By Brett Klika, C.S.C.S. & IDEA’s Personal Trainer of the Year (2013)
Wearable fitness trackers are becoming the hottest thing in the health and wellness industry. Large companies are putting billions of dollars into developing ways for everyone to be able to keep track of their health and fitness activities by just wearing a bracelet.
Is this new technology a true game changer for people’s health, or is it just another fitness fad that will see an abrupt rise and fall? Additionally, how can fitness professionals use this emerging technology to keep their clients motivated for faster, more dynamic results?
For an expert opinion, I turned to Pat Jak, MS, the head coach for the University of California San Diego Cycling Team and the director of metabolic testing for the Fitness Quest 10 Performance Facility. Pat is an expert on wearable fitness technology, speaking industry-wide on how to use this new tool to improve fitness and performance with clients.
Different types of technology have been used for decades for coaches to measure athletes’ training and performance. What does wearable technology mean for a client/trainer relationship?
As all fitness professionals are aware, the time they spend with a client each week is hardly enough to create drastic changes in health. The most successful personal trainers and group instructors are able to create programs for their clients that foster motivation and accountability outside of the training arena.
Wearable fitness trackers can now record a wide variety of health-related behavior that can be reviewed by fitness and medical professionals, in addition to friends and colleagues through social connectivity technology. This makes wearable fitness technology a powerful accountability tool to reinforce clients’ healthy behaviors associated with their goals. When a fitness professional asks, “Did you exercise this week?” the truth is on the client’s wrist!
Additionally, when clients are able to track factors associated with fitness and health such as steps per day, sleep quantity and quality, and calories burned, it increases their level of awareness on how their daily actions affect their health and happiness. This connection aids in strengthening the value of the “conversation” between a fitness professional and a client. It makes the variables in need of improvement more objective and tangible.
All of the above creates a greater level of client accountability. Greater client accountability means faster, more dramatic results!
What do you feel is the most important data for fitness professionals to pay attention to?
Most wearables are going to measure steps per day, heart rate, sleep patterns and total calories burned. These are probably the most valuable to fitness professionals. With most devices, clients can actually upload this data to a server where it is visible on a daily basis for their fitness professional.
While there are some discrepancies with the scientific accuracy of the data provided, creating an increased awareness for these aspects of daily activity can drastically improve someone’s health.
Direct measures associated with weight loss, such as trends in steps per day, total calories burned and heart rate info, can provide valuable information in regards to daily activity levels. However, more indirect data, such as sleep quantity and quality, helps clients identify relationships between their daily habits. For example, they may realize they sleep better when they are more active or vice-versa. It’s important for trainers to identify and discuss these relationships. This improved understanding of lifestyle and health aids in sustained behavior change.
It’s important that when fitness professionals are using this data to affect change with their clients, they are highlighting improved trends in behavior, as opposed to overnight change. The goal of increased accountability is not to be the “behavior police.” The intended outcome is for clients to have the information, plan of action and accountability to improve.
A lot of these wearables claim to be able to measure dozens of different data points. Which of these do you feel are the least important or helpful for fitness professionals to observe with their clients?
As I mentioned, with nearly all of the data points collected, there are some issues with accuracy. Some data points have greater accuracy problems than others.
Data points that involve VO2 max, Basal metabolic rate and heart rate max are based on over-generalized estimates that have extreme limitations for accuracy. The data associated with these provide little to nothing of value for the client or trainer.
Some companies have created novelty “scores” for combinations of activities and behaviors. While these scores may motivate some to move more, which is good, they are a novelty providing no valuable, consistent feedback.
It seems like wearable fitness technology can be a powerful way to increase accountability between the fitness professional and the client. What do you see as potential drawbacks?
Right now, the “time to drawer” time is pretty high for most devices. This is the average amount of time someone uses it before it gets discarded. Current stats suggest that about 50 percent of people won’t use their device after three months. The number is even higher after six months.
One of the reasons for this short “time to drawer” window is that this technology isn’t intuitive for a large majority of people. About one out of 10 people will purchase a device, understand the data and use it to guide their behavior. Two out of 10 people will purchase a device, not really understand the data, but still be able to use it to modify their behavior. Seven out of 10 people will purchase a device, not understand the data or the technology and will not be able to use it to modify their behavior.
If a fitness professional plans to use these devices in their business, it’s clear that they must take the time to educate their clients on how to use the devices, as well as the significance of the data that is collected. Professionals should familiarize themselves with the available devices and recommend ones that are simple to use, are priced well and only measure the data that is relevant.
As an added note, it appears that social connectivity extends the amount of time and frequency in which someone uses a fitness tracking device. This means trainers should consider recommending devices that let clients connect with others to work together or compete towards their fitness goals. Fitness professionals can go as far as to facilitate cooperative or competitive challenges with prizes/recognition utilizing this social connectivity.
Finally, fit pros should be sensitive to their clients’ relationship with technology. Some clients embrace these types of devices, while others find them too technologically intrusive. After all, for some, exercise represents an escape from technology. These are often the clients who quickly send their device to the drawer. Even for the tech-savvy, the goal of a device is not to create total reliance. The goal is to increase their awareness of the activities and behaviors that positively or negatively affect their health.
In conclusion, wearable fitness technology is a powerful tool for fitness professionals to create increased levels of client accountability, resulting in faster, more significant results for many. Despite some issues with accuracy, the information received from these devices contributes to an overall awareness and action towards activities that improve health. For pros who plan to use this technology, it’s important to first become educated on how to use these devices and data and in turn, share this education with their clients.