Are Fitness Trackers Really Accurate?

10,000 steps, the magical number. Thanks to the latest trends in wearable technology and fitness trackers, more and more people are "getting in their steps." But where did this number come from, and is it really magical?

Depends. The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which breaks down to 30 minutes a day. Fitness tracker companies like FitBit use this metric to encourage users to hit their daily, and ultimately weekly goal. It seems each iteration of trackers have an added feature - sleep tracking, heart rate monitor, body mass, calorie counter, etc. making it easier for people to monitor their activity.

Despite advances in wearable technology, a new study published in JAMA Cardiology argues that fitness trackers are not accurate during strenuous workouts. The heart rate monitor has been a major feature and selling point for wearable fitness trackers, replacing the industry predecessor chest straps. The problem, the researchers found, is when you exercise vigorously, your arms tend to swing with momentum. This movement pattern makes the readings less accurate since heart rate sensors are on your wrist, and it's even possible to lose the connection entirely.

Results can also be misleading since most of the trackers use standard metrics, no matter the user's fitness level. Max heart rate zones use a generic formula, not taking into account health markers such as resting heart rate. This compounds into miscalculations in calorie expenditure and fat burn percentages -- which, let's be honest, is what we all care about. (That might make you rethink that pizza slice, because, 'hey, I worked out today!')

Overall, our bodies are pretty good at telling us what we need. If you want to know if you are working out hard enough, take a moment and examine your physical cues:

  • Are you short of breath?

  • Are you sweating?

  • Are you using all your energy or do you have more to give?

Likewise, if you are concerned that you are training too hard your body will tell you when you should pull back on the intensity and bring the heart rate down.

Accuracy concerns aside, fitness trackers have done a great job at bringing awareness to the physical inactivity that is plaguing our culture. The "fitness challenge" features are a great way to encourage friends, family members, and office mates to get off their glutes and be active.

So next time you miss your 10,000 steps goal, fear not. We have you covered. Focused on individual results and progress, we don't make our workouts a heart-rate competition. Our Signature classes will get you well on your way to exceeding your step goal.