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Top 10 Fitness Trackers- Rated by a Psychologist Who Knows Motivation

Dr. Erica Schulte, clinical psychologist and weight management researcher, shares her pics for the top 10 fitness trackers based on science and the psychology of motivation.

I’m excited to share with you my picks for the top 10 fitness trackers on the market in 2021, based on my personal experience, 8+ years of working with patients who are pursuing weight management, and deep dive into individual product reviews.

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Why Use a Fitness Tracker?

A meta-analysis by Ringeval and colleagues (2020) found that, across 37 studies, using a fitness tracker was significantly associated with…

  • An increase in the number of steps people took per day
  • An increase in how often people engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity
  • Greater weight loss

These benefits are likely attributed to the visual reminder of wearing a device that reminds you of your intentions to be physically active and the friendly push notifications that pop up throughout the day to encourage you to move around. Also, seeing the statistics of how many calories you burned or how far you walked can be rewarding for feeling like your efforts will help you get closer to your goals!

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve your fitness, train for a physical activity goal, or all of the above, there is a fitness tracker for that!

The Method Behind The Picks

I’ve been wearing a fitness tracker for about 10 years now and am a die-hard fan. I’ve tried a number of different brands until I found the option that personally works best for me. In addition, through my 8+ years of helping patients achieve their weight management goals, I have listened to their feedback on products they have tried. Lastly, I’m always looking for the latest in fitness/health technology, so I have scoured the web for detailed reviews of the current products and a comparison of their features.

Please keep in mind that I’m creating this list for the typical person, like myself, who is regularly active (or interested in becoming regularly active!) and wants a tool that measures bouts of exercise but also gives credit for lifestyle activity (cleaning my house, walking around at work, etc.). Integration with engaging apps that help encourage physical activity taps into the powerful role of psychology in driving motivation, so I’ve also been thoughtful about the usability of the apps/platforms for each tracker.

I hope this serves as your go-to guide to picking a fitness tracker and enjoying the boost to your motivation for pursuing a healthy lifestyle. If you need a starting place for creating your physical activity routine, check out my two science-backed walking for weight loss programs.

Top 10 Fitness Trackers for 2021

Let’s dive in with my recommendations for the top 10 fitness trackers.

Remember, I’m thinking about this as a psychologist to connect you with the most engaging and evidence-based products that have the best chance at improving your physical fitness and helping you stay motivated.

#10: Lintelek Fitness Tracker

 The Lintelek Fitness Tracker is the most affordable fitness tracker on the list at under $30, so it would be a good way to see if a fitness tracker is right for you. The Lintelek Fitness Tracker has the most basic components of a good fitness tracker, such as a heart rate monitor, step counter, specific tracking for 14 types of physical activity, reminders to move during sedentary hours, and sleep trackers. There are few SmartWatch features, such as call/text notifications.

CONS: No GPS, water-resistant but not waterproof, and doesn’t have an engaging app that may help with motivation. I think my #9 pick makes a better starter fitness tracker, so read on!

#9: Amazfit Band 5

 The Amazfit Band 5 is another very affordable option (~$35) to consider if you want to dip your toe into the world of fitness trackers without making a hefty financial investment. With an impressive 15-day battery life, this waterproof band allows you to track your heart rate 24/7, has specific settings for 11 different types of physical activity, and includes modes for measuring sleep and practicing stress management.

Another very helpful benefit of the Amazfit Band 5 is its integration with Amazon Alexa, allowing you to set timers, check the weather, and receive smartphone notifications on the watch face. It’s a little flavor for what a SmartWatch can offer, should you decide to upgrade later down the road.

CONS: The Amazfit Band 5 is a perfect starter fitness tracker. While it doesn’t have some of the advanced features like GPS, training recommendations, or an engaging app, it covers the basics and would be a good buy to get started.

#8: Polar Ignite 2

 The Polar Ignite 2 ranks at #8 on my list, because despite some impressive and unique fitness features, I think the price point is fairly high in comparison with similar competitor models.

