The ultimate guide to getting fitter with Fitbit's app

From running to eating, here are some tips for getting more out of the platform
How to get fitter with Fitbit

If you have a Fitbit - and there are many - then chances are you're reasonably familiar with the app, and maybe the ecosystem as a whole. One of Fitbit's strengths is the simplicity of its device, and to some extent, this goes for the app too. But for those of you wanting to push a bit harder, there's a lot more to be mined from the platform than you probably realise. If you're serious about getting fit with a Fitbit, you need to get familiar with the app.

There are many great fitness trackers out there, but when it comes down to the app, Fitbit has one of the best. Over time it's grown into an admirable fitness platform, but you may not know about how some of it works.

Read next: Fitbit Alta HR review | Fitbit Charge 2 review

That's why we've put together this guide for making more out of it, from making more of your fitness goals to building plans to competing with friends. Below you'll find an in-depth guide to getting the most out of the Fitbit experience - so now you've no excuses.

Customise your heart rate zones

If you're using a device like the Fitbit Charge 2 or Fitbit Blaze, you're probably already paying some attention to heart rate. Fitbit makes use of heart rate zones, and for any workout or daily summary of your heart rate data, you'll be able to see how much time your heart spent in peak, cardio and fat burn zones, as well as your resting heart rate.

The values for each zone are determined by Fitbit based on a calculation of 220bpm minus your age, and you can't change these defaults. However, you can set one custom zone of your own by heading to Account and scrolling down to Heart Rate Zones and then toggling on Custom Zone. Once you've set an upper and lower limit, this will be shown in any other parts of the app that display your zones. There are a number of reasons you might want to do this, so setting a custom zone gives you another way to monitor your bpm through the day - and during workouts.

Own your sleep

The ultimate guide to getting fitter with Fitbit's app

Fitbit's new big thing is sleep, and it's updated the app with some new features that will help you better track and improve on those lost hours of rest, though the extent of how much you can do will depend on your device. Sleep Stages is the new kid on the block, giving you a detail breakdown of your level of sleep each night, but right now only the Fitbit Alta HR, Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Charge 2 can use it.

To see your stages, you'll need to head into the sleep section of the app. From there, you simply tap on the night you want to look at and a graph will pop up showing how you moved between wake, light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep. Pro tip: tap the graph again to take it full screen and get a breakdown of what each level of sleep means and how much you should be getting. As another pro tip, going back to the stages overview will let you benchmark yourself against people of a similar age, so it's worth checking that.

Read this: How to use Google Fit

Sleep Insights is the second part, and it's here where you can start taking action. Insights will start delivering feedback based on its analysis, offering up ways to improve your sleep. The key thing is to make sure you're wearing your device as much as possible, as Insights becomes smarter the more it knows about you - and that includes workouts and activity during daylight hours.

Another thing we recommend is setting target sleep schedules, as your Fitbit will give you a nudge when it's time to start winding down for the night. Consistent bed/wake times are conducive to good sleep, so this feature could make a lot of difference.

Use cardio fitness levels/VO2 Max to your advantage

The ultimate guide to getting fitter with Fitbit's app

VO2 Max was a feature added for the Charge 2 and more recently for the Blaze watch, and it's here where Fitbit gives a keener eye to your individual fitness level. Fitbit actually calls this Cardio Fitness in the app, and you'll be assigned a score, which is based on the millilitres of oxygen processed per kilogram of body weight every minute. It's a way of going beyond basic heart rate to consider how other factors like fatigue and heat can affect training.

To see your Cardio Fitness score, tap on the heart rate tile on the dashboard. Then, swipe the top graph to the left and you'll see your score. Again, tap the maximise button to see a full version of the graph that will show you how you benchmark on the scale for your age and gender. Scroll along to the right and you'll see how much you can potentially increase your score by increasing the intensity of your exercise, which is why keeping an eye on those heart rate zones - and maybe setting one yourself - can help you improve your VO2 Max. Using Fitbit's interval training programs, found on the Charge 2, are another good way of improving your score, and you can set the length of these intervals on the Charge 2, Blaze and Surge by going into the app, tapping on the Account icon, then hitting Exercise Shortcuts and then adding Interval Workout. You'll be able to set the length of your intervals any time before a workout.

You can also improve your score with weight loss. Swipe the graph along again to see how much of a difference this can make to your current score, however it's unlikely to have as much an impact alone as increasing the intensity of your exercise.

You can read more about the benefits of improving your VO2 Max.

