The "Measuring" Component of Fitness Has Become (In)human


In line with the constant stream of trends that bust in and out of the health industry, many are taken to the extreme. One “extreme” in particular that we’d like to address is the concept of measurement as it relates to an individual’s performance and overall fitness.

Specifically, we deem the current infatuation with the following performance-based measurements the most troublesome: (1) heart rate monitors and (2) fitness/step trackers.

Heart Rate Monitors

Various fitness products today have capitalized on the heart rate phenomenon. While a heart rate monitor may be useful in gathering a baseline assessment of one’s physical fitness, it’s not the be all end all product that dictates your progress in the gym. The point at which the heart rate monitor becomes dangerous is when its user relies on it (and its associated statistics) to confirm whether or not he/she “got in a good workout.”

Here’s the rub: heart rate monitors - especially those distributed in a group fitness setting - can be inaccurate by up to a margin of 30-40%. A research team out of the University of Wisconsin found that, while commercialized heart rate monitors are fairly accurate in a resting state, the accuracy lessens with increased activity. Specifically, all tested devices were off by 20-40 beats per minute when compared to an ECG reading. Read more about the study here.

Furthermore, studios that utilize heart rate training often “individualize” their clients’ heart rate data through one overly simplistic method or another (like subtracting age from a magic number). Not to mention, many heart rate devices don’t factor in the physical condition of its unique user. For example, we can safely assume that an active, 150-pound woman with 15% body fat more than likely has a different resting heart rate than that of a sedentary, 180-pound woman with 30% body fat. So does it make sense for these two individuals to chase the same generic fat- or calorie-burning heart rate zones? Probably not.

These compounding margins of error present a material flaw in a technology that misleads people towards the promise of achieving an “optimal” fat or calorie burn. Obsessing over these quantities can majorly detract from the quality of one’s training, making it all too easy to sacrifice form and well-performed movement patterns in the pursuit of torching “X” calories.

Fitness and Step Trackers

Pedometer technology (think: Fitbits and smart watches) has become arguably more mainstream than that of the traditional heart rate monitor - likely because most of these step trackers have an integrated heart rate feature, so users feel they get the best of both worlds.

Just as we believe the heart rate monitor can be useful, step-tracking devices can serve a positive purpose in big picture assessments. Brandon Cullen, CEO, mentions in a related Charlotte Agenda article that “wearing a Fitbit provides focus and creates a feeling of consistency” for individuals getting into fitness or for those who have severely “de-conditioned”. For example, the sedentary individual looking to incorporate more movement into his/her daily routine might find a pedometer quite beneficial from the perspective of gauging how much (or how little) he/she initially moves, and leveraging that data to set goals.

However, there is much more in play when it comes to weight loss, getting in shape, and meeting fitness goals. Oftentimes, Fitbit/smart watch users become so obsessed with the number on their wrist that they forget about all the other contributing elements, such as weight training, or dialed-in nutrition. If a dumbbell goblet squat doesn’t technically count as a “step”, does that mean you should just avoid squats altogether? We hope the answer to that rhetorical question is obvious.

When you’re more concerned with chasing a certain number than the workout itself, or go to the extreme of walking in circles around your room before bed to ensure you hit your 12,000 steps, it might be time to step back (pun intended) and re-evaluate your goals. Ask yourself some simple, yet tough questions. Will 12,000 steps zero out your lack of movement the other 85% of the day? Does chasing an extra 2,000 steps surpass poor nutritional choices?

If you like to sporadically check in with your daily movement, then by all means, step on. Unless it has cultivated a mentally unhealthy obsession with tracking, we’re not asking you to throw away your FitBit or smart watch, but we do encourage you to mind it less in relation to your training. So next time you’re running suicides during an anaerobic MADabolic beat down, take your eyes off your wrist and focus on a more explosive stride, or a quicker turn…you get the point.

The Human Element of Training

Again, we’re not denying the fact that heart rate monitors and step trackers have their place in the fitness scene. They can undoubtedly be a great source of information when gathering baseline information. Our beef with these technologies is when they become the primary focal point of one’s training regimen and fitness journey, casting a shadow over the training itself.

At MADabolic Inc., we assert that the impact of human interaction trumps any technological relationship - 100% of the time. No heart rate monitor or smart watch can improve the depth of your squat or heighten the ballistic power behind your swing. Instead of prioritizing statistical outcomes in your workout, prioritize your quality of movement. Moreover, prioritize the caliber of coaching you receive to ensure that quality of movement. In addition to being personable, individual attention and technical excellence in a trainer is pivotal - don’t settle for anything less.