Listen to Your Body, Not Your Fitness Watch

Look, I know what you’re thinking – This is going to be another article bashing the world of wearable tech for measuring fitness.

That’s not what this is going to be.

Actually, I think that wearable tech has PLENTY of positives in the world of fitness and has greatly improved many aspects of people’s training. But, at the same time there are bound to be negatives that come along with those positives.

Let’s break it down.

In coaching, I try to always lead with the positives. Let’s do the same here.


do you prefer to listen? This aired on the fuel your freedom podcast, episode 017. you can check it out here or on all major podcast platforms!

E032 | What is Your Pre-Workout Routine? Fuel Your Freedom

We should strive to get the absolute most out of our training sessions. And, while I’ve talked about having a great program, making sure you’re working within your movement capabilities, and other factors, I have yet to touch on one variable: the pre-training routine. For me this includes three things: fuel, a goal, and getting in the zone. Let’s dive in.Are you lost in the traditional fitness world of eating bland, meal-prepped meals, after you finish workouts that make you so sore you can't walk for days, and scrutinizing your body in every mirror that you walk past? Do you feel like your fitness journey is a constant battle of running yourself into the ground, but never making progress toward your goals? This podcast is for you. It's time to break the cycle and find what truly works for you. It's time to find a better way. It's time to fuel your freedom.Whether you've been training for years or are looking to take the first steps in your health and fitness journey, they show will fuel your body, mind, and soul to break free from what we've heard in the past and find YOUR version of health and fitness – one that works for YOU.If any of all of this sounds familiar, this podcast is for you. It's time to break the cycle and find what truly works. It's time to find a better way. It's time to fuel your freedom.Follow Me:www.coachemilymeyer.comFacebook: http://www.facebook.com/coachemilymeyerInstagram: http://www.instagram.com/coachemilymeyerPodcast: http://www.fuelyourfreedom.buzzsprout.com Support with a Coffee: http://www.ko-fi.com/coachemilymeyer  Music Credit:Carefree by Kevin MacLeodLink: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3476-carefreeLicense: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
  1. E032 | What is Your Pre-Workout Routine?
  2. E032 | You Are More Than Excuses
  3. E031 | 8 Things You Need to STOP Doing to Lose Weight
  4. E030 | 4 Ways to Select Proper Weight
  5. E029 | A Note from Me to You

Now, let’s get back to the article – If you’re still reading 😉

Objective Data

First and foremost, wearing a fitness device that measures data does just that: provides you with objective data. Much of the fitness world is subjective – meaning that it’s up to our own interpretation and evaluation. Heck, some of these measures I even enjoy. Let’s take rate of perceived exertion (RPE) for example. This is a tool that provides a scale to measure the effort of your workout, on either a scale of 1 to 10 or 7 to 20. Personally, I think the 1 to 10 measure is easier to understand so we’ll go with that.

On this scale, one is a minimal effort task – washing the dishes for example. On the other end, a 10 would be maximal effort. If something is a 10, it’s likely that it can only be sustained for a short period of time. This is a subjective scale. It varies from person to person. One person’s 5, might be another person’s RPE 8. It can also be dependent based on the day. If you’re recovered properly, hydrated, well fueled, etc. weights may be moving smooth and fast; let’s call it an RPE 7. But if you come into training fatigued, under fueled, not well hydrated, etc. that same weight could register as an RPE 8 or 9 on that given day.

Neither is bad or good; they’re simply different.

Wearable tech takes this subjective measure and relates it to concrete (objective) data. Let’s use heart rate as an example.

Looking at the RPE scale, it roughly equates to heart rate measures. 1=10% max heart rate, 2=20% max heart rate, 3=30%, and so on. (Yes, this also applies to the 7-20 scale, but it’s in beats per minute, instead of percentage.) When we use a heart rate monitor, we may see this relationship.

