5 tips for getting the most out of your fitness tracker

Here's how to make that new fitness tracker work for you.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal Freelance Writer
Sarah is a freelance writer and CNET How To blogger. Her main focus is Windows, but she also covers everything from mobile tech to video games to DIY hardware projects. She likes to press buttons and see what happens, so don't let her near any control panels.
Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
3 min read

I've got some bad news for you -- simply wearing a fitness tracker isn't going to help you lose weight.

Besides actually getting up and walking around, fitness trackers work best when you set them up to meet your goals.

Here are some tips on how to make that Fitbit, Jawbone, or Apple Watch work for you -- and, hopefully, last a whole six months before it ends up collecting dust in a drawer somewhere.

Set up your profile

When you set up your tracker's app, it asks you about your body and health. Your fitness tracker needs that basic info -- your age, sex, height and weight -- to improve its accuracy for determining things like stride length and calories burned.

Fitness trackers estimate your calories burned by using your height, weight and level of activity to determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This number determines how many calories you burn by, well, just being alive and going about your day. The tracker's app takes your estimated BMR and adds whatever calories you burned while walking to determine total calories burned.

If you skip the step of accurately adding your basic info, your calorie count could be way off. Enter this info and be sure to update your weight as it changes.

Calibrate it

Setting up your profile is step one -- for the most accurate information, you should dig into your fitness tracker's settings and calibrate the specifics (inputting your dominant hand in the Fitbit Flex, for example). Most fitness trackers offer some degree of calibration. Here's more info on how to calibrate a few of the popular fitness trackers:

Wear it on your non-dominant wrist

Most people wear watches on their non-dominant wrist. Your fitness tracker is like a watch (and, in some cases, it is a watch), and should also be worn on your non-dominant wrist. That's your left wrist if you're right-handed, and your right wrist if you're left-handed.

The reason: You move your dominant hand a lot throughout the day, and this can result in an inaccurately high number of "steps" reported by your fitness tracker. While some fitness trackers, like Fitbits, allow you to input which wrist you're wearing the tracker on (and which hand is your dominant hand), many do not -- so, to be safe, wear it on your non-dominant hand.

Connect with other apps

Your fitness tracker has its own app, but that's probably not the only app it can sync with. If you're trying to change your lifestyle for the better, there are plenty of health-related apps and services -- including MyFitnessPal for food tracking and calorie counting, MapMyRun for mapping and tracking your workouts, and MedHelp for tracking sleep and other health conditions -- that can probably tap into your fitness tracker's data.

Remember that it's just a tool

You already know that wearing a fitness tracker 24/7 isn't going to magically help you get fit or lose weight. And even if you've personalized your tracker and calibrated it to your physical specs, the data you get -- especially energy expenditure (calories burned) -- is not necessarily super-accurate, according to a study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise.

Your fitness tracker can definitely be a useful tool in your fitness journey, but it's just that -- one tool of many. Don't make the mistake of thinking that wearing your fitness tracker and achieving its built-in goals (such as 10,000 steps per day) will make up for working out and eating well.