Fitness Tools for Every Athlete

Want to see your progress as you get fit? You could write it down, or try a device that will give you data on every step you take, the calories you burn, your heart rate, and even your movements as you sleep.

You don't need to -- what matters is that you get out there and exercise. But seeing the numbers can be motivating.

Check out these eight types of fitness tools.

1. Basic Step Counters (Pedometers)

If you need motivation to get moving, pedometers that count each step can help.

"People are often surprised when they strap on a step counter to see how inactive they are during the day," says Ruth Ann Carpenter, a wellness consultant and co-author of Active Living Every Day.

"With a step counter, you can set a goal of how many steps to take every day and track your progress," she says. "If you're falling short, you may be motivated to take a walk after dinner instead of watching TV."

Step counters are valuable for people who get their exercise by walking or running. It won't accurately register other exercise, such as bicycling or weightlifting. About 5,000 steps is the minimum you should log in a day, and 10,000 steps is ideal.

The most basic and inexpensive pedometers measure steps only when worn or held upright. More expensive models use triaxial or 3D technology to record steps no matter how they are positioned, so they tend to be easier to use and more reliable.

2. GPS-Based Fitness Monitors

GPS signals monitor your exact location. GPS-equipped devices can record how far and how fast you walk or run. You can also use them to chart a path when you're running or walking in an unfamiliar place.

GPS devices are generally more accurate than basic step counters at estimating the distance you've walked or run.

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3. Calorie Counters

Some pedometers and GPS devices use your steps and speed to estimate the number of calories you burned. The most sophisticated of these programs let you enter information about your weight, which improves accuracy.

Some devices are better than others at making the calculation. "You usually get what you pay for," says Catherine G.R. Jackson, PhD, kinesiology professor at California State University, Fresno. "The more expensive units are typically more accurate."

Even the best give only an estimate.

4. Heart Rate Monitors

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats each minute, which goes up when you exercise. So heart rate monitors measure the intensity of your workout. Along with displaying heart rate in real time, many devices let you set a target heart rate and then alert you when you reach your target.

Heart rate monitors can help beginning exercisers tell if their workout is moderate or challenging. High-level athletes can use heart rate monitors to make sure they reach and remain in their target heart rate zone.

5. Activity Tracking

This feature lets you make notes about your workouts and other activities. If you’re a competitive athlete, an activity tracker is a great way to keep a detailed record of your training regimen. Activity trackers are also useful for setting goals and tracking progress.

Some programs let you enter information about how you feel, what you eat, and other data. They can help you spot patterns you might not otherwise notice, such as when you have the most energy during the day or when you tend to feel tired.

"Tracking programs can alert elite athletes to signs of overtraining, such as fatigue and sleep problems," says Carol Torgan, PhD, a blogger and consultant on biosensor technologies.

6. Computer Links and Social Networking

Many fitness devices let you download data to your computer into charts and graphs. You can often share that information.

Think of it as "wear, share, compare," Torgan says. "You can go for a run and then share your results, such as time and distance, with your friends."

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7. Sleep Monitors

Sleep may not seem to have a lot to do with exercise. But if you're tired during the day because you didn't sleep well, your performance will be affected.

Some home-based sleep monitors record brain waves via sensors in headbands worn at night. Others measure your movements during sleep.

Few of the devices on the market have been scientifically tested for accuracy. If you often have problems falling or staying asleep, even after you make sleep a priority on your schedule, check in with your doctor.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 25, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Carol Torgan, PhD, physiologist; science communicator, National Institutes of Health.

Ruth Ann Carpenter, MS, RD, lead integrator, Health Integration LLC, Cincinnati, OH; co-author, Active Living Every Day, Human Kinetics, 2010.

Catherine G.R. Jackson, PhD, professor of kinesiology, California State University, Fresno; author, Nutrition and the Strength Athlete, CRC Press, 2001.

Nielson, R. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, September 2011.

Singer, E. Technology Review, July 28, 2009.

Bruyneel, M. Journal of Sleep Research, March 2011.

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