Here’s a question I posed myself while using both my Garmin Forerunner and Fitbit Flex – what would the difference be in reported performance for a few different activities? I spent the day finding out and I’m here to give you the results of Garmin vs Fitbit!
Here’s a recap on how these two devices work. The Garmin Forerunner uses GPS to track your movement so it knows how far and how fast you’ve travelled. When you use this with a compatible heart rate monitor and after plugging in your vital stats, it can report back to you with reasonable accuracy the amount of calories you’ve burnt during the period you’ve tracked. The Fitbit is pretty much based entirely on movement and also uses your vital stats such as age and weight to estimate how much energy you’ve expended.
I made like-for-like measurements. The Garmin was used for the exact period that I did the activity, and it then stores that info as a session. With the Fitbit, I took a screenshot of the moment right before and after each activity and worked out the difference between the two stats to come up with the figure.
The first activity was the most strenuous – running for half an hour, up and down hills, a few sprints here and there, trying to keep that heart rate up. So, after 30 mins of intense exercise, I had run just over 6 kilometers and used up 353 calories on the way. What did the Fitbit app tell me? Well, it estimated that I ran just under 5 kilometers and was busy burning 433 calories – so it’s understated the distance covered but overstated the energy used.
So how about the complete opposite, how much energy does it take to do absolutely NOTHING? This was a fun Garmin vs Fitbit experiment. Sit around for half an hour, trying not to move keeping my heart rate at rest. So how many calories did the Garmin say I’d burnt away this time? A puny 35 calories. Sitting around uses up one tenth of what it takes to run for the same period. No wonder it’s so easy to pile the kilos on. And the Fitbit was very close – it reported 37 calories used up.
Now what’s something you could do while sitting on your butt but helps release more energy? Why, air drumming of course! So I strapped on the heart rate monitor one more time, got my drum sticks and headphones, and pounded away for half an hour, really making an effort.
Garmin vs Fitbit this time, what was the reward this time? A full 104 calories used up. Now that was according to the Garmin combined with the heart rate monitor. What did good old fitbit flex report back? Well, it came back with more than double – 276 calories.
Now to be fair, the Fitbit is looking at movement, and me raising and lowering my arm to hit those imaginary skins feels like real movement to the Fitbit – in fact, it thought I had run the equivalent of 3 kilometers.
The take out here is that the more expensive heart rate monitors combined with a GPS-based sensor trumps the simple movement based tracker. But unless you’re a serious runner bike rider, then you won’t really have much to worry about. Sleep patterns and general steps and movement taken during the day are the things that Fitbit does really well – but if you are a more serious active person it’s still worth having the specialised equipment right now. Nothing beats a heart rate monitor and GPS for real calorie output.
So there you have it – Garmin vs Fitbit was a fun experiment that once again got me of my couch and into the real world. What are your thoughts? Do you use a Fitbit or a training watch to track yourself and if not, will these results sway you towards either product type?