The Best Fitness Tracker: Fitbit Surge

A fitness tracker on your wrist can tell you your current heart rate, how many calories you’ve burned, how far you’ve walked, and even how many steps it took you to get there. Some can measure how you sleep, sync with your phone, and let you share stats with friends and rivals online. The one thing it won’t do is make you any healthier. You have to do that. But knowledge is power: Applying the information a good fitness tracker provides to make a few healthy changes — like walking a little farther each day, or using the stairs instead of an elevator — can help you reach your fitness goals faster than you would without.

A good fitness tracker should offer easy access to all the information you need about your daily routine — and help you make informed decisions on ways to improve that routine. It’s that simple. So to find the best fitness trackers, we looked for the ones that made it as painless as possible without sacrificing statistical accuracy. The Fitbit Surge topped our list: It performed well in our accuracy tests across multiple types of exercises and body movements, and it was easy to use straight out of the box, with a just large-enough built-in display. It costs a not-cheap $250, but we think it’s worth it.

If you’re an endurance athlete looking to take your training to the next level — or a data nerd who loves to get dirty with stats — our runner-up, the Garmin Vivoactive HR (also $250), is your best choice. From heart-rate tracking to elevation changes, to all-day activity monitoring, the sheer volume of accurate data it pumps out will give you the most to work with to better your training, especially for activities like running and biking.

If you’re worried about information overload (or you plan on going swimming with your tracker) try the Mio Fuse, our budget pick. At $99, it’s the cheapest option of all our top picks — and the most basic — but it’s still accurate, dead simple to use, and completely waterproof.

How We Found the Best Fitness Tracker

We started with a list of 78 fitness trackers. (That’s every one we could find on the market.) Then we spoke with several fitness experts to determine the most important features for an effective fitness tracker, which helped us narrow down our list to seven to actually use and test.

We Dropped Trackers that Didn’t Wirelessly Sync with Mobile Devices

The best fitness trackers shouldn’t rely on a smartphone to capture the data you need — but mobile devices do come in handy when a tracker is paired with them. The screens are bigger and easier to see, which makes the fitness tracker’s software easier to navigate (and it’s less awkward to bring to the gym than a laptop). A wireless Bluetooth sync also allows your phone to collate and analyze raw data from the fitness tracker in real time, too, which allows you to compare your current workout to past ones mid-exercise to (theoretically) push your limits a little further each day. Smartphones also let you log your calorie intake throughout the day, allowing you to make more accurate assessments of how many calories you still need to burn to meet your goals. Most fitness trackers can do this — even weak ones — so if a tracker lacked Bluetooth-syncing capabilities for either iOS or Android devices, we cut it.

Our Pick for the Best Fitness Tracker

Fitbit Surge Accurate and comfortable, the Fitbit Surge is also extremely easy to use.

The Surge was one of the most accurate fitness trackers we tested, and at $250 was about average in price for high-end fitness trackers. Using its GPS-tracking feature, it measured the actual distance our testers traveled the best, tied for second in heart rate monitor accuracy, and ranked fourth overall in our step-counting test, behind our other two top picks.

That fourth-place step counting finish doesn’t sound so good, does it? It consistently undercounted our steps by about 10 to 15 paces from what our testers actually walked during each 100-step test. But honestly, we didn’t mind so much: It’s not a significant deviance from the exact number, and if anything, you’ll know you always walked a little extra to reach your goals. The Surge is also decent-looking and comfortable to wear, feeling more like a normal watch than a small computer strapped to your wrist. Our testers had no reservations or complaints about wearing it all day, and the battery lasted about seven days before needing to be recharged.

Close-up of Fitbit Surge Fitness Tracker

Fitbit is almost synonymous with the term fitness tracker at this point, but it turns out that it has that reputation for a reason. Fitbit’s software, especially its mobile app, was by far the best of any of the trackers we tested. It doesn’t gather quite as much different types of data as our other top pick, the Garmin Vivoactive HR, but Fitbit’s software does a much better job organizing that information. We were impressed by the common-sense, clean workout interface, and the Fitbit app is well-organized and inviting, analyzing and displaying information in digestible, usable ways. It was by far the easiest and most intuitive interface to get to know.

Screenshots of Fitbit app for Fitbit Surge Fitness Tracker

Fitbit’s app offers easy-to-read stats as well as challenges if you and your friends want to get competitive.

