Timex is one of the best know watchmakers in the world. Less well known is its work with sports fitness computers, yet it has been active in this area for many years. The Timex fitness range extends from everyday watches with stopwatch facilities right through to GPS enabled wrist computers which can upload data to a desktop computer for detailed analysis.

The Timex Personal Trainer has limited capability. It communicates with a chest-strap heart rate monitor to check on your heart during exercise, delivering results for you to note down after you’ve finished a session. It calculates how long you have been training, and estimates calories burned. And that’s about the sum of its abilities. It is small and neat enough to double up as an everyday watch though.

What’s in the box?

The Timex Personal Trainer is a minimalist piece of fitness equipment and the box contains very little. Alongside the watch itself you’ll find the Timex heart rate monitor and a printed manual – minimalist to the extreme.

The manual is small but it does cover all the functions of the watch. The fact that it does this in seven different languages is ample evidence that the Timex Personal Trainer’s functions are relatively limited.

Set up and configuration

Because the Timex Personal Trainer has just one key activity there is very little you need to do to set it up before your first session. But ironically, that setup might still prove to be quite tricky.

The potential problem is not caused by the design or usability of the watch itself, which are both very good. The face is quite small by sports watch standards but information displayed on it is clear and large making it easy to read.

There are five buttons. Two sit on the left side, two on the right, and one is beneath the screen. They are very clearly marked with their main functions, and they have additional roles during setup which are explained in the manual. The side buttons protrude well making them very easy to find and press when you are wearing the watch – including when you are on the run. The Timex hallmark ‘Indiglo’ backlight button is a bright orange which makes it easy to see in darker conditions. The front facia button also protrudes slightly from its surroundings so it is easy to find by touch alone.

The build of the Timex Personal Trainer is solid and because of its relatively small size it would make a reasonable everyday wristwatch. It delivers the basics of time and date to meet everyday requirements. It is water resistant to 30 metres, so if you are one of those people that likes to wear their watch in the shower there should be no problems!

That complication I mentioned earlier comes into play because this watch is all about heart rates, and to get it to work well for you you’re going to need to know your maximum heart rate. This is vitally important here, as in any heart rate based exercise plan, because exercise sessions are best built towards maintaining a certain percentage of your maximum heart rate, and for the watch to tell you if you are falling outside a certain percentage – or heart rate zone – you have to give it information about those zones.

Many people will come to the Timex Personal Trainer as newcomers to exercise and won’t have a clue what their maximum heart rate is. In the manual Timex suggests a formula. Start with the number 220 and subtract your age. That will give you an estimated maximum heart rate. Of course, individuals vary greatly, and if you would like a more accurate measurement to start with, then a visit to your local gym might be a good idea.

Once you know your maximum heart rate, or have an estimate you are happy to work with, you can set the watch up. You need to give the Timex Personal Trainer three pieces of heart rate related information. It needs your maximum heart rate to use as a base for working out percentages. It also needs the heart rate you do not want to exceed during an exercise and the rate you don’t want to go below. If you breach either of these limits during an exercise there is a visual alert on screen (an upward or downward facing arrow), and, if you’ve configured it, an audible beep too.

You also need to tell the Timex Personal Trainer your weight. This information is used to help calculate how many calories you burn on any particular exercise. Note, though, that the watch doesn’t ask for your age or sex. Its calorie calculation is, we assume, based purely on weight, heart rate and distance with no factoring in for sex or age criteria.

There’s no configuration necessary for the heart rate monitor apart from putting it on and telling the watch to find its signal.

In use

The Timex Personal Trainer picks up a signal from the heart rate monitor when you press the front mounted On/Off button. It takes a couple of seconds to lock on, but I found the signal was never lost during a training session.

The heart rate monitor itself is slightly chunky with a relatively long rigid section that you place over your heart and a longer semi-rigid rubbery section that runs across the front of your chest. It feels a bit inflexible. I wore it for runs up to an hour in length and it was comfortable, but it is possible that on long runs the rubber could start to chafe a little.

