Wearable Fitness Tech: Tracking the Decline to 0 Steps per Day

A closeup image of a smart phone displaying "48 steps" on an activity tracking app.

Wearable fitness tech might be useless without you.

As cool as these devices are, fitness researchers have discovered that they aren’t getting people moving. Instead, Garmin, Apple, Fitbit and others are actually just logging humanity’s slow decline into sedentarism.

That’s bad news for the world but good news for gym owners and fitness coaches. Turns out real fitness pros aren’t replaceable after all.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

On May 4, three professors of kinesiology released a study on physical activity levels during the period when fitness tracking devices became increasingly popular. The results are not good:

“Our systematic review of data from eight developed nations around the world shows that despite the surge in sales of fitness trackers, physical activity declined from 1995 to 2017.” 

The people who are moving less? Those who are being raised on screens.

“Our most striking finding was how sharply physical activity declined among adolescents ages 11 to 19 years—by roughly 30%—in the span of a single generation.”

According to the researchers, adolescents are taking almost 1,500 fewer steps per day than they used to.

While the study wasn’t designed to figure out why people are moving less, it did offer some insight—and it’s exactly what you would expect. Decreased levels of activity are associated with increases in screen time, decreases in physical education and increased levels of automobile use.

Devices just don’t provide the things that are needed to get people moving: “Successfully increasing one’s overall physical activity requires several additional factors such as goal setting, self-monitoring, positive feedback and social support,” the kinesiologists wrote.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Peloton, Mirror and other high-end at-home fitness gadgets won’t be able to supply this stuff either.

But you can.


The Human Touch


Two-Brain Business has been clear for years now that the fitness business is all about relationships and coaching, so if you’re still obsessed with a method, a programming philosophy or a certain type of gear, you need to shift your focus.

Fitness trackers are really just toys. They might fit into a training regimen, but they don’t provide a reason to get moving or enough support when people don’t get moving. They log effort but don’t supply the will to expend it. They notice when you skip a workout but don’t have the weight to make you hit the next one as planned.

Cool as it might be, new fitness tech is still the equivalent of the dusty bedroom treadmill with a week’s worth of clothes draped on it.

So take heart, trainers and gym owners. Peleton can’t replace you. The Mirror will be available at garage sales in two years. And fitness trackers are mainly being used to log decreasing levels of activity.

You’re the real key to getting people moving—and, sure, you can use tech as a tool. But nothing will replace your relationship with each client. Do something to strengthen those relationships right now: Text a member or two. Then do something to reach out to other people you can help.

Here’s an idea: Write a blog titled “Why You Aren’t Getting Results With Your Fitness Tracker.”

Another idea: Run a free seminar on how to use fitness wearables—and be sure to highlight their limitations. Offer your services to fill the gap.

One more idea: Send an email to your list of departed clients and ask if anyone has questions about wearables or at-home fitness. Provide an answer as part of a rekindled conversation and be sure to mention how your coaching can be used in combination with wearables.

Whatever you do, don’t look at the gadgets and feel threatened.

The science doesn’t lie: Fitness trackers are increasingly popular but people are moving less. That’s a problem—and you can solve it.

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