The selectable watch faces were also easy to navigate. You can choose from a number of workouts on the tracker itself; get text notifications; and easily check steps, mileage, and heart rate. All of our other finalists could perform these tasks, but the Fitbit’s interface was the most straightforward for each function. For example, one of the Fitbit’s watch face options (called “Flare”), elegantly shows your activity over an hour. Parts of the hour in which you’ve had a higher heart rate will display higher on the interface — a cool feature that allows you to keep tabs on your hourly activity without much effort, and isn’t available through any other fitness tracker.

Printed with permission from Reviews.com and to read the full story please visit Reviews.com 

 

Why Working Out at Harvard University Stadium Never Seems to Get Old.

Running, walking or bounding up the cement stairs at Harvard University stadium, the second oldest college football stadium in the country, for many people including myself, never seems to get old. Case in point, you can travel to Cambridge, MA on any given weekend morning and you’ll see all types of people, male and female, young and old, moving through their workout at the stadium built-in 1903. The oldest stadium by the way can be found on the campus at the University of Pennsylvania, built-in 1895.

I found myself at the stadium once again with my friend, Dino, working out early on a recent Saturday morning. As always, there were other fitness-minded enthusiasts who ended up alongside us who were also walking or running the 15-inch high cement steps that include 31-steps, from bottom to top, organized in 36-sections (see video). The steps are typically used as bleacher seats during Harvard football games and other sporting events. The idea is to run or walk each step up to the top and then try to recover as you make your way to the bottom before repeating the meditative sequence. The goal is to traverse around a horseshoe layout designed stadium, moving from section one through section thirty-seven. By the time you’re done you have climbed approximately 1,147 steps. There are also a smaller flight of red-colored steps between each section that you can choose to use — and which if you’re smart — you’ll use on the descent to recover before ascending back up using the big boy steps. If you’re new to stadium stair workouts then your best option would be to start on the smaller red steps until your fitness level improves before supplementing with the bigger steps that are about double in height. Why? because of something known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which you will experience if you do too much too soon.

I believe it was Harvard’s legendary crew coach, Harry Parker, fresh from the 1960 Olympic Team, who started taking his teams there during that same year using stadium running as part of their year-long training program. Since then many coaches have adopted his methodology and have continued the tradition. There are amazing stories of high-level athletes running all the stairs, twice, in the same amount of time that it takes an average, fit person to complete them once! Individual athletes from other sports soon followed and then came people like you and me.

My first experience doing stadium stairs as a workout in Cambridge dates back to the summer of 1988 when I was working at a nearby health club in Harvard Square. The club and historic stadium were within walking distance of each other. In retrospect, it’s interesting to think about all the energy I have expended sweating through hundreds of workouts throughout the years, which for me includes more than four decades. Workouts consisted of either individual sessions or accompanied by family, friends or on special occasions, with large groups of members from area Koko FitClubs. During all that time I realized that it never once seemed like the same old workout; each time it seems fresh and exciting when I make the forty-five minute drive back to the city with the world-famous zip code of 02138. I can remember in my mid-20’s taking private clients to workout 3–4 times a week over at the stadium. I can remember one time walking back over the Larz Anderson Bridge following a stadium workout, crossing the Charles River and then waiting at the intersection at Memorial Drive for the lights to turn green. I remember feeling spent and then happened to look down at my legs that were shaking uncontrollably. Talk about overloading your neuromuscular system. Back then I had no problem running the whole stadium while today that may not happen but I do take pleasure in watching my daughter, Julia who run in college, take charge and own the stairs, like I once did, running all 37 sections. She has heard the stories of me putting my wife, Robyn, on my back, on our second date, and walking up to the top when I was just a few years older than her. Or another memorable time when I was in the middle of doing a stair workout with my buddy, Michael, when a helicopter landed in the parking lot of the stadium and out walked multimillionaire Malcolm Forbes and who to our surprise, came right over and said hello and asked us “how was the workout boys?” That was 1990 and not too long afterwards he passed away at age 70.

img_6260

Workouts like stadium stairs are a great activity to do individually or with your family and friends. It’s especially nice though when your kids end up loving it and can work out with you. Maybe one day they will take their children there for a visit and continue the tradition. The only thing that continues to grow old, however, is us and not that great, iconic, cement structure that contains so much history and so many of our memories!

8 Tips for Maintaining Weight Loss Based on a 20-Year National Study

To learn more about the science of weight loss, researchers founded the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) as a long-term study project back in 1994. There are currently more than ten thousand people who have joined in the project. Researchers compiled self-report data from subjects who have successfully maintained weight loss and the finding were published in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners.

