Review: The Fitbit Charge HR

A few months back, I bought the Fitbit Charge HR in an attempt to track my fitness and motivate me more, and as promised, I thought it’d been long enough to give a fair review! We were both looking for something that provided the health tracking benefits of the Apple watch, but without the price tag.

I initially ordered the Charge HR as it is more than a pedometer or a motion sensor – it has a built in heart rate monitor that tracks your heart rate from your wrist and therefore more accurately tracks your activity by the intensity of the exercise. I used to use a polar heart rate monitor and strap (and my treadmill came with one so your heart rate can be read ‘hands free’ on the treadmill) but wetting the sensor and fitting the strap each time was effort I didn’t want to go to – I read something once about people should just go and run, without the gadgets, trackers, sensors, apps etc. I like that view, but I also like to know if I’m improving or stay motivated by seeing my results so do like some minimal record of my runs. The Fitbit is a lifestyle tracker more than a heart rate monitor and tracks your steps, heart rate, stairs climbed, calorie burn and sleep throughout your day, as well as an exercise mode which will track your particular activity for that time.

When I first purchased it (and Mr Ruby Wren got one too, the Surge model) it was addictive. Seeing your progress live on the app makes it so you want to continually do stuff to boost your ‘score’ and earn your achievement medals. For the first few weeks, I was walking the dogs, running, using the rebounder and doing Insanity each day, watching my steps and calorie burn increase quickly throughout the day. Needless to say, that was a quiet period for the day job (rubywren.com) and once we headed towards Father’s Day and the orders kept coming in, I couldn’t keep all that up every day.

The concept of the Fitbit is great – it works with other apps on your phone (such as my fitness pal) to track your lifestyle and show you where to make improvements. By putting in your weight goals, it will show you how much exercise and how much food you need to eat to achieve your goals and as the Fitbit syncs throughout the day, you can see if you’re on target.

It does have it’s downsides, however. Both me and the Mr had to give our wrists a break from the Fitbit for several weeks while our skin healed from blistery rashes. It was painful and itchy, and apparently quite common. Fitbit recommends keeping your wrist and Fitbit clean from soaps and sweat that gets trapped under your band, but for something that’s supposed to be worn constantly and discretely throughout the day to monitor your lifestyle, I think the material of the strap could be improved so it doesn’t cause such painful rashes with everyday wear.

I also found my heart rate to be a little inconsistent. While the majority of the time, it was fairy accurate, sometimes during high intensity exercise (sprinting, insanity etc) the heart rate reading was either ridiculously low (like 40-60 bpm lower than where it should be) or had lost signal completely.

As with all fitness trackers and calorie trackers, I think the Fitbit should be used as a guide only, and not to be taken too seriously. I think tracking can become obsessive and damage the ‘healthy’ lifestyle people are striving for by becoming too dependent and obsessed. Counting calories and doing cardio can only get you so far, and you could easily reach your calorie deficit eating chocolate and biscuits only, as long as you did cardio and only ate your required calories for example. It’s a far fetched example, but I believe knowing your body and knowing what foods make you feel good, is far more important than a calorie deficit. When I monitor my calories and keep to the guideline deficit on the Fitbit app, I don’t lose weight…I don’t even gain muscle mass or lose fat mass. My body doesn’t respond to that way of living and it’s been frustrating to live in that ‘calorie deficit and excessive cardio’ lifestyle and not get the results. I’ve found while doing HIIT and body weight exercise like Insanity and not tracking my calories (eating when I’m hungry and eating lots of high nutrition foods, most likely going well over my ‘guideline calorie amount for weight loss’) I get much better and much faster results.

Overall, the Fitbit is a great motivational tool, especially if you have friends to compete with on your leaderboard – it’ll keep you engaged in activity and make it fun to strive for your goals. It is fairly reliable and is a great guide throughout the day. However, with the straps giving us both blistery burn-like reactions and my belief that a healthy lifestyle is more than just tracking calories, it’s not quite perfect, although it’s a great place to start if you want to motivate yourself and start being more active!

I ordered my Fitbit Charge HR Heart Rate and Activity Wristband on Amazon for £119 and the Fitbit Surge Ultimate Fitness Super Watch for £199.

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