By Susan E. Campbell
Fitness trainers have found that while wearable devices are fun and useful tools for tracking progress, there is nothing like the personal touch for motivating clients to meet their goals.
Fitness tracker devices count steps walked, calories burned, heart rate, sleep patterns, and more. Many sync data to cell phones or other devices though mobile apps that can be shared with friends and personal trainers.
Some believe “wearables” have led to better health or greater weight loss, although results can vary among different age and lifestyle groups when compared with the old-fashioned methods. A study published by the JAMA Network in 2016 concluded there was less weight loss among 471 adult users when compared to a control group.
“People are tech savvy today and rely on their gadgets,” said Laurie Romand who operates Full Circle Fitness NY with two small boutique studios in Colonie and Saratoga. “People may be hooked on the technology, but it does help people track what they are looking to measure. “
“If you are sedentary the tracker will make you move,” she said. “These products are helpful if you need those reminders.”
Romand said she got a wearable tracker when they first came out. It told her she took 10,000 steps in the first 45 minutes just walking around her studio working with clients. She believes fewer clients have trackers now than back then.
“People embrace trackers because they assess progress and can be linked to a food journal so that activity gets calibrated to calories,” said Jenn Benson who runs ideal Fitness 24/7, a gym in South Glens Falls and is a traveling personal trainer with clients from Saratoga to Lake George. “If you are on a treadmill measuring heart rate, trackers give you the instant feedback you need to do a more brisk walk.”
Another positive feature is an alert when goals daily are reached.
“Who doesn’t love that gold star that says you nailed it,” said Benson.
Benson calls the tracker “a starting point” toward better health, but “clients don’t seem interested in every new advancement” provided by the more sophisticated, and more expensive, options like smart watches.
“I am waiting for the tracker that cooks for me,” said Holly Zelenkewich of Healthy PhyZeke Fitness and Health Coaching, an in-home personal training company serving the Saratoga area and points north.
“I never wanted a tracker because I already walk and exercise. But as a runner I can track distances and time splits,” she said. “It is good that there are many different options among wearables that provide something for everybody.”
Zelenkewich trains athletes and non-athletes. Wearables help her see heart rate during training so she can motivate them to press harder in their workouts.
“There is a measurement called RPE, or rating of perceived exertion, where it may feel like an individual is working hard. But the device tells you that you can be pushed a bit farther, and athletes want that,” she said.
“Trainers push because we know we can help clients get better results,” said Romand.
“It’s okay to take a small stumble now and then. We all do,” she said.
The experts agree that devices have not taken over the job of a personal trainer, but enhanced it by providing an additional tool to measure baseline activity and keep their clients on a path to their health goals.
“At the end of the day, people are motivated by very personal reasons,” said Zelenkewich. “Maybe a woman wants to lose weight to have baby, and that’s the real thing that is pushing her through to her goals.”
“The mental health side of goal-setting is very important,” said Benson. “If you can embrace the technology and use it positively, it should be used. Otherwise it is the wrong tool for you.”
Romand said it’s easy to get more wrapped up in the technology than the tasks at hand. At her studios, clients are encouraged to put their phones into a cubby and focus on their workout rather than calls and texts.
“The technology is a tool for building awareness, but is not the be-all-end-all,” said Benson. “Some people have no idea how much they move during the day and don’t take the time to journal it.”
Benson helps her clients set SMART goals and build a routine, she said.
“SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely,” said Benson. “Do you want to have more energy? How would we measure that? Trackers give feedback for trainers to guide clients along the way.”
“We look out four weeks at a time when setting goals,” said Romand. “Four week goals are more attainable and easier to focus on than, for example, losing 100 pounds in 365 days.”
“The best way to motivate someone is through conversation to get to the main reason to pursue better health,” said Zelenkewich.
Even employers believe wearables can be good for both team-building and healthy competition in the workplace that can lead to higher productivity.
“Businesses that are invested in wellness programs are focusing more and more on wearable technologies,” Zelenkewich said. “All the participants can see where the group stands on steps tracked during the day.”
Romand said she expects wearable tracking technology to trend upward.
“If you want to get fit and get started, a lot of devices can help you,” she said. “They definitely can assist you on your fitness journey.”