Hack your new Garmin Watch or Bike Computer
This is an overview of the best settings to enable on your new Garmin Forerunner triathlon/running watch or on your new Garmin Edge bike computer.
Let’s assume you have successfully paired your Garmin to the Garmin Connect app for the first time.
Garmin Day 1: Let’s start off with some insights into the most useful settings to get you going in the right direction.
Note: User Level – Newbie
Data Fields & Sport Profiles
You could have a sports profile for ultra running or for track running and perhaps a bike profile for your MTB and road bike. You can have different sets of screens for each sports profile and different elements on all of those screens. These will end up being highly personal to your specific needs.
For today, my suggestion would be to keep things simple and start out with the following metrics on just one profile.
- Total elapsed time or distance, whichever is your thing. It gives you some sense of how long you’ve been out and perhaps how long it might be before you need to head back home.
- Instant Speed/Pace: Most runners will eventually find it best to work on pace rather than speed ie the time taken to do a km or mile. Thus 4:00/km is the pace required to do a 20 minute 5k (15km/h). On the other hand, cyclists will prefer speed mph or km/h probably because higher cycling speeds above 15mph can be better comprehended in relation to the speeds you might drive your car at.
- Instant Effort: Effort & speed are different. It’s good to know how hard you are trying. Speed/pace can give you that but, for starters, heart rate is perhaps a better indicator of what’s going on inside your body.
- Technique: Understanding your current cadence is the metric that can help you get those ‘low hanging fruits’ of improved technique. Broadly speaking your running cadence/footfall should be over 170 per minute and your cycling cadence comparable at around 85rpm (2x 85=170). The optimal is usually said to be slightly higher than both of those numbers (180/90) but if you are currently lower you should work to progressively change your technique over time rather than aiming for a super-high number now. My running cadence is 180-190 and my bike cadence is 85-95 though it can go up to 120 (or higher when performing drills)
So that’s your 4 metrics for one screen of a running watch. Some Fenixes can support 6 metrics/screen and obviously, a bigger bike computer can show significantly more.
I would suggest that you just use the raw number for now and don’t get involved in HR zones or speed/pace zones. You normally need a test to establish your zones. That’s a job for next week. Once you have done those tests then there are some quite pretty charts and dials you can display, if that’s your thing, or you can add alerts to notify you if you stray from target zones. Maybe that’s a job for the week after next!
Better and more advanced metrics require a power meter both for your bike and for running (Stryd). If you are contemplating either of those then you have already figured out that this guide is too newbie-focussed for you 😉 That said, 3-second or 5-second power averages are perhaps the ultimate proxies for your true instantaneous effort levels. Power meters start at £200, let’s hope your birthday is soon.
You’ve already realised that the screen I just suggested to you is very much ‘of the moment’ ie for what’s happening to you NOW. Garmin also has special autolap screens which periodically appear. I would suggest that for a watch you set the autolap as 1km or 1mile. For a bike, I would suggest 10-minutes.
Completed laps will appear on your Garmin AND ALSO in your post-workout stats. Thus, when you complete 1km, a temporary screen pops up on your watch and gives you the time it took for that 1km lap. The same 1km lap will appear afterwards in your stats. You can customise the appearance of the autolap screen and on a Garmin Edge bike computer, you can customise it a lot! The lap averages that you choose can indicate if you need to speed up or slow down to meet a pre-determined target.
If you happen to be doing laps of the park or intervals then you can manually press ‘lap’ on a Garmin and that simultaneously ends the active autolap. You would do this to make the laps coincide with a change in effort or correspond to a ‘geographic lap’ of some sort.
The next more advanced use of laps would be where you display a combination of a ‘lap average’ with an instantaneous reading on one of the screens you show all the time. For example, LAP PACE and INSTANT pace are both needed for you to determine if you need to speed up or slow down to hit a certain target (think about it!). You could have both of these simultaneously displayed on a watch or bike screen. However, from my experience people tend to have separate pages for lap metrics and instant metrics. The great thing with a Garmin is that you use a button to switch between these screens when you are tired and sweaty…Apple Watch users will find it hard to use their touchscreen for the same purpose.
