It's been a few years since wearables created to track your fitness and daily activities became a mainstream hit. This means there's more choice and more advanced tech on offer than ever before.
But with so many products to choose from, it can get pretty confusing. Which product should you buy? An all-singing, all-dancing wearable or one built with a specific activity in mind? And how should you set it up and use it to get the best results? What if you're craving an upgrade within a matter of months?
We're here to help. Check out our list of the best running watches for women if it's purely running you're into. Otherwise, here's our beginner's rundown of some of the top activities you might want to track, the wearables we'd recommend you try out and how to get the best results from them once they're strapped on.
In recent years combat sports have become more popular than ever before and given the way a kickboxing session can make fitness feel fun, useful and way more dynamic that's not likely to wane anytime soon.
Unlike running, there are few options that specialise in combat sports. One of our favourites with a mode specifically for boxing - and one of our top-rated fitness trackers - is the Moov Now. When you start boxing, the Moov app coaches you in real-time, teaching you moves and then telling you which to do. From there you can review your heart rate, hardest punches, fastest hits and learn about how to improve both your form and accuracy for next time.
There are a number of higher-end brands that have been tipped to provide the must-have wearable and app combinations in combat sports for a while now, most notably StrikeTec and Hykso.
So Hykso launched two trackers - you wear one in each glove - that can measure the number, type and velocity of all your punches. Although it has mainly supplied wearables for gym chains, with stats beamed to big screens, up until now, you can get your hands on the $190 Hykso devices via the brand's website. StrikeTec is a similar device that's designed to not just tell you about the way you punch, but also provide more holistic coaching smarts, serving up details about fatigue and hidden weaknesses.
However, both of these options are still more likely to be used by trainers and professionals rather than those interested in kickboxing a few times a week. We've got our fingers crossed that as the sensors in our wearables become more sensitive, they're likely to be able to play an even more important role in boxing - and other kinds of combat training.
You're unlikely to find a wearable created with specifically your fitness class in mind. But that doesn't mean there aren't other options.
For starters, the Fitbit app lets you input a Zumba workout, including how long it lasted e.g. 30 minutes as well as how low or high intensity it is on a slider and the Fitbit will estimate the calories burned. This is great for those who occasionally attend a fitness class, but it doesn't offer much in the way of motivation or entertainment specific to these kind of group activities.
It might be worth forgetting about a wearable that's tracking each and every move - in the way it would with running - and instead pick a metric to focus on instead. If you're attending a class to up your fitness levels or lose weight, it makes sense to educate yourself about different heart rate training zones.
But you don't need a high-end running watch with GPS and all kinds of other tech if all you're interested in is charting heart rate levels. If you want to keep an eye on heart rate but don't need notifying in real-time the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ can paint a picture of how your heart rate has increased and decreased over the course of the class.
As you might expect, wearable fitness trackers don't really lend themselves to team sports. Many trackers, especially those under the Fitbit umbrella and the Samsung Gear Fit2, let you manually add team sports, but they don't provide any sport-specific data.
If you like football you're in luck. Zepp, a brand that's created wearables for a range of more unusual sports like golf and baseball, has launched a new $99 tracker called Zepp Play Soccer. It's essentially a little device you can put in your footie socks and can track distance covered, sprints, average speed, kicks (passes and shots differentiated by kicking speed) and shot conversion rates. If you want to train like the pros, Catapult Sports is also launching its Playertek smart vest that's used by a host of elite sports teams and lets you compare data with professional athletes.
Of course you can do away with the idea you need to get an activity-specific wearable altogether and choose a metric to measure as you play netball, football or anything else. If, for instance, you'd like to find out about the distance you've covered - it's always fascinating to see how far you've actually run during a match - then opt for the Garmin Vivosmart HR+, which can track your distance and do all of the above stuff really well too.
It might seem strange that there aren't more sport-specific wearable devices available. After all, many were in the early development or crowd-funding phase and then never quite made it to market. But that's likely because multi-purpose wearables are getting smarter. Brands like Zepp cater for niches, then brands like Garmin and Fitbit can see to the rest.
Cycling & spinning
The majority of multi-purpose trackers that monitor all kinds of metrics, like the Fitbit Charge 2 or Garmin Vivosmart HR+ (as well as the HIIT suggestions above), have dedicated cycling modes that'll give you accurate readings whether you like to cycle outside or indoors at a spinning class.
