Best Triathlon Watch 2016 – Training Partners for your Swim, Cycle and Run

Best Triathlon Watch 2017 – Training Partners for your Swim, Cycle and Run

The traditional triathlon format consists of three sports – swimming, cycling and running – in that exact order of succession. Competitiveness between athletes in a triathlon is based on the amount of time taken to complete all three sections, including the time spent transitioning from one section to another. Thus, the winner is one who takes the fastest time to complete the triathlon. This is where technology comes in and in particular, a triathlon watch.

Any serious athlete, not just those competing in triathlons, knows the importance of metrics in training and performance improvement. Performing well in a triathlon involves a number of different elements; speed, pace, endurance and timing. In training, you have to improve in all elements to produce an impressive overall performance.

The thing is, however, you cannot improve what you cannot measure. This is why metrics are so important in becoming a better athlete. They help you set performance-improving objectives and measure your progress in achieving these objectives.

Wearables for Triathletes

Sports training watches have introduced an easy way to measure and track various metrics. From Nike to Garmin, fitness training Smartwatches have hit the market in an unprecedented volume. Surprisingly however, options for triathletes are not as many as for other types of athletes such as runners or cyclists. This is due to the multi-sport nature of a triathlon.

A training watch fit for a triathlon must be designed for use in three sporting areas; swimming, cycling and running. While certain metrics – such as pace and speed – are common among all three, some metrics apply only to specific sports. So you need a triathlon watch that can be used to train in swimming, cycling and running.

Furthermore, you have to consider the different conditions under which the sports are undertaken. While cycling and running have similar environments, swimming takes place in water. This calls for a waterproof wearable. To summarize, a triathlon watch must be…

  • Able to measure and track metrics in swimming, running, and cycling.
  • Rated as completely waterproof, not just water-resistant as majority of training watches are. The watch must have a minimum waterproof rating of IPX7. This link explains more about waterproof and dust ratings on electrical products.

These are just the most basic requirements for a triathlon watch. Later on, we will look at other important things to check for in a watch for use in triathlon training.

While plenty of fitness watches can track running metrics and others can help in cycling or even both cycling and running, it is a bit more challenging to find a good wrist wearable providing training help in running, cycling and swimming. But you are not completely out of luck; gadget manufacturers such as Garmin have some great triathlon watches that we will look at later as we review the best ones in the market.

The Metrics

Metrics are the blood and soul of athletic training. As mentioned before, they are essential in setting objectives and measuring forward (or backward) progress. Training for a triathlon involves more metrics for the obvious reason that there are more sports involved. Understanding these metrics is important in determining which triathlon watch is the best.

Some training metrics cover all three sports and are available in most types of fitness watches and gadgets. They include;

  • Duration (time) – with time being the only difference between various positions (from last to last) at the end of a triathlon race, this is one of the most important metric you can measure during training. The aim is to reduce your time on individual sections and in the overall race.
  • Distance – this is an obvious metric crucial to all three sports of a triathlon.
  • Pace – even without a high tech triathlon watch, you can still estimate your pace using duration and distance. But for complete accuracy and to ensure you focus on training, you can easily get the pace calculated for you by a watch. The pace gives an idea of how well you are performing in a particular triathlon sport. Measuring pace also helps in creating the best race strategy that gives you the highest chance of winning.
  • Heart rate – this is an important indicator of performance level and general body fitness.

These are the most basic of metrics that you can even measure with simple gadgets such as a stopwatch. But there are many other metrics that require a smartwatch to measure and track. Below are these advanced metrics categorised by sport.

1. Swimming

In addition to the basic metrics of duration, distance and pace, here are a few other swimming metrics a triathlete might want to keep track of.

  • Strokes per length or stroke rate – instead of doing a manual count of your strokes, a triathlon watch can do the counting for you. A low number of strokes per length indicates an efficient stroke, which makes for better swimming.
  • Stroke count – a simple count of number of strokes taken.
  • SWOLF – this is a metric used by swimming trainers to measure a swimmer’s efficiency.

