How GPS Watches Work

Using a Useful GPS Watch
Curious about what else GPS technology is being used for? Check out these videos to learn about GPS applications in everything from shark tracking to weapons manufacturing.

The benefits of basic GPS functions are clear if your passion is outdoor adventures such as backcountry hiking, sea kayaking or hunting; these tiny computers are tailor-made to help you get into the wilderness and make it back with less risk of getting lost. Just remember to pack a map and compass, and know how to use them; adventure lore is full of stories about GPS batteries dying at the worst possible moment.

Sports- and fitness-oriented users can also use wayfinding features to try a new running route or for training while traveling. But that only scratches the surface of what you can do with this high-tech training tool.

A GPS watch can measure your performance with a level of precision that was once only the domain of researchers and professional athletes. It's nice to know how long it took you to complete a half marathon, but a GPS watch can tell you exactly where in the 13.1-mile (21.1-kilometer) course you were fastest -- and slowest. With the data-download capability that's pretty much standard on these devices, you can compare each run to see trends in your performance. Maybe you'll notice that you lose too much time after Mile 10, or that you're not climbing hills as fast as you did on the same courses last year.

Once you identify these kinds of weak spots in your performance, the combined features in a GPS watch can give you on-the-fly feedback to make your training more specific and efficient. Many cyclists, for example, spend the first part of their preseason building cardiovascular strength with long, steady effort. This helps build a foundation for the rigors of sprinting and hill training later in the year. Tracking a "moderate pace" using perceived effort -- how you feel during the workout -- is a variable measure at best. Equip yourself with a GPS watch that can read data from a heart rate monitor, cadence sensor and wheel speed sensor, however, and you can fine tune every mile of your ride, keeping your effort within a precise range of speed, heart rate and time.

The results of this kind of specific training can be dramatic. If you're strapped for time, you'll now be able to get the most out of every minute of your workout. You'll consequently spend less time worrying about the balance of sport, family and work. And when game day arrives, you'll know exactly how hard you can push yourself, whether it's on the race course, trail or track. This is technology that will help you train smarter, not just harder.

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