Garmin Coach – Any Good ? Free Adaptive 5K Running Plan


Garmin are about to shake up the online coaching market. #Maybe

What Is Garmin Coach ?

Garmin Coach - adaptive
Simple workout shown on CONNECT MOBILE

First  up; Garmin running watch owners may have been aware for a long time that they have had the ability to create WORKOUTS on GARMIN CONNECT and then follow the workouts on your Forerunner

Secondly you may also have been aware of various Garmin Training PLANS that put together a series of workouts on your calendar in your pursuit of a particular goal such as a future race.

Garmin COACH takes the existing WORKOUT and CALENDAR abilities further forwards

Garmin COACH adds other resources around a plan, such as VIDEO. In my opinion, the key change is that Garmin COACH adapts a plan to your progress. Most importantly, for the target market, it adapts at the MACRO level. ie workouts could be automatically jigged about within your available weekly schedule AND the intensity and duration of one of those individual workouts could be modified based on your progress and/or recent activity.

Adapts‘ sounds very fancy and advanced. And it is, at least in the techy sense of how to achieve adaptation. BUT from the runner’s point of view ‘it’s just plain obvious‘ that a plan needs to respond to your real life challenges eg ‘I had to work late and missed my workout…what do I do next? My plan has me down as a rest day tomorrow.‘. That is the sort of challenge where an adaptable plan is by far the best solution.

Let’s be clear, this is new for Garmin but not new to the market. LOTS of other companies claim to have adaptive training plans all the way from Firstbeat through to Fitbit and back again to Polar.

Compatible Watches

Initially this is only available for the recent, mainstream running watches ie Vívoactive 3, Forerunner 645 and Forerunner 935.

I would expect the Fenix and Edge ranges to get compatibility with COACH once the scope of the plans that COACH covers is expanded to faster runners, new event distances and to cyclists.

Compatible Humans

Garmin Coach will only work for now if you are looking to do a 5K in SLOWER than 25 minutes. It’s for novice runners. At least for now.

It’s just for 5k the 5k distance initially.  I would expect that Garmin will introduce a 10k plan soon as it would be basically the same plan and, from my research in previous years, 10k is a very popular distance for online training plans.

Just how popular is 5k?

Random Stat: Of the 1091 finishers at Bushy 5K parkrun on 8Jul2018, 353 (30%) were FASTER than 25 minutes. Thus over 70% of the finishers are in Garmin’s target market.

So it’s a large market to target. It’s also a good market to target as the vast majority of people at this level will benefit from ANY training. So, from Garmin’s point of view, what they propose in their plan will almost certainly work to some degree for almost everyone. The downside is the risk of injury – that’s a downside in Garmin being blamed for the injury and, of course, a downside for the runner themselves being injured and unable to run.

Garmin Coach – Run Through The Setup

You select the “Garmin Coach 5k” plan on Garmin Connect (online not mobile)


You then set the parameters of your plan indicating, for example, which days of the week you are available to train. Even though the plan is adaptive it will not tell you to run on a day you’ve said you can’t run. The parameters can be changed partway through the coaching program eg your available days to train might change.

There are then 3 real coaches who have put their names to three 5k plans and these are each different variants on the same kind of theme. Superficially, to me, Coach Amy seemed the best bet for the target group making a point of injury prevention. You can’t get faster if you’re injured 😉

  • Coach Amy: 4-5 workouts a week. 10-20 week plan. injury prevention, cross-training, strength & mobility, variety of workouts.
  • Coach Greg: 3-4 workouts a week 10-15 week plan, timed runs, drills, working on speed and form, variety of workouts
  • Coach Jeff: workouts a week 12-18 week plan, cognitive tools, drills, motivation strategies, ‘run walk run’. Might be best as a ‘couch to 5k alternative’.

Garmin builds in a concept of ‘Confidence’ which essentially is telling you if you are behind or ahead of plan but using more nuanced wording.

