This Is What You Need To Get Serious About Your Fitness

Photo: Courtesy AP/Microsoft.
One thing that is bothersome about many of today's wearables is that they're focused on the couch potato who is just starting to workout. What if you are already pretty dedicated about your fitness? The new second-generation Microsoft Band is a wearable designed to suit your needs (but it'll still help you if you're a couch potato, too).

The previous Band was actually a great cross-platform fitness tracking device, and the Band 2 promises to build on that. Now, in addition to guided workouts, sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, calorie tracking, UV monitoring, and notifications — it also supports stair climbing (and better hiking and biking tracking) with the addition of a barometer for measuring altitude changes. Unlike the Apple Watch and some other smartwatches, it's not smartphone dependent: It has GPS built-in, so you can leave your phone at home when you go for a run and want to track your specific route.

But, GPS chips are big, so the Microsoft Band is still chunky compared to the Fitbits and Jawbones of the world — it's still smaller than a smartwatch, though. Also, it's slimmer than its predecessor, with flexible rubbery sides, and a curved 1.4-inch Gorilla Glass touchscreen display on top. While it won't garner you many points in the fashion department, from our hands-on time, it seems like the Band would be more comfortable to wear for extended periods than it used to be.

And that's important, because the Band is constantly gathering data that you can then use to improve your life. Through the Microsoft Health app, you can see all sorts of information about your workouts (your maximum, minimum, and average heart rate; an estimate of carb calories burned versus fat calories) and sleep (light versus restful sleep; the number of times you woke up; and the time it takes to fall asleep).

"People have questions about data — they think it’ll make you feel bad about yourself," Microsoft Band and Health senior communications manager Lindsey Matese told Refinery29, "but it makes you more confident and opens up your eyes. "

As your workouts get more intense, recovery becomes more important. That sleep data can play an important role in helping you properly rest before your next big training session (SoulCycle totally counts as long as you're actually sweating up a storm). And the information on how many calories you burned can help you refuel properly. Matese found both of these particularly helpful, as she trains for triathlons. Until she started tracking, Matese didn't realize she was actually burning far more calories on her bike rides than her runs, and needed to eat more during those workouts.

Microsoft says it can also estimate VO2 max using the data from the Band. VO2 max is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can process in one minute, and normally you have to head to a lab and perform a grueling test while wearing a freaky-looking mask to get your number. There are VO2 max calculators online that use a variety of metrics, from your resting heart rate to physical activities like running and walking tests — but it's unclear what metrics Microsoft is incorporating in its calculation. While likely not as accurate as what you'd get from a lab test, it could still help you gauge your overall fitness, and more importantly, any overall fitness gains.

"If you’re just tracking steps and staying at your level, that’s not going to help you with your health story," Matese said. "Everyone likes to be aspirational. If you can aspire to reach that next step, it’s going to help."

While you may not care about a stat like VO2 max at first, if you start seeing your VO2 max increasing, it might also inspire you to push even harder. It's like being on the JV team and getting to train with the varsity kids.

The Band integrates with a lot of other apps and services, so you can sync your data to Strava or MapMyRide, get Facebook notifications, or even hail an Uber — it's not just about fitness, but it does that really well. It's available for pre-order for $249, and goes on sale October 30th.

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