When I decided to run the Monumental Half Marathon this coming November, I’m not really sure what came over me. I’d been talking for over a year about taking up running as exercise, and my attempts to start the habit last summer didn’t turn out so well. It was suggested that I start Couch to 5k, but that sort of commitment wasn’t something I was ready for at that point.
This January though, something in me snapped. Maybe it was being cooped up from an unseasonably horrific winter or maybe it was just finally time—whatever the reason, I committed to something bordering on insane and hugely out of character for myself. You see, I’ve never been a runner, and when I say I’ve never been a runner I mean that in school, when I ran a mile for gym class I never finished in less than 15 minutes.
Smoking and being overweight gave me an excuse into my early twenties, but in recent years both of those things have largely been taken care of–I’m within twenty pounds of my goal weight and I haven’t smoked since April 2012. I’ve built up a lot of muscle in the last year or so from lifting, so the only thing holding me back was myself.
The hardest part was starting. Once I did, I was amazed at how easily I was able to do the runs. They’re right when they say that the program is designed to give you little wins for motivation to keep you going. As I continued to run, I started to realize how short I was on quality exercise equipment—namely clothing. When Clark asked me what I’d like for my birthday this year, I told him I wanted exercise clothes.
The more running I did, the more I started wondering how much I was moving throughout the day. How much did I walk at work? For that matter, how many steps did I take when I ran? That started my research into fitness trackers. After looking at article after article talking about the different types of fitness trackers, the general consensus was this: every fitness tracker has its strength, but if you want something that will do everything and do it well, the Fitbit is the champion.
After finding out that the Force had been recalled back in February because some users were experiencing contact dermatitis, I decided that the Flex was the way to go—most of my training would be on a treadmill and I live in the flatlands of Indiana, so I didn’t need the elevation information that the One provides. I preferred the wristband on the Flex, and if I decided I wanted to track heart rate I could get a standalone Polar chest strap. Mind made up, I amended my birthday wish to Clark and told him I wanted a Fitbit Flex.
In-App Dashboard for Android
He teased me for weeks leading up to my birthday, telling me that he didn’t know what he was getting me, but in the end he got me the Flex (he told me he called stores and pawn shops around the city on the off chance that they had a Force, but no such luck… he gets huge brownie points for trying though). I stayed up past midnight on my birthday in my excitement to open my mystery present, and I set it up right then and there. That night I used the sleep tracker for the first time and it was love.
One night a few days after I received it, I walked about 500 steps in circles just so I could get to 5 miles before I went to sleep. Even now, three weeks later, I still sync my step count to my phone at least five times a day to see how I’m doing. Seeing those blinking lights on the band just isn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity about how many steps I’ve taken.
Here’s what I’ve learned since getting my Flex:
When you first set up your account, it asks you some basic information: gender, age, height, weight. It also asks you if you have a weight goal and if you do, how quickly you want to reach that goal. That in mind, there’s a weight tracking feature in the app. They have a scale you can buy that will automatically sync to your Fitbit account to let you see your progress towards this goal, but you can also track it manually.
Step Counter graph
The step counter is fairly accurate. Sometimes it picks up things like bouncing and when I put my hair up, but nothing too outrageous. You can make it more or less sensitive by changing the hand setting (non-dominant for more sensitive and dominant for less sensitive). When you look this up on their website, their reasoning is that they’d like to give you credit for some of the non-walking things you do throughout the day.
Bonus: If you have your Flex connected by Bluetooth and the app open, you can watch steps register. It’s embarrassing how long I walked around doing this.
To increase the accuracy of your distance traveled, you can put in your stride. If you decide not to do this (I haven’t), it’s my assumption that they just use a generic stride length for someone of your height to calculate your distance.
I like seeing a guesstimate of how many calories I’ve burned for the day so far. I think this is calculated by your activity level, taking into account things like your gender, weight, and height, but I’m not exactly sure how they do this. Even if it’s +/- 10%, it’s really cool.
Active minutes is nice! If you’re doing things like walking around town or running, it will generally log them as active minutes. I also like that I can put my Flex into Activity Mode to track how many steps I take while doing a particular activity. You put the Flex into Activity Mode the same way you put it into sleep mode, so it’s pretty simple to remember. Sometimes I find myself tapping the wristband a bunch to try to get it in/out of a mode, but I think this could be something that I get the hang of the more that I use it.
