Ready, set, go!

I am not sure if you have been around Boylston St in the past few days, but it has some April vibes. I am not referring to the fantastic weather; I am talking about all these runners ready to conquer the 26.2 miles track.

Yes, you heard me right. Marathon Monday is back in town after being canceled this past April for the first time in 124 years due to the notorious Covid-19. As soon as I heard this, I reached out to one of my old college friends, who I know will be running on Monday for the Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Response Team, for who I made a small donation back in 2019 to coordinate some of the logistics of how I could follow his progress. Lo and behold, you can track someone’s race from your phone, all thanks to the official Boston Marathon app, and that is when it hit me. After two weeks of struggling to find inspiration, it all came to me. I knew my next blog had to be about digitalization in the fitness and health industry. We are on a wave of change, and the fitness industry has to adapt quickly to the challenges created by the pandemic. 

The when, where, and how we train has shifted thanks to digitalization. Some of the technology was there, but the adaption not so much. (I still remember my dad wearing his Polar watch that had a chest strap to monitor his heart rate back in 2009).

Let’s go back to March 2020; most Gyms closed down, and people were stuck at home with nothing to do, triggering a fitness revolution. People started adopting faster, and companies had to reinvent themselves. Gyms and fitness companies all over the country started offering free fitness classes through different channels (Zoom, Youtube, Facebook, you name it). Others created their apps and platforms to control and personalize their content. Some were already ahead of their competitors, thanks to their considerable social media presence, but overall we have seen the democratization of the industry in the past years.

Nowadays, digitalization is all over the industry; they offer online classes, online class booking, fitness trackers, online communities, intelligent gym equipment, symptom checkers, incentive plans, and much more.

Although these are all excellent topics that I could dive into, I will be focusing on fitness trackers/smartwatches for today’s blog. They are a great tool to help you prepare for a crazy and demanding challenge like running a marathon. 

I believe Garmin, Fitbit, Apple, and Whoop stand above the rest in the fitness trackers and smartwatches segment, each for a particular reason. Below are some highlights of each of the companies and their technology:

  • Garmin: Offers the most accurate data and high-quality materials from all its competitors, but their price makes it harder for mass adoption.
  • Fitbit: What started as a simple step counter now has as many features as any other smartwatch in the market (you can even make payments with it). Fitbit created a cult movement that got people moving. Who doesn’t know someone that walks around the office to get their steps?
  • Apple:  They changed the landscape and played a massive role in the mainstream adoption of wearable technology. There were a couple of smartwatches and fitness trackers in the market at the time, but few had the quality, benefits, and looks of the apple watch, which is now the industry benchmark.
  • Whoop: The new commerce in town is creating a great impression in such a short period. It already has the support of many professional athletes and celebrities like LeBron James and Joe Rogan. Out of the four companies, it is the only one that doesn’t have a smartwatch, yet their mobile platform is fantastic and is a great way to stop wasting time staring at your wrist. I have used the product, and I love some of the features like recovery measurement, blood oxygen levels, and skin temperature. Still, I ended up returning the product because the strap was bothering me. Fun fact: Whoop has signed a multi-year contract with Boston College this past week.

By now, you might be asking yourself. Do I really need a fitness tracker or smartwatch to help me stay on track to achieve my goals? 

You are the only one that can answer this question, but here are my two cents: smartwatches/fitness trackers are not for everyone. I stopped using them because I was obsessing about it. Frankly, I need a break from social media and push notifications in general because I found myself looking at my watch way too often. Nevertheless, I still use my phone to track my morning runs. 

Side note: History is a circle. During the pandemic, everyone was working out in front of their TV. I felt that I was back in the 90s watching Jane Fonda’s workout tapes.

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  1. Great read! I understand fitness trackers are not for everyone. I personally love my FitBit because it reminds me to get up and take a walk, stretch, etc. Fitbit isn’t super useful for me as an athlete though; I often fall into the trap of “did I burn enough calories” instead of “how was my muscle to mind connection there”? I have had years of training to teach me not to care about calories burned, but I can’t help it when it’s right there!! The “almost there” messages trackers send before bedtime also trigger my competitive side; I often decide to take one more walk, instead of getting ready for bed which would probably be better for my overall health. Trackers clearly have their pros and cons.

  2. barrinja1 · ·

    I’d love to hear from anyone in the comments who has a Whoop. I began the pandemic with a Fitbit, and ended up switching over to the Apple Watch because I feel the features around health tracking are more robust, and I have such seamless access to all the data on my phone. I’m one of the people who became obsessed with closing my exercise rings, getting my steps, and even monitoring my oxygen intake, despite the fact I’m not exactly at the point in my life where I’m training for anything – I just found it interesting! There seems to be some sort of addictive quality about it, I’d be curious if there are any studies commissioned on what’s going on in our brain when we access this info, similar to scrolling instagram.

