When it comes to logging your daily health progress on a fitness tracker, every step counts — unless it's not counted. If you suspect your fitness band isn't giving you accurate readings, you might be to blame. Before you toss your tracker in the trash, make sure you're using it correctly.
Here, fitness experts share the seven most common mistakes people make with their wearable devices to help you get back on track with your wellness efforts.
1. You Bought the Wrong Tracker
All fitness bands are the same, right? Wrong! Choosing a tracker that's not suitable for your fitness goals can sabotage your results, says certified personal trainer SJ McShane.
Before you invest in a fitness band, you should first consider the types of physical activity you plan to do, says Michele Scharff Olson, PhD, senior clinical professor of sport science and physical education at Huntingdon College. Then, choose a device that's designed for your workout needs.
For example, if you're interested in measuring how many calories you burn during a HIIT workout, don't pick a tracker that only counts steps. If you're an avid swimmer or a someone who sweats buckets, choose a waterproof device that won't short out when it gets wet.
2. You Don’t Sync Your Apps and Devices
From fitness trackers to diet-based apps to the smart scale in your bathroom, odds are you're tracking health-related data from a variety of sources. The problem? Each one only reveals a piece of the pie rather than the whole puzzle, says McShane. Your fitness tracker may show you're making solid step gains, but what about your sleep issues?
If you don't sync your tracker to your other apps and devices, you can't see the big picture when it comes to your health, says Scharff Olson. For the maximum benefits, sync up and consolidate your info. That way you can see how your workouts, nutrition and sleep are connected and make tweaks to your daily routine to help you reach your wellness goals.
3. You Wear It on Your Dominant Hand
According to an April 2015 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, wrist trackers are more accurate than waist trackers when it comes to counting steps. But which wrist you wear your device on makes a difference.
Sporting your band on your dominant wrist may result in an overestimated step count. Why? You tend to move your dominant hand more often even when your feet aren't moving, says McShane. Your device will miscalculate the excessive movement and inaccurately inflate your calorie expenditure, distance or step count for the day, says Scharff Olson.
The fix? Some trackers have wrist settings, so if you choose to wear your device on your dominant wrist, it will reconfigure and readjust readings accordingly. If your tracker doesn't have this option, simply switch it to your non-dominant wrist.
4. You Forget to Charge Your Device
Charging your tracker sounds like a no brainer, but when life gets busy, it's easy to forget the little things. Needless to say, if your device doesn't have enough juice, it could conk out mid-workout. Or worse — during a step challenge.
Don't want to lose your step count (or your bragging rights)? Luckily, there's a simple solution. Stow a portable charger in your gym bag so you have one on hand whenever your battery is running low.
5. You Don’t Update Your Data
Shed a few pounds? Make sure your tracker knows about your progress. If you don't update stats like weight loss or gain, PR records and diet changes, your tracker won't be able to keep an accurate log of your goals and results, says McShane. Subsequently, its readings (like calories burned) and recommendations may be off.
6. You Wear Your Tracker Too Loosely
Be sure your tracker fits securely on your wrist. If your fitness band is flopping around, chances are you're getting false readings. That's because a loose fit can prevent sensors from working correctly, says McShane.
The result? Inaccurate step counts and heart-rate tracking. For reliable readouts, your band should always be in contact with your skin, says Scharff Olson.
7. You Don’t Share Your Stats
The option to share your workouts and achievements with others is one of the most useful features of fitness trackers and apps. Not only can sharing data help keep you accountable, but it can also be super motivating when it comes to reaching your fitness goals, says McShane.
That's probably because when you can compare your stats with others', your competitive spirit kicks into high gear. In fact, a September 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that incorporating a competitive gaming component significantly boosted physical activity for participants logging exercise with a wearable device.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: “Comparison of step outputs for waist and wrist accelerometer attachment sites.”
- JAMA Internal Medicine: “Effectiveness of Behaviorally Designed Gamification Interventions With Social Incentives for Increasing Physical Activity Among Overweight and Obese Adults Across the United States.”