That’s it really. The plan is then synchronised to your device via Garmin Express

Garmin Coach - adaptive

You can also follow your plan on the Garmin Connect Mobile app, seeing planned workouts as well as completed ones.


When you choose the RUN profile on your Forerunner you are prompted to do today’s exercise if there is one and some extra pages/screens are added to your normal ones.

Garmin Coach – My First Run

I went through all the steps of creating a plan and today I ran the 5-minute Benchmark Run that starts each plan with my Forerunner 935. The whole process seemed logical and well thought-through. Garmin COACH asked all the questions that needed to be asked.

The downside was that quite a lot of time is required to watch the videos and set it all up (say 5-10 minutes). Other vendors offer a quicker-starting solution eg on the Suunto 3 Fitness . 5-10 minutes is not an issue for me but maybe for others.

Garmin Coach – My Second Run

After the Benchmark, a week or so’s worth of workouts are downloaded to your device. I did the second run on the second day. BUT I ran a lot faster than the plan. There are NO alerts in the workout to tell you to slow down.

There appears to be NO in-workout guidance to tell you to speed up/slow down or go further – as appropriate to your performance. (Suunto does this with the Firstbeat algorithm they use)

So that’s a little disappointing.

Although my first workout was an ‘easy 3k run’. I kinda went a bit harder than ‘easy’ and expected to be told to slow down. This is a little strange as the whole point of recovery/slow runs is to go slow.

I would appreciate your experiences, below, on other run types as I won’t be able to test them all out.

Garmin Coach – My Third Run

My third day was a rest day so I ignored it and went ahead and ran about 12 miles 🙂 I did this as a regular run ie by not following a workout.

This workout does NOT appear on the schedule of completed runs??? Strange.

I can only assume that the ‘adaptive’ plan doesn’t take into account extra runs. If it didn’t take into account extra exercises that were not runs then that would be, sort of, OK. But it should take into account extra runs.

Firstbeat Powered?

This is NOT a Firstbeat-powered adaptive training program. It is an in-house effort from Garmin and, in any case, appears a much more complete coaching platform than the physiological algorithms from Firstbeat.

Having said that my Firstbeat source is reasonably sure that Garmin will be using Firstbeat’s VO2max calculations.


Interesting Bit

At the end of your planned workout, you are asked to rate your perceived effort as Moderate/Hard/Easy etc. I hadn’t noticed this before on any Garmin workout so I’m guessing it’s a new addition. It’s the same sort of ‘perceived effort’ designation as Suunto’s ‘How did it feel‘ question that optionally and, usually annoyingly, appears at the end of EVERY workout.

Garmin Coach - adaptive

Your personal assessment of your Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE) is then stored in the workout and, for example, is visible in the Connect app as shown below (I couldn’t see the RPE designation in Connect online).


An RPE form like this can easily be used by developers as a proxy for Training Load and hence may well be an input into Garmin’s adaptation protocol in the COACH. (I’m NOT saying it’s a GOOD proxy BTW!)

It’s also likely that the RPE you assign feeds through to the CONFIDENCE level in the plan.


Sub 25? 5k

If you are a faster runner and want a personalised plan (not adaptive) then look no further. My personalised plan structure has got several runners to sub19/18 and is appropriate, by coincide, for those currently FASTER than 25 minute 5k runners.

5k Training Plan | Sub 19, 21, 24 | running 6 12 weeks, parkrun



Take Out

Edit: I’ve changed this as COACH doesn’t look as good as I first thought…

Garmin COACH is a great-looking implementation of a simple coaching infrastructure that includes some adaptive elements. The overall structure is one of the best that I’ve seen AND I did look into this specific are a few years ago for another project not related to this site. However, some important details appear to let down the implementation; namely not taking into account extra runs nor providing in-workout cues.

COACH currently targets an ‘easy’ segment of running ability to give coaching advice to.

I reckon the whole COACH framework will be effective when the target level of runner follows it through to race day.