2. Cycling

  • VO2 Max – this is a measure of training capacity and endurance. It is calculated from the heart rate and how it changes over a training session.
  • Functional Threshold Heart Rate – also measured from your heart rate. It is an indicator of cycling intensity.
  • Cadence – this refers to the rate of pedaling, essentially a measure of how intensely the cyclist is working.

For the cycling part of the triathlon, consider investing in a power meter. Most ANT+ power meters easily connect to Smartwatches, giving you access to many more helpful metrics to improve your cycling performance.

3. Running

  • Cadence – this refers to the number of steps taken per minute. It is an indicator of training intensity and provides insight into performance level.
  • Functional Threshold Heart Rate – similar to the one used in cycling.
  • VO2 Max – also similar to the one used in cycling.
  • Running economy – this refers to the rate of oxygen usage at a certain speed. It is calculated by comparing heart rate and speed. The lower the figure the better for the athlete.
  • Ground contact time – this is the length of time each foot is in contact with the ground. Professional runners train to reduce their ground contact time, which translates into an increased pace and faster run time.
  • Vertical oscillation – Closely related to ground contact time is vertical oscillation. This metric measures the generated bounce during running. By measuring and reducing bounce, a runner can prevent energy wastage and improve running performance.

As you can see, there are more than a few combined metrics necessary for effective triathlon training. While it is unlikely that you will find a triathlon watch with all these metrics, look for one that provides a considerable number of them. Make sure that each sport is well catered for by the watch.

Below, we look at several other things you should look for in a triathlon watch.

What to Look for in the Best Triathlon Watch

1. Multisport mode

This obvious one should be in any triathlon watch. A multisport watch offers features for use in more than one sport, usually running, cycling and swimming. With the multisport feature, you can easily switch between different sports, allowing you to access separate training features and metrics.

2. Waterproof

Seeing that swimming is an essential part of a triathlon, the triathlon watch should be able to withstand water immersion without losing function. Most sports training watches are only water resistant; designed to resist nothing more than a light shower or a heavy downpour.

To keep your training going after the swim section, you need a wearable that has an IP rating of at least IPX7. This is the minimum waterproof rating that allows for immersion in water.

3. Openwater swim mode

This is not a feature you will find on many triathlon training watches. The Openwater Swim Mode provides metrics applicable to open water swimming (as is the case in a triathlon) rather than a swimming pool. With this mode you get better and more accurate performance measurements.

3. ANT+ device compatibility

Most fitness wearables today are equipped with the ANT+ wireless platform. This allows compatibility with many other fitness gadgets such as heart trackers, temperature sensors, power meters and so on. While most training watches are ANT+ compatible, be sure that the one you plan on buying can connect with other ANT+ devices. This will allow you to connect to other gadgets and get access to many more metrics.

4. Wireless connectivity

Most training watches wirelessly connect to Smartphones via Bluetooth, which allows for data upload and tracking. Some are equipped with Wi-Fi, allowing them to upload data even without connecting to a Smartphone.

One thing to check for is whether the triathlon watch is able to deliver text, email and call alerts to your watch. This can come in really handy when you are busy training but you still need to stay connected.

5. Virtual racer

Virtual racer is a feature that comes in various forms in different training watches. It essentially allows athletes to race against their own or other athletes’ time and speed. It is especially helpful in cycling and running, where it introduces a competitive edge in your training, thus helping improve performance.

6. GPS

This is an obvious feature that is a must for any triathlon training watch you buy. GPS connectivity is useful in cycling and running where it allows you to track your courses and location. Look for triathlon watches with additional GPS features such as GLONASS and A-GPS (assisted GPS) for faster and better satellite connectivity.

In addition to these, look for basic usability features such as long battery life, easy to use, comfortable when worn and durable especially considering its outdoor use.

