Wearables can be great for long-term data, but not always great for your training in the moment. Try these methods instead.
FITNESS TRACKERS CAN help to provide next-level insight about your workout routine. Whether you’re tracking your steps, your heart rate, or even more detailed data like HRV and recovery, your wearable can be a helpful tool to hack your performance.
But if you’re looking at your wrist between every other rep to gauge your workout performance in the moment, you might be wasting your time by focusing too much on those numbers. Worse, you could be hurting your training, instilling bad habits, and even setting yourself to come up short of your goals. We love data—and over the long term, it can be invaluable—but you need to be able to gauge your workouts in the moment in other ways.
That’s why Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and trainer Mat Forzaglia, NFPT-CPT want you to break the habit of obsessively combing over your tracking data immediately after every single workout. "You should understand how to judge your workouts in other ways, because metrics are not the key," says Samuel.
While we’re continually impressed by the level of health tech currently available in the latest generations of Apple Watches, Fitbits, Garmins, and the like, there are still going to be questions of accuracy. Some of those problems might be on you, the user. Are you wearing your gadget too loosely or tightly? Is there dust on the sensor, or are you just not taking care of it? Then there are other challenges in terms of where you’re training, if your phone is properly connected, if the app is synching—too many factors to put too much weight on a one-time reading.
Lots of people might depend on their devices to keep track of specific measures like calories, then use those numbers as a benchmark for what counts as an effective workout. If you’re doing different types of workouts, however, this might give you a skewed idea of how hard you’re working. Maybe your weight training session was challenging, but didn’t have you breathing as heavy as your quick jog—but your watch is telling you one workout was more valuable than another by this one metric. Don’t fall for that trap and add "junk volume"—extra activity—just to hit the same metric.
Yes, it’s great to have some metrics to track to understand the effects of all your hard work—but for your overall health, it’s probably better that you have a solid understanding of your body and how you feel. If you hit all your numbers but you feel burnt out, who does that benefit? You’d be better off focusing on using the data as a checkpoint, not as your only form of guidance.
Why do you train? One simple goal is probably to feel stronger. So when you finish a workout, ask yourself if you feel like you’ve accomplished that. You can get numbers involved here, by tracking weights week over week (or if you’re a runner, times) and noting when you’ve improved. You’ll have an even more applicable means to measure your goals this way.
This one is a bit trickier. You don’t want to feel too spent, but you do want to know you put the work in. Samuel says that you shouldn’t be aiming to have trouble walking the next day. Instead, he says "the goal of any good workout is that you’ll feel it the next day, but at the same time you won’t feel beat up." Check in with yourself the next morning, and you’ll have an answer.
If you weren’t able to finish your workout as it was programmed, you’ll know you’re not in a great spot. If you found that you couldn’t complete the number of reps, you needed extra rest, or you needed to bow out early, you shouldn’t consider that day of training a success. You don’t need a watch to tell you that you’re short of your calorie goal when you’re physically unable to finish. (That’s not to say you should push beyond your limits—you might just need to find a better one for you.)
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.
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