As a topic close to my heart (pardon the pun) it is something I feel well equipped to discuss.
I have used heart-rate monitors and other devices for many years and have become something of a geek when it comes to which device does what. I recently purchased a new 'fitness watch' and had a considerable number of pre-requisites based on previous experiences.
I wanted something that could detect my heart rate from the wrist and was waterproof.
It also needed to be able to keep track of my heart rate during high intensity workouts and it needed a friendly app as most of our data interactions are with apps rather than the devices themselves.
In the Spring of 2015 there were a variety of devices to choose from and I quickly realised that I would have to sacrifice some of my requirements in order to find the most suitable one for me.
I will come back to devices later but before I do that I must delve a little deeper into the app world. You see there are thousands of health and fitness apps available now and whilst some leave a lot to be desired there are others that really do deliver.
A good health and fitness app is extremely valuable to the end user and can be personalised to suit individual measurements and goals. Some even allow you to take photos of your meals whilst others have a multitude of features designed to talk to Apple's Health Kit.
Ultimately an app must offer the following:
- Ease of use
- Simple terminology
- Useful data
- Learning tools and tips
Ease of Use
The best apps are pleasing on the eye and simple to use. One or two touches should take you to where you want to be. They should also synchronise easily and effectively with your device.
In the world of fitness we tend to confuse people (consumers) with jargon, the best apps keep things really simple.
From the number of steps you take in a day to the number of minutes you fall into a deep sleep your app should be easy to understand.
Learning Tools and Tips
Once you know how many steps you take and how many minutes of quality sleep you get you may wonder what it all means and what improvements could you make?
This is where an app can really excel and stand out from the crowd.
Engaging with others, especially people you already know, is a powerful way to stay on track with your fitness regime. This isn't necessarily about a 'chat' community, it's about challenges, benchmarking and motivating yourself and others.
So as you can see fitness tracking and wearables are as much about engaging software as the device itself.
A recent report by the American Medical Association suggested that fitness wearables were/are being purchased by wealthier and younger 'early adopters' rather than by those who really need them. They also stated: "The gap between recording information (with fitness wearables) and changing behaviour is substantial, however, and while these devices are increasing in popularity, little evidence suggests that they are bridging that gap."
My view is that to rely on a device and app to create the necessary behaviour change in those who need to be more active is missing the point. It is the same as expecting someone who has purchased a 'home gym' to completely change their behaviour and lifestyle.
This is why at SIBEC I talked about fitness trainers becoming 'tech geeks' as the latest range of wearables and apps should be regarded as tools to help monitor and motivate, they should not be expected to replace trainers. The best fitness trainers will embrace and understand the benefits and limitations of some of the market leading wearables. They can then add this knowledge to their portfolio.
In addition to the report from the AMA another (April 2015) report by endeavourpartners.net suggests that one third of wearable users ditch their devices after six months. As a result of the report comparisons are being made with gym membership retention as the suggestion is that people simply give up on fitness after a few months.
Whilst I do see that link I think that people like to purchase gadgets and also like to be seen as early adopters. Wearables aren't like gym memberships, they are like the afore-mentioned piece of home gym equipment and if people could hang clothes on them they probably would after a few months.
The challenge for wearable manufacturers is to maintain engagement through interactive apps and dashboards.
After weeks of searching and researching I went for the Mio Fuse smart band. It reads heart rate from the wrist, is robust and is waterproof. Unfortunately that's where it ends. I found that the heart rate measurement was 'hit and miss' and the wrist strap kept coming undone when I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt. After several months of use it went back in its box as the Mio app is very limited and left me feeling uninspired.
As I became more frustrated with the Fuse I downloaded a pedometer app on my iPhone and started to use that for basic, accurate daily step tracking. I then had a look (at an industry event) at the MyZone MZ-3 HRM and decide to invest in one.
The MZ-3 tracks my heart rate when I am Spinning or working out and I earn 'MEP's - MyZone Effort Points - depending on how much effort I put in.
I love this element as it makes me push a little bit harder during my training sessions.
Although the MyZone app doesn't tick all of the boxes it covers the majority and there are elements that I love. I can create my own user profile, connect with friends, create challenges and accurately track my activity. I have also noticed that the app continues to improve and develop and this makes me feel confident that the people behind the product are striving to improve my experience.
One of the most powerful things about the MyZone system is that it has given me a reality check. If I potter around the gym doing a few weight training exercises I am not putting in much effort and this shows on the MyZone app and my community friends can see!
My personal behavioural response is to work much harder with little or no rest between sets.
I believe that we are all born with the instinct to compete and MyZone taps into this too.
I have friends who view their MyZone app several times each day to check that they aren't being out performed by others in their community. If they are they do their best to cram in some exercise.
So for recording workouts the MyZone MZ-3 has become my weapon of choice.
But what about everyday life?
As mentioned earlier the Mio Fuse didn't really do it for me so I decided to purchase a Fitbit Charge HR. This tracks my resting heart rate and also monitors my heart rate thoughout the day.
It tracks my sleep and gives me a little summary of the number of times I was restless etc.
I can input my meals and water intake too and although I don't always do this it certainly is a big plus for those who want to track their food and drink consumption.
The Charge HR falls down on heart rate recording at high intensity and I find this quite annoying as I think it could lead to some people feeling mislead by the product marketing.
Thankfully I have my MyZone MZ-3 to accurately record my workouts.
The future of wearable fitness technology will be interesting to say the least.
It is clear that people are buying devices and downloading apps in their millions but the fitness industry could ultimately be their saviour because without a good fitness trainer people usually revert back to old behaviours.
Conversely if devices aren't as accurate as they should be then consumers may lose faith in them. I believe there is a lot of pressure on manufacturers to deliver quality over quantity.
By utilising fitness devices and tracking app data trainers can sustain positive behaviours for a longer period and the consumer then benefits from better health in the long term.
Ultimately fitness professionals can benefit from understanding what is out there in the market whilst providing the best levels of service and advice to clients of all shapes and sizes.
As an industry we have done very well without wearables so let's not get too hung up on them being a 'threat'. Like kettle bells and ViPR's they should be regarded as another beneficial tool to be used appropriately and correctly.