Five Features in a Runner’s Watch and How They Can Improve Your Training

Sports watches today are more than just a stopwatch on your wrist. Most models, especially the more advanced offer a myriad of tracking, recording and analysis features that can optimize your fitness training and improve competitive performances.

In this article, we examine five features that can be applied directly to your fitness and performance training.

The Lap Recall Feature

A basic sports wrist watch, keeps a running stop watch, usually with the option to take multiple splits (a split is essentially snapshot of the running time). While this is handy for a single rep, once the stop watch is reset, the record of time is lost!

Lap Memory Recall allows you to keep a recording of the reps in your session in the watch’s memory. Entire sessions can be retrieved from memory and analyzed at a future date.

Athletes who do a lot of repetition work as part of their training, need some way of keeping track of all their times. Lap Memory Recall is a perfect solution to this problem.

The Countdown or Interval Timer Feature

A countdown timer simply counts down to zero from a pre-set number of minutes or seconds. Once it reaches zero, it will sounds an alarm, then stop or perform an action like repeating the countdown or starting a running chrono. This feature is extremely useful when performing a timed repetition session.

A linked sequence of countdown timers (often referred to as an Interval Timer) is even more effective than the countdown timer alone. When an interval timer reaches zero, it starts running an adjacent timer in the sequence, which is repeated until all the countdown timers in the sequence have run. The entire sequence can then repeat or can stop after one iteration.

An interval timer is a great way to structure a timed repetion with a timed recovery.For instance you could set it up to countdown from 3 minutes down to zero and then shift to the next interval timer in the sequence, which a 2 minute countdown. The pattern could be set up to repeat as many times as you like.

Finish Time

Finish time is a feature offered in some Timex Ironman watches that is useful for predicting times in competitive races or extended rep sessions.

The way it works is, say you are competing in a race or fun run and you want to run in a certain time. You enter your target time into your watch and the distance of the race.

As you pass each marker (either 1k, or 1mile) you press a button and the watch will give you your projected finishing time. The feature can be useful if you are trying to run a personal best time and want to know if you’re on track. On the other hand it does require that you manually press a button at each marker, which is easily forgotten about in a race.

Heart Rate Zones

The heart rate zone feature is found in watches that support a heart rate monitor. It enables you to set up an acceptable upper and lower limit for an exercise session (or sometimes the watch does this for you). When you perform the session, your watch will monitor your heart rate signals and trigger an alert if your heart rate drops too low, or climbs too high.

For example, you may want to perform a gentle session that doesn’t take too much out of you. A long slow run will usually get your heart rate to about 60-70% of your maximum, so say your maximum heart rate is 192 beats per minute, your heart rate zone will then be 139-152 bpm.If your heart rate falls outside of this range and an alarm will be triggered. Many heart rate monitors will also record how much time you spent “in the zone”.

Heart rate zones can be a great way to ensure you are not over training, an situation athletes need to avoid, another useful feature that some heart rate monitors support is recovery rate measurement. If you take too long to recover, it’s another sign you’re over-doing it.

Speed & Distance Tracking

Whether on long run, in a competitive race or a rep session, it can be extremely useful for a runner to be aware of their current speed, pace and just how far you travelled in a given time.

There are various technologies found in running watches today that display real-time speed and distance information to the wearer. The cheapest and most inaccurate of these is a pedometer mechanism that keeps track of your number of steps, then calculates speed and distance statistics based on your stride length.

A similar, more accurate device (when correctly calibrated) is a foot pod unit, which clips into your running shoe and transmits a signal back to your wrist watch. The foot pod can calculate speed and distance information, based on the actual motion of your legs through the air. A foot pod can also measure your cadence.

Perhaps the most accurate measurement of speed and distance and also the most costly, is GPS tracking. GPS sports watches come in two basic types: one-piece units that contain a GPS antenna within the watch, or a light-weight external device that receives the GPS signal and transmits wirelessly to the wrist watch.

GPS tracking watches calculate speed and distance based on a network of satellites orbing the earth that broadcast a continuous signal. By locking onto three or more satellite, your location on earth can be measured, which allows speed and distance to be calculated to a high degree of accuracy, however a common problem with GPS tracking watches, is that they require an unobstructed view of the sky, making them ineffective around tall building or trees, an issue a foot pod or pedometer doesn’t suffer from.

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