It’s no secret that I’m both a fan and critic of fitness trackers. On one hand, I appreciate them for the potential to improve health and fitness, and on the other I’m eager to see more progress to improve the usefulness of the data. So I love the concept of niche fitness trackers. More specific data is more actionable data, right?
Quickly following in the wake of general fitness trackers, niche fitness trackers — wearables or other devices meant to track data for a specific sport or activity — have flooded the market over the past few years. For athletes and enthusiasts who aren’t satisfied with simply tracking their steps, heart rate, calorie burn and mileage, there are now trackers specifically designed to measure stats around your tennis, golf, baseball, cycling, yoga, skiing, weight-lifting, and more. There are even wearables that will tell you when you’re slouching … meant for, I don’t know, 9-5 desk workers and … ballerinas? Catholic school students? Haha, ok, I’ll stop.
A few birthdays ago, Tim got me a Zepp to track my tennis game. It was a great gift, and I thought for sure I’d use it consistently because I play a lot and want to improve my game. Unfortunately, after a few months the novelty wore off and I kept forgetting to charge it. It’s still stuck to the butt of my racquet, but lately it lies dormant and just prompts queries of, “what is that?” from my hitting partners. I do like it and want to use it more, but apparently not so much that it rises to the top of my list. But why?
Contrary to seemingly clear indicators (I participate in a bunch of sports, I love fitness, I care about my performance, etc.), maybe I’m actually the wrong target for a niche fitness tracker. While they’re fun and at least initially interesting, they aren’t right for everyone. Before you invest in one, ask yourself:
- Am I willing to spend time learning how to use the tracker’s full feature set and functionality? The beauty of general fitness trackers is that they’re a known entity. Steps. Mileage. Calories. Heart Rate. By now you know the drill. But niche fitness trackers collect totally different stats, often have a specific user interface and you may even interact with them in new ways (e.g. a device on your racquet or ankle, versus your wrist). You’ll likely need to invest more time into learning how to use it to its fullest capability.
- Am I particularly invested in and committed to improving my performance in one sport? Since you’ll need to invest more time into using a niche tracker, it helps if the activity you’re tracking is the one you spend the most time on. Although I play a lot of tennis, I also do a lot of yoga, running and studio classes, and in the winter, skiing. If I spent significantly more time on tennis compared to my other activities, then I think I’d be more apt to use the Zepp regularly.
- What will I do with the data? So say you get a tracker to collect data on your golf swing. Now you have more information than ever about your swing arc, club speed, contact point, etc. Do you have a plan for how you’ll apply those insights to improving your game? Does the device or its app offer video tutorials or other content to help you strengthen your weak spots? Will that be enough? If not, will you hire a coach? Sign up for lessons?
- Is there an app I can use instead? Some (though not all) sports and activities can be measured by your smartphone and analyzed via an app. The caveats are a) that you’re somehow carrying your phone while doing that activity, and b) that you’ll be satisfied by often simpler data that’s measured by your phone’s accelerometer. If you’re unsure if a niche fitness tracker is right for you, it may be worth researching and trying an app first. If you find yourself using it consistently and wishing for more, then you may be a candidate to graduate to a niche tracker.
Still want that Taekwondo tracker after answering these questions? Then go for it and enjoy! Just remember to charge it.