The results from of the data showed that 90 percent of NWCR participants were still maintaining at least 10 percent weight loss 10 years after losing weight. These people had various ways to achieve that, but they also used eight common strategies, including:

  1. They eat a low-fat, low-calorie diet primarily prepared at home. On average, they consumed 1,306 calories per day, with only 24.3 percent of calories from fat.
  2. They eat breakfast. Studies have shown that regular breakfast is associated with low BMI.
  3. They have diet rules for weekdays, weekends, and holidays. Their food intake is very consistent from day-to-day.
  4. They exercise about 1-hour a day. About 75 percent of people expended at least 1000 calories/week in physical activity. Walking is the most common exercise used.
  5. They regularly drink low-calorie or no-calorie beverages, especially water. Only 10 percent of people drink sugar-sweetened beverages.
  6. They weigh themselves on a regular basis. Regular self-weighing may serve as an early alarm for weight regain.
  7. They spend limited time on watching TV. Most of them watch TV fewer than 10 hours a week.
  8. They sleep 7 or more hours a night. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7 hours are more likely to be obese.
HOW IMPORTANT IS BREAKFAST
Image Credit: http://backtoedenwithliz.com

We know from research and our personal experiences that there are no “one size fits all” strategies for successful weight loss maintenance but these eight behavioral tips can be used as tools to develop a customized approach to maintain a healthy weight.

Reference

Raphaelidis L. (2016). Maintaining Weight Loss: Lessons from the National Weight Control Registry. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 12: 286-287. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2016.01.009

Resource

The National Weight Control Registry, Providence (RI).

 

Strengthen Your Abs and More with this Four Exercise Core Series

Walk into any gym across the country or look no further than Facebook or Instagram and you’ll see it all when it comes to exercise and various movement patterns especially body weight and core exercises. The questions you should be asking yourself though when looking at all these videos or pictures, is it coming from a credible source? is it going to help me improve my performance? and more importantly, will trying it actually hurt me?

Rather than trying to focus specifically on abdominal or core exercise, think about performing full-body type movements that will engage your core. That can be everything from squats, to overhead pressing movements, to Olympic-style lifts to loaded carries. Because guess what, your core is constantly being utilized during such movements and the reason why they are so efficient is because the whole body is performing in concert and functioning as this kinetic chain, from your head to your toes, rather than segments trying to work individually and we all know training our body that way is not optimal.

There may be times, however, when you would want to focus more on this group of muscles that make up your core for circuit-training programs, dynamic warm-ups, a plank-challenge or when your trying to recover from an injury. The following exercises that make up my core series, in my opinion, are some of the safest, more productive, movements you can do, unless you have been told by your physician or physical therapist that a specific movement is contraindicated. One of the first things that you should notice, in all three videos and one photo, is the position of the spine. The spine is kept relatively “straight” throughout the movements; there is not a lot of spinal flexion as seen with traditional sit-ups. When rotation is brought into play, the lower (lumbar) spine has minimal movement and the pelvis is held in a neutral position.

These movements can be performed for a desired amount of repetition or for time. As your fitness level improves you could progress and complete the full core series back-to-back in a circuit fashion.

Core Series 1: Birddog progression. Make sure your wrist is directly under your shoulder and your knee is positioned below your hip before you start. Keep the hips level throughout while performing the movement slowly. Pretend your balancing a cup of hot coffee on your backside. If this is a new movement for you – start with birddog – simply hold the extended arm/leg for reps or time.

Core Series 2: Russian Twists. The key take away here is to stabilize the hips and get the rotation from the mid-back (thoracic spine) not the low back (lumbar spine). If this is a new movement for you take away the medicine ball. When you’re able to hit your desired reps or time then progress to using the med ball.

Core Series 3: Roll-outs. Start with a short range of motion then slowly increase the distance you rollout. Again, work for desired reps or make it time based (i.e. 30-seconds of work).

Core Series 4: Plank. Position hands directly below shoulders. Think of your body as one straight line from the ankle through the knees/hips/shoulders through the ears. Look slightly beyond your finger tips. Engage your core, contract the buttock and thigh muscles. Beware of your neck, avoid excessive flexion or extension. There are many progressions you can eventually add to this position. Build up to holding the plank position for 2:00 though before getting fancy and trying a weighted vest or bringing in any shoulder flexion or hip extension.

