Just as it’s changed how we work and socialize, the COVID-19 pandemic has likely forced you to switch up how you exercise. Maybe you’ve ditched the treadmill for trail runs, spin class for outdoor bike rides, or in-person yoga classes for on-demand sessions. With more time at home, you’re possibly working out more than ever before. If you’re looking for a way to measure all of your progress, a fitness tracker or smartwatch can give you important information on how hard you’re working and how far you’ve come. There are lots of options out there, though, so we asked fitness professionals — from Pilates instructors to marathon swimmers — about their favorite trackers. Based on what type of data you’re looking to track (like distance and speed for running or heart rate for interval training), their recommendations below should cover all types of workouts.
Best overall fitness tracker
Recommended by athletes across multiple disciplines, the Apple Watch is likely your best bet if you plan on doing a mix of different activities. Lucy Kapell and Joe Kaufman, competitive swimmers with the Westchester Masters Swimming Association, rely on the watch for tracking their laps both in the pool and outside. “It calculates lap swims accurately, and the settings can be easily adjusted for the length of the pool,” says Kapell. Since it measures heart rate and calories burned, it’s also useful for workouts where you don’t need to carefully track metrics like speed or distance. Gustavo Padron, a yoga instructor with the on-demand workout platform Glo, Leada Malek, a fitness instructor and sports physical therapist, and Equinox group fitness instructor Amanda Katz all use the watch’s heart-rate function to measure the intensity of their workouts. Padron says, “Paying attention to my heart rate can help me decide if I need a chill or more intense class.”
Other users, like Corrie Alexander, founder of The Fit Careerist, and fitness blogger Michelle of Bliss From Balance, like how the watch syncs with other iPhone workout apps for following along with specific workouts. For example, Michelle says Peloton addicts will appreciate how the watch links to the Peloton app for feedback during classes. No matter what type of exercise they’re doing, fitness pros agree that the Apple Watch keeps their workout progress on track. As Katelyn DiGiorgio, vice president of training and technique at Pure Barre, says, “The activity rings [on the Apple Watch] have kept me more engaged than other fitness trackers I’ve used. I love the visual of closing a circle on each of the three simple activity ring tracks — standing, moving, and exercise — each day. It becomes addicting.” Anthony Guidarelli, CTO of CITYROW, and Meredith Simmons, a Mindbody Pilates instructor, agree that meeting goals on their Apple Watches keeps them accountable.
Best less-expensive fitness trackers
Like the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Versa 2 syncs with your phone and can support other apps, including Amazon Alexa. Corey Lewis, personal trainer and co-founder of the digital wellness platform 1AND1 Life wears his Versa for a range of activities including hiking, yoga, bike riding, and weightlifting. He likes how the Fitbit community motivates him to train harder. “They provide a leaderboard with challenges and awards, and the ability to set personal goals,” he says. Personal trainer Sean Alexander, founder of Model Trainers, uses his Versa 2 for lifting weights, swimming, tennis, and hot yoga. “One of my personal favorite features is the built-in HIIT timer that allows me to preset intervals for ‘resting’ and ‘working’ times before my workout, and then it will automatically start a timer for my active and rest moments at the push of a button,” he says. It’s much cheaper than an Apple Watch, so it’s a good one to try if you’re just dipping your toes into the world of fitness trackers.
With modes for tracking elliptical workouts, rowing, daily steps, and more, the Garmin Vivoactive is another worthy contender for an all-around fitness tracker. Shannon Curran, a Westchester Masters swimmer, uses it for running, walking, and pool swimming. “It has GPS — good for walking and running — and it will map your walk via the Garmin App,” she says. “I particularly like that it follows the number of laps that I’ve swum in real time so if I lose count during a longer set, I can check my watch.” If you’ve taken up roller-blading during the pandemic (which many have, as seen in the number of sold-out skate models), Mike Grebinsky, an instructor with Empire Skate Club, says the watch’s cycling mode works well for tracking speed and distance while skating. He likes the extra-long battery life and how he can lock the screen so it displays just the metrics he needs. “When I skate, I have to pay a lot of attention to the roadway so I don’t have much time to look at my watch,” he says. A newer version of this watch, the Vivoactive 4S, is this writer’s own personal pick for tracking everything from running to sleep, and Peter Reynolds, who runs the cycling style blog the Discerning Cyclist, calls the 4S “a stylish everyday watch with good tracking” and “really strong battery life.”
