The easy pickings from the list of ‘new metrics’ have been incorporated into the latest, greatest Garmin GPS devices. Now what? Might there be a deep, new featureset requiring the same degree of complexity as the recent Daily Workout Suggestions?
Will the next Firstbeat metrics be evolutions of the existing ones like, for example, those that have been modified to take into account heat acclimation? Perhaps others can take into account your age? Or perhaps they already do?
This article offers the following
- A recap of the current Firstbeat metrics on Garmin devices
- A vote for your favourite Firstbeat features
- I’ll add some further thoughts and then
- You can add your comments on what you would like to see in the future from Garmin-Firstbeat.
Firstbeat Metrics – An Overview
Firstbeat metrics are sensor-derived from either EPOC/HR/HRV or POWER with subsequent staging points like LTHR/AnT, FTP and VO2max. EPOC is comparable to TRIMP.
As always, these measures are only as good as the inputs. So those that come from power meters should be mostly good but those that come from heart rate will be variable in quality, especially if you use a wrist-based optical heart rate monitor.
Another way of classifying the metrics is to consider those which are updated live as you exercise, like performance condition, and those which are mostly valid once your workout is completed like an assessment of your VO2max or your recovery time. Some metrics say ‘hey you’ve achieved X’ and others put ‘X’ in context with the historical trends of your recent performances or the trending state of your fitness. Perhaps a final way of classifying them would be ‘PRO’ metrics like those I’ve just alluded to and then the more consumer-grade metrics like body battery which many more people might be interested in, including some wannabe athletes.
Hopefully, that’s set the scene. Before I recap the current suite of metrics and suggest future directions, please vote for which metrics you currently use or love. Please comment on what you would like adding at the end.
Real-Time Performance Condition
Performance Condition looks at the relationship between your running speed (or cycling power) and heart rate. It’s visible as a workout metric after 5 or 6 minutes.
Usefulness?: 7/10. It’s certainly ‘interesting’ but I’m not convinced about accuracy.
This is an at-a-glance dashboard-like feature that is available after your workout. The two arrows are self-explanatory and the textual description of your current state is handily summarized in one or two words, like PRODUCTIVE.
It doesn’t help you by giving predictions or trends on the watch and it’s unclear to what degree FATIGUE is included.
Usefulness?: 7/10. It’s interesting how Firstbeat interprets your training. When following a plan Firstbeat mostly agrees with what I would expect to see. If you are ‘randomly training’ and not following a plan then is a useful feature.
Recovery Time Advisor
This is how long you need to wait until your next hard workout.
It is useful information which I find is overstated if either my zones are wrong, my data is incomplete or if I have had HR readings that are too wrong/high. This metric is only useful if you are doing endurance training more than 3 times a week, less than that and you are probably always ready to ‘go for it’.
Usefulness? 9/10 I certainly take it into account when training frequently.
Daily Workout Suggestions
Daily workout suggestions are the pinnacle of Firstbeat‘s achievements and pull together many of the individual metrics to guide you through suggested workouts and predict the training effect. If you are not following a formal training plan these are GREAT workout suggestions that cover both running and cycling workouts
VO2max is a definitive metric of fitness, although not a measure of effectiveness. Neither is it overly actionable. I am not entirely clear what Firstbeat is showing and my VO2max can change by 3 or 4 points in a relatively short period of time. So is this showing the VO2max my performances actually demonstrate OR the VO2max I could achieve now if I had a test? I think it’s the former and so I’m not sure this is as useful as everyone thinks. That said VO2max trends are interesting.
I’m certain that VO2max calculations will be expanded to cover other sports. This will be for running based sports before ones such as rowing.
Usefulness? 5/10. In itself, I would take the number with a pinch of salt and then just look at the trends. However, a lot of Firstbeat’s other metrics are derived from VO2max so it NEEDS to be correct. But is it?
Heat & Altitude Adjustments – VO2max & TRAINING STATUS adjustments
Temperature acclimation or altitude acclimatisation are adjustments to the standard models in more extreme conditions
Usefulness? 6/10: I guess it makes the models more correct so it must be good.
Generally, the post-workout, training effect feedback data feels correct.
The two Training Effect measures are combined on one summary screen to which is added the WORKOUT LABEL (‘Tempo’, image below).
