New Year's Resolutions are overrated; most people abandon their goals by February amidst the cold, short days, leaving you demoralized. But starting your fitness journey in January is an arbitrary rule; you can and should take steps to get healthier right now, without the pressure of a year's worth of self-improvement on your shoulders.
Rather than focus on results, start by creating better habits for yourself through simple, actionable goals. And technology can make it much easier to nudge yourself into better habits. From apps to trackers, smart assistants to watches, these are our recommendations for the best fitness tech to get fit this year.
Choose the right smartwatch or tracker
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We're truly living in a golden age of fitness tech for your wrist, but choosing the right one is a challenge. Fitbit unsurprisingly dominates our list of the best fitness trackers if you want something light and tiny to strap on your wrist and get all the health data you need for days at a time. Right now, the Fitbit Charge 5 leads the pack for affordable quality and is frequently on sale.
But fitness smartwatches give you a larger screen than trackers, with more room for tools like animated workouts and running maps — plus more physical room for larger batteries, music storage, and better GPS and health tracking.
They're often more expensive, but if you choose a Garmin watch or any other brand without a monthly subscription fee for advanced training metrics, you may end up saving money in the long run. You'll learn everything from your current fitness age to the training effect of each workout, and receive customized workout suggestions based on your data. Fitness subscriptions rarely justify the cost when Garmin provides all this for free.
You can't go wrong with any of the best Garmin watches, so it simply depends on what you're looking for. The Garmin Vivoactive 4 is an all-around favorite across different sports, while the Forerunner 245 Music is a great choice for runners. Or the Garmin Venu 2 Plus offers a gorgeous AMOLED display with customized animations of how to complete thousands of exercises, great for gym lovers.
Whichever you choose, you'll get the same core experience, but personalized to your tastes.
On the other hand, most Garmin watches aren't very stylish and lack deep integration with your phone. An Apple or Samsung lifestyle watch falls short of Garmin for raw fitness potential, sure, but they're lighter, more stylish, and have better iOS or Android support, incentivizing wearing one all day — not just during workouts. The Galaxy Watch 4 or Apple Watch Series 7 live up to their brands' reputations for quality, with great designs and fitness software via Samsung Health or Apple Health.
Entry-level Garmin excellence
Focused on running, the Forerunner 245 Music lacks some advanced features but is among the most affordable in Garmin's lineup. It stores 500 songs, offers Running Dynamics and Garmin Coach, and lasts for 24 hours of GPS tracking across one week.
The best Android smartwatch
This watch can track many aspects of your health and fitness. It comes in 2 sizes and offers ECG, BIA, and optional LTE, and it's much more affordable than most Garmin watches while offering better lifestyle features. It just needs recharging every day or two.
Don't just set goals; decide your limits in advance
The best way to derail your fitness goals is to show up at the gym feeling great, push yourself to do a certain number of reps on an unfamiliar machine, and wake up the next day with a pull or sprain that sidelines you for a week. Same goes for running too far because you get in the zone. That's fine once you've built up your mileage or core strength, but not when you're just starting out.
In other words, don't worry so much about missing daily goals for an arbitrary number of miles or reps; do worry about pushing beyond those goals, instead.
For couch-to-5Kers, you'll find several dedicated running apps that'll hand-hold you through the process, complete with reminders to get moving and timers to stop you when you're done. Personally, I'd recommend Map My Run, which lets you find or create routes with specific mileage and elevation in your area, so you decide in advance exactly what you can handle. Otherwise, an app like Strava or Nike Run Club will log your workouts and check on your friends' efforts too.
Gym-goers and at-home exercisers have no shortage of apps to choose from, but one Android Central favorite is Strong. It has a great, clean UI for logging workouts and checking out exercise suggestions, and it's easy to look back on your data and feel good about how far you've progressed. GymRun, FitNotes, Jefit, or Simple Workout Log are other popular apps for logging your data.
Or, if you want to keep things even simpler, just break out a calendar app or daily planner app like Todoist. With a calendar set to monthly view, you can color-code the workouts you complete to show your progress and intensity over time; or with a planner, you can mark down how many planks or lunges or whatever you plan to finish that day, then enjoy that satisfying rush of endorphins when you check it completed.
You'll also find apps that directly optimize your exercise, like Seconds. It's an interval timer for HIIT workouts that lets you pre-program exactly how long you do each exercise, so you don't go overboard.
Designed for first-timers
From curated playlists to audio coaching and integration with your favorite wearables, C25K - 5K Running Trainer has everything you need to get started and push your limits. And if you want to sign up for Zen Unlimited, you are provided with even more access and features to keep your motivation levels up.
Train like a pro
Map My Run features more than 600 activities to be tracked, along with real-time coaching and more.
Getting stronger is within your reach
The Strong app has a huge selection of cardio and strength exercises to log or watch to get the right form.
Time your exercises just right
Seconds uses your full phone display to show a giant timer and instruction on whatever exercise you're doing, so just set your phone in view and get to work!
