One of the minor miracles of modern technology is the way that smartwatches and trackers let each of us have a trainer in our pocket—or, to be more accurate, on our wrist. Thanks to these gadgets, you can monitor your activity level and health to learn how playing a game like pickleball contributes to your overall wellbeing. Gathering all that data doesn’t just help you refine your everyday routine. It also enters you into a little healthy competition—with yourself, to match or exceed your most recent personal best stats. “Humans are competitive by nature, and having that information only pushes us to be better,” says Connor Derrickson, a performance coach at Future, an app that pairs you with a certified coach who manages your fitness remotely. “No matter your level of fitness, we all need a little nudge every so often.”
HUMANS ARE COMPETITIVE BY NATURE. Having [thIS] information pushes us to be better.”
Derrickson has enjoyed that nudge from his smartwatch since he recently took up pickleball. “Smartwatch fitness tracking can also be used to make decisions within your training,” he says. “When it comes to pickleball, I like to see when my heart rate is the highest.” Using the data on his watch, he considers “at what point during games there are peaks and valleys, and how I can best train my aerobic system for the sport.” Then he uses the information to “make better training decisions.”
I like to see when my heart rate is the highest…during games…and how I can best train my aerobic system for pickleball.”
And these days, this type of tech “training” isn’t exclusive to watches. There are several powerful fitness trackers on the market varying from straps to clip-on options. All are designed to be worn while you’re active—and come in versions that fit all sizes—which makes them useful on-the-court accessories for pickleball players, who can range from grandparents to grandkids.
You can access Google Assistant to control your smart home apps and keep an eye on things while you’re away at tournaments.”
Whatever your style, there’s a fitness tracker or smartwatch that can be your ace in the hole—and maybe help you serve more aces. Here are seven worth a look:
1. Apple Watch Series 7
This fall’s 2021 release knocks it out of the park—or should we say service court? It offers a dizzying array of health and wellness metrics like sleep tracking, heart rate, and blood oxygen. Safety measures like fall detection and Emergency SOS allow you to call for help and alert emergency contacts from your watch. And if you opt for Move, Exercise, and Stand “rings” to form on your watch face as your activity increases, you can customize goals for them so your benchmarks evolve as your fitness levels progress.
Best of all, it comes with the pickleball setting Apple developed in 2020. To access it, click “add a workout” and select “pickleball” to log your session with the Workout app. This will track your progress during a workout and share your “Activity” on your Apple Watch, so that time spent dinking and lobbing counts toward your activity goals.
Plus, when you buy a new one, three months of Apple Fitness+ is included. We dig the “Time to Walk” guided audio experience, which provides you with an audio strolling partner such as Dolly Parton or Dr. Sanjay Gupta. If only they could be your doubles partners, too! From $399, apple.com
2. Watchitude move2
Got a young athlete or a USA Pickleball Junior player on your hands? This affordable yet durable watch may be the way to go. While pretty basic compared to adult smartwatches, it offers step and distance tracking, sleep monitoring, a stopwatch, call and text notifications, and more—and it comes in a range of more than 25 fun watchband designs. (Think: tie-dye, bold stripes, camouflage, leopard print, as well as not-so-basic black.) Since kids will be kids, the watch is water resistant, and it features a more than 10-inch long adjustable band so that it can grow with its owner. (The adjustable sizing also makes the Move2 suitable for adults looking for a lower-tech fitness tracker.) Bonus: A remote shutter pairs with your phone, so your budding pro can take selfies with the rest of the pickleball crew post-match. $55, watchitude.com
3. Whoop 4.0
Wear it around the clock and the WHOOP strap delivers 24/7 personalized fitness tracking and health monitoring, gathering advanced metrics on your sleep, training, and health. It assesses your daily exertion throughout the day with a “Strain” score that gives you insights on when you should take a rest day and when it’s time to push your limits—which is particularly useful if you’re gearing up for a tournament. It also tracks your heart rate variability (a measure of the variation in time between the beats of your heart), resting heart rate, blood oxygen levels, respiratory rate, and skin temperature.
Based on your biometric data, the app provides customized advice for achieving fitness goals, sleeping better, and more, so you can tweak your training plan accordingly. The Health Monitor page organizes the info, and you can download a PDF of your health report which includes 30- and 180-day overviews of your health data to share with your pickleball coach, trainer, or physician. You’ll also rest easy knowing that the vibrating alarm will wake you up at just the right time given your personal sleep needs and cycles. WHOOP band is included free with membership; annual membership is $288, whoop.com
4. Fitbit Charge 5
There’s a lot to love about the Fitbit Charge 5, both on and off the court. Fitbit’s most advanced health and fitness tracker to date, the slim wristband features a lightweight design (it’s 10% thinner than the Charge 4), and a bright, easy-to-read color touchscreen. It automatically records workouts such as swimming or elliptical machines, and, when it senses that you’re running, activates GPS tracking and serves up real-time stats. It can also assess your heart rhythm by recording an electrocardiogram, and your stress level by measuring your perspiration through an on-wrist electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor. Strap one onto your wrist and you’ll have all of that data at your fingertips—without any added weight or bulk to get in the way of your dink. The Charge 5 also comes with a six-month membership to Fitbit Premium, which includes access to 500+ workouts, and mindfulness and nutrition sessions from partners like Calm. Off the court, you can use it to tell time and view notifications for calls, texts, and apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp. And we appreciate that it serves up a satisfying, vibrating zap once you hit your daily steps goal—an easy feat when you’re spending quality time on the court, $180, fitbit.com
5. iTouch Wearables Slim Fitness Tracker
Budget buy alert! If you’re looking for a stellar option that won’t break the bank, try this sleek device with a comfy band—it gets high marks from us. The iTouch Slim is compatible with Android and iOS devices and comes with a one-year warranty. While it doesn’t boast all of the bells and whistles of smartwatch outfitters like Apple and Fitbit, it does track your heart rate, steps logged, and calories burned, giving the user a nice overview of their daily performance. Connected GPS and camera remote functionality round out the mix, and an alarm ensures you’re never late for practice. And it generally costs less than an afternoon’s pickleball court rental! $20, itouchwearables.com
6. Myzone MZ-Switch Heart Rate Monitor
This unique tracker bills itself as the world’s first heart rate monitor that can be worn on the chest, wrist, or arm; each round, watch-face-like screen module can pop into three different sized straps, so you can choose where to wear it. The monitor uses two types of heart rate measurement methods—PPG when it’s on your wrist or arm and ECG when it’s on your chest—and boasts a best-in-class 99.4% accuracy when worn on the chest, or 95% on the wrist or arm. It’s also waterproof, has a battery life of up to six months on one charge, and features a built-in memory. The app encourages you to surpass your best with 20 “Zone Match” challenges, and rewards you for being physically active with Myzone Effort Points (MEPs).
In August, 2021, Myzone launched a Sports Bra ($60) which has a built-in sensor strap, so you can clip the heart rate tracker on directly. There’s also a Sports Shirt ($70) the module attaches to for working out sans strap. $160, myzone.org
7. Fitbit Sense
For those who prefer a more traditional watchface, the Fitbit Sense is a strong choice. It has all the features of the Charge 5, including a Fitbit Premium membership. On top of that, it offers the computer-on-your-wrist ease of a smartwatch, which means you can access Alexa or Google Assistant and use the latter to control your smart home apps and keep an eye on things while you’re away at tournaments. You can connect to Bluetooth to answer calls between matches, and Deezer, Pandora, or Spotify to play music. With both the Charge or the Sense, you have the option to replace the included watch band with other stylish options. $300, fitbit.com