What I appreciate about the Polar Ignite 2 is its built-in GPS system and key fitness capabilities, such as continuous heart rate monitoring and nuanced tracking for over 130 types of physical activity. There are also two unique features that are worthy of recognition: FitSpark and Nightly Recharge.

FitSpark provides you with daily workout routines, based on your preferences, energy level, and available time. For instance, FitSpark may present you with a series of 10 strength training exercises and walk you through each one for a more immersive exercise experience ala working out with a mini personal trainer.

Nighly Recharge provides you with an assessment with how well you recovered from the tasks and stress of the prior day. While I appreciate this feature’s attention to self-care and teaching you how to listen to your body, Polar’s website doesn’t provide any information about how this feature works. They just instruct wearers to sleep with the Polar Ignite 2 and Nightly Recharge is “automatic.”

There are some SmartWatch features that go along with the Polar Ignite 2, such as smartphone notifications for calls/texts, relaxation training, and music controls.

CONS: For the price point, I would recommend taking a look at competitor products from Garmin (like my #4 pick, the Venu Sq) or Fitbit (like my #3 pick, the Versa 3), which offer matched or more rigorous fitness tracking capabilities and better integration with third-party apps.

#7: Garmin Vivosmart 4

 The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is a true fitness tracker with stylish features. It doesn’t have built-in GPS but can be connected to your phone to track your pace and distance. It is waterproof and the battery life lasts up to 7 days, which allows you to use the sleep tracking features. The 24/7 heart rate monitoring allows you to not only track your heart rate during workouts but use the heart rate data to inform when you may be feeling stressed.

One of the coolest features of the Vivosmart 4 is the BodyBattery, which is included on higher-end models like the Venu Sq and Vívoactive 4. BodyBattery tracks your heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and breathing rate to help you understand when during the day you have the highest energy, which can teach you about optimal times to participate in physical activity. I think this is one of the most unique features of Garmin products that may be very helpful for people who want to take a whole-body wellness perspective to optimizing physical activity.

CONS: No GPS and very few SmartWatch features, which isn’t a big deal if you are just looking for a fitness tracker! Garmin products do tend to integrate much more easily on Android platforms, so this may also be a con if you’re an iPhone fan.

#6: Fitbit Charge 4

 The Fitbit Charge 4 has every key feature you need in a fitness tracker, but few SmartWatch capabilities.  While it is ranked at #6 overall, the Fitbit Charge 4 is my top choice for the most affordable fitness tracker with all the important features.

The Fitbit Charge 4 is waterproof and impressively has a built-in GPS system, meaning you can track activities you may not bring your phone along for (e.g., cycling, swimming). The battery life is 7 days, so you can put this device on and not have to think about charging it again for an entire week. The Fitbit Charge 4 has every necessary feature for a fitness tracker, such as 24/7 heart rate measurements, precision tracking for over 20 types of physical activity, sleep tracking, and measurements of blood oxygen saturation.

I wore a Fitbit Charge for 2 years back in 2014 and loved the interface of the Fitbit app and its corresponding food logging features. Fitbit is a leading brand for fitness trackers, and they do it right. You’ll see several more options on this list for more advanced models, but the Fitbit Charge is an excellent choice to optimize functionality for a fair price.

CONS: This is an amazing product that does everything a fitness tracker should, including having a built-in GPS, but doesn’t have many SmartWatch features. If you’re looking for a flavor of what a SmartWatch could offer, check out my #5 pick!

#5: Fitbit Luxe

 The beautiful Fitbit Luxe has impressive capabilities as a fitness tracker with a flavor of some of the SmartWatch features that my top 4 options offer.

While the Fitbit Luxe does not have GPS, you can connect it to your phone’s GPS to track your pace and distance. This waterproof tracker allows you to measure your heart rate continuously, aim for target heart rate zones during workouts, and assess your breathing rate. It is equipped to specifically measure over 20 types of exercise for more accurate estimates of calorie burn. The battery life lasts up to 7 days, so you can also enjoy the sleep tracking features.

The Fitbit Luxe has a few notable SmartWatch capabilities, such as call/text notifications (without ability to respond), stress management tools, and mindfulness practices.

