To cut to the chase: the Garmin Instinct, the fitness watch I wear, is on sale on Amazon at $100 off list price right now. And the Garmin Vivoactive 3, the fitness watch my partner wears, is on sale on Amazon $130 off list price right now.
Garmin Instinct vs. Garmin Vivoactive 3
Both of these watches perform the same basic functions of monitoring your heart rate, steps, activity levels, workout times, and tracking of your walking, running, or bike riding routes. Both watches can be used for navigation. And both watches will let you see phone notifications, if you want that (I find it annoying to get phone notifications on my watch so I’ve disabled them). The real differences in these watches is found in the form factor.
Garmin advertises the Instinct as a “rugged outdoor watch.” To that end the watch doesn’t have the slick appearance of a smart watch and doesn’t have a touch screen. All changes to the watch are made by using the five buttons on the sides of the watch. They’re not the most intuitive controls so you’ll find yourself clicking a lot at first.
The lack of a color screen or touch screen on the Garmin Instinct probably contributes to the long battery life. I only have to charge mine every two or three weeks. The other advantage to using buttons instead of a touchscreen is that you can actually control the watch when your hands are sweaty. One other feature I find handy in the fall is that it displays sunrise and sunset times
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 has a more modern smartwatch look compared to the Instinct. The Vivoactive 3 uses a touchscreen for nearly all input except power on/off. The watch’s touchscreen can be customized with different colors and display styles.
What really distinguishes the Vivoactive 3 from the Instinct is it’s app compatibility. The Vivoactive 3 supports of the use Garmin Pay (Garmin’s contactless payment system) and Connect IQ which lets the watch integrate many of the favorite apps you use on your phone.
How to Use a Fitness Watch
According to my Garmin Instinct and Strava I have recorded 280 workouts this year (5.95 a week). Until late June I was going along just fine using the watch to record time and distance of my rides, runs, and some skiing activities. I’d occasionally glance at the heart rate data, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it. That changed after I rode 202 miles in a day with Fast Freddie Rodriguez.
What I learned from Freddie was that heart rate-based training is much more effective in the long-run than training based on perceived effort. Training in zones 2 and 3 of heart rate is more effective for fat-burning and building endurance than spending lots of time in heart rate zones 4 and 5.
Heart rate zones 2 and 3 roughly equate to 60-80% of maximum heart rate for your age and current fitness level. A very basic guideline for max heart rate is 220 minus your age, in my case that’s 179 (yes, I’m 41). Of course, there are lots of variables to determining your heart rate zones. If you’re a cyclist, GCN has a good video about to do that. If you’re a runner, GTN has a video for you.
What I’ve learned and experienced since my conversation with Freddie back in late June is that by spending more time training in zones 2 and 3 I’ve lost more weight and actually improved my times on the days that I do go hard. The weight loss is a result of longer rides in zones 2 and 3 burning more fat as opposed to just burning off the “top layer” of carbs which is what happens when putting out hard efforts in zones 4 and 5.
This summer had conversations with other competitive endurance athletes including my brother (sub 3 hour marathoner) and a friend who was one of the top 50 female finishers at the New York Marathon about my conversation with Freddie. Both confirmed that yes, more time in lower heart rate zones is a very effective training method. Why it took me 40 years to learn that, I don’t know.
The point of this is if you get a fitness watch like a Garmin Instinct, Vivoactive, or any other model, pay attention to your heart rate as much or more than your time, distance, and perceived effort.
Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist, dietitian, or professional trainer. I’m just a middle aged guy trying to stay fit enough not to get dropped on every climb on my local bike scene so take the above with a grain of salt. Consult a physician or certified fitness professional before embarking on any new fitness regimes.