However, I’m not sure if this feature will do well for Garmin watch sales. Many of the runners at the target ability level will not have a Forerunner running watch – indeed there will probably be FAR more runners who use a smartphone and an app at this level. One of the ongoing issues with Garmin Connect – for example compared to Polar Beat – is that Connect is unable to record a workout on the Connect smartphone app.

Other competitors to Garmin have tried adaptive coaching too – for example, Fitbit with COACH/FITSTAR. I’m not sure that Fitbit recouped the money they paid out to acquire that even though their adaptive training was incorporated into a PREMIUM (paid for) service. Suunto recently released their adaptive training program for the 3 Fitness – this is based on Firstbeat’s algorithms and seems superior to Garmin COACH in several ways, namely: it takes into account the training effect from other sports; it’s quicker to set up; it appears to genuinely adapt to over-  and under-achievement in a workout; it gives in-workout cues to speed up, slow down or go further.

However, Garmin COACH is a freebie. People like freebies. Sure it might not tempt someone to buy a Garmin Forerunner just because it has a free adaptive coaching plan but its inclusion certainly won’t hurt. It will probably be just another of Garmin’s many features – it will sway someone, somewhere. And word might spread.

Would some of your SLOWER running friends even know what adaptive training was? If not, they would never search for it on Google and never, perhaps, appreciate what ADAPTIVE means when seen on a list of supported features for a new watch purchase.

Will the ‘Adaptive Training’ badge cause anyone to switch from Polar or Fitbit to a Garmin. No. Almost certainly not.

At least … not yet.

I’ve always seen adaptive Training as an advanced feature for a higher level of runner. I still do. But the implementation for a higher level of runner will require accurate inputs of Load and Recovery – ultimately this will encompass HRV. But the market is still a few years away from that point for mass-market, runners at a high standard.

Garmin COACH is going to expand to cover 10k, HM and marathon plans, you can be pretty sure of that. And you can be pretty sure that faster running schedules will come into play as well. With the coaching platform in place, it will also be expanded to cover cycling plans and maybe even adaptive triathlon plans – although that’s a notably harder thing to implement.

It’s possible that future adaptive plans could become ‘premium’ (paid-for) plans but I don’t think Garmin will do that. At least I hope they don’t. The premium is already in the price of the watch.

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18 thoughts on “Garmin Coach – Any Good ? Free Adaptive 5K Running Plan

  1. As long as you’re healthly and not too far in your golden age, anything that will make you running regulary and spread in some different intensities will make you run a sub 25min 5k.

    Right now I have the feeling that this again is a sign of over-complicating things in something as simple as running.
    But maybe this tool is just a trick to get people running regulary. So we could see it as a flavour of gamification.
    From that point: maybe it’s not as useless I thought at first 🙂

    1. hi Markus, yes I agree with the ‘anything will work’ point, which i also made in the article.

      In some sense I also agree that this does over-complicate things. However consider that the intended user might not be confident in what to do and what is best to do (we both know it probably makes little difference at this level) but a plan that apprently adapts to realworld changes WILL give the unconfident runner a degree of reassurance and confidence.

      If it is a trick to get people to run more then that’s a great trick.

      I will be intrigued to see what the take-up is in the marketplace. I hope it will be high and that garmin will do a great deal of good.

  2. For me, this is a very interesting additional features.
    After the closing of Adidas Micoach, which was not adaptive but at least customized at the creation, I had to found an alternative and I’m now a happy user of TrainAsONE.
    It integrates well with Garmin devices and platform but having Adaptive training plan directly into Garmin sounds exciting.

  3. Got an email from Garmin about this yesterday, was really interested ’til I saw the goals for the plans. My own 5k goal for this year is a little faster than 25 mins. Thought they might have just let you say what time you wanted to try for in the 5k & then come up with an adaptive plan to try and achieve it. Maybe something for the future of course.