The heart rate monitor has clasps on both sides so that left and right handed people should find it equally easy to get on and off. However I found the actual fixing mechanism very fiddly and impossible to use one handed either for putting it on or taking it off.

When you are ready to start an exercise session and have pressed the On/Off button the main part of the screen will display your current heart rate. The display is nice and large so it is very easy to see it at a glance. There is a heart icon which flashes during exercise in the top right of the screen to show that watch and heart rate monitor are connected.

If you exceed or fall below your target heart rate zones a small arrow appears on screen indicating you should speed up or slow down, and you can have an audible beeping alert too. This beep is very handy as without it you’d need to be glancing at the watch every few minutes to check on your heart rate. I found this system worked very well in use.

The Timex Personal Trainer does not have any built in memory and can only store your last completed session. So you’ll have to make a note of recordings from one session before you start another or lose your data altogether.

When you are ready to review data from a training session you just press the Recall button on the bottom left side of the fascia. The watch cycles through displaying different data elements in sequence. You get long enough viewing each one to jot it down, though if you are in a hurry pressing the Recall button repeatedly toggles through the cycle.

So, in order, the Timex Personal Trainer shows the length of your activity session, how long you were between the upper and lower heart rate zones you set, your average heart rate during the session, the highest heart rate recorded during the session, how many calories you burned, and the most recent recovery heart rate calculation you’ve made. So what’s the recovery heart rate calculation?

The fitter you are the faster your heart slows to whatever your normal heart rate is when you stop exercising. Slow recovery times are a sign of lack of fitness or of illness, overtraining or other factors. If you are a newcomer to working on your fitness, watching your heart rate recovery rate fall is one of many indicators that you really are making progress. However it isn’t something we’ve seen in a lot of sports computers, and to be honest you feel your recovery times improve in the early days so that measuring them seems a bit over the top.

Nonetheless, the Timex Personal Trainer has a facility for working out your heart rate recovery rate. It is a bit of a pain, though, as the watch does the job in one minute chunks. To get it to start recording your recovery rate you press the button on the bottom right of the watch’s fascia. It makes a note of your heart rate, then waits for a minute and takes your heart rate again. It calculates the difference between the two, and uses that as a recovery rate. You can repeat this one minute countdown as many times as you like, but each time the watch runs through the same discrete exercise, delivering the difference between your heart rate at the start and end of a one minute period. To get the best measure you’ll need to slap the start button as soon as you finish a session – when your heart is pounding away at peak beats per minute.

Conclusion

The Timex Personal Trainer does one thing really well – measure your heart rate. Its additional features of calculating burned calories and activity time are also accomplished with minimal fuss. Its ability to calculate heart rate recovery could be useful for some people, but it is limited to doing this in one minute bursts.

The fascia is easy to see, the build robust, the buttons all easy to use.

The limited features and good usability make this a workable watch for anyone undertaking moderate fitness activity such as light jogging or vigorous walking. But if you are interested in measuring performance across a range of activities there will be problems.

If you do different kinds of activity with different ambitions for your heart rate you’ll need to keep resetting the upper and lower heart rate zones if you want the Timex Personal Trainer to watch things consistently. A threshold run, for example, which pushes you hard for a relatively short time, will keep your heart rate higher than a long slow jog or a vigorous walk. You might want different heart rate zones for these activities, and if you do you’ll be forever resetting the Timex Personal Trainer.

One real annoyance that has nothing at all to do with the Timex Personal Trainer’s capabilities as a sports watch is that it doesn’t know about leap years. Every single year it goes from February 28 to 1 March. So one year in four you’ll have to manually alter the date. A small gripe I know, but one that annoyed me.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Clear, uncluttered screen
  • Well made

Cons:

  • Limited range of features
  • Will need resetting each time you do a different type of activity
  • Only remembers the last activity you’ve completed
  • Heart rate monitor has fiddly clasps

Manufacturer: Timex

SRP: £55.00 from Cotswold Outdoor