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Workout buddies can be motivation magic, but who says they have to be human? Sure, the coolest new fitness gadgets can't pick you up for your 6 a.m. cycling class, but they do help keep you accountable and motivated — and they never sleep in.
"Tools that monitor your exercise behaviors, help you set very specific and achievable short-term and long-term goals and that give you regular, meaningful feedback can be effective motivators," says Jason Fanning, Ph.D., an exercise psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
They're also fun to use and even offer the opportunity for a little healthy competition. Here are a few of the latest tech tools that will make your fitness goals more attainable than ever.
KORR metabolic testing
Best for: weight loss; race training
This fitness assessment offered by all Chicago Athletic Clubs measures resting metabolic rate — the number of calories you burn at rest — with a simple 10-minute breath test. "The results help you figure out exactly how many calories you should be eating, and the calories you need to burn, in order to achieve your fitness goals," says Brandon Yates, director of personal training for Chicago Athletic Clubs. In addition to taking some guesswork out of weight loss, the test is useful for training. "It tells you if you need to increase your caloric intake to maintain a healthy weight for the race," he says.
You can get even more specific data with the system's VO2 max test, which evaluates cardiovascular fitness by measuring oxygen consumption while you run on a treadmill. It takes 10 to 15 minutes and calculates the number of calories you burn in different heart-rate zones. You can then use the data with a heart rate monitor to ensure you're exercising at the right intensities to get the best results, Yates says.
Best for: building muscle and strength; preventing injury
Wear this sensor on your arm or leg in the weight room or while performing body weight exercises and it transmits reps, speed and intensity to your smartphone. It also detects incorrect execution of a move in real time and gives audio feedback (through headphones) that helps you adjust your posture, grip or pace to ensure you get the most of out your moves without risking injury.
Best for: monitoring and pushing workout intensity; people who thrive on competition
The MyZone heart rate sensor (you wear it on a strap just below your chest) and corresponding app deliver real-time data on heart rate and calorie burn to your phone and to monitors around the gym. "All Chicago Athletic Clubs have monitors so everyone in the club who has a MyZone tracker activated pops up on screen, and you can challenge other members," Yates says. Even better: "The heart rate zones are color-coded so it's easy to see how hard you're working," he says. "Gray means you're at your lowest level of energy output; if it's red, then you're at 90 percent or more." You earn MEPs (MyZone Effort Points) — including extra points the longer you stay in higher-intensity yellow and red zones — which you can use to set goals, hold yourself accountable or compete. "It's a great tool to keep you motivated and to push yourself harder," Yates says.
Best for: fitness tracking both in and out of the gym
The newest tracker from Fitbit, the Blaze packs a lot of fun bells and whistles into a slim, sleek and fashionable watch. It not only monitors activity — calories burned, steps, even sleep — it comes with a heart rate sensor and Fitstar subscription that gives you access to workouts on the watch's mini screen. Didn't make it to your favorite strength-training class? Fitstar will lead you through one in the gym.
Best for: staying motivated; sticking with a workout routine
This app available for iOS and Android puts updated class schedules, descriptions and instructor changes in the palm of your hand, plus lets you add classes to your calendar. That's key since scheduling workouts as you might a business meeting keeps you on track. The app also logs workouts and tracks reward-program points. "Set individual goals or join club challenges in the 'Goal Center' section, then the app tracks your progress and tallies points you earn by completing different challenges, like running a mile or doing 20 push ups," says Yates. The gym's program lets you earn swag like water bottles, T-shirts and guest passes, even free personal training sessions and a $500 MasterCard gift card — a tactic research suggests motivates you to keep sweating.
—Kelly Rowe for Chicago Athletic Clubs
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