5 Tips for FitBit Newcomers

With the holidays approaching quickly, people are beginning to think about New Year’s resolutions. Getting into better shape is always one of the more popular resolutions. And with the explosion of wearable tech devices–like a FitBit–on the market, I imagine there will be a lot of people eager to improve their fitness with the help of their new device. With that in mind, here are a few tips I’d offer for getting started with your FitBit (or similar) device in the new year. These tips come from my own experience. I’ve used a FitBit Flex almost constantly for the last 2-1/2 years, tracking more than 10 million steps.

1. Spend the first week or two establishing a baseline

A FitBit device doesn’t automatically improve your health or fitness simply by wearing it. What it does do is provide an effortless way of collecting data about your physical activity and sleep behaviors. For me, one of the most difficult challenges in trying to improve myself has always been measuring that improvement. And to measure improvement, you need to set a baseline.

When I first got my FitBit, I spent about 2 weeks, just going about my normal behavior, and trying to forget that I had the new device. This allows you to establish a baseline and from that, you can set realistic goals.

From your baseline, you can see how much walking you do in a day–and even when you do that walking. If you find that your baseline is 4,800 steps per day you might try upping it to something reasonable like, 6,500 or 7,000 steps per day.  The baseline will also tell you when you are not being active during the day, and might help you to plan times when you can be more active. Below is an example of a day’s activity for me.

A typical day's activity


Your baseline will also include an estimate of how many calories you burn throughout the day, and this can help in determining how many calories you should consume.

It is worth spending time that first week or two wearing your device and not worrying about it because the baseline will prove to be a valuable calibration tool in the long run.

2. Identify common milestones

Once I established my baseline and set some goals, I found that it was useful to have a few pieces of information handy to help me meet my goals each day. For instance, since everyone’s stride is different, I thought it would be useful to know how many step it took me to go one mile. I used my FitBit device to help figure this out, and it turned out that I typically take about 2,200 steps in a mile. How is this helpful?

Well, my current goal is 7.5 miles per day. If I happen to be at, say 13,000 steps, and know that I need about 2,000 more to make my goal, I know that all I have to do is walk one mile.

It also helps to know how far a mile is. For instance, I know that one walk around the city block on which my office building resides is just about 1 mile.

If you don’t think in terms of steps or distance, but instead, think of calories, you can identify similar milestones. For instance, you might learn that you burn 600 calories walking one mile a normal pace. I find these milestones useful in helping me make ad hoc adjustments to my activity throughout the day.

3. Identify activities that skew your data

The FitBit is designed for a certain type of activity and motion. In some instances, I have found activities that skew its data collection. For instance, I discovered that pushing a stroller (or a shopping cart) counts fewer steps than I would expect. When I do these things now, I push with my right hand only (I wear the FitBit on my left) so that my data isn’t skewed.

4. Focus on one thing at a time

At first, I used my FitBit to track my activity to help ensure I was getting the exercise I felt I needed each day. Once I felt comfortable with activity tracking, I moved onto sleep tracking. Sleep tracking is almost as easy as activity tracking. You just need to remember to put your FitBit into “sleep” mode each night, and take it out of sleep mode in the morning. If you forget, you can always go back and tell FitBit when you went to sleep, and when you woke up.

But I only really started with the sleep tracking once I felt comfortable with activity tracking in general. And while there is some useful, and occasionally insightful information in the sleep tracking data, I tend to find the activity tracking more practical on a day-to-day basis.

5. Charge your FitBit battery when you know you won’t be active for a while

There’s nothing worse than not getting credit for activity simply because I forgot to charge my FitBit device. So I’ve learned to charge it at time during which I know I will be minimally active. For me this tends to be in the evenings, while I am doing my writing and before I go to bed. I tend to charge my FitBit every 4 days or so. It takes a couple of hours to charge, and I minimize the loss of activity tracking by doing it when I am not doing much else.


  1. Jamie –

    Your Fitbit posts came up when I was searching for information…my question is a bit outside the scope of this particular post, but here’s what I’m wondering:

    With the Flex, is there a way to adjust your daily goals without retroactively messing up your old goals/achievements? After 2 weeks with my new Fitbit, I upped my steps goal from 12,000 to 14,000, as I was hitting my goal almost every day. But now (since I’m at 14,000) all the days where I had 12,500 or 13,000 steps don’t “count” as achieving my (12,000 step) goal. Any advice? Other than, “knowing that you achieved your goals–even it Fitbit doesn’t–is enough…” 🙂

    Thank you, thank you!

    1. Emily, I don’t know that this is possible directly within FitBit’s status, but if you use the API, or pull the data down to a local spreadsheet, you could certainly implement this yourself by replacing the goal for the days in question locally. I have a script I wrote that pulls my intraday (minute-by-minute) step data each day via FitBit’s API and store it in a Google Spreadsheet. From that spreadsheet, I can manipulate the data however I want, including updating past goals.


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