Ultimate Fitness Trackers

Getting into shape, losing weight, and moving more each day are all really tough to do. An activity tracker can help, though. Seeing how much exercise you get (or don’t get), day-by-day and week-by-week, can motivate you to start taking the stairs more or walking the dog an extra lap around the block. At the very least, it will make you more mindful of your present activity level, which is a huge first step to getting fit.

The best fitness trackers on the market today are highly evolved cousins of pedometers from yesteryear. They’re smarter, more accurate, and do a whole lot more than measure how much you walk. Paired with a companion Web account, mobile app, and maybe a few auxiliary devices, they give you better insight into the habits that make up your lifestyle, including sleep, calorie consumption, heart rate, blood pressure, and more. And many fitness tracker are waterproof for swimming.

New devices turn up on online shopping sites every month. But not all of them track everything you’d expect, and not all are worth your money. If you’re shopping for your first activity tracker, I encourage you to find one that will be best for you and your needs. Take a look at my advice for how to choose a fitness tracker for more help on that front.

If you’ve owned an activity tracker before, you might have a better idea of what you want in a new one, but if you need to shake up your routine, I’d recommend getting a tracker with a heart rate monitor. Two that I love are the Basis Peak andMio Fuse, and both are Editors’ Choice products. The Basis is great for everyday activities, including bicycling, and it has sleep-tracking, too. The Mio Fuse is more for athletic types because its heart rate monitor has unique features that make it excellent for heart rate training. Fuse also tracks pace when you run and has a stopwatch feature (the Basis Peak does not), although Fuse lacks sleep-monitoring functionality.

If you’re only dipping your toe into the fitness tracking movement for the first time, don’t feel bad about starting with a simpler device, like the Misfit Flash or Jawbone UP Move. These low-cost options will let you get a taste for the basics of activity tracking without spending a fortune.

Whether your health goals are modest or you’re hoping for a full fitness transformation, using a personal fitness tracking device can go a long way toward helping you understand if the exercise and health habits you keep are contributing to the new you.

The Basics of Foam Rolling

You may have heard of foam rolling—you might even own one of the tube-shaped torture devices—but even then, the questions remain: How long should you roll for? What areas? Where do you start? What does a foam roller even do?

Self-myofascial release, otherwise known as self-massage, is a key component of a runner’s well-rounded recovery routine. It tackles tight muscles and works to increase mobility, flexibility and all-around effectiveness during training.

“If you want to run well, you need to do mobility exercises,” says physical therapist Bryan Hill, co-owner and CEO of Rehab United in San  Diego. “Foam rolling is used by many practitioners for that purpose.”

While there are plenty of massage tools avail-able for post-run indulgence—even tennis balls can do the trick!—a good foam roller is tough enough to dig up the right amount of oomph and effective enough that runners are willing to cringe and roll simultaneously, over and over again. (Don’t worry—it’s never as painful the second time!) Hill recommends five key areas to target when working out kinks.

Rules of the Roll
It doesn’t hurt to practice muscle mobility exercises daily, but Hill definitely recommends giving your muscles some extra love after major runs or workouts. Focus on each target area for at least 1 minute (and up to 10 minutes), moving slowly through the motions until you soak up the benefits of sweet release. If you’re a first-timer, pain is still beauty—the more you practice, the less you will cringe in pain as your body adapts to its new form of recovery.

Extra Credit
Need some added release? When you feel a tight spot, pause with your weight resting on that spot until you feel a release. To target pressure on your legs, try flexing your foot and rotating your ankle in circles.

 

TOOLS TO ROLL

Smooth vs. Bumpy
Foam rollers with extra bumps, such as the Rumble Roller ($45, roguefitness.com), offer more intense fascial manipulation—that is, mobilizing the tissue that protects and connects your muscles. The choice between a flatter roller and one with more nubs depends on your desired level of massage—more nubs means more deep-tissue love. If you’re new to rolling out, we recommend starting with a flat roller, such as the Pro-Tec Foam Roller ($25, pro-tecathletics.com), until your body adjusts to the added pressure of foam rolling after your run.

Really Get In There

Hip flexors (the muscles between your pelvis and upper thigh) are infamously tight in runners and it can be tricky to dig in with a cylindrical massage tool. Hill recommends grabbing a Mobility-WOD Super Nova ($40, roguefitness.com) ball to reach the nooks and crannies of a tight flexor.

 

1. Back

(a) Rest your lower back on the roller with your feet flat on the ground, supporting your upper body with your arms. (b) Slowly move your arms outward, forcing the roller to move up your back, releasing tension along your spine. Return to start position and repeat.

2. Quads

(a) Rest both quads on the roller and sup-port your upper body with your hands on the floor. (b) Using your arms for leverage, move the roller up and down the quads.

3. Calves

(a) Rest both calves on the roller and use your arms and hands to support you. (b) Move your hips forward and backward to move the roller up and down your calves.

4. Hammies

(a) Cross one leg over the other and place the roller under your lower hamstring. (b) Using your arms and hands to support you, move your hips backward and forward to run the roller along your entire hamstring. Continue this motion, then switch legs and repeat.

5. IT Band

On your left side, rest your hip on the roller. Keeping your left forearm and right hand on the ground in front of you, cross your right leg over your left. Using your right foot on the ground for leverage, move the foam roller down your IT band (where the seam of your jeans would be on your outer thigh) to just above the knee. Roll back and forth along this line. Switch sides and repeat.

