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Running And Fitness Watches Buying Guide

If you’re going to be investing in a fitness tracker, you want to make sure it’s right for your needs. Take a look at this helpful guide to buying a running or fitness watch to find out everything you need to know.

It’s important that you consider what it is you're going to be using the watch for. You need to have a clear idea of your fitness goals so that you can see if the watch will track what you want it to and help you progress.

If you just want to track your daily step count, a watch that can hold music and track your heart rate might not be suitable for your needs. Similarly, if you’re looking for a watch that can track your heart rate and automatically detect any exercise you complete, then you need to ensure the device can do so.

Here are some of the features you can expect to find on running and fitness watches:

GPS capabilities

Investing in a watch with a built in GPS is the best option if you want to track your distance without having to take your phone out with you. Having this feature built into your watch also means you can constantly keep updated on your progress, even during your activity. GPS trackers can also monitor your pace, intervals and elevation.

Some watches also have ‘breadcrumb’ features, that allow you to explore new routes without fear of getting lost. Read more about why runners should own a GPS watch, here.

Heart Rate Monitor

There are two ways that fitness watches track your heart rate. One is by wearing a chest strap that detects the electrical signal from the heart through the skin. The other is by using integrated optical heart rate technology which can be built into the watch. Watches with this technology shine coloured led lights to the blood vessels through the skin, then an optical sensor examines the light that bounces back and translates the results into a heart rate reading.

Heart rate readings from chest straps are more accurate than those from optical sensors. Some fitness watches will also use this data to show which heart rate zone you’re training in; from aerobic to fat burning.

When it comes to accuracy and connectivity, Polar H10 heart rate sensor is the go-to choice. Monitor your heart rate with maximum precision and connect your heart rate to your training equipment.

Regular Price: £76.50

Special Price £54.00

Play music

Some watches hold music internally, which means you don’t have to carry a phone or iPod device around with you. Other devices allow you to control your music (such as pausing and skipping songs) from the interface, but the music is still stored on your device - so you have to take it with you. You can also pair Bluetooth headphones to devices and listen to music wirelessly while you’re working out.

In relation to this feature, some watches also allow you to receive audio cues to tell you about your pace, distance and the time you’ve been working out for. You can set the frequency at which you receive these alerts and this information can help your motivation while you’re out training.

Sleep monitor

A vital part of any fitness programme is rest and recovery, which is why many fitness watches monitor the quality and quantity of your sleep. With motion sensors that can tell you if your sleep was disturbed, you can track your light, deep and REM sleep to give you a better understanding of the quality of your sleep. You can even set silent vibration alarms on some watches to wake you up more naturally.  

Calorie burn

Most running and fitness watches can tell you the number of calories you’ve burnt, but you do often have to take this reading with a pinch of salt. The reading that the watch gives you is all dependant on the algorithm that is built into the device, and it doesn’t fully take into account the individual. Therefore, fitness watches don’t always give accurate information on calorie burn.

Water resistance

This importance of this feature really depends on what activities you’re going to be tracking. If you’re using the watch to track your swimming or triathlon training then obviously you need to ensure it’s waterproof. Most watches offer shower proof, or ‘splash proof’ protection, which will mean your watch won’t get ruined by sweat or a run in the light rain, but you can’t immerse the tracker in water and expect it to withstand the test.

Mobile alerts

Some trackers (particularly those with big interfaces) display alerts on calls, texts, emails, calendar reminders and social notifications once connected to your mobile device. Other trackers just vibrate to alert you that you’re receiving a call or text.

Battery life

This is another important consideration when choosing your fitness watch. You don’t want to be unable to track your workouts because the battery of your watch is dead. Some trackers have rechargeable batteries that will last up to a week, whereas other watches have coin-cell batteries that have to be replaced every year or so. Generally speaking, watches with a lot of sensors including GPS and heart rate monitors and large interfaces need to be charged more frequently.


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