Plank

The A to Z Weight Loss Study: The Battle of the Diets

This is a great video on a 12-month randomized study that was done at Stanford University by Christopher Gardner, PhD, Abby King, PhD and colleagues on some of the popular diet books that out there. If you have tried (or are thinking about trying) either the Atkins, Zone or Dean Ornish Diet at some point I would highly recommend watching the video and reading the white paper seen in JAMA. The amount of weight loss during the study was a modest 2% to 5% from baseline. Those subjects who followed the Atkins diet did have more weight loss than the other three groups. For the complete results published in the JAMA paper click here.

Reference

The A to Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Study. JAMA, 297(9): 969-977, 2007.

10 Reasons Why You Should Do More Strength Training and Cardio

300px-Diagram_of_the_human_heart_(cropped)_svgI have been looking back on some of my recent strength training sessions as well as the interval training I have been doing on the cardio side. We have a tendency, with exercise, to judge if it’s working by what the bathroom scale currently reads. But that should not be the case; weight loss does not always depict the full story. With each bout of exercise, we are improving various physiological and psychological aspects of our body that are not visible to the naked eye. For example:

Strength Training:

  • Building muscle mass can increase metabolism by 15% – so if you’re looking to rev up that slow metabolism and become or stay functional as you age – you need to be strength training at least a few times each week.
  • Prevents Sarcopenia – which is the loss of muscle mass as you age – you can lose up to 10% or more of your muscle per decade after age 50.
  • Plays a role in disease prevention – like type 2 diabetes for example.
  • Improves the way your body moves resulting in better balance and less falls as you age (you can reduce your risk for falling by 40%).
  • Preserves the loss of muscle during weight loss (Donnelly et al., 2003)
  • Will offset bone loss as you age – women can expect to lose 1% of their bone mass after age 35 (and this increases following menopause) – see Strong Women, Strong Bones

Cardiovascular Exercise:

  • Aerobic exercise will improve your mood by decreasing stress and anxiety levels – read The Inner Runner by Jason Karp, Phd and Exercise for Mood and Anxiety by Michael Otto, Phd and Jasper Smits, PhD
  • Regular cardio exercise like jogging, hiking, jump roping etc will “load” your bones in your lower extremity and make them stronger.
  • Makes your heart stronger, lowers your resting heart rate and enables your body to deliver oxygen more efficiently to your working muscles.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine states that higher levels of cardiovascular fitness are associated with approximately a 50% reduction in disease risk.

Reference:

Donnelly, J.E., Jakicic, J.M., Pronk, N., Smith, B.K., Kirk, E.P., Jacobsen, D.J., Washburn, R. “Is Resistance Training Effective for Weight Management?” Evidence-Based Preventive Medicine. 2003; 1(1): 21-29.

The Importance of Improving Mobility as You Age

We tend to focus on what we like to do, rather than what’s necessary. Meaning, if we like to strength train or do cardio, we seem to gravitate towards that option. I have always remembered a quote from the former Director of Conditioning of the Chicago White Sox, Vern Gambetta – who stated something to the effect of “it’s easy to do what you like but harder to do what is necessary.” With that said, the majority of people do not focus on the big picture of wellness especially as they age. They continue to lift and do cardio (which is important) but we need to address other areas that are vital to ensure optimal health and wellness.

Life is about movement; all life is based on some form of movement. Just about everyone who walks into a health club or training facility across the country has some type of movement deficiency as a result of age, old injury, muscle imbalance, years of playing sports, etc. In order for movement to occur efficiently (i.e. no wasted energy) various movement patterns need to be executed correctly through their full range of motion.

Let me ask you:
How do you feel when you “pull” or “push” something? How does your body feel when you perform a hip hinge (i.e. think Romanian Deadlift) or squat? How do you feel when you perform an exercise off one-leg? Can you perform a body weight squat movement and work to the bottom of the movement (i.e. bring hips lower than your knees, like your in the baseball catcher position) without pain or instability? As we age, we start to see and have more dysfunction when it comes to the way we move.

The goal here is one word. Mobility.

We need to increase mobility in just about every part of our body, primarily, in our ankles, hips, upper backs and shoulders. We need to make sure we are working on some form of mobility each day even if it’s only five minutes a day. Mobility can be defined as working a muscle or group of muscles through their full range of motion in the absence of pain. Please view the video below. It’s a 4-step mobility progression for the mid-back (thoracic spine) that I put together for you. This is something that I do myself on a regular basis. This is one of the tightest areas in adults (especially for men). Improving mobility in your mid/upper back will not only help your golf and tennis games, it will help in the area of strength training and other activities of daily living known as ADL’s. Start today by performing 5 repetitions of each movement and progressing eventually to 15 repetitions over time. Try doing this routine every other day – your body will love you for it.

