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You vs. You – Fitness Tech and Tracking for the Self-Competitive Athlete

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Published: November 11th, 2013
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I love cool gadgets. But when it comes to sports and fitness, I am old school. I like pull-ups, iron dumbbells and pounding the pavement. I’ve always tracked my progress by what I see and feel.

So I was on the fence about joining the fitness tech craze. Everyone I knew who tracked religiously was competitive, hard core, focused on the clock. What would fitness tracking apps and devices really do for me, a “self-competitive” cross-trainer?

The answer surprised me – after trying it, I can say I’m now hooked on tracking. The industry has evolved to make mainstream what was previously the purview of the über-disciplined and the serious competitors.

No matter your goals, there’s not just “an app for that,” there are probably at least ten. So with all of the choices out there, which devices and apps should you choose? I decided to test-drive a few.

MapMyFitness®

MMF home

This was the first tracking app that I tried, and I was immediately addicted. I opted for the MapMyRun® version, and started by using just the mobile app with GPS tracking to map my runs (it’s aptly named) so I could measure my distance and pace. I even used their coaching option, which delivers pace and distance milestones through your headphones as you go.

If you choose not to carry your phone with you, MapMyFitness is compatible with a wide variety of fitness devices, including those that you’ll read about below. You can also log on and map your routes after you get home with their very easy website interface.MapMyRun site

Consider MapMyFitness if:

  • You like a little friendly competition. This platform doesn’t just give you tools, it also holds competitions called Challenges that give you recognition and incentives for that extra motivation. Compete with your friends or the entire MapMyFitness community. Even if you don’t win, the leaderboards make it fun to play.
  • You like to run/bike/hike when you travel. The MapMyFitness community is made up of 20 million users from all over the world who create routes and courses that you can try yourself. (Anyone up for mapping the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain?)
  • You’re perpetually upgrading your gadgets. MapMyFitness is compatible with a wide variety of devices, so you don’t have to feel tied down.
  • You’re also looking for guidance. MapMyFitness doesn’t just help you track, it provides guides to help you meet your fitness goals, and even lets you create a challenge for yourself. Upgrade to their MVP version, and you gain access to a host of advanced coaching tools – all in one app.

Polar Beat appPolar® sensors + Polar Beat app

Heart rate monitors are not new, but until recently, that’s all they really tracked – heart rate. If you compared to a target heart rate range (aerobic, fat burning, etc.) you could gain a general sense for whether you were achieving your goal, but few specifics.

Mobile apps have taken the heart rate monitor and unleashed its capability. I paired the Polar H7 sensor with the Polar Beat mobile app during one session of P90X2®, because I’d always wondered how many calories I burn during my strength training and yoga. The app took the data (my heart rate) and crunched the numbers to provide results and information in a user-friendly interface.

Based on my experience, I would recommend Polar for:

  • The calorie counter. Because the calculations are based on heart rate, this device-app combo provides what I felt to be the most accurate assessment of calories burned. You can even set goals for calories, duration and distance, and the app will let you know when you’ve crossed that finish line.
  • The gym fiend. Most fitness apps leverage the GPS functionality of your phone to measure your progress – this doesn’t work if you’re stationary. Polar Beat allows you to track your workouts and set goals, even when you’re not going anywhere. Bonus – many cardio machines have Polar connections built in, so you can view your stats right on the machine’s display.
  • The smartphone addict. If your phone is always by your side, the Polar Beat app is a great option for you. Because tracking via the app depends on a Bluetooth® connection between your phone and the sensor, the two must be in close proximity to work. While there is a way to track on the Polar Beat website without carrying your phone, it involves several extra steps to register your sensor and log on prior to your workout to tell the system to start tracking. I would highly recommend pairing the heart rate sensor with one of the Polar watches – an easier option if you’re on the move, with nothing to carry.

Fitbit screen shotsFitbit FlexTM

One of the “wearables,” Fitbit Flex is a device that you wear on your wrist like a watch. It comes in a cool little package with a few accessories and very easy-to-follow instructions. Just set it up, put it on and you’re tracking. One uniquely fabulous feature is the silent alarm – set an alarm in the app, tap on your Flex several times before going to bed, and the band will vibrate at the appointed hour.

The Fitbit Flex is an excellent device for:

  • The newbie exerciser. When you’re just starting out, it’s motivating to get credit for all of those everyday activities like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Fitbit does this and even motivates you to do more of them throughout the day. Set goals for steps and distance, and your device will buzz you when you’ve reached a milestone.
  • The busy exerciser. If you want to start tracking to improve your fitness, but can’t be bothered to enter every step you take, Fitbit is definitely the option for you. The beauty of the FlexTM is that you don’t have to think about it – just wear it and charge it every few days. Even synchronizing is automatic: download the Fitbit app for your smartphone or plug the small USB device provided into your computer, and when you’re in the vicinity, it’ll sync.
  • The social exerciser. If working out with friends gives you that extra push to stick with it, Fitbit’s app is probably for you. Track your progress relative to friends’ on their leaderboard, and even choose to cheer on or even taunt your friends (depending on which motivates them more).
  • The data junkie. Fitbit Flex lets you track not just steps, but distance, calories, water intake and even sleep. You even can view activity in 15 minute increments. Bonus – all of this data is served up so intuitively that there is virtually no learning curve.

There you have it. From novice to professional and free spirit to data nerd, there is a gadget that can help you reach your goals and form new ones. Which tech matches your ‘type’?

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