Thoughts on Fitness Trackers in Martial Arts Classes

Thoughts on Fitness Trackers in Martial Arts ClassesThe first time I saw a Fitbit on a student’s wrist in class, I reminded the student that jewelry was not allowed on the mats. He apologized, but also pointed out that it wasn’t simply a bracelet, that it was a fitness tracker that helped him monitor all their physical activities. I thought it was an interesting device, but ultimately asked him to take it off, as that was the rule. Since then, a couple of other students have stepped onto the mats wearing one, saying that they just forgot about it because they’re so used to having it on, as they hurriedly removed it and returned to their training. 

The Sunny Side of Fitness Trackers

As a martial arts instructor, I have mixed feelings about this new technology. I like that students are taking an interest in their fitness and wellbeing through devices like this. I, myself, use the running app for my iPhone called Zombies, Run! as a way of making my runs more entertaining and using the supplies and materials I collect on my routes to fortify my home base against zombie incursions within the game. So if fitness trackers, apps, etc, can make people more motivated to keep up their fitness regimens, they must be good, right? Perhaps, but it depends on the person and how they use it.

The Dark Side of Fitness Trackers

I’m fairly open-minded to change if I think the change will help students be more motivated in their training. As such, I have allowed students to wear their fitness trackers during warm-ups, but they are then asked to remove them when we start doing martial arts techniques as they can get in the way of wearing focus mitts, grabbing wrists, and applying various techniques. It can be a safety issue and quite simply a nuisance if their training partners have to wait for them to take it off and put it back on depending on what they’re working on. I do sometimes see a glimmer of frustration at having to take it off. Apparently, my students aren’t the only ones. I recently read an article How I Discovered the Dark Side of Wearable Fitness Trackers, that pointed out that some people are overly reliant on them psychologically, even resentful of them at times. A study tracking 200 women who had fully embraced the “Always on. Always on me,” approach found that while it did help a great many to achieve their fitness goals when wearing it, they had some negative feelings about it and their activities when not wearing it. 45% reported that they felt “naked” without it, and that the activities the did without it were wasted (43%). Many of them also felt pressured to reach their targets (79%), and that their daily routines were controlled by Fitbit (59%). Even worse, 30% saw the Fitbit as an enemy, making them feel guilty about their choices.

Keeping It All in Perspective

You can become over-reliant on anything. A person can feel like they can only work out when they have a certain partner to do it with. It could be a feeling like you can only do your best when a particular instructor is teaching. Or it could be a technological innovation like fitness trackers. The important thing is to not let this happen. Remember what your goals are in working out or learning a martial art; to get in shape/stay fit, to learn a new skill, to have fun, etc. It’s fine to use a Fitbit as a guideline to keep general track of what you’re doing or to help keep you motivated, but it shouldn’t be so important that you lose sight of why you got it in the first place. I enjoy my Zombies, Run! app, but if I forget my phone, I won’t not go for my run or move my run to another day just because I don’t have it. If you’re so reliant on your Fitbit that you feel like your martial arts training is a wasted activity when you’re not wearing it, you either aren’t that into your training, or the device has gotten into your head just a little too much. Remember that the martial arts is as much about mental development as it is about the physical. We try to remove mental/emotional attachment to the results of our training so that we can focus on just doing our best and being in the moment.

Now over to you. How do you feel about fitness trackers being used in martial arts classes? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 🙂

Comments (6)

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Fitness Trackers in Martial Arts Classes

  1. I always wear mine. I take it off when I’m teaching/learning martial arts and full contact foam weapon fighting (too much potential for things to go bad). Other than that, it’s always on me. I rarely ever check it on a day-to-day basis. I tend to check it once a week to get an overall idea as to what I’ve been doing (or not doing in some cases).

    As a certified fitness trainer, I keep mine on for both personal reasons and to inspire others to become more aware of what they are doing (or not doing) and how that affects them in the long run. I have found that some people become obsessive about their trackers and others forget about them.

    When teaching martial arts, I have the students remove their trackers. Some give me fits, and others just do it. I can empathize with those that would like to track their martial arts activity – as I wish I had a way to do the same while remaining safe for myself and others.

  2. I wear a the low profile Fitbit Flex…no hard plastic or glass faces, no clock, no heart rate monitor or other fancy bells and whistles. I usually just use it as a monitor for my activity, BUT in the case of martial arts, it isn’t all that accurate because the motion sensor in the unit is geared toward steps and strides, not running, not punching, kicking, or grappling. However for some reason it DOES count Tai Chi and forms as “walking” or “strides”, lol. I take it off if sparring, grappling, or freestyle push-hands, and I suggest that others do too.

    However if my students choose not to take it off, I remind them that I will not reimburse them for the cost of their tracker if they damage it, and that they should make the correct decision to take it off if they’re sparring, grappling or doing free-pushing.

    I think these trackers are meant for those that have walking or other non-contact sport as their primary activity. The stuff some of these trackers do are very cool for runners, cross country athletes, etc. However I think that when it comes to martial arts, one should track their progress via journal, voice memo, etc. Martial arts, I believe, is “different” enough to warrant its own personal progress tracking. 🙂

  3. The last time I stepped on the mats pre-dates wearable so but I always wanted to wear a heart rate monitor to get a *real* idea of calories burned and effort; but the safety risks outweighed the benefit… I could get hurt. I don’t think the fitbit is any different. The no jewelry rule is for safety – there are strikes, blocks, grabs, and locks that it could interfere with. BTW I’m typing this with not one but two wearables on.

  4. If you do Marital Art for sport only, safety always come first, train without the wearable electronic devices. If you are training for real live combat, try training with the Fitbit a few times. You may get hurt, it is better to get hurt in the Dojo then on the street.

  5. I see no reason why you could not use your fitness tracker while training individually, doing similar exercises as you may do during glass or group training. From individual sessions you can then infer what your result would be during the times you remove your tracker for safety reasons during classes.

  6. Check out the Jawbone UP Move tracker. It is a little wafer, about as big as a quarter and thick as 3 stacked together. As far as functionality is concerned, it is pretty limited. But, you can just tuck it in your pocket (I’ve actually sewed some velcro in my workout shorts pockets to keep the UP from falling out). Doing it this way is in no way intrusive, or interferes with any training that I can conceive, including grappling, wrist grabs etc. This “in your pocket” bit isn’t dissimilar to what people often do with their mouth guards: tuck the guard in your pocket until you being sparring or other things where you need it etc. The UP Move is a lot smaller than the mouth guard, so if mouthguard in the pocket is acceptable during training, I don’t see why having this little gizmo in there would be out of bounds.

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