The 7 Best Running Watches for Tracking Your Exercise

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If you’re serious about maintaining an exercise regime, you need to turn to technology for a bit of help.

One of the best devices you can buy for yourself is a running watch. So, whether you’re a long-term fitness fanatic or someone who’s just turned over a new leaf, keep reading.

We’re going to look at the best running watches you can buy right now.

The Finnish-built Suunto 9 is the clear market leader for people who perform either endurance or extreme sports. The water resistance to 100 meters is at least double what even the best mid-range running watches will offer. It also has a barometric altitude function that reacts faster than a GPS-based altitude reader.

Users will find the Suunto app to be useful thanks to the route-based GPS heatmaps, and the 80 built-in sports modes mean you will never be unable to enter your current activities.

Given the features and the build quality, the watch would be an unnecessary luxury for most amateur and casual runners. If you can stretch your budget, however, it represents an excellent purchase.

Key Features

  • Waterproof to 100 meters
  • 80 built-in sports modes
  • Barometric altitude information
Specifications

  • Brand: Suunto
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
  • Color Screen: Yes
  • Notification Support: Yes
  • Battery Life: 120 hours
Pros

  • GPS heatmap for running trails
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Intelligent battery modes
  • Incredible build quality
Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Unnecessary number of features for casual runners

The cost of the Garmin Forerunner 945 makes it prohibitive to all but the most dedicated runners. However, if you regularly run competitively or take part in triathlons, this is the most feature-rich watch you can buy.
It is the performance tools which are perhaps the most appealing.

It can track your oxygen consumption (adjusting for heat and altitude), exercise history, and performance stats, then let you know if you are training productively, peaking too early, or pushing yourself too hard. You will also be able to monitor how your training is affecting your endurance, speed, power, and recovery times.

The watch supports both custom workout plans and predefined plans that you can download and sync to your watch.

Key Features

  • Two weeks of battery life
  • Garmin Pay included
  • GLONASS and Galileo satellite reception for areas with weak GPS signal
Specifications

  • Brand: Garmin
  • Heart Rate Monitor: With optional heart rate strap
  • Color Screen: Yes
  • Notification Support: Yes
  • Battery Life: 14 days
  • Integrations: Spotify, Amazon Music. Deezer, Garmin Pay
Pros

  • Download songs from Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer
  • Full color screen
  • Built-in maps
Cons

  • Cannot take calls
  • No support for personal assistants
  • Very expensive

The Apple Watch has a reputation as being more a style statement than a serious exercise tracker. That’s somewhat unfair. The watch’s design is undoubtedly gorgeous, but it has a large number of features that will appeal to runners.

Most notable is the blood oxygen tracker. It logs your levels continuously throughout your workout (and the entire day) and lets you know if the oxygen is dropping too low. The watch also has ECG capabilities. The tool will let you know if it detects high or low heart arrhythmias and could prevent you from pushing so hard during a jog that you endanger yourself.

The watch also has an altimeter for those who like hill running, a massive list of workout modes to suit your preferred intensity, and an app that tracks your performance stats.

Key Features

  • Measures blood oxygen level
  • Can be used to make calls and send texts
  • Heart rate and sleep tracking
Specifications

  • Brand: Apple
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
  • Color Screen: Yes
  • Notification Support: Yes
  • Battery Life: 18 hours
  • Operating System: watchOS
  • Onboard GPS: Yes
  • Offline Media Storage: Yes
  • Customizable Strap: Yes
  • SIM Support: Yes
Pros

  • Supports Apple Pay
  • Integration with Siri
  • Best smartwatch OS on the market
Cons

  • Does not pair with Android devices
  • Not a massive upgrade over the Apple Watch 5

The Polar Vantage M is the company’s entry-level sports and running watch. It lacks some of the features that you find in the more expensive models. For instance, a barometer, a touchscreen display, route guidance, and additional Polar tracking apps are all included in the higher-priced editions.

Nonetheless, you’ll still get 30 hours of battery life, a heart monitor, and access to running programs and the impressive Training Load Pro app. It breaks down your cardio metrics into more detail so you can perform better analysis on your performance.