CONS: No GPS, no music integration, and no integration with phone or third-party apps. Overall, these aren’t cons if you’re looking for a true fitness tracker that can do it all, rather than a SmartWatch.

#4: Garmin Venu Sq

 The Garmin Venu Sq has many of the features I celebrate with the beloved Vívoactive 4 (spoiler alert for my #2 pick!), including being waterproof, GPS tracking, and advanced features for cardio (like heart rate zone training), swimming, and golfing. The Venu Sq also has my favorite Garmin feature, BodyBattery, to help you understand your energy levels and learn when your body is most prepared for physical activity. The Venu Sq also contains attractive features for a SmartWatch, such as the ability to take calls and answer texts/emails (Android only), monitor sleep, and practice stress management.

The major pros of the Venu Sq over the Vívoactive 4 are the more moderate price point and attractive watch face that blends well into professional and athletic settings.

CONS: There is no altimeter to measure elevation changes (a possible con for walkers/runners/cyclists) and there is limited integration with music from your phone. Not significant deal breakers but require a bit more coordination compared to the next three options that do it all for you!

The Garmin Venu Sq is best for athletes who are looking for advanced training features as a priority over SmartWatch lifestyle integration. The SmartWatch features on all Garmin products are also more relevant to Android users.

#3: Fitbit Versa 3

Fitbit is a reputable brand within the fitness tracker industry, and the Fitbit Versa 3 doesn’t disappoint. I wore Fitbit products for 2 years and many of my patients adore their products. I am always impressed by the brand’s ability to deliver accurate tracking technology that rivals competitors for a more approachable price point that my top 2 pics.

The Fitbit Versa 3 is waterproof and includes competitive features like constant heart rate tracking, GPS, all-day activity tracking for lifestyle movement, and specific tracking for over 20 types of exercise. The battery life is also excellent, lasting up to 6 days. I also appreciate the Fitbit Versa 3‘s dedication to sleep tracking, stress management, and guided breathing techniques.

This fitness wearable also touts attractive features as a SmartWatch for your daily life, including call/text notifications, music integration, and Fitbit pay. Fitbit has its own app for logging your food, which integrates nicely with the activity data to provide a summary of your eating and activity habits each day.

CONS: While Fitbit does a good job with providing users with their versions of food trackers and lifestyle apps (like Fitbit pay), my top two picks integrate with a wider variety of third-party apps to allow for more universal applications.

#2: Garmin Vívoactive 4

 A close second to my top pick, I appreciate the rigorous fitness tracker that Garmin produced with the Vívoactive 4. The Vívoactive 4 is waterproof and has state-of-the-art features to keep up with your workouts, including constant heart rate measurements, GPS, elevation changes, and pace. The Vívoactive 4 has advanced capabilities for heart rate zone training, on-screen activity animations, cycling, swimming, and golfing. It also has BodyBattery to help you understand when you have the most energy throughout the day, which may be an optimal time for physical activity. There are also a number of health-related features, such as the ability to measure your blood oxygen saturation, notifications for high and low heart rates, and relaxation training.

The Vívoactive 4 provides several fitness training plans designed by Garmin, making this a great choice for people who take physical activity seriously. Several of my patients who have gone on to train for marathons or triathlons or those who love golfing swear by the Vívoactive 4 as their top pick for a fitness tracker.

There are also a number of lifestyle features that make the Vívoactive 4 a SmartWatch, such as the ability to take calls and answer texts (only on Android phones) and integrate third-party apps. In addition, the battery life is excellent (up to 8 days, depending on how often you use GPS), so you can enjoy using the features for sleep tracking.

CONS: There are very few- this is an excellent product for accurate fitness tracking that is beloved by athletes. However, the compatibility for SmartWatch features is really designed for Android users. If you have an iPhone, you can achieve better integration with third-party apps with my top pick (read on!).