Essential reading: Best trackers for indoor cycling and spinning rated
Having said that, some tend to provide more accurate data about your cycle sessions than others. Like the Moov Now, which not only has a dedicated cycling mode for indoors and outdoors, but thanks to the device's spot on your leg, it can track all manner of spinning stats, from cadence to power. These are metrics that would only have been possible with specialist hardware before now.
The Wahoo Tickr X (pictured) is another good shout - it's a chest strap that works with various sports, including indoor cycling with dedicated cycling, static cycling and spinning modes. You can track cadence, revs per minute and accurate heart rate data plus you can also use it with the 7 Minute Workout app in the gym. It could be cheaper than an all-round sports watch too.
When it comes to trackers built solely for swimming, the Speedo Shine 2 is a budget-friendly tracker specially made for the pool, allowing you to track laps, swim distance and time, as well as a countdown and vibration alert all for a wallet-friendly price.
Read this: Best swimming trackers reviewed and rated
But just like cycling, you don't necessarily have to shop for a wearable that's built solely for lengths at the pool, as plenty of the all-purpose trackers have enough sensors to keep tabs on your swimming - and make more sense financially if you ever change your mind about your favourite activity.
For starters, there's the Garmin Vivoactive HR, which has a 5 ATM waterproof rating making it resistant to pressure at a depth of 50 metres. It also has a dedicated swimming app, which collects data about distance, time, stroke, pace, temperature and speed.
Another all-purpose tracker that's just as happy in the water as it is out, is the Apple Watch Series 2. It will track a host of metrics, including distance covered, lengths, average pace and it can distinguish different stroke styles as well.
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) or just interval training switches between short periods of intense exercise that go beyond your aerobic level, punctuated with less intense recovery periods. It's become a trendy, catch-all term that can take the form of any exercise, from a run with lots of sprinting in-between through to a combination of bodyweight exercises at varying paces.
It's long been considered a great training technique for boosting endurance, burning fat, improving cardiovascular health and so much more. But it's become even more popular over the past few years thanks to coaches, like Joe Wicks and Kayla Itsines, who build their bodyweight circuits around the core principles of HIIT, as well as programs with a cult-like following in major cities, such as 1Rebel or Barry's Bootcamp.
The basic key to mastering HIIT is to ensure you're in the right training zones at the right times. Officially finding your aerobic level can be done with lab tests, but for most of us a good way of telling if you're going beyond your aerobic level is if you're out of breath and can't hold a conversation. You need a way to monitor - and push - those levels mid-workout too, which is where tech can really help. Especially if you're going HIIT alone and don't have an instructor to push you.
Interval sessions can be based on your pace, heart rate, distance or time depending on what kind of activity you're doing. So for example, running and alternating between walking and sprints can be based on all of those, whereas the more stationary, bodyweight activities from the likes of Kayla Itsines would be all about time and heart rate instead.
There are a number of wearables on the market that'll help you to master your HIIT workout, regardless of which activity you choose, designed to alert you when you enter certain zones - or need to up your game and get into one quicker.
To begin with, if you're serious about interval training as you run, then choose a high-end GPS watch that comes with built-in HIIT running programmes - the GPS tech will keep track of where you are if you're an outdoor runner.
For this, there's the Garmin Forerunner 630, which allows you to choose from time, distance, calories and heart rate then assign targets for each. We also like the Polar V800, which allows you to create and save workout phases based on time and distance, then you can choose to set heart rate zones.
But if you're not running outside, you don't need the GPS smarts - or their price tag for that matter. Instead, opt for a device that'll monitor your heart rate levels rather than focus on your distance, which you can use for a whole multitude of activities, from bodyweight exercises to spinning.
For this, we really like the Moov HR Sweat. It's a small disc with an optical heart rate sensor that's built with interval training in mind, especially those interested in indoor cycling and bodyweight circuits.
It's taking its readings from your temple rather than your wrist, which is considered to give more accurate readings, as well as faster ones - making it great for providing real-time information during HIIT workouts. (Look out for a full, in-depth review very soon).
The best thing about the Moov HR Sweat is it uses voice coaching to ensure you're in the right zone, guiding you through workouts move by move and keeping you motivated. You'll likely get the best coaching if you follow Moov's programmes rather than doing your own.