Sleep Mode graph
Speaking of Sleep mode, it’s super cool! It will show you how many times you were restless or awake throughout the night, including a break down of how many hours/minutes you were sleeping soundly, awake, or restless. It’s not 100% accurate as it bases the information on movement, but it’s accurate enough that I continue to use it and defer to it. It turns out, I tend to only get an average of 7.5 hours of sound sleep a night. Not bad! Could be better, but I know I’m much more fortunate than some.
The nutrition tracker is a really cool feature that ties into the weight tracking*. From what I understand, they’ve partnered with MyFitnessPal to integrate all of the foods in their database so you have more options. If you link the accounts, it will also sync the food you’ve tracked through both accounts. That said, if a food isn’t in there, you can add it. It can be as simple as putting in the name and the amount of Calories, or as detailed as adding the percentages of most vitamins and minerals. I’ve done this a few times and prefer to do it on the website since you have more options (the app only gives you the bare minimum). Admittedly, I haven’t been using this feature as much as I probably should be.
Another really cool and useful feature is the water consumption tracker. I use this pretty religiously, as it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated (and you can almost always be more hydrated!). There’s the option to click standard bottle measurements (8 oz, 16.9 oz, 24.7 oz) or put it in yourself. I find the manual input on this to be a little hairy sometimes, but if you just slow down a tiny bit it keeps up.
One of my favorite features of the Flex has got to be the silent alarms. There is simply no way to sleep through or otherwise ignore something that’s vibrating on your wrist. It’s so useful that I’ve actually turned off my alarms on my phone. I’m still trying to understand the proper way to tap the Flex to turn these off. I’ve got the activity/sleep mode down pat, but I struggle with the alarm. What works one day won’t work the next, or at least it seems that way to me. This small thing isn’t enough to keep me from using this as my primary alarm.
As far as Fitbit’s website goes, the interface is really easy to use and there are a ton of added features. You can track your blood pressure, glucose, and heart rate manually (there are automated options if you choose to go Premium), and there’s also a journal function that allows you to track your mood, allergies, and even write entries.
The only complaints I really have so far about it are that the band tends to get dingy fairly quickly (mostly around the edges) and sometimes when I tap it, I can see the condensation that’s built up in the area that holds the tracker. I haven’t figured out a solution for the first issue, but the second can be remedied by pushing a cotton swab around on the of the compartment, maybe with a bit of alcohol to disinfect (haven’t tried that yet).
Also, I would love to see the new options that are in the iOS app ported to the Android version of the app. I really want to be able to port my outdoor runs that I track with GPS into the Fitbit!
One really cool thing about my Fitbit in particular is that the battery lasts an average of six days. This will almost surely change over time, but it’s nice to not have to worry about it dying on me when I’m out, and means less things to carry in my purse (though the charging cord is small).
Fitbit Band Colors
In order to counteract the dingy effect on the bands, I have plans to get some more so I can swap it out from time to time and accessorize. There are tons of colors, and just this week Fitbit teamed up with Tory Burch to release a line of fashionable Fitbit bands. They’re a little more on the expensive side, but they’re pretty! I can see them camouflaging a Fitbit incredibly well, and I’m sort of interested in trying them out.
Bottom line is this: I love my Fitbit. I’m three weeks in and only falling more in love with it. As I use it more I’ll see more of a regular pattern in my steps, and I’m incredibly hopeful that I can eventually get to where I’m walking 10,000 steps even on work days (I’m averaging about 3,000 at present during the week).
If you have a Fitbit, feel free to send me a friend request! I’d love to see how you’re doing, and also have the friendly competition.
* Keep in mind that the Fitbit only tells you how many calories you can eat in a day, not a breakdown of macros. If you’re allowed 1,500 Calories in a day and you eat 1,000 of them in bread right before sleeping, it won’t be very helpful to achieving your weight loss goal. Always eat a balanced diet, and see a dietician if you’re confused on what you should be eating.
** All in-app and website screenshots are my actual stats and belong to me. The logo and band photos are courtesy of the Fitbit Flex Media Kit and are used with permission.