While it may be somewhat different to the cyborg that was envisioned in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies, technology is already acting as a less tangible extension of our human potential. Human memory, intention, and actions can fall short of ideal, although fitness tracking technology, including wearable tech, is helping bridge that gap. While there’s no substitute for the expertise of a coach, fitness trackers have a number of unique and surprising functions that can get you moving, and keep you moving.
Social and organisational psychologists have long known that goals need to have personal relevance for them to be motivating. If the default activity goal on a wearable fitness tracking watch is too low, it needs to be adjusted higher as economic psychologists have found that the accomplishment of an easy goal can only be rewarding for those individuals with low standards, whereas for others the bar needs to be set higher. What is ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ is subjective, and fitness trackers that allow you to vary your goals are more likely to result in sustained engagement.
We don’t always see things accurately, and we might feel like throwing in the towel for a fitness program due to thoughts that leave us feeling flat, angry, tired, disempowered, or even impatient. However fitness trackers can remind us of the facts. For example, Apple’s Activity App records your workouts, stores them in a calendar-like function, so we’re not relying on our frail human memories (which are very much biased). You can ‘close the rings’ of activity daily, and it will send you achievement badges such as ‘First Cycling Workout’, ‘Swimming Workout Record’ and ‘Perfect Week’ which give you affirmation at the start of your fitness journey, but then consistently set the bar higher. So even on days where you weren’t feeling it you still get intrinsic reward and external recognition for consistently being active.
In 2016, Wenke and Jekauc published a paper looking at the factors which led to exercise maintenance amongst a group of Berlin students who had been active for long periods. Novelty, competence, and connection were all key factors in exercise maintenance. Simply using your wearable tech, or recording your workout within an app can be a novel experience, and the Workout feature within the Apple Watch has a range of workout options which may inadvertently spark interest in a novel exercise area. In relation to connection, Map My Fitness, Strava and Apple Activity also all have a strong social function whereby other contacts can view or comment on your achievements/workouts which not only makes the experience fun, but at times when you might not be able to workout with others it can give you a sense of social connection and accountability regardless.
Okay so you’ve set goals, and started moving, but you like to think you’re more of a serious athlete than simply an active person. What now? There are a range of activity specific fitness tracking apps that can get you more specific information to help you focus on your performance in a given area. Strava is a great way at logging your runs and cycling workouts to subsequently compare your performance with those around you who have tracked along the same route, even if you’ve never met before. It sets leaderboards for different legs or routes as well. For triathletes, there are some great wearable options that will also let you track the swim, then run, then cycling in different sections, all at the touch of a button.