If you don't fancy strapping something to your forehead - or using Moov's newest heart rate chest strap - there are plenty of wearables that'll give you a heart rate reading from your wrist instead and either come with dedicated HIIT workouts and prompts, or allow you to programme them in.
The Fitbit Charge 2 is one of our favourite multi-purpose wearables and although setting it up for HIIT training isn't as easy as pressing a button, the Fitbit blog details how to easily set intervals and then track your progress from your wrist.
If you don't like to focus on anything specific at the gym, but like to take part in some classes, workout on the cardio machines, lift weights and intersperse all of that with bodyweight exercises, then you'll need a tracker that can keep tabs on as many of those activities as possible.
We consider the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ to be one of our favourite multi-purpose trackers, which makes it ideal for those who like to do a range of activities at the gym. It's able to track distance, time and pace for all indoor activities, as well as take heart rate readings 24/7. It's even waterproof, so you can take it for a dip in the pool after your workout - although there's no swimming mode yet.
But if lifting weights and bodyweight exercises are your main focus at the gym, the Atlas Wristband 2 is definitely worth checking out. It can do all kinds of things by detecting motion on three different axis and then measuring it against "exercise fingerprints" in order to determine what type of activity you're performing. But it's really all about perfecting your form and counting reps, which is vital for those who lift weights regularly so they can improve without getting injured.
In the same vein, there are a number of wearables that don't just track what you do but coach you in real-time as you do it. Sure this is handy for all kinds of activities, from cycling to rowing, but it's particularly important for gym work - especially anything that involves weights and perfecting form.
The Jabra Sport Coach Special Edition (pictured) are well worth a look if you're willing to think outside regular fitness tech gadgets. They're a pair of wireless sports headphones with an onboard accelerometer that's capable of counting reps via eight pre-loaded circuits (CardiCore, BellyBurn, MadCore etc) in the Jabra Sport Life app. Just make sure you have enough room - the only issues we had with tracking were ones that require lots of space like burpees.
The Actofit is able to identify different activities and is built with gym bunnies in mind, while the Beast sensor, which is all about tracking what you can lift, packs a series of sensors into a wrist-bound wearable that delivers a whole host of strength data including reps, intensity, starting strength and explosiveness.
Buying guides for every activity
- Best fitness trackers for spinning and indoor cyclingWe pick the best tech to track your spinning workout
- Swimming trackers ranked and ratedWe find out if the current crop of swim-friendly trackers are fit for the pool
- The best running watches and trackers for womenFrom step counting to marathon training, here are the best options for girls
- Top tech and apps to stay fit and flexibleHere's the kit that wants to smarten up your time on the yoga mat
- Big test: Gym trackers pushed to the limitsWe see if the current crop of gym-friendly trackers are fit for a workout
As you might expect, a lot of wearables are more geared up to keeping tabs on your running efforts than anything else. But before you fork out a fortune for a dedicated running watch, even some of the basic trackers on the market, like the Misfit Ray or Fitbit One, give you a pretty accurate reading. And smartphone apps like Strava, Nike+ Running Club and Runtastic don't do a bad job either - especially if you don't take your running too seriously.
Read this: How to become a better runner with Runtastic
Levelling up, casual runners - or those who mix running with other activities - are likely to be happy with some of our favourite multi-purpose trackers, like the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ or Fitbit Charge 2.
But we know first-hand that the more you run and the more you care about your performance when you're running - from your speed to your route to your cadence - the more likely you are to require a tracker that's a little smarter and specifically made with runners in mind. This is where it gets a little trickier, because the running wearable you need to buy will totally depend on how you run and what you want to get out of it - like ultimate endurance, trail running, weight loss or pounding the treadmill.
If you run outside, you'll need a tracker with GPS. Luckily, there are lots of GPS running watches to choose from, from the budget-friendly Polar M200 through to something like the TomTom Adventurer for those who run on rougher terrain for which location is important for safety - not just seeing where you ran earlier. In our best running watches for women list, we've tried to recommend devices that will suit female wrists and tastes though it's still fairly slim pickings for now.
In contrast, if you only run on the treadmill you don't need to worry about GPS smarts - although most devices come with them, you don't need to find out if they're particularly accurate.
If you're interested in improving your running performance and getting fit - or losing weight - with your running activity, keeping tabs on your heart rate and understanding when you move in and out of heart rate zones is really important. The Garmin Forerunner 630 allows you to choose from time, distance, calories and heart rate then assign targets for each. We also like the Polar V800, which allows you to create and save workout phases based on time and distance, then you can choose to set heart rate zones.
