After using many smartwatches and fitness trackers over the years, I’ve discovered a few ways that you can get the most out of such devices, maximizing their effectiveness.

Find Competitive Friends

Over the last month, three of my closest friends bought a Fitbit Versa as well (on my recommendation) and since then, we’ve been engaging in weekly, daily, and weekend challenges to see who can get the most steps. I was rarely able to consistently meet my 10,000 steps per day goal until I found the motivation and encouragement (and friendly competition!) from friends who were also trying to get fit.

It doesn’t only mean going to the gym or on brisk walks, though I do try to do that at least three times a week, when possible. I made small but impactful changes, like going to the upstairs bathroom instead of using the powder room on the main level, walking around the block while my son is in evening classes, or circling my backyard a few times every hour to ensure I’m not sitting at the computer for too long. You’d be amazed at how quickly those small additional things, when done consistently, can make a difference, especially if you’re used to sitting at a computer and working in an office all day.

If you can find a group of like-minded (and equally competitive) friends or colleagues to do challenges with, it really can make a huge difference, and add a level of accountability that wasn’t there before.

Use Complementary Devices and Apps

Most smartwatches and fitness trackers work with third-party devices and apps so you can track more than just your steps, workouts, sports, and sleep. I use the Fitbit Aria scale to log my weight and body fat percentage every morning within the Fitbit app. You can also use devices like the Thermos smart water bottle to keep track of your water intake and hydration. And pair it with an app like MyFitnessPal to log everything you eat or drink to calculate your calories in versus out each day.

Then, of course, there are wireless headphones and earbuds that allow for music listening. With the Apple Watch and Apple AirPods, you can sync playlists from Apple Music directly to the device and leave your phone at home or in the gym locker while you work out or go for a run. Or, if you’re willing to invest a few hundred bucks, earbuds like the Jabra Sport Elite I reviewed in the aforementioned article add value through in-ear heart rate monitoring, coaching, and more, that makes it easy to ensure you remain in your target heart rate zone during an evening run.

Fitness trackers don’t need to operate on their own – there are lots of other devices you can use with them to enhance the experience.

Pay Attention to Patterns

A major benefit of trackers is not only that they provide a lot of useful data, but that they also provide useful information about how to use that data to make positive changes to your daily habits and routines. With the Fitbit app, for example, you’ll get helpful insights about your sleep stages (light, deep, and REM), and tips to improve, like to go to bed earlier during the weekdays because you sleep in too long on the weekends (guilty on that one!) or to avoid eating big meals at least two hours before sleeping because the body stays energized while it digests food.

Devices like the Apple Watch provide awards for “closing” different rings that can motivate you as well to follow specific patterns of behaviour. There’s an award, for example, for a Perfect Week of movements, or for a Perfect Week overall, that encourages you to build positive patterns, and gameifies the experience in the process.

Set Goals and Work Towards Them 

Instead of just monitoring data, set specific goals and work each day to achieve them. In the Fitbit app, items turn green once you achieve each goal, like climbing a specific number of floors per day, traveling the equivalent of a specific distance, burning a certain number of calories, having a certain number of active minutes, and getting a least three days of exercise per week, whether it’s days at the gym or a brisk walk that’s fast enough to get your heart rate up. Don’t just focus on the steps, but also achieving those other goals.

With a device like the Apple Watch, users can become obsessed with “closing their rings” for movement throughout each day, exercise, and number of hours you’ve stood versus sat down. And those same awards I mentioned above exist for achieving other goals, too, like a daily Move goal 1,000 times, doing your first cycling workout, or setting a personal record for the most calories burned in a day after your first 10 days with the app.

Use Coaching Features

Lifestyle photo of Fitbit Charge 4.

Even if you can’t make it out to the gym, you can still do quick workouts at home. If you’re like me, it’s hard to get motivated to work out when the couch, television, and your bed are so close by, along with lots of other distractions. But smartwatches like the Fitbit Versa include short and quick workouts you can complete in 10-15 minutes, just to get your juices flowing. Select the Coach option from the watch and start a workout you can complete in your backyard or basement late at night once the kids are asleep, or first thing in the morning before getting ready for work.

Fitbit has a Dynamic Balance workout, for example, that’s just six minutes long. You’ll see instructions on how to do each move, then it will count as you complete each step, buzzing on your wrist when it’s time to stop and look at the next move. A Cardio Strength workout is 18 minutes long. I’ve tried a few of these while at the gym, and it’s a great way to get some exercise when you don’t have a trainer, aren’t in a class, are working out alone, or are simply feeling unmotivated.

Bottom Line

Just getting a fitness tracker alone and exercising is great. But to truly get the full benefit of using one, try one of more of these methods. Adopting these has made a tremendous difference in the amount of exercise I get per day and how motivated I am to go the gym. And it has made me view a tracker I’ve been wearing for more than a year in an entirely different light.