When you hit the gym, are you looking to track your progress, or just blindly going through the motions? If you want real results, you need to understand what you’re doing.
What you’re wearing on your wrist might determine just how well you understand your workout. Exercising in the 21st century means that you can depend on more than just the scale and the mirror to track your progress. Technology has given us access to more detailed data than ever before, directly on our wrists in the form of fitness trackers and, in an even more powerful form, smartwatches. Once you head outside, connected or standalone GPS systems can help you stay on your route, and some advanced devices can even help you identify health issues like AFib to prevent problems before they even happen.
Whether you want a full-blown smart device for an immersive wearable experience or just a fitness-oriented timepiece to record your laps and splits, we’ve rounded up some of the best watches for every training regimen. The gadgets will track your workouts, help you regulate your sleep, give you active training tips—and look damn good on your arm all the while.
Apple Watch Series 4
There’s not much more to say about Apple’s signature smartwatch that hasn’t already been said—but we’ll rave about it a little more. The top wearable on the market got better in its fourth edition, with a redesigned shape, next-level heart health features, and newly-improved run tracking with watchOS 4.
Key Features: GPS, water resistance 50 meters, smartphone alerts, heart rate tracking, music storage, optional cellular capabilities
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
No iPhone? No problem. This Wear OS watch from Samsung is tailor-made to be your smart gym companion, with proactive health monitoring, automatic activity detection, and military grade Gorilla glass to withstand your toughest workouts.
Key Features: NFC payment, proactive health monitoring, sleep and stress management, automatic workout tracking
Fitbit Versa Lite
Fitbit’s second stab at a smartwatch, the Versa, was one of the best we tested last year—and its cost-conscious follow-up, the Versa Lite Edition, fits most of the winning qualities into a budget package. The Versa Lite Edition combines a slick design, powerful battery, and an attractive price point ($159) with nearly all of the activity, heart rate, and sleep tracking functionality the company has used to become one of the biggest names in wearables.
Key Features: all day tracking, sleep tracking, multi-sport mode, water resistance, connected GPS, heart rate tracking, on-screen workouts, smartphone alerts
Suunto 3 Fitness Smartwatch
Suunto, which is best known for high-level orienteering equipment, took a stab at a smartwatch for more general exercisers and the result, the 3 Fitness, is a no-frills tracker that offers something for just about everyone, with ability to track dozens of activities and guided training plans. One of the biggest reasons the 3 Fitness works well is the newly-overhauled Suunto smartphone app, which gives more detailed feedback about your workouts than just about any other watch-style tracker.
Key Features: color screen, heart rate tracking, water resistance, connected GPS, adaptive training guidance
Matrix Powerwatch 2
Sick of lugging around a charging cord and taking your watch off every night to power up? So were the folks at Matrix Industries, who turned that frustration into inspiration and designed a thermoelectric smartwatch that uses your body heat to work. This is the second generation of the device, which packs in all the bells and whistles you’d expect in a premium smartwatch (GPS, smart notifications, heart rate monitor) without ever needing to charge up.
Key Features: thermoelectric and solar charging, GPS, sleep tracking, 200m water resistance, third-party app integration
G-Shock GBA800 Training Timer
If the reams of data available on a smartwatch screen are too much for you, you’ll love the simplicity offered by this chunky analog watch (there’s a digital clock, too). The durable, large face gives you the time, the ability to set timers, and your step count — and that’s about it. For more smart features, you’ll have to check out the connected smartphone app.
Personalized coaching is the Polar M430’s specialty. Sync this wristwatch with Polar Flow (the company’s free app or online web service) to use the running program feature, which allows you to choose whether you’re training for a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or marathon. You’ll get a customized training plan on your wrist, tailored to your level and goal. The built-in GPS and heart rate sensor allow you to analyze your metrics closely, and it tracks sleep, too.
Key Features: wrist-based heart rate, all-day tracking, GPS, smart coaching, running program, sleep tracking, water resistant
Garmin Forerunner 35
This basic GPS-capable watch is ideal for runners. The tracker offers standard smartwatch features like smart notifications and a connected app, but the real attraction is the ability to track workouts without needing to bring a phone along for the run. Garmin Connect, the company’s online fitness community, can give wearers an opportunity to socialize and compete with other users, too.
Key Features: GPS, all-day tracking, built-in heart rate monitor, smart notifications, 9-day battery life
Timex Ironman GPS
If you’re training for a race, the interval timer on this watch will help you work on your speed — and that’s all. You won’t get distracted by smart notifications or apps with this simple digital tool. The large display makes it easy to check on your lap or split times mid-run, and it provides hydration and nutrition alerts as well.
Key Features: touch-screen enabled, interval training timer, hydration alerts
Need some more features on your wrist to take on any outdoor adventurer? This beefed-up yet compact smartwatch from Suunto has its own GPS capabilities, along with intelligent battery life modes the company claims could last up to 40 hours per charge, if you take advantage of the proper settings.
Key features: intelligent battery modes, stress and recovery scores, fitness level tracking, built-in heart rate monitor