Key Features

  • Support for GPS and GLONASS satellites
  • Heart rate monitor
Specifications

  • Brand: Polar
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
  • Color Screen: Yes
  • Notification Support: Yes, via app
  • Battery Life: 30 hours
Pros

  • Training Load Pro app breaks down your cardio performance
  • Waterproof
  • Swimming metrics and session tracking
Cons

  • No touchscreen
  • No barometer
  • No Recovery Pro app

The Garmin Forerunner 45 is an easy-to-use running watch that relies on five physical buttons rather than a touchscreen interface.

You can use it to gauge your heart rate and track your pace, distance, intervals, and other metrics via GPS. A key selling point is the inclusion of the free Garmin Coach; it creates adaptive plans to suit your fitness goals and provides feedback as you progress.

There are individual apps for most of the main sports—running included. The battery will last for up to seven days, but only 14 hours when GPS is enabled.

Key Features

  • Heart rate monitor
  • Notifications for texts and calls
  • Multiple activity profiles
Specifications

  • Brand: Garmin
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
  • Color Screen: Yes
  • Notification Support: Yes
  • Battery Life: 7 days
  • Integrations: Garmin Coach app
Pros

  • Available in four colors
  • Free Garmin Coach training plans
  • Incident detection feature for emergencies
Cons

  • Not touchscreen
  • Only 14 hours of battery life in GPS mode

The Fitbit Charge 4 is unquestionably the best fitness tracker that you can buy today. Not only does it look absolutely stunning, but it’s also packed with enough features to satisfy both occasional gym-goers as well as more dedicated fitness fanatics.

Some of the standout features include a built-in GPS (for tracking pace, distance, and intensity), more than 20 goal-based exercise modes to keep you inspired, and seven days of battery life.

The Charge 4 also supports call and text alerts (though you can’t actually take calls via the band), a waterproof rating of up to 50 meters, and a 24/7 heart rate monitor.

Key Features

  • Built-in GPS
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Sleep tracking
Specifications

  • Brand: Fitbit
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
  • Color Screen: No
  • Notification Support: Yes
  • Battery Life: Seven days
  • Integrations: MyFitnessPal, Strava
Pros

  • Goal-based exercise modes
  • Fitbit Pay support
  • Massive battery life
  • Three colors available
Cons

  • Need to subscribe to Fitbit Premium for maximum benefit
  • No color display
  • Screen wake is sometimes unreliable

If you don’t want to spend a fortune on a running watch, check out the Xiaomi Mi Band 4. It is the best budget fitness tracker on the market today.

Yes, some of the on-device alerts and motivational messages are a bit blunt, but the Mi Band 4 can still do most of the things that more expensive devices offer. That includes a treadmill tracker, cycling tracker, walking tracker, swimming tracker, step counter, and calorie tracker.

Before you hit the buy button, however, a word of warning; Xiaomi’s data policy says it can store data anywhere in the world, and the company currently has data centers in China and Russia. That might make some users uncomfortable.

Key Features

  • Color screen
  • 20 days of battery life
  • Six workout modes
Specifications

  • Brand: Xiaomi
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
  • Color Screen: Yes
  • Notification Support: Yes
  • Battery Life: 20 days
  • Integrations: Apple Health, Google Fit
Pros

  • Heart rate alerts
  • Sleep monitoring
  • Water resistant to 50 meters
Cons

  • Mi Fit app is not as good as rival offerings
  • Not many types of exercise supported

FAQ

Q: Should You Buy a Smartwatch or a Fitness Tracker?

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are aimed at different markets, although there is some blurring around the edges. If you a device that’s typically less robust and can access an assortment of non-sports apps but can still perform fitness tracking functions, get a smartwatch. If your reason for purchase is more sports-focused, consider a fitness tracker.

Q: Are Fitness Trackers Worth the Money?

Only if you’re going to use it! If you want to get fit, simply buying a fitness tracker isn’t going to drag you off the sofa. However, if you plan to work out regularly, a fitness tracker is money well spent.

Q: Do Fitness Trackers Have a Monthly Fee?

No. All mainstream fitness trackers and running watches provide access to their services for free once you’ve bought the device. Some do offer pro apps, but they typically offer little value for money.

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