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26 Dec 2019

5 ways to get the most from a new fitness tracker

Follow our top tips and you'll be up and running with a wearable in no time

If you've received a fitness tracker from Santa this year, you're probably itching to set it up and start burning off those Christmas calories.

With prices starting from around £20, a fitness tracker is no longer a luxury purchase. More people are turning to wearables to help them lose weight, monitor a new fitness regime or simply get a bit more feedback on their day-to-day life.

If you've just unwrapped a shiny new tracker this year, you'll be pleased to know that getting set up and running is fairly straightforward, but there are a few useful things to know.

Thinking of buying one? Browse all our fitness tracker reviews to find your perfect companion.

Step 1: get set up

There are a few hoops to jump through before you can hit the road, or treadmill. If there's a quick-start manual in the box, take a good look. The setup process can differ slightly depending on the model you've bought, but generally it involves the following steps.

  • Give it a charge: you may find there's enough power to get started right away, but it can't hurt to charge it for a few hours, if you have the patience.
  • Download an app: while you're waiting, set up your phone. Fitness trackers require an app to collect and present data. Always check the manual carefully for information on this. In the case of popular brands like Fitbit, the app should be clearly named and easy to find on the app store, but always make sure you follow the instructions carefully and type the exact name of the app as referenced, to get the right one.
  • Pair with your phone: you'll need to make sure Bluetooth is turned on and use the controls on your tracker to start the pairing process. Often, the app will walk you through this, so get the app sorted first to make things easier.

Step 2: enter your biometric data

The app on your smartphone may already have started asking you more questions, such as information on your height, weight or age. Setting up this biometric data is useful, as the more you enter, the more the stats you receive should be tailored to you. Typically this could include your weight, height, age, gender, stride length, sleep schedule, and personal targets and goals.

Step 3: get to know your wearable

Hopefully your tracker has enough power to get you started by now, so it's a good time to familiarise yourself with the controls.

Many modern trackers include touchscreens, which will be the most common way you navigate around, although some cheaper models use tap screens instead to move sequentially through a list of functions.

Tap or swipe the screen and you should see the display change, from the default clock screen to the other features on the device, which might include how many steps you've taken, a heart-rate monitor, sleep-tracking controls, or activities.

You'll probably see a settings menu as well. Take a browse through this, as you might find some useful settings you want to adjust, such as the brightness of the display, or an 'always on' feature, automatic exercise detection, heart-rate monitoring and more.

Specific activities

Depending on how advanced your tracker is, you might also see a range of activities, from general running to specific exercises and routines.

Some offer tracking for plenty of sports but only give you detailed metrics for one or two - but basic stats might be enough if you're a keen amateur or just starting out with exercise.

Typically you'd expect to tell your tracker when you're about to start, so that it can adjust the way it records activity to the specific exercise you're doing. This might also be the case for sleep tracking, although a lot of more advanced trackers are able to detect this automatically.

You may also find specific activities in the app on your smartphone, which brings us to our next tip.

Step 4: get to know your app

You've probably covered off the basics of the app by now, but take a closer look around to find out what sorts of features are on offer. You may be able to browse a more extensive list of sports or activities on the app, or control which ones are available directly from the fitness tracker.

You should also take a look at the notifications options. Many trackers can alert you if you hit certain targets throughout the day, or remind you to 'get active' if you've been sedentary for too long.

You may also find alerts for non-exercise related reasons, such as when you receive a message on your phone, or someone tries to call you. These alerts can be very useful, but if you find any to be an annoyance, it should be quite straightforward to switch them off.

Our guide to fitness tracker and smartwatch accuracy reveals the models that can be trusted.

Step 5: take it out for a spin

Now you're familiar with the key functions of both the wearable and the app, go for a walk, or a run, and keep an eye on your progress. Get used to setting goals and targets, and refining them to realistic levels.

Remember to keep wearing it. You won't get very useful data if you only wear a tracker once in a blue moon. Follow the manufacturer instructions on water resistance and cleaning so you don't damage the strap and potentially invalidate your warranty. If the strap is removable, you might like to shop around for a couple of alternatives.

Once you're used to the ins and outs of tracking exercise, and the various quirks and nuances of the fitness tracker you own, you should find it to be an invaluable way to help reach your fitness goals, or simply get a bit more information on how active you really are.

This should be the basics out of the way. If you need more guidance, read our guide to how to set up a smartwatch or fitness tracker.