I’ve been meaning to write this post for several months, but I’m actually glad I didn’t get around to it right when I first started using my Fitbit Flex because my feelings towards the activity tracker have changed a little. For those who don’t feel like reading this whole, long post, I’m going to start with my three-sentence summary:
Bottom line: It’s a fun gadget if you want motivation to move more during the day, and I’d recommend it if that’s your primary goal; but if you’re looking for any sort of data about your workouts, it’s not what you’re looking for. This is a step tracker, not really a fitness tracker, and I’ve ultimately found that I like my Fitbit best when I take it off during workouts so that it’s only used for what it’s really built for: tracking everyday movement. It’s essentially a pedometer with some additional cool features.
Still reading? Haven’t clicked over to a BuzzFeed list of Ryan Gosling memes? Shwiiing! Allow me to elaborate on my feelings about the Fitbit Flex…
My Initial Experience with the Fitbit Flex
I got my Fitbit as a gift from LUNA Bars on the Stitch Fix trip I went on this past June. When I first started using it, I was obsessed. I wore it consistently for about a month, as proven by its appearance in every embarrassing selfie on my phone during that time:
I loved the challenge of meeting the 10,000 daily steps goal, and it made me more aware of daily patterns—when I’m super active, what everyday activities require the most movement, what days of the week I’m on the inactive side, etc., etc. It has the ability to track sleep (you use the app to let it know you’re going to bed and it will tell you how many times you were restless during the night, record your hours of sleep, etc.), but I only played around with that feature a few times. I’m very lucky in that I’ve always been a good, sound sleeper and have no problem getting 7-8 hours a night, so I wasn’t too concerned with tracking sleep stats.
Here are some takeaways I got from that first month of consistent Fitbit use:
- Even if you set aside time each day for a workout, your overall daily activity level can still be really low. Even if I started the day out by taking a 45-minute Btone class and then doing a 20-minute HIIT workout in my living room, I wouldn’t even come close to meeting my 10,000 steps if I then spent the remainder of the day working at my computer. This, of course, is dependant on the type of workout given that Fitbit equates activity with steps—if I had gone for a run instead of doing Pilates, I could probably still meet the 10,000 steps goal. But still, it’s an awesome reminder that we should work on being more active all throughout the day, not just during the hour we set aside to workout.
- I move way more than I thought while teaching at Btone. On Thursday mornings when I teach 6, 7 & 8AM classes, I blow passed those 10,000 steps before the last class is finished. Because I’m not actually doing the workout with the class (just demonstrating moves and then walking around the room to correct form/prevent people from cheating), I think I previously underestimated the energy required to teach.
- Living in a walkable city is awesome. I found that the bulk of my daily steps came from walking around Boston—running errands, going to and from Btone to teach, grabbing lunch at Whole Foods, etc. Living in a walkable city where you don’t really need a car helps promote a more active lifestyle. Another reason I love Boston!
If I had written this post during that first month with my Fitbit Flex, it would have been a glowing, rave review. But I found myself wanting more from it as time went on, and I eventually started wearing it less and less. On days I teach or do a workout involving running, I’ll easily hit 10,000 steps, so I started to feel it was pointless wearing it then. I also wanted something that would give me better feedback about my workouts, and it become increasingly clear that a heart rate monitor would be better suited for my personal needs.
Because the Fitbit Flex equates steps with activity, many tough workouts and fitness classes don’t track towards your daily active minutes. The following before-and-after reading during a Barry’s Bootcamp class is a perfect example. If you aren’t familiar with the workout, you spend half the 50-minute class on treadmills and the other half on the floor doing various strength-training exercises. As you can see, only the time spent on the treadmill counted as “being active,” even though the strength work is hard as sh*t, too. Because of that, calorie expenditure isn’t totally accurate. When I wear a heart rate monitor during Barry’s, it tells me I consistently burn 550-700 calories a class. In the example below, Fitbit clocks calorie burn at just 349.
Now, this reading is not necessarily a bad thing, I’m just reiterating that the Fitbit Flex isn’t meant to accurately record workouts. Before buying one, just ask yourself what you want out of a wearable tracker.
What I Like about the Fitbit Flex (Pros)
I mentioned most of these above, but let’s break down Fitbit Flex’s strengths.
- It helps you make those little, everyday choices that add up to an overall more active lifestyle (taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the bank instead of driving, etc.).
- It helps you identify activity level patterns (and sleep patterns).
- The silent alarm is awesome. It wakes you up by vibrating on your wrist—such a soothing way to end a night’s sleep.
- It’s fun—and if you have friends with Fitbits, it’s even more fun (competition!).
- It’s easy to set up and use. The app and website make tracking your progress and identifying trends a streamlined process.
- It’s comfortable and adjustable—it even fits my baby-sized wrist.
Where the Fitbit Flex Falls Short for Me
Again, some of these aren’t necessarily “cons” if you aren’t looking for a device that tracks and gives feedback about your workouts.
The only workouts that accurately contribute to your daily activity goals are walking, hiking and running. You could do 18 consecutive hours of yoga and Fitbit Flex would probably tell you that you’d logged 0 active minutes and maybe a couple hundred steps tops. It’s frustrating when you finish a killer weight-lifting workout or Pilates class and find that it’s done absolutely nothing towards your daily activity and step goals. Check out the before & after reading of a 45-minute megaformer class I took at Btone:
Now, I know these step results are to be expected seeing as the workout is low-impact and done on a machine that slides—no stepping necessary for most exercises—but seeing ZERO active minutes earned for a class that (literally) kicked my ass is a bummer. That’s where heart rate monitoring capabilities would be awesome.
To add on to the previous point, it doesn’t track running mileage accurately. I wore my Fitbit on several runs (along with a GPS to accurately track my mileage) and the Fitbit miles were always short by .5 – 1.5 miles. That being said, you can link it with Run Keeper if you use that app, so while I haven’t tried it, I’d assume that could help with mileage accuracy.
It’s not very—err—stylish… The black wristband is definitely more inconspicuous than my red one, but it’s still not the prettiest thing going. For the majority of the time, who really cares? Not me—I wear yoga pants for a living. But it can be a deterrent to wearing it during dressier occasions. Tory Burch did design a metal hinged bracelet for Fitbit Flex that’s cute, but it’s almost $200—eek.
So … Should You Buy One?
Depends on what you’re looking for. If you want fitness technology to accompany your workouts, you want a heart rate monitor—not a Fitbit. If you want something to motivate you to be more active throughout the day (outside of your workouts), then I think you’ll love the Fitbit Flex. It’s fun trying to meet your daily step goals; you’ll become more aware of inactivity and poor sleep patterns (and therefore better able to correct them!); and if you have friends with a Fitbit, you can compete with them on step goals and other challenges.
Today, I only use my Fitbit occasionally. On rest days when I’m not planning to workout, it’s fun to wear it as motivation to stay active in other ways. I also will wear it to bed sometimes solely to utilize the silent vibrating alarm if I’m concerned about waking up my boyfriend (e.g. when I used to get up at 5AM on Mondays to teach). Other than that, I’ve found I’m more interested in the feedback a heart rate monitor provides as opposed to an activity tracker. I wear my HR monitor during workouts (I did a review of my Polar FT60 here—I love it).
Do you have a Fitbit or other activity tracker? What do you love about it? Where do you think it falls short? Leave a comment!