Validity of Wearable Activity Monitors during Cycling and Resistance Exercise

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2018 Mar;50(3):624-633. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001471.


Introduction: The use of wearable activity monitors has seen rapid growth; however, the mode and intensity of exercise could affect the validity of heart rate (HR) and caloric (energy) expenditure (EE) readings. There is a lack of data regarding the validity of wearable activity monitors during graded cycling regimen and a standard resistance exercise. The present study determined the validity of eight monitors for HR compared with an ECG and seven monitors for EE compared with a metabolic analyzer during graded cycling and resistance exercise.

Methods: Fifty subjects (28 women, 22 men) completed separate trials of graded cycling and three sets of four resistance exercises at a 10-repetition-maximum load. Monitors included the following: Apple Watch Series 2, Fitbit Blaze, Fitbit Charge 2, Polar H7, Polar A360, Garmin Vivosmart HR, TomTom Touch, and Bose SoundSport Pulse (BSP) headphones. HR was recorded after each cycling intensity and after each resistance exercise set. EE was recorded after both protocols. Validity was established as having a mean absolute percent error (MAPE) value of ≤10%.

Results: The Polar H7 and BSP were valid during both exercise modes (cycling: MAPE = 6.87%, R = 0.79; resistance exercise: MAPE = 6.31%, R = 0.83). During cycling, the Apple Watch Series 2 revealed the greatest HR validity (MAPE = 4.14%, R = 0.80). The BSP revealed the greatest HR accuracy during resistance exercise (MAPE = 6.24%, R = 0.86). Across all devices, as exercise intensity increased, there was greater underestimation of HR. No device was valid for EE during cycling or resistance exercise.

Conclusions: HR from wearable devices differed at different exercise intensities; EE estimates from wearable devices were inaccurate. Wearable devices are not medical devices, and users should be cautious when using these devices for monitoring physiological responses to exercise.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Fitness Trackers*
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation*
  • Resistance Training*
  • Young Adult