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My Beef with Fitness Trackers

My Beef with Fitness Trackers

Definitely going to places today.
Photo by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash

Few years back I had the (almost) irresistible opportunity to get the latest Apple Watch for free. There were a lot of us, kind of like the right place at the right time sort of moment. Anyhow, all I had to do was to show up for training for an hour and the watch was mine. 

I said no thanks. I didn’t have an iPhone, so it was a kind of pointless. Well, now I have the phone. And I would still say no thank you to the watch. But my beef is not with the Apple Watch or any other specific brand. Rather, it’s with most of the fitness trackers on the market.

The modern world has messed us up

We already have a disconnection with our bodies. We struggle listening to how our bodies are doing, how they’re feeling and how the last night’s cabbage casserole sits in our gut. Often we don’t know when we’ve had enough to eat. Let alone to drink.

We ignore the aches and pains by masking symptoms with medication, tequila and YouTube binges. Or we train through pain hoping that whatever made us ache will cure it. Sometimes it will, sometimes it can’t.

Having a fitness tracker on the wrist will only increase this void 

Instead of asking ourselves if I feel like training today and waiting for an honest answer, we look at our fitness tracker to tell us how we feel based on whatever data it might have on us. 

Instead of tuning in to our body to see if we should do a high-intensity kettlebell session or just go for a walk, we look at our watch. Instead of introspecting whether we’ve been active enough today, we look at our watch to see if we reached ten thousand steps.

Instead of listening to ourselves on our run and keeping the pace that feels moderate, we become fixated on the heart rate on the screen. We’re swapping a rejuvenating outdoor moment with more screen time.

So the fitness trackers adding to the disconnection with our bodies is the first issue. Ironically, the other beef I have with just smartwatches is the intensified connection we end up having with everything and everyone, but ourselves.

Smartwatches make us slaves 

Both to technology and to other people’s agendas. However well meaning they might be. We’re always available for interruption. Notifications, phone calls, calendar alerts. The variety of apps for watches is ever expanding. And so there is always something to look up.

Something to check when we are overcome with the slightest feeling of frustration or boredom. Instead of allowing ourselves time and space to zone in with our mind and body, we scroll, tap and yell at our watch. 

Yes, there’s ‘do not disturb’ 

There are all kinds of apps that block our access to apps and other functions we want to limit. But even when installed, most of us will get around them. We’re like teenagers evading our parental control settings. Except that we’re both the parent and the teenager.

Here’s an outstanding example

I asked my wife to set a password on my phone to block me from using the internet after 7pm. But I found a way to use the browser in a recipe app instead. The problem wasn’t the device itself. It was the fact that it was always next to me. 

This didn’t change until I left my phone in another room, so getting online wasn’t as easy as picking up the phone. I know I wouldn’t have the self-control to not check my watch if it’s on my wrist. Hence I ain’t getting one.

Fitness trackers and smartwatches aren’t all bad

They might motivate an otherwise inactive person to complete their daily steps.

Seeing concrete numbers on the screen could act as a wake up call for some. If you constantly see visual reminders of how poor your sleep is, you might be more inclined to do something about it. 

The big shifts in heart rate variability, temperature, breathing (do they tell that?) might give us clues how we’re about to come down with an illness before we feel a thing. Making us pull back on training and prioritising sleep and recovery to counteract whatever virus we’re fighting.

Now, a heart rate monitor on its own might be worth it

We can make our interval training super specific. Instead of going for time, we can go until we hit a specific heart rate. Then recover until we come down to a specific heart rate before going again. It’s hard to get a more specific conditioning session than that. And the numbers don’t lie. It’s hard to coast through a session. Something we all do now and then.

Then there’s the chance to keep your heart rate at a specific range throughout the cardio session instead of guessing if you’re there. However, as I mentioned earlier, I think this again pulls us away from “How do I feel? Am I going too fast, too slow, or is this just right for me today?” 

An accurate heart rate monitor often requires a chest strap, so they’re usually only on you when training. Meaning that instead of adding more distraction to our days, we can leave the monitor in the drawer until we train next time.

But perhaps even a heart rate monitor is still an overkill for a general fitness trainee who wants to lose a bit of fat, get strong and live a long, active life. Unless you dig numbers. I tried using one about a decade ago, but got a little out of it.

For now, I’m just fine without one.

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