Get 3 months of Peloton App One or App+ for the price of 1, starting at $12.99. Offer ends 5/1. Terms apply. Explore App

Man looks at phone while exercising outdoors

Can Workout Stats Do More Harm Than Good? Here's How to Know

Workout stats can be incredibly motivating—but it's also OK to turn them off.

By Sarah KleinUpdated March 27, 2024


Maybe you wear a fitness tracker, religiously check your stats and achievements in the Peloton App, or share your workout stats with friends on social media after every class. Ideally any workout stats and data would inspire you.

But if all those numbers are swirling around your head, it’s easy to feel frustrated, discouraged, and, frankly, over it. “If we don’t keep a healthy perspective on what the metrics really mean, we risk overtraining, burnout, and loss of motivation,” says Peloton Instructor Christine D’Ercole.

According to The Peloton Report: Spring Wellness Trends, men are four times as likely as women to find technology’s ability to track activity and progress towards wellness goals to be distracting (37 percent of men vs. 9 percent of women).

In fact, the simple act of tracking a workout can take some of the fun out of it: Measuring activities makes them feel more like work, according to a February 2016 article in the Journal of Consumer Research.

That’s at least in part because tracking a workout turns it into an act of comparison, says Kate Cummins, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles and San Francisco who works with athletes and coaches in sports psychology. Comparison is “embedded in us from the beginning of our human development,” she says: As soon as we’re born, our height, weight, and head size are measured against our peers, and this constant comparison progresses through the education system, extracurriculars like music and sports, and ultimately our careers, she says.

Many of us treat exercise as our limited time away from the constant race of “real life,” Cummins says, and yet it’s challenging to turn off the urge to compare. So how do you know if the numbers are helping or hurting? Keep reading to discover the red flags to watch for and safer ways to track your activity if your data isn’t doing you any good.

How to Tell If Stats Are Hurting Your Workout

Like with many behaviors that can be healthy in moderation but harmful if overdone (looking at you, coffee jitters), tracking your exercise stats can start to be a problem if it’s interfering with everyday life, Cummins says. Here’s what to look out for.

You’re Routinely Skipping Social Events

Every once in a while, you probably find yourself skipping a happy hour or brunch because the scheduling just doesn’t fit with your workout routine. But if you’re regularly forgoing socializing with friends or family because you’re so set on getting your 100th ride, racking up enough steps, or logging a precise number of minutes in zone 2 cardio, your data may be too big of a driving force behind your choices, Cummins says.

For some people, this urge to exercise at the cost of other activities can border on or develop into disordered thinking or behavior. College students who used fitness trackers were more likely to experience symptoms of eating disorders than those who didn’t measure their exercise, according to preliminary August 2017 research in Eating Behaviors.

This might also look like over-exerting yourself. Maybe you really dialed up the resistance to keep up with someone on the Leaderboard or reminders from your watch made you feel like you had to exercise today when your body was really craving rest. Later, you may find you don’t have the energy or stamina to run around with your kids or dog or help an aging parent, for example, Cummins says.

You Feel Defeated

“When we have workout experiences where particular metrics are incredibly uncomfortable, or feel out of reach, we may create an association in our mind and think that hitting those numbers is either impossible or just too challenging,” Christine says. “We may feel defeated or incapable, which can potentially lead us to throw in the towel wondering, ‘What’s the point?’”

This, in turn, could be holding you back from reaching your potential, she says, because you’re not giving yourself a chance to get closer to a goal if you’ve already sandbagged the entire effort. “Sometimes we might surprise ourselves if we give ourselves the chance,” Christine says.

You’ve Lost the Joy of Exercise

“There’s a really beautiful thing that happens when we exercise that gets us out of our cognitive brain and into attunement with our physical being,” Cummins says. Stats shouldn’t take away from that experience.

Ideally, you should be able to track your workouts and “still have joy in the relationship to moving your body,” she says. In other words, as Marie Kondo has taught so many of us, if the stats don’t spark joy, let them go.

Not sure what’s driving your joy? Try this quick self-assessment before exercising, Cummins says:

  • Ask yourself how excited you are to work out on a scale of 1 (“I don’t want to at all”) to 5 (“I’m really excited to exercise”).

  • If you are at a three or below but still choose to exercise, ask yourself why.

  • If the answer is because you feel you have to because the metrics are demanding you make progress, you might want to reconsider your relationship with those numbers.

This is a sign you’re no longer honoring yourself and your relationship to physical activity, Cummins says. And when your motivation is external (i.e. you exercise because of your desire to stack up against the data) rather than internal (i.e. you exercise because physical activity makes you feel proud, accomplished, tired-but-in-a-good-way, stronger, etc.), you’re less likely to stick with it in the long term, according to June 2012 research in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

You Feel Noticeably Anxious

Tracking your stats should encourage and empower you, not make you feel anxious.