Aerobic & Anaerobic Training Effects
Endurance athletes and people trying to lose weight will want mostly aerobic training effect. Balancing the effective introduction of anaerobic workouts is tricky but important. I believe I am aerobically very fit but if I have not properly recovered when I attempt a harder workout I find it hard to score anaerobic points. That’s Firstbeat telling me I’m doing my training wrong.
Usefulness? 9/10: I really like these summary screens and the data they give.
Training Load (TL) is super-important.
And look. It even shows a rolling 7-day period. You don’t know how many other companies simply show the standard 7-day week on many charts.
Firstbeat gives us an indication of TL as an accumulation and trend of EPOC but strips out periodized effects. It also gives few insights into the anaerobic breakdown and breakdowns by sports for multisport athletes.
Usefulness?: 7/10. Training Load is useful but masks the complexity that lies beneath.
Training Load FOCUS
TL Focus attempts to classify your zone-based loads against the optimal. It’s wrong. It doesn’t show the optimal for your race duration nor for the periodised state of your training right now.
Usefulness? 7/10. Useful and needs to be MORE useful.
Fistbeat uses the AnT/LTHR Lactate threshold and HRV data from a chest strap. It’s the point above which your performance becomes increasingly inhibited by lactate buildup. Handily you also get the running pace at which this happens.
Usefulness? 9/10. This is a fundamental metric for endurance athletes and yet I feel Firstbeat is often wrong and obviously influenced by erroneous HR readings.
This is effectively the same as LTHR but translated into a power value. FTP does not properly account for fatigue when you want to use it to determine how to perform. Firstbeat now seems to be able to determine FTP from time periods other than 20 minutes, which is how it should be.
Usefulness? 9/10. FTP and power are super-useful but not a panacea for world domination.
Race Time Predictor
I’ll stick with the 645’s image, above, as it’s flattering 😉 Being more honest, the newer predictions from Firstbeat’s latest race-time algorithm appear accurate.
Usefulness? 7/10. It’s nice to know what you might be able to do with specific training.
Hey. You know what calories are. And you can see them trended in lots of exciting ways.
Usefulness? 5/10. I mean calories in/out are obviously important but…you’re an athlete worried about training too much rather than eating too much, right?
I’ve always wanted this metric and knew it was possible YEARS ago from HRV-derived data. Now that I have it, I’m not quite sure what to do with it.
In some sports lab tests, Ventilatory Threshold (VT) is marked. Maybe there is usefulness related to identifying VT?
Usefulness? 5/10. I mean, breathing is obviously important but….do I target a higher breathing rate or monitor it over time?
All-day Stress and Recovery
This is HRV-based and superficially interesting data but I’d like to see the science that validates it (it doesn’t).
Usefulness? 3/10 – It seems to identify and mirror the stresses in your life.
Quick Stress Level Test
These HRV readings can indicate stress of some form but I wouldn’t place too much value on any stress reading other than one taken when you first wake up.
Usefulness? 3/10. Unless you are a stressed-out person, then it will stress you out some more.
Body Battery combines All-day Stress data, physical activity, and the restorative power of sleep into a single & easily understood metaphor. It’s perhaps indicative at best.
The Future of Firstbeat Metrics – 2021
2021 will see evolution, not revolution. For example, with VO2max being calculated for new sports
The most likely inclusion of new Firstbeat metrics will be around running power as a means of determining effort, new metrics will mirror the equivalent Firstbeat metrics derived by cycling power. This will happen only if Garmin introduce native running power and wrist-based running power calculation (or their own pod to rival STRYD). I think we shall see a native running power by Q2.2021 with the Firstbeat components following later.
My other hope is to see closer attention paid to training load and its constituent parts plus the presentation of its data.
The Firstbeat metrics are all closely intertwined behind the scenes. However, in my opinion, they do not gel together as a coherent feature set from the athlete’s perspective. I can’t offer any specific advice to Garmin but hope that Garmin will ‘tidy up’ the display and presentation of all the metrics both individually and how they might flow from one to another.
Less likely, we might see Garmin introduce onboard body temperature sensors. This would come with the ELEVATE v4 oHR sensor and the data could improve the quality of the sleep and recovery-based metrics.
What do you think?