Top 4 Best Triathlon Watches

1. Garmin Forerunner 920XT

Best Triathlon watch Garmin Forerunner 920XTSimply one of the best triathlon watches you can get. It is built to provide powerful training metrics and designed for the athlete with nothing in mind but winning. It comes with GLONASS connectivity, allowing it to have a faster and more robust satellite connection.

For running, it has every metric you need including distance, pace, cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time and recovery time. When you are on your bike you can see your speed, power readings (when connected to a power meter) and VO2 Max among other metrics. The triathlon watch is equipped with an Openwater swim mode, which allows it to track distance, pace and location in any body of water that is not a swimming pool.

Other features include and activity and sleep tracker, smart notifications when connected to your phone and Live Tracking. | Buy on Amazon

2. Garmin Fenix 3

Garmin Fenix 3The Fenix 3 from Garmin packs multi-action features in its rugged round-shaped body. Starting at $499 for the standard edition, the Fenix 3 (the predecessor to the much expected Fenix 4) can be used for running, open water swimming, cycling and even skinning. It is a device for the serious triathletes aiming to improve performance.

For running, it can track distance, pace and VO2 Max. It also comes with a virtual pacer and can advice you on recovery time based on your running duration and intensity. Cycling metrics include cadence, speed and bike power. When you switch to swimming, you get lengths, distance, stroke rate, stroke count, stroke identification and calories burnt. | Buy on Amazon

3. Suunto Ambit3 Sport

Suunto-Ambit3-Sport-Blue best triathlon watchesThe Suunto Ambit3 Sport, with its amazing multisport features, is a close competitor to the Garmin Forerunner 920XT. It has modes for swimming, running and cycling as well as hiking and activity tracker.

It easily connects with external sensors and devices to provide you with a range of metrics including distance, duration, speed, cadence, heart rate and pace. When cycling, you just need to clip it onto the handlebars and you are good to go. It supports various cycling sensors including a speed-only sensor, cadence-only sensor, speed/cadence combo sensor and a power meter. From these, you can track numerous metrics.

Like Garmin’s 920XT, the Ambit3 has an Openwater swim mode, though you can also switch to a pool mode if necessary. In a first for fitness trainers, the Ambit3 has the ability to measure heart rate when you are underwater and combine it with other metrics. To get the heart rate though, you will have to get the Bluetooth-connected chest strap. Swimming metrics include stroke rate, stroke count, distance and speed.

You will also be pleased to know that it can connect to Strava as well as deliver Smartphone notifications. | Buy on Amazon

4. Polar V800

polar v80 triathlon watchAnnounced in January 2014, the V800 was Polar’s first attempt at creating a multisport GPS triathlon watch. It has been designed mostly for running and cycling with limited options for swimming.

When running, start by connecting all available external sensors such as heart rate monitor. Once you have switched to running mode and GPS is connected, you are good to go. The GPS will capture distance (if you have not connected a footpod) as well as speed and pace. If you have connected a footpod, you will get all basic metrics plus cadence.

For cycling, basic metrics provided include speed, distance and altitude. You can connect other sensors such as a power meter for additional metrics.

The V800 is weakest in swimming mode. Unlike other triathlon watches we have mentioned above, it lacks important metrics like stroke count, distance and stroke rate. But it can read your heart rate even when you are underwater.

Other features include Smartphone notifications and daily activity tracking. | Buy on Amazon


While the options are not as many for triathletes, the ones available are impressive. Manufacturers like Garmin and Polar have gone out of their way to design some of the best training watches in the market. From the triathlon watches we have featured, we would easily pick the Garmin Forerunner 920XT as the best. It is packed with numerous features for all three sports, it is easy to use and delivers an unparalled sports experience.

Which one would you pick yourself? Leave your comment below.

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  1. Azula

    Do I need to wear a chest band for any of these top watches featured in this article? I am really hesitant on wearing a chest band… I am not convince on having something near my heart. I am assuming it is for accuracy purposes, but still. I would really appriciate your responses.

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