Firstbeat: Daily Workout Suggestions aka “Secret Sauce”
Firstbeat’s last and potentially greatest metric was recently squeezed into the Edge 1030 Plus with very little fanfare to announce its full capabilities. I hinted at what it could deliver for the Fenix/945 a couple of weeks ago and a few people did pick up on the hint but not too many. Well, now is the time to spill some beans. I’m talking about 10 beans and not a whole tin full – get excited if you like beans…but not too excited.
Return to: Garmin Edge 1030 Plus Review
Partly this post is a celebration of all-things-Firstbeat and partly it’s a celebration of ‘about time’. Mostly today’s timing of this post is just to say ‘Thank You For The Ride‘ to Firstbeat which was recently acquired by Garmin. Of course, we now look forward to the continued journey but perhaps to a new and more exciting destination.
What’s the new
You’ve already seen part of its manifestation in the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus (Review here) where Garmin has effectively renamed part of the base Firstbeat feature set as “Daily Workout Suggestion”. So, it’s not really a ‘metric’ or number it produces something much richer than that, in fact, it produces a fully executable workout for you each day which you can either choose to be guided by or simply ignore and do something else.
This workout is a series of instructions that could, for example, control your smart turbo trainer with all the clever alerts that can come with that. But that ‘executable workout container’ is now standard Garmin functionality and nothing to do with Firstbeat per se. Equally, you could create your executable workout or download one from another 3rd part training provider and stick it into the same container and it would work for your swim/ride/run in the same way.
So, the clever Firstbeat piece is the logic that creates a SUITABLE workout for you
What kind of workouts are created by Daily Workout Suggestions?
There are 3 broad types of workout namely, TEMPO, BASE BUILDING and THRESHOLD rides. Added on top of that are also SPEED and ANAEROBIC PERFORMANCE CAPACITY workouts. Those will all be standard workout types to many of you, the cleverness is in the tailoring of the intensity, duration and mixes of ride types that are specified for you. And there is much cleverness going on here, for example, Firstbeat specifically states that today’s workout suggestion is based on the historic distribution of their ‘workout labels’ (achieved workout types) amongst other things.
Wait a minute…Firstbeat did this before for Suunto didn’t they?
Kinda…but, no. In 2018 Firstbeat provided Adaptive Training logic to the Suunto 3 Fitness watch.
My take on that earlier adaptive training for Suunto was that it prescribed a workout’s Training Effect Target mostly based on the cumulative training load (most probably just the total load with no anaerobic/aerobic breakdown). A nice twist was that the athlete was also guided toward their target during the execution of the workout and indeed you could see that progress for yourself if you displayed TRAINING EFFECT on the Suunto 3. One limitation placed on Suunto was that the adaptive training was only really intended for those who trained up to about 5 hours per week.
Daily Workout Suggestions takes this to a whole new level and extends the relevance to those athletes performing more than 5 hours of training each week ie to most people reading this article.
Firstbeat Daily Workouts – inputs
In Garmin’s marketing for this feature on the Edge 1030 Plus they state that the inputs come from “current training load and VO2max“. Whilst that’s fundamentally true, the logic is broader and also encompasses the training load distribution capability (Load Focus) and workout history from the Workout Labels.
Training Load requires a power meter when cycling, so I assume the same holds true for Training Load FOCUS. Plus, for all this Firstbeat stuff to work, it is sensible that you use reasonably-accurate sensors.
Thus the inputs are the based in some ways from the info you see on the following kinds of screens on all the higher-end Garmin devices.
Using Garmin/FB features over several years has made me bored with some features and excited by others. I find that in more recent months it is EXACTLY these 2 Firstbeat features that most keep my interest. Perhaps, that was partly because I was trying to do the next step of creating my next, best workout in my head? Now Firstbeat does the next step.
Firstbeat Advanced Workout Recommendation – Secret Sauce
Assumption: The Edge’s new Firstbeat Daily Workouts are a subset of the wider Firstbeat Advanced Workout Recommendations
OK, so I’m making a slight leap here. I’m assuming that Firstbeat’s “Advanced Workout Recommendation”, which was released at the same time as Garmin/Firstbeat’s “Daily Workout Suggestion”, is all part and parcel of the same overall feature. I think references to ‘Advanced Workout Recommendations’ have now been removed from Firstbeatanalytics.com but you can find the info if you are sufficiently motivated (I’m not, it was just there when I looked and I copied it 😉 ). You can see from the Firstbeat images that follow that there are also SLEEP quality inputs to the calculations, as well as the inputs I outlined earlier.