6. Glutes

Those rear muscles are often a key aggravator of IT band pain—Hill suggests including the glutes as an extension to the IT roll. Rest your left ankle across your right quad and place your left butt cheek on the roller. Using your hands for leverage and leaning to the left as necessary, move the roller back and forth slowly. Switch sides and repeat.

 

 

 

Second Chance

John Mayer had been an avid runner since high school. But at age 45, in 2005, a pain in his knee was getting worse, so he went to see a physician. “This fellow came highly recommended,” says Mayer, of Chicago. After diagnosing a torn anterior cruciate ligament, “he told me there was nothing to do. He was so respected, so convincing, and so definitive that I didn’t even bother to get a second opinion.”

Mayer was crushed and didn’t lace up for six months. When he tried to run again, the pain came back. Finally a friend suggested he see another doctor, who confirmed the problem but recommended arthroscopic surgery and physical therapy. Mayer’s pain eased, and he’s since run eight marathons.

Not every treatment plan requires a second opinion. But when you’re undergoing rehab—and anxious to run again—it’s important to know when to seek a different perspective.

You’re told that there’s nothing to be done.

Almost all running injuries are treatable. So if a doctor tells you he can do nothing for you, make an appointment with another expert. That diagnosis most likely means “there’s nothing more that that doctor can offer,” says Michael Ross, M.D., medical director of The Rothman Institute Performance Lab in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. And while some conditions, such as severe arthritis in the hip, ankle, or knee, could certainly curtail your career, you’ll want to confirm a diagnosis like that with another physician before you quit running altogether.

You’ve developed a new pain.

Sue Walsh was a month from the Chicago Marathon in 2008 when she developed an IT-band injury and visited a physical therapist. “The IT band got better, but my hip flexor on that same side started to hurt,” says Walsh, 33, from Brooklyn. “I couldn’t get it together for the marathon.”

An appropriate treatment plan should not cause new aches. “A patient who is experiencing increased pain or pain in new locations is likely getting therapy that is overly aggressive for their condition, or was misdiagnosed and should be reassessed,” says Michael Chin, D.P.M., medical director of The Running Institute in Chicago.

Another doctor later diagnosed Walsh with femoroacetabular impingement, a bone deformity of the hip that required surgery. She finally got back to running two years after the initial IT-band issue.

You notice no improvements after two to four weeks.

Most injuries should improve and pain should diminish after four to six sessions of therapy, Dr. Chin says. If they don’t, the rehab plan may be too conservative. David Bakke, 45, of Atlanta, was diagnosed with runner’s knee a week after he started bounding up the steps of the local football stadium. He was told to do some stretching exercises and rest for seven to 10 days. After two weeks, when he’d noticed no improvements, Bakke went to see another doctor who prescribed exercises to strengthen his quadriceps. “In about 10 days, I was finally able to resume my full workout,” says Bakke.

Your injuries keep recurring.

Repeat injuries—or a series of different injuries—suggest you may have an underlying health problem that isn’t being addressed, says Lewis Maharam, M.D., a sports-medicine doctor in New York City and author of the Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running. Dr. Maharam says he once treated a woman who had recurring fractures in her hip and feet every three months. “She was biomechanically sound, and her bone density test was normal,” he said. “But we did a blood test, and found she had a parathyroid tumor.”

Your doctor doesn’t ask about your overall health status.

When you go to a doctor complaining of a running injury, it’s easy to focus exclusively on the body part that’s hurt. But a skilled doctor will also ask questions about your health habits and try to gauge your fitness level, says Jim Chesnutt, M.D., medical director of sports medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Runners who aren’t getting enough sleep, for example, may be prone to injuries. A diet deficient in calcium and vitamin D may make you vulnerable to stress fractures. Inexperienced runners may be trying to do too much too soon. If your doctor doesn’t take the rest of your health into account, consider getting a second opinion.

You haven’t been given other ways to stay in shape.

A good rehab plan should include exercises to help you stay fit while you’re on the road to recovery. “Sometimes runners don’t realize they need to take a break and do some cross-training,” Dr. Chesnutt says. For example, a runner in treatment for recurrent ankle sprains should work on strengthening her core and upper body while she isn’t running. Even more important is that the doctor understands your goals. Knowing you’re weeks from a marathon, for example, your doctor may attempt a more aggressive treatment plan. But if you’re months away, you may have the time to rest and heal without additional testing or interventions. If your doctor doesn’t ask you about your fitness goals, consider seeing another doctor who does.

Who Do You Call?

Reach out to the right help

Primary doctor-> Unless you have an established doctor-patient relationship with a sports-physician specialist, call your primary doctor first, says Michael Ross, M.D., of The Performance Lab, because he or she knows you.

Physical therapist-> While straightforward injuries, such as a mild ankle sprain, can be easily managed by your general practitioner, many running pains are the result of muscular imbalances, overtraining or overuse, or poor running mechanics. A physical therapist can tailor a rehab plan to fit your needs and goals.

Sports specialist-> If you’ve closely followed a rehab plan but aren’t seeing results—or if you have complex running problems—it’s time to seek a doctor who’s done an accredited fellowship in sports medicine, says Lewis Maharam, M.D. These are doctors who’ve been trained in running mechanics and who can spot the underlying problems that are the cause of many injuries. “The doctor should look at how you run and be able to advise you on things like gait and preventive measures,” he says. Find one atwww.amssm.org.

Coming back from an injury? Start slowly on a level surface like a treadmill or bike path until your muscle strength and balance are back.

In the past six months, 12% of survey respondents saw a chiropractor; 9% a physical therapist; 5% a sports doc.