We gave this article a good reshuffle, with some revamped content in the guide section, as well as the addition of two new devices to our chart – the high-end Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire and the sleek Apple Watch Series 5.
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For all their achievements, manufacturers of smartwatches and activity trackers just can’t seem to get it perfect when it comes to strength training.
One issue is that strength and conditioning workouts tend to be so extensive and dynamic, that these devices find it difficult to keep up. Consider that a single CrossFit WOD may consist of deadlifts, burpees, thrusters and a couple of 400m runs, and you can see what we mean!
However, no need to despair – there is plenty of hope for us lifters!
In fact, some of the best fitness trackers and smartwatches on the market boast tracking for strength training, along with some other relevant features that will appeal to weightlifters, CrossFit athletes and HIIT enthusiasts.
In this article, we explore some of these devices in more depth, offering brief reviews as well as their pros and cons. We also offer a detailed guide to the kind of features you should look out for in a fitness tracker, as well as a handy FAQ section.
Battery life: Up to 12 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (10ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Stainless steel bezel, domed sapphire crystal screen, dedicated strength tracker, multinetwork satellite reception, multiple activity tracking, smartphone notifications, NFC payments (Garmin Pay)
Garmin leads the way when it comes to fitness trackers for runners, although many of their devices have a lot of worth for lifters too. The Fenix 5X Sapphire is one of these – boasting an upgraded strength profile, allowing you to record various data.
New technology gives it the ability to automatically detect the movement you are doing and the rep count – although you can edit these later to tweak the accuracy. In addition, the Fenix 5X offers superior tracking for cardio activities, a 10ATM water-resistance rating, and built-in multi-satellite reception.
Regardless of where you train, this wearable stands up to anything from sweat to accidental impact, with reinforced housing, a stainless-steel bezel and scratch-resistant sapphire screen. Throw in solid smartwatch features including NFC payments, and this is a great all-rounder.
Battery life: Up to 18 hours
Sleep Tracking: No
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Multiple color choices, Ion-X strengthened glass, aluminum body, OLED Always-On Retina display, built-in compass, multinetwork satellite reception, barometric altimeter, smartphone notifications, music storage, female health tracking, NFC payments (Apple Pay)
The Apple Watch Series 5 is the tech giant’s newest iteration and – while not a dedicated fitness tracker – this high-end smartwatch actually puts some fitness trackers to shame with the extent of activity it captures.
While the Apple Watch doesn’t offer dedicated weightlifting tracking yet, this smartwatch is excellent at monitoring heart rate, high-intensity activity and calories burned, so is a good choice for dynamic CrossFit workouts. Plus, compatibility with workout tracker apps such as Setgraph, Fitbod and Gymaholic is very handy.
Fitness aside, the Series 5 is an impressive piece of gear. It looks elegant, is built to last and features built-in GPS and a 5ATM water-resistance rating. It can also make calls, stream music and make Apple Pay payments.
Battery life: Up to 7 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Stainless-steel bezel, Chroma Display, Corning Gorilla Glass, tracks 15 activities, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, smartphone notifications, music storage, stress tracking, NFC payments (Garmin Pay)
For a slightly more affordable fitness tracker with plenty of high-end features, the vivoactive 3 from Garmin is an excellent choice for bodybuilders, powerlifters and CrossFitters.
This rugged watch features a solid dedicated strength training tracking profile, which allows you to manually time your sets, enter your reps, and then time your rest periods. It also offers automatic exercise tracking and automatic rep counting, which is surprisingly accurate when you get used to the idiosyncrasies.
This ‘Music’ variation costs a little more than the standard vivoactive 3, yet the ability to store 500 songs and use Spotify directly from the watch means you never need your phone in the weights room again. Throw in good water resistance and decent battery life, and this one offers great value!
Battery life: Up to 7 days
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Waterproof: Yes (5ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Aluminum frame, polycarbonate screen, OLED touchscreen, multiple activity tracking, connected GPS, smartphone notifications, stress tracking, weather app
The vivosmart 4 is proof that you do not need to spend big bucks to get a decent Garmin that can track your activity in the weights room, as well as across the rest of the fitness world.
