Tech support

With so many options on the market, how do you know what products are right for you?

With so many options on the market, how do you know what products are right for you?   [Bottom right image reused from Flickr user laughingboyottawa under the terms of the Creative Commons license. The image has been cropped for the purposes of this post.]

I get asked all the time about the tools and technologies that I rely on to help me track my progress and evaluate my performance during my workouts. There are so many products out there, and a bevy of internet reviews to accompany them. I’d like to share the apps, trackers, and websites that I rely on regularly to keep myself accountable. I wouldn’t be where I am in my journey without these tools!

Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor [Amazon, $60]

In my opinion, if you purchase only one tech accessory to help you achieve your fitness goals, a heart rate monitor should be the top priority. This is a low-frills product; you can spend a lot more on a fancier model, but I find that the FT4 does the job for me. You wear a chest strap and a watch when working out; the chest strap monitors your heart rate and communicates data to the watch. This is a significantly more accurate way to gauge your calorie burn when working out, because it actually assesses your exertion and calculates the effort you’re putting into your workout. Compare the output to online calorie calculators or to the calories burned output on cardio equipment at the gym, and you might be surprised at the dramatic differences in data! If you have been tracking calories using an online tool like My Fitness Pal but aren’t seeing results, chances are you think you’re burning more calories than you actually are. Since I started using my heart rate monitor and tracking the data myself, I’ve been better able to adjust my diet and have seen improved results.

FitBit Flex [FitBit Online Store, $100]

The Flex is actually my second FitBit. I first purchased the FitBit One, but I didn’t stick with it. I would forget to transfer the pedometer from my office clothes to my workout pants, or leave it on my workout pants after changing and forget to retrieve it before work the next day. I upgraded to the Flex in fall of 2013 and haven’t looked back. It’s water resistant so while I have to remove it before swimming, I can leave it on when I shower — so I basically leave it on 24/7, except for when it needs to charge. The battery life is fantastic, and I usually only need to charge it once a week, overnight. I find that wearing the tracker on my wrist helps me to be mindful of my activity. I work at a sedentary desk job during the day, and glancing down at my wrist reminds me to regularly stand up and move around my office. I aim for 10,000 steps or ~5 miles daily, and I’ve found that my activity has increased since I bought the tracker. It’s also a great conversation starter! So many other people use similar wristband trackers and it’s a great way to break the ice when you meet new people.

Map My Run [Website | Apple App | Android App]

Map My Run syncs up with Facebook, so you can easily find friends and share your accomplishments. This is great for motivation! The interface not only uses GPS to track your route, it also provides your pace and splits in real time. The app voiceover will play over your music during the run at each mile to let you know how you’re doing – which is great encouragement and helps to self-adjust without needing to pause and look at a screen. I’ve had a seamless experience using this app alongside either my iTunes music catalog or Spotify playlists, whereas other training apps seemed to have problems playing nice with other apps on my phone. There is a paid “MVP” option, but I stick with the free features. If and when I begin training for a more serious rate, I might consider upgrading, but as a casual runner, the free app works just fine for my needs.

Map Pedometer [Website]

While Map My Run is great for areas where you are already familiar with the terrain, sometimes it’s helpful to have a route in mind before you head out. If you’re training for a marathon and need to hit a certain distance, sketching out a route in advance is key. That’s where Map Pedometer comes in. It uses Google Maps and has a very user-friendly, bare bones interface. You can key in your starting location and use the map to plan out your route, and you can save routes for future reference. I love using this website when I’m traveling and want to have an idea of where I’m going before I leave my hotel, but I also use it close to home to plan for distance runs.

My Fitness Pal [Website]

This is my go-to for meal tracking and for recording my workouts. I prefer to use the website version; I have the app on my phone for entering meals on the go, but the app doesn’t include the community forum features of the main site. My Fitness Pal can sync up with your Facebook account to find friends, and I’ve also found a fantastic support network of people I’ve met on the forums. It’s easy to find community members also trying the same at home DVD program as you, for instance, and these people are such a great source of motivation and support. I’ve found the food tracking to be pretty accurate, and I love the updated recipe entry feature, which allows you to input recipes from links online and lets the site do the ingredient matching from its extensive database. I would caution against relying on the calorie counts programmed into the site, though. I track my workouts but manually enter my calorie burn as reported by my trusty FT4. As a sample, MFP says I should burn 655 calories in an hour Zumba class; my actual burn ranges from 375-500 depending on how hard I work on any given day (and depending on how evil the instructor is feeling at the beginning of class…) I’m always looking for new friends on the site – feel free to add me as a friend!

So, there you have it – these are the tools and resources that I absolutely couldn’t live without.

What technology helps you to track your workouts and monitor your fitness progress? Disagree with anything I wrote here? Did I leave out your favorite tool? Let me know in the comments!

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