I like the Edge 1030 Plus a lot…but I don’t sleep with it. So will the new Advanced Workout Recommendation’ feature will take sleep data from another Garmin watch/band? I don’t know, but I assume it will. Maybe that ability will be added later this year?
If you have a 945 or Fenix 6 then, once these features are fully enabled, you should be able to work the entire Advanced Workout Recommendation piece on a single watch – the Edges can only get sleep quality from another Garmin wearable.
What Else is in Firstbeat’s Advanced Workout Recommendations?
As well as previous activities and sleep quality, the algorithms also adjust for daily stress levels. Jeez if only they were also on the Edge 1030 Plus. Oh…wait a minute…
Firstbeat also talks about “repeat dynamic intervals“. I shouldn’t read too much into this (but I’m going to 😉 ). This could simply mean that the intervals for the session are determined dynamically at the outset OR it could mean that effort levels, durations and recoveries are varied dynamically throughout each workout as you fatigue, I’d like to think the latter was true. Checkout Jem’s post here for more on the sports science on that topic (a long read but I got to the end).
Finally, Firstbeat further states that there is “consistency and variety” to their workouts ie there is more than one workout available in Firstbeat’s library for a given workout objective – a simple example might be that they have a 2×20 mins and a 3×15 min pair of threshold workouts.
Goals of Advanced Workout Recommendations (AWR)
This is a little bit hazy to me as the AWR documentation says that the broad goal is to improve VO2max and hence improve your aerobic performance capacity. Fair enough. However, the documentation also talks about periodisation and at least in my mind that needs a race-day to work towards
Periodisation: Simplistically you might increase your training load by 30 mins a week for 5 weeks and then have an easy 6th week before resuming the stimulus to higher level over another 5/6 week period. I would determine those periods BACKWARDS from my target race day.
Clearly Firstbeat physiologists will also definitely know that as training progresses closer to race day a different balance of LOADS is required.
Triathlon? You mentioned that
Advanced Workout Recommendations are documented by Firstbeat to cover running, cycling and general cardio activities and they also state that “Cycling computers will likely not offer running workout suggestions, and many running specific watches may not generate cycling recommendations.” I did ask about swimming but got a response something along the lines of ‘no-one really understands that’, which might sound a little disheartening BUT I would still agree with the sentiment! I look at my swimming training loads and workout labels (based on swim heart rate zones) and the fatigue from such an upper body workout just doesn’t impact my ability to perform a run workout the next day as much as the impact from cycling would…at least on me, it doesn’t.
This Firstbeat Advanced Workouts Recommendation is clearly targetted at triathlon-capable watches but when might they appear? I would say that just as ‘Daily Training Suggestions‘ were one of the few headline features for the Edge 1030 Plus then it’s not a massive leap of faith to see Advanced Workout Recommendations adding the icing to the cake that will be the Forerunner 955 or Fenix 6 Plus/7 later this year or next.
It’s possible that this whole set of functionality could replace the existing Garmin Coach. My guess is that it’s more likely that the ADVANCED Workout Recommendations are a premium feature for a premium watch/bike computer. Indeed, remember that Garmin coach initially targetted 5k runners with times over 23 minutes – about 50% of UK parkrunners meet that criteria.
The main issue is that proper adaptive training plans are just crazily complicated and some element of generalisation will inevitably make the personalisation you receive less than perfect. Simply put, “Will you trust it not to waste your time?” and “Will anyone use it, despite the hordes that have clamoured for it in recent years?”
If you put those doubts to one side, a straightforward recommendation of what to do today based on quite a bit of science is probably better than you just heading out the door and working out what you are going to do for the next 2 hours as you calibrate your power meter. ie in most cases, it has the potential to help most of us most of the time.
These are some other issues that would need clarification
- How Is the Impact of Strength Workouts incorporated? – For example, Polar claims to do this with their Muscle Load algorithm
- How does Firstbeat’s periodisation cope with tapering? Many of us respond differently to different intensities during a taper, or at least we claim to.
Properly adaptive triathlon training programs must be the holy grail of sports tech. Having an end-to-end solution from measurement to guidance through an adaptive workout inside a wristwatch would be truly impressive for a triathlon. I don’t think Firstbeat is quite there yet but I bet they are as close or closer than anyone else has yet come.