While this slim and lightweight fitness band may not boast the advanced features of the Fenix 5X, it still offers enough for lifters on a budget. For example, it can automatically estimate your reps, sets, and both work and rest times, while you can also enter this info manually to guarantee accuracy.
In addition, it offers tracking for running, cycling and swimming, with a ‘safe for swimming’ 5ATM rating from Garmin. Other features that boost the value include sleep tracking, all-day stress tracking, a heart rate monitor and connected GPS.
Battery life: Up to 5 hours
Sleep Tracking: No
Waterproof: Yes (3ATM)
Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Features: Unique widescreen touchscreen, detachable from main strap, tracks gym-based workouts, follow custom and preset workouts (via app)
While the Atlas Wristband suffers poor ratings in some aspects, it is surprisingly one of the only fitness trackers dedicated to weightlifting and, as such, deserves its place on this list.
The Atlas Wristband features a unique twist on the standard wearable fitness tracker, with a detachable ‘widescreen’ touchscreen that extends up the arm. This surprisingly comfortable device is built for lifting, with the ability to track your movements in the gym. This includes your reps and sets, calories burned and heart rate.
It features several modes, which allow you to follow along to preset gym-based or CrossFit workouts, or make your own ‘freestyle’ workout. The heart rate monitor is pretty accurate, tracking your exertion in the gym and HIIT classes with ease.
As we have established, finding a wrist-based device made specifically for CrossFit and weightlifting is much harder than finding a fitness tracker for running – but not impossible.
Our chart above has offered several devices worth considering if the weights room, HIIT class, or CrossFit box is your main destination when it comes to fitness.
However, there are many more activity trackers on the market that may suit you better. The following guide will give you some design and feature considerations, allowing you to find one that truly suits your individual needs.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers come in all shapes and varieties. Some look like blatant activity watches – with a streamlined silicone wristband design and vibrant colors – while others are more traditional in style, with circular faces and the option to use a leather or metal strap.
Your individual tastes – and where you will be wearing the watch – will naturally determine which style you lean towards.
If you are simply planning to wear it during gym hours, then looks won’t really matter. However, if you want to wear the watch to your office and at social events, then a more refined design will give you more flexibility, as it will pair better with formal clothing.
Sadly, the shape of some devices (such as the Atlas Wearable wristband), just look plain odd in any scenario other than the gym. The same goes for a brightly colored strap, which may not draw attention on the deadlift platform, but may do in the boardroom or at a wedding!
While looks are certainly worth considering, so is the build. For example, is the watch bulky or low-profile? If you are performing a dynamic workout consisting of movements such as power cleans, pullups, burpees and box jumps, you will want to ensure that your watch doesn’t get in the way – so look for a lightweight, unrestrictive watch.
A secure fit is also crucial. The last thing you want to be doing during your rest periods is adjusting your strap. Ultimately, you want to put the watch on and forget about it. Look for watches that will fit your wrist perfectly. Most devices are ‘one-size-fits-all’, but some come in different sizes.
The quality of the screen is equally important. In high-intensity environments, you will want a screen with a simple display that is vibrant and clearly read. This is the reason why an ‘always-on’ screen is useful, as you don’t need to press any buttons to see your data – great, because sweaty fingers never work well on touchscreens!
Meanwhile, if you are performing some movements, such as kettlebell cleans, be aware that your watch may get in the way at times and could be subject to impact. Unless the screen is durable enough, you could scratch or smash it – this is why a watch with strengthened glass and/or a protective stainless-steel bezel is worth considering, even if the price is higher.
While a good fitness smartwatch may be able to offer top-notch activity tracking, smartphone functionality and some pretty cool apps, it’s no good to anybody if the battery dies halfway through your day.
Like designs and features, there is no standard battery life among these devices, with many budget fitness trackers actually outperforming high-end smartwatches in the power department. This is why it is worth paying attention to the advertised life, so you can judge whether or not the device will be suitable for you.
For example, if you are only strapping on the watch for an hour or two in the gym, a shorter battery life may not make much difference to you. If, however, you are planning to wear the watch to track your daily steps and calories, as well as your more formal workouts and sleep quality, then a battery that lasts less than 24 hours won’t be suitable.
