A fitness tracker opens a new dimension in to your fitness and exercise regime. Whilst the tracker is the tool the key to unlocking its full potential is you. You need to understand what it can do, how to use it to its maximum potential and constantly look for new and innovative ways to maximise its use.

Whether you have owned a fitness tracker before or are new to fitness tracking, you may be missing out if you haven’t taken the time how to learn how to optimize the performance of your tracker. While fitness trackers are designed to take much of the guesswork out of following your fitness habits, how smart you are about using them will still largely determine how well they will work for you. From technical knowledge to personal preferences, here is a list of things you can home in on to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitness tracker.

Start by making sure you buy the right tracker

It’s important not to take a “one size fits all” approach when shopping for a new fitness tracker. Fitness trackers come in many shapes and sizes, and it’s important to know which fitness tracker will work best for you and your fitness program.

First, you want to make sure your tracker is going to track the type of activity you perform the most.  Do you mostly play sports?  Do you strictly run or bike?  Do you like to do a lot of cross-training and need something that is versatile and can track many activities?  Whatever your activity of choice, there is likely a specific tracker out there that is uniquely geared towards it.

Also, it’s a good idea to ask yourself what features you want to have built in to your tracker.  Aside from just counting steps and estimating calorie burn, many modern trackers have lots of extra features.  Do you want to monitor your sleep cycles?  Are you interested in heart rate monitoring?  Do you want to be able to map your runs and get a full breakdown of your pace analysis?  Taking the time to consider which aspects of tracking are or aren’t important to you will ensure that you are getting the fitness tracker with the features you want (and not paying extra for ones that you don’t really care about).

Make sure you are getting a tracker that you have the capability to make full use of its features.  If you don’t have a smartphone, you may want to research and choose a tracker that allows you to access all its features via desktop or laptop computer.  There are even a few trackers that don’t require any kind of syncing to another electronic device.  Knowing how you will need to access your tracker’s features beforehand will prevent you from being stuck with something you can’t fully use.

Lastly, make sure that you are getting a fitness tracker that suits you aesthetically and ergonomically.  You will be much more likely to wear it regularly if you enjoy the way it looks and are comfortable with wearing it most of the time.

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Our post on how to choose a fitness tracker covers all the things you need to consider to get the right fitness tracker for your needs here

Get to know how your tracker works

Many modern fitness trackers are designed to be user friendly and simple to understand, but it’s still a good idea to take the time to get to know the ins and outs of how your tracker works.  Otherwise, you could easily mis-use or miss out completely on some of the features.  Make sure to at least browse the user manual when you first purchase your watch.

Find out what all the physical features are, such as what buttons perform which functions and what all the available displays are.  Some trackers automatically detect when you are engaging in a fitness activity while others require you to hit a start button for activity tracking.  Don’t wait until you’re about to start exercising to try and figure out how to access the screen display you want and how to select your activity; a little research beforehand will go a long way to ensure that you know how to get to what you need when you need it (and avoid a lot of potential frustration).

It’s also crucial to figure out what methods your tracker uses to monitor your activity.  Some trackers calculate activity levels by heart rate; others are GPS driven and track by speed and distance.  Still others track by monitoring movement.  Knowing the details of how your activity will be tracked will allow you to adjust your use of your tracker to maximize the accuracy you are getting from it.For instance, if your tracker uses movement to determine activity, it’s best to ensure you are placing it on your non-dominant wrist rather than your dominant one, since your dominant hand will naturally move more with use throughout the day and which could skew your workout data.

Use the software and apps that go along with your fitness tracker

Most fitness trackers have a specified app or software that must be downloaded in order to sync with a computer or smartphone.  While you could probably use your tracker without the accompanying software or apps, using them will give you access to maximum tracking benefits.

While your fitness tracker can only hold so many days’ worth of data, most software or apps allow you to store and track data from the entire life of your fitness tracker, giving you access to valuable insight and analysis of your fitness history.  Viewing trends in your activities, heart rate, sleep patterns, and/or food habits can tell you where your biggest weakness are and clue you in to where you need to tweak your program.

Most computer software and smartphone applications specific to fitness trackers have lots of options for viewing and analyzing your data, setting your specifications, and engaging with the fitness tracker community.  Take the time to learn how to read your data and find out what extra features are available to you.  You may be surprised to find that you have virtual trainers, free workout demos, healthy recipes, and how-to videos all in your fitness tracker app.

