Garmin has enabled optical heart rate for swimming on Vivoactive 4 & Venu. This comes with the latest firmware update along with a number of other features and fixes.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
This means you no longer need to wear an uncomfortable chest strap if you want to monitor your heart rate under water. The info will be displayed on your wrist. What’s more your calories burned will be more accurate and you’ll be able to quantify the intensity of your swim as well as average and max heart rate values.
Garmin has a health warning on its Updates & Downloads page. It reads:
“Note that there are inherent limitations with the technology that may cause some of the heart rate readings to be inaccurate under certain circumstances. These circumstances include the user’s physical characteristics, the fit of the device, and the type and intensity of the swimming. For the most accurate heart rate during swimming, Garmin recommends using HRM-Swim or HRM-Tri heart rate monitors.”
There is nothing you need to do to enable the functionality apart from downloading and installing the latest firmware update. With the software on your watch, the optical heart rate sensor will turn on automatically when entering a Pool Swim activity profile.
On the Vivoactive 4/4S you’ll need to make sure software version 4.0 or later is installed on your watch. On Venu the software version with the feature is also 4.0. This is a phased rollout and so far around 20% of users have received the refresh.
Garmin suggests you wear the device snugly on your wrist when tracking swimming. This is because of the many challenges of tracking heart rate under water.
“The large arm motions can affect the level of blood volume in the wrist area, chilly water can reduce the amount of blood in the tissue on the back of the wrist, and the water can “pull” on the watch creating a gap between the optical heart rate sensor and the skin,” Garmin writes on its website.
“Warm up a bit before starting the swim activity and make sure you are properly wearing the watch.”
Suunto, Polar and Coros and a select few others already support wrist-based heart rate for swimming. It’s nice to see Garmin has joined the club club.
Opinions on the benefits of using wrist-based heart rate for swimming are divided so it’s good to be aware of strengths and weaknesses of such technology. At the end of the day, you don’t necessary need to use the feature but it’s nice to know it’s there if you want to. If you’re after perfect accuracy a stand-alone, water-resistant heart rate monitor is a better option.
Other watches which come with the feature include the Fenix 6, Forerunner 945 and Forerunner 245. All of these come with the latest generation ELEVATE heart rate sensor.
The change log of the new software update also mentions this version fixes a possible battery drain with Bluetooth, adds speed fields to standup paddle boarding activity, improves the calendar user interface, adds vertical speed fields for run and bike activities, adds support for abnormal low heart rate alerts and more. The list of changes can be seen on the links above.
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