Straight Talk: What can Wearable Tech do for YOUR Training?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal® 2020 survey, Wearable Tech is the #1 trend in health and fitness. As technology develops, so does our interest in how fitness trackers, smart watches, HR monitors, and GPS tracking devices can optimize our training. Examples include fitness and activity trackers like those manufactured by Fitbit®, Samsung Gear Fit2®, Misfit®, Garmin®, and Apple®.

One of the biggest reasons people wear tech as they train is to track their heart rate and determine how many calories they burn during exercise. However, your heart rate alone is not a good indicator as what’s really going on during training. It doesn’t tell you the whole story.

Anaerobic System & Aerobic System

Your body uses two types of energy systems – anaerobic and aerobic - during exercise to provide fuel for your muscles. These are always in play and switch up depending on the types of activities you do.

Your anaerobic system is based on the energy that stored in your muscle. Anaerobic metabolism creates energy through the combustion of carbohydrates without oxygen. This happens when your lungs cannot supply enough oxygen into the bloodstream to keep up with the demands of your muscles. It generally is used during short bursts of high intensity activity, such as when you sprint or lift heavy weights.

Your aerobic system uses oxygen to create energy. Aerobic metabolism creates energy through the combustion of carbohydrates, amino acids, and fats with oxygen.  Aerobic metabolism activities include walking, running, or cycling. During these activities you can feel your heart rate increase. But your aerobic system and heart rate stabilizes after 3-5 minutes of training unless you increase intensity. 

Your body will switch between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism during activities that require both short bursts and sustained activity. Sports like soccer, tennis and basketball require you to switch activities as you play and your metabolism will change as well.

Tech Measures Heart Rate, not Effort!

Fitness and activity trackers can track your heart rate but it can’t track anaerobic activity. Most of your anaerobic activity happens while you recover after you train and throughout the rest of the day.  In order to track your anaerobic activity you’d have to take multiple blood samples over a period of time.  Then you’ll get a clearer picture of how many calories you’ve burned.  The reality is there is no practical way to track the amount of work you just did anaerobically. So when you do an activity like weight training your heart rate probably won’t go up significantly so your tracker doesn’t register a high heart rate. But you are still burning calories. Your fitness tracker doesn’t register effort level. 

Some people think you don’t burn that many calories with strength training, that’s not true.  It’s hard to track because by the time your heart rate responds to anaerobic activity, the activity is usually over. Let’s say you do chest presses and your heart rate is 140 when you started. After a set of ten reps it might be up to 150.  Your heart rate might go even higher while you are recovering. You can’t use a heart rate device to measure when your anaerobic activity is over – but you can use it to measure when you should to go again to your next set.

We know that people who combine aerobic exercise with strength training have the best overall results in fitness and managing their weight. You may not be able to measure your precise calorie burn. But with strength training you are increasing lean body mass, decreasing fat stores and increasing your energy activity level throughout the day.

Best Way to Burn Calories? Be Inefficient!

Inefficiency is usually a negative concept, but it’s actually a good thing for exercise. For instance, a mountain bike is much less efficient than a racing bike. It is heavier and you have to use more mechanical energy to go the same distance as a racing bike. But that increase in mechanical energy translates to an increase in calorie burn. That is not something a tracker will be able to measure accurately because you are shifting intensity and incorporating lots of anaerobic activity.

The same ‘inefficiency is good’ concept applies to the treadmill. You will actually burn more calories when you walk vs run at the same speed on treadmill. Walking fast at 4.5 miles hour burns more calories than jogging at 4.5 miles per hour. That’s because running is a more efficient mechanical activity. As you run you are propelling yourself forward – jumping forward and that increases your stride length.  If you walk quickly at that same speed on the treadmill you aren’t increasing your stride length so you are taking more steps on the treadmill.  This increased mechanical effort increases your calorie burn. The treadmill doesn’t know the difference and will likely register the same calorie burn for both activities.

So How can they Help?

Trackers and other tech can be very helpful as a relative comparison tool. They can offer fairly accurate readings for aerobic activities as you compare your activity and intensity from day to day.  Adding strength training to your routine will increase your anaerobic activity and calorie burn – even if you can’t track it, you’ll feel it.

Want to know more about wearable tech and how it can improve your training? Come in to your local Gym Source showroom and talk to any of our expert trainers onsite, or contact us on our website or social media. 

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