Or there's the Polar H10, which takes readings from your chest. Although this might seem a bit annoying, you're bound to get the most accurate data from the device's ECG-style sensor, which can detect the electrical activity of your heart and deliver BMP readings. The great thing about this chest strap is it plays nice with a bunch of other apps and wearables, although it may seem pricey.
If motivation is more important to you than anything else, consider a wearable that provides real-time coaching and feedback. Sure all of the trackers in this list serve up data, but with the Moov Now a voice coach will encourage you to up your running game by throwing your arms harder or picking up the pace. Similarly, the Lumo Run sets targets for a range of metrics, like bounce, braking, cadence drop and rotation. It'll then give you regular performance updates, via your headphones, as you run.
Just because you run at the gym one day and you're focused on monitoring your heart rate zones doesn't mean you don't want to mix up your routine and do some triathlon training, then do some road running the week after.
So if you want a running watch that does a bit of everything, try a multi-purpose running watch like the TomTom Spark 3 with all the basics, GPS, an optical heart rate monitor and MP3 storage. It's also our current top pick for women runners. If you prefer Garmin over TomTom, try the Forerunner 35 with all-day activity tracking, heart rate monitoring, notifications and different training modes.
A number of our favourite multi-purpose wearables mentioned above - Fitbit Charge 2, Moov Now - will help those interested in triathlons track - and in some cases even improve - their performance.
Or if you've got a bit more case to splash, take a look at our recommendations for the running & HIIT sections, like the Garmin Forerunner 630 or the Polar V800, which allows you to create and save workout phases based on time and distance, then you can choose to set heart rate zones.
But for those who are serious about perfecting their run, swim and cycle game and prefer not to workout in any other way, then there are a number of devices created specially with budding triathletes in mind.
First up there's the highly-rated (and not to mention highly-priced) Garmin Forerunner 735XT. When it comes to the core events of running, cycling and swimming the 735XT really does have everything covered. You can track indoor training using the motion sensors or head outside using GPS, which is ideal for the pool and open water swimming. You can also check out the recently announced Forerunner 935 watch as well, which offers up even more fitness metrics that are not included with the 735XT.
But there are plenty of deeper metrics too, especially when you get a chest strap involved, with running dynamics that measure – deep breath – vertical oscillation, ground contact time, cadence, stride length, vertical ratio, ground contact time balance and even an estimated lactate threshold figure, recovery time and VO2 max.
If you can't afford the Forerunner 735XT - or it seems a little bit too advanced for your needs - then try the TomTom Spark 3 instead. It has a built-in heart rate monitor and GPS tracking. Although it's not built for triathlon, it does have a multi-sport mode that's pretty accurate at tracking a range of activities, especially running, swimming and cycling.
Just like HIIT, yoga is an activity that's always been popular, but with the more recent 'mindfulness movement' it's had a resurgence for its stress-lowering benefits and breathing techniques. With that in mind, it almost seems counterintuitive you'd want to track something that's very much about being present, in the moment and reliant on only your breath.
But when you start digging into the practice, there are all kinds of reasons you might want to track it - like most activities that could be just to ensure you're turning it into a habit. Or it could be for breathing - breath is central to a solid yoga practice. Or alignment - again, it's not about just getting into a downward dog pose, but getting your posture spot on is really important to a solid practice.
We've written about some of the best wearables for yoga before, but many of the more ambitious concepts haven't made it to market yet. For now, we'd recommend using a tracker that's built for general fitness, like the Fitbit Charge 2, and then choosing 'yoga' manually from its multi-sport settings.
But if you're more focused on the breath tracking aspect of yoga, you might want to do away with fitness trackers altogether and give the Spire a whirl instead (above front/centre). It's built to keep track of your breathing and although definitely not geared up solely for yoga, it'll alert you when your breathing becomes calmer or when it becomes stressed - this could be a great option for those who like the physical practice of yoga, yet find it really difficult to connect with their breath.
In the meantime, we've got our fingers crossed for more yoga options being added into the wearables we already love, as well as yoga-specific wearables that track alignment and breathing over distance and pace. After all, there are a number of products already built for posture tracking, so it's not that hard to see a yoga gadget-filled future.
What activities do you do and how do you track them? Let us know anything we've missed in the comments below.
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