Sunday, March 18, 2012

Do GPS Watches Help or Harm?


GPS Watches and fitness trackers tend to be lumped in the same category. Everyone does it; I’m even guilty of this, even though I am well aware that they’re not exactly the same thing. Regardless, these devices are becoming fairly common in the world of running, cycling and other fitness activities. And, as prices drop and proliferation increases, that leads to an interesting question: Are these devices actually helpful or harmful?

There have been loads of articles and studies published recently asking the exact same question and, surprisingly, most of them say pretty much the same thing: moderation. Tracking your stats and numbers can be a wonderful tool, but athletes sometimes can forget that these devices are designed to be tools and that they must be used properly.

“The tools are only as useful as the people using them,” Dr. Aaron Baggish, associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital told the Boston Globe. “I know people who will convince themselves that it’s not worth doing a workout if they’ve left their watch at home or their watch is out of batteries, which is totally nonsense.”

The article goes on to say that while these training aids can provide some useful information, they shouldn’t replace an athlete’s intuition and knowledge of their own body. Part of the danger of GPS fitness devices is that some people tend to use them instead of paying attention to the signals their bodies send to alert them of overtraining, exhaustion or other health-related issues.

One major negative aspect of using GPS devices as training aids is the pressure of having your personal workouts published in a social setting. More than one study and article has been devoted to apps like Strava and which include mostly a social element. There are both pros and cons, and you can read about it in this awesome article. I’m not much of a runner, and I’m really not into social media, so I can’t write too intelligently on the topic. The article does discuss the “Strava addiction” that some athletes can develop after using the app, and I can definitely see some negative side effects of such a thing.

But, what do you think? If you use a running watch or other GPS fitness device, how do you use it? Is it helpful or harmful to your overall fitness? Let me know what you think in the comments!


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