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Workouts Go Tech With Gadgets From Garmin, Nike


Great gift ideas to boost fitness.

In simpler times, maintaining good health was a matter of joining a gym or lacing up running shoes for a loop in the park. At most, you'd buy a watch with a digital display so you could time your laps.

These days, a range of gadgets can help boost your workouts. And I'm not talking about iPods that distract you as you lift weights or sprint to nowhere on a treadmill. Technology can now track your exercise progress, count calories, and more.

Fitness enthusiasts may appreciate some of these gift ideas.

Garmin (GRMN) Forerunner 310XT ($350; with heart rate monitor, $400)

Since 2003, I've been using GPS devices to keep track of how far I've run and how fast I'm going. Some even try to keep me on pace, beeping endlessly when I'm short of my goal. A new Garmin model offers longer battery life and improvements for triathletes.

What's new: An update to the Forerunner 305, the 310XT is waterproof to about 165 feet. But GPS signals don't travel well in water, so don't expect good distance readings while swimming -- and forget scuba diving.

What's the same: Like its predecessor, the 310XT offers a "multisport" mode. Press a button as you move from event to event in a triathlon. Afterward, review times and pace calculations for each event and transitions. Unfortunately, this model shares a major limitation with all GPS gadgets: They don't work indoors, and tall buildings can distort signals from the satellites.

What else: If the gift recipient is primarily a runner, check out the Forerunner 405CX ($370), an update to last year's 405. Unlike other models, whose four-sided designs don't win fashion points, the 405 series resemble regular watches.

Nike (NKE) Plus SportsBand ($59)

Nike and Apple (AAPL) teamed up in 2006 to create a fitness platform that offers many of the benefits of GPS devices, without needing a good signal. A small sensor fits snugly into a slot built into some Nike shoes and sends data wirelessly to an iPod Nano, iPod Touch, or iPhone 3GS to track and display your pace and distance. The SportsBand, with small updates this year, lets you ditch the Apple device.

What's nice: I own a Nano and carry it on most runs to listen to my backlog of "This American Life" and other podcasts. Not everyone wants an iPhone or iPod, though, so this standalone unit is a decent alternative.

What's not: You still need Nike shoes, which may not be a good fit for all runners. Other companies make a specially designed pouch that attaches to your shoelaces with Velcro, but the contraption doesn't work as well.

What's confusing: I took the SportsBand for several runs without getting it to work -- until I noticed instructions hidden underneath the plastic casing it came in. Gadgets that perform so few functions shouldn't require instructions.
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