#1: Apple Watch Series 6

The Apple Watch has taken my top pick for overall best fitness tracker for 2021, and it is the device I’ve personally been wearing for 5 years. This tracker provides the best balance between engaging, accurate fitness technology and bonus features that also make it an ideal companion for your daily routine if you have an iPhone. If you’re been waiting for a sign to buy the Apple Watch, here it is.

The Apple Watch has all of the essentials for tracking your steps and your workouts (including GPS, elevation changes, pace), is waterproof, and easily integrates with your music or podcasts. Activity “rings” are used to reward you for both exercise and lifestyle activity, and are broken down into overall activity minutes, active calorie burn, and number of hours with at least one minute of movement.

The “Workout” application also includes the capacity to assess the quick heart rate changes that happen with high-intensity interval training– something that other fitness wearables may miss because they only measure heart rate once per minute. The Apple Watch also allows the most seamless integration with third-party applications you may be using to support your healthy lifestyle, such as MyFitnessPal.

Bonus fitness features of the Apple Watch that make it stand out from competitors is the ability to detect problematic changes in your heart rate (e.g., rapid acceleration, irregular rhythm), the measurement of your blood oxygen saturation to assess breathing efficiency, and its impressive functionality for taking an electrocardiogram (ECG) to examine the regularity of your heartbeat.

The Apple Watch also excels in being a lifestyle companion, with the ability to take calls, respond to texts and emails, use Apple Pay, and mirror your iPhone notifications over WiFi. There is a built-in stress management feature, Breathe, that I use and recommend often! In response to COVID-19, Apple even introduced a handwashing feature to remind you of how long you should wash your hands. The Apple Watch is also one of the most stylish fitness trackers, with countless options for bands to fit your needs (including many affordable options you can buy on Amazon). I’m personally obsessed with this Rolex-style silver band that costs less than $20.

CONS: I perceive that the biggest con to the Apple Watch is its battery life, since it needs to be charged nearly nightly. This means you may miss out on sleep tracking features, which wasn’t a dealbreaker for me.

Dr. Schulte’s Summary:

As a psychologist, I encourage you to think about purchasing a fitness tracker that will accurately log your exercise and lifestyle activity and uses an engaging app that motivates you to keep up with the healthy habits you’re building!

My top picks for fitness trackers that check these boxes, while also being ideal companions to your daily life, are the Apple Watch (if you have an iPhone) or Garmin Vívoactive 4 (if you have an Android phone).

For the best basic fitness tracker that has it all without any of the SmartWatch frills (and thus a more moderate price point), go for the Fitbit Charge 4.

The science shows that using a fitness tracker not only increases your step count and participation in exercise but also helps you lose more weight, so I encourage you to use this guide to pick a tracker and get started today!

Do you use a fitness tracker and want to share your thoughts on my recommendations? Or, is there more information I could provide to help you make a decision about which tracker to choose?

Drop a comment below!


Ringeval, M., Wagner, G., Denford, J., Paré, G., & Kitsiou, S. (2020). Fitbit-based interventions for healthy lifestyle outcomes: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of medical Internet research22(10), e23954.

Disclaimer: all opinions are my own and are not affiliated with my employers. Please seek medical guidance before pursuing weight loss or making significant changes to the way you eat or your physical activity routine.

2 replies on “Top 10 Fitness Trackers- Rated by a Psychologist Who Knows Motivation”

Hello!, Today you have made me know what a fitness tracker is. It’s indeed important to track our steps and daily activities especially if our goal is to lose weight or to improve the muscles ( fitness). Everyone who wants to achieve his or her fitness goals it is recommendable. to purchase the fitness tracker that fits, I myself use cycling and football training as part of my weight loss and fitness routine after reading this article I’m surely need to purchase one. Is a fitness tracker the same as pedometer?

Hi Alinafe,

I’m so glad you found the article helpful! A fitness tracker will monitor your steps just like a pedometer, but it has SO many more functions! You can log the distance and speed of your cycling workouts and track your heart rate to check if you’re hitting the optimal aerobic heart rate zones. As a starting option, I would suggest the Fitbit Charge HR 4, which has many functions that can transform your workouts! Read more about it as option #6 in this article, and let me know what you think!

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