Garmin Forerunner 910XT Review
Besides my bike and running shoes, my Garmin Forerunner 910XT is the single most important piece of gear I use for triathlon training. It’s a watch style GPS device and heart rate monitor specifically designed for triathletes. In a nutshell, it allows you to track your swim, bike and run workouts, then upload the data to Garmin Connect, or to third party platforms like Strava or Training Peaks. I’ve come to rely on it so much that I almost feel like a workout doesn’t quite count if I can’t upload, analyze, and share it. If you are a multi-sport athlete, there really isn’t anything better on the market right now.
What’s cool about the 910XT is the optional bike mount which lets you take the computer off of the wrist strap and attach it to your stem or handlebars. While you might not do this in a triathlon, I do it for bike training workouts all the time and it makes the computer much easier to view than if its on your wrist. For example, I bombed down a huge hill yesterday and was able to monitor my speed because the computer was mounted on my stem. If I had kept it on my wrist, I would have had to take my hand off the handlebar, which isn’t a good idea at 40+ mph!
In Bike Mode, the Garmin Forerunner 910XT can track your speed, distance, elevation, cadence, power output, and heart rate. The built-in barometric altimeter can also give you data about your ascent, descent and the grade. While this all sounds like a mountain of techy data, you can use as much or as little of the data as you like. This data is displayed on several different screens, which you can access by pressing the “up” and “down” scrolling buttons on the right-hand side of the computer.
The different screens can also be customized to show you exactly the data that you choose. For example, when I first started using with the 910XT, I left it in the factory settings which only shows you time, elevation, and average speed on the first screen. If I was wearing the heart rate monitor strap, I would have to scroll over to the next screen to check my heart rate. If you want to show your heart rate right on the first screen, however, you can easily set it up that way. At the moment, I’ve customized my home screen to show four data points: time, distance, cadence, and actual speed. This is great information to have all at one glance without having to take a hand off my handlebars to scroll to another screen.
Another useful feature that I use is the alarm timer. So, for example, when I’m doing hill repeats, I can set the timer to beep every two minutes. I can then do two minutes of hill climbing and try to get my heart rate up into zone 5. At the beep, I descend and rest for two minutes. At the next two-minute beep, I do it again. I will continue doing this until my hill repeat workout is done. For more information on hill repeats, see How To Do Hill Repeats on the Bike. Of course, you could always wear a regular watch and just keep track of the time, but its a lot more fun to set up your workouts on the Forerunner 910XT. Plus, the ability to upload, analyze and share the data afterwards is pretty fun.
Keep in mind that if you want to track your heart rate, you need to buy the heart rate monitor package. Similarly, the cadence sensor is sold separately. I would advise just getting the triathlon bundle because you’re going to want all the gadgets sooner or later anyway. Also, Garmin doesn’t make a power meter, but the 910XT can be linked to any power meters through its ANT+ sensor.
Much like Bike Mode, the 910XT gives you valuable data while you are running including time, distance and elevation. If you are doing track workouts and/or intervals, the alarm comes in pretty handy. For example, you can set it up to sound the alarm every five minutes, then do 5 minute pickups with five minute recoveries.
When you put the Forerunner 910XT into Swim Mode, it gives you a options of Pool Mode or Open Water Mode. If you go into Pool Mode, you can further select whether you are in a 25 meter pool, a 50 meter pool, or specify the exact length of the particular pool in which you train. This is useful because the 910XT keeps track of your lap times, strokes per lap, and also calculates your SWOLF score. Unfortunately, you can’t get your SWOLF score in real time, though you can analyze your workout afterwards by uploading your data to Garmin Connect, which renders the following types of charts related to swim data:
First, in the Timing chart, you can see how many seconds you swam each lap. In this example, you can see I swam 50 meters in 54s.
Second, in the Strokes chart, you can see how many strokes cycles you took per lap. A stroke cycle includes two strokes; one for each arm. In the example below, you can see I took 21 stroke cycles.
Finally, in the Efficiency chart, Garmin Connect renders your SWOLF score. If you don’t know about SWOLF, see my post on How to Play Swim Golf (SWOLF). Essentially, to get your SWOLF score, you add your strokes to your time it took you to finish the lap. In the example below, my SWOLF score for the first 50 meter lap was 76. I have to say that the device seems a little buggy in this calculation. Obviously 54 seconds plus 21 stroke cycles should render a SWOLF score of 75, not 76, if counting cycles instead of actual strokes. If counting actual strokes, my SWOLF score should be 96. Whether or not there is a bug or imperfection in the way the 910XT calculates your SWOLF score, it is at least consistent with itself and allows you a way to measure whether you are improving your stroke efficiency.
I’ve just recently started playing SWOLF to improve my efficiency, and am really happy to have a GPS watch that automatically traces my scores.
A Few Gripes
I often workout with the Forerunner 910Xt either right before I go to work, or during my lunch break. Consequently, I usually forget to take it off and its on my wrist all day. Wouldn’t it be great if the Forerunner 910XT acted as a watch during the day? Well, it doesn’t. I mean, it does, but it only has a battery life of 20 hours before you have to charge it again, so it’s not quite functional as a watch. Maybe if it didn’t look like a watch this would be less annoying, but there’s just something about a computer on your wrist that makes you want it to tell time. Oh well, it does do a ton of other stuff.
My other gripe may just be personal to me, but the heart rate monitor strap cuts into my skin. I don’t know if its the kind of fabric in the strap or the design. I’ve definitely worn it over fifty times, so it’s not about being new. In any event, the strap cuts me. I’ve been able to remedy this a bit by putting a bandaid over the strap in the problem areas, but its not ideal. My previous HRM was a Polar and I never had that problem. Nevertheless, I still love the 910XT for all it can do.
This is a no brainer, folks. If you are a triathlete, you need a GPS device to track your workouts. Garmin is one of the leaders of the GPS industry and, as of July 2014, the Forerunner 910XT is the flagship model of Garmin’s multisport watches. In the future, maybe they can get the watch even smaller and flatter, or give it a color screen, but for now, the 910XT is the choice. Get one!