As mentioned, some higher-end watches actually struggle in the battery department. This is because they do so much, with hefty power-draining features such as vibrant always-on screens, built-in GPS, continuous heart rate monitoring and internet connectivity. In fact, some watches, such as the Apple Watch Series 5, offer just an 18-hour battery life (if you are lucky!).
On that note, be aware of the terms of the advertised battery life. For example, one device may offer ‘seven days of battery life’, but this is not taking into account the use of GPS. In GPS mode, you may only get 14 hours.
Your decision will be largely down to how frustrating you find charging the device to be, and whether or not you want sleep tracking as a feature. Sleep tracking (see below) naturally relies on you wearing the watch overnight. If you have to take it off at the end of your day to charge it, then it obviously won’t track your sleep.
If, however, you don’t care about sleep tracking, and aren’t bothered about charging your fitness tracker alongside your phone, tablet and other devices every night, then a short battery life won’t bother you.
The majority of fitness trackers and smartwatches will track your day-to-day activity – such as steps, floors and calories burned – as well as formal workouts. Depending on the device, you may find tracking profiles specifically for running, cycling and swimming, although some will offer profiles for everything including skiing, yoga and golf.
Many watches do have strength training profiles built in, although the tracking for this kind of activity falls behind those for other activities.
The reason is largely down to the complexity of strength training workouts. To illustrate this, look at running or rowing, where your movement doesn’t change much over the course of a workout. These workouts are therefore pretty easy for a wearable to track.
However, in a hypertrophy session, you may be squatting, deadlifting, pulling or pushing in many ways. In circuits classes you may be running, jumping, pushing sleds, performing burpees and ball slams. A fitness tracker struggles to recognize these movements as things are constantly changing.
Automatic tracking for such dynamic activities is a hard nut to crack. Some devices do it relatively well, although still suffer problems.
For example, the device may be able to accurately determine that you are performing a bench press and count your reps for you. Great. However, you may then move over to a lat pulldown machine (which involves a similar movement pattern), but the device still tracks you as benching.
At the moment, manual tracking tends to be more accurate. This means you can perform your set of bench press, then enter the weight and reps completed, then move onto the next set. It’s like having a notepad on your wrist!
Aside from tracking your movement, reps, sets and time, heart rate monitoring is one of the most important features for high-intensity work.
If you are taking part in a CrossFit WOD, or a functional fitness or high-intensity circuits class, then chances are you have some sort of goal in mind, whether that’s fat loss or building endurance.
The simplest way to monitor whether you are working towards your target is to ensure that you are in a certain heart rate zone. For example, if you want to burn fat, then the 60% to 70% zone will be your aim, while improving your aerobic fitness requires more time in the 70% to 80% zone.
The majority of fitness trackers will feature a wrist-based heart rate monitor with a sensor on the rear of the device that uses ‘photoplethysmography’ (PPG). This uses light to identify changes in blood flow through the wrist, delivering a close-to-real-time reading to the screen of the watch.
For CrossFit, high-intensity training and even gym-based lifting, responsiveness and accuracy are crucial. This is because you will have periods of peak heart rate, quickly followed by a brief drop as you rest, then another spike as you go again – and so on. Having a heart rate monitor that fails to keep up is as pointless as having no heart rate monitor at all.
Luckily, the accuracy of heart rate monitors on wrist-based fitness trackers is very good, although a bigger brand name – such as Garmin, Apple or Fitbit – and a more expensive device will usually deliver more accuracy than a budget brand.
However, if you are looking for complete accuracy, you will need to move away from your wrist and towards your chest instead.
Chest strap heart rate monitors sit close to the heart and use electrocardiography instead of PPG, therefore delivering close to 100% accuracy. Providing you can put up with a strap around your chest for the entire session, a chest strap will be the best option for you.
If your sole fitness activity is gym or box based, then feel free to skip this section. You definitely don’t need GPS to track your movement on the deadlift platform – or a treadmill for that matter!
