Tips to make the most out of your new fitness tracker
Fitness expert Harley Pasternak, left, and actress Jordana Brewster lead a work out on behalf of Fitbit, in front of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, June 18, 2015. (AP/Richard Drew)
Published Thursday, January 7, 2016 6:00AM EST
You just got a new fitness tracker for the new year, and you're excited about being able to keep track of all your activity and get into better shape.
But to make the most of it, it's important to learn as much as you can about what it can do for you so that you don't end up abandoning the tracker within the first six months, as so many have.
Here are a few tips and tricks you might not know about.
Let it know which hand it's on
Because we tend to move our dominant hand more than the other, that extra activity can throw off wrist-worn fitness trackers into thinking you're moving more than you are.
The fix is simple: go into the tracker's dashboard and make sure you've selected dominant or non-dominant, depending on which wrist you are wearing your tracker on. That way, it can adjust its sensitivity to account for the motion.
Track data, then set small goals
Fitness experts often talk about logging 10,000 steps a day but if you're currently mostly sedentary, that can seem like a frustratingly difficult goal to reach.
A better idea is to wear the tracker for a week and find out your baseline activity. Maybe it's only 3,000 steps a day. Then, set small attainable goals, maybe 5,000 steps on workdays, and 8,000 on the weekend. The next week, bump up it little by little until you've set a goal that's challenging enough to keep you motivated, not frustrated.
Don't expect perfect results
Most fitness tracker users have noticed the devices aren't perfect at counting steps. If you're pushing a stroller, for example, and not moving your arm, all those steps will get missed. Expressive hand-talkers can find their step count goes up even when they're sitting.
So instead of expecting the tracker to count each and every step, think of it as a tool that lets you track larger patterns of activity, so that you can pinpoint when you're most active and when you're not, over the long term.
Sync up with third party calorie counters
If you want to bring together both the information on your activity and your daily calorie counter, there are lots of ways to do that.
Fitbit can sync data with the Weight Watchers, Lose It! and MyFitnessPal apps, for example. The activity you log on the Fitbit will automatically be converted into activity points to the calorie counting apps, allowing you to adjust your daily calorie goal to take into account your activity.
WeightWatchers is also compatible with Jawbone, Garmin and other fitness devices.
Set regular alarms
If you have a sedentary job and need help remembering to get up and move, you can use the alarms function on your fitness tracker to buzz you at intervals throughout the day to remind you to walk around. You could also set up hourly alarms to remind you to drink water every so often too.
It's also a good idea to set up a regular text or email alert to remind yourself to charge up your Fitbit every four or five days or so, so your tracker never fully runs out of juice.
One great way to stay motivated in meeting your activity goals is integrating a little competition.
The Challenges button on the Fitbit allows you to set up activity competitions between friends, such as who can get the most steps in a day or in a week. Up to 10 people can take part in each challenge and you can track each other's steps as you go, to see who is in the lead.
Try 'If This, Then That'
Many Fitbit user swear by "If This, Then That," a web tool and app that lets you go even further with your tracker.
You can set up a command (or IFTTT "recipe") to send your Fitbit data regularly to a Google spreadsheet, for example, so you can look at longer-term graphs of your activity and sleep. Or you could set it up so that if you don't hit a certain step count goal by noon, your tracker will send a text alert to your phone to remind you to get walking.
You can even set up an IFTTT command so that when your tracker senses you're asleep, it will send a message to your Philips Hue lightbulbs to shut down. How cool is that?
Check out the IFTTT Fitbit command "recipe" page for more ideas.
Keep track even without the tracker
If you forget to put your Fitbit on your wrist one morning, you haven't lost all hope of tracking your steps that day.
If you set up MobileTrack on your Fitbit app, the Multi-Tracker Support feature will automatically start tracking your steps when it realizes you're walking around without your tracker.