Wearable fitness trackers can drop serious knowledge. From how many minutes you’re pushing it and the number of miles you’ve slayed, to your intensity (thanks, heart rate monitors!) and average pace. For many sweat seekers, sports watches have become an accessory staple. But, like many tools of the wellness world, they’re not for everybody or for every workout
RELATED: How to Make Better Use of Your Tracking Data
Tech Talk: Sports Watches
One person who should probably keep a sports watch around at all times, though: Someone looking to score a PR at their next race. “As a running coach, I am big on monitoring training pace,” says Matt Wilpers, RRCA Certified Running Coach and founder of CoachCasts. “Looking at performance data, I learn what my clients’ pace should be so they reach a certain desired intensity. Then, by monitoring their pace during a workout, I know if they’re under or overtraining.”
You can gain that same knowledge with your own fitness tracker, but it’s not always necessary. Here’s when to keep an eye on your stats and when you should get sweaty, sans technology.
RELATED: 5 Tweaks That Took an Hour Off My Marathon Time
When to Sport Your Fitness Tracker
A sports watch does provide some serious pay-offs, even if you’re a beginner exerciser. Check these reasons, explained by Wilpers, why you might want to wear one:
1. It replaces a manual training log. Of course, wearable devices take the work out of recording your runs. So if you want to assess your progress, including the speed you’ve gained and how many miles you’ve tackled, an electronic log is the way to go. No pen, paper or calculator required.
2. It helps you stick to a training plan. Many plans provide pace targets, like running 20 seconds slower than your goal race pace or going at your average 10K race pace. A GPS watch will make sure you hit that mark. Plus, the closer you stick to your training plan, the closer you get to meeting your goal, which leads us too…
3. It may get you to the finish line faster. Leading up to race day, you’ll have a constant reminder of how far you’ve gone and how speedy you’ve gotten. This often gives users the confidence to keep pushing forward, getting stronger and increasing speed during training runs. Also, if you track your stats during the actual race, you can easily check that you’re on target to snag a PR.
RELATED: The Easiest 5K and 10K Training Plan Ever
A GPS watch will guide you through both distance-based intervals and time-based bursts. This lets you take your stride anywhere.
4. It allows you to focus on distance. A GPS watch will guide you through both distance-based intervals and time-based bursts. This lets you take your stride anywhere — track, road, trail, mud pit, you name it — without having to do some math on mileage. Even better, you can think less about numbers and concentrate more on running efficiently through every type of training, whether you’re doing strides or tempo runs.
5. You can join a community. Sync your run (or ride) results to cool apps like Strava, RunKeeper or MapMyRun or FitBit and befriend other users so they can see your activity feed. This way, you’re likely to get encouragement and praise from your peers — along with some solid bragging rights — which often helps users stay the course.
RELATED: Hey Runner, Are You Doing Strides?
When to Stash Your Fitness Tracker
Sometimes a constant reminder of your progress can be more of a distraction than a motivator. Here’s when to avoid watching your watch, according to Wilpers:
1. You just want to get up and go. You may prefer to exercise based on how your body feels — pushing harder on days when you feel you could go forever or cutting a run short when you’re super tired or sore. If that’s the case, leave the arm candy at home.
2. You have a recovery run. You killed a 10K or 13-miler and a day or two later, you’re ready to get back out there — without worrying about how fast your feet are moving. This is the time to embrace a casual run, without a tech buddy.
RELATED: The 50 Best Half Marathons in the U.S.
3. Seeing the data makes you tense. For some people, data reminders can get overwhelming. If you check your watch at every step, get super frustrated when you slow down, stress out about the time or think about how little you’ve traveled, perhaps it’s time to step away from the tracker. Notifications aren’t for you if they make you want to give up.
4. It’s Keeping You from a Good Workout. Every now and then technology fails us and a tracker dies or stops recording info. That doesn’t mean your run isn’t worth it or you should skip a few exercises in a group class while you try to fix it. If it becomes your excuse for not moving, toss it to the side.
RELATED: 9 Trainer Tips to Get More from Your Fitness Classes
Just like choosing a certain type of exercise, different people have different preferences when it comes to fitness trackers, so test what’s best for you. Typically, “Type A” personalities like to know all of their info to make sure they’re training efficiently, says Wilpers. On the other hand, some runners like to use the open road as a time to disconnect.
“I coached an athlete that ran 10 to 15 miles a day, mostly alone,” Wilpers says. “He liked to run based how he felt. That said, he still used a GPS watch because when he finished, he wanted to know how far he went and his pace during the run.” Sound like something you’d be into? Look for an option in your app to turn off updates. That way, you won’t receive constant reminders of your mileage and pace, but you can still check when you get home.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to record your workouts (if you do at all!). A tracking tool can certainly help improve your performance, says Wilpers, but it’s not a requirement for a successful workout. The most important thing: Listen to how your body feels, then get out there and enjoy the movement.