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

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

What Is Garmin Coach ?

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 😉

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

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.

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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