Fitness trackers and smartwatches have been notoriously underwhelming for gym-goers, but there's a new breed of wearables designed for strength, Crossfit, HIIT and gym-based workouts.
The latest gym-focused wearables can guide you on your form, exertion and reps to help you get the best results faster – and focus on the recovery you need to hit your goals.
Whether you're a die-hard gym bunny that loves spinning, or you're just looking for a way to add accurate information from your sessions to your daily activity tracking, there are wearables out there to better suit you.
Below are some of our favorite wearable gym aids, whether it's for HIIT, weights, spinning, treadmill training, CrossFit and even boxing.
Our top wearable picks for the gym
- Best wearables for HIIT training: Apple Watch Series 8 – Full review
If you want a watch that offers reliable heart rate data when you up the intensity, the Apple Watch is in our opinion the best-performing watch to handle those sudden HR spikes and drops.
- Best wearable for spinning/indoor cycling: Wahoo Tickr X – Full review
This heart rate monitor chest strap that works for all workouts is made for cyclists, capturing cycling metrics like cadence and offering the kind of connectivity to hook it up to multiple devices.
- Best wearable for strength training: Coros Pace 2 – Full review
While its rep counting skills aren't flawless, it's the most reliable support we've used on a watch and also has the added bonus of a useful muscle heat map to make sure you're dedicating training to all parts of the body.
Gym wearable key considerations:
Check what and how it tracks
A lot of wearables promise to track a range of activities but few offer the ability to track metrics specific to those activities. A lot of watches will say they can track a session of push-ups, but few track that movement and focus on capturing workout duration and heart rate data.
It can be useful to take any data a wearable can record and collate it inside of other training-focused apps like Strava or TrainingPeaks where you'll get an alternative breakdown of data and start to see how it sits with your other non-gym-based training. Check if the wearable can be connected to other apps outside of the main one you'll need to set it up and sync data to.
Share data with connected equipment
It's also useful to have a wearable that can share and transmit data to other connected gym equipment and the key to that is having something that offers ANT+ or Bluetooth smart connectivity. Some devices will let you connect to single or multiple devices, letting you see real-time stats on indoor trainers or another smart gym kit.
Most wearables designed for the gym will be worn on the wrist, but there are options out there that will let you move the key tracking sensors around the body whether it's attached with other accessories or you can actually place it inside of clothes and still get that reliable hit of tracking data.
Best watch for HIIT training
If you're training using High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) methods, it's the heart rate that's your primary concern. That's because your heart rate will tell you if you're pushing yourself hard enough during your intense intervals and will let you know how much you've recovered during the rest intervals.
Apple Watch Series 8
The Apple Watch Series 8, like all smartwatches, relies on optical sensor technology to track heart rate for exercise. That optical sensor tech typically slips up when you put them to the high-intensity test, but for us, the latest Apple Watch holds strong when used for HIIT-style training.
Whether you're tapping into Apple's own Fitness+ service or using a great third-party platform like Fiit, many services now offer strong integration with Apple's smartwatch and it does offer solid and reliable tracking during high-intensity exercise.
If you want the option of adding an external heart rate sensor, you do have that here too, to make sure that data is strong and accurate at all times when it's time to sweat. If you don't want the hassle of remembering to carry a chest strap around and want something that doesn't falter in the way most watches do when it comes to tracking heart rate in real-time when you up the ante, this is the one iPhone owners should grab.
Price when reviewed: $25 a month subscription
The Whoop 4.0 is a supremely useful wearable for HIIT training or CrossFit, and pretty much every kind of workout you can imagine. If you wear it in the right place.
Its focus isn't on tracking metrics like distance or reps. It's all about tracking strain and recovery between workouts.
If you're a seasoned CrossFitter, you'll know that recovering between sessions is critical so you can smash your next WOD. The Whoop 4.0 is a heart rate monitor you wear 24/7 on your wrist, on your upper arm, and even in gym gear through Whoop's official Body garments. In our experience, the best results happen when you wear it on your bicep for workouts.
