Insight: Garmin Forerunner 630 – What’s The New Functionality?

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Garmin Forerunner 630
Garmin Forerunner 630

You’ve seen the announcement and maybe the pictures too.

This is Garmin’s best running watch.

It’s not cheap.

Over and above the hardware improvements, what’s new?

ConnectIQ – Is new to the Garmin Forerunner 630. This will give access to custom WATCH FACES and DATA FIELDS. Whilst not new to Garmin, any element of being able to adapt to your precise requirements must be good. We’ve had ConnectIQ on other Garmin watches for over a year now and whilst many are interesting and undoubtedly useful to some, my general opinion is that more needs to come from the developers. My ‘early adopter’ status of ConnectIQ was somewhat tarnished by some ‘apps’ seeming to ‘mess up’ the watch’s performance elsewhere. I don’t use ConnectIQ anymore though no doubt will return to it at some point as it continues to mature.

Advanced Running Dynamics – This is an extension to the existing running dynamics. The existing running dynamics are cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time. To refresh your memory the 620 has:

Cadence – I never really classed cadence as anything special. It’s important but offered from many other competitors to Garmin. Cadence IS actionable and IS something that every runner should work on.

Vertical Oscillation (VO) was interesting and Garmin effectively give ‘zones’ in the clever dial display and in the manual. I was never sure how actionable VO was. You bounce too much but so what? Where is the actionable insight? Running faster usually lowers it!

Ground Contact Time (GCT) is certainly a key metric. It has value in training and you can try out drills and then attempt to incorporate those in your technique to reduce the GCT. Running faster lowers it!

So are the extra ADVANCED running dynamics any better? They are Ground Contact Time Balance (GCTb), Stride Length (SL) and Vertical Ratio (VR).

GCTb measures asymmetry in your GCT. This has some post-session analysis use. If your technique is asymmetric then generally you would want to address that through balancing the symmetry of your flexibility and strength in your body OR understanding any other causal factors such as a short leg, twisted hip or curved spine – all of which are not as uncommon as you might think.

SL is a basic measure that some other watches have had for years and that can be derived from distance travelled and cadence. It probably has a similar use in training to GCT. You can do a few drills and see how they change your SL and you can monitor changes to SL over time. Once you have your GCT as low as possible and your cadence as optimal as possible then the only way to get faster is to increase your stride length! Strength and flexibility is the way to go.

VR IS a measure of efficiency with a ratio of VO to SL.

So really all the new ADVANCED metrics are is a breakdown of the existing GCT over each foot and two derived ratios – SL & VR.

Lactate Threshold Heart Rate – The Garmin Forerunner 630 includes a guided test to determine your LTHR and apparently also determines if it can estimate it as you run. There’s more LTHR information here on the sporttracks blog. In a more true non-lab test, it’s the average HR for the last 20 minutes of a 30 minute flat out run. That LTHR is then used to work out your HR training zones. If you do HR based training then this is a MUCH better way than using guesses of your supposed max and resting heart rates. Many runners/triathletes have used LTHR for YEARS.

Stress Score – This is more innovative and useful. Using Heart Rate Variability data this measure gives an indication of your readiness to run. I’m not yet sure if this is a waking test or pre-training test. Either way it could be useful, although to compare like-with-like a waking HRV test would be best IMO.

Performance Condition – As you run, your instantaneous ‘fitness level’ is compared to that of your average ‘fitness level’. This comparison indicates your performance readiness. “Maybe you’re not quite up to that 9th interval?” – that kind of thing. Looks genuinely interesting.

VO2max – is again touted on the 630 as with some other models and was on the 620. It’s great for comparison to a degree and great to track and predict your progress. But the question I always ask is “what are you going to do with it?”. Is it a trophy to wave in front of your mates? If you are going to use it for VDOT-based training efforts then maybe there’s some use there. You might wonder if vVO2max is a better measure and, like me, if you’ve had lab tests done you might find a notable discrepancy.

Hardware – The colour touchscreen screen is better than the 620. The battery life, at 17 exercise-hours, is significantly better. The aesthetics are better. It’s now also a plausible day-to-day watch and activity tracker with nice Bluetooth and wifi connectivity.

Audio – Music playback and audio training prompts.

GPS – Now supports GLONASS too and energy-saving through ULTRATRAC.

HR Recording – Presumably the new strap caches data like the HRM-SWIM/HRM-TRI? Nope!! But it does do the extra stuff with LTHR and 6x Running Dynamics. On the watch HR data can be recorded per second.

As well as a few trivial bits and bobs like metronome functionality those are the major ones. Oh yes and it supports footpods too.

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