In my current training program, one of my finishers is sprints. I work to a nine out of ten RPE, but also, ideally) into my zone 5 heart rate. Most days, these measures are reached simultaneously. When I feel as if I’m working at a 9/10, chances are that my heart rate has just crossed into that zone 5 that I wanted to reach for the work effort. However, if there’s a day when I’m feeling particularly fatigued, I may hit a 9/10 but only reach a zone 4 for my heart rate. This is absolutely acceptable.

Using the heart rate monitor confirms my subjective measure with the objective one. This allows me to step back and see a deeper view of my training, instead of only utilizing the subjective measure of RPE.

Accountability

One of the other benefits of wearable tech is the accountability that comes with it. Some may say this is “motivation”, but I like the word accountability better. Let’s use steps for an example here. While the 10,000 steps per day number isn’t magic. There isn’t a party when you reach it or congratulations around every corner, there is magic in movement. Starting about a week ago, I actually made it a goal to hit at least 10,000-12,000 steps each day.

While I do train regularly, I realized that I wasn’t moving as much as I likely should throughout the course of the day – despite walking around coaching, cleaning the apartment, and generally moving throughout the day. So, I set a step goal. I went on 3-4 MORE walks than usually just to hit that goal.

If I didn’t have a watch that measured my steps, I likely wouldn’t have even noticed how beneath 10,000 steps per day I actually was! Because I thought I was moving a lot throughout the day. I was coaching, cleaning the apartment, standing at my desk, etc. but still my step count was lower than I thought.

To refer back to the RPE scale, my perceived exertion (steps) throughout the day wasn’t matching my actual movement. Having a watch allowed me to see the discrepancy and held me accountable to the goal that I set that day. While my watch counts steps, there are calorie goals, breathing or mindfulness goals, total workout minutes goals, calorie burn goals, etc. that can hold you accountable to moving and reaching the goals that you set for yourself without perception clouding your judgement.

Community

I do have to caveat – This feature is not available on all wearable tech devices. But for those that there is, I think it can be a big benefit.

I’ve owned a number of wearables that would fall under the category of “fitness tech”: Fitbit, Apple Watch, Whoop, and, most recently, Coros Apex. For the Fitbit, Whoop, and Coros, they all had either support groups for questions on Facebook or groups of people within the app who were interested in similar activities. (Whoop was likely the best for this community aspect of the wearable fitness tech.)

This community can provide massive benefit to its users. There is a place to learn more about features of the tech itself, but also connect over similar fitness goals and pursuits. This is COOL. It can also tie into the accountability piece that I touched on previously in that these groups can hold you accountable to show up to workouts, etc.

On a gym-wide scale, heart rate monitors can be utilized and connected to screens that participants can see during class. This allows participants to push each other harder where they’re able and fosters that sense of community further within the group class itself. While there can absolutely be some downsides to this model, I’ve most often seen it in an anonymous format where the participants are assigned a number and they can tell others what number they are only if they choose to do so.

These three positives can be huge benefits to wearable tech. But despite this, I don’t think that you should live and die by closing your rings, hitting a step goal, or burning X workout calories. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the negatives of wearable fitness tech.

Disconnection

I know, I just talked about community. But one of the biggest downsides of this wearable tech that I see is disconnection. Not with those around you, but with yourself.

I once had my calorie goal on my Apple watch set to 760 calories. I hit that goal 166 days in a row. I say this not to brag, but as a cautionary tale. Do not do this. Do not be me. Because, in order to hit that goal, I was, essentially, forced to work out every day. I didn’t take a single rest day. Sure, there were days when I didn’t lift, but my shortest workout during that time was a 30-minute spin class. If you’ve ever taken a spin class, you know that it is NOT an active recovery workout.

I was disconnected from myself. I wasn’t listening to my body when it said to take a rest day. I was pushing through and forcing myself to hit that goal. That’s not healthy. That’s not what fitness should be…I just didn’t know that at the time.

