When I first started running, determining my pacing and distance meant relying treadmills at the gym and using tracking apps that forced me to carry my phone at all times. There were some GPS capable watches, but they were way outside my broke college student budget at the time. After about a year of running, my mom was kind enough to gift my sad self with my first GPS-enabled Garmin watch. This was well before the Garmin Connect app, and the main features available were tracking distance and pace. That was all I was really looking for at the time, and it was a huge upgrade from the iPhone app's available. But in the last decade, Garmin watches sure have come a long way. There's a whole host of features available now that can make running and tracking data so much easier.
But in order to use all of these great features, you have to first know that they exist and how to access them. After working with a few clients, I’ve come to realize that a lot of Garmin users aren’t fully aware of all of the capabilities their watch has, or how to use them to make life easier. Today I want to give you some information and share some resources available to help you get the most out of your Garmin watch.
The features I want to highlight are all available on the Garmin Forerunner series, Phoenix, Venu, and Instinct series. Some of the features are also available on the VivoSport series, but may be more limited. In order to utilize many of these features, you’ll need to download the Garmin Connect app onto a smart phone. The app is available on all smartphone markets.
Programming Running Workouts
I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to set out on an interval workout, get going, and then realize you’ve overshot the interval distance or time. Or forgotten to lap an interval. Or have a programmed interval that exceeds a mile and hear that autolap ding at a mile, screwing up your data. It’s hard enough to complete interval workouts, but trying to do math in your head mid-sprint is just asking for disaster. Also, ever tried to track 6+ sets or repeats, and realize you can’t remember if you just completed your fourth or fifth?
These are all great reasons to set up interval workouts through the Garmin app, and then select the workout before you start running. If you program the workout to include a warm up and cool down, your watch will beep to let you know the warm up is complete, when the interval is done, and it will even tell you if you should be in a recovery period, and if you are on the fourth or six interval. You can even get nit-picky and program target paces or heart rates, and let the watch passive aggressively chirp at you when you are outside the targets.
Going through a step by step on how to create and execute these workouts is a little difficult in written form (and I’m not a strong enough writer to do so), so here’s a link for a great tutorial on how to do just this.
When you set up a brand new Garmin, it will ask about your physical stats like height, weight, and age. It’s not trying to get up in your business, but to calibrate so that it can give you a decent estimate of the calories you expend working out and just living life based on your data and your heart rate. Is it completely accurate? Lol, no.
But it does give you a good idea of about how many calories your body is using on an average day. This can be really helpful if you ever need to troubleshoot your nutrition and evaluate if you are under-fueling. I use the daily average as a way to identify when I seem to be using a higher number of daily calories than usual, so I can increase my intake slightly. I’ve written before how I use this data to ensure I do not under-fuel and risk relative energy deficiency in sports.
Having a heart rate censor allows the Garmin to give you some general feedback that can be helpful during training periods. It can show heart rate and which heart rate zone you are in during different points in the workout. Again, this is not a perfect feature, but it is helpful for troubleshooting if your perceived effort is out of line with your actual energy output.
Some newer watches can give additional information to tell you if your training is considered productive, overreaching, or unproductive, along with several other categories. It seems a little insulting to me, personally, but I’m sure it’s just tough love. The watch uses your recent heart rate data to analyze your VO2 Max and compare your current workout with that number. For more information on this feature, take a peek at Garmin’s website here.
There’s a number of ways you can personalize the data your Garmin watch shows you directly without the Garmin Connect app. For every workout mode, there are two screens that can be personalized to show the data you want to see most. Through the Activity Setting, you can pre-program the fields that each screen shows during your chosen activity. For example, if you select the run activity, you can set Screen 1 to show 1-4 fields, and then scroll down to select the data shown in those fields.
I personally prefer to have one screen that shows the overall data from my run as a whole, and the second screen show the data related to that specific lap. That way if I am running an interval or speed workout, I can scroll to the second screen where I have set the distance, pace, and heart rate fields to display for that specific lap. Whatever data is most important to you, you can set it show quickly, which is awesome if you’re wanting to see more than just pace and distance.
Garmin also gives users the capability to select different watch faces through the Garmin Connect app. Again, this is just a nice way for watch users to decide what data they want to see immediately. For example, I like to make sure that I get a certain number of steps in on a daily basis, since my work is fairly sedentary. Instead of having to scroll to the third screen to see this info, I selected a face that has that data included. So now, my steps show on my home screen all the time.
Pick a Training Plan
One of the coolest (I think) features available on the app now is the ability to select training plans for 5k, 10k, and half-marathon distances. If you’re not interested in individualized coaching, but have a race in mind, you can select a pre-made training plan from the connect store. This will allow the watch to send you notifications telling you what you should run that day.
I personally prefer individualized programs, for a lot of reasons, but I think this is a great feature for someone who is newer to running and just needs a small amount of guidance. If you have specific time goals, or want a training plan that is tailored to your individual lifestyle, please feel free to reach out to me through my Contact Me page, and I’d be happy to chat more.
Back to Start
For a directionally challenged individual, this is probably one of the absolute best Garmin features available. This is a feature built into newer models, and is a little different between the different displays. Essentially, if you have a watch where this feature is capable, you can ask the watch to help you get back to the place where your run began. During the activity, you scroll down to Navigation, and select back to start.
This won’t back track you the way you came, but will give you the fastest line to get back. So it’s really useful if you’re in an unfamiliar location and need to get back to your hotel or car, but not great if you want to set up a true out and back route.
Different Sport Modes
Most of the newer Garmin watches give you a certain number of sport modes to choose from when tracking an activity. And the watch can intuit what kinds of information you might naturally want from each mode. For the 235 version I own, I can select Run, Run Indoor (for treadmill use), Bike, and Other. I use Other to track my CrossFit workouts, so that I can see my general heart rate and time spent working out, without that data interfering with the running data that is stored in my watch.
This allows my watch to give me feedback about my runs and give me more accurate ranges without my activity from one sport interfering with the others. The fact that my heart rate can be through the roof during a CrossFit WOD without me moving more than 10m won’t impact the predictive data given to me about my running, which is nice.
These are certainly not the only features available from Garmin. The Garmin Connect app can give you a ton of data on your weekly, monthly, and even annual total mileage or number of workouts. You can also adjust workouts in the Garmin Connect app afterwards. So if you forgot to stop a workout, and realized 5 minutes later (something I NEVER do), you can go back and correct the time through the app. This feature can also be helpful during treadmill runs where your watch distance may not fully sync up with your treadmill distance. There’s also some newer elements on watches that I honestly haven’t had the opportunity to utilize, like the safety features available on the 245 series.
Garmin is always innovating and looking for ways to provide more value for their customers, which I love. It’s part of the reason I have been loyal to them for going on nine years, and always recommend their products to new and beginning runners. There are other watches out there, but I think I will probably always be a Garmin girl. I hope this post helps you utilize your Garmin watch as much as possible. If there are other features you’re loving, please share them with me, because I am always interested to learn more!