How To Use A Running Watch To Improve Your Training

Man stands next to running track looking at running watch
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When people first start running regularly, a common mistake they make is to do every run at the same pace. And then, as they get more and more into the sport, another common mistake is not to allow the body to recover properly between training sessions.

Doing various types of running at different paces is key to improving. Tempo runs and interval sessions help you build your speed and your ability to maintain that speed, while easy efforts improve your aerobic fitness while also allowing your body to recover from hard runs. Speaking of recovery, it’s absolutely essential to becoming a better, faster runner, because constantly knocking out hard runs puts you on the fast track to injury rather than improved performance.

Fortunately, both errors are easily fixed and a running watch can help. We spoke to Polar ambassador and running coach Nick Anderson on how you can best use a running watch to improve your training. His first suggestion is to use the heart rate monitor found on most devices to work out your different training paces.

“You should establish some rough training zones to start with,” says Anderson. “There are a number ways to do that and one is to match your heart rate to your perceived rate of exertion.” The simplest way to gauge how hard you’re exerting yourself is by how easily you can hold a conversation. “Easy running should be fully conversational,” says Anderson. “Your perceived rate of threshold running might be getting out a three- or-four-word answer – controlled discomfort is another way to describe that – and then really hard running, which is really hard!

“If you start to record your heart rate and what the rough perceived rate of exertion was when you did those particular runs, you get a portfolio of data that will eventually morph into zones that can be followed on your runs. There should be a clear difference in your running pace during different training sessions.”

When it comes to recovery, many running watches will give clear instructions as to how long you should take to rest after a training session, usually in hours. As well as this, Anderson suggests using the watch to track your sleep and also check on your resting heart rate in the morning, which will give a good idea of the state of your body to train that day, and can even be an indicator of whether you’re getting sick.

“Wearing the device overnight and getting your sleep data will show if you really are going into deeper phases of sleep, with less movement, so you’re getting better continuity of sleep,” says Anderson. “And measure your resting heart rate in the morning. That never lies – the lower it is the fitter you’re getting or the healthier you are. If it’s a little higher then either you’re tired or maybe there’s something else going on in your system and you need a few easy days.”

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.