From there, it will track your heart rate during a workout, attributing a 'Strain' score to the session so you know how hard you've pushed yourself. You can also see your live heart rate, perfect for HIIT.
In between workouts, the Whoop is monitoring your resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and quality of sleep overnight. This contributes to your 'Recovery' score, which lets you know how prepared you are for your next workout. It can even give recommendations on how hard to work out based on your recovery level.
If you're looking for reliable heart rate data, but also want simple and actionable insights built around training to make sure you're taking the optimal recovery time, then that's where Whoop excels.
Read our Whoop 4.0 review to see how our in-depth thoughts on the sports wearable.
Polar Verity Sense
Not everyone gets on with wearing a chest-based heart rate monitor or trusts the heart rate that's fired out from their watch. So there's another solution in the form of heart rate monitor armbands and one of the best available right now is the Polar Verity Sense.
The Bluetooth and ANT+ Sense can be paired with a host of wearables and, along with real-time heart rate data, dishes out calorie burn information, too. Worn on the forearm or the upper arm, it uses optical sensor technology, but unlike putting that tech on the wrist, it can cope better with arm movement and motion that can impact accuracy.
It's essentially based on Polar's OH1 armband, improving the strap and the case that holds it in place to prevent it from flipping over when you start moving. You'll get 20 hours of battery off a single charge and a useful 600 hours of storage when you want to work out away from your phone.
There are alternatives out there like the Wahoo Tickr Fit and the Scosche Rhythm24, but we've spent a lot of time with the Sense for HIIT and we think it does a great job of reacting to rapid changes in heart rate, which is vital for HIIT-based exercise monitoring.
Best watch for strength training
If your exercise is strength training or weightlifting, most likely what you want to be able to track is the number of reps you're lifting. There are wearables out there that can automatically detect the type of lift you're doing, such as bench presses or deadlifts, then count the reps so you don't have to.
One of our picks below takes a different approach, however. It looks to improve your strength performance, so if you're chasing a new 1RM it could be the key to unlocking your potential.
Coros Pace 2
Garmin, Samsung, and Amazfit all offer some form of rep tracking for strength training and bodyweight training on a host of their watches. Newcomer Coros does too on its range of multisport watches and of the ones we've tried, the Pace 2 feels the most reliable if spending time with the weights is your big priority.
All of the Coros watches offer a dedicated strength mode where you can count reps, focused on the upper body. The Pace 2 is the lightest watch in its collection if you want the most unobtrusive option. When in that strength mode you can see keep a close on sets and there's a muscle heatmap in the companion app to see which areas you've been focusing on.
While it wasn't 100% on the money for capturing every single rep, it was certainly more reliable in doing the job than Garmin and Samsung watches we've tried with similar support. The presentation of the data on the watch and the watch is better executed and if you want something that can track runs, swims, and cycles with the bonus of rep counting, this is the best we've tried.
Have a read of our Coros Pace 2 review to see how it fared as a training companion.
Best watch for treadmill running
Tracking outdoor running is pretty easy for wearables these days. They will simply use GPS location either from a built-in sensor or piggybacking the GPS in your paired smartphone. These use satellites to detect your location and this can then be used to trace your running or cycling route, as well as your pace.
But if you do your exercise indoors on a treadmill, GPS won't work. Luckily, a treadmill will already tell you your pace and distance information. Instead, these wearables will give you information on how you run, from cadence to stride length, all to help improve your running.
Garmin Forerunner 255
As you'll find on pretty much all Garmin watches, there is a dedicated treadmill mode and it's one you can calibrate to make sure you get accurate data for your sessions.
We could pick a host of Forerunner watches, but we think the 255 is a strong option for treadmill runs. The heart rate monitor holds up well on the accuracy front and you can, of course, pair up an external chest strap or a footpod like Stryd to ramp up that accuracy.
You'll have those core running metrics covered and if you opt for the music version and with Connect IQ support you can look for additional data fields and watch faces that are better suited to showing off indoor running stats.
