Social fitness tools—websites and mobile apps that record elements of our workouts, such as distance, route, time, and more and allow us to post these details online—are everywhere.
You may have heard of tools like Fitbit (fitbit.com), Strava (strava.com), and Sports Tracker (sports-tracker.com), each of which works with an app that you download to your smartphone. Carry your smartphone while you exercise, and the app works through your phone’s GPS to record your efforts. You can also incorporate other fitness monitoring devices, such a heart-rate monitor, for more in-depth tracking. Fitbit gives you the option of using the Fitbit device, a small, wearable tracking unit that records and stores your activity until you download it to your smartphone or computer.
Is this social tracking a good or bad thing for exercisers of the world? The response is divided: fans claim benefits—such as motivation and support— while others say that the platforms invite too much comparison among users and can lead to frustration. Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of social fitness tools.
Motivation. The motivation of seeing your workouts displayed on a screen and shared online is twofold. For one, there is satisfaction in seeing how hard you worked and how much terrain you covered. You might find that this becomes a reward for your efforts and inspires you to get moving. Second, you are accountable: because your activity is shared among your friends and followers, you might take pride in showing off your hard work as well as find an extra push out the door.
Support. By sharing your activity and success, you open yourself up to praise, support, and encouragement—a virtual high-five. Many social fitness tools allow your followers to “like” and comment on your activity.
Inspiration. Seeing what types of workouts (and where) others are recording can offer ideas for a new adventure and give you that spark to get moving when you are tempted to take to the couch.
Connection. It is social, after all. These tools can help you connect with people in your area who enjoy the same activities you do.
Discouragement. When you share your activities with a community, it is hard to avoid unhealthy comparison with other exercisers. We each have days when everything comes together for personal records as well as days when nothing quite works out the way we’d like. If you are participating in a social fitness online community, you risk the frustration that comparisons can bring.
Not stopping to smell the flowers. On some days it is great to focus on your workout and put in an effort that will boost your strength and stamina. But it’s just as important to reserve some outings for purely enjoying being active and outside. If you focus too much on how your social fitness tool monitors each activity, you might miss a lot—wildflowers, a chat with a friend along the trail, or a stunning view.
Social fitness tools can be great aids in setting and achieving goals and marking successes along the way. But in this ultraconnected world, there is still a lot to be said for unplugging and taking a quiet walk.