Sports Watches / Wearable Devices – An Introduction

The use of wearable sports/fitness devices has become increasingly popular, not just with elite athletes, but with recreational athletes/weekend warriors/people just wanting to improve their health and well-being (1-5). As the devices have been further developed, each device has many added features; in addition to the heart rate monitor, the GPS, and the stopwatch, the watches now have features that extend beyond just running/counting steps, but multi-sport. Although not all watches may be multi-sport, the watches will have additional information popping up once you have done your exercise session – vertical oscillation, step frequency/cadence, heart rate zones, recovery hear rate, performance indicator, maximal O2 uptake (VO2max), Lactate threshold, O2 saturation, and EPOC (excess post-exercise O2 consumption) to name a few. – If one purchases add-on’s for bicycles one can get power readings and Functional Threshold Power (FTP) as well. Oh and most of the newer watches are all Bluetooth enabled… so you connect to Garmin Connect or Strava etc, people follow you, give you “kudo’s”/”like’s” and it becomes a socio-motivational factor (3).

It’s all very exciting, and “snazzy” (especially if your watch receives smart notifications). But what does it all mean? How can one benefit from the information? Is it good to exercise with a sports/fitness device all the time? How accurate is the information my watch is giving me? Should I go and get the values tested by an expert? – these are just some of the questions I have heard (overhearing other people’s conversations), and I think they are good questions to pose.

My observations have lead me to believe (and partially fall into the trap) that “I need a new watch to fit in” / “Everyone else’s watch does this, I need to upgrade mine”. It would seem that this trap is dominated by the recreational athletes/weekend warriors rather than the elite athletes; and may be compounded by the medical aids providing benefits when one uses the devices on a regular basis (I use mine to help track daily activity to get points for my medical aid). Although this initiative is great for getting people active and healthy, and rewarding them accordingly, it can be an expensive endeavour.

So you’ve bought this “fancy” sports watch (it doesn’t just tell the time), and you’ve noticed you have more information popping up when you review the history – what does it mean?

I will be writing a series of posts, trying to cover all of the different components of the data provided, to help guide you into understanding what the data actually means, and how you can use it to help improve your running.

I received my first fitness device in 2014, a Garmin Forerunner 15. I had never really been a runner, however, had started running a little more at the end of 2011 / start of 2012, but battled to pace myself as I had no sense of how far I had run on the road; so when I got the Garmin Forerunner 15, I was thrilled to say the least. It made a major difference – I now had a way on not only monitoring the distance I covered and the pace of my run, but my heart rate as well. Then I kept striving to go faster or do longer runs, to constantly create new records. When I went onto my current medical aid, I tracked my daily activity a little more seriously (need the points, you know!), but besides this, I noticed a significant improvement in my intrinsic motivation to run – it was no longer too much of a drag to go for a run!

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  1. Sultan, N. (2015). Reflective thoughts on the potential and challenges of wearable technology for healthcare provision and medical education. International Journal of Information Management, 35: 521-526.
  2. Yang, R., Shin, E., Newman, M.W., and Ackerman, M.S. (2015). When fitness trackers don’t “fit”: End-user difficulties in the assessment of personal tracking device accuracy. ACM. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2750858.2804269
  3. Tholander, J. and Nylander, S. (2015). Snot, Sweat, Pain, Mud, and Snow – Performance and Experience in the Use of Sports Watches. CHI. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2702123.2702482
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