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The Best Fitness Watches to Track Runs, Workouts, and Sleep

The Best Fitness Watches to Track Runs, Workouts, and Sleep

Fitness trackers have become ubiquitous, as much a street cred statement as a workout tool (in New York City, for example, the Apple Watch reigns supreme; when I moved to Denver recently, I discovered that Garmins carry more clout). And these devices aren’t going anywhere. Wearable technology—a $95 billion industry that includes fitness watches and other devices from Fitbit, Garmin, Apple, and more—was again the No.1 fitness trend for 2020 as reported by the American College of Sports Medicine, beating out actual workouts like HIIT and bodyweight training.

But we’ve long surpassed the day when a simple activity band sufficed (remember 2013’s OG Fitbit, that slim silicone band with blinking lights to indicate your activity progress?). Now, we’ve reached a point where near military-grade watches with oversized faces and the capability to track an insane amount of metrics are available for the average, amateur exerciser. This is a good thing! While a fitness tracker can’t make you fit, it can provide a ton (sometimes, too much) information about how your workouts are affecting your body and how you can optimize your training to better perform.

If you’re looking to make major gains this year, these devices can help you max out your potential—no matter what your workout of choice.


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1. Garmin Fenix 6x

Best for the outdoors 

Hikers and skiers will go nuts for the topographical maps on this oversized watch. Navigate your adventures on the trails or the slopes with downloadable, easy-to-see  routes all over the world. There are preloaded maps for 2,000 ski resorts that show run names along with level of difficulty. In the backcountry, the watch can distinguish and display metrics specific to skiing or climbing. Not sure where your endpoint is? Enter how far you’re willing to go, and the watch will suggest up to three routes to bring you back to where you started. Features like the altimeter and barometer sensors help you stay better informed of your surroundings, while expedition mode will extend your battery life—and GPS connectivity—for weeks.

[$849.99; garmin.com]

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2. Polar Vantage V

Best for competitors 

Designed for elite runners (or PR-chasing age-groupers), the Polar Vantage V is the first running watch to track power from the wrist. It uses GPS and barometer data (which accounts for elevation changes) to calculate “running power”—or the current amount of stress on your muscular and skeletal systems. This metric adjusts to changes in intensity faster than your heart rate, which allows the watch to provide more accurate workout insights. Complementary features like Training Load Pro, which tells you how specific sessiona are straining your body, and Recovery Pro, which tells you if your body is ready to train or needs more rest, help you maintain a holistic approach to training.

[$499.95; polar.com]

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3. Suunto 9 BARO

Best for endurance athletes

This watch was built to outlast you—no matter how far you go. In its “Ultra” setting, it claims to have a massive 120 hours of battery life with active GPS; even if you’re using all the fancy metrics in “Performance” mode, you’ll get 25 hours. And if the watch senses that your battery is running low, it’ll alert you to switch to a different power mode. When you’re going the distance, the watch uses a specific algorithm that combines accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and barometric data to improve accuracy. It also has a built-in pressure sensor, which measures ambient air pressure to provide insights like sea level air pressure and storm alarms—an important feature if you’re alone in the wilderness.

[$599; suunto.com]

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4. Whoop Strap 3.0

Best for recovery

If you’re someone who knows how to go hard at the gym but doesn’t ever slow down to recover, the third-generation Whoop strap can help you optimize your daily strain, recovery, and sleep. Your strain number—a measure of the cardiovascular load your body takes on—not only includes your workouts, but the effect of daily stressors like travel and work. Based on your recovery level—calculated using your baseline heart rate variability, resting heart rate, and sleep—you can see how hard you should (or shouldn’t) train the next day. The strap also provides deep insights into your sleep, including sleep cycles, disturbances, respiratory rate, circadian rhythm, and more—plus how much sleep you need to be a functioning human the next day.

[$30/month; whoop.com]

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5. Apple Series 5

Best for gym rats

The latest Apple Watch iteration looks as good out of the gym as it performs in the gym. The biggest update is the Always-On Retina display feature, which keeps the screen constantly lit so you don’t have to obsessively flick your wrist to see the time. On the performance front, the watch automatically detects exercise and tracks everything from calories burned to your VO2 max (or how efficiently your body uses oxygen, a measure of aerobic fitness) during pre-programmed workout profiles from running to table tennis. It’s water-resistant up to 50 meters, too. Apple also added elevation tracking for even more performance insights. It’s all packaged sleeker than ever, with scratch-resistant ceramic and stain-, fingerprint- and yellowing-resistant titanium cases (available for the first time).

[$399; apple.com]

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6. Fitbit Charge 4

Best for tracking intensity

You should be logging at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week—but it’s not easy to quantify those minutes. Fitbit’s newest device is the solution. Not only is it the company’s first activity tracker to have built-in GPS—it’s also the first to track your “active zone” minutes. These zones (fat-burning, cardio, and peak) are based off your personalized heart rate zones (which will dynamically update over time depending on your performance); not only will you be able to see how intense different parts of your workouts were after the fact in the app, the device will also send you alerts regarding which zone you’re in mid-workout, so you can pick up the pace or slow things down.

[available for preorder March 31; fitbit.com]

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The post The Best Fitness Watches to Track Runs, Workouts, and Sleep appeared first on Men’s Journal.

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