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Road Test: Fitness Trackers

Fitness trackers have become as ubiquitous in gyms as treadmills. From the most basic models that count steps to mini computers that track everything from sleep patterns to training overload, they allow us to have a lot of tricks up our sleeves. But do fitness trackers make a difference when it comes to motivation, performance, and goals?

We tested a few and asked our friends about their favorites. Here’s what they said.

Apple Watch Series 3 Fitness Tracker

Apple Watch

When Apple introduced the Apple Watch, it was game on! One of the first devices to combine fashion and function, the Apple Watch has evolved from smart watch to one of the most effective fitness trackers on the market. The newest version, Series 3 With Cellular, lets you do everything from music streaming to texting without your phone. With a GPS and altimeter, you can measure distance and elevation — handy for trail runners and cyclists. Plus, it pairs easily with compatible gym equipment to track your metrics and offers apps that let you monitor sleep habits, water intake, and more. Most importantly, the Series 3 claims to have up to 18 hours of battery life on one charge — a big improvement over previous versions, which fall short on long distances. However, that time can vary depending on the how many features you are using at once, so it’s hard to say with real accuracy what you can expect. Overall, the improvements are impressive and it’s easy to see why so many people use this smart watch for more than just telling time.

“I like the alerts that that I can set to remind me to stand or breathe,” says fitness instructor Stacy Stover. “I know it sounds silly, but sometimes those reminders are just what I need at the moment.”

Available at apple.com.

Garmin Fenix 5S Fitness Tracker

Garmin Fenix 5S

Garmin has a great reputation among runners and triathletes for its performance feature that lets you know if you are training productively, peaking, or overdoing it. It can also measure your anaerobic training and overall training load based on exercise volume, making it ideal for the athlete preparing for a big race or event. Three-time Ironman finisher Brandi Shipman has used the Garmin since 2000. “It keeps me accountable and helps me push hard when I need to and go easy when I need the rest,” she says. “And I love that I can wear it as my daily watch.”

Even those who use a Fitbit or other tracker for regular fitness activities will use the Garmin for running. When used with the compatible heart rate strap, it measures things like cadence, stride length, and ground contact time. “I use my Garmin specifically to track my mileage,” says avid runner Anamaria Suescun Fast, who uses a FitBit for everything else.

Available at buy.garmin.com.

FitBit Ionic Fitness Tracker

FitBit Ionic

And speaking of FitBit, the Ionic is my new obsession. I switched from the Apple Watch to the Ionic, primarily due to battery life. One charge powers this sleek, stylish tracker for up to four days. It has carried me through half marathons and century rides without a glitch. It offers many of the same features as other smart devices, including sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, and music streaming, as well as an app that tracks nutrition and hydration. For someone who can always be swayed by sweets, like me, this helps keep macros in check. The biggest difference between the FitBit Ionic and the Apple Watch is that though you can see texts and phone calls, you can’t answer them. But if I’m in the middle of a workout, I wouldn’t anyway, so it’s not a deal breaker.

Many fitness trackers, including the ones above, have established communities of users who cheer each other on toward their fitness goals. Their encouragement can be a big motivator. But regardless of which tracker you choose, remember that a tracker is only as good as the person using it. Though these electronics can make it easier for you to see whether you are meeting your goals, the real motivation has to come from within.

Available at fitbit.com.

Bonny Osterhage is co-founder and small-group trainer at BodyArchitecture Personal Training and Fitness in San Antonio, Texas.

Photos: Young Oldman; all others courtesy of the companies

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