Training: The Advantages of Training With GPS

A month or so ago I posted a review of the rather excellent Garmin Edge 510 (Link), in which I mentioned further posts that I would be writing on the advantages of using GPS devices to improve your training, and in particular using features such as Live Tracking on the Edge 510.

This is the first in the series, in which I hope to highlight how training with GPS has advantages ranging from safety, to motivation, and avoiding over-training. I've laid them out in a list, which could be viewed as "pros" for buying a GPS, or good excuses for having spent some cash on one when your wife complains about it...

(1)  Data, Data, Data...
I've just finished an Economics degree; if there is one thing that they drummed into us more than anything else, it is that DATA IS KEY. Statistics is the basis of almost everything; there is no point in making a point if you can't back it up with data. With bike riding, and in particular training towards certain goals, this is just as important. If you don't have information like Heart Rate, Average Speed, Elevation Climbed, Wattage, and Distance, then you will find it very hard to firstly gauge if your training is working, and secondly understand why it is working, or not.

From the above list of variables, GPS devices such as the Edge 510 crucially provide elevation data, and are of course compatible with most power meters, so you can also get wattage readings.

Elevation is something that I have really enjoyed using since starting to train with GPS. When you go out on a ride it is often easy to just look at your average speed, and become disgruntled when it drops below your normal target. However, a key aspect of your average speed is the amount of climbing that you have done in a ride; naturally, the higher the elevation, the lower the average speed. Sometimes you can see that you have worked equally as hard as normal during a ride with a lower average speed, through heart rate readings. However, heart rate is such a changeable variable, that it is difficult to gauge the true work done using that as the only output. Elevation readings give you reassurance that yes, you many be one mile an hour slower than your last ride, but you also climbed twice as many hills! (Power is also another useful output variable, which I will turn to in further posts).

As well as providing valuable elevation readings, most modern GPS devices also allow for digital uploading of data, and storage on sites such as Garmin Connect and Strava. With these simple uploads it makes it very easy to keep track of your monthly mileage, climbing, and averages. These allow you to track progress, highlight why you may be feeling tired (if you have done more mileage than usual), and spot weaknesses or areas to improve upon compared to previous seasons.

Data is a crucial part of effective training; modern GPS devices such as the Garmin Edge 510 are designed to give you as much data as possible at your fingertips, and on your computer screen.

(2) Increased Safety with Live Tracking
The major advantage of the Garmin Edge 510 over the Edge 500 (and the 810 over the 800) is that it is equipped with smartphone connectivity, so you can link up to Live Tracking. To some, this may seem like a bit of gadgetry that is rather unnecessary, however it has an important role to play in increasing the safety of lone cyclists.

Live tracking allows a rider to sync their Garmin unit with a smartphone, then by providing the link to any individual, you facilitate them with the ability to track your progress whilst you ride. Not only will they be able to see your storming progress up that climb, but they will also be able to see where you have got to when you were meant to be back by 18:00 for dinner.

On a serious note, many cyclists often train alone, with no-one knowing where they are at a given time. It is always a bit of a concern that if you were to come off and be laying at the side of a less well used trail or road, how long would you be lying there before someone came and found you? Live tracking enables your family and friends to not only see when you stop, and therefore might have a problem, but also to pinpoint your accident location immediately if you do suffer a fall.

(3) MOTIVATION - The Strava/Garmin Connect Factor
I'll admit I have a seriously competitive streak in my blood somewhere. It doesn't always emerge, but when I'm on the bike it is one time it definitely boils to the surface. Using a GPS as a motivation device is a fantastic way to give your training a boost; using sites such as Garmin Connect and Strava to connect with fellow cyclists and spur you into getting out on the bike.

For example, back in December between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve I took part in the Festive 500 (blog link). Would I have pulled myself out of a food induced coma and ridden 100kms every day for a week in the worst weather conditions that the Isle of Wight has experienced otherwise? Unlikely. The virtual "peer pressure" and visualisation of success is a huge motivation for many people; pushing them to get out on their bike, or get running, when they might not otherwise.

I cast a word of warning with Strava motivation, sometimes it can be too much. You still need to know when your body needs to rest, even if that means not finishing one of the "Challenges". But, used sensibly, it is a great tool, both for ride analysis and to add to your passion for the bike.

That brings to an end this blog; as you can see the advantages vary widely, and are significant too. GPS computers are not just another gadget, they are a tool to add to your armoury; to motivate you, keep you safer, and record your progress to keep your training structured and purposeful. They are an investment, and a great one to make when you can.


  1. It seems like all kinds of different sports, industries, and daily activities are subject to tracking by GPS these days. Remember when you had to use a map? That being said...this bike GPS looks awesome; I want one!


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