However, if you do a little outdoors running and cycling as your cardio work, then you may be more interested in GPS tracking. This function will give you reliable real-time info on your pace and distance, as well as mapping your route for later analysis.
GPS tends to fall into two categories: connected GPS and built-in GPS.
Connected GPS is the least convenient, but the cheaper option and best for prolonging battery life. With no GPS receiver in the watch, connected GPS essentially hijacks the GPS signal from your smartphone. This allows you to see accurate GPS readouts on your wrist without having to check your phone. Of course, you need to take your phone with you on a run for this to actually work.
Built-in GPS is the height of convenience, allowing you to leave your phone at home while the GPS receiver built into your watch accurately tracks your movement. Besides draining the battery, this option is more expensive, and therefore reserved for midrange fitness trackers and above.
Like GPS tracking, having a 10ATM water-resistance rating – allowing you to reach depths of up to 100 meters – probably isn’t the most important feature a lifter needs on their smartwatch.
Having said that, if you plan to use your device for swimming and other water-based activities, then you will need to consider the water-resistance rating.
There is more information on these ratings in our guide to the best fitness trackers for swimming, although it’s worth being aware that anything with a 3ATM to 10ATM rating should be suitable for swimming, as should an IP68 rating.
Of course, we always advise that you check the manufacturer’s specifications to determine exactly what activities the watch can withstand. If the manufacturer says it can take swimming, then you know you are probably safe.
If you aren’t interested in swimming, water-resistance is still quite important. Having at least an IP67 or IP68 rating is worthwhile, in case you are caught in the rain or want to shower with your watch.
Plus, considering how intense some CrossFit WODS can be, the device is always likely to come into contact with some moisture from sweat. Some sort of water resistance will ensure this sweat isn’t going to break the device.
In the world of building strength and muscle, a good lifter knows that recovery is as – if not more – important than what you do in the gym. This is why a good night’s sleep is crucial.
While you can wake up feeling either refreshed and ready to go, or more tired than when you went to sleep, chances are you don’t know exactly what happened during the night – unless you are tracking your sleep.
This is where wearables with built-in sleep tracking come in handy. Using a motion sensor to track subtle changes in your movement, the sleep tracking feature will give you some insight into your nightly activity and how restful your sleep is.
By having your sleep data available, you can make changes to your bedtime habits to help you sleep better. Some sleep trackers will also include a silent alarm (in the form of a gentle vibration on your wrist) that wakes you during your lightest period of sleep, so you don’t wake up from deep slumber feeling groggy.
A sleep tracking feature isn’t reason alone to buy a fitness tracker, although having this function built in can be very useful.
Of course, as we mentioned above, the battery life of the device will determine whether or not sleep tracking is feasible – if it’s under 24 hours, you can pretty much write off sleep tracking.
Finally, we get to lifestyle features – those features we associate more with smartwatches than fitness trackers. In other words, those features that make life more convenient.
One such feature is music storage or streaming. We all know how much more weight we can push when listening to an inspirational tune, so having the ability to play music directly from your wrist to Bluetooth headphones is a very useful function. This function is more common on the higher-end watches.
Smartphone notifications are another common feature, although this is seen on watches across the price spectrum. You will usually find incoming calls, SMS messages and social media alerts pop up on the watch. The ability to interact with these notifications will depend on the device, but some will allow you to reply to messages and even make calls of your own.
These days, higher-end watches will often give you the ability to make NFC contactless payments. This allows you to pay for items (from your post-workout protein shake to your groceries) directly from your wrist. It’s a handy feature, especially if you are prone to forgetting cash or cards.
There are hundreds of other functions aside from these examples, ranging from weather alerts to female health tracking features. However, if your watch connects to an app store – Apple, Samsung and Garmin devices are particularly good at this – then you can download all the apps that suit you.
Truth be told, at the time of writing, the selection of dedicated CrossFit watches was very poor.
However, just because a device doesn’t advertise itself specifically as a CrossFit tracker, that doesn’t mean it isn’t suitable for CrossFit, HIIT and weightlifting. You just have to ensure that the watch you do pick shows off the features required for these kinds of workouts.
