Goodbye, FitBit–welcome back, BodyMedia

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on June 3, 2013

bodymedia link armband

For a certain kind of person, gadgets make fitness more fun and the process of getting fit more exciting. Of course, I’m a geek who believes more information (in every area of life) is better.

Maybe everyone is at least a little bit motivated by seeing the data. If not, why would makers of aerobic equipment put calorie counters and heart-rate monitors on elliptical trainers, treadmills, and the like?

Management expert Tom Peters likes to say, “What gets measured gets done.” And research has proven that those who track their progress—whether we’re talking about calorie counting or step counting—do a better job.

Simplest example I can think of: people who wear pedometers take more steps than those who don’t wear them. Does it really matter why?

So today I want to talk about my latest experiment in quantifying my activity level and calorie burn. I’m going to explain why I’ve stopped wearing my new FitBit Zip and returned to my BodyMedia Link armband.

What the FitBit does

FitBit comes in multiple versions, and the one I used is the Zip, the least expensive option (currently $49 on It’s basically a small, elegant jumped-up pedometer. It tracks steps and distance, yes, but also claims to track calories burned.

Fancier models also track stairs climbed as well as how long and well you sleep.

You can display your activity via smartphone apps and on the fitbit website, which is free to use. And the FitBit’s little display shows you how many steps you’ve taken, what time it is, and how many calories it thinks you’ve burned.

The device does one thing very nicely: track steps.

But its claim to be an “activity monitor” is pretty shaky.

Why? Well, the only activities it tracks are walking and running. And its estimates of calories burned are based solely on—you guessed it—steps. That is, walking and running.

So if that’s what your fitness program consists of, you may be well pleased with FitBit.

But it leaves me cold.

As I quickly realized, it has no way to figure out calorie burn from the other things I do: lifting weights, rowing, and using a rowing machine.

What the BodyMedia armband does

After coming to this disappointing conclusion, I started wondering where in the world my BodyMedia Link armband had gotten to.

Well, I found it, strapped it on my nondominant arm, and have now been wearing it again for a couple of weeks. OK, my husband calls me a cyborg when I’m wearing it, but I don’t mind.

And now I’m wondering why I ever quit wearing it.

In fact, let me declare my love for you, BodyMedia Link. Because you not only track my steps but also estimate my calorie burn by monitoring four data sources:

  • galvanic skin response (which has to do with the electrical conductivity of my skin when I sweat)
  • skin temperature
  • the rate at which heat is being dissipated from my body and
  • an accelerometer, which measures both my steps and body motion.

So when I’d go through a kick-butt weight workout in the gym, FitBit measured only the number of steps I took while walking around and based its calorie burn on that.

My BodyMedia Link uses a whole lot more information to create an estimate based on my body’s true response to the exercise.

BodyMedia has a smartphone app, like FitBit, and both devices are Bluetooth enabled (which is how they communicate with your smartphone).

One drawback to the BodyMedia armband: you cannot access information merely by looking at the device: you have to launch the phone app or plug the device into your computer via USB cable to know where you stand.

That’s not a big deal to me because I can get the data in a few seconds by launching my iPhone app. But I thought I should mention it in case this is a deal-breaker for you.

Other factors

My armband measures sleep quality, as do several of the FitBit models. It also gives me ongoing numbers of hours and minutes spent in “moderate” and “vigorous” activity.

Now, here’s a geek feature I love: the BodyMedia Link measures my activity in METs (“metabolic equivalent of task,” or simply “metabolic equivalents”) and even gives me a daily average. [viralpullquote layout=”vs-quote-eight-layout” font_style=”Georgia, serif” font_size=”16″ font_color=”#a00046″ ]Now, here’s a geek feature I love: the BodyMedia Link measures my activity in METs (“metabolic equivalent of task,” or simply “metabolic equivalents”) and even gives me a daily average.[/viralpullquote]

Sitting quietly in a chair is 1 MET. Sleeping represents a metabolic rate of about .9. Running very fast (at a pace of 4:17 per mile) would be 23 METs.

So at the end of the day I can check to see what my average METs per hour were, and obviously a higher number is better.

For example, today I haven’t done anything other than a few household tasks and a lot of computer work. My average METs per hour so far are pretty low: 1.65.


body-media.600pxYou can see from this screenshot (from my iPad) that between 8:15 and noon I did some walking around—the brown areas on the graph. The blue areas represent being sedentary. You can see that I slept till 8 a.m. (hey, I worked hard this weekend) and have spent about half of my waking hours so far parked on my rear end. (I will soon remedy that with a trip to the gym.)

My point is that the BodyMedia Link gives me a detailed picture of exactly how I spend each day. One day not long ago I worked on the computer for about 14 hours. My energy expenditure was abysmal. Lots of blue on my graph.

Seeing that was a dramatic reminder that I don’t want to spend whole days like that. Yes, I may have a lot of work to accomplish, but my body and mind will both suffer if I don’t break it up with activity.

And yes, I am more likely to take extra walks and put in additional exercise time because in some odd way, I find it rewarding to see the numbers accumulate on the BodyMedia app.

Small daily behavior modifications add up to massive life change!

Summing up

The BodyMedia Link armband costs significantly more than the FitBit Zip ($120 on Amazon, and yes, this is an affiliate link, compared with $49 for the Zip). Also, you need a monthly subscription to the bodymedia website ($6.95 a month or $59 a year).

And it’s worth every penny.

If you’re motivated by having more information—like I am—and your workouts consist of more than walking, I think you should consider the BodyMedia Link.

Register now for my next free training session

bigstock-diet-alone-600px-hot-body-webinar-one-caucasian-woman-exercising-35485085And if you are motivated by having more information, you need to be on my next free online training webinar.

During this session—The Hot Body Formula: 5 Keys to Your Total Body Transformation—I’m going to reveal the foundational principles to creating a hot, healthy, lean figure.

And I’m going to walk you step by step through the process of figuring out exactly how much to eat for safe and healthy fat loss that does not slow down your metabolism.

What—you didn’t realize that’s what most diets do?

It’s because they’re not custom-tailored to you. And I’m going to show you how to change that.

Sign up now!

It’s happening at 7 p.m. Eastern (U.S.) on Wednesday, June 12. Presuming the technology gods cooperate, there will be a recording, but you need to be on this call live with me in order to

  1. receive a valuable gift only for participants on the line with me
  2. have the opportunity to ask me questions and troubleshoot as we walk through the calorie-estimating process and
  3. have a shot at winning a $200 prize given to one lucky participant.

Learn more here. I hope to “see” you during the session!


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