Best fitness trackers for long-distance and trail running
Magdalena Boulet, a member of the Hoka One One running team and winner of several 100-mile trail races, needs a tracker with a battery life that can stand up to her intense training schedule. While she’s tried other brands, nothing has come close to the long-lasting Coros Apex watch. “I love being able to wear it all day and charge it about once a week, despite putting miles on the trails or bike-commuting to work daily,” she says. “It even charges really quickly.” Besides the battery life, she’s impressed by the Apex’s accuracy and how quickly its GPS picks up a satellite signal. It also tracks swimming and cycling if those are part of your routine, too.
Like Boulet, fellow Hoka One One athlete Joseph Gray — the first Black American runner to win the USA and World Mountain Running Championships — looks for a watch with generous battery life. That’s why he wears the Casio G-Shock Move, which is actually solar-powered so it won’t quit on him during a run (you can charge it from an outlet, too). As for its functionality, Gray tells us, “It pairs with the new G-Shock Move app, which helps you measure your VO2 max, build training plans, and even plan your recovery.”
Best fitness tracker for cycling
Since handlebar-mounted bike computers are easy to see while riding a bike and track tons of cycling-specific metrics, cyclists tend to prefer them over watch-style activity trackers, says Neile Weissman of the New York Cycle Club. Weissman and the club’s treasurer Bob Gilbert agree that Garmin’s computers are among the most popular because of their range of functions, large screens, and frequent firmware updates. Besides tracking speed, time, distance, and altitude, this model gives you turn-by-turn navigation on a preselected route and even has an alarm you can set to prevent your bike from getting stolen. When paired with a heart-rate monitor (on your wrist or around your chest), it’ll also give you feedback on VO2 max and recovery.
Best fitness tracker for triathlons
Even if your Ironman race or local triathlon race is canceled this year, this multisport Garmin watch will help you train in all three disciplines so you’ll be ready to go when things open back up. Paul Johnson, founder of Complete Tri, says, “It tracks everything you can imagine, and looks stylish enough to wear when dressed-up, too.” Billy Ferguson, founder and CEO of Trivelo calls it the “daddy of triathlon watches and a masterclass in multisport smartwatch technology,” adding that the current iteration is “lighter and thinner than any previous edition.”
Best fitness trackers for swimming
Several swimmers mentioned that they love the Garmin 735XT, a slightly more affordable version of the Forerunner 945. “It’s accurate counting my laps in any distance pool,” says Janine Serrell of the New York Open Water swim club. “I also use it in the open water — it’s accurate for distance and speed and it’s fun to see the maps of where you swim.” Westchester Masters swimmer Serafina Sumargo likes how “it tells me in real time how many laps I’ve gone,” and that it syncs up with the Garmin Connect and Swim.com apps for logging workouts. It’s also a favorite of accomplished marathon swimmer and New York Open Water member Abby Fairman.
If you don’t want to keep looking at your wrist while swimming, Westchester Masters member Andy Feldman recommends these smart goggles. “The heads-up display is great for feedback while you’re swimming,” he says. “They track total distance, lap splits, stroke count, and average speed, and they seem to accurately distinguish one stroke type from another.” The goggles link up to a smartphone app that syncs to other popular tracking apps like Training Peaks and Strava.
Best fitness tracker for recovery
To gauge how well they’ve recovered from workouts, lots of top athletes (including professional basketball player Sue Bird) use the Whoop strap which measures stress, rest, and sleep. It’s also a good choice for weekend warriors looking to maximize their fitness. Rex Chatterjee, creative director of the digital media firm Dune Road Lifestyle and a former competitive bodybuilder, says Whoop gives him a holistic view of his body’s current state, and Rachel Lapidos, beauty and fitness editor at Well+Good, likes how, compared to a tracker that only measures steps or distance, Whoop provides more personalized feedback on her workouts. “With the recovery score, I feel like I’m doing my body more of a favor, since I know that if my score is low, I should take it easy rather than push myself, and vice versa,” she says.
Anthony Chavez, a master trainer at CorePower Yoga, is also a Whoop fan and, like Chatterjee, he appreciates the focus on overall health and behavior. “I’ve even begun to notice trends in the metrics based on how hydrated I am or how a glass (or two) of wine will affect my sleep and overall recovery the next day,” he says. Andrea Fornarola, founder of the barre and dance fusion studio Elements Fitness calls the Whoop her “newest obsession,” and Nathan Forster, CEO and founder of the on-demand workout platform NEOU, says it’s also his tracker of choice. Both Jenna Arndt, director of instructor operations at Swerve, and SoulCycle master instructor Maddy Ciccone, mention Whoop’s “strain coach,” which, as Arndt explains, guides you “how hard to push based on your recovery level.” The Whoop strap doesn’t have a display (you’ll have to view all your data on the app) so it’s better for evaluating and planning your workouts rather than getting real-time feedback.
[Editor’s note: In order to use a Whoop strap, you must first sign up for a monthly $30 subscription.]