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Fitness Tools for Every Athlete

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WebMD Feature

The latest generation of high-tech personal fitness devices can help motivate you and improve your athletic performance. "Some of the new gadgets encourage sedentary people to get moving," says Carol Torgan, PhD, a physiologist who consults for the American College of Sports Medicine. "Others boost athletic performance by providing real-time information about target heart rate, running speed, and other parameters."

But with so many gadgets crowding the market, choosing the right one for your workout and style isn't easy. Here are eight types of fitness tools that may help improve your workout.

1. Basic Step Counters (Pedometers)

If you need a little extra 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, MS, an exercise 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. 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 weight lifting. About 5,000 steps is the minimum you should log in a day. But 10,000 steps is ideal if you want to be active.

The most basic and inexpensive pedometers measure steps only when worn or held in an upright position. More expensive models use tri-axis 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

Some of the latest fitness devices use GPS signals to 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.

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

3. Calorie Counters

Some pedometers and GPS devices convert your steps and speed into the estimated number of calories you burned. The most sophisticated of these programs allow you to enter information about your weight, which improves accuracy. Calorie-counters are particularly useful if you're trying to lose weight.

Not surprisingly, some devices are better than others at making the calculation. "You usually get what you pay for," says Catherin G. R. Jackson, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Fresno. "The more expensive units are typically more accurate."

Even so, it's worth remembering that even the best of these devices give you an estimate of calories burned, not a precise number.

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