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Review of the Spark Activity Tracker

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Fitness Trackers are pretty ubiquitous now a days. As with any fitness or exercise equipment, they can be very helpful…if you use them!

The Spark Wireless Activity Tracker is a tracker that has been designed to integrate with the weight-loss and fitness community here at and for me that was the biggest hook.

I’ve thought about Fitbits, Bodybugs etc, but said “no” mostly because …technology scares me. Or rather, I'm too lazy to move through the learning curve of any technology that requires more than a minute of my attention.

There is as standing “joke” in my house that is not really a joke at all and it goes something like this:

Daughter: “Mom, which remote do I use to change the input to the Apple TV.” (last count, we have 6 remotes in the living room)

Me: “I don’t know and I don’t care. Go ask your father. And then pray for his health because if something happens to him, you are back to black and white TV with rabbit ears and internet access at the library.”

So, it was a little rough after I ordered a Spark tracker and set it up in three easy steps and…got a big nothing. For whatever reason, it did not download any information. It was a dud. But, I gave it another go - returned the defective unit and ordered a replacement.

You see, I need Spark.

My self imposed exile taught me that. The positive energy and expectations of the people here are heartening and good for my health. But in addition to all the positive mental aspects of this site, I was really, really jonesing for an objective measure of some aspects of my fitness.

I have trained myself to NOT hate tracking my food and to do it pretty consistently. Even when I’m not sticking to the letter of the nutritional ranges, the honesty helps to reign in my more evil impulses. I can weigh and measure my food. It is pretty objective.

But honestly, I hated tracking my fitness.

I did not like thinking about what I was doing, or how long I was doing it for. I go to the gym, or for a hike to zone out, not collect data.

In addition, it seemed so wishy washy sometimes…

Should I include my meditative yoga? How should I categorize Tabata training mixed with jogging in between? How do you add up the time spent doing heavy duty house cleaning or yard work with interludes of laundry? and is that really a legit fitness activity? What if I wore a weighted vest when I hiked or carried weights when I walk/jogged the track? And strength training - ugh!! What exercises did I do and how many reps at what weight?

Yes, please judge me and my excuses for not tracking fitness.

I wanted an objective measure and some consistency of what I was doing that fit in with my Spark life.

Enter the Spark Tracker (the second one that is!)


The Spark Wireless Activity Tracker is a small plastic device about the the diameter of a quarter that has a 3-axis accelerometer to measure my patterns of motion. It comes in a colorful version or a matte black version. It clips on my pocket, belt, bra, or shoe and tracks my steps (and other activities like biking and using an elliptical machine), distance, minutes of activity and calories burned through out the day.

It is limited in that it will track my steps and activity as measured by MOVING (not more "sedentary" things like strength training where there are lots of pauses) So it is really a glorified pedometer, BUT it gives me some sort of consistent parameters to measure which is what I want. If I want to manually add in my strength training, yoga or other less "active" activities I can.

But...I'm choosing NOT to do that. For now, I just want to see what the tracker will track and make those numbers go UP. And I'm not going to quibble about 100% accuracy. If it wants to call my elliptical work out a "walk/cycle event" I'm OK with that. If I want to make the effort, I can re-classify it, but frankly, I just like seeing the amount of minutes.

It can be worn on my waist, shirt or shoe, but I have found that it works best on my shoe with the “open” end of the clip pointed toward my toe. It clips very securely to my shoe laces or the tongue of my shoe and lacking shoes around the house I just move it to my bra or waist band of my pants.

If the Spark does go through the wash, it’s no big deal because it’s waterproof and I've heard anecdotal stories that it will add time to your fitness minutes as a bonus.


I have not tried this, but it has gotten very wet after walks in the snow and is no worse for the wear.

Being so small, it is a concern. However, I have trained myself to pay attention to where my iPhone and iPod Nano are and leave them only in certain place when they are not on my person and I do the same for this device now.

There is Spark Team available if you have questions or need guidance with it.

The best thing about it is that it has a “dongle” (really... that is what is called) that you insert into your computer's USB port (and why does that make me want to blush?) and it wirelessly downloads the data to your online Spark Fitness info during the day every time you walk by your computer.

If you are out all day and not near your computer, you can tap the unit 5 times and it has little lights that will light up telling you how close you are to your goal. For example, my step goal is 11,000 steps (the Spark default is 6,000 but you can manually adjust your goals) if I were to tap the unit and see half the circle of lights light up, I know I've completed 5,500 steps.

I know, I know…there are other fitness trackers that download wirelessly also but remember, I’m partial to Spark People and I WANT to keep all my eggs in one basket.

Here are some screen shots of the information that I got from my first week of using it:

This shows the final tally's for Saturday Dec. 7. It keeps track of daily and weekly goals and slaps a 'Met Goal" sticker on the page when you meet it:

It also ranks you against your SP Friends and overall against all "Spark Owners" which I think means just against those who own the Spark Tracker:

It tracks weekly and monthly progress for steps and minutes of activity:

In addition to tracking every 10 minute increment of fitness (and you HAVE to be moving significantly for 10 minutes) it tracks overall movement for the day - so you get “Work out minutes” and overall “Activity" minutes.

There are monthly challenges for SP Tracker owners:

The parameters are limited, but it gives me lots of numbers to obsess over that have NOTHING to do with the bathroom scale. And seeing these numbers INCREASE will only serve make me quite happy - instead of depressed and guilty.

So, I say trade in the tin man (bathroom scale) for the plastic button.

At $60, some think it a bit pricey but …get this…

I got home today after a pretty sedentary day spent driving about with my DH doing this and that. At 6:30 I only had 7,500 steps. I set a goal of 11,000 steps per day in December and would not get the “Met Goal” sticker unless I did that.

So…pitch dark and 26 degrees, I suited up, leashed the dogs and jogged it out in the neighborhood until I though I had finished the task. Even the dogs thought I was crazy.

Got home and checked and mother trucker - I was still short by a few hundred steps, so I jumped on the elliptical in the basement (which I hate) for a few minutes…and then stayed on it for a full 10 minutes so I would get credited with another “workout event” and then stayed on it for another 10 minutes just for fun.

I know that without “Big Brother” hanging on my shoe “judging me”, I would NEVER have done that!

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