Your Fitness Tracker Is Only Effective When You Set Goals: Here's How

Soz, but simply wearing that watch isn't going to keep you fit.

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If you got yourself a fitness tracker for Christmas, you might think you’ve already made the first step into your training regime.

Sorry to break it to you, but you haven’t.

A study of more than 400 adults found that these trackers were only effective when users set a specific goal in mind - and stuck to it.

When users didn’t have specific goals set, their physical activity declined and their heart health did not improve.

“When paired with activity goals - such as 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day or 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week - these trackers can be powerful tools for increasing physical activity,” said the study’s author, Luke Burchill, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine.

So if you’re anything like me and eagerly unwrapped your fitness tracker on Boxing Day, yet haven’t actually decided what you want to track, you best read on.

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How to decide on your goals

Lucy Arnold, PT and fitness coach said she believes using a tracker is a fantastic way to keep you accountable for yourself and not relying on others to help you get to where you need to be in your fitness journey.

Yet doing them without goals seems a bit counterintuitive: “With goals you have a deadline and you’re working towards something,” she said.

“Without them you aren’t really sure what you are wanting to achieve. Goals are important in all aspects of life whether fitness or career and reaching them can be fantastic for mental health when we feel like we’ve done nothing but in fact can give ourselves a pay on the back.”

Chris Magee, an instructor at Another_Space, said told HuffPost UK that before deciding on the goals you’re going to track, it’s important to know your overarching goal - the main reason you’re doing what you’re doing.

“You have to have the big ‘why’,” he said. “So you know the larger reason why you are completing smaller goals such as the 10,000 steps a day. If you keep that greater goal in mind, it’s easier to manage the smaller goals to track.”

Start by finding goals that are clear, simple and easy to track.

“By keeping these goals simple and easy to monitor, you can keep yourself checking in,” he said. “The best way to do this is through short-term goals, for example trying to walk 10,000 steps three times a week, rather than saying you’ll do it every day. Once you achieve that goal, you’ll get a boost of endorphins and then you can build it up, to five days that week.

“This is because as soon as you feel like you’re not achieving goals, you won’t feel motivated. You’ve got to break it down into stages.”

Magee said multiple goals - such as steps taken, active minutes and calories burned for example - are fine to set together, as long as you don’t set too many.

“You might get into: ‘I have so many things to track I’m losing track of what I’m doing’,” he said. “That’s why smaller, clear goals mean you are more likely to succeed.

“Pick three functions you are able to track that you can handle and get started with those. Once you’ve achieved the goals, your tracker will celebrate with you (with fireworks across the screen or colours and buzzing).”

Magee suggested picking other things to track if you’ve been tracking the same things for a certain amount of months - such as how much water you drink a day and sleep at night - to see how these impact your performance.

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How to track the goals

Fitness tracker are very similar in that many will track activity, calories and steps taken each day. Below are some of the most popular trackers around including what they track, the app you need to download and exactly how to set those goals.

Many will also have leaderboards, where you can pair up your app with others who have the same tracker. This can motivate you to overtake others on your step count - there’s nothing like a bit of competition.


Tracks: Calories, brisk activity, distance, steps, sleep, heart rate.

Use the app: ‘Fitbit’ for Apple users/for Android users.

Depending on your Fitbit, you will be able to track different aspects of your activity and sleep. For example, the Fitbit Ionic, will also track heart rate, as well as having dynamic personal coaching on your wrist (on-screen guidance for every move). Once you’ve downloaded the app, go into your profile and under “goals” you can set activity, exercise, body and sleep goals. You will be reminded daily how close you are to meeting some of these goals with push notifications, and even get buzzed if you’re having a slightly more immobile day.


Tracks: Calories, brisk activity, standing minutes, steps, sleep, heart rate.

Use the app: ‘Activity’ for Apple users.

On the Activity app on your phone, tap on the “change move goal” and adjust it using the + and - settings. Inside the app you will be able to view how close you are to meeting each of your own personalised goals. To see how well you’ve been doing in the past, you can click on your achievements in the bottom of the screen on the app (the icon that looks like a star). This will show you how active you were for whatever day you choose.


Tracks: Steps, distance, calories.

Use the app: ‘Health Mate’ for Apple users/for Android users.

In your profile, click “my goals” and then tap the goal you want to edit. These range from weight, steps, sleep, running or more specific ones, such as hiking. Drag the bubble that is on screen up or down to set the weekly goal you would like to reach. You can set “reminders” in the profile section of the app, to help you reach your goals. I.e. halfway through the day remind yourself to go for a walk, to reach your step goal.


Tracks: Steps, distance, calories, weight, food intake, sleep.

Use the app: ‘Misfit’ for Apple users/for Android users.

Set a goal by going to the home menu, and then “my goals”. On the bottom, you can select the activity you want to set a goal for. Once you’ve created a goal - for example 10,000 steps - you can track your progress over time and view trends, including your activity levels over the course of the day, a week, or a month. Once the goals are set, your app will show how close you came each day to meeting your goals.

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