MTI Collective Responses: Fitness Wearables and Pro/Cons

We’ve been curious about the use of various fitness trackers and their viability for MTI Athletes. We’ve used fitness trackers for our own internal research with various units and teams within the military, fire, and law enforcement. The results have been mixed, and the feedback below seems to support our experience thus far.

At the moment, it appears that a the results are a mix of hardware deficiencies and user variability, leading to less-than-ideal feedback. As many mentioned, sleeping with a watch or band is also simply annoying. Use during contact sports can’t be done with a watch, and everything from sweat to hair makes skews the fitness tracking.

Thanks to all who responded!

Garmin Feedback:

  • I use it to track my basic cardio metrics and distance traveled. I am certain I don’t maximize its use or really evaluate the date well.
  • I like the tracking of training status, load focus and sleep.  Logging mileage is accurately is useful when building up aerobic fitness.

  • The body battery and training readiness features are extremely useful to me. I train hard and I work hard at the rest of my life. The body battery and training readiness help me check myself when I’m overextending.
  • I have hairy arms, so I find the sensors on the Fenix 7 series (not 7 pro) to be inaccurate without wearing an HR strap.

  • The biggest help for me is it’s ability to set up and track different types of run intervals.  I’m sure they can all do that, though.  I also like the “track back” feature.  I’ve used it in a couple situations where I was in an unfamiliar area.

    The other feature I find valuable is that I have the LTE model of the Garmin 945.  This allows me to signal for help if I’m ever in a bad situation.  I’m old, so it happens. I went back to Garmin watches after trying a Samsung. The smartwatches from Samsung are not good at tracking fitness.  I’ve found the GPS features to be inaccurate on Samsung watches and they are missing features like VO2 max.

  • I don’t use it much really.  Steps, navigation, mapping, elevation, barometer.   It’s really true for me.  Fitness is simple.  Grind a structured program listen to your body.  Stay long term focused on health – fitness – life long well being.  Doesn’t take a fitness watch to succeed in that!!  Spend the time you would fiddling around with the watch learning new training methods which add spice , injury flexibility , enjoyment and intrigue to training. 
  • Has more metrics to cover the workout which directly link with all the other lifestyle data collected to better understand greater health and longevity

  • Fenix 7 Pro

    Benefits: Tracks running, hiking, rowing, weight training, etc. Tracks sleep, recovery, heart rate, other biometrics. Suggests run distances / pace based on my individual recovery and goals. Battery lasts weeks before recharging. Pairs with inReach for remote tracking / emergency response.Areas for improvement: the watch strap kind of sucks but there are aftermarket options. Pricey.

  • GPS without carrying my phone, HR, rep count, can build customized work outs and execute on the watch

  • Heart rate monitoring, run tracking, sleep tracking, training readiness. Improvement needed in comfort. Wearing while sleeping not the most comfortable experience. Wrist based HR monitoring needs improvement. I almost always wear chest strap for better accuracy when training.

  • I rely on the HRM to get a sense of overall effort and to track HRV as a gauge of health and recovery. I also use the health metrics to track if I overworking, along with my own sense of how my body feels overall, to gauage and avoid potentical overuse injuries.

  • Tracking. Area improvement is building non cardio workouts

  • Like tracking just about everything in one place. No good gym strength setting. Would like an discreet interval timer.

  • Tracking sleep and heart rate has been valuable for general health as well as recovery tracking. It also tracks time/distance/elevation gain and loss… one stop shopping for hiking biking and skiing.
  • When I can actually see how my mood, day, food, etc impact me physically (HR and sleep), and how I’m actually doing vs how I think I’m doing with workouts, it’s a game changer.

  • I use HR for all my training.

  • Gives me a better picture of my general health and it’s fun to see progression when doing sports

  • I like Garmin’s interface which is customizable for me to view training zone data following a ruck or trail run. I was also a competitive Masters swimmer and I was able to integrate a separate Polar HRM on my goggle strap to collect then review the data obtained from a swim session. I also use my Garmin Instinct in “Cardio” mode for most of my weight training sessions, which usually include a “metabolic’ portion. I also include separate kettlebell snatch workouts. I can see the cumulative effects of training both within the single session and over time. I do not use the Weight Training mode because I find it a little too “busy” when entering exercises and most of the time I just want to see what my Max HR was during a session especially on days when I am deadlifting or squatting.

  • It is helpful to have mileage and pace info readily available.  Heart rate monitor is not accurate for me.  

  • Easy to use HR monitoring during workouts. App allows review of sleep quality, rest vs stress throughout day, and workout charts.

