Do you need a running watch?

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How running watches can boost your performance and keep you on track, and how to pick the best one to match your running goals and budget.

Track your runs to stay on track

Running watches allow you to monitor a variety of different factors when you are out training or competing. Depending on the model and features offered you can track:
  • Duration of your run
  • Current speed
  • Average speed
  • Fastest speed
  • Incline / gradient
  • Distance covered
  • Steps taken
  • Kilojoules used
  • Heart rate
READ MORE: How to use less energy to run faster

One significant advantage of monitoring this type of information is motivation. Keeping an eye on how fast, how far, and for how long you've travelled during a run offers instant feedback, and also provides a mark to improve upon in the future.

It keeps you accountable, and makes training more interesting. Some models also come with the capacity to upload your training data, which can be measured against previous performances or shared with online communities to generate a little healthy competition.

Can running watches boost performance?

Running watches help to bring a more measured approach to your training instead of just mindlessly clocking up the kilometres. But does that translate into better results?

The research on the effectiveness of running watches is limited, though mostly positive. A small study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that participants who wore a digital tracking device increased their physical activity levels by an additional 38 minutes per week. This was compared to other subjects who used a basic pedometer, measuring just step count.

A running watch provides significantly more useable data compare to a pedometer by helping you to be more accurate and smart with your training. It can help to make goal setting more measurable, encouraging you to push on that little bit further or faster.

And while this could all lead to improvements in your performance, the watch can't run for you. For all this information to translate into future actions and positive behaviour, you still need to do the work.

What features should you look for in a running watch?

  • Heart rate monitoring

    Some running watches have the ability to monitor your heart rate, which helps to optimise each workout. You can run within set heart rate training zones, and keep tabs on your intensity and recovery
  • Connectivity

    Being able to upload data onto your smartphone or computer helps to look for patterns in both training and performance. Posting data on social media also adds a group dynamic to an individual activity like running
  • GPS technology

    By using global positioning system satellites, some watches can provide a number of unique details about your run. This includes mapping of your current speed, average speed, elevation above sea level and distance covered
  • Ease of use

    You can have all the bells and whistles, but you don't want to carry a user manual around with you just to make your running watch operate. Ensure the watch you purchase is easy to use, with simple and clear controls that allows you to quickly and easily find what you want

Do your research

Think about your budget and fitness goals, and determine which functions are important to you. What do you want to track? It may also help to ensure that the watch you intend to purchase is specifically designed for running.