Fresh air, a changing scene and the potential for beautiful views that add to the experience, a feeling of robust reality – exercising outdoors offers all of these benefits, and several less visible ones, to those fortunate enough to use the open air as the scene for their daily fitness sessions. Sunlight, absorbed in moderation, is a source of Vitamin D, while fresh air blowing through the clothing helps to keep the skin dry and in good condition.
Running along a city street or a country road has a more invigorating feel than simply running in place on a treadmill, for example, while some activities – such as swimming and snowshoeing – can’t be done indoors at all without specially-fitted rooms that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct. Some people are fortunate enough to have the time and opportunity to exercise outdoors almost daily, while others do so occasionally, weather and other responsibilities permitting.
However, while the outdoor exercise experience has several benefits, it is, at first glance, harder to monitor than in-home exercise. In the controlled environment of a room with a machine in it – a machine whose performance is known exactly – it is easy to build a monitor that tracks speed, calories burned, heart rate, and so on, ensuring that you can gain a workout that meets your needs without overstraining your heart, or causing other problems with too vigorous an effort. Outdoors, however, the situation seems much more uncontrolled – your environment does not have a built-in monitor providing you with constant, real-time feedback and information.
Fortunately, the miracles of technological miniaturization allow the outdoor exercise enthusiast to carry powerful, sophisticated monitors with them in the form of wristwatches – such as the Polar RS800CX Run Heart Rate Monitor Watch with S3 Stride Sensor W.I.N.D., which not only covers the measurements typically offered by built-in monitors fitted to exercise machines, but allows you to plan and measure a wide range of different outdoor workouts, from running to bicycling and skiing.
Features of the Polar RS800CX Heart Rate Monitor Watch
Housed in a sleek black and silver shell that is toughly built and water-resistant up to 150 feet, the Polar RS800CX Watch is a heart rate and exercise monitor that tracks many different readings useful to the outdoor exercise enthusiast. The watch includes a heart rate monitor, an altimeter with several detailed readings (including cumulative ascent and descent), heart rate displayed as the percent of maximum heart rate, ‘target zones’ which may be configured to warn the user with an alarm when they have moved out of the target range (for example, heart rate, distance, etc.), measures of distance, time, calorie expenditure, and numerous other measurements.
The Polar RS800CX Heart Rate Monitor Watch is loaded with features for measuring various types of outdoor exercise. Using the Polar S3 Stride Sensor W.I.N.D., which attaches to the shoelaces, the RS800CX measures running dynamics in detail, including stride length. The device can be mounted to a bicycle to measure speed, incline, revolutions per minute, calorie consumption adjusted for bicycling parameters, and so on.
The RS800CX does not include a built-in GPS (global positioning device), as most of its competitors do, and therefore cannot give specific directions unless it is paired with the Polar G3 GPS Receiver, which must be bought separately. However, the lack of a GPS is the necessary tradeoff for the extraordinarily long battery life of the watch – a feature I explain more below.
By adding the GPS receiver, the user can also accurately track canoeing, rowing, and skiing, and the data from the GPS receiver can be uploaded to a computer through the RS800CX, where the information can be used to create maps, performance graphs, and other highly useful printouts that you can use to manage your outdoor exercise regimen accurately and carefully.
How does the RS800CX differ from other ‘monitor watches’?
The watch already operates on a par with most of the best of its competition in a number of areas, but the two places where the Polar RS800CX Watch truly shines are in its battery life and its measurement of cadence. The Running Index is an interesting concept, but could use some more development.
The RS800CX’s battery lasts for a year or slightly more, rather than the six to eight hours that high-energy watches (typically those with built-in GPS, or global positioning systems) usually get out of a battery. This means that the RS800CX will not fail because of a dead battery during an exceptionally long run, and instead of potentially needing 365 batteries per year, the user will need only one, which is a considerable saving.
The other individual strength of the device is that it measures cadence through the Polar Cadence Sensor W.I.N.D.– a feature that few other monitor watches can offer. The watch tracks cadence – the number of strides taken per minute – in real time, and also gives an overall average of strides per minute for the entire run. Since the most efficient cadence is 90 strides per minute, the user can gauge how effectively they are running, and work on improving their cadence with real-time feedback.
The Running Index is a ‘fitness scoring’ program that compares speed and heart rate, and rates your performance on a numerical scale. Although it is a unique RS800CX feature, and an interesting and potentially useful concept, it should be noted that it only functions properly on the level, since slopes inevitably slow running speed and lead to much lower scores that do not reflect real performance. Still, I thought it was a clever idea and gives the user a method to experimentally determine how efficient their running is in general.
A Few Limitations
Although all of the features I was able to discover about the Polar RS800CX Watch seemed positive at first – long battery charge life, versatility, several special features like cadence which many other models of ‘monitor watch’ lack, computer compatibility, and so on – I was determined to dig deeper. No design is without flaws, and after some careful investigation, I discovered that the Polar RS800CX does indeed have a handful of weaknesses, and maybe be exceeded by other similar watches in some areas.
The Polar RS800CX’s foibles, however, are luckily rather small, and are far outweighed by its good points. One of the Polar’s limitations is that its screen is small, only slightly more than an inch across the diagonal, making it somewhat difficult to read in low-light conditions or for those with less-than-perfect vision. This ‘flaw,’ however, is partly the result of a feature, because the small screen draws little power and thus extends battery life. The display is crisp, clean, and organized despite its small size, and has a backlight, but the nearsighted should bear this limitation in mind when deciding on whether the Polar RS800CX is the right watch for them.
The Polar’s battery is also hard to change – indeed, from some customer descriptions, levering open the watch case to replace a battery is a workout in itself. Fortunately, the battery lasts for a year or more thanks to the RS800CX’s thrifty approach to power, so wrestling with the battery is an infrequent event. The watch also lacks a built-in GPS receiver, and the G3 receiver – the only model that works with the RS800CX – must be bought separately.
Polar RS800CX Heart Monitor Watch Best Price
The Polar RS800CX is offered at several websites, but the best combination of price, shipping, and reliability that I found was on Amazon.