  • Biggest area for improvement is the lack of informational articles on the app or in a newsletter email. There is a lot of great data the device collects, but I could get more out of it with some tips on how to best use.

  • I use a Garmin Fenix 5 with a Garmin HR monitor ( chest strap) for all running events. 

  • It logs all of my data from every run, allowing me to view it on my phone.  This feature assists in training session comparisons.

  • For backcountry purposes, I use it as a navigation tool.  Easy to reference in shit weather conditions.

  • I use the Garmin as a planning tool for hikes or planned trips to the Adirondack mountains (working to become an Adirondack 46er – climbing the 46 4000′ peaks in the Adirondack High Peaks). I wear a Garmin Instinct for training in my local area in western NYS which has a lot of “hilly’ terrain to assist with estimating route planning. My training consists mostly of rucking with 50-55 lbs. on a 6-7 mile loop, then drop the ruck at my car and go on a final 1-5 mile trail run, usually 1-2 x per week My other training includes strength training which I will also use my Garmin. I will then review my rate of travel and elevation gained and lost (descent, in my opinion is often overlooked as a stressor) as well as the customizable Training Zone information (MHR, Travel time, stop time, etc.). This allows me to route plan for both “aggressive” days in the ADK but I also include “outs” incase the I am delayed or my plan starts unravelling due to other factors (weather, cumulative fatigue, etc.). I also carry the Garmin InReach2, and all devices integrate through apps on my phone which is very convenient.

  • I have been using the “Body Battery” feature to look at recovery and I wear the device 24/7 to review my sleep data. I recently has a bad case of bronchitis which keep me out of training for three weeks (very unusual as I have never had bronchitis and this was worse than when I had COVID last year). I was able to see that my stress levels prior and during the initial stages of the illness were abnormally high. I am continuing to better understand how to integrate the data to facilitate recovery and understand when I may need to “dial it back”. But, I do not JUST rely on the Garmin for that however, as I still will adjust my training to how I feel on certain days (aka “Listening to My Body”).

  • It does what I need. Can be a bit hard to read in the dark or when moving

  • My Garmin allows me to track time, distance, pace, speed, and a few more variables. The interoperability of my version of the watch is lacking in some of the other areas. It’s great for running and walking but lacks in swimming.

  • Tracks mileage for runs/rucks/walks. Elevation for hikes/runs

  • Being able to see my training over the last weeks, months, etc. Running specifically I can see my pace.

  • I have a Fenix 3, so not sure how newer models are, but it doesn’t track anything other than cardio very well.

  • Helps track sub-sport performance metrics. Ruck pace, running pace, VO2 Max, etc. Also good for nav features: compass and lat/long.

  • Bad for integrations. Bad for most MTI programming (HIIT, Smoker Sessions, Progressive Overload). I spend way too much time manually entering data in Garmin Connect and then extracting activity data to track pace improvement, VO2 Max Improvement, etc over time.

  • Simply use it for run times/distance. I’ve found the calorie estimates to vary greatly and I can’t wear it during Jiu Jitsu.

  • I like how it utilizes body battery, training load, and other metrics to take a stab at how my body is recovering.  Also, I’m a data nerd so I like being able to compare my efforts over time and compare old map data to new. 

  • Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar. Sleep tracking helps me remain aware of recovery state, including pulse, O2 and HRV overnight. Awareness of heart rate and tracking most of my training sessions so I can keep a record esp on the road. Tracks steps, distance and intensity, love it for hiking and tactical mode when I needed that. Quick ref to sunset. Shows altitude and heat acclimation. Improvements: runners watch so it doesn’t see some of my lower heart rate training as effective. It gets wonky on time zones (sunset for instance) and won’t update until I run a sync on my phone for the clock face. I don’t connect my phone for any notifications, music or calls to preserve battery life and bc I don’t like the distractions. Solar doesn’t seem to do anything for it, but I generally charge it while I shower to get it back to a 100%/6 day charge—decreases with tracking (like a long hike). It sits ok on my relatively small (female) wrist. I’ve replaced the band bc original was too stiff. But in the dark, the flashing red and green sensors can blind you in bed or in an airplane as the watch lifts just slightly. Adding in manual named activities is too frustrating to make it worthwhile. Overall really love it, and wear it all the time since I no longer spend time in secure rooms where I couldn’t.

  • Follow distance, time and most important for me: elevation gains.  Using HRM too.  I look at health status for fun, but do not put much faith in it.