Originally published on The Stronger Blog.

The Ultimate Stationary Bike Workout: Short, Intense and it Gets Results!

When we are given a choice to ride a bike – we typically go outdoors to get it done – but if you get stuck due to time constraints, weather etc. – your good intentions may travel South and never materialize. You now have another option to fall back on and it can even be done indoors. I have been doing some riding indoors myself and gave this new training protocol a try. The first thing I can tell you is it definitely packs a powerful punch. When were riding outside, it’s easy to ride for an hour or more at a comfortable pace but when you’re training inside, if you’re like me, you want an intense workout in minimal time that gets results and when it’s backed by science it’s even better. Research was published recently (in PLoS ONE, an online scientific journal) that showed there is a workout that can do just that.

In the research that I mention, a group of men were placed in one of three groups: a control group, a SIT (sprint interval training) group and a traditional cardio group. The SIT group consisted of a short warm-up on a bike followed by 20-seconds of intense, all-out work with a two-minute slow “recovery” ride. This was then repeated for two more rounds. In the end test subjects performed 1-minute of all out work and 6-minutes of easy riding to recover. It was all said and done in 10-minutes including warm-up. The 20-second bouts of work, however, were carried out at a high intensity (500 watts on a bike) and if you have not had the pleasure of riding at that intensity before it will surely elevate your heart rate – let’s just say you probably won’t be carrying on a conversation with anyone.

Researchers, led by Martin Gibala, PhD, (on Twitter @gibalam) from McMaster University in Canada had the groups of men work out three times a week for 12-weeks and the training results were significant. Let the results speak for themselves: VO2 peak increased compared to pre-training by about 12% after 6-weeks in both groups. VO2 peak increased further after 12-weeks compared to 6-weeks, resulting in a 19% overall increase versus pre-training. In addition, insulin sensitivity and other indices of cardio-metabolic health also improved. The results of the study are important learning for all especially if you happen to be diabetic or for those that are pre-diabetic (the majority of whom have no idea that they are).

In summary, Gibala et al. research reported:  “that a SIT protocol involving 3-minutes of intense intermittent exercise per week, within a total time commitment of 30-minutes, is as effective as 150-minutes per week of moderate-intensity continuous training for increasing insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content in previously inactive men.”

We know that the majority of people do not like to exercise and that “lack of time” is the answer most often given when asked why not? So if something is added to a daily routine, that is short, intense, and gets results in minimal time, it may be just what the doctor ordered and eventually turn into something that becomes habitual. With that said, let’s be realistic for a moment – the research is not trying to say that you should start exercising for only a minute a day but what it is trying to get across is that it’s important to shake up your current workout routine. Adding in some brief bouts of sprint interval training during the week – at high intensity (i.e. – cannot carry on a conversation) will have positive results across all fronts. The group of men in the SIT group ended up working out for a total of only 30-minutes a week (3 days x 10-minute/sessions) compared to the cardio group who perform 150-minutes a week (3 days x 50-minute/sessions).

Here is what the training protocol looks like and remember to substitute an intensity that works for you. One of the key takeaways is that more of something is not always the answer – it’s about the quality of the work that you’re doing.

Stationary bike protocol:

3:00 warm-up (easy @50 watts)

20-second sprint @500 watts

2:00 easy pedaling at 50 watts

20-second sprint @500 watts

2:00 easy pedaling at 50 watts

20-second sprint @500 watts

2:00 easy pedaling at 50 watts

Total time: 10:00

Maintain about 70-80 rpm – novice

and 100-125 rpm – experienced rider

 

Reference

Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2016). Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0154075. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154075

Cross Training: Why It’s a Good Idea to Change Things Up

Just being active should be good enough to maintain and build your fitness level—right? Actually, your muscles want a little something more from you to become their best and strongest. What they want is confusion—muscle confusion, that is.

Muscle confusion is simply doing different things with different muscle groups to create challenges and therefore newfound levels and areas of strength. It helps you from becoming stagnant in your fitness, and is often referred to as cross training. Cross training might be exercise types, or it might be varied options within a certain time period.

What cross training does, though, is pretty remarkable. It builds your strength, of course, but can also lead you away from getting bored, and then abandoning, a workout program.

There are lots of cross training, muscle confusion options. This graphic provides a good place to start. Infographic source: (http://www.clubwoodside.com/cross-training/)

cross-training-infographic