Whoop and other fitness trackers
Whoop was created to give you a recovery score. Apple Watch has a fitness component as well. Fitbit’s main niche are steps taken.
What many of these fitness bands have in common is heart rate tracking and caloric expenditure. They do this within each workout, and over the course of the day.
Granted these bands do much more than track calories, it is what I hear most of the time from people who utilize them. The major issue here is cross comparison between bands and THE ACTUAL FOOD YOU EAT.
The reason you will get different numbers from each of these devices is the different heart rate measurements you get from each band. And that’s not all. The fact that heart rate (and sometimes body weight, height, and age) is the only thing that will alter you caloric burn is largely misleading.
I should now include that having a tool that motivates an individual toward activity is a great thing. Good job to the companies who have provided that opportunity to millions (billions?) of people.
My first insight into the issue with heart rate as the goal rather than as a means to an end was at an Orange Theory class. Again, the place does a great job of getting people to workout. But “splat points.” drove me insane.
I asked the instructor (who was a member of my gym as well) what a common goal was for the class I was about to take. I was told 12 “splat points” or more. This was 12 total minutes spent in the 2 highest heart rate zones. After a one hour class doing mostly running and rowing I accumulated 5 splat points.
During this hour I was pushing pretty hard. The music was loud. There were others also working hard. It had a great atmosphere and I was hurting basically the whole time. When I was told I ranked near the bottom in these points I was very confused. I asked a few of the members who I had observed exercising with me how many they had gotten and they were all in the 10-16 range.
Here we can circle back to the issue that is using a heart rate tracker toward your fitness goals. These individuals who had spent more time in the higher heart rate zones, earned more splat points, and “burned more calories” WERE WALKING ON THE TREADMILL for more than half the class. My instructor friend had me running on an incline at 8+ MPH for minutes on end.
The difference? The fitness level between me and the individuals who I had asked was very very different.
Back in 2017 when I took the class I was a 25 year old male. Worked out 10-14 times a week (many times would be cardio work). Was under 10% body fat and was heavily muscled at 185 pounds.
Let’s create a make believe individual. And let’s name him Bob. Bob is a 40 year old man. Who hasn’t worked out in 3 years. Has 28% body fat and has muscle needed for day to day activity and also weighs 185 pounds.
Take the 2017 version of myself and then take Bob and make us work for 1 hour on a treadmill.
Myself running at 8mph (8 miles completed at the end of the hour) at a 1.5 incline
Bob walking at an incline of 3.0 at 4.5MPH (4 and 1/2 miles completed).
My heart rate 140-160, 149 BPM AVG
Bobs heart rate 150-180, 162 BPM AVG
Orange theory rewards bob with more splat points. And the fitness trackers tell bob he burned more calories. This is all because bob had a higher average heart rate on average over the course of the hour (and at orange theory more minutes in the higher zones).
I traveled 3.5 miles further than bob. Completing more work IN ITSELF should tell you that bob did not burn more calories. This is not a be all end all statement. But when 3+ extra miles are considered it is unlikely that bob burned more calories in the same time span.
Probably more important, I have 10-15 pounds of extra muscle than Bob. Muscle, unlike fat, requires calories to function while exercising. Every single contraction will be using more energy than bob, because there is more tissue that needs it. Termed as metabolically active.
Bob and I could have done the same work, or even done NOTHING for an hour. 2017 me would have burned more calories just because I had more muscle in both situations.
Fitness bands give you a very general GUESS as to how many calories you burn day to day. They cannot be cross compared. They cannot be used when you are tracking your calorie intake through food, and they cannot be applied when trying introduce a calorie deficit or surplus.
What fitness bands are good for is telling you if you A) did more or less than yesterday and B) to give you motivation on that day to better yourself. But the next time you hear a 125 pound female say that their Apple Watch told them they can eat 3,200 calories and still be in a calorie deficit, kick them.