How Fitness Trackers of the Future Could Help Us to Perform Our Very Best

By on September 17, 2018

I love the concept of fitness trackers. As someone who is very interested in both fitness and technology, this would seem like the perfect intersection of those things. Not only that, but there’s something very superhero-esque about being able to get a read out of your own biometrics on your wrist.

Fitness trackers of the future

So, I was excited when the first trackers started to hit the market… until I realized that they effectively just counted steps and measured heartrate. That’s fine I thought, the tech will improve and progress. Moore’s Law and all that. In a few years we should be able to see a hologram of our own brain working in real time. Or something.

But yeah. That never happened. Nor did much else interesting. It was cool when some devices started being able to calculate a VO2 max. And running tracking got a lot better. But that was about it.

The biggest insults are the ‘insights’ that many trackers offer. The claim is that you can get custom tips to improve your lifestyle and health based on your behavior. The reality is that you occasionally get a message saying ‘sleeping is good for you’.

And this is really annoying. Because even without adding any additional sensors or tech, fitness trackers could do so much more. Here are some simple ideas.

Top Ways to Improve Fitness Trackers

Better Sleep Tracking

My fitness tracker can detect how active I am, my heartrate, and whether or not I’m sleeping. That information alone should be enough to look for some really interesting correlations.

Do I sleep better after I work out? How about showing me that in a graph? That would be really encouraging.

A fitness tracker that could help you to become the person you want to be.

Is my resting heartrate better when I get more sleep? What about the time I go to bed? Does that predict my resting heartrate? If we were to self report for mood or energy, we could work out a chronotype this way too and learn the best times for us to sleep.

Heck, with MyFitnessPal integration, it could even look for correlations between sleep quality, mood, and what we eat! This is why I’m excited for the Oura Ring (which I’ll be testing soon), which actually offers some of these things.

More Sensors

And with just a few more sensors, we could do some other really interesting stuff. There’s already an ambient light sensor, so how using that to recommend if the room should be darker? Sure, your arm will be under the cover some of the time, but an easy algorithm could look for when it’s not.

How about a microphone? Several trackers have these built in, and they could be used not only to check the quality of the environment for sleeping, but also to look out for signs of disturbances during the night such as apnea. Or what if it could look for a spike in heartrate and show that this was caused by a loud noise outside?

And how about temperature? Both ambient AND body temperature. Again, not a perfect measurement perhaps, but it would be amazing to see a correlation between room temperature and sleep quality and that could lead to some positive lifestyle changes leading to better energy levels.

Fitness tracking swim

I’m excited that some trackers are starting to be able to measure things like heartrate variability. This can give an indication of our stress levels, our mental clarity, and our mood.

And in future I’m hoping that a tracker will be able to measure my jump height to oversee a jump height training program. Maybe in future, we might use multiple different devices on different body parts to be able to track a greater range of movements.

More Correlations and Insights

Looking at how something like temperature could affect your sleep quality is an example of using the data we already have, in order to provide more useful and actionable insights.

And there is so much more potential here. For instance, you could look at how time of day correlates the amount of time you spend training, and your average heartrate (cadence and speed if it’s a run). You could examine the correlation between exercise and sleep quality, or time spent outdoors and sleep quality, or sleep duration vs exercise.

Fitness tracker outdoors

How does temperature impact on your heartrate? What does that tell us about your thermoregulation?

These are just ideas I’m spit balling off the top of my head – there is so much more opportunity that is currently going untapped.

More Custom Inputs

And you could take this concept and then allow the users to input their own changes. For instance, if you were to begin using some new kind of nootropic, then you could enter this into the app, and then see how that correlates with other changes. Is your sleep affected? Are your self-reported mood or productivity improved? Are you burning more calories?

Maybe you could try out different morning routines and have your device guide you through them? Maybe you could try out different hacks and ideas from other people? There’s the Rock alarm clock, but what if you could download his whole morning routine? Or his diet and training program?

And I think this would be a great place to track other things too. For instance, how about tracking revision? Or time spent learning a new skill? You could log the time spent learning and feedback on how it went, then you could see how things like exercise, sleep, and energy levels all impact on that.

Likewise, you could set yourself different goals. Instead of just having the data presented to you on the screen, you could instead see how it might be helping you to be more productive, or more energetic, or to lose weight. A fitness tracker that could help you to become the person you want to be.

Better On-Device Apps

Several fitness trackers let you run apps and sure, the quality and quantity of these comes down largely to the community. This is something I’ve been looking into getting into as a developer myself.

But OEMs could provide a lot more pre-loaded apps and create synergy between these and the tracker.

Fitness tracking meditation

For instance, I would love to see brain training built into a smartwatch. It seems like the perfect fit: it would help you to improve your health and performance and it would be easy to access when you don’t have your phone to hand. What’s more is that you could look at how things like sleep quality would affect your performance.

I would also love to see a fitness tracker with a meditation mode – which again seems like a no-brainer to me. Garmin has taken steps towards this with a ‘relax mode’ which provides a visual prompt to guide breathing and take a five minute time-out. But imagine an app like Headspace on your wrist, and imagine if it could also track your heartrate as you went!

Better Calculations

I could write an entire essay about the flaws in the way most fitness trackers operate (in fact I have done over at Android Authority). There are some inherent limitations in trying to calculate things like total calories (an AMR does not take into account hormonal differences for instance, as I explained over at Android Authority). But there are also some really dumb mistakes/omissions here.

For example, most fitness trackers only look at your BMI rather than your lean body mass index when calculating the amount of calories that you burn at rest. In other words – the calculation doesn’t account for the amount of fat you have on your body vs muscle, which means the resulting number will be wildly inaccurate. I get that asking people to measure their fat with calipers before they can start using their fitness tracker would be off-putting, but they could at least include the option to use lean bodymass in the app (the vast majority do not, unless you buy their own expensive smart scales).

Better fitness trackers

Worse still is that some fitness trackers fail to account for your regular calorie burn during exercise. In other words, it will look at the amount of calories you burn during a workout – let’s say 300 in 40 minutes – and then add this to your total calorie burn for the day. This fails to recognize that you probably would have burned 180 calories during that hour anyway. And by not subtracting that number, you’re actually getting a much more generous total.

There are more issues here, but suffice to say: some smart watches? Not so smart.

Closing Comments

So, I still really enjoy the idea of fitness trackers and I often wear one. I just believe that they could be a whole lot more impressive and interesting. That’s true as new technology is introduced, but it’s also true right now using the tech we have. There is a lot of untapped potential here.

I believe there’s a real market for a fitness tracker aimed at biohackers, students, creatives, and professionals who want to perform their very best

And I believe there’s a real market for a fitness tracker aimed at biohackers, students, creatives, and professionals who want to perform their very best. A fitness tracker that could help you to optimize your diet, your sleep, your mental state, and your overall performance – while letting you measure different changes to your health, diet, and routine.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Maybe if no one taps into this market opportunity, we could build something ourselves?

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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