An FFL Real Review: The Garmin Forerunner 15

September 14, 2015

   I’m a believer in using whatever motivates you to succeed.

   For some it’s the dog. Waking up in the morning to their canine friend hounding them to take a walk. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt but in the end both appreciate getting out. The American Heart Association did a recent study that confirms dog owners have a lower rate of obesity, heart disease, anxiety, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

   Other people are calendar driven. It’s a gift. The appointment arrives and they just do it. I’m not sure that’s what Nike had in mine when it came up with their slogan, but it works for them (and me). Then there are the fitness gadgets. It’s like having a dog/calendar on your wrist. Some of these trackers, like a Swiss Army knife that does too much, can be overwhelming . Fortunately you can turn some of these features off so there is less for you to learn all at once.

   Less is often more.

Garmin Forerunner 15

   So, on the less is more theme, one tracker I've been impressed with is the Garmin Forerunner series. I've been using the Forerunner 15 and it's focus on one kind of activity is its strength. However, I would not recommend it for everyone. This watch might not be the best device on the market for those whose goal is to lose weight. Fitbits and other similar activity trackers do a better job. But those for whom it's designed have a good chance of loving it.

   Where the Garmin Forerunner 15 excels is for anyone who is taking up power walking, jogging, or running.

   Let's say your doctor has told you to exercise more. And not just move around but engage in a daily regime. This focused activity is something the watch can track. It does this in two modes simultaneously. The base mode is your daily number of steps. The watch will track them daily and there is no button pushing required. For optimal fitness set your daily steps for 10,000 per day. The watch comes with a default of 7,500 (that's kind of active, more in the upper couch potato range). You'll want to reset it to 10,000.

Power Walking

   The other mode is the stopwatch. At the beginning of your walk, hit the colored stopwatch button. The watch then connects to the GPS. The is how the watch tracks your distance walked. 

   Hit the colored button again, the stopwatch then begins to measure your distance as you move. When your walk is finished, hit the button one more time and stop the stopwatch.The Forerunner 15 displays the time, steps, distance and pace. Simply save the "run" and the watch returns to its original state. When you look at your daily steps for the day you'll see that all the steps from your power walk have been added to your total.

   This device is basic and a powerful tool without being too complex. One thing many realize after using it is how inactive they actually are. I've heard it many times: "Wow, my normal day of activity is way off the mark from what it should be. 10,000 steps is a lot more activity than I'm used to."

   Many of us get into a habit of moving less and less as our lives change, and we age not realizing how little we actually are moving. Using a tracker will help you realize that your body is capable (and even wants) to move more. Once you know what 10,000 steps in a day feels like, and once that becomes your new normal, it becomes a platform for you to improve your health at any age.

   There are a few useful features you can turn off or on depending on where you are in your development. One of them is the "Move" alert as in the above picture. You'll hear a beep when you haven't walked at least 200 steps in the last hour. I find this to be less useful once you've shifted to 10,000 steps/day as your new normal. When you're hitting your daily goal regularly, turn this feature off.

Jogging & Running (and Power Walking, too)

   For runners, the Forerunner (and as I write this it occurs to me how Garmin came up with the name!) has a heart monitor feature that I found tested beautifully.

 The heart rate monitor is the best indicator of how well your heart rate changes over time of use. This isn't just for Olympic athletes. It is a helpful tool for anyone getting their heart healthy and maintaining it. Exercise is beneficial to the heart and can help manage high blood pressure among the many other benefits. 

   Rather than just exercising and hoping you're helping your heart, a heart rate monitor offers a picture of what's actually happening, giving you more control. Knowledge is power. There's a heart rate alert you can set which tells when to back off or do more depending on your heart exertion goals.

   Is it possible to exercise and stay off the medications? Yes. But as you know, if you're thinking of getting a training device always consult your doctor first. 

   If you really want to get fancy there's a "Run/Walk" feature for intervals. If you're new to jogging or running, instead of biting off 1 or 2 miles right away, the feature can be set up to tell when to walk and when to run. Over time you can reset the intervals to walk less and run more. The same feature can also help competitive athletes with speed training, as the watch alerts you when to do sprints during a training run.

   If you want to run (or power walk) at a certain pace (minutes per mile) the watch can alert you when you're off pace. You can also set the watch to pause. So, if you stop for, say, a phone call coming in or you bump into a friend on a trail at Fiscalini Ranch, the watch doesn't include the time and inactivity spent during the pause, which would throw off your actual numbers. And you can set the watch to beep at you each time you hit a mile. I found that feature interesting but not needed unless you're really mile-oriented.

Clunky Software Design

   The software's downside for me is that is has far too many buttons, window panes, menus and views creating too much to learn for my needs. I'm not saying Garmin Connect doesn't work. But while the watch is good because it allows you to focus and doesn't require a lot fuss, the software feels like just the opposite. I don't need another computer app to manipulate and then spend time admiring all the data it can display.

   There are only a few things I need to know: how am I doing? i.e., how many steps in a day now compared to the start of my program? A person can look at the calendar in the app and see that they're taking too many days off, even though they thought they were right on. That's really useful.

   It took me awhile to figure out how to access the core pieces of data I needed. You are probably more tech savvy then me so maybe it will take you less time to find your way around, get the data you need for your particular goals, and customize the app.

   Once you do get familiar with it, there are a few notable nice things about the features. The best one I used was the course/map feature. I went in and literally constructed a course on Fiscalini Ranch trails which not only shows the distance but elevation loss and gain of the terrain. Then, I walked that course with a heart monitor. When I returned to my computer and plugged the watch in, the Garmin Connect software showed my performance on the course--my pace, my steps, my calories burned, and my heart rate at every stage of the walk.

   How cool is that? 

   If I were trying to burn a certain number of calories or speed up my pace, I'd have the data to monitor my progress.

   I haven't even touched on all the software's features because I had a specific purpose in mind when I chose to use it. It does more when it comes to tracking and setting parameters for your training sessions and these are additional features you may find useful.

   By the way, I'll be reviewing more fitness tech in the future and I'm calling these "real reviews" because I'm not being paid to give them, nor am I receiving free products. I'm just telling you what I think as a personal trainer. 

   I'd give the Garmin Forerunner 15 an A as a great off-the-shelf ready-to-use device. The software gets a C because it isn't so very user friendly. Although I think it can be mastered.