In general, it's performed well for us indoors and if you can make sure you nail that first calibration, it'll help get you data you can trust.
The 255 is one of our running watch faves and its abilities for indoor running is just one of the reasons why.
Check out our Garmin Forerunner 255 review to see our comprehensive verdict.
We mentioned it above, but if you spend a lot of time running on a treadmill and you want to improve the tracking accuracy and also get a bigger hit of running form metrics and insights, then you can consider hooking the Stryd foot pod sensor to your running shoes.
Stryd packs in motion and environmental sensors to capture movement and the core metric of power while a new wind port better accounts for air resistance to help avoid exerting too much energy running into a headwind.
It works for both indoor and outdoor runs to make sure you can gather stats from all runs, has a splash-proof design to hold up in the rain, and can connect to other devices like watches via Bluetooth and ANT+.
The battery lasts for a month of training or over 20 hours of continuous running, so will comfortably cover a marathon or two.
If you care about accuracy and like the idea of more data that can help you better strategize for race day, then this is worth taking a look at.
Check out our comprehensive Stryd review to see how the running footpod performed for us.
Best wearable for boxing
Anyone who's ever done some shadowboxing or had a sparring session will tell you that boxing is a great way to work out. It's not just about slugging it out. If you're using boxing as a way to get fit, wearables can detect everything from punching power to how many punches you throw.
From the same startup that brought us the Hykso punch trackers, the outfit has taken those impressive boxing wearables and built them into a boxing-powered fitness platform that works with Android and iOS devices.
Whether you just pick up the trackers because you already have your punch bag and gloves or you go all in on the full Fightcamp experience, you'll need to pay up to the monthly subscription service. In return, you'll get to jump into classes that cover total body and core strength.
Classes range in duration and will incorporate time hitting the back introducing you to key boxing punches and using the trackers to monitor your performance. You'll be able to see punch count, punch rate, and output in real-time to make sure you're keeping up with your trainer.
Workouts are regularly added to its library to make sure there's plenty of variety and the workouts will do you make you sweat. If you prefer to get your fitness fix through punching things, Fightcamp is a great way to do it.
We put it to the test at launch and you can give our Fightcamp review a read to find out what we made of it.
Best watch for spinning/indoor bike
Like High-Intensity Interval Training, Spinning is often based on heart rate data. A lot of HIIT training is integrated into your spin classes.
Wahoo Tickr X (2020)
When you're on a bike, a static one at that, attaching them to other parts of your body can be a whole lot more effective. That's where the Wahoo Tickr X, a heart rate monitoring chest strap with added smarts, comes in.
As well as offering unwavering heart rate tracking, the Tickr X plays host to its sensors that when running can measure distance, and in a spinning class can keep tabs on your cadence, a favorite and relatable metric of cyclists.
The upgraded version has an improved design to make it lighter to wear, has storage space for 50 hours of workouts, and will go for 500 hours before the battery needs changing.
Yes, many don't like wearing chest straps, but we found the Tickr X to be pleasingly comfortable and in no way restrictive during our tests. The strap is easily adjustable, and you don't need to have it uncomfortably tight for the sensors to pick up a solid reading.
Best wearables for yoga
Just because Yoga takes a slower pace than most other workouts, it doesn't mean it can't still be intense. There are also a lot of metrics you'll want to keep tabs on, from your breathing to your form.
There are a bunch of yoga apps for the Apple Watch while fitness trackers from the likes of Fitbit offer limited support for yoga tracking. So if you want something built for yoga, these smart leggings could be a good fit.
Wearable X's Nadi X Pants and Pulse are a line of yoga clothes that react to your body. They're embedded with technology that senses how you're moving and uses haptic vibrations to correct your movements.
So, for example, if your form is off around your hips or knees, the vibrations there will signal to you that you need to tighten up or move a certain way. Everything syncs to your smartphone app, iOS or Android, and the pants work by themselves.
The clothes are available in four sizes and four colors – midnight, midnight grey, black and white, and navy grey.
Wareable verdict: Nadi X review