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A Case Against Fitness Trackers

Fitness monitors and trackers are great during steady state cardiovascular activity. It can break up the monotony of the endless stride cycle, provide instant feedback to maintain pace and intensity, and track metabolic stats for personal post-run analysis. Properly calibrated trackers are also extremely useful in scientific studies examining metabolic demands of exercise. But are fitness trackers beneficial for anyone else?

In my opinion, no. Here’s why:
High end weightlifters, powerlifters, and athletes rely heavily on constant biofeedback. Having quantitative data in front of you in real time (which isn’t usually a bad thing) prevents you from listening to the qualitative data provided before, during, and after your set.
When you have the bar on your back, you need to feel your feet connected to the floor. You need to be completely in tune with the sequencing of the joints and how you’re stabilizing them at each range of motion. It’s beneficial to be physically aware of your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscular fatigue during the recovery periods.
In my experience, people that constantly look to their devices don’t feel this biofeedback. They lose cognitive proprioceptive work that comes when you train your neuromuscular system to consciously and subconsciously stabilize. You know, that really important stuff that comes with building a strong foundation! They shift their focus on just completing the set rather than squeezing every last bit of mileage out of each rep. In other words, they miss out on building raw, stable strength as well as improvements in spatial awareness.
Much like having your phone on you at all times between sets, trackers provide an additional level of distraction. The rest period is also a time where you need to analyze your previous set and focus on correcting errors. At near-maximal loads, mistakes oftentimes lead to injuries. No one will care how many calories you burned on the couch while you’re waiting for your meniscus to heal.
Managed properly, these trackers can give excellent real-time information to a coach or trainer on relative intensity levels for their individuals or teams. However, the lifters shouldn’t concern themselves with these details. Ultimately, these devices only provide surface data without a lot in the way of substance.
Example: two guys can squat 500 lbs side by side. Yes, ultimately each squatted the same load so the “end result” is the same. However, chances are one guy did it better and in a way that will sustain future growth. It’s not all about the quantitative end result. Guys have been getting big and strong for decades without the use of extraneous technology. This bit of technology will only serve to provide distraction in the moment.
After all, if you’re goal is to build muscle and strength (anabolism/ growth), why the hell would you care about how many calories you burned during that set (catabolism/ breakdown)?

Coach Runner is the Owner and Director of Sports Performance at Full-Stride Performance. Prior to founding FSP, Runner was formerly the Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Atlanta Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League, a minor league affiliate of the NHL's Boston Bruins. Coach Runner was also the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Husson University Eagles, Graduate Assistant Strength Coach at the University of Maine, and a former collegiate hockey player for Plymouth State University. He earned his Master of Science degree in Kinesiology & Exercise Science from the University of Maine and is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength & Conditioning Association in addition to numerous other certifications.

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