Firstbeat Athlete – Software mini-review

This product is now discontinued. It still works though. See comments at the end.

This is an overview of some of the more interesting functionality you can find in FIRSTBEAT ATHLETE software. Polar and Suunto users can get some additional insights into their training over an above their watch-vendor’s standard software offerings. Garmin users too will benefit and understanding FIRSTBEAT’s software offering might shed some new insight onto the FIRSTBEAT-inside technology in their devices.

Firstbeat Athlete has links to Polar, Suunto, Garmin, PuleOn and other companies watches. So with that pedigree they must be doing something right?

If you have one of the ‘better’ HR monitors then it will send a special form of HR data to whatever device wants to receive and record it. So, the Polar H7, the Suunto Memory Belt and the Garmin HRM-RUN, amongst others, fall into that category.

Usually the special HR data is used to help determine the stress of your sessions and the subsequent suggested recovery time. So, that’s great as it gives actionable information.

You can turn on ‘Inter beat’ or R-R data or HRV data (as it’s sometimes called) on your 620, 910XT or 920XT and boom! the Training Effect of each of your sessions will start to work provided you also have per second recording turned on. In the case of Garmin and PulseOn this algorithm is built by Firstbeat.

HRV data ‘knows’ when you are breathing as the nervous system that powers the heart subtly changes on each breath. With that in mind, FIRSTBEAT build-in algorithms to work out your VO2max – which it CAN do as it know how many times you breathe. clever.

ATHLETE uses some metrics that might be new to you. METmax is essentially FIRSTBEAT’s take on VO2max and is shown in ATHLETE after each session to tracks your METmax (VO2) from your session and track that against your baseline METmax. All very interesting stuff.

Despite using HRV data, FB Athlete does not contain any recovery analysis – that is done in the SPORTS version of the software. Instead FB athlete is focused primarily on training analysis and training planning – best suited in the base and build periods of your training.

Using Training Effect (TE) & VO2max calculations it gives you a forward-looking plan based on the TE scores required fro each day. The plan is adjusted after each session based on the actual effort/effect of your session.

FB Athlete therefore includes a dynamic forward-looking training planning system. Cool.

That doesn’t sound much but actually is quite neat. If you are self-training it makes it a lot easier and if you are following someone else’s plan it gives you more insight into whether you can or should raise/lower your efforts on specific days.

Source: FIRSTBEAT KUVA6

Source: FIRSTBEAT KUVA6

Here is an example from the FIRSTBEAT website. It shows the GREEN day as today. It recommends a rest day today as yesterday’s session was fairly hard (TE=3.4/5.0). We can assume that the algorithms determine that it is best to rest today to allow adaptation to the exercise to occur ie to maximise the benefit to the athlete.

Whilst it does not recommend future specific exercises on this chart you can easily see that it recommends a fairly easy session tomorrow and a harder one the following day culminating in a TE=3.8 session next week. Athletes training more and more intensively will see much harder and more frequent sessions specified. As you adjust your activity class (the horizontal red bars) then so the exercise gets appropriately easier or harder. ATHLETE also automatically adjusts your activity level based on, err, your activity level.!

You will also see the grey training ‘range’. You aim to keep the blue line of your cumulative training effect within this range. If you do that you WILL improve. As you can see the training range adapts over time. This uses the PERIODIZED TRAINING that many of us follow, if you don’t understand what that is then you should! IF you don’t want to know you could just follow what FB ATHLETE tells you to do!

Partly linked to this is TAPERING functionality which is NOT part of the training coach – so you still have to handle the taper delicately.

So. This view within FIRSTBEAT ATHLETE IS useful. Especially for the self-training athlete and even for coaches.

FIRSTBEAT ATHLETE also looks at the athletic AFTERBURN that is more scientifically known EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). Essentially both anaerobic and aerobic exercise have a positive effect after the exercise has finished. You might consider it a measure of recovery activity. IE Measuring a GOOD and important thing for athletes.

ATHLETE can automatically load your existing MOVESCOUNT or GARMN data. So for the sake of a 5 minutes install and initial build you can have a new, neat insight into your training (on a trial basis of course!). I’d say if you are a bit more analytical than others you might want to do this and, at least, have a look.

The two main downsides for me were that the software is a bit buggy from time to time; errors appear but are usually able to be bypassed so no big deal. Secondly, as I alluded to earlier, I would have liked to look a bit more at other aspects of recovery.

I intend to use FB ATHLETE on an ongoing basis as a post-exercise analysis tool. The main use I will use it for is to provide a sense check on the activity I plan for tomorrow. I will use FB ATHLETE for that as well as other tools. Those tools include TRAINNGLOAD, waking-HRV and some of FB’s measures built-in to my Garmin watches.

Its definitely worth a FREE 14 day trial.

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