Why don’t we all have personal trainers? To start, they’re expensive. Plus, being yelled at on the treadmill sometimes feels more shameful than encouraging, especially when there are cute girls running without motivational assistance on the next machine over.
And yet, having someone devoted to tracking your activity and assessing your current level of fitness is invaluable. Most of us are out of touch with our bodies. We clueless about calories, how much we’re walking in a day, or even how to check our own heart rate. Luckily, there’s a host of new fitness trackers that make training truly personal. Strap them onto your wrist or toss them in your pocket and they’ll track your every move — every step you take, every minute you sleep, every calorie you inhale or burn off. They let you set goals for losing weight, getting toned or just getting healthy. At the end of the day, it’s simply nice to know that someone — or something — is looking out for you.
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Best Inconspicuous Tracker: The Flex looks kind of like those LiveStrong bracelets everyone started throwing away a few months ago, and it would go completely unnoticed if not for its five glowing LED dots. In fact, those lights indicate your progress on the day’s goals, whether that’s burning a few calories, running a marathon or just getting enough sleep: the Flex tracks all of those things. The subtle glow won’t advertise that you’re wearing a glorified pedometer, and is just present enough that you’ll check the accompanying app on your phone for more neatly color-coded details next time no one’s looking.
Best Novelty Tracker: Striiv tries to make walking fun. The iPod Nano-sized device (you can’t wear it on your wrist, which is too bad, but it doesn’t require syncing to a separate app, either) learns your walking habits and then sets daily goals like challenging you to walk the length of the Golden Gate Bridge or burn off that blueberry muffin that looked healthy in the Starbucks display case. It’s especially good for those who’ve always eschewed exercise for video games, since it offers healthier versions of those, too. You can walk through My Land, a Zeldalike enchanted island with walking-related virtual goals that turn into real-life gains. Whatever works, right?
Best All-around Tracker: This device knows more about you than you ever will. It stays with you all the time (it’s surprisingly clean and elegant wristwear for something so powerful), learning your patterns and habits afternoon and morning, day after day, month after month. It’s a little scary. Using that intel, it syncs to an app, which, through killer graphic design, suggests when to stand up if you’ve been sitting too long, when not to have that extra cup of coffee, or when you should really get out for that run you were planning. Some people might find it a bit of a wise-ass. Others might find that it’s exactly what they need.
Best Balls-out Tracker: In true Nike fashion, the FuelBand is aggressively athletic. It looks like a stadium scoreboard shrunk down to bracelet size. Rather than just counting steps or reading heartbeats, the FuelBand uses an accelerometer that tracks every motion you make, big or small. Everything — from strolling to work to pickup basketball to that ballet recital you weren’t going to tell anyone about — counts, and it all gets sent to the accompanying app so you can chart progress and set goals. The only catch: you’re going to have to get used to measuring your life’s accomplishments in NikeFuel, the brand’s own “universal” metric of physical activity.
Best Athletic Tracker: The Polar FT60 is much like a traditional personal trainer. After measuring your patterns, habits and overall fitness goals, the FT60 outlines a detailed training program that you’d better damn well follow (there’s not even an extra app to check; you just do what it says, when it says it). The goals aren’t daily or activity-oriented, but weekly, which is ultimately a better measure of success because it requires dedication and perseverance to achieve them consistently. This isn’t a geeky gadget to wear around the office and brag about to your friends (it’s certainly the ugliest one in the group). The FT60 has no interest in telling you how soft you are, only in figuring out the intensity at which you should be training.