By Su Reid-St. JohnMost folks think of “training computers” (sport watches that also tell you things like heart rate, lap time, etc.) as tools for hard-core athletes, not the recreational exercisers that most of us are. Still, even though I’m not training for anything at the moment, the Polar RS300X G1 caught my eye.

With the GPS unit, it lets you also measure your distance and speed while doing just about any activity. I like to vary my walking/skating routes and never really know how far or fast I’m going. But I’d like to!

The training computer itself is pretty easy to set up, despite the sparse and very spotty instructions; it took about 10 minutes to figure out how to input all the required info. The fitness test that determined my current fitness level took another five minutes (you’re supposed to do the test every few weeks to track your improvement).

In any case, with all of my info entered, I put on the chest strap for the heart rate monitor, fastened the watch on my wrist, wrapped the GPS strap around my upper arm, pushed the necessary buttons to sync up the GPS, and headed out for a power walk.

I’d forgotten what a great motivator a heart rate monitor is. I kept glancing at my wrist every few moments to see how I was doing, then inevitably sped up a little to increase the number, turning my workout into a sort of Su vs. Su game. Wearing a chest strap under my bra band is usually an uncomfortable affair, but this one didn’t feel too bad.

Heart rate aside, I was most excited about tracking my speed and distance. The GPS synced right up and worked like a charm, and I indeed found seeing my speed to be as addictive as heart rate in terms of motivating me to work harder.

As cool as that was, I was disappointed that I couldn't get the watch to display the actual time*. Since I often exercise before work and need to finish by a certain hour, that’s a drawback. Also, none of the displays show the combination of measurements most of interest to me: heart rate/speed/distance.

Plus, the watch itself is a little big, as if designed for a man. Hopefully, Polar will come out with a women’s version (à la Mio’s Petite models) in the near future.

Still, I found this to be a really motivating workout tool, and I’ve done better, harder workouts than usual each time I’ve used it. How can I argue with that?

Product: Polar RS300X training computer and G1 GPS sensor

Category: Gear

Pros: It gives multiple ways to measure how hard you’re working out, and the speed, distance, and heart rate options are especially motivating. It’s easy to use once you figure it out the first time, and the chest strap is more comfortable than many I’ve tried.

Cons: The instructions aren’t very well written and the watch is a little too big for smaller wrists. Also, it’s expensive.

Cost: $250 at

Extra tip: The computer lets you store up to 15 weeks of training data, so you can track your progress.

* Addendum: After I initially posted this blog, Polar contacted me to say that I could alter the various training displays to show the time, and sent me instructions on how to do it. While that makes this an even more valuable workout tool (easier to stay on schedule), the issue remains that the instructions that come with the RS300X don't indicate clearly that you have the option to do this, or tell specifically tell how to do it. (In case you're wondering, you click Back/red button/Setting/Display, scroll down to the display screen you want, click the red button, then use the up/down buttons to get to the Time option; click the red button again to select it.)