Fitness and activity trackers have become quite a thing in the last few years and have helped get people moving and become a little more active. By making use of advances in technology and social media platforms it has become very easy to track your own progress, set goals and compete with others in fun and friendly ways. If you aren’t already tracking your exercise in some way then it’s definitely worth considering – if you have no record of what you have done then how will you know what has worked for you? What causes your improvements? Are you doing too much etc. Of course, you could just write things in a diary but if you are looking at something a bit more techy then there are a few different options for you:

Phone apps (generally free)

Many phones these days come with their own version (Samsung Health for example) and are free to use. Heart rate can be read from the camera lens and built in sensors will measure step counts, most phones will also have GPS built in.

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Also available are a multitude of different apps available in your app stores such as Strava, Mapmywalk/ride/run, runkeeper etc. Phone apps are often reported as unreliable due to reliance on phone/data signal which is needed as well as GPS. It is also very easy to accidentally shut down or stop tracking either through movement in pocket or using phone for another task. Most of these apps will give you so much for free and also have premium versions where a subscription is required to get the more in-depth features.

Fitness tracker watches

The most well-known fitness tracker would probably be the Fitbit but there are many others available offering a similar range. These focus on general fitness and health monitoring such as step counting, stairs climbed, sleep, heart rate and estimations of calories burned and the like. The higher end may also have GPS so you can view where you have been later. These will integrate with a phone or web app to transfer your data for storage and future viewing.

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Some will always be paired up with your phone (under your control) so you can have ‘smart notifications’ – your message alerts, calendar reminders etc. There are also various app integrations. These trackers can range in price from about £30 up to £300 plus and as you can imagine the more you pay, the more features you get. This doesn’t always mean better though. Some of the features you are paying the extra for, may not be of interest to you such as the specific app integrations – if you aren’t a Spotify or Alexa user, do you really care if you can control these things from a watch? Another recent feature to some of these watches is the ability to use them for contactless payment – again, something you may not wish to be paying extra money for.

Sports/GPS watches – Brands such as Garmin, Polar SUUNTO

These overlap a little at the lower price range with the higher end fitness trackers. These are geared more towards regular runners/cyclists and swimmers (if you aren’t regularly doing these and interested in speed/distance/time/pace type information then you are probably better off with a fitness tracker) as they are all GPS based and focus on those fields and performance stats. Also, within this category come the adventurer or explorer style of watch – these are generally tougher and include more navigational features, mapping, altitude information (built in rather than relying on mobile data).

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The Garmin Forerunner range has always been popular, the entry level is the Forerunner 45 selling at £149, adding a few more features you have the 245 selling at £229, then the 645 at £299, before the premium 945 at £469. The 945 is billed as running/triathlon watch as it has specifics built in for transition and the like but the 645 and the 245 are both also swim watches and all of these offer various options for other land based activities.

Garmin then also have the Fenix series which start from about £500 and have the additional ‘adventurer’ range of features.

All of the manufacturer’s sites offer comparisons across their own range of all the available features so you can have a good look before you buy.

All of the sports watch brands have their own software and apps for use with their devices, but your captured data is always available for export into other programs such as Strava, Fetcheveryone, Training Peaks and the like. Many of these have automatic import/export links you can set up so as soon as an activity is recorded it is sent to all of your apps. Manual entries and file imports are also available.

Advice is

Start with the free apps and have a good think about what you like it to be able to do. Ask around your friends/clubs and groups for what they have and what they feel are the best features and what they actually use. See if you can borrow one for or two from friends for a few activities. Key features for me are the ability to plan a course and to program in workouts so the watch tells me when to start and stop efforts and still records everything for me. For some people having music built into the watch is important – it isn’t for me as if I am running with music, I am alone so I like to carry my phone for safety reasons anyway so I use that for music. That saves me £50 by not getting the music edition of the watch.

Keep an eye out for new models coming out, you can usually get a great deal on the model that is being superseded.

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