What is a fitness tracker, and why do I need three?

I’m so hooked on my three fitness bands (or trackers, or wearable tech, as they’re also called) that I barely have capacity on my arms for accessories, and no longer wear a watch since two out of my three bands show me the time.

Many people ask if I run races with all three, and why I *need* three. The answer is yes, and the reason I need three is because I like each one for a different reason, and because I know I’ll have FOMO (or panic) if I don’t use all of them to track my steps. Mostly though, I just really like them.


Other questions I’m often asked are: what is a fitness tracker, what does it do, and why would anyone care to have one?

In short, a fitness tracker does just that – it tracks your fitness, or the steps you take daily. Each tracker works differently and has different functions, but they’re meant to make you aware of your activity (or the lack thereof), and help you attain step or fuel goals.

Some of them even track your sleep and eating, so you can assess what you’re putting in, what you’re burning off, and what you can do to remedy it.

I think of my devices as wearable personal trainers – they might not be telling me what exercises to do, but they’re motivating me and encouraging me to reach my step or fuel goals (some devices allow you to set your own step goals, while others are preset). On days that I run, I know I’ll easily reach my step goals, but it’s on the days that I don’t run that I count on my devices to keep me vaguely active, even if it means doing jumping jacks at the end of the night to get there.

Here’s what I’m currently using:

Nike Fuelband



The Fuelband isn’t available in South Africa, and costs around $175 from a Nike store or stockist overseas. It’s slim, and probably the most inconspicuous of the lot. There are some fab new colours too – I still have the simple black.

The Fuelband tracks steps, calories burnt and Nike fuel, which is its own measurement. You can also gain Nike fuel through other means as well as the Nike TomTom GPS.

You can sync your data easily via the Nike+ Connect site, and the Nike Fuelband app too.

What I love

You can press buttons and immediately see your stats, plus the time of day. It also comes with a built-in USB so you don’t need a dongle to recharge, and when you charge your band, your stats automatically synch.

I love the concept of Nike Fuel, and I find the Nike+ Connect interface slick. Also, most of my social media friends use Nike+ Connect, so it’s really the most “social” out of all my platforms, and easy to connect to other people, and follow their stats too.

What I would change

I know others have a lot to say on this matter, and I’ve seen some complaints about them not lasting long, but I’ve had no issues in two years. You never forget your first, and this is one I don’t want to forget, or change, for that matter.


Fitbit Flex

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The Fitbit Flex is the big brother (or sister) to other Fitbit devices, the Zip and the One, and it’s the only wristband. It costs R1 299 from iStore, and is available in six colours. You can also buy different bands separately to fit your Fitbit chip.

The Fitbit Flex  tracks your steps, distance, calories burnt and even monitors your sleeping. All your info can get synched with an app on your iOS or Android phone, or on your desktop

Why I wear it

I love the Fitbit app and site, and that it offers the option of tracking your food and your sleep (neither of which I’ve ever used). I’m a sucker for pink devices, so love my pink, plus the interchangeability with other straps.

It’s also good to know that you can earn Discovery Vitality points with the Fitbit – you just need to upload a workout and you’ll get 150 points.

What I would change if I could

I hate not being able to access my stats by looking at the device and hitting a button – the data needs to be uploaded via a dongle and USB chip (a mission in itself), or synced via Blutooth to your phone. I would prefer a device where you could see your stats immediately, as well as the time.

Note: The Fitbit has at its default a goal of 10 000 steps. You can change this, and maybe it’s advisable too. I think 10 000 is a bit steep for even a moderate exerciser who probably commutes by car and doesn’t walk that much day-to-day.


Garmin VivoFit



The Garmin VivoFit recently launched in South Africa and comes in five colours.

You can set up your VivoFit to Garmin Connect (there’s an app too for iOS and Android), and you can synch your tracker by holding down a button while Connect is open, and with a USB dongle in your computer. With a smartphone, you can just need to press the synch button on the VivoFit. Once synched, the dashboard will show your stats which include steps, sleep, connections and activities. You can add more to the dashboard, and you can view reports and badges for achievements.

Why I wear it

The Vivofit automatically adapts to your training goals. The Vivofit starts you off with a 5 000-step goal, which I think is reasonable, and adjusts every day from there depending on whether you achieve it or not. I find this challenging in a good way, and even on days I’m not running, I’m still motivated to get moving.

The best features for me are its battery and display. The VivoFit has a battery that lasts up to a year, which means you don’t have to keep recharging every few days. It’s also waterproof.

Also, everything is on display on the tracker – you press the button to see the time of day and date, and the steps taken, calories burnt, kilometres traversed, and your goal in a 24-hour period.  There’s no backlight or illumination, so sometimes you need to strain to see the figures.

What I would change if I could

There’s no backlight or illumination, so sometimes I struggle to see the digits. I realise this is for battery preservation, so it’s worth the strain or using my phone’s torch.


Some notes about fitness trackers

  • A fitness band is NOT a GPS. If you’re looking for something to more accurately assess your kilometres and route, then you should get a GPS (I have TomTom and Garmin ones, and love them both – for different reasons).
  • Perhaps the biggest “flaw” I’ve noticed with these fitness trackers is that they don’t track activity such as cycling adequately. You might be burning kilojoules while riding 50km, but because your arm isn’t bobbing up and down, your tracker might think you’ve sat on the couch the whole morning drinking coffee. I don’t cycle, but I’ve done spinning classes using a heart rate monitor to track calories burnt, and two of my fitness bands. Based on heart rate, I had a reading of about 250 calories burns while the fitness bands barely tracked a thing – I think I burnt around 15 calories for the same 45-minute sweat-heavy workout.
  • Some fitness bands like the Garmin Vivofit has compatibility with a heart rate monitor. However, I have never tried a monitor with a band, and have only ever used a heart rate monitor on its own, or with a Garmin Forerunner.
  • Whenever I compare the stats from my three devices after a race, or a day’s activity, the calories burnt and steps taken always differ. I can’t tell you which device is more accurate, or which has the “right” results since they are so different, and I’m comparing them to each other. All that matters really is that I’m reaching my targets with all of them.
  • Before buying, along with trying on the device if possible to test for comfort, have a look at the interface and functionality of the relevant websites and apps. Some people love Nike while others don’t, and some might find the reminders and “rewards” of the Fitbit a blessing or an irritation.
  • Fitness trackers aren’t only for hardcore runners or gym bunnies!

Other fitness trackers I can’t wait to try

  • Sony SmartBand
  • Samsung Gear Fit
  • LG Lifeband Touch (not here yet)
  • The rumoured wearable tech from Apple

I'd love to chat to you some more.


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