Personalize your experience

Make sure to calibrate your fitness tracker when you first get it.  Most trackers will have default settings and allow you to start tracking without entering any information, but for tracking accuracy, you’ll want to make sure your personal data is entered.  Basic information such as gender, weight, and age will give you much more precise readings.  Many trackers will also give you the option to enter more advanced personal data, such as stride length and personal target heart rate zone.  The more you customize your tracker, the more accurate your tracking data will be.

Many fitness tracker software and apps have options for fitness tests as well as virtual training and workout programs.  Consider kicking off your use of your fitness tracker with a fitness test.  Doing so will give you a good gauge of where you currently are in relation to your goals and a jumping off point to create a training routine if you don’t already have one.

Pay attention to notification features.  Most trackers have options for reminders throughout the day to keep you on track with activity, food tracking, or even relaxation.  Customizing your notifications to your own goals and needs will help to keep you on track.

Make sure to provide updates to your progress and goals on a regular basis.  Doing so ensures that you will always get the most accurate data from your tracking and provides an extra layer of accountability by making sure that you are setting new goals according to your changing fitness levels.  Also, regularly updating your information will allow you to see your progress over time, which can be helpful in setting realistic, achievable goals for the future.

Wear your tracker consistently

Your tracker can only track data if you are wearing it.  Therefore, it’s crucial that you only remove it when necessary and that you remember to put it back on when you do take it off (which you will need to do at some point).  Even if your intention is to wear your tracker non-stop, there are many reasons you may need to remove it at times.  For instance, some fitness trackers are not waterproof and need to be removed during showering and for swimming.

If sleep tracking is not something that is important to you or you are uncomfortable wearing your tracker to bed, you might want to take it off at night.  Also, unless you have a tracker with a cell battery as a long-term power source, you will need to take your fitness tracker off regularly to recharge it; most trackers will go about five days before needing a recharge.

Come up with a routine for the times when you need to take your tracker off; keep it in a place where you will be reminded to put it back on or set a reminder for yourself with an alarm or phone.

It’s a good idea to come up with a charging schedule for your tracker as well.  Finding out that your battery is about to run out right before a workout (or worse, during a workout) can be a motivation killer.  Figure out how long your fitness tracker can go before it needs a charge, and then choose days and times when tracking will be less important to recharge it.  For instance, if you know your charger needs to be charged twice a week, pick days when you tend to be less active and schedule to recharge during times you will be sitting still for a while.

Become a joiner

Most fitness tracker apps and software come with a host of useful tools aside from just fitness tracking.   They offer you access to an entire fitness community, complete with ways to connect with other likeminded individuals as well as tips on workouts and healthy eating.

Many trackers offer access to challenges.  Joining challenges can be a great way to get motivated to stay active.  Competing virtually against other individuals provides great incentive for a lot of people, and so can striving to complete a challenge to earn a trophy or reward.

A lot of trackers also offer forums where you can connect with other people for advice about fitness, diet, and fitness tracker use, as well as encouragement and support for sticking to your fitness regimen.  Become engaged with the community; not only will you find lots of information and inspiration there, you may also find that a sense of accountability to the people you have connected with will keep you on track in striving towards your fitness goals.

If using a computer or smartphone to sync your fitness tracker data, consider looking at some other software or apps that could be used as companions to the primary software or apps.  A lot of apps will connect with and pull data from your primary app so that you don’t have to enter information in twice.  For instance, if you have a fitness tracker that maps run distance or food tracking, but you want something that gives you more options than your current software does, you can download a food tracking app or run mapping software that will feed into your tracker software so that you can have all the information you want in one place.

Connect with other apps and software

Get curious about other tracking apps that are available; many apps and software will connect with your fitness tracker’s apps and software so that you don’t have to enter your data into multiple locations.  For instance, if you don’t feel like your fitness tracker app’s food tracker gives you enough detailed information, you can choose from a host of other food tracking apps and keep your food tracking there while still automatically maintaining that information in your original app/software as well.

Some apps can enhance the functions of your fitness tracker.

For example, you can connect your phone GPS to your fitness tracker to improve accuracy in distance, speed, and stride length.

There are also some apps out there that are designed to link two other apps together in a conditional relationship; these apps generally require a little bit of technical know-how, but they can be very useful if there are things that you want automated along with your tracking or if you want two apps to feed into each other but there is currently no option for syncing between them.  For instance, you could set up your facebook page to send an update every time you go for a run.