One of these is a good heart rate monitor. Unlike steady-state cardio, your heart rate isn’t at a constant level during high-intensity sessions, with great fluctuations as you push hard then rest, then push, then rest, and so on. A good heart rate monitor will keep up with you, delivering heart rate data with very little delay.
The watch should also offer a good strength training or HIIT profile, so you can track your active time and calories burned more accurately than a generic profile.
A watch that allows you to enter your reps, sets and weights can also be very convenient for this kind of activity, allowing you to leave you phone and notebook in the locker.
So, the best fitness watch for CrossFit could be one of many. Our chart above highlights a few options, but there are many more on the market worth considering.
In 21st century gyms, it’s probably more common to see somebody wearing a fitness tracker than not. However, why do we wear them? What does a fitness tracker actually do?
It may sound obvious, but a fitness tracker’s prime function is to track your activity. This is usually your activity as a whole throughout the day, as well as specific activities as part of formal workouts (such as running, swimming or rowing).
Crammed with tech and sensors – usually including an accelerometer, barometric altimeter, heart rate monitor and GPS receiver – you can expect even a midrange fitness tracker to offer tons of data.
Expect them to track your daily step count, distance, floors climbed, calories burned, active minutes, active and resting heart rates, and even sleep – and this is just scraping the surface of what most devices are capable of.
For example, if the device is geared towards running you may find things like speed, cadence, route mapping, pace strategies and built-in running workouts. If it’s a swimming tracker, expect features such as profiles for both pool and open-water swimming, stroke detection, SWOLF scores, drill logging, auto rest function, and pacing alerts.
In addition to fitness and activity, modern fitness trackers offer a wide range of smartwatch features that help make life easier. For example, notifications from your smartphone delivered to your wrist. You may also find things like NFC payments, music storage, games and even things like food-delivery apps!
Whether all of this is useful to you or not depends entirely on your needs and wants. However, as you can see, fitness trackers do a lot of things for such small devices!
These days there is a big crossover between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker – and Apple have certainly blurred the line with their Apple Watch wearables!
For this reason, thousands of users take advantage of the advanced fitness tracking on offer from the Apple Watch.
At the time of writing (December 2019), the Apple Watch Series 5 was the most current device in the series.
Some of the fitness features on the Series 5 include individual profiles for activities such as running, cycling, swimming (pool and open water), yoga and high-intensity interval training, with Apple boasting it offers ‘advanced metrics for every level of athlete.’
This includes your active minutes, steps, pace, distance, calories burned, accurate heart rate and ECG, and reliable mapping of outdoor activity thanks to multinetwork satellite reception. This is just a small sample of what the watch offers.
As you can see, there are plenty of fitness features on the Apple Watch, regardless of your activity. It may not stand up to some of the advanced features and metrics offered by the likes of Garmin, but – for the majority of users – it will be more than enough.
Plus, the fact the Apple Watch tends to smash the competition in smartwatch features adds a lot of value!
Having an accurate and real-time heart rate readout is one of the most important features offered by fitness trackers – especially if you are targeting specific goals such as fat loss or endurance.
But how do they actually measure your heart rate?
The technical term is ‘photoplethysmography’ (commonly known as PPG). This system uses a couple of LED lights set at different frequencies. These lights shine into your skin and the reflectance is measured.
This can deliver pretty good accuracy, although with so much ambient light shining into your skin – which will happen unless you are working out in a dark room – this system is not without its errors. Many will be very close to accurate, although certainly not medical grade.
Thankfully, as technology continues to improve, so too does the accuracy of wrist-based heart rate monitors. However, for a nearly 100% accurate heart rate reading while working out, we advise using a chest strap monitor. This style of heart rate tracker is placed nearer the heart and uses electrocardiography for more reliable readings.
As this article has highlighted multiple times, weightlifters and CrossFit athletes aren’t spoiled for choice when it comes to fitness trackers made specifically for these activities.
However, general fitness trackers and smartwatches are on hand to offer a very good solution, providing you know what features are important.
The handful of devices on our list are all capable trackers, yet we suggest you use the information in our guide to browse the market and find a device that fits your exact requirements. Then enjoy using it as you crush your next WOD!