  3. lexgetdigital · ·

    I agree with the blogpost and the comments above – these smart fitness trackers can be addicting. I have a love-hate relationship with my Apple watch. I tend to wear it at the office when I’m so in the zone that a notification is a quick read and a time to stand up reminder is welcomed. At home, I find it totally distracting. At school, it’s in the middle. All this being said, I don’t use my Apple watch exclusively for fitness. I think that’s why Whoop may be superior – it lacks that distraction component.

    Whoop, though, may have its challenges if it’s not as easily connectable as the other devices. I’m not so sure how it works, but at least my Apple watch also hooks up to my Mirror (by Lululemon) (which is fantastic btw and another example of digital transformation in the pandemic fitness era) and Peloton (co-founded by a BC Law alum – go Eagles!). This is why Apple does so well, especially for those like me who don’t have the time to find out if it’s all that possible to work cross-device. And why I wonder how well these other fitness trackers will fair.

  4. shanpopzaruba · ·

    As someone who finds themselves mostly in meetings all day, it can be nice to get the notification for a message if needed on my apple watch! I have a supervisor who does 15,000 steps a day walking and lives and breathes by their Fitbit. One of the things I most appreciate about my apple watch is that it syncs with my peloton app, which is nice for their bootcamp classes that alternate between different activities. However, it is probably worth noting I have turned off my notifications for everything that isn’t a message or a phone call, which probably helps my apple watch not become overwhelming with notifications! Here’s to a happy balance!

  5. I was fortunate to buy a Peloton in February of last year, just before things shut down. The data tracking on that is absolutely the thing that kept me motivated. When you can see the data on progress, its so much more motivating to stay on a routine.

  6. allietlevine · ·

    I am so glad to see someone write about this topic! I just have to say how impressed I was with Boston Marathon app. I had a friend running the marathon and not only was able to track her, I was able to send “cheers” through the app that were displayed on video screens at the finish line. This leads me to me to my main idea. I think the most successful trackers will be the ones that have a built in community.

    Also for those looking for furthering read; I have an great article about setting boundaries while wearing your tracker.

  7. bengreen123 · ·

    It’s worth noting that Fitbits are still popular given the your phone has the same capability. I assumed they’d go the way of the IPod (RIP). What’s the reason for this? Marketing and brand awareness? Probably just because phones are clunky when you run even if you have one of those arm straps. I’d say they’re same unless someone comes up with a collapsible phone.

  8. Love this article which highlights one of my favorite days of the year. I had several friends who ran the marathon this year and was so impressed with the BAA’s mobile app. I was able to track exactly where my friends were throughout the 26.2 mile course, their pace, and even their expected finish time. This made for such a wonderful spectator experience and I’m looking forward to next year’s race!

  9. llamadelmar · ·

    As someone who has gone through 2 Fitbits and now onto a Apple watch can say that I am a fan of the reminders to stand, move and what’s left to hit my goals for the day. I can see how it can get obsessive with tracking but if someone is training for something as big as a marathon or trying to get back on track with their fitness routine these devices definitely aid in that.

  10. Timely post Carlos and hope all went well with your friend on Marathon Monday. Like many of us, I’m a big fan of fitness trackers and I’ve gone through the evolution from various FitBits to an Apple Watch. I think for me what’s really valuable about these devices–and this I think gets at the core of a lot of the topics we cover in this course–is the breadth of the data available that’s beyond just # of steps AND the corresponding visualization of that data.

    The last upgraded FitBit I had was the one with a heart rate monitor. I started wearing it to bed so I could track my resting heart rate. Around that time my wife and I started a Whole30 eating plan (don’t call it a diet!): no sugar, no carbs, no alcohol, no processed foods; just whole fruits, vegetables, proteins, eggs, nuts, etc. We’ve done these a number of times and we lose weight but more importantly we just FEEL better. Well the first time I did a Whole30 with this heart rate FitBit I was amazed to see my resting heart rate drop significantly (from like 73 bpm to 60 bpm) — just in 30 days! It’s the type of thing I wouldn’t have fathomed if not for the FitBit and how the app visualized that data. My experience now with the Apple Watch is even better!

  11. Great post, Carlos! Fitbit and other fitness trackers definitely have an addicting and satisfying use to them. Hitting that goal everyday and getting congratulations is always a nice release of dopamine. Personally, I am not a very structured and organized person. So somedays I will have a great workout and others I never find the time to be that active. Leading to the stress of not reaching my goals to avoid the tracking system altogether. I definitely can see the benefits, but I’m one of those people that doesn’t do great with them.

  12. Shannon Reardon · ·

    I agree with you about the obsession of tracking progress. I got an Apple Watch a while ago and found myself constantly checking how many steps I did. It became sort of a competition with myself and gamification of the data I accumulated. Although many people find it really beneficial, it’s nice to hear another perspective on the downsides of our own data tracking.

  13. greenmonsterbc · ·

    Timely post on a common topic, well done. As a non-smart watch individual the only times I would consider it a benefit is while playing sports, such as a running. The rest of the time I find my phone can do absolutely everything required and I prefer the classic look of a real watch. Some key activities for consideration: skiing, golf, hiking, etc would benefit me but for the price tag I’ve been averse to trying one out.

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