    1. Thanks for the review, I got an email from Garmin yesterday too. I got down to 17:39 (from 21:xx) f using the5krunner plan so am proof it works. Anyone looking for a faster 5k should sign up. It’s the best few quid you can spend.

      1. I definately reckon the freebie from Garmin would have got you under 21 tho ;-). You are probably also blessed with good genes.
        ty for the kind words Nick

  4. If this is aimed at novice runners, why not include the Forrunner 35 in the supported devices? Supports workouts and I suspect it’s a more appealing price for newer runners

  5. I suspect I am one of the use cases for the adaptive plan. I’m very new to running, got okayed by my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist to start running after two major knee surgeries (and with their running plan was able to run 5 min without major issues about a week before this came out), and I already have a FR 935 which I use for cycling indoors on the trainer and swimming. Essentially I’m already used to the Garmin ecosystem, am physically capable of running, have a strong cycling (and so-so swimming) aerobic base, but am also an exceedingly novice runner. While I am not wed to the idea of eventually doing a triathlon, I suspect another market is would-be triathletes who are primarily cyclists (and already use Garmin products) and have little to no running background.

    I agree the the adaptive part of this could be improved. I’d be curious to see how the plans change based off of the initial benchmark run and the perceived effort reported after each workout. It reminds me of Zwift’s newish adaptive plans which are about as adaptive as this is. Their idea of adaptive is that it doesn’t pin you to a specific day. They also drip feed you the workouts – unlike Garmin Coach, you aren’t able to do the next workout immediately after the one you just did. I don’t, however, remember if it reacts to any rides done on Zwift outside of the plan.

    1. thank you Adam. and good luck with the runnign over the months ahead. I’d be very interested in your feedback if you follow the plan.

      to your last point about zwift, YES I think other efforts are not adapted to. that was how it seemed to me. (ie it’s not REALLY adaptive)

  6. It’s worth noting that on 29 April 2019 with the release of the new line of Forerunner watches (45, 245, 945), Garmin expanded the Garmin Coach program for other distances, including 10k and half marathon. I’m on week 2 of the Garmin Coach half marathon training plan with coach Greg, and so far so good. My main complaint is that the fastest target race time one can choose for any training plan is 7:00 min/mile. So far, that makes my training runs feel too slow for me since I’m a 6:30 min/mile racer, but I’m going to give it a chance for a few more weeks and see how it goes. My first interval workout in the plan is coming up tomorrow.

      1. Hi, I thought I’d provide an update. My Garmin Coach’ed half marathon went well. I met my goal of a sub-1:30 time just barely at 1:29:47. I really enjoyed the adaptive nature of the plan so that if I had to move a workout to another day in my schedule, the plan would accommodate it. It wasn’t a perfect experience, but it held me to a plan and helped me achieve my goal, so I’m a happy camper. I’m currently training for a marathon now and really missing having the adaptive training program on my watch. It’s hard to go back to a manual training approach after that.

  7. I do not agree on the market based element of the article. I am new to running and the coach feature is precisely what some new runners want. That was indeed the case for me and as a runner who likes tech (I am a woman and age 61) I live it. After a year of running, nine months with a Garmin, using the coach feature, I am about to embark on my first Half Marathon. I have found the plan so motivational and so enjoyable. So, runners come from all walks of life and in all shapes and sizes. Oh, and we can take a guess at what an ‘adaptive’ plan means. Actually, it is self explanatory. Well done and thanks Garmin. I am now on the run!

  8. I’m now 33 years and I have a history with semi-professional team sports. About five years ago I stopped playing and got about 10kg more weight.

    I started using Garmin coach six months ago. First my estimate 5k time was 28min and VO2max 40 (fair). Now the watch shows 5k estimate 21.20 and VO2max 51 (excellent). It’s nothing special, to be honest, but I have to admit I love how simple it is. I like how somebody said earlier, if it gets you out from the door, it’s a great app. Now I’m going to try to run 5k under 19.30 and next I’m going to check out your programs.

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