It’s that time of year again. You know the time I’m talking about — the season when all restraint and self-discipline takes a full nosedive out the window thanks to busy schedules and indulgent meals. Yes, that annual crash and burn also carries with it the promise to yourself that come January 1, there will be a renewed initiative to get back into good eating and exercise habits in the form of the New Year’s resolution.
This year, why not put some hard goods behind your goals by putting a fitness tracker on your wishlist? If you ask for it now, you’ll be armed to tackle that 2021 resolution like a boss!
The technology in today’s fitness trackers is so advanced it’s like having a dietitian, sleep physician and personal trainer available at a flick of your wrist. Gone are the days you just counted steps. Today’s devices record your resting heart rate, sleep patterns and training zones, and many even analyze that data for you and visualize trends or habits that you may need to change. But with so many fitness tracker options out there, how do you even know where to start? Maybe you’ve never used a tracker and just need suggestions for a good baseline device. Or perhaps you have been counting steps but are interested in gaining even more insight and metrics from the newer technology.
We road-tested four top fitness trackers and have a breakdown below of the benefits and drawbacks of each. Find out more about the WHOOP, Fitbit Inspire 2, Apple Watch Series 6 and Oura Ring.
For the Data Geek: WHOOP Strap
Cost: FREE with $30/month six-month membership
Arguably the most talked-about fitness tracker of the last year is the WHOOP Strap. Although it has been around since 2011 and is used primarily by athletes, promotion on the wildly popular podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience” (Joe used the device during his 2019 Sober October event) sent the strap soaring in popularity among the rest of us who just want to know what our bodies are doing and what those measurements mean to our overall fitness goals.
The WHOOP is designed to be worn continually. The rechargeable battery even slides onto the device so you can charge the WHOOP while you’re wearing it. Why? Because this device is tracking everything all the time — not just stats during exercise. It factors in multiple heart rate measurements, in-depth sleep data, how your body responds to strain, and the all-important and often-neglected recovery.
The WHOOP setup includes a pretty thorough initial journal that asks all sorts of questions, ranging from eating and drinking habits to your mood. A shorter version of the journal pops up in the app each morning, asking you questions about the prior day. Did you drink caffeine? If so, how much and when was your last consumption? That information, coupled with heart rate and sleep data, could reveal that on days where excess amounts of caffeine are consumed, sleep is adversely affected.
I wore the WHOOP Strap for several weeks while researching this story. While the app’s depth and its data are super impressive, you have to really want to know all of those details, or it can be easy to tune it out and get lost in screen after screen of graphs and charts. For example, there’s a bit of a learning curve to understanding the measurement of “strain,” which — oversimplified — is your body’s ability to handle stress, be it exercise, an intense business meeting or a fight with your spouse.
Also, I almost never got accustomed to the fact that there is no data displayed on the strap. How many times a day did I look down to see the time or check my heart rate, only to see nothing but a black mesh band? I lost count. But via the app, you can monitor your heart rate, strain, and calories burned during exercise; you just have to have your phone and the app handy. If you like no distractions during exercise (or even throughout the day), WHOOP is the way to go. It never vibrated one time.
The WHOOP Strap is free with the purchase of a six-month membership at $30 per month. Membership pricing fluctuates based on commitment. I’d recommend committing to at least six months, as the strap’s data gets more accurate and effective the longer you wear it.
Since the device functions best when worn continuously, you have to wear it all the time. That means even when dressing up and going out. But they’ve got you covered. Check out WHOOP’s Lux Kits for prettier straps and rose gold clasps that allow you to be smart and gorgeous.
For the Fitness Enthusiast: Fitbit Inspire 2
Cost: $99.95 + Premium membership at $9.99/month (after initial year free for new members only)
Maybe you fall into the category of people who want some more basic, solid numbers, such as steps in a day or a simple heart rate measurement with a recap at the end of the day. I tested the Fitbit Inspire 2 as an option for anyone who falls in this category. While it offers a good bit of extras via the Fitbit Premium™ membership and app (think guided breathing sessions, menstrual tracking, Active Zone Minutes, sleep analysis, etc.), it’s also a solid device at a good price for the basics.
The Inspire 2 features a slim design with a small digital watch face that shows a good bit of information, including the time. New members get a year of free access to Fitbit Premium. After that, the premium access will run you $9.99 a month. The device’s updated watch face is free of buttons, and instead functions with a light squeeze on the sides and then scrolling via the touch screen. Although data is available on the screen, I found it cumbersome to stop, squeeze, swipe and tap to find the information I wanted during a workout.