Try a smart scale, but proceed with caution
When I polled the Android Central staff on what fitness tech they use to stay fit, three mentioned the Withings Body Cardio Scale, and another coworker has since bought it for themselves. Beyond reading and storing your weight to an app, it tracks your cardio activity, vascular age, body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, both muscle and bone mass, and water weight. It gives you regular information on your general health and progress over time. Even if your weight isn't going down as fast as you'd like, it'll keep track of other areas that are better metrics for your actual health.
Whether you go with the Withings or another smart scale like the more affordable Eufy P1, it could give you the push you need to keep working out. But that really only works if you're someone motivated by negative reinforcement and self-pressuring. If seeing your weight and older-than-average body "age" puts too much pressure, it could cause you to shut down and avoid even thinking about working out.
As long as you set reasonable expectations and look at setbacks as motivational instead of a judgment against yourself, these will prove very helpful for your fitness goals.
A truly smart scale
From BMI to bone mass, this scale gives you all the health data you didn't know you needed to get healthy.
Best of the best
There's not much the Eufy P1 can't do. It tracks 14 metrics, works with up to 16 users, and syncs with popular health apps.
Have your watch, Alexa, or alarm bug you into good health
I'm someone that tends to lose track of time and get blown away every time I look at the clock and realize how late it is. (Yes, this is a bad quality in a journalist with deadlines.) So I've realized that the only way to ensure I stand up from my desk once in a while is to have an outside source remind me to do so.
I used to have daily reminders set up on my Echo Show 8. At 11, it announced to the whole apartment that it was time to get up and do squats and raises. At noon, crunches; at 1, planks and side planks. It worked until I got a cat, who decided the noise meant it was feeding time. So I switched over to a reminder app on my phone instead.
If you'd rather keep your reminders more subtle or context-sensitive, most smartwatches have some kind of inactivity alert that sense if you've stayed in one place for too long and prompt you to stretch your legs. But they're easy to ignore if you're busy when you receive it. I'd also recommend blocking off periods on your work calendar preemptively to give yourself workout breaks, so coworkers won't send meeting invites then or will see that you're "in a meeting" on Slack.
Otherwise, some simple gamified incentives, like the Apple Watch Move rings, can be enough to get you on your feet; from there, it's your job to convert that into an honest-to-goodness workout.
Back up your metrics with actual expertise
As part of my marathon training last year, I spoke with Roberto Mandje, a former Olympian and XTERRA Trail Running Champion, about how regular runners should use tech and metrics to improve their fitness. And he told me to be very careful about trying to hit specific goals without context.
"You'll find yourself reading numbers off your app and comparing them with generic numbers from the internet and then start chasing those numbers without knowing if you really should," Mandje said.
So if you buy a Garmin watch and start running with it, you may learn that you have an unusual cadence or stride length; but trying to fix it yourself may only cause problems or potential injury. Instead, he suggested people "visit a sports or running lab to have their gait, stride, cadence, and overall biomechanics measured" and improve from there.
The same applied when I asked about nutritional, calorie-counting apps. "Not all calories are created equal, especially when training for a marathon as a 2,000/day diet will be different for someone who is primarily sedentary vs. someone who is in the midst of marathon training." The more you fall into a proper fitness routine, the harder it will become to stick to a disciplined eating regimen that won't properly refuel your body. That's where an actual nutritionist could come in to help you.
The best fitness tech makes us feel empowered to "fix" ourselves, but the truth is that all of its amazing tools can only substitute for professional help if you already know what you're doing. Instead, most people stumble through, using Google to find answers and often finding bad advice that doesn't apply to their specific needs, or advice that they're not equipped to follow.
It's okay to focus on the core stats for improving your fitness like miles, elevation gain, and duration. Once you've mastered the basics and are properly in shape, then you can worry about the more advanced stuff.
If you do monitor one health stat closely, make it your heart rate. Mandje told me that he tracks "resting heart rate, max heart rate, and averages at different levels of intensity." I mentioned before it's important to know your limits, and when it comes to any cardio activity, your heart will tell you if you're pushing too hard or too long. You just need to know how to listen to it.
A HRM you can trust
Smartwatches aren't always the most reliable for their HRM sensors. If you want a sensor for workouts that'll give you the most accurate reading possible, go with Polar.
Next-level health and fitness tracker
The Charge 5 takes health tracking to the next level with its new ECG and EDA sensors. It'll give you the HRM you need without bothering with a chest strap.
Focus on the climb, not the falls
Unless you're a professional athlete with all the free time, coaching, and physical therapy you need, you're not going to maintain your fitness forever. You'll have times that you can't keep up the level of healthiness you want, and all the fitness tech in the world can't change that.
But if you're kind to yourself when you have a bad week or month, your brain is less likely to shut down at the prospect of starting your efforts back up again, because it won't feel as hopeless. To carve out a fitness routine, you can use tech to annoy or force yourself into working out, but that can only take you so far. Eventually, you'll need to learn to enjoy that fitness journey, and rely less on tech and more on yourself to get moving.
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Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.