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Should you use GPS trackers on your workouts?

Answered July 21, 2012

Thousands of people are about to set off on RAGBRAI, the annual bicycle ride across Iowa. And many of them will use a variety of technologies to make the experience more enjoyable -- from backup batteries running their smartphones to sophisticated toolkits for repairing tires and chains on the fly.

But there's one technology that riders need to be very cautious about using. A long (and growing) list of services promise to help you track your workouts so you can measure the number of calories you burn and share your favorite routes with friends. These services -- some of which are pre-loaded onto new phones, others of which are available for download in the various app stores -- use GPS technology to track your routes down to a margin of error of just a couple of feet.

There's nothing wrong with using these tools -- in fact, they can be great for motivation and accountability, both of which can help people stay on track with their fitness goals. But it's very important to avoid sharing too many of your routes with other people.

Generally, you should be offered a choice when recording a workout whether to make it public or private. Please, please: Make it private. Especially if it's a route you take routinely or if it's one that starts and stops from home.

Obviously, it's no big secret if you're going on RAGBRAI where you're going to start and finish the day's journey. One-time or occasional trips aren't really the concern. The problem is when people -- especially women -- share the routes they routinely take on bike rides and long-distance walks and runs.

Nobody really needs to know when and where you might be out alone. And when you're out for a workout, you're especially vulnerable: Many folks listen to music or the radio while they're getting a workout, and that can make them less attentive to their surroundings. And when it's as hot outside as it has been this summer, the only reasonable times to get that exercise are the early morning and late evening hours, when the temperatures fall and the shadows are long. Moreover, most people tend to take a finite number of familiar paths, which means it's not hard to piece together an accurate prediction about where you *probably* will go in the future if you've left behind a detailed record of where you *have* gone in the past.

This is not to say that there's a potential creep, mugger, or rapist lurking behind every tree or privacy fence. But attempts at assaults and abductions have been reported even in the last few weeks in Des Moines and the suburbs, and there is, quite frankly, no reason to share GPS-accurate maps of your activity with every creepy ex, workplace weirdo, and Internet-savvy stalker out there.

Just because you *can* share...doesn't mean you should.