Take’s Take: Fitbit Force Activity Tracker

Wearable activity trackers is the latest technology rage in the fitness world. Similar to the juice cleanse, I was intrigued by activity trackers but never felt compelled to try one. Being a health and fitness “expert” for over 15 years, I am already very dialed in with my body so I don’t need some trendy prop to tell me what I already know. With that being said, as a health and fitness “expert”, I feel that it is also my responsibility to educate and inform people on how they can better understand their body so that they can live and be healthier. That and I just so happened to get a Fitbit as a birthday gift. After letting it sit around for a month I finally decided to wear it for a week and see what the big deal was all about.

Unlike it’s predecessor the pedometer, which only tracks linear movement (forward and backward), activity trackers monitor your movement on a three dimensional level using what is called an accelerometer. An accelerometer detects motion and measures it’s intensity. Then, though some crazy algorithm, they take that data and calculate it into a variety of statistics including how many steps you take, how many miles you’ve walked/run, how many floors your went up and how many active minutes you had. What really piqued my interest, however, was that activity trackers can also track how many calories you burn. After entering your age, weight and height to determine your basal metabolic rate or BMR (how many calories your body burns at rest), the activity tracker then records how many calories you burn throughout the day due to activity. You can guesstimate how many calories you burn on a daily basis by calculating your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE. I am a big proponent of TDEE and use it as the basis of the meal planning guide on our website. To lose body fat weight, you need to know how many calories you’re burning a day in order to determine how many you should be taking in. If you’re not burning more calories than your taking in then you won’t lose any weight. Many people get frustrated and ultimately quit a nutrition plan or exercise program due to a lack of results because they did not take into consideration these two key factors.

The activity tracker I received, the Fitbit Force, is considered one of the best activity trackers on the market. Well was considered one of the best until they had to recall and discontinue the model due to people getting burned…literally. Evidently a small percentage of users were getting allergic reactions to either the nickel or glue in the Force that caused skin irritations. But not me. Anyways, to properly set up your Force you have to create a profile online and enter in your personal data. I fount it a bit tedious, mostly because I thought it was going to be a “plug and play” sorta deal but an activity tracker can’t accurately record your activity without knowing you. It only takes a few minutes so I guess it’s not so bad. Once you’ve created your profile you can then customize your “dashboard” on your computer to prioritize the different stats it records. There is also a mobile app you can download that syncs your smart phone to your Force via Bluetooth.

The Force has a unique feature in that it tracks the quality of sleep you have based on your movements. The idea is that you move less with good, restful sleep and you move more when you are restless. Duh! What it does do that’s pretty cool is that it show you when exactly when you are having periods of restlessness while you sleep. Not sure what good that will do you but it’s still neat to see.

Another feature of the Force is that you can manually enter your calorie intake with dashboard or mobile app. What’s great about the calorie intake feature is that you can actually type in what you eat and a variety of options show up including menu items from many popular fast food restaurants. The one challenge with the calorie intake counter is there are usually several options for each food item so if you don’t have a good understanding of how many calories are in different foods then you may not know the difference between a 300 or 600 calories chicken sandwich. Regardless, it still gives you an idea as to how many calories may food items have so it’s good practice for calorie counting beginners. You can also enter in your water consumption with the dashboard and mobile app. It’s also done manually but it gives you an idea of how much water you take in on a daily basis and if you should be drinking more. Another resourceful feature if your not used to keeping track of your water intake.

What I didn’t like about the Force is that it doesn’t do a good job of keeping track of the calories I burned while working out in the gym. For example, I typically start my workout with 20 minutes on the exercise bike followed by 40 minutes of high-tensity lifting. I usually burn around 220 calories on the bike then another 300-400 calories during the workout for a total around 550-600 calories. The Force, on the other hand, counts only around 220 for my entire hour long workout. I’ve tracked my calorie expenditure during workouts with a heart rate monitor so I know for a fact I’m in the 550-600 calorie range…damnit! You do have the option of entering in your activities manually as well as the calories you burned but the whole idea of wearing an activity tracker is so it keeps track of those things so you don’t have to. What it did accurately measure–minus the calories it should have recorded while I was working out–is how many calories I burned in a day. Based on my TDEE I burn around 3200 calories a day. For the week I wore the Force I averaged 2837 calories a day. If you adjust the calories I burned during my workout to 550, which is a more accurate number, then the Force is almost spot on with my TDEE. Pretty impressive.

Other than calories burned, the other data the Force records is fun to see but doesn’t serve any functional purpose when it comes to losing weight. It is good to see how active you are because it’s give you an idea of how active you can/should be but dropping body fat is all about calories in vs. calories out. Yes, there are more factors involved but my philosophy is to keep things simple, especially when someone is just getting started with their health and fitness journey.  If you’re new to fitness and really don’t have a good sense of calories then an activity tracker is an excellent way to begin learning how to keep track of the calories you burn and the calories you take in. For everyone else, I think it’s mostly a novelty/luxury item that really isn’t necessary if you already workout regularly and eat healthy. The technology is still new so I’m sure there will be improvements in the next year or so that will allow them to give a more accurate measure of the calories you burn and the level of intensity your activities are. I read about one that actually monitors your heart rate (without a sensor around your torso) so that it can provide a more accurate reading. After using the Force I would be interested in testing it out but I think I’ll hold out to see what technological improvements come out next. Besides, I’m still waiting for the Dick Tracy watch phone.


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