Rules To Not Annoy Your Triathlon Coach Using A GPS Watch/Strava
Updated: Jan 17
I use Strava more and more to keep track of both the details and for an overview view of my athletes progress. Unfortunately you can't set plans in Strava, so I rely on Training Peaks. However, for just checking what athletes actually achieved in their workouts, Strava combined with GPS watches are helpful. Here are some personal preferences on how to use your watch to display things properly.
It's debatable whether wearing a GPS watch in the water is that useful. At most pools, there's a pace clock you can look at for splits, and send-off is accurate enough. But the GPS does hold a few advantages: 1) you can get your total distance for the workout without counting laps if you're doing longer stuff. 2) If you can be bothered to tap your watch at the start and end of each interval, you don't have to keep your times in your head and Strava will hold a nice record of it. But, there are some pitfalls that drive me nuts.
Total Time in Water
There's more starting and stopping in swim workouts than the other two sports. As a coach, I'm primarily interested in how long you are in the water. So, if you get in the water at 6am and get out of 7am, for me that's an hour long workout. Unless you're chatting up a lifeguard for 15 minutes in the middle of your workout, you should only press the START/STOP button twice: once when you get in and once when you get out. The rest of the time you should just be tapping the lap button. Unfortunately, Strava has a preference for "Moving Time" which I think unfairly discriminates against swimming (when your coasting on the bike it still counts that).
GPS doesn't track drills and kick great. It doesn't matter. As I mentioned, it's time in the water that's important. If you really need to tell everyone how much distance you need make a note in description (+400 of kick) or something. Now, I've heard you can do a manual entry with some of the newer watches as a work around. The problem is my drill sets usually alternate between drill and normal freestyle swimming so that's a lot of fooling around with your watch instead of concentrating on your stroke. Let it go... times aren't important for any warm up or drill work, so I wouldn't bother touching your watch at all during this time.
A final note, unlike running it's a little bit of an art to press the LAP button while swimming. I recommend pressing it at the start when your head is under the water just before pushing off the wall in your streamlined position and pressing stop just as you bring your hand over to take your final stroke to the wall (so both hands are in front).
Strava is better adapted for riding. In general, I really just want to know the total time riding. Speed and average on a regular aerobic ride doesn't concern me too much as terrain and conditions vary so much. I'm split on activating the Auto Stop function (the watch will automatically stop every time you come to a complete stop). I don't use it and just stop for major breaks and leave it for short stop lights. Up to you.
There are a couple ways to do intervals... most of my intervals are time based and involve continuous cycling, e.g. 4 x 4 mins hard, 2 mins recovery pedaling. For something like this, you'll ideally hit the LAP button at the start and end of each 4 min interval and it will show up nicely in Strava, giving me an idea of the pace you hit for your intervals.
Another way to record intervals (or hill repeats) is riding intervals over a known Strava segment distance. Hill repeats are a good example of that. In this case don't even worry about hitting the LAP button as I'll be able to see the details of the hard interval on Strava by looking up segments. Below is an example with a segment I created myself.
If you do the segment way, it might be useful to mention a key word (like the name of the road) in the Strava title for your workout, in case you do it again and want to see how you improved. For example "Granite Creek Road Intervals" or, you can make the segment a "Starred Segment" as shown above.
For a regular aerobic run, I'm pretty much just interested in average pace and how your pace progressed mile by mile. All of this is recorded in Strava without you needing to touch your watch. I DO stop my watch whenever I stop for water or toilet breaks, as I like to know my average moving pace. It sucks when I forget to start it again. Again, I don't use Auto Stop as I just think it gets weird sometimes and stops when it's not supposed to etc. but maybe the newer versions work better.
My biggest frustrations are with people using their watch at track. Again, unless you are stopping for prolonged times, like over 5-10 minutes I would just start my watch at the beginning of the warm up and leave it on for all the drills and walking around and what not until you've finished the cool down. My position is, if you're moving around and your heart rate is above resting during a workout, then you're exercising and that should count in your total workout time. Like swimming, your average mile pace is irrelevant during a track/interval workout. What IS important is how fast you're doing your intervals. You HAVE to hit your LAP/BACK button at the start and end of each effort. I've recently learned the Apple Watch doesn't have a LAP button! You may be able to do it by double tapping (currently testing this).
Strava will show clearly your work and rest with most GPS watches. What's slightly annoying is that the distance will often show up in miles, where track workouts are in meters... so it's sometimes hard to figure out the interval. So, it's useful to write the workout in the title.
After I have that info it's easy to make sense of the data in "Laps".
Like on the bike, it's a simple matter of hitting LAP/BACK at the start and end of each interval, be in time or distance. You can use the pre-set interval features, especially for something like the 30 second ON, 30 second OFF workout which is a favorite of mine and you don't have to be looking down at your watch all the time. Outside of pre-set interval workouts I prefer to have the Auto time or lap feature turned off as it can mess you up if you're recording manual intervals.