Unlike some other models that come with dozens of exercise category choices, this fitness tracker only provides running, cycling, swimming, weightlifting, treadmill, and interval training. So, whatever activity you want to measure has to fit into one of these categories. CrossFit, for example, is basically every category (short of swimming) all in one, so I felt it a bit hard to measure accurately there.
This device also notifies you of incoming phone calls, emails or texts if you desire. The screen is small, however, so consider it a reminder to look at the communication when you get back to your phone instead of an opportunity to stop and read an email. It also connects to other popular devices and apps, such as a Peloton bike, Strava and MyFitnessPal. The Fitbit Inspire 2 also offers optional bands for purchase that enable you to dress it up a bit. Use the silicone strap during workouts, but easily pop it off and replace it with rose gold mesh for upgraded evening wear.
For the Busy Professional: Apple Watch Series 6
For many of you, one of the best fitness trackers is already on your wrist right now. If you own an Apple Watch ($199 and up), it’s time you begin to use it for more than checking the weather and reading emails.
I found the Apple Watch Series 6 to be the clear winner here. The latest version of Apple’s fitness tracker watch ($399) comes with the features you’d expect, as well as the ability to measure your blood oxygen level or detect an irregular heartbeat with the ECG function. It also measures elevation, noise levels and sleep. My favorite feature, however, is the “Always-On Retina Display,” which allows easy access to information during a workout. You hardly have to raise your wrist to see what you want to see, and you don’t have to have your phone handy to do it. The easy-to-digest activity rings show you in a simple graphic if you are moving, standing, and exercising enough. No time to dive into the data? No worries. Just close your rings. Boom. Done.
This device is also great if you need to get emails, phone calls, texts and other alerts during your workout. Notifications can be turned on and off, of course, but this one truly offers the World Wide Web on your wrist. Unlike the Fitbit, the Apple Watch offers upwards of 16 different exercise varieties to choose from, including dance, yoga, HIIT training and rowing. The watch also has more features when paired with an iPhone than the scope of this article.
Last-minute entry: The Oura Ring
Cost: $299-$399 (No additional monthly subscription is required.)
After reading this article in draft status, two people on the SB team wanted to weigh in about their Oura Ring as it has quite a bit of buzz as well. This ring is more of a health tracker versus a fitness tracker, but it does track fitness as well. It’s quite similar to the WHOOP Strap. As the name implies, it’s a ring, so there is no band to wear in addition to your favorite watch, and it won’t aesthetically interfere with your stack of arm candy.
The feedback from our team members is that they’ve both learned a lot about their sleep patterns and how to get better quality sleep. Each morning, you can check your “readiness score” which is basically a score to see how physically prepared you are for the day. The score is a combination of sleep quality, fitness/movement from the day before, heart rate trends, your temperature, and your respiratory rate. Oura tracks your temperature around the clock, which should pique the attention of many as we continue to live in COVID times.
You’ll need to charge your ring every 4-5 days, and it takes about 15 minutes. The SB Oura fans say it doesn’t interfere with lifting weights or rowing. Plus, it’s completely waterproof, so there is no need to remove it to shower.
The Oura app connects to Apple Health on your iPhone. And, if you are an Orangetheory groupie, your data from an Orangetheory class also connects to Apple Health, via the Orangetheory app, and then both of those can also download information into your Oura app.
“I was fighting an infection about a month ago and it was fascinating to see how it affected my sleep, my temperature, my heart rate, and my respiratory rate. No wonder I felt so bad!” says Liza Graves, StyleBlueprint CEO. “It’s been great to see that some nights I may get enough sleep, but not nearly enough deep sleep. I’ve been able to adjust my bedtime routine in order to make sure I can get the best night sleep possible, which is more than just the hours you get. Plus, I’ve never liked wearing a bracelet/watch style fitness tracker. The ring works well for me; it counts my steps, how vigorous my activity is, and more. And, the information is not overwhelming.”
Oura Ring comes in four colors, and you will get a prototype to wear for a day to make sure you like the size. Then, your real ring will be sent.
Other notable trackers that we were not able to test but that are getting plenty of buzz include the Fitbit Sense, the Garmin vívoactive® 4S and the Polar Vantage V. All come with amazing abilities to track and measure performance and health data. Whichever tracker you choose, do your homework so you understand all of the device’s functionality — and then get moving!
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