You don’t need a Strava account but they’re free and most people who run/bike have one these days. it can sometimes be fun to compare stats with friends, so why not sign up today? You can send stuff TO Strava for free but to download LIVE SEGMENTS to your Garmin you will need a Strava subscription.
Strava also uses a cool conept called Relative Effort,which helps you understand how hard you are trying compared to your previous workouts or to other propel in your group.
Linking up your Garmin to Strava via the smartphone app is super-easy and the pairing process you’ve already gone through should have prompted you to do that. Now, all your completed workouts will be sent to Strava for you to share (or not) with the world. Strava also has privacy zones and it’s important to make sure you have those set up to disguise your places of residence and work.
If you are already a paying Strava subscriber, once you connect your Garmin, you should have all your favourite segments and routes/courses copied TO your Garmin if your Garmin supports that. Your Garmin can then guide your performances over those segments and routes.
Some of the more advanced watches/bike computers have ClimbPro. This is a cool, hill-based feature that guides you up specific hills with all the hill-specific info you could want. This will only be available if you are following a course with a pre-loaded elevation profile OR navigating using a map that’s built into your Garmin.
Physiology & Activity, Sleep, VO2max and more
Most of these features take a while to kick in and require you to have performed several workouts.
All you can really do right now is tell Garmin your usual sleep/wake times (as it will otherwise guess incorrectly) and then forget about it for a week or so until Garmin has properly assessed you. There are a large number of physiological insights and activity related insights that Garmin shows over time.
There are also some interesting and market-leading menstrual cycle tracking features for those that need them.
Special Sensor Settings
For best GPS accuracy you should probably choose GPS+GLONASS for Fenix 6, Edge 830/530/1030+, FR945/FR745, for most older Garmin devices you’ll probably find GPS-only has the same accuracy AND GPS-only will make the battery last longer…so use that. Garmin’s upcoming watches and bike computers in late-2021 and 2022 will use power-gobbling dual-frequency GPS but that COULD be good to use to get the super accuracy that has been eluding us for years.
Blood Oxygen/SpO2 and EKG/ECG – unless you know what these are you almost certainly won’t need them. Just turn them off and make your battery last longer (I do).
Some of the high-end Garmin watches use HRV. Now, that IS worth tracking even if you don’t know what it means. If you keep 24x7HR monitoring enabled then Garmin will, over time, build up some insightful stats for how your body reacts to your lifestyle. Let’s leave it at that for now, as this topic gets very sciencey, very quickly. Although an interesting one to check out today would be ‘body battery’ which lets you see how your body’s energy is depleted and replenished throughout the day. Note: there is a special setting to log HRV during workouts…you do NOT need to enable that, just leave that one alone.
If you are concerned about battery life then some Garmin devices have power profiles that can help you save juice. Failing that, it’s good to know that GNSS (GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO) the optical heart rate sensors, music playback and the screen backlight are perhaps the biggest battery-eaters. So if your battery goes flat on Day 1 then you’ve probably had those on WAY too much. Garmin DOES have notably superior battery lives to those on Fitbit/Google/Apple watches so it really is a case of getting those settings just right for your usage. Tip: Use GPS-only and turn of SpO2, which solves most battery problems.
Many of you will want a plan to guide your efforts.
Most of us don’t want to waste time doing the wrong kinds of exercise or risk injury. That applies to newbies and pros alike.
Unless you know what you’re doing, it really is best to follow a plan. You can pay for plans if you want to but most of you will benefit from the free Garmin Training Plans. Runners should check out Garmin Coach, which will be in your Connect app (or online as shown above) and there you can choose free adaptive plans to support you toward common race distances. These cover running abilities up to around 23 mins/5km, so that’s the majority of runners covered. Tip: ‘Adaptive plans’ mean that you can follow them one day and not the next day, the plan knows what you’ve done and adjusts accordingly.
More advanced athletes will be able to synchronize workouts from their 3rd party training platforms directly onto the watch’s calendar. This should be a 100% seamless process and the workout for today should just magically appear on your watch or bike computer and you should be automatically prompted to do today’s workout.
All workouts should provide differing degrees of guidance as you execute them ranging from simple alerts to voice guidance, w/earbuds.
