Why Garmin's strength training mode needs to be improved – or scrapped

Garmin Enduro strength mode
(Image credit: Matt Evans)

The best Garmin watches are wonderful specialist tools. They’re great for any active person, especially endurance athletes. 

They’re great for swimmers, cyclists, runners, and triathletes, giving you extremely accurate metrics designed to help improve your performance at every level. They also really shine on hikes and trail runs, where GPS tools like elevation warnings and TracBack, which allows you to follow your route back to the start, can be used to full advantage. 

In addition to this, Garmin watches offer heart rate zone technology, some of the most advanced sleep tracking to be found on your wrist, and all the usual smartwatch bells and whistles such as notification functionality. This truly does make them some of the best all-around fitness watches on the market right now. 

However, if you’ve ever tried to use the sets and reps tool in Garmin’s strength training mode, you’ll know there’s always room for improvement.

I first tried this with the Garmin Enduro. In strength training mode, not only is your watch able to record heart rate and calories burned, but you can also monitor your splits between sets and recovery. Pressing the “up” button to start a set, the watch should monitor how many reps you do based on the movement of your arms. 

In the Garmin Connect app, you can see a record of your exercises performed, the sets and reps, including the muscle groups you worked. You can also design or select pre-designed workouts to run through. So far, so good on paper.

In practice, it’s a hot mess. The in-built technology consistently failed to record the right number of reps for me. Once I was aware my watch was missing the mark, my eye was consistently drawn to it all throughout my set, to ensure it was recording it correctly.

Then my form vanished, as I was thinking more about my watch than I was about my exercises. Then, I spent my rest periods using the watch’s up and down buttons to manually adjust the right number of reps for that particular set.

Man looking at his fitness watch in the gym

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Fiddling with the arrow buttons each time to get the rep counter back up to eight was a frustrating experience. It didn’t make it better that this happened on a subsequent workout too. It made me so frustrated that I’ve avoided using the feature ever since.

When I run with a Garmin, it’s a pleasure, and my eye isn’t always on my watch because I have such faith in its metrics. There's a reason they are consistently high on our best running watch lists. If I need to check my GPS or running route, I can, otherwise, it simply offers me an update on my progress every mile. In the gym, I’ve found myself more than once constantly fussing and fretting with my watch’s inability to do what I could have done on the Notes app on my phone – or even better, with a pen and paper training notebook.

I get why Garmin refuses to let the training mode die. Garmin Connect should be your one-stop-shop for your entire health and fitness journey, allowing you to track your water and calorie consumption, sleep, holistic health, and other workouts as well as your runs and rides. The more time you spend on Garmin Connect, the more complete the experience is supposed to be. But in the process of trying to do it all, small parts of this ecosystem can make for a frustrating experience. 

I’d be fine with paring down the sets and reps functions of the strength training features. I don’t need Garmin Connect to show me a heat map of the human body to tell me those bench press sets I just did worked my chest. I chose to do the bench press for that very reason. Anyone taking advantage of Garmin’s advanced metrics (i.e. the people spending upwards of $600 or £500 on a fitness wearable) can be assumed to have this basic knowledge. And I certainly don’t need to be manually readjusting the sets and reps counter on my watch five times during a 50-minute gym session.  

I love the smart functionality Garmin is able to bring to endurance exercise, and the rep counter functionality works great elsewhere: I love seeing the stroke counter tick up during a swim, for example. But for whatever reason, the strength training mode just doesn’t fly, and it makes me want to crush my very expensive watch with the nearest dumbbell. 

I can’t help but wonder if, by removing this feature from watches in future, Garmin might be able to squeeze a different feature in there which actually adds to the experience of using the watch in a positive way. For smart strength, perhaps we need something like the Peloton Guide.

Matt Evans
Fitness, Wellness, and Wearables Editor

Matt is TechRadar's expert on all things fitness, wellness and wearable tech. A former staffer at Men's Health, he holds a Master's Degree in journalism from Cardiff and has written for brands like Runner's World, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, LiveScience and Fit&Well on everything fitness tech, exercise, nutrition and mental wellbeing.

Matt's a keen runner, ex-kickboxer, not averse to the odd yoga flow, and insists everyone should stretch every morning. When he’s not training or writing about health and fitness, he can be found reading doorstop-thick fantasy books with lots of fictional maps in them.