Become a Fitstar superstar

The ultimate guide to getting fitter with Fitbit's app

Fitstar is Fitbit's guided workout app, that can be accessed as an individual smartphone app and an app on the Blaze watch. We recommend checking this out as this is a good way of creating a personalised training schedule from scratch, especially for fitness beginners.

Within the app is a Fitness Level Feature where you can enter a little info about yourself and then choose your personal trainer who will be giving you feedback through little video snippets. It's a nice touch that gives Fitstar the feeling of the gym-going, which is a little less scary if you feel overwhelmed by too many numbers. Again, this is a good place for beginners to start, and we'd recommend seeing through the introductory fitness test to help gauge your fitness level before moving onto the other workouts.

Each workout session comes with video instructions, so if you're planning to take this to the gym, we'd recommend hitting that download button in the top right of the session menus so you're not caught out by eternal buffering when the time comes.

There is, however, only so much you can do for free, and while you can do a lot of beginner workouts for no charge, a lot of the later programs will require a $39.99/year subscription. So we'd recommend trying out the free stuff for a while and see how you get on.

If you do use Fitstar, we also recommend going into the Settings and scrolling down to Services, where you can choose to link it up with some other platforms. Fitbit should be linked by default, but you can also add Google Fit, Apple Health, MyFitnessPal and more to share workouts, active calories and other things between the services. Right now Fitbit's data doesn't sync with Apple Health or Google Fit, so in these instances you might want to use Fitstar instead.

No GPS? No problem

The Fitbit Charge 2 and Blaze use Connected GPS to track your location with your phone, but even without this feature you can still get a route for each workouts. All you need to do is start tracking your workout from the phone app (this means you'll definitely need to have your phone with you) and then, after the workout, the two will sync to give you a map of your workout in your exercise history. Steps, active minutes, calories burned and heart rate data will still come from your tracker, as long as you were wearing it too.

While we're talking matters of accuracy, we'd also recommend adjusting your stride length in the Advanced Settings. It's best if you can manually add this yourself, else Fitbit will be trying to do some guesswork.

Get Fitbit talking to other services

There's a bunch of other services that can share your Fitbit data, and vice versa. To see the full range of compatible services, head into your Account and then tap on Compatible Apps. For example, you can connect Strava, one of our favourite platforms, to get your Fitbit workouts to show in your Strava account, while runs and cycling rides tracked in Strava will contribute towards your daily Fitbit stats.

There are are a few others for fitness, including MyFitnessPal, EveryMove and Endomondo, so we'd recommend hooking them up early on to make sure you're getting the most out of them. For cyclists, there's also thenPeloton app, which will share your ride metrics to your Fitbit account after each session. Make sure you check out our list of the best Fitbit compatible apps.

Get some competition going

The ultimate guide to getting fitter with Fitbit's app

By now you've probably noticed the Community tab in the Fitbit app. Here's where things get more fun, as you can sync up with friends to compare stats as well as joining fitness groups. You can connect your Facebook profile to find friends who are also using the app, or you can add them by their email address.

Once added, you'll see their daily steps in the overview, but you can find out more by tapping on their name and drilling into their stats, badges and trophies. You can also send them an encouraging cheer or a taunt (if you're feeling mean), or even send them a message within the app.

But the best bit for helping you to get fit, in our eyes, is the Groups feature. Here you can choose from a large selection of groups focused on different topics. For example, you can join one for swimming, if that's your ham, or you can opt for hiking, or cardio, or yoga. You can even join groups for your local area, from which you can learn of events taking place.

Ranked and rated: Best fitness trackers 2017

Once you 'join' a group it's a bit like following someone on Twitter or Facebook. You'll then start seeing posts from people in that group on your Community feed. You'll be able to interact with cheers and comments, and they can do the same for you, the idea being that everyone encourages each other to push harder while sharing their own personal tips. In fact, this in itself can prove to be a pretty useful personal trainer.

Used right, we reckon this is one of the best parts of the Fitbit app, especially if you have specific goals in mind that you can connect to other people over. We'd recommend spending some time exploring groups and following the ones that make most sense for your fitness goals.

Change up your dashboard

The dashboard is what you're going to see every time you start the Fitbit app, so it's a good idea to make sure it's laid out exactly how you want it. For example, you might not care so much about tracking your water intake, so you can delete it altogether, while some other things, like hourly activity, might be something you tap on more - and so moving it up to the top probably makes sense. To change your dash, simply tap Edit at the very bottom of the page.

