A couple of years ago I was in the market for a fitness and run tracker. I compared fitness trackers against smart watches but ultimately felt like I had to decide if my priority was to track fitness or have all the perks of a smartwatch. Smart watch capability seemed to be limited to generic activity tracking and step counting, they were more expensive and didn’t necessarily have built-in GPS which meant you still needed to run, walk and hike with your phone to get accurate data. Over the last two years I have been able to do a real world, real life comparison of the Fitbit Surge to the Fitbit Alta.
Fitbit Surge Has Built-In GPS
In January of 2016 I purchased the Fitbit Surge. The Surge is Fitbit’s only band with built-in GPS. One of my requirements was GPS capability as I wanted to be able to track outdoor running with or without my phone. I was excited about the Surge’s ability to track fitness activity as well. Many of my workouts involve cross-training and weightlifting, not just running. For me to get accurate statistics on my routine workouts, I needed to be able to track all of that information. Fitbit also seemed to have the most bustling online community which could help keep me motivated. In some ways I felt that it was counter-intuitive for me to chose Fitbit because my perception was that most people used them for step counting and sleep tracking. I considered myself a serious athlete and thought perhaps Fitbit may not be the best choice for me.
Fitbit Surge “Smart” Capabilities
Over the two + years that I’ve worn the Fitbit Surge, I have loved the notifications from my phone. It’s a simple display of texts and call notifications. You cannot however respond to texts or calls from the watch. The Surge is quite utilitarian and one of the complaints has been that it is bulky. I have never been able to wear it while sleeping, so I never did create a habit of tracking my sleep even though the band is capable of doing it.
The Fitbit Community Is Full Of Steppers
In all the time I have worn the Fitbit tracker, I have never won the step war. My workouts are routine and typically more aggressive. On the days I don’t run, my workouts don’t necessarily involve a lot of actual steps. My step count is almost always low compared to people who are walking 10,000 to over 20,000 a day. If I was feeling competitive about steps, I had to let that go very early on in my engagement in the Fitbit community. I never seemed to find a camaraderie with athletes who were doing other types of cross training and more serious runners tend to lean toward Garmin devices.
In January 2018 I got a Fitbit Alta. It’s marketed as a heart rate + fitness wristband. An immediate benefit is that it’s much more streamlined. The Alta is easier to wear all day long. Another perk is, I just wear it. I don’t do anything. I set aside the idea of attempting to track specific workouts, stick to my planned workout routines and let the Fitbit Alta track what it’s going to track. In other words, “Let it go.”
All-Day Activity And Sleep Tracking
I don’t have to fidget or fuss with timing workouts. The activity tracker on the Alta automatically tracks steps, distance, calories and active minutes. It automatically tracks runs, sport and other workouts. I wouldn’t say that it’s a serious measure of activity but it’s automatically doing it so…I just wear it and don’t have to think about anything else. Turns out this is good for me.
I have a desk job, I do a lot of design, writing and creative production. The Alta reminds me when it has been a while since I’ve moved. I’ve actually found this to be more helpful than concerning myself with how many steps I’ve taken in a day. I have also now been able to track my sleep because the band is slim and doesn’t bug me when I’m sleeping. This data is important to my health and I’m working harder at investigating how I can sleep better which is critical to health and fitness.
Fitbit Alta “Smart” Capabilities
Even though the Alta is much more slim than the Fitbit Surge, it still displays text and call notifications but just like with the Surge, it’s only one way. You can read notifications but you cannot respond from the band. I love the notifications and I’m okay with not being able to respond to them from my band. It’s perfect for those times you need to tuck away your phone but can still know if there’s something urgent you need to respond to or if it can wait. This has been a helpful feature whether being in the middle of a workout or at lunch with a friend.
Am I More Fit After Wearing Fitness Trackers For Over Two Years?
I would wear my Fitbit Surge often and when at the gym, chose my workout routine from the display then hit start/stop for the beginning and end of my workouts. Tracking made me feel good about my progress. I did however have to mentally review at the end of 2 years and ask myself, “Am I any better off after taking the time and effort to track my workouts? Is this fitness tracker serving a purpose in my life or helping me achieve my goals?” The answer for me was, no. Due to several different factors (none of which I blame on the Fitbit) I had actually become less motivated in my workouts and had even put on a few pounds which was counterproductive for me. I recognized that going through the effort of tracking my workouts didn’t have a significant, positive bearing on my outcome. In fact, at times it was discouraging due to the fact that I’d perform a rigorous lifting routine for 40 to 60 minutes and the Fitbit Surge display would tell me I burned a measly 150 to 200 calories. The fitness tracker seems largely based on algorithms that can only serve as an estimation.
But There Are BeneFITS…
The benefit for me of the Fitbit Alta is that it’s tracking something! I don’t have to think about it or focus on tracking anything. I’m still getting benefits of knowing that I’m moving and have more active days than not. Seeing how many steps I’m taking some days compared to others is still a curiosity and tracking my sleep has been very interesting for me. Ultimately though, I’ve learned that the best measure of my success comes from looking up from the statistics and analytics and using other things to measure progress like, faster run times (so yes tracking my running still matters), scale weight, the way my clothes fit (measurements) and muscle tone.
After using them for a couple of years, these fitness trackers have been interesting and provided some insight into things. However, at times they distracted me (or served as a crutch) from just putting in the effort that I knew I should have been. Sometimes you just need to look up, be the best investigator of yourself and your body, trust your instincts, and base what you do on actual results rather than tracking a bunch of stuff that isn’t really getting you closer to your goal. There, I said it. Let me know if fitness and run trackers have been helpful for you or not! If so, what is your favorite and why?