Have fun with it

Having a fitness tracker along for your fitness journey can really enhance the experience of living healthier.  You can turn your fitness journey into a game by setting small, obtainable goals and reaching them.  Then, set a new goal a little bit higher than the last.  Many trackers and apps have built-in rewards or congratulations when you reach certain goals or milestones.

See how you can score the most points daily on your tracker.  Many trackers allow you to set a step goal to make sure you are meeting a certain level of activity per day.  This gives you incentive to make small but significant changes that enhance your fitness routine, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking a little further from your workplace, or squeezing in an extra block when you are out walking the dog.  Knowing that the small things are being counted towards a goal can help you to enjoy looking for little ways to be more active.

Try new things; as mentioned before, a lot of fitness trackers come with access to a variety of workout programs, tips, and extra features.  Take advantage of the variety of activities you can get involved in and information you can use.  At worst, you might find out what you don’t like.  At best, you may find your new favorite addition to your fitness routine.

Understand the limitations of your fitness tracker

As much as you may come to rely on your fitness tracker to keep you informed on your fitness program, keep in mind that fitness trackers are not perfect and understand where there may be inaccuracies.

While it is certainly gratifying to see the number of calories you burned in any given exercise, it’s important to keep in mind that calculating calorie burn is not an exact science, and even though most fitness trackers use specific algorithms in their calculations, these usually don’t take into account things like body type, fitness level, or just individual variations.  This is part of the reason it is so important to input your personal data; however, even with that personal data, for most fitness trackers the calorie burn is an educated guess, at best.  At worst, it can be way off.  It’s far more useful to pay attention to time or distance, as these things are easily quantifiable and do not rely on so many variables for accuracy.

Part of understanding how your tracker monitors your activity is understanding where there may be gaps in that monitoring.  As an example, if you own a tracker that monitors your activity via movement and you are wearing it on your wrist, all those steps you took at the grocery store while pushing a shopping cart may not have been recorded since your arm was not moving.  Having this kind of knowledge may not always rescue you from losing data, but it should at least give you the awareness to be able to minimize these kinds of monitoring pitfalls.

Having a fitness tracker can be an invaluable tool towards reaching your fitness goals, but by itself it is only a tool.  Being smart about how you use your fitness tracker will ensure that it is reaching its full potential to enhance your fitness journey.

A checklist for your fitness tracker:

      1. Set it up correctly
        • Ensure it is calibrated
        • Configure any settings such as dominant arm, weight and height so they are correct for you
        • Wear in the correct position for maximum accuracy
        • Understand how the tracker should be configured for various activities
      2. Keep it clean
        If you’re wearing your tracker all the time sweat can build up behind the straps and cause skin irritations and rashes. Make sure you regularly take it off to give your skin a chance to breathe and also clean the strap and tracker itself
      3. Look through the manual and understand the functionality
        • Familiarize yourself with the physical features and displays.
        • Familiarize yourself with the tracking features.
      4. Learn what methods your tracker uses to track your activity (GPS, steps, heartrate)
      5. Get to know the apps
        Know what apps and/or software your fitness tracker uses for syncing and download those to your smartphone and/or your home computer.

        • Personalize your smartphone.
        • Calibrate your smartphone to you individually.
        • If there’s a built-in fitness test available on your app, try it.
      6. Regularly update your progress and goals
      7. Wear your tracker consistently
      8. Set reminders
        If you take your tracker off you might forget to put it back on and lose the benefits. Maybe set a reminder using the voice assistant on your mobile so that you don’t forget to put it back on.
      9. Come up with a charging schedule that is convenient for you and at a time when you are not active.
      10. Get engaged
        • Try joining a challenge in your fitness community.
        • Find one or more health and fitness forums in your app that interest you and participate in them.
        • If available, try some of the fitness videos or workouts offered in your app.
        • Research and experiment with supplementary apps or software.
      11. Make it fun
        • Try to earn trophies or awards in your apps.
        • Make a game out of seeing how much fitness you can squeeze into your day by tracking steps
        • Try different activities that your tracker monitors.
      12. Understand your tracker’s limits
        • Don’t place too much faith in tracking burned calories
        • Know where there may be pitfalls in tracking continuity and accuracy