Master food logging and caloriesThe ultimate guide to getting fitter with Fitbit's app

Fitbit is thinking more about food tracking these days, and even though it feels a bit sub-standard compared to the rest of the app, we'd recommend you have a think about it too. After all, diet is important for maximising those workouts, and by logging food you can not only track your calorie intake, but identify the foods that are conducive or prohibitive to good exercise. You can also set up a food plan by going into your Account and then heading to Nutrition & Body Goals in the menu.

It's certainly hard to make food tracking an easy and useful exercise, as editor Mike Sawh found in his food tracking diary, but Fitbit tries to make the experience easier with features like a barcode scanner, so you don't have to enter every meal in letter by letter. Another good idea is to log a bunch of meals that you know you'll be frequently adding (then delete them) - that way they'll be pre-set into the app, so you can just tap on them when you do in fact need to log them.

For us though, MyFitnessPal with the premium subscription added gives the best food tracking experience, and the good news is that this is compatible with Fitbit's platform, so you can hook them up and sync those calories across. If you are plotting out a fitness regime, we'd recommend doing some sort of food logging, as this is going to be an essential part of your program.

Challenges ahead

Fitbit's Challenges are also worth a look, and another fun way to stay moving when you go up against other people. There are four to choose from, for competing with friends: Workweek Hustle, Weekend Warrior, Daily Showdown and Goal Day. Each one has its own goal (which you can probably guess from the name) and you can have up to 10 people competing on each. If you find yourself losing interest in the daily activity grind, this is a good way to give yourself another wind.

Below those challenges are the solo adventures, where you can do a virtual walk along a path over a set period of time. This could be hiking Yosemite or hitting an NYC marathon. You'll virtually move along the map as you progress, getting scenic views in the app and learning some health tips along the way. It's not as good as hiking the real Yosemite, but it's a good motivator nonetheless.

Going premium

To take things to the next level, you can subscribe to Fitbit Premium. Here you can see more benchmarks, putting your fitness data against others in the Fitbit community, along with more in-depth analysis of your activity, plus the option to build personalised 12-week fitness plans. Here comes the pro tip: you can trial the service for a week free of charge (though you can't use the trainer plan during your test period). If you're a fan of charts and graphs, you certainly won't be short of them, however you might be better heading to Fitstar for creating a personalised training program. Worth having a play and see what works best for you.

TAGGED

2 Comments

  • OneLover says:

    From the article: "Sleep Stages is the new kid on the block, giving you a detail breakdown of your level of sleep each night, but right now only the Fitbit Alta HR, Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Charge 2 can use it."

    Unfortunately this new kid has thrown the older trackers out of bed. The older trackers no longer get the useful sleep data they used to get. For those who relied on the sleep data from reliable trackers (my One has been worn 24/7 for 3 years) on March 27 we had a rude awakening.

    Our detailed sleep data was gone and we were left with vague charts and useless data. I could learn when I pushed the button to start and stop sleep tracking.Of course, I can look at a clock for that information, but useful information like how long it took me to fall asleep, when and for how long my restless periods were in the night, was gone. Worse, it seems the great reports we used to get each morning for free are still available just on a weekly basis, for $50 per year subscription. 

    This was a rude reminder to those of us without a newer tracker that our data is held by the corporation and the usefulness is only as good as the data that corporation chooses the share with us. As you pointed out in the article, fitbit has in the past had a wonderful reputation in this regard. That seems to be no longer. They have told the fitbit Community (forums) the old system will not be restored. The developers are looking at recreating what we used to have. No promises, they are looking into things. No explanation from fitbit as to why the upgrade for others had to be a downgrade for us. 

     I now own an expensive pedometer and am using my phone and Sleep as Android to get the data that I used to get from my fitbit One. With one software 'upgrade' I've been converted from a fitbit One Lover to a leaver who can no longer recommend fitbit products despite the reliability of the One hardware. 

  • Jaz says:

    *sleep stages is the new kid on the block* 

    Both me and my partner both have Fitbit charge 2, bought within a month of each other. His has updated and he can now see the sleep stages on his app. I cannot and I have tried everything to change mine over to the new sleep stages.

    Does anyone know how to do this? 

    I have deleted and re installed the app! It tells me all about the sleep stages and then brings up the old sleep graphs every time. 

    I have checked every setting against my partners, they are all indentical. I don't understand how his has worked and mine won't. 

    Thanks 

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.