  • Knowing where my heart rate, VO2 max, and pace are generally benefit me. It tracks cardiovascular activity very well, but it does not seem to understand strength training at all. It tracks heart rate, but doesn’t seem to understand exertion.

  • It’s great for knowing when my heart rate is elevated to get the best out of each workout. It tracks intensity minutes as well.

  • I have a Garmin Vivoactive 4. I use it to track my distance, flights, and calories when I’m rucking. I also use it to monitor my training heart rate when I am working out and my sleep. This is device is exactly what I need for my fitness needs.

  • I own a Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar.  I received this as a gift…normally I’m a very bare bones gear kinda guy.  For me the biggest benefit has been keeping track of actual elevation gain during training sessions.  The GPS is accurate and responsive, and the heart rate monitor helps me stay within certain zones.  Having an HR monitor on my wrist versus wearing a chest strap is much more convenient.  Also, Garmin provides a lot of metrics to keep me pretty well informed before, during, and after training to help me crack the code on my fitness.  Sleep monitoring has been interesting to analyze.

  • Where it lacks is educating the user how it all ties together.  Getting a look under the hood to understand what the biggest contributors to performance increases would let me focus on those.  Right now their methodology is really all sort of ambiguous to me.  Why provide me a VO2  max estimate if you can’t tell me directly how to improve it?  How does a shortage of low aerobic exercise contribute to this?  Maybe they can’t explain it all because they don’t really know?

  • The User Interface is a mess!  There are several menus that can be accessed through a multitude of button clicks and holds that essentially provide the same features and info.  The layout should be simple and clean which it isn’t.  It’s like three people came up with software and it all got mashed together and left to the customer to figure out.  The user manual is not helpful either…it’s kept very general/top level to apply to multiple models which I guess saves Garmin the expense of writing better descriptions and details?

  • The Garmin connect app is similarly atrocious.  Lots of seemingly important metrics and data buried within submenus with vague names or hidden at the bottom of pages.  Very unintuitive.  It all has a cheap gimmicky millennial marketing stench to boot.  Yoga warrior?…gtfoh…

  • Key benefit for me is access to a long history of workouts so I can see trends over time and track progress. I wish there was some sort of ‘lite’ user setting. There is so much in here that my 50 year old brain doesn’t want to wade through.

  • Ecosystem of devices that bring data between, runs, bikes, and strength workouts.

  • Better metrics on output and rest/recovery.

  • I use it for heart rate, vo2max, and timing/distance for running. Improvement would be making tracking customized strength workouts more user friendly.  

  • Easy to understand stats, not as easy to use as an Apple Watch but once you get used to the buttons it’s not too hard. 

  • 1. Track training effect over time (HR, overall intensity, calories, sleep, training readiness…) 2. Navigation (altitude, compass, GPS) during outdoor activities.

  • Tracking calories burned and minutes trained each week.

  • I have a Garmin Fenix 5X Plus which I have been wearing for more than five years.  It is an all around excellent smart watch, filling all of my athletic and other needs, rugged, easy to use, and with an extensive set of capabilities.  I use it mostly for aerobic work on various machines and when outside.  It’s interface with he Garmin Connect App is easy to navigate, as are the various widgets which can be activated or downloaded to it.  I do not use the function which allows me to listen to the music which I could store on it but I do benefit from the large amount of biometric data which it keeps up with.  I was gifted an Apple Watch this past year and barely use it.  I find the Garmin more accurate and easy to find what I am looking for.  That could be a function of the fact that I have used Garmin fitness trackers for two decades, but I don’t believe so. I carry my cell phone with me and don’t need a watch that I can make calls from.   Much of the technology and many of the capabilities are ubiquitous across the platforms, but the ruggedness, reliability, long battery life, and good looks make the Garmin Fenix series a “go to” for me.  The one downside – the price of the Garmin.

  • I’m a triathlete turned military athlete and I love the Garmin Forerunner 955. The pace tracking, ability to load routes, and the map on my wrist are great and it’s much lighter than the Fenix. The recovery time feature and “exercise load” features are ok, but they’re definitely rudimentary. The watch also struggles to track my heart rate when doing speed work and I use a strap for high heart rate work.

  • It shows me I need to push harder on my condo work outs. Sleep can be terrible even if yiu feel it wasn’t. My fitness level by age is interesting maybe not accurate though. I like the mapping features for BC skiing.

  • I have used the Garmin Instinct for 4 years now. It provides me with interesting data on my sleep, intensity minutes, and stress. It is especially interesting to see the correlation between a busy operational period, reduced sleep, and work outs on my stress level and body battery.

