It's hard not to assess your own physical state as you watch the athletic feats in Sochi from your couch. And while few of us will ever get to a state of fitness close to what we're watching on our TVs, technology is making it easier for people to push their fitness efforts further.
Connected wearable technology—such as Google's Glass or Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch—is still largely a niche product category today, but in the world of exercise, it's a bona fide movement. There are dozens of devices designed to help people track and improve their workout routines, with more coming every day.
You may not win a medal for the downhill slalom or score a winning goal for the U.S. hockey team, but you will get healthier in the process. Here's a sampling of what aspiring hard bodies can use to help themselves get in shape.
—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 13 Feb. 2014
Fitbit got out in front of the wearable fitness craze early with the Fitbit Fit, but this year's Force is the company's best effort to date. It tracks your steps, calories burned, number of stairs climbed and sleep patterns, displaying this information in a sharp display. That's all complemented with a comprehensive Web interface and wrapped up in a comfortable, lightweight wristband. The downside? No heart-rate monitor.
Jawbone, which made one of the first wearable fitness bracelets, took some early heat for its lack of a Bluetooth interface with mobile phones. It corrects that with the Up24 and updates the included software package as well, giving you a better view of your movement and sleep patterns. You're also able to track food and water intake if you'd like. Aesthetically, the Up24 gets good marks, but critics have noted its lack of a display as a drawback, as well as the fact that it doesn't work with Android devices.
Few wearable fitness monitors track as much information as a Basis Band. It will continuously monitor your heart rate, while also measuring your skin temperature and perspiration to estimate your daily calorie burn. It also automatically determines if you're walking, running or biking. That all comes at a price, though, as it's one of the more expensive wristbands on the market.
If you'd rather not track your every movement throughout the day and night, the Fitbug Orb is a smaller wearable device that counts your steps and calories and syncs wirelessly with your phones. It comes with a clip you can hook on just about any clothing you're wearing, though an optional wristband peripheral will let you wear it on your wrist as well. There are some downsides: It lacks a screen, and setup can be a bit confusing. It also doesn't handle water as well as many other fitness tech devices.
This 8-oz. rubber brick that clips to your clothing has the usual functionality—pedometer, altimeter, sleep tracker—but it also includes a heart-rate sensor. It's so unobtrusive that it's easy to forget you've got it on, which could interrupt your tracking if you change outfits. The biggest criticisms are with its software, which isn't as encouraging as other fitness devices.
Battery life can be an issue with some fitness trackers, but not with the FuelBand SE. An improved low-energy Bluetooth broadcast device lets this wearable tech last for days without a recharge. And, befitting of a Nike product, it encourages you to keep moving if you get too sedentary throughout the day. Motion is converted into an activity rating called Fuel, which lets you compare scores with friends, making it ideal for people who work out more than just occasionally.
Rather than adopting a minimalist design like its competitors, the Burn looks a lot like the digital watches that were all the rage in the 1980s. Beyond tracking your movements and calories burned, it also includes a heart-rate monitor. The display can be hard to read, but the battery life is a category leader. Instead of having to plug this thing in every couple days, as other fitness watches require, it will run an entire year.
Not everything in this category is focused on your caloric burn rate. LumoBack is the fitness tech your mother would approve of, as it's designed to help improve posture, using gentle vibrations to let you know when you slouch. Along the way, it tracks your steps, the number of times you stand up each day and how long you stay seated. Other fitness tech might help you run marathons, but the LumoBack just wants to get you to move a bit more.
As seen on NBC's "The Biggest Loser," this tech is worn around your bicep rather than your wrist. Its sensors collect more than 5,000 data points about you every minute to ensure an accurate calorie burn counter. There's a monthly $47 charge with the device, though, to access the online reporting system. And if you want Bluetooth synchronization, you'll need to buy the more expensive model.
Other wearable fitness tech doesn't make much effort to hide its purpose, but the all-metal Shine is designed to blend in with your other clothes, with an appearance that's closer to jewelry than anything else. It can be worn as a necklace, on a wristband or simply attached to clothing. (Given that the company was co-founded by former Apple CEO John Sculley, that design decision is understandable.) It might look understated, but it still measures the same information as other fitness trackers.