I recently hung out at the Ironman Boulder expo talking to athletes. I was amazed to find that some were training without a device. While training can certainly be done and races completed without a device, they provide so many benefits, I couldn’t imagine being without mine. The market has exploded over the last few years with many competitors in the market, which is good for us consumers, because prices are reasonable and functionality of the devices continues to increase.

Below I’ll outline some benefits a device can provide to enhance your training and race experiences.

Immediate Feedback

Immediate feedback is crucial during workouts or races. How fast am I going? How far have I gone? What heart rate zone am I currently in? If you are training with a device, questions like these and more can be answered simply by glancing down at your wrist. What can you do with this information? Adjust.

Log Your Training Automatically

When you switch to using a device, your days of keeping a training log by hand are over. A device will record every last detail of your workout and almost all devices will have companion software to store your workouts. Getting the data from your device to your computer or “the cloud” in most cases, is getting easier and easier. In some instances, where devices have Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity, it’s like magic and happens without you needed to do anything. For other devices, it’s still simply a matter of connecting your device to your computer with a USB.

Once your data is off your device there are many ways to analyze it. A variety of services exist to dissect your workout data and give you good metrics without you having to do much. With today’s technology you can even set these services up to “watch” for your workout data to be uploaded and analyze the data once it has been uploaded.

Know Your Numbers

An insane amount of metrics are being recorded by devices. Figuring out what all the data means and how it is related can be a bit overwhelming and would take many other blog posts, so I won’t go into the details here. However, focusing on a few of the basics when starting out can simplify things. When I first started using a device I only paid attention to my speed/pace and heart rate. With workout history, I was able to figure out my heart rate zones and what my average pace was. With these numbers I could determine the intensity of my workouts or if I was racing, see if my perceived effort matched what my body was actually doing.

Types of Devices

There are lots of devices on the market. How do you know what device is right for you?

Smart phones are a good choice for those on a budget, as many of us already have them and many tracking apps are free. Phones can take advantage of their GPS capabilities and interface with accessories such as heart rate monitors and power meters to give you the numbers you seek. Some of the cons of using a phone are that they aren’t practical for a triathlon, weather, sweat, and the elements can harm them if not properly protected, and they may be hard to view during workouts.

My favorite devices are GPS-enabled, multi-sport watches. There are a couple of brands to choose from. I happen to use the Garmin 920XT and I absolutely love it. Being a multi-sport device, it tracks many different metrics for swimming, cycling, and running.

If you are considering getting a device and are having a hard time deciding on what to get, DC Rainmaker has in-depty reviews for just about every device out there. I highly recommend checking them out if you are in the market.

Accessorize

Devices alone can do a lot, but in order to take advantage of all they can do, you’ll need to get some accessories. If your device isn’t GPS-enabled you may need to get a foot pod to track distance and cadence during runs. While some devices coming out are capable of measuring heart rate without any accessories, many on the market still require you to have a separate heart rate monitor. Garmin recently came out with a heart rate monitor that works under water which means you’ll be able to get all kinds of good data for your swim workouts.