My wearable tech disconnected me from myself, and I know I’m not the only one. There’s actually been research studies that have shown the addiction that is closing rings, reaching a step goal, etc. and how that can be detrimental to the person’s overall health and fitness – even if it started as a positive addition to their life.

Measurement Error

Next up, we have an issue with the measurements themselves. That is the fact that they can be INCREDIBLY inaccurate. There have been research studies in this area too! Many studies have shown up to 20-30% error in measurement between a wrist-worn device and that of the industry standard gas exchange metabolic cart, for example.

Even on a personal anecdote level, I’ve noticed HUGE discrepancies between my chest strap heart rate monitor and my wrist-worn Whoop strap. If the device is going to have data that you live and breathe by, I would argue that you should at least want it to be accurate data! I’m going to get into a couple wearable tech devices that might be worth the money (and advice on how to interpret those that may not be as accurate) at the end of this article, so stay tuned for that.

But, for now, know that measurement error is a VERY real thing and that it absolutely exists on a wide scale for the current wearable fitness tech that’s on the market today. Though, I will say, there are improvements being made.

Education

Finally, this brings me to the last major downfall of wearable fitness devices: education. I wouldn’t be surprise if this article is the first time you’re hearing of the inaccurate measurements that may exist in the wearable fitness tech space. That’s a problem. It should be more common knowledge, especially when many of these devices aren’t cheap.

I would argue that there should be education around that, how to use them, how to interpret the data, and what it really means. Otherwise, you’re really just purchasing an overpriced Timex that may even lead you astray from your fitness goals that you want the tech to help you reach!

Okay, so this likely brings you to one of two inevitable questions: What should I buy for fitness tech? OR Why the heck did I waste my money on this expensive {insert brand name here} watch?

Both great questions – I’ll first address if you already own a device of some kind. Look at the device you have. What is it great at measuring? What can you use those measurements for and how can you use the objective data you do have to inform your training, lifestyle, and recovery practices? I touched on inaccurate data. While this is true, there is (typically) an accurate comparison that can be made from day to day with the same device. Did you close your rings yesterday but not today on your Apple watch? You moved around more yesterday than you did today. Use these measures to compare to each other. But DON’T get caught in the trap of: “Oh I burned 500 calories, so I can eat 500 calories more today.” That isn’t a great way to utilize the data.

Second, let’s talk buying a fitness wearable tech device. First and foremost, what is your priority? All of the devices I’ve owned held different purposes:

Fitbit was the first and the industry leader at the time I owned it. It was for workout purposes, but I fell in love with the non-fitness side of the watch (notifications for example). So, when it died, I bought an Apple watch. First, to get away from the step metric and second because it was the industry leader in phone connection, notifications, etc. I moved onto the Whoop because I wanted enhanced workout metrics (specifically recovery) and was sick of my phone notifications on my wrist. It was the industry leader in recovery statistics at the time. (Are we seeing a trend here??) Finally, I land on the Coros Apex that I currently wear. It’s a GPS watch and as I’m running more, I wanted something that I could see distance on my wrist without pulling out my phone and that was accurate for my trail runs. Thus, this past year’s Christmas gift.

Ultimately, there isn’t a single device that is more accurate than another. With this exception of chest strap heart rate monitors that are far superior to wrist-worn devices. (I own a Polar chest strap that connected with my Apple watch, as well as with my current Coros Apex.) So, if you’re looking specifically for that, I would look into a chest strap + app connectivity.

But the wearable tech world is similar to the rest of the fitness industry – it can be the wild, wild west. Navigate carefully, tread cautiously, invest only as much as needed.

EMPOWERED ACTION


Do you have a device? This one’s for you. Take not of how you’re using your device throughout this week. How are you using the stats you measure? How could you use them more to your benefit? Are you being misled? Take a step back here. Don’t let your device control you. If you don’t own a device, bookmark this article for the future or share with a friend who might own one of these devices.

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