  • Being able to see training load over time. I can visibly see with Garmin when my output is too low, too high, etc. Additionally, I can see a host of other health metrics such as my sleep pattern. The best feature of all, it’s not another subscription service with Garmin.

  • I have the Garmin Fenix 7x Sapphire Solar, and a few previous iterations. For me the biggest benefit is loading my structured running workouts on it (intervals, etc.) and GPX files for trail runs for mapping while out in the mountains.

  • Out of all the metrics, I tend to pay attention to HRV and body battery the most, which helps capture stress not just from workouts but daily life as well. It provides a glimpse into readiness and if I’m ready to absorb more work. I take these with a grain of salt, and use a gauge of “how am I actually feeling” as priority #1.

  • The race predictions, recovery time, suggested workouts all seem to be pretty terrible based on my actual results and actual training history. And I’ve been in the Garmin ecosystem for years, it has plenty of data to use.

  • Well I can train track work or just running any where. Also wear a chest strap for the improvement of data.

  • Fitness and Activity specific apps / timers that make organizing exercises, intervals, and events easy to follow. Immediate feedback through pace monitoring and post exercise data.

  • Garmin fitness apps / trackers aren’t always the most compatible with MTI exercise flows but once comfortable with the watch it’s workable to flow through the exercise plan.

  • Tracking calories burned, distance moved and reps. Needs more ability to build strength workouts. Primarily cardio based

  • Helps me recover better by showing the obvious signs of fatigue (even though, honestly, I know). Also when training it’s so easy to track distance and exertion.

  • Suggested Run workouts

  • I mainly use it for sleep tracking and the run programming. The garmin coach plans are really useful and motivating to keep my run game strong. Reminders for hydration, workout and bedtime would be nice. The ability to sync  MTI plan I’m on into it to log those works outs would be sick. The runs are nice because the timer, pace etc is built in- if the MTI workouts could be paced/timed/prompted through the watch- game changer!
  • Interval timer, Timer, pacing, and HR are useful. Better HR detection,  easier interface and interval timer usability.

  • Benefits my training by providing metrics to show my recovery, training load, and where I need to  adjust things or maintain more.
  • Garmin watch paired with a the Garmin chest strap Pro heart rate monitor. The watch is likely relatively close for most metrics, but paired with the chest strap heart rate monitor, it provides very accurate information. Records all sorts of metrics – heart rate, respiration rate, aerobic vs. anaerobic work, calories burned, etc. Records and compares Stats for the week. Has been recording the Stats for as long as I’ve worn the watch, and had the App. Keeps me on track, notifies for training load, stress level, sleep level, etc. Ensuring that the sensors are as accurate as possible is one of the main concerns. Overall, very highly recommended.
  • Keeps track of workouts.  It interfaces with Final Surge so workouts my coach programs go to the watch
  • Battery life could be better. 

Whoop Feedback

  • More detail and individualized plans on who to improve recovery.  The strain data is limited

  • Gives me a good idea on total exertion from my workout as well as recovery data points. My Garmin gives similar data, but
    whoop dives a little more into certain recovery aspects and seeing what my body is physically undergoing for the day. 

  • It provides a better overview of all relevant attributes while being more accurate (based upon subjective feel) then my tests with an Apple Watch and Garmin. Plus it allows me to wear it all day long along with a normal watch. 

  • It’s low profile and easy to wear. The habit tracker identifies which habits are beneficial, harmful or useless. I wish it had more recovery activities built in. 

  • It keeps me consistent with good habits. If I falter, it shows the negative effects it may cause. Examples: alcohols negative effect on my sleep, as a firefighter, calls that I have overnight, it’s effect on my recovery the next day, etc.

  • Benefits my training by letting me see how my body is reacting to strain from working out and The amount/quality of sleep I’m getting. Have to use the APP for everything. Does not have a screen on wrist band. 

Apple Watch Feedback

  • Data and inspiration. Data like HRV, heart rate zones in activity, distnace, power, and more guide training and recovery. Closing the rings daily is an astonishingly effective inspirational tool too.

  • All in one heart rate + fitness tracker means not wearing a chest strap and watch for the same purpose.  I haven’t used it much for standard workouts, but the amount of apps available helps.   

  • I recently switched from Garmin. I prefer Garmin but the watch broke. I love the simplicity of the Apple Watch. Benefit: tracks basic info. Improve: have the programmability and metrics of the Garmin Fenix. I could program my aerobic workouts in Garmin Connect. (Intervals) Neither Apple or Garmin seems to do standard MTI daily grinds or free weights well. It’s a pain to program in each exercise, wts, reps, etc. So, I use a generic setting for that. 