Tip: Garmin Coach and Garmin Daily Workout Suggestions are two different things. Both are good and the latter is great at simply telling you what the optimal workout for you today might be based on your recent performances. Good for ALL levels of athletes who are not currently following a plan.
Garmin CIQ = Connect IQ = Garmin app store
The term ‘app’ is confusing in Garminland. A Garmin CIQ app is a specific kind of sports functionality in the Garmin ecosystem. CIQ also has WIDGETS and DATA FIELDS which most people would also think are apps. So there are 3 kinds of Garmin ‘apps’ plus watch faces. #Confusing
A great watch face to play with today is CRYSTAL, shown in the image above. It looks quite nice and has many configurable elements on it that will give you something to play with for half an hour or so. To do that first download the Connect IQ store app…that’s a different app to Garmin Connect #PerhapsConfusing. You could also download the watchface from the same place by using Garmin Express on your PC…#AlsoConfusing.
Your Garmin watch or bike computer is probably already complicated enough as it is. Perhaps leave adding an app until later unless there is some VERY specific feature you want.
Once you’ve downloaded your ‘app’ here’s broadly how you use it and usage varies between Garmin devices so I can’t generalise too much or too usefully for you 🙁 :
- Tip: You start a Garmin APP as if it is a new sport profile
- Tip: You add WIDGETS to the watch menu that is accessed by the buttons usually on the left-hand side
- Tip: You find CIQ Data Fields in their own grouping and there may be a limit of 2 on Forerunners/Fenix and HIGHER LIMIT on Edge devices.
My Favourite Features & Settings
I’ve used Garmin devices for many years. Strangely the more I use them the more many of my daily usages come back to the simple settings I’ve covered above!
I use these right now (but frequently change)
- STRYD Running Power Meter and the STRYD Zones data field
- I use the super-accurate instant pace that comes from a running pod, like STRYD
- I use the Lumen Fat/Carb widget.
- I rarely use any Garmin apps (true Gramin apps or Garmin widgets, I mostly use data fields)
- I use instant heart rate from my Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap. I don’t use optical HR, except on some indoor workouts when I use a Polar Vertiy Sense arm strap
- I do not use the fancy Garmin gait metrics like Vertical Oscillation and Ground Connect Time. I don’t need to look at cadence as I can accurately feel it.
- I use 1KM autolaps
- I don’t really use alerts with Garmin but do with other vendors’ products
- I periodically use STRAVA Live Segments
- I automatically sync courses from RideWith GPS, Garmin, Strava and Komoot
- I occasionally sync structured workouts from Training Peaks to my Garmin. I’ve just started following an HIM plan…on an antiquated spreadsheet, so much for tech!
- I have a weird indoor swim machine which I use a power field for as well as a muscle oxygen sensor (that’s NOT the same as blood oxygen)
- I mostly use an Apple Watch 6 for 24×7 lifestyle things, including sleep and recovery, and then a sports-specific device for running, cycling, swimming, triathlon (Forerunner 945)
- I use Di2 on my Cervelo R5 with a semi-synchro shift. Occasionally I use special Di2 data fields to graphically show me what gear I’m in. Sometimes I look at the gears instead 😉
- I use Garmin Varia Radar (you should get one, it is THE BEST safety device for cycling and 100% recommended). This gives you special displays and sounds on many Garmins when cycling, even watches.
- I use a bike power meter either Shimano R9100p or Favero Assioma. Sometimes Stages Gen3. I just look at the 3s average power or lap normalised power and rarely any of the fancy cycling dynamics metrics.
- Recently I enjoyed the FORM swim goggles and their live head-up display when lake swimming.
- I have a really clever app-controlled physio machine that makes post-workout recommendations based on what my Garmin recorded. Cool…but probably a gadget too far! It’s called PowerDot.
- Garmin Connect is now good for post-workout insights and better than vanilla-STRAVA. Stick with Connect for now. I tend to use other more complex platforms for sports data analysis like Xert, strive.ai and Golden Cheetah.
What to buy next 😉
- Garmin HRM-PRO – accurate HR
- STRYD – Accurate running pace and running power
- A Bike power meter
- Garmin Varia Radar
- Sadly/Luckily your watch or bike computer will be superseded within 24 months, so you can then buy the next iteration 😉
Please feel free to add your own suggestions below or to ask questions.