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How to pick the right fitness device for runners

Rich Mogull | March 28, 2013
These days everyone has a fitness gadget. We'll help you select the right one for your workout

You want to get in better shape, and there are certainly enough electronic gadgets available that aim to help you get the job done. But that's not necessarily a good thing. The dizzying array of options catering to different budgets, objectives, or personal preferences can stop you in the tracks, even when picking out a seemingly simple device.

We're here to help, breaking down the tech tools that work best for your workout, based on your activities, goals, and overall fitness style. In our five-part series, we'll look at devices aimed at gym members, cyclists, swimmers, and outdoor enthusiasts. But we'll start things off, talking about devices aimed at runners.

Running may be the purest of sports, requiring little more than some supportive footwear, but that doesn't mean you can't improve your training or help the miles roll by with a little technological assistance.

The best options

GPS watch:  This type of watch can meet all your training needs in a nice, tidy package--and it's easy to read when running in bright sunlight or at night. Pick one that synchronizes with your computer for workout tracking, and has at least eight hours of battery life; that way, you won't have to charge it every day. Look for one that also supports guided or structured workouts so you can run intervals without a per-measured course. And it's worth getting one that also supports external sensors, in case you opt to include additional fitness gadgets to your workout in the future.

The Garmin Forerunner 610, Suunto Ambit, Timex Ironman Run Trainer 2, and Polar RC3 are all great choices. (Cyclists or triathletes should look at the Garmin Forerunner 910XT or Magellan Switch Up).

Heart rate monitor:  This device can enhance your training and keep you in the right zone. Most heart rate monitors are worn on chest straps that can connect wirelessly to your watch and measure your heart rate with electricity (like an EKG); however, some emerging models use light to sense blood flow changes (similar to a pulse oximeter). Training with a heart rate monitor is a proven method to maximize your workout efficiency. It allows you to precisely measure your work effort, and forces you to work hard when you need to push and slow down when you should recover.

When selecting a heart rate monitor, pick one that matches the wireless technology used by your GPS watch (or phone). Older uncoded straps (which lack a code to pair to your watch) should work with the treadmills in your gym, but they don't have much redeeming value as they won't sync to a watch or phone. ANT+ is the wireless technology supported by Garmin, Timex, Suunto, and many other manufacturers; it's the best choice, unless you are connecting your heart rate monitor to your phone. Bluetooth LE is a newer standard and less likely to be supported by watches, but it's able to connect to the iPhone 4S and 5 and some newer Android phones. Polar monitors will only work with Polar watches.

 

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