So you just got a Garmin Fitness watch? Start here: 2011 Edition

Last year I put together a post published on Christmas morning for all of those that may have found a Garmin (or similar) fitness watch under the tree.  The goal was simply to provide a comprehensive list of resources to get you jumpstarted.  Of course, I still believe the easiest way to learn the watch is simply just go run or bike with it, but, there’s many features you may not realize are there – and it’s my goal to have you get the most from your watch.

So here’s the updated version of last year’s post, complete with some new resources and posts that I’ve put together since last year, as well as a few classics from prior.

Enjoy, and have a Merry Christmas!

1) Burning off all those Christmas Calories…and getting accurate calorie burn numbers
So, you just finished up the statistical 3,000-5,000 calorie Christmas Day grazing – but don’t worry…so did I! Assuming you’re planning on trying to work some of that off, you’ll probably be wondering how to get your Garmin to tell you how many calories you’ve burned.

The good news is that the setup for calories is easy…even if the hard work outdoors or in the gym isn’t:

How calorie measurement works on your Garmin

2) Getting the lay of the data field land
You’ve got TONS of data at your disposal now – perhaps too much, but which data fields should you show, and which ones just cause confusion?

I put together this detailed post on every data field offered, and which ones I use, as well as why. Others have chimed in with their favorites as well:

Choosing your Garmin Device Fields

3) Training Indoors with your new Garmin
It’s understandable the weather might not be the best outside during the winter months, so here’s how you can utilize your device inside to the best of its capabilities.  You can do an amazing amount of stuff inside with it, if you just spend a brief moment to configure it:

How to train indoors with your Garmin

P.S. – If you managed to make it outdoors into the snow, but only to ski…well…use this guide instead. :)

4) Choosing which training log software to use:
By default your Garmin Forerunner or Edge device comes with free access to Garmin Connect, as well as a bit of older software that you can load onto your PC or Mac called Garmin Training Center. While Garmin Connect is a good starter piece of software, it lacks any detailed analysis capabilities. Thus, I recommend a few different options instead:

A) Sport Tracks 3.0 – This is free for up to two plug-ins, or $35 for the paid version. It’s downloadable to PC’s only, but has an incredible range of functionality. I wrote up a review on ST3.0 back when it came out.

B) Training Peaks – I use this as my day to day training log, as it offers a good balance between usability and functionality. I can drill down pretty deep in data – but also get data from other devices such as my Withings WiFi scale and Zeo (note: ST integrates there as well).

C) Golden Cheetah – This free application is primarily targeted at cyclists, and ideal for the Edge devices. It’ll analyze your power data and more, to degrees you never considered possible.

There’s of course a ton more options out there, but these are my favs, mostly because they’re tried and true. As a minor side note, I do recommend that if you have a Forerunner device that uses the ANT+ agent (wireless), to configure it to upload all activities to Garmin Connect automatically. That way, in case something ever happens, you have a copy there – even if you never use it.

5) Understanding how those things in outer space actually see where you are
For the geeks around these parts, I’ve got a few posts that talk to both accuracy of GPS fitness devices, as well as how elevation data works with GPS devices.

Understanding Sport Device GPS Elevation Issues
Sport Device GPS Accuracy In Depth – Part I/II (2010 Edition)
Sport Device GPS Accuracy In Depth – Part I/II (2011 Edition)

6) Creating workouts and race plans, and then downloading them to your Garmin
You know what’s probably one of the cooler features of the Garmin devices that doesn’t often get as much press? The ability to have it continuously yell at you until you follow your workout plan. Yup, it’ll do that. Even in a race.

First up, is how to best pace with a Garmin device:

The Art of Pacing with a Garmin/GPS Device

Then here’s how to setup workouts that your Garmin will execute and you just follow along:

How to download workouts to Garmin devices (all training devices)

And, if you’re looking to follow a route, you can follow this guide as well:

How to create courses and maps for your Garmin Forerunner or Edge

7) Understanding the heart rate strap and how to get the most accurate readings
Heart rate straps can be finicky little things, especially in winter when the air is dryer and cooler. Thus, check out these guides I’ve put together for getting you on the right path to issue-free heart rate readings:

Troubleshooting your heart rate monitor straps when you see HR spikes
A solution to heart rate dropouts/spikes with Garmin HR Soft Straps
How to fix cold/dry weather erratic heart rate readings

8) Accessories: Quick Release Kit, Speed Cadence Sensor, Footpod
Aside from the heart rate strap, these are the most popular accessories – and the speed/cadence sensor and footpod being applicable across the board for all ANT+ devices as well.  In these posts I go into a bizarre level of detail on all the questions you can think of.

The quick release kit – Solving one of life’s great mysteries
The ANT+ Bike Speed/Cadence Sensor: Everything you ever wanted to know
The ANT+ Running Footpod: Everything you ever wanted to know
The Garmin ANT+ Footpod Calibration Tool (to help you calibrate that footpod!)

9) The tips that didn’t fit!
These were the ones that didn’t have a full category unto themselves, but are definitely worth checking out!

Tip of the Day: How not to lose your ANT+ stick
Did you get an Edge 800? Be sure to update the firmware, pronto!  Here’s why!
How to use Garmin Autolap for automated lap creation on repeated loops
Feeling luck? Waterproof immersion tests on cycling computers – how waterproof is that Edge?
RoadID-like bands that wrap around your Garmin watches – review

Looking for even more in depth How To’s and details?
Fear not, I’ve got years of rambling about how to use these devices – and I’ve tossed them all in a semi-structured page here, divided up categorically by what ya want to do:

Have a great week all, and enjoy your new toys!


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  1. I have nothing to add, only i want to let you know that you’re THE best! Thanks for all this effort, It really helps me. (even through christmas! :) )

  2. I’d add in Rubitrack for training software to use if you’re on a Mac.

  3. Hey Ray, I love your posts on the Garmin watches (well frankly all your posts)! I have read your blog for a long time, but never commented for some reason. I felt compelled after seeing this post to comment and say thanks for all the great information you provide us!

  4. I’ve been having issues with my heart rate monitor – this post came right in time! Thanks a lot Ray! And also wanted to say tnx for your modified Excel spreadsheet – saved me a lot of time creating something similar. I’m still a pretty new reader of your blog – reading it.. backwards :) cheers.

  5. warren(from philippines)

    i’ve been a garmin user for the past 2 years! thanks for the comprehensive(i should say :)) review of the watches! more power!

  6. I love the information you have here about the device. Indeed Garmin has created a line of sports and fitness equipment that utilizes the companys’ GPS expertize to create a unique product line. No wonder Garmin Reviews are usually on a positive light!