  • Data is critical to track trends, accuracy aside.  I am looking for a one size fits all and will be exploring the oura ring. My concerns with it will be how it holds up during weightlifting activity. 

  • Keeping track of heart rates, zones and calories so I can refuel properly. 

  • A big improvement would be the ability to connect more apps and to enable workouts in the swim app. 

  • Easy to use. Integrates well with other products I have.

  • I love the tracking of heart rate and steps. I wish it had a rucking exercise

  • I’ll use the watch to Monitor heart rate and calories. Also distance traveled. 

  • Mostly used for tracking distance, intervals and timed sets. Being able to custom interval runs is a big plus. 

Fitbit Feedback

  • Fitness trackers are more directional than absolute (did I have more or less calories burned Vs absolute number of calories burned). For more precise heart rate tracking, I use a Polar H10… worth every penny!

  • Track my sleep, gives me some idea about how well I’m recovering.  Track my workouts, if my caloric burn is lower than usual, it’s an indicator I need to step up my intensity and rest less between sets.  For cardio work, the HR tracking helps keep me from pushing too hard on lower intensity sessions.  Biggest improvement I would like would be in more accurate tracking, never really know how precise it is.

  • Daily step count.   HR during training. Try for 15k steps a day.  Walking.  Running.  Doesn’t matter. HR-I follow MAF for runs.  Sleep is interesting but not impactful. I know if I slept well. Calories in vs out don’t matter.   For me it’s low carb/very low carb and 15k steps a day to maintain body comp.

  • Like to see my heart rate and activity throughout the day. battery life is a problem. 

  • Small size while providing heart rate, sleep, steps, etc. I don’t want something huge or overly expensive. From tech standpoint, the durability of fitbit charge has improved dramatically since roll out; however, dislike all these device brands not being very interchangeable with other workout tracking apps. Fitbit forcing a Google account has been negatively received as well. Gps tracking is hit or miss but I usually use my phone and strava anyway. 

Other Fitness Tracker Feedback

  • I use Suunto and only use it while training. Not sure it’s that helpful/informative for me. More like a psychological reward when I can look at my training history. 

  • Keep track of running distance and baseline health metrics. Cross platform integration and adoption 

  • Polar M430. Pretty simple/basic, which I like. – Primary benefit is it keeps you honest and “calls you out” with data and stats. The numbers don’t lie. – It tracks pace, GPS/ distance, heart rate, timer, stop watch, daily activity percentage achieved, etc.  – Ability to track different activities by sport (circuit training, strength, running, biking, swimming, other outdoor, etc.).  I’ve incorporated these due to injuries, surgery, etc., as required. – Screen info/data shown is reconfigurable based on preference.  Large font/#’s so easy to quickly glance down and check progress/status. – #1 improvement? It has a garbage, proprietary charger type.  Wish it were micro USB or USB C.

  • I use the Coros Vertix 2 watch and the biggest benefit for me is around using it for climbing and I enjoy the pace predictor for training sessions as well as base level fitness.

  • I use Coros Apex for running and skiing and climbing.  Keeps track of pace, miles and heart rate.  I don’t use if for effort, and other elements.  Pretty simple user.

  • I like seeing my workout statistics and progress and always feel bad if I miss a day and don’t see anything on my tracker, so it helps to keep me motivated to workout. Gamifying fitness tends to encourage a lot of folks to keep up with their fitness journey who otherwise wouldn’t. 

  • I use a Samsung Watch as my fitness tracker. Biggest area of improvement for my own personal tracker would be the reliability of the heart rate sensor. It’s not often but sometimes it just flat out fails to read my BPM and I feel like it’s always when I’m pushing myself the hardest and eager to see what zone I’m in, so it becomes super frustrating. Also, I would like to have a more diverse set of workouts to choose from. Samsung has, for some reason, deemed it necessary to add a separate work out for a lot of random weightlifting exercises (I’m not going to start/stop separate workouts to change from biceps curls to leg presses) but failed to add other fitness activities like kayaking or tennis/pickleball. You have options and ways around this like just selecting the all-encompassing “weightlifting” workout or selecting “other workout” to capture stuff they haven’t built a dedicated activity for, but you’ll lose out on a ton of data because “other” seems to only track heart rate and calories burned and that’s it. My watch is a few years old now so they may have fixed these things with their latest wearables. Overall, I like my watch and Samsung fitness but have been eyeing upgrading to a tactical Garmen watch as they seem to be specifically for fitness stuff and not tacked on as a bonus like a lot of other watches. 



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