What Your Fitness Tracker Isn’t Telling You

Just like macro/calorie tracking can be a great tool, until taken to the extreme — your fitness tracker can be a great tool, if you understand what it’s actually telling you and what it’s not.

First and foremost, you need to realize that your fitness tracker is never going to be 100% accurate. Even if it’s the most expensive version out there, all of our tracking tools are simply the best estimates that technology can offer. So take it with a grain of salt and take solace in the fact that your tracking will be consistent to itself.

Now, I’ll go through the most common things that your apple watch/fitness trackers measures:

Steps

The step count measurement is a great tool for getting a basic, healthy level of activity. As many of our lives have become centered around a desk and computer, tracking your steps can be a great way to make sure you don’t just sit for hours on end. Here’s how I rank step amounts:

  • 0-3,000 steps per day = for those injured or sick
  • 5,000-8,000 steps per day = acceptable some days for those with a desk job or long commute
  • 8,000-12,000 steps per day = ideal range
  • 12,000+ steps per day = above and beyond, could be used for those looking to burn more calories rather than decrease food when in a calorie deficit, great goal for the weekends

Because I know some people put too much pressure on themselves and/or tend to fall into a guilt cycle when measuring things, I want to note that steps should not be a way to make yourself feel bad about not being “active enough”. Certain times of year the weather will allow you to get more steps. Certain times of year your schedule/workload will not allow you to get more steps. That’s okay. If you can make it a priority great. If not, look for other areas of health & fitness you can control instead.

Calories Burned During A Workout

This is the big one I want to talk about.

I mention a lot on here and my instagram about being in a caloric deficit, maintenance or surplus. However, I couldn’t care less about the calories burned during my workout.

You can see that exercise is 1 of 4 parts of your total metabolism and it’s a small part at that.

Resting Metabolic Rate, Exercise, Thermic Effect of Food and NEAT don’t have equal shares of the Total Energy Expenditure pie.

RMR is majority of the pie, followed by the combination of Exercise & NEAT, followed by TEF.

So, yes, getting more caloric burn from your workout could increase the number of calories burned in your day — but not by as much as you think. And your body tends to even this out by conserving energy is other ways (because it loves homeostasis).

Also, a lot of people mistakenly think cardio workouts burn more calories. This may be true during the workout itself — though the calorie burning often stops right when you’re done with the exercise. Strength training, on the other hand, damages your muscles so that they have to repair themselves stronger and that takes a lot of energy (uses/burns calories) after your workout is over.

Your watch is not measuring the time after your workout as a calorie burning because once your heart rate goes back down, your watch calorie burning goes back to normal. In reality, your body is still “burning calories” repairing your muscles once the workout is done.

So if your friend likes to brag about burning 700 calories in a spin class, rest assured your 300 calorie strength workout is continuing to burn calories the whole rest of the day and that building muscle is a more valuable goal for increasing metabolism, not burning more calories during your workout.

Sleep

I haven’t personally used the sleep measuring function of my watch for a few reasons:

  1. I hate having anything on my wrists while I sleep.
  2. Previously if my watch told me I didn’t sleep well (even though I would feel fine), I would then feel more tired / ignore how I actually felt.
  3. I didn’t feel like it was all that accurate.

Your brand of sleep tracker might be better than the ones I’ve used so if it helps you or motivates you to sleep more, go for it. I’m just not sure that this is as accurate as it could be on most fitness trackers yet.

If you find yourself obsessing about your sleep quality in a way that is actually making it worse, take your watch off before going to bed 🙂


All in all, I really love having a fitness watch. Even the non-fitness aspect of getting texts on your watch is a great way to keep your phone further away and only go grab it when something is urgent. However, just like supplements, it’s not something that you need to be healthy.


That’s it! Those are the three main functions of a fitness tracker watch. If you have more questions leave them in the comments below!

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