Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Even Bother Self Tracking Or Quantifying? 5 Good Reasons

Are sports-tracking apps and data gathering really worth your time in the fitness realm? Or are they needless additions to the time you spend in front of screens? Tracking data over time is an important, albeit not absolutely essential, part of your fitness routine, for a number of different reasons.

(1) You need to have a baseline point from which you can start to achieve or reach a goal. You need to know how you are doing over time. I can give you an example from today. I've been cold-water swimming, and working on spending longer periods of time in colder water (a great anti-inflammatory and fat-burning strategy). Today a web site reported the Plum Island, Massachusetts water temperature with an upper range of 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

I brought my trusty pool thermometer to the ocean – my own "tracking tool" – and found out that the temperature was 58 F. on the nose. I spent well over 20 minutes in the water without a wetsuit. This gave me a sense of accomplishment, hard data with which to compare with my past cool-water swim experiences, and it was the accurate tracking that made this possible.

The same concept can be applied to anything, like uphill walking. You don't know whether "walking my hilly course in 45 minutes with ease" is "good," unless you've walked the same distance over the same course before without feeling as strong. And if you track, you know the whole history of your personal records and perceived exertion on that walking route.

(2) Tracking provides you with a system for pursuing a goal, and thus an engine for reward, motivation, and accomplishment. We all know that fitness is a worthy goal; a downright virtue. But how to you get there in the first place? What information do you have that indicates you are getting fitter?

You can use some of the software tools I write about in Fitness For Geeks: the FitBit Tracker, EndoMondo, Garmin Connect, Fitocracy, FitDay, NutritionData, even some of the ones I didn't include such as Nike+, Foodzy, Traineo, Gyminee, and an...ahem...novel tool called Gympact that fines you for not exercising.

(3) Tracking also helps you set practical goals. If you couldn't do 10 pushups five months ago, you could set a goal to increase your pushup by two per month, and track that goal each month in the FitBit dashboard. You might not walk away in frustration after six weeks because "you can't do 10 pushups yet."

(4) Historial data. You know you couldn't run an eight-minute mile five years ago, because you have the data for those years. But you kind of forgot that. Now you look over your fitness data and you get that extra motivational nudge: "Wow I couldn't run a mile faster than 10 minutes in 2007, and now I'm running a 7:45!"

(5) Face it, many of us are helped by sharing our accomplishments, and while hypercompetitiveness isn't important, we all deserve a pat on the back for trying to get healthier and legitimately fitter. This probably satisfies a human drive to achieve physical goals with support from the tribe (a community hunt and gather?).

The self-tracking tools are all hooked into larger communities so you have plenty of people to cheer you on, even if it's just your friends and/or family members. You don't need to "over share" and go overboard with all the social media stuff, for the simple reason that you might counteract your fitness efforts with all the extra sitting time in front of screens.

Remember how fun and rewarding it was when you joined that running or polar plunge club, with a group of like-minded people motivating each other (okay, some of them were also looking for a date)?

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