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Possible Avenues for new Garmin Firstbeat Physiology Features
Garmin’s acquisition of Firstbeat undoubtedly proves that physiology insights are a great way for Garmin to attract and keep buyers of its sports tech products.
But what next? As you can see from the image above of the Fenix 6 features from 2019, there was an impressive range of features even then, yet they share one trait as they are simple snippets of information about you. No complex insights, no fancy graphs and no complex maths. Simple, single numbers. And not too much has been added since. Perhaps Garmin/Firstbeat is running out of ideas?
Perhaps not. Daily Workout Suggestions were added late in 2020 and that was a significant and useful addition for those of us who want to know what to do ‘today’ based on our current likely training status. Then the Fenix 7 added RealTime Stamina, displayed Race Predictions as a trendline and the Health SnapShot.
I’m sure there were probably a few other featurettes that I can’t remember, though it seems like we can expect one significant new feature about once a year – RealTime Stamina and Daily Workout Suggestion both count as significant additions.
Before I make suggestions about possible future development, let’s look at what you guys and girls like. The results are surprising as this poll with 100s of responses shows. The most popular feature is VO2max. Whilst we might doubt the accuracy of derived measures like VO2max, you all seem to love it!
Click on view results and optionally vote.
Regular readers will expect me to suggest Running Power here, but I’ll gloss over that for now and present you with other possibilities that are more based on physiology and hence on Firstbeat’s strengths.
Detrended Fluctuation Analysis (dfa a1) is an HRV-based method that looks at changes in your heartbeat whilst you exercise. It’s complex maths but two simple outputs are physiologically-derived estimates of your anaerobic and aerobic thresholds. From that information, your ‘correct’ training zones could regularly and automatically be derived and updated.
The usefulness of this method was only ‘discovered’ recently and I wrote about it here at the time.
You can easily use DFA now if you want to with Altini’s DFA logger on Apple Watch, Fatmaxxer on Android (not tested but meant to be good), some CIQ apps or, my favourite, the AI Endurance platform.
Likelihood?: Garmin is almost certainly looking at this. I wouldn’t expect Garmin/Firstbeat to introduce anything here until 2023 at the earliest.
Q: What is a breakthrough performance?
A: It’s a personal, performance-based PB/PR over any duration and to be valid it includes the effects of fatigue and the fading, positive impact of past performances.
A simple cycling example would be a new 6-minute power Breakthrough. That breakthrough doesn’t necessarily have to be your ‘best ever’ 6-minute power but rather that it might mark an improvement on what a model predicted you could have done a month ago. Something like that. You could also have a breakthrough based on heart rate or grade-adjusted running pace.
We’ve already seen that Garmin customers like to watch VO2max increase as a mark of progress and that Garmin has changed race time predictions to now show how they trend. Both of these are examples of how we might monitor our sporty selves getting better.
But they’re both shadowy metrics. Do you really understand VO2max and how it impacts your race times? And maybe vVO2max is better but you probably haven’t heard of that one. You’ve seen race predictions before and perhaps come to the conclusion that they are rarely valid for you and the results of your training. Thus, the meaning and relevance of a breakthrough or PR/PB are more immediately obvious.
Plus, VO2max and changes to predicted race times seem to occur on a geological timescale. It seems to be ages before anything happens to either of them and that’s certainly not motivational.
It’s more likely we will see Garmin introduce breakthrough performances sooner rather than later. They meet the criteria of being digestible snippets of information that need to be derived in a fairly complex way. These factors conspire to make it difficult for a competitor to copy and improve. Garmin has more resources to do a great job.
Likelihood?: These are likely to be introduced. It will be relatively straightforward for Garmin to rejig the behind-the-scenes maths that it already uses. Breakthroughs nicely complement existing features like Workout Labels. eg a Workout could have a label of [VO2max] and a [pace breakthrough for 5’15”]. Furthermore, a power-duration breakthrough is a more concrete stat that is mostly factual and which clearly marks progress.
Garmin already has a great infrastructure for digital training plans. For example, you can create your own plan or you can buy a plan on a third party platform and it can almost invisibly sync to your Edge or Forerunner, where you can see the plan in your device’s calendar and then execute today’s workout and have it guide you through the rigours of whatever is demanded today. Your device might even be able to control resistance levels on a bike trainer that are pre-programmed into a digital workout. Clever stuff.
Garmin does this better than anyone else right now.
However, if you’ve ever compared today’s planned workout with what Garmin produces from its ‘Daily Suggested Workout” algorithm you will often see that the two are wildly different. Which is best/correct? The answer is that we probably don’t easily know. The digital plan models the impact of historical training loads alongside progressively & deliberately increased stress, whereas the Daily Workout Suggestion will be much more short-term focussed, perhaps looking at your HRV levels today and the kind of workouts you’ve recently executed before making a recommendation.
I think Garmin has more work to do there to tie together modelled ability with your actual ability and actual readiness. However, I’m not even talking about that when I say that ‘Micro-Adapted Workouts‘ could be introduced. I would class a micro-adapted workout as a single workout that adapts recovery periods and effort durations dynamically within a workout. Xert already does this (I think correctly) as do Garmin to a lesser extent eg allowing a rest period until HR falls to a recovery level.
For Garmin to produce something similar to Xert would be a quite significant piece of work that might even require fundamental changes to the elements of workouts.
Workout Compliance/Workout Scoring
Stages Cycling (Link Platform) and Stryd already have workout compliance in the platforms, as do other platforms.
Compliance is a way of scoring your completed workout against the original target. The target could be distance/duration based or it could be spending a certain amount of time in a certain zone. These are pretty fundamental things that our coaches tell us to do and which coaches will probably keep a track of. However, if you are self-coaching or following a plan, then it can be highly useful to both see how well you did in an individual workout as well as how that contributed to your overall goal. Plus a certain workout score, be it good or bad, might be the prompt that you need to analyse your workout rather than simply get in the shower and continue the day in blissful ignorance.
Likelihood?: Garmin already includes some measures around this like Garmin Coach Confidence Score but I don’t think that rigorous workout scoring and training progress will find their way to your device’s workout summary page any time soon.
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