 3 to 4 days during daytime hours so it’s ready to track my sleep. My fitness watch does a great job of measuring light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep so I can get an accurate understanding of how my body is resting. I know this because sometimes, when I feel exhausted despite getting “enough” sleep, my Garmin shows me that I was awake during the night or got very little deep sleep.
2. Stress Levels
My watch tracks my stress levels and will remind me to calm down when needed. I am a relatively low-stress person, but occasionally my stress will run high even when I don’t feel stressed. However, this almost always correlates with sleep, as mentioned earlier. Fascinating right? Garmin uses heart rate variability (HRV), the natural variation in the time between each heartbeat, as an indicator.
3. Body Battery
Also incredibly useful, the body battery feature helps measure the body’s energy reserves to help manage the day. A low body battery typically means that your body’s energy reserves are too low for an intense workout. From what I understand, Garmin calculates this number based on heart rate variability (HRV), stress, sleep quality, and activity. It’s a revealing snapshot of the body’s overall energy.
4. Steps and Elevation Climbed
While I don’t obsess about my steps, I do feel better when I get in 10,000 steps per day. Being active takes effort, but I always have more energy and better digestion when I move often. Of course, this is personal, but it’s what works for me.
On that same note, when I am sedentary for too long, the watch will gently vibrate to tell me to move. Then, when I walk or move, it will “clear” the move alert.
I also enjoy that my watch shows me how many flights of stairs I climb daily. Sometimes this is actual stairs, and other times it’s from a hilly walk or run. It’s just interesting to know.
5. Notifications or Lack Thereof
I set my watch to “silent” from 9 pm to 7 am, so it’s not vibrating while I’m trying to wind down, sleep, or start my day. I also enjoy getting text messages on my watch, so I don’t have to check my phone as often. Garmin allows customized features that make it easy to change these settings on the app!
Overall I love my Garmin so much! However, I don’t use all the features like listening to music through it, and it would be nice to have a few other features like a reminder to stand up after too much sitting.
Because my husband has an Apple watch, and we sometimes compare (like after walking around Disney), I do think Garmin might be a bit more accurate on certain fitness features.
While I use my watch to track runs, I rarely use the weight training feature, even though I lift weights 3 to 4 times per week. I just don’t find the data provided to be all that helpful.
I also think it’s best not to allow a fitness tracker to become an idol or tool that keeps us so focused on the “goal” that we miss the fun of life. Instead, we need to take this information in stride and maintain a balanced perspective about the role of health and fitness in our lives.
There are days and weeks that I hardly glance at my statistics, and others when I pay closer attention. Remember that trackers are designed to be helpful tools, not to create an obsession.
Here are some guidelines to help you decide if a fitness tracker is right for you.
The University of Colorado’s Health & Wellness Services explains that a healthy relationship with movement is when your fitness routine:
- helps you feel connected with your body
- improves your strength, flexibility, and endurance
- allows for rest and sick days
- helps you relieve stress and is enjoyable
- can move down on your priority list
- responds to your needs
- includes different types of movement
- respects your body’s limits
An unhealthy relationship with movement occurs when your fitness routine:
- is all or nothing
- allows for very few or no rest days
- must meet specific requirements to “count”
- doesn’t include breaks or time off for sick days or injuries
- feels like something you have to or are expected to do
- takes priority over other things in life (relationships, rest, socializing, etc.)
- causes you to feel upset or anxious if you miss a workout
- determines what you are allowed to eat based on activity level or calories burned
Again, if you have an unhealthy relationship with movement, a fitness tracker is NOT the right decision for you.
Where to Get A Fitness Tracker That Won't Blow Your Budget
A few budget-friendly places to purchase a great fitness tracker include:
- Facebook Marketplace
14 Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Fitness Tracker:
1. Battery Life
Battery life is the number one factor when buying a fitness tracker because it determines how much time you can spend wearing it. So make sure you choose a model that has long battery life.
Water resistance is another essential feature when choosing a fitness tracker. It’s best to select a device that can withstand being submerged in water up to 1 meter deep for 30 minutes.
3. Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitors more accurately track your pulse while exercising. Choose a model that comes with a chest strap so you can wear it during workouts.
4. Smart Notifications
Smart notifications let you know when you receive messages, emails, calls, etc. Choose a model that offers this feature.
GPS (Global Positioning System) allows you to see your location at any given moment. Choose a model with built-in GPS so you can easily access its location services.
6. Tracking Features
Choose a model that includes tracking features like step counting, distance traveled, calories burned, sleep quality, and more. These are essential if you want to monitor your daily activity levels.
Design is an important consideration when purchasing a fitness tracker. You may not be able to tell right away whether or not a particular design will suit you, but you can always change the appearance later.
Size matters. When selecting a fitness tracker, make sure it fits comfortably on your wrist. It should be snug enough to prevent slippage.
Price is another important consideration when buying a fitness tracker. Look for a model that costs less than $150.
Make sure the fitness tracker you choose works seamlessly with your smartphone. Some fitness trackers require Bluetooth connectivity, while others work independently.
11. User Experience
User experience refers to the ease of using the fitness tracker. Does it take too many steps to start tracking data? How does it sync with your phone? Is there a learning curve involved? All these factors affect user experience.
12. Health Monitoring Apps
Health apps are available for both iOS and Android devices. Many users find it easier to download health apps directly onto their smartphones instead of having to pair them with fitness trackers.
Fitness trackers come in different styles. Some fitness trackers resemble watches, while others look like bracelets. Do you prefer a specific style?
Warranties vary from company to company, with most covering two years.
If you choose to purchase a fitness tracker or already have one that you absolutely love, we’d love to know more about it!
What’s your favorite tracker?