How to pick the right fitness device for gym members
If you spend a lot of time at the gym, odds are your workouts involve weights, equipment, or classes. A heart rate monitor and workout tracking applications are the best go-to gadget options for gym members. If you’re looking to get high tech about your workout, here are some of our suggestions.
The best options
Heart rate monitor: This will help optimize any aerobic workout, from circuit training to step class, by keeping you in the right training and recovery zones (see How to pick the best fitness device for runners for more details). Skip the GPS and go with something like the Polar FT80 that is optimized for the gym and can tell you when to start that next lifting set by using heart rate data to ensure your recovery interval was long enough. Even if you don’t want advanced features, pick a model with a coded chest strap to avoid interference from other devices that may be in your range.
Fitness apps: Bring your smartphone and load up a fitness app to track your sets and reps and guide you through workouts. Aside from preventing you from “accidentally” forgetting which set you are on, these apps track your workouts over time and let you analyze your improvements with graphs and stats. Most include massive repositories of different exercises with diagrams and videos, and some even piece together workouts based on your goals for the day or include built-in timers for circuit workouts. Fitness Buddy (iOS/Android) is a great example, but there is a plethora to choose from.
Timer apps: Like circuit and interval training? Download a timer app to juice up that stopwatch. Apps such as Seconds Pro ($5/iOS) or the free Deltaworks Interval Timer (iOS) let you arrange sets and reps for your Tabata and CrossFit training without the clutter of a full fitness app.
If you have a vendetta against heart rate chest straps, try the Scosche Rhythm arm-strap version that pairs with your phone over Bluetooth. It isn’t as reliable as a chest strap, but may be a lot more comfortable.
Rev up your spinning class with the CycleOps PowerCal, a heart rate-based power meter. It measures subtle heart rate variability using a chest strap, then translates those variables to changes in your power output. It isn’t nearly as accurate as a direct force power meter, but provides better consistency across workouts than heart rate alone. Pair it with any ANT+ GPS watch that supports power profiles for cycling.
Instant Heart Rate (iOS/Android) uses your phone’s camera and flash to take your pulse from your fingertip. It works well for checks between sets.
Things to avoid
Older, non-coded heart rate straps that are incredibly prone to interference.
Any device that impedes your movement or restricts your circulation.
Apps that require you to pause in the middle of a workout, or that don't keep track of your workouts.