How to Get the Most out of Your Fitness Tracker

Tips for maximizing your device and start seeing results

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There are plenty of factors to consider if you're looking to purchase a new activity tracker, such as what features are most important to you and how much you're willing to spend. (Luckily, there are plenty of great options even in the $50 and under range, so finding something that fits your budget shouldn't be an issue). However, if you've settled on a device that meets all your needs, the next step is to use it on a regular basis and maximize all its features to make sure you're getting the most out of it.

In this article, I'll walk you through some of the ways you can get the most value out of your fitness tracker. Some of them are common-sense tips that nonetheless are worth repeating, while others encourage you to take advantage of some lesser-known features. Keep reading, and here's wishing you lots of success with your fitness goals!

1. Wear It — Consistently

Yes, it may seem obvious, but it's important to emphasize that an activity tracker will only help you if you wear it all day, every day. These devices are able to track and quantify your workouts thanks to an embedded sensor, so they're not doing you any good if you leave them on your dresser before you hit the gym.

For this reason, it's essential to make sure your wearable is comfortable enough for everyday use and aesthetically pleasing enough that you can keep it on at the office. It could be worth investing in some accessories that dress it up, especially if you think that these will make you more likely to wear it every day. And, when all else fails, a simple reminder note on your mirror could be the difference between you knowing the distance, calories burned and pace of your run and having to guess just how intense you worked out.

Aim to wear your fitness tracker for the majority of each day to track steps as well as actual workouts, but don't fret if you can't wear it to bed. The wrist-worn form factor of these devices may not be comfortable at night, especially for side-sleepers, so unless you're specifically looking to track your sleep quality and use a smart alarm, you can give yourself a break and resume wearing the device in the morning.

2. Read the Manual

Sure, it's not exactly the first thing you want to do when you get a new activity tracker, but it's worth taking a few minutes to peruse the product manual to make sure you're setting it up correctly. For example, when viewing the product guide for my new Fitbit Alta, I learned that the top of the tracker should be on the outside of my wrist — a detail that likely helps the device collect more accurate data.

While reading the manual is important in making sure you're wearing and using your tracker correctly, it's also useful for uncovering features you might not know about. Most of us are aware that these devices count your steps, distance traveled and calories burned, but many of these gadgets also include a smart alarm that will wake you up with vibrations based on your sleep cycle, and some devices — like the Fitbit Blaze — feature smartwatch-style notifications for incoming messages and more. The Misfit Ray even lets you take selfies and control music playback and lights with its design!

A great side benefit to taking the time to read your device's manual is that you'll likely get more excited about using it and leveraging its features, which means you might wear it more often. In turn, you'll be getting a fuller picture of your daily activity, which will come in handy as you're working toward specific health and fitness goals.

3. Be Vigilant about Recharging

This is another practical tip, but considering how many fitness trackers charge via micro-USB, it's worth driving home the point that you need to keep your device powered up. Most Fitbit trackers last 5-7 days on a charge, so you'll want to keep an eye on the battery level and plug in overnight to ensure you don't miss tracking for any workouts.​

If you think you'll have trouble remembering to recharge your fitness tracker, it could be worth choosing an option with a coin cell battery — these will last about 6 months before needing a replacement battery. The Misfit Ray, the Misfit Shine, the Misfit Shine 2 and the Misfit Flash all feature coin cell batteries, so you won't have to worry about keeping these products juiced up in the short term. The Garmin Vivofit 2, meanwhile, has a battery rated for a full year of use.

4. Use the Complementary App and Other Software

Stay up to date on your daily activity stats and progress toward goals by frequently checking your fitness tracker's app. This software is also a great way to stay motivated since by looking at the app you'll know exactly how much activity you've logged and how far you have to go. 

You can go far beyond just viewing your stats, though. No matter which fitness tracker you choose, the complementary software likely includes some social features, letting you add friends to compete against and motivate each other. If you don't know many people on the activity tracker bandwagon, check and see if the software offering includes a forum-style community, where you can connect with other users about topics such as weight loss, healthy cooking, improving your sleep and learning the basics of your device. (These are some of the topics currently listed in Fitbit's desktop community feature.)

Plus, most apps (or desktop software) let you log your food — and if you're looking to lose weight, this can be a great tool. If you've entered your weight-loss goal information into your app, you'll likely be presented with a target number of calories per day, and keeping track of each meal can help you gauge whether you're staying on track or not.

5. Stay Motivated

Most activity trackers will vibrate at your wrist if you haven't been active for a given period (usually an hour), prompting you to get up and take a short stroll. While it can often be all too easy to ignore these reminders, incorporate them into your overall fitness strategy and start using them as an excuse to get up and grab a glass of water if nothing else. Especially if you spend most of your day at a computer, try to think of these reminders as a nice opportunity to take a break — you might even start to look forward to them!

That said, it's important to be self-motivated as well. You're making important progress if you've started wearing your activity tracker every day and have it configured to accurately record all your movement, but the most important step is to start exercising on a regular basis. Leveraging the social and community aspects of your device's app and desktop software can help you feel more involved — and more accountable — so these can be a good place to start if you're feeling less than motivated. Find whatever works for you to keep you active — and remember that many fitness trackers can collect data across a wide variety of sports, including cycling, so don't feel tied to the gym for all your workouts.

For other fitness check, check out The 8 Best Gifts to Buy in 2017 for Fitness Fanatics.