How to Choose a Fitness Watch

To get the most out of your workout, you need to be logging miles, tracking your pace, and keeping a close watch on your physical health. If you don’t push yourself, you’ll never rise from those training plateaus; but if you overexert yourself, you could be damaging your health, not improving it.

One of the best ways to keep tabs on your workout is to use a fitness watch that can monitor your heart rate; track your distances, speeds, and interval times; and send all this information to an online system that helps you develop a personal training regimen that’ll give you the best results.

Choosing one of these wonder-watches, however, can be difficult, especially for anyone not well versed in tech terms. Here’s a rundown of what to look for in a fitness watch, and how each type can help you get into the best shape faster.

Heart Rate Monitors

A standard watch with a basic chronograph (stopwatch) and heart rate monitor gives you all the health information you need to create a training schedule. While monitoring your heart rate might sound like something that happens in the doctor’s office, it’s actually critical for training. You can use it to work up to maximize training efficiency, build endurance, or lose weight. Often, these watches let you customize your heart rate target zones so you can adjust your exertion to further optimize your workout.

When choosing a heart rate monitor, look for one that can give you customized information based on your height, weight, age, and other factors. This info can even more accurately help you determine your heart rate target zones. Make sure your fitness watch has plenty of memory, too, as well as a long enough battery life. For example, the Timex Road Trainer has a 50-lap memory, and its battery will run for 3.5 years.

These watches work great for training programs that include running or walking, cycling, or weight lifting.

GPS and Heart Rate Monitors

Outdoor technology has advanced so much that many fitness watches come with GPS technology as well as heart rate monitoring capabilities. GPS can be used to track your location, the distance you’ve traveled, your top and average speeds, pace, and other data on your workout. Garmin has developed several products, such as the 210, 610, and 910 Forerunners, that let you build custom interval sessions and view your pace for these preset intervals in real time.

Many of these models can be used with accessories such as foot pods to measure your steps per minute (cadence) and software that lets you see in-depth details of your workout.

Remember, though, that because the technology runs on GPS, you may experience poor coverage in some areas, such as indoor gyms or within dense trees. If you’ll be working out indoors, you’ll want to use the foot pod, which can track your data through the steps you take, rather than by satellite.

These watches are great for measuring performance on runs, walks, and bike rides.

GPS (Speed and Distance) Watches

If you want to focus on the time mechanics of your workout, a GPS-enabled fitness watch without a heart rate monitor may be your best choice. These watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 10, are perfect for tracking distance, speed, pace, and calories burned. While these watches lack a heart rate monitor, they’re also much less bulky and are on the lower end of the price spectrum, making them more suited for simpler workout programs.

Backcountry Watches

If you’re looking for a remote command unit in the form of a wristwatch, you may want to check out a backcountry trainer such as the Garmin Fenix or Suunto Ambit. Perfect for heading out into uncharted territory, these products are a hybrid of traditional rugged outdoor watches and sleek, technologically advanced training watches.

Backcountry watches take data gathering to a new level, and offer everything that GPS and heart rate monitors deliver, and then some. Some of the best features about these watches are the navigational tools, which give you detailed information on heading, elevation, weather changes, temperature, and other readings. The GPS in these watches is designed to pick up a signal no matter how dense the foliage, and the durability is everything you’d expect from a rugged outdoor wristwatch.

A Few Considerations

Some watches may feel bulky or awkward on your wrist due to their size, so choose one that’s most comfortable for you. If you don’t need the added features, opt for a smaller, less expensive one that you’ll be much more likely to wear on a run or bike ride.

Watches also have various interfaces (the way you interact with the computer inside), and some may be more intuitive for you than others. For example, some models use only buttons, while others feature touchscreens, or even a combination of both.

If you plan to use your watch for swim workouts or triathlons, make sure to choose one that’s waterproof and sleek, and can provide any and all data you need to get to the next level.

Training for anything, in any sport, takes discipline. But if you arm yourself with the right fitness watch, you’ll be more invigorated to stay on course with your program and see the results you’re striving for.