Should Charlotte athletes run out to buy a wearable fitness tracker?

Should Charlotte athletes run out to buy a wearable fitness tracker?


A growing wave of wearable fitness monitors is sending hearts racing among gadget lovers. But will the technology help get your blood pumping in the right sort of way?

Charlotte fitness trainers say that even the fanciest wearables can only take you so far down the path toward better fitness.

“It’s about deciding what you want out of it,” says David Cross, a professional runner who also coaches athletes, from beginning runners to experienced racers, at Run for Your Life in Charlotte.

“It really plays to the person who’s into details. It’s great for people who need that motivation or accountability. It takes any uncertainty out of it.”

While Cross enjoys a device-free run through Charlotte’s greenways or the leafy neighborhoods near Dilworth and Myers Park, he says he’s the exception, rather than the rule.

Cross estimates about 75 percent of athletes he encounters at Run for Your Life, in training groups or at races use some kind of wearable technology — whether a GPS device that tracks distance and time, or a newer device that tracks additional details, such as calories burned.

Fitness trackers aren’t for everyone, though, and some offer features that aren’t necessary, according to a Harvard Medical School report this month. Consumers should first decide what they want to measure and what type of fitness tracker, from basic to very advanced, suits their needs.

Types of fitness trackers

  • Pedometers — Remember these from phys ed? The simple, often clip-on, devices will tally up your steps each day, nothing more, nothing less. For people with basic goals, they are an inexpensive option to motivate you to move a little more. Prices start at about $15 for a basic model.
  • Smartphone apps — Because you probably already have a smartphone, these apps can eliminate the need for a new or additional device. Applications such as Map My Run and RunKeeper are free for basic functions, such as tracking mileage and mapping a route, but they cost a little ($3 and up) to save data and access other features. For some workouts, holding a device or keeping it on your sleeve is too awkward, making the smartphone alone unworkable.
  • Fitness trackers — This category includes devices such as the Fitbit, Jawbone UP24 or Vivofit by Garmin. These wristband devices keep up with steps, mileage, calories burned, pace, rest and other details. The battery or charging demands vary, as does water resistance. Prices range from about $100 to $175.

More advanced monitors, when paired with mobile apps, can help you understand what changes can improve your health.

That level of detail is appealing to those with higher-level workout plans, but it also can provide a springboard into fitness for newbies by making information more accessible and fun.

Still, no matter how cool they might be, wristband fitness trackers may only motivate the motivated. After all, fitness is about more than what you have on your wrist.

“For some people, working out is effort driven,” Cross says. “If they have a good hard run, that’s enough.”

If you're feeling motivated to move, try our guide to fitness training or even tips for training for a marathon.

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