Train Smarter: Program workouts into your GPS watch

Runners love their GPS watches.

As a runner who grew up before the Internet and cell phones were ubiquitous, a Timex Ironman watch  was my high-tech gear .  As a result, I developed a strong awareness of perceived effort and self-awareness during my runs.

Technology can be wonderful guide for more effective training.  Programming workouts into your GPS watch allows you to focus quality training at appropriate intensity (speed, pace, duration, or by perceived effort) by taking over tracking distance, pace, duration.  No need to constantly check your watch, distracting you from engaging with what is important – pace control, breathing rate, perceived effort, and mental focus.

Benefit from programmed workouts.

  • Pace control, staying at appropriate intensity every type of training effort.
  • Tempo and stamina training that includes multiple repetitions of different distance and/or time.
  • Progression runs, exhibiting pace control early making the faster finish more likely to occur (mimics a smart half and full marathon race strategy).
  • Internalize pace, specifically race pace.
  • Focus on how running form changes with increasing speed/intensity.
  • Accountability for completing challenging training when motivation is low.

Understanding how to program a workout to your Garmin (or other GPS model) device is a valuable skill to possess.  It is relatively simple, once you are familiar with the process.

Step 1:  Open the Garmin Connect app on your smart phone. Select MORE in the lower right corner > TRAINING > WORKOUTS > CREATE A WORKOUT > RUN

Step 2:  The default RUN program screen appears.

Pressing any of the segments – Warm Up, Run, or Cool Down – generates the following screen.

Customize each segment to reflect your workout. ONE NOTE: Use time or distance under DURATION TYPE, not lap press.

Here are examples of different types of training programs I’ve created in my watch.

Step 3: Name, save, and send the workout to your GPS watch. Pressing the right-hand arrow/phone icon will send the workout to your watch.

Step 4: Close, then reopen the Garmin Connect app. Allow the app to sync with your Garmin device. Any workouts sent from the app to your watch will transfer during this process. A transfer complete message should appear on the watch.

Step 5:  Locate the workout on your Garmin watch.  Press the Run button (upper right) > Menu > Training > My Workouts > then select the specific workout created.  You have the option to view the workout before you begin. Press DO WORKOUT to start.


  • Turn auto lap settings off.  Otherwise the watch will vibrate and display auto lap (usually 1 mile) information.
  • Pressing start will begin the workout.  The watch will vibrate and display directions on the screen at every transition.  For example, when the warm up time is complete and next segment begins or when a recovery segments begins.
  • If sounds are turned on, you will hear countdown beeps, alerting you to the next programmed segment of your workout.
  • If you add pace, speed, or heart rate information to the workout when programming the watch (see Step 2), the watch will vibrate and display information if you are too fast, too slow, or within set ranges.  Fastest Pace is displayed when under pace.  Slowest Pace is displayed when over pace. In Desired Range is displayed when running within the programmed pace range.  If you are not ready for multiple vibration alerts to occur during the run, do not include specific pace, speed, or heart rate ranges to the program.
  • Once the cool down time or duration is complete, the screen will display the red square, denoting the workout is done.  However, after a small delay, resume will be displayed on the screen.  Pressing the run button will continue the run.  I typically extend the cool down period, as I rarely finish exactly at my finish location.
  • Multiple workouts can be created and sent to the Garmin, where they will be stored.
Stephanie Harboe is a RRCA-certified running coach and NASM-certified personal trainer.

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