If your metrics are causing anxiety, tune into your body to see if you can sense the harm this data obsession is doing. “The rigidity with which you’re clinging to the stats can create anxiety where your thoughts are racing and you experience nervousness about hitting the exact heart rate or length of time for a workout,” Cummins says. “That is a sign you need a little more fluidity and flexibility, and you need to cognitively choose intentional behaviors that move you away from that rigidity.”

In those moments, she suggests ignoring the stats on the screen, taking off your heart rate monitor, or anything else that “helps you move into a more organic relationship with the experience.”

You’re Prioritizing Quantity Over Quality

As fitness trackers became more popular over the last decade, so too did preliminary research suggesting they actually aren’t all that accurate, particularly when it comes to estimating calories burned, according to May 2017 research in the Journal of Personalized Medicine.

If you’re completely devoted to your data, but your data is wrong, you’re left spinning in circles.

Plus, remember what the data is actually tracking: Sure, you’ll know how many steps you took today, your resting heart rate, and a rough estimate of the calories you shed during your yoga class. But apps, trackers, and Leaderboards can’t tell you how much more flexible you’ve become in the 6 months since you started going to yoga regularly or how much less your hips have hurt during that time—arguably more meaningful goals to aspire to (more on that below).

Other Ways to Track Your Progress

Keeping tabs on certain measures of physical activity can be important, especially if you’re working toward a particular health or fitness goal like lowering your blood pressure or completing your first marathon. But if the numbers have gotten to you, consider some more supportive alternatives.

Check In With Your RPE

RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion, or how hard you feel you’re working on a scale from 1 (very easy effort) to 7 (maximum effort). Christine recommends occasionally working out without any other data or stats other than RPE to “help ourselves keep metrics in perspective.”

Because RPE is so personal—and will even vary day to day, depending on factors like how much sleep you got and how tired your body is from a previous workout—it eliminates some of the pressure of other data. “When we focus on bettering ourselves and using the metrics only in relation to our own journey, we stop comparing ourselves to others,” Christine says.

Buddy Up

Enlist a trusted accountability partner to keep an eye on numbers you’re not currently comfortable with. “If you have somebody in your life with whom you have an unconditionally loving relationship where it would feel safe and secure for you to do so, having them track your progress could become a really empowering experience,” Cummins says.

This way, that person can loop you in on the stats that feel good and keep other metrics to themselves so you don’t get too preoccupied with the data.

Only Compare Apples to Apples

If you’re a little down on your stats because today’s 20-minute HIIT class output was lower than your output from the 20-minute HIIT class you took last week, remember “workout stats are only relevant to a specific workout in a specific class,” Christine says.

Your output is automatically going to vary if one class operates on 10-second intervals and the other uses 60-second intervals, for example, she says. “The only way to compare stats and see meaningful progress is to treat each class as its own benchmark for itself.”

You can use a benchmark class or workout as an opportunity to track improvements in stamina, speed, strength, flexibility, and other measures that might not feel as rigid as, say, output, heart rate, or steps, according to the National Institute on Aging

Complete your benchmark workout and take note of the metrics that feel most important to you, Christine says. Then, plan out five weeks of training: Aim for three to five workouts per week with a balance of high-, moderate-, and low-intensity sessions, and don’t forget recovery days off. After the five weeks are up, try your benchmark workout again, and see how your metrics have changed. (Pro tip: “Do this with friends for added motivation,” she says.)

Strive for Progress, Not Perfection

If a particular stat feels just out of reach, “consider that metric like a carrot and see how close you can get,” Christine says, instead of letting yourself get discouraged and give up.

“Adjusting your approach to the effort can help you with micro-gains that build you closer to the carrot,” she says. For example, “if your carrot is to hit X watts and hold it for 30 seconds, but you’ve only ever gotten 50 watts less than X, you might experiment with working toward X versus hitting the effort hard and trying to hang on and fizzling out. You may never hit X, but the reward is in the mental and physical gains achieved by working on getting closer.”

Take a Step Back

If none of these strategies helps, there could be more getting to you than just your metrics. It might be worth taking a brief break from exercise altogether, Christine says. She recommends choosing a few days to rest and recover. To make sure you stay accountable, though, schedule the day you plan to return and stick to it, she says.

Ultimately, if you enjoy checking the Leaderboard or your fitness tracker and doing so isn’t holding you back, you can safely keep monitoring your numbers. “Metrics are a powerful tool for marking progress,” Christine says. 

But if any of the red flags above sound familiar, heed those warnings. “[Metrics] can also cause us to lose sight of what’s really important,” she says. “Remember, the numbers are there to empower you, not to have power over you.”


Level up your inbox.

Subscribe for a weekly dose of fitness, plus the latest promos, launches, and events.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive marketing communications from Peloton.

For more about how we use your information, see our Privacy Policy.