Pros: A wireless chest-strap version gives you constant on-the-go information for maximum workout efficiency. Fingertip models are nice because they don't require you to wear a chest strap.
Cons: Not everyone likes wearing a chest strap. With fingertip models, you have to stop in order to take a reading and the readings are less accurate.
Speed and Distance Monitors
These units measure how far and how fast you've trained during your workout, and they often (but not always) include a heart-rate monitor. They also provide training-watch features and most allow data to be downloaded to your computer. Specific models are aimed at runners or cyclists.
There are 2 types of speed and distance monitors (SDMs):
● A GPS-driven version (typified by Garmin's Forerunner series) provides accurate speed and distance information in a highly convenient, one-piece wristwatch unit.
● An accelerometer version uses a sensor, foot pod or bike hub to send the data to your wrist monitor. This is nearly as accurate as GPS-based models and usually less expensive. Some advanced accelerometer models include heart rate monitors and other features.
Best for: Running, cycling and walking.
Basic models: These use an accelerometer (a sensor, foot pod or bike hub) to wirelessly send the data to your wrist monitor. These calculate your speed and distance with many models including a basic heart-rate monitor, too.
Advanced models: These are dominated by the popular Garmin Forerunner series. They use GPS technology to determine speed and distance information and store it right in the wristwatch data center. Some GPS-driven SDMs can be outfitted with an optional foot pod to keep you operational in areas where no satellite reception exists.
Pros: GPS-based units are the most accurate and offer 1-piece comfort and convenience with no stride calibration required. Accelerometer-based units are also quite accurate, much less expensive and are the only SDMs to work indoors.
Cons: GPS-based units are expensive and might not work in some areas—canyons, dense forests, indoor gyms, amid tall buildings—so you may want a compatible foot pod. Not all are compatible with Macs. Accelerometer models are less accurate, less convenient and require you to calibrate your stride.
Fitness Assessment Monitors
As part of your exercise regimen, you may want to track your weight, body fat, blood pressure and/or oxygen saturation levels. These specialized monitors help you easily obtain that information.
Fat Loss Monitor with Scale: It's a scale with extras. In addition to measuring your weight, it measures your body fat percentage and body mass index (BMI).
Body Composition Monitor with Scale: This monitor has a handgrip and foot electrodes to provide information on both your upper and lower body. Using your height and age, it measures body fat percentage, BMI, skeletal muscle, visceral fat, resting metabolism and, of course, your weight.
Fat Loss Monitor: A hand-held monitor measures your body fat percentage and BMI.
Blood Pressure Monitor: This measures your blood pressure, takes your pulse and checks for irregular heartbeats. You can download the info to your PC computer for tracking.
Oximeter: This is most often a tool of high-altitude mountaineers but can also be used by hikers, skiers, bikers or anyone interested in measuring their oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Why? Oxygen saturation (levels) decrease at higher altitudes. Less oxygen in the air means less oxygen reaches your body tissues. This makes physical activity more difficult and increases your susceptibility to altitude sickness. An oximeter measures your blood's oxygen saturation level and helps alert you to the onset of altitude sickness. It fits on your finger, and it shows the percentage of oxygen saturation, pulse and pulse quality. Anyone who needs an oximeter for a medical condition should first consult his or her physician.
While not truly fitness monitors, these "wrist altimeters" offer electronic functions popular with hikers and climbers headed to the high country. They include the functions of a basic chronographic watch—time, stopwatch, water resistance and alarm—plus an altimeter, barometer and, sometimes, a compass and ascent/descent data.
Best for: Hiking, climbing and skiing.
Basic models: They usually include a barometer and thermometer. Barometric pressure readings are used to estimate your elevation.
Advanced models: More sophisticated altimeter watches include a compass (as mentioned, they're sometimes called "ABC" watches because they feature an altimeter, barometer and compass) and ascent/descent information. Many also offer an altimeter/barometer "lock" to help you recognize weather changes vs. elevation change, which is a nice feature for overnight backpacking.
Pros: Properly calibrated, these work well to tell you how much elevation you are gaining or losing. The barometer also provides basic weather forecasting.
Cons: All are based on barometric pressure readings and thus provide estimates only. Altimeters must be regularly recalibrated at known elevations to optimize accuracy. There is a learning curve to master their use. They provide little or no training data.