What is the best piece of exercise equipment you can possibly have? Is it a wearable fitness device, a smartphone app, or a shiny new kettle bell?
In my opinion it's none of the above. A fancy piece of gear might give you a short-term surge in motivation, but it won't keep you going for the long haul. Research from Endeavour Partners talks about 'fitness tracker fatigue' and how one-third of all wearable devices are abandoned after the first six months of use.
The truth is, we all need motivation to sustain regular exercise, so what is the best solution? The best piece of fitness equipment you can possible have is friendly (at least most of the time) and free – it's a workout buddy.
My fitness pals
A few weeks ago my mate Mario and I were visiting another mate of ours from school, Eggo, who lives on the Gold Coast. Beers and lengthy discussion about the good old days ensued (the older we get, the better we were), but we also commented on our newfound appreciation of fitness catch-ups instead of alcohol-fuelled nights on the town. Mario commented how he feels much fitter now that we keep each other accountable to our weekly runs and circuits together.
Our conversation made me think about my eclectic mix of 'fitness mates'. I do weights and swim with Lindberg, run with Mario, paddle with Dupree, kick the footy with Zauchy and our kids, and cycle with Big Ray, Shagger, Ruffle, QB, Jonesy, Browney, Big Nick, DJ, The Bolt and a large group of like-minded MAMILs every Friday morning.
Nothing motivates an athlete like another person breathing down their neck.Ken Green
Old friendships have sustained, and new bonds have grown through fitness. For me, my 'fit mates' are a far better training tool and keep me more accountable and engaged in training than any fitness device.
Ken Green is one of Australia's most successful running coaches and his athletes have competed at world championships and Olympic Games, and won national titles.
"I've been in track and field for more than 20 years and have seen all of the latest gadgets and fad devices come and go," he says.
"To prepare an athlete for the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, it's not about the latest wearable device, it's about hard work and persistence, and being in a squad of like-minded athletes who push you out of your comfort zone to achieve your full potential. Nothing motivates an athlete like another person breathing down their neck."
While fitness devices can crunch the numbers, they can't talk to you (Siri doesn't count), compete with you, or give you honest feedback like a real human can.
Go go gadget
There is no doubt the wearable device market is exploding. In 2014, retail revenue from wearable devices was estimated at $6.1 billion dollars, but this is expected to triple by the year 2016, before reaching $72.7 billion by 2019, according to new findings from Juniper Research. This will be driven predominantly by the increase in sales of premium smart watches like the Apple Watch and Sony Smartwatch.
But if fitness is the end goal, will wearable technology really get you there? While wearable devices can record and educate you about physical activity and sleep patterns, there is little evidence to suggest that it leads to significant and lasting behaviour change.
The Journal of the American Medical Association discusses how motivation is hard to sustain over time, explaining, why so many people find themselves signing up to the gym in January, but by February are back to marathons on the couch instead of the treadmill.
Back on track
The magic formula to staying fit and healthy requires you to exercise regularly and keep the intensity up. If you find a fitness tracker works for you, that's great. But I find the extra accountability from a training partner keeps me on track far more than numbers on a screen.
Training buddies also push you to bump up the intensity and provide social interaction, which distracts from the pain of countless high-intensity intervals and reps. Take a walk around your local park to see the plethora of boot camps, running clubs, CrossFit and jungle gym groupies training together.
Corporate companies are jumping on the bandwagon too, helping their employees get fit, work better as a team, improve their physical and mental wellbeing as well as boost their productivity at work.
In an age when we're constantly wired up during the day, it's nice to interact in an old-fashioned way and regroup and reconnect with your peers and friends for a good old sweat session.
While wearable devices might help to positively shape behaviour for some people, give me a fit mate any day.
Do you have a fitness mate? Let us know in the comment section below.
Workplace performance expert Andrew May has been helping his white-collar clients achieve both physical and mental gains for decades, and has learned a trick or 20 – plus a few of the pitfalls – along the way.