Getting the most from your Garmin or smart device.

One of the biggest advancements for triathletes, runners, and cyclists over the past 5 years has been the quantum leap forward with electronics.

It used to be that you had a huge, chunky watch weighing down your wrist, and all it really gave you was your distance, time, and pace (which at the time felt like a big step forward from the old-fashioned devices before that!)  

Today, you have so many more things you can do with your fitness electronics like a Garmin and other fitness devices.  You can track everything from your VO2 max to your performance on specific bike segments to the quality of your sleep, depending on which device you get.  

How do you make the most from these electronics, which can often be a big investment?  Here are some ideas.

Decide Which Device You Will Use

Deciding which device you are going to use can be a big decision. A quality Garmin or fitness tracker is not cheap — you will want to invest in something that will give you your money’s worth.  Answering the question of how you want to use the tracker and its data is a key first step.

The two most common devices people use for tracking their workouts and fitness tend to be a wearable watch, like the Garmin 935, or the bike computer, like the Wahoo Elemnt.  

The advantage of a wearable watch like the Garmin is that you can use it for many different activities, and it can actually give you great data while at rest, too.  Today’s watches are stylish enough to be worn as your everyday watch, while doubling as a powerful workout machine.  Triathletes will want to go with a waterproof watch, something that is pretty common above a certain price point.  For more detail, here is an in-depth look at triathlon watches.

The other common option is to use a bike computer. Today’s bike computers are capable of providing local maps of the good bike routes, forecasting weather, and estimating your power output, in addition to the speed, distance, and duration stats that you would expect. Complete Tri did a deep dive on bike computers, here.

Determine Which Metrics are Important to You

Next, you are going to want to isolate those metrics or statistics that are most important to you.  Garmins and comparable devices can give you a multitude of data — almost too much. You can literally track dozens of data points on a real-time basis. It is impossible to try to monitor every last thing, especially if you are the type who wants to measure to improve. There is so much potential output that you could quickly become a robot, beholden to your device.

Instead, think about your goals and identify those 5-7 things you really want to monitor.  For most of the triathletes we work with, they prioritize measuring their duration, mileage, heart rate, speed, sleep hours, and intensity minutes (which we think is a better indicator than steps).  

Metrics which can be useful to monitor over time, but are less valuable on a day-to-day basis, are looking for gradual improvements in things like VO2 max, resting heart rate, and lactate threshold.  Just don’t review these things constantly — you could drive yourself nuts, and the improvements take longer to build.

Decide Which Apps to Focus on

Once you have a device and know which things you want to track, you can make sure you are using an app that is conducive to your goals.  You don’t have to choose just one.  

Most device manufacturers offer an app that goes well with their product.  Garmin Connect is the default app for a Garmin device, and is highly capable.  Apple Health works well with any Apple watch, but can also work with other devices.

Wahoo and Polar also use native apps to provide data output on the information tracked in their devices.  Both are capable, but perhaps not quite as built-out as Garmin’s.

Once you have the basic native app setup, it is time to integrate other apps as well.  Most newer versions of watches and computers (like the Karoo) allow you to integrate other apps on to its platform.

We love having a good weather app, like accuweather, on our watch or computer, given the impact weather can have on a longer bike ride.  A music app can be a real benefit, and both Amazon Music and Spotify are compatible with many of the newer platforms.

Finally, most triathletes who we know are using Strava, a 3rd party app which is compatible with any of the devices listed above. Strava allows you to track your rides and runs in the cloud, compare performance on various segments, and even compete with others who are doing the same rides on different days.  MapMyRide is another, similar app but with a smaller user base.  Strava is highly recommended and does not have the take the place of the other app you are using with your device.

Written by Von Collins who is an avid multisport racer and mentor, and has authored four books on the topics of exercise, nutrition, running, and triathlon.

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