Working Out With Technology

Wearable technology. It's the kind of forward-thinking concept you might have attributed to movies like "Back to the Future" or "Star Wars" not too long ago. Today, however, roughly 1 in 6 people own some form of wearable technology, and popularity is expected to grow in 2019.

Despite being a relatively new concept, the market for wearable technology is growing at a record pace. The overall market doubled from $2 billion to over $4 billion between 2015 and 2017 and is expected to double again by 2021.

In most cases, wearable technology is touted as being good for one thing specifically: your health. Whether it's counting calories, motivating your workouts, or synchronizing your exercise activity to another health-based application, wearable technology is supposed to make getting healthy as easy (and transparent) as possible.

But how many people actually wear these devices during workouts, and are they working? To find out, we surveyed over 1,000 people about their fitness tracker preferences, from which trackers they used to how the technology impacted the effectiveness of each workout. Read on as we discover whether working out with wearable technology is worth it, or if these devices are likely to start collecting dust.

Digital Dedication

If you're thinking about investing in wearable technology, you probably expect whichever device you pick to do more than just tell the time. And the expectations for fitness trackers, specifically, can be even higher.

According to our research, 39 percent of men and more than half of women used a wearable fitness tracker when they worked out.

Trackers like a Fitbit or Apple Watch aren't the only way people can incorporate the benefits of tech into their workouts. Health applications can provide many of the same benefits with a few extra perks, which makes wearable fitness trackers and health apps the perfect combination.

While the Fitbit was rated as the most popular fitness tracker by more than half of the people surveyed, MyFitnessPal came in a close second. More than just keeping track of the amount of time you spend sweating during a workout, MyFitnessPal and some other health apps also monitor eating habits (including calorie intake) to give users a more comprehensive overview of their wellness.

Following MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, Nike+ Run Club, and Strava were also rated among the most popular and well-reviewed trackers by Google Play and Apple App Store ratings.

A Happier Hustle

Whether wearable trackers help people lose weight remains to be seen. Researchers are only just beginning to uncover the long-term effects of fitness trackers on our overall wellness. And while you might be more likely to burn a few extra calories while wearing a Fitbit or Apple Watch, the instant gratification of seeing how much you've burned might tempt you into eating more (and thus negating the effects of working out in the first place).

Still, you might not know how wearable devices affect your workout routine until you try one. They might even impact one particular part of the overall exercise experience: how much you actually enjoy working out.

Perhaps because an overwhelming majority of men and women who used their fitness trackers regularly admitted they were helpful tools in reaching their fitness goals, they also acknowledged enjoying their workouts more while using them.

We found 68 percent of men and women who always used trackers found they enjoyed working out. Still, consistency may be the key. People who only occasionally used a fitness tracker were less likely than those who didn't use them at all to enjoy the time they spent sweating.

Open About Fitness Tracking

Like much of the research on the long-term effects of wearable fitness trackers, we found people were split on how well technology actually helped them reach their fitness goals.

As it turns out, the exercise you regularly do might have an impact on how valuable wearable fitness technology is to you.

People playing sports like tennis, soccer, and Frisbee found fitness trackers the most effective, with 78 percent suggesting their devices helped them reach their fitness goals and more than 1 in 5 sharing their fitness data. Participants of kickboxing, rowing, and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) had similarly high percentages of positive sentiment toward using fitness trackers to reach their goals, with between 21 and 26 percent of users choosing to share their fitness data as well.

Privacy on these trackers has become a major concern for some, and certain apps (including Strava) have taken on a social networking quality. For many of the most popular health and fitness trackers, your personal fitness data are automatically shared across the app's network (unless you deliberately opt out). Don't want your boss getting push notifications every time you get off the treadmill? You might want to adjust your privacy settings before strapping on a Fitbit or Apple Watch.

Among those surveyed, people doing barre exercises typically found fitness technology the least effective but were overwhelming the most likely to share their personal fitness data.

Stiff Competition

Among the most popular fitness trackers, 87 percent of people rated Strava as the most effective for reaching personal fitness goals.

Across the world, 10 million activities are uploaded to Strava every week. While some users prefer to avoid sharing that information socially, others say they use it to challenge their fitness goals and activity levels. If you happen to use or like Strava, you might also enjoy the thousands of other fitness trackers that utilize the Strava API, including several that are specific to certain exercises like cycling, hiking, and HIIT workouts.

MapMyFitness, Samsung Health, and MyFitnessPal were also rated among the most effective fitness trackers. In the great debate between the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear, people overwhelming rated Samsung's native software companion app as more effective than Apple Health. Despite preferences, those using Apple Health were more likely to use their app more regularly, 4.1 days a week on average compared to 3.7 for Samsung Health users.

Neglected Fitness Tech

The fitness tracker or wellness app you choose won't matter much if you don't actually use them.

Research shows over 2 in 5 people abandon fitness trackers after six months. Of those surveyed, 30 percent admitted to quitting using a fitness tracker at some point, which was led by MyFitnessPal (44 percent), Fitbit (38 percent), and MapMyFitness (14 percent).

MyFitnessPal and Fitbit are among the most popular health and wellness trackers available today, although 44 percent of people who quit using MyFitnessPal said it took too much effort to use, and 33 percent of Fitbit abandoners said they wanted to focus more on their workouts instead.

While people were less likely to quit using more exercise-specific trackers like Nike+ Run Club or Runtastic, a majority of those who did claimed the interface wasn't user-friendly.

Use It or Lose It

Fitness trackers and wearable technology aren't going away anytime soon. Even if you don't currently have one, the odds are you might in the next couple of years as the market for health and wellness technology expands. While there's no guarantee adding technology to your workout routine will help you lose weight or meet all of your fitness goals, people who used them said they were happier working out than those who didn't use them. While the exercise you do might affect the overall impact of trackers on your health habits, most people found wearable fitness technology to be more effective at helping them work out than a personal trainer.

Methodology

We surveyed 1,130 people on their fitness tracker usage while working out to see how fitness trackers affected workouts and fitness goals. Fifty-two percent of respondents were male, and 48 percent were female, ranging from 18 to 76 years old, with a mean age of 36 and a standard deviation of 11 years. Respondents reported participating in a range of workouts, but we excluded any exercise that did not have 25 or more participants. Respondents also reported a range of trackers, but we only included those with 25 or more participants. We did not have a validated measure of enjoyment and effectiveness, so we created our own using a 1 to 5 scale. Data were not weighted or statistically tested, and results are exploratory.

Fair Use Statement

Starting to feel the burn? Our data are free to share for any noncommercial use. Help us build a healthy relationship by ensuring a link back to this page so that your readers can see our study in its entirety and our contributors get credit for work too.