In the old days the only fitness gadget most of us would have had access to was a stopwatch on our digital watch. Then came the smartphone and if you wanted to keep track of your activity then there was usually an app for that. But now there's a new breed of wearable technology – usually worn as bracelets - dedicated to helping you get into shape.
How do they work?
The devices all include sensors, measuring how far and fast you have moved and using that data to estimate your calories burned. More sophisticated gadgets include GPS chips to track your route and heart rate monitors to give you a really accurate measurement of how hard you're working. Some are standalone units which sync with your PC or laptop to upload your activities to the related website, while others link to your smartphone.
When do I wear them?
These fitness bands are not just meant to be slipped on your wrist as you head out the door for a run. You're supposed to wear them 24/7. In return for this loyalty, they repay you by not only tracking your movement and working out the calories you are burning throughout the day, but also monitoring your sleep for both quantity and quality. They can even silently wake you up in the morning with a vibrating alarm. They don't make you breakfast in bed though, unfortunately.
There are loads of companies trying to get in on one of the fastest-growing sectors in tech, so we've just had a quick look at some of the main players making the best-regarded devices in an increasingly crowded marketplace...
Fitbit – £50 to £200
One of the market leaders in this emerging section of the tech trade, the Fitbit is not just something that you slip on when you're going for a run or bike ride. Your stats are wirelessly synced to your computer so you can see what's been going on. There are various models, with the higher-priced ones offering added benefits such as continuous heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking.
Jawbone Up - £90 to £130
If you're a dedicated follower of fashion then Jawbone could have the product for you.
Taking a more design-led approach than their rivals – with a website that looks more like a jewellery company's than a gadget firm's offering. But behind the good looks their devices have solid functionality too – with similar abilities to the Fitbit devices, albeit via a slightly different route. The more-expensive Jawbone 3 offers heart rate monitoring, which is accomplished through "bio-impedance", though it is apparently limited to measuring resting heart rate – so may not be the best choice for performance-focused sportspeople.
Apple Watch - £300-plus
While other gadgets are content to monitor your performance and offer you a range of stats afterwards, the Apple Watch tries to take a more pro-active approach – as you'd hope it would considering the price. OK, so fitness is not the sole purpose of the iconic computer firm's latest product strand, but it is a big part of the marketing drive for it. And Apple's approach is to get the device to literally nudge you into getting more exercise – by vibrating if you haven't moved for 50 minutes in an hour. Since it has a display, it can also give you live stats during your workout session. It does have GPS functionality, but achieves this by piggybacking on your iPhone's GPS chip. This means that you'll need to carry your phone with you while running or whatever – which could be a drag for those who like to take the minimal approach.
Sony SmartWatch 3 - £180
Unsurprisingly Google is also heavily involved with wearable tech – and there are a growing number of devices using its Android Wear OS. The Sony SmartWatch 3 is unusual among these in offering GPS tracking alongside the usual fitness functions – and is waterproof enough to enable swimming while wearing it. There is no HRM, but it does offer the same pairing experience with your Android smartphone as the Apple Watch provides for the iPhone. This means you can check your email alerts at a glance and interact with apps without getting your smartphone out of a pocket or bag.
Nike FuelBand - £50 to £170
A big name in sportswear for decades, Nike had gone big on wearable tech too – and the FuelBand was their offering in this competitive sector. Like the Fitbit, it monitors steps taken, calories burned etc and wirelessly syncs to your computer. The main difference is that it introduced the concept of "Nike Fuel", a made-up measurement of effort expended which could be translated into a form of loyalty points with the company. We're writing this in the past tense because the company canned the hardware side of its wearable tech business, deciding instead to work with other brands on the market. We thought it worth mentioning still because the FuelBand is still available from many retailers.
Have you recently bought some wearable fitness tech? Leave a comment below...