apple watch on the wrist of my brother

Apple Watches: Are They Good For Triathlon?

My youngest brother, Nathan, loves the Apple ecosystem and naturally bought an Apple watch when starting triathlon. After spending hours over the years helping him to get the most out of his watch, I thought it would be time to answer a simple question that many triathletes have: Are Apple watches good for triathlon?

Apple watches are great for everyday fitness tracking, but unfortunately not that good for triathlon. You need to download several apps to achieve the basic features that a multisport watch has by default. For triathletes racing short-distance races and interested only in basic features, the Apple watch can work. For advanced features, third-party compatibility, or long-distance triathlons, a pure multisport watch will be a far better option.

Let’s check in more detail what triathletes can and cannot do with an Apple watch.

Disclaimer: The Triathlon Tips of My Tri World are reader-supported. When you buy through links, I may earn an affiliate commission.

USING AN APPLE WATCH FOR SWIMMING, CYCLING, AND RUNNING

BASIC FEATURES

With both Apple Watch 7 and Apple Watch SE (Amazon affiliate links), you will be able to use the standard workout mode for swimming, cycling, and running. It will be fine for displaying each sport’s basic metrics and has a decent wrist heart rate monitor. The GPS is also accurate, as tested by DC Rainmaker (link to its Apple Watch 7 review on Youtube).

ADVANCED FEATURES

That’s where the Apple Watch loses most of its appeal to me. As soon as you want something specific (for example, training plans, cycling power, running detailed metrics), you will need to search for an Apple Watch application (here are the 5 Apple Watch Apps my brother is using). It would not be a big problem if I would be training only for one sport, but going through multiple apps to simply record, display, and synchronize my activities is just annoying.

As of the time I am writing this article, Apple Watch is not supporting any ANT+ sensors.

THIRD-PARTY COMPATIBILITY

Keep in mind that Apple targets the fitness market, not specifically the triathletes. Hence a lot of software useful for triathletes won’t work natively with the Apple app. In most cases, I could find a workaround (you guessed it: using other apps…) to link the watch with the software I wanted. It can work, but it is far from being intuitive. 

CAN I USE AN APPLE WATCH FOR TRIATHLON RACES

As written in another article (Do I Really Need A Triathlon Watch?), there are two features that all triathlon watches must have: open water swimming and triathlon mode. For Apple Watches, I would add a third one: battery life.

  • Open water swimming: not an issue for most Apple Watches. It has it included by default.
  • Triathlon mode: This one is somehow more tricky. On multisport watches (read Garmin, Polar, Suunto, etc.), this mode records your swim, bike, run, and transitions into a single activity so that you don’t need to save and start each of those activities manually.
    Out of the box, the Apple Watch doesn’t have this feature. You can do your swim, then add a second activity (let’s say transition), and repeat this process again until you reach the finish line. In the end, you will get a single activity with all the details, but it is extremely laborious, and believe me, it is not something you want to spend time on during a race.
    There is now, however one paid app called “Tri Tracker” which could be an option for you. Jaden Feddock made a Youtube video about it:
  • Battery life: it should not be a problem for short-distance events (up to Olympic), but I would definitely not take it on half or full ones. I have heard too many stories of triathletes having their Apple watches die during those.

ALTERNATIVE TO APPLE WATCHES

You cannot go wrong with those two watches:

  • Garmin forerunner 745 (Amazon affiliate link) for triathletes racing up to half distance triathlons. It has all the features you really need and internal music storage. My wife has the previous version (735 XT without music), and she loves it.
  • Garmin fenix 7 (Amazon affiliate link) for triathletes racing full-distance events or who want navigation guidance. I upgraded to this watch (7S) for the possibility to use either the buttons or the touchscreen, which is especially helpful when browsing the map.
Garmin fenix 7s and Forerunner 735XT
My watch (fēnix 7S) and my wife’s watch (Forerunner 735XT)

If you’re not exclusively considering Apple watches, check out this article that covers all brands: 9 Things You Need To Know Before Buying A Triathlon Watch