Deep Dive – Polar Vantage V Structured Training (Part 5 of 4, bonus edition)

Introduction

In this post we’ll follow on from Part 4 and conclusion where I discussed how Polar works with the M430. Before that we had part 3 about how Garmin does it, part two where I looked at Suunto and part one where I discussed the whole background of structured training. I know I said the series was finished, but this is 2018 and gadgets are never finished! This time we’re looking at the new Polar Vantage V watch. I’ll be honest, a lot of this content is the same as the M430 post and I’ve copied it for completeness. The Flow side of things is identical so feel free to skip those parts.

Polar

Now please bear in mind the Vantage V is new. Brand new. I was one of the first to receive it, having pre-ordered weeks ago. The firmware is finished and seems stable, but it’s clearly lacking some features. The menus work a little differently to the M430 and I’m not sure this is a good thing. Where before the up/down buttons would get you into the menu, they now switch watch faces and you have to press the back button to get into the menu. Swiping the screen also changes watch faces and seems like a useful addition and works well.

The Vantage updates page is at https://www.polar.com/en/vantage/updates and covers which features will be added and when. The comparison tool at https://www.polar.com/en/products/compare?product1=91059&product2=91092 shows what is currently in the launch firmware and what’s planned to arrive later.

Ad Hoc

This functionality isn’t planned until December for the Vantage series. It’s literally not even in the menu. What you can do, is plan an “ad hoc” workout from your phone and sync before you start. It’s not the same thing, but it’ll do for now I guess. I won’t cover that here because technically it’s scheduling a workout!

Structured Workouts

This functionality is in the Vantage series at launch and works almost the same way as older watches. I’ll try to highlight the differences.

To create a structured workout with Polar you get the choice of using the app or using the website. While the app does have the ability to create “proper” structured workouts, it does lack some flexibility and limits you to a warmup, a single work/rest repeat cycle with multiple repeats and cool down. In the website though you’re able to add whatever phases you like and as many repeat phases as needed. Both have the same look and feel and translating from one to the other is very easy. I’m happy to accept some reduced functionality on a mobile app to keep it easy to use, although Garmin have managed it without making things complex. Ultimately though, you’ll probably create the more complex workouts on a real computer in advance.

To get going, log in to Polar Flow and go to your diary. This is one of my quibbles with this platform, there is no apparent way to just create a new favourite. I kind of get it because Polar are all about planning and executing so you’ll always do the workout at least once. But really? I just want to create my top 5 workouts as favourites. You can favourite your workouts once you’ve created them, and reuse as often as you like, but you don’t appear to be able to just add one without also scheduling it.

In your calendar, click a future date and then add. Choose training target to create a new one, or favourite if you already have one you’d like to schedule. You’ll then be confronted with the below screen.

Here you can choose a sport, give your workout a name, and choose what time and date you’ll be doing the workout on. If you just wanted to create a favourite you can later remove the scheduled workout. To make a favourite, just click the button. Next, choose a workout type. These are all here just to save you time, the end result is the same, a list of things you need to do. Even if that list has one item, such as in the duration and distance options. Here, I’ll look at phased since it’s the fully featured option. Next you can either use a template or start from a blank page. Either way you can then make any changes you need. I like that Polar give a little guidance here, but there’s only the one template and it’s very basic so I’ve never used it.

Polar new workout

Polar allow for a lot of options here. You can add as many phases as you want and have multiple different repeat settings. Each phase will be either distance or time based, no calories in the complex workouts but I don’t see a lot of need for that in this kind of workout. There is an option for a basic calorie based workout if you need that. Once you have a phase configured for a duration you’ll then optionally set targets for that phase. These can either be free (aka no targets, alerts or beeps), HR zones, or speed zones. I don’t see an option for power zones here which could be an issue. I don’t have a PM configured within any Polar device though, so this may be hidden. I also don’t see an option for cadence, which would be a big issue for many cyclists.

I like the presentation of the targets here, it’s very clear how wide the target zone is and what you’ll be doing. There isn’t a free entry of numbers though, so you’re fully zone dependent. This is fine though and easier to use because you don’t need to remember numbers. Pace and HR zones are configured in your profile, with sensible defaults as you’d expect.
Polar Workout

Here again is my “Killer K’s” workout above to compare to Garmin. Note the below screen though, which is a really, really nice touch to see your workout phases. This is where Polar really shines as a platform. Garmin lack this kind of finishing touch which I feel detracts a little from their user experience.
Polar Favourites

During the Workout and Scheduling

Here is where we see big changes from older devices. I am certain this will change soon, but for now we have what we have. You can currently not start a favourite workout from anywhere on the watch. The only way to start a structured workout is to schedule one in the calendar. You can schedule it for today, but youย  can’t just decide to do a favourite and get going. This is kind of disapointing as it’s such a basic function. The workout is there, and the watch can use it, just there’s no way to find it and start it without a schedule.

Also of note is that there is not currently a diary on the watch. Hopefully this is coming as it’s one of the things I loved on the M430. You were able to see what was coming up in the future and have a browse. I get that mobile phones are way better for this. I do. It’s nice to have on the watch though, and I want it back!

So anyway, starting an activity. Either press and hold the OK button, or press back (menu) and then OK.

The structured workout will be at the top, press OK or back if you want to do some other activityThen there’s a screen. I don’t really know what this screen is for, but if you press OK we move on This brings you to the normal pre-workout screen. Here you see that GPS and HR are not yet ready (in red) And here the GPS is good to go (green). HR is still red as it’s not on my wrist, but it would go green if ready and a blue circle means HR strap ready. Press start and you get the usual banner telling you what workout you started Followed immediately by the phase banner for the warmup (or whatever comes next). This is nice and clear showing what I need to do in the phase. Then we’re into the phase. Up top is the zone analysis, here showing HR and beeping at me because I’m not in zone. The 91 was also flashing to say I need to bring my HR up above that number. On the bottom is the countdown which ticks away the time with the green bar. Again, this is really nice and clear. We get the standard Polar beep, beep, beep countdown to end of phase. This is very nice and is similar to the M430. Vibration is a little weaker but still very much noticable. Throughout the Vantage V you’ll get little taps on the wrist for various things to get your attention, and at the end of a phase it’s little taps leading up to a big buzz. As ever, Polar clearly put a lot of effort into the tap and buzz profiles and don’t just turn on the vibes. It’s a small thing but it makes the device more friendly and is something I’ve only really seen from Apple elsewhere. Little things matter, so kudos to Polar for bothering. Above is the work screen showing my pace target and countdown.ย  And again with a lower countdown to prove it does tick down. My pace is appalling because I’m at my desk for photography reasons… And the rest banner and rest phase This one shows the generic HR display at the top with a rainbow since I don’t have a target zone for this phase If you press down, you get the different screens you usually see. In my opinion Polar have found more vibrant colours than Garmin (as have Suunto!) even though the screens are clearly the same. This suggests Garmin have chosen the washed out look on purpose for some reason, but then they don’t generally go for bright and colourful anyway when you look accross the range. Even my “amp yellow” watch band is a washed out looking yellowy colour. Oh, and since you people ALWAYS ask this. Yes, yes you can take normal laps during a workout. As well as phase markers.The completed screen after the workout is above, you are free to carry on after this just press OK And another completed screen just to be sure.

Below you can see the phases screen on Polar Flow after the workout. This nicely displays the target zones and would show my pace if I was moving as a line through them. This makes it very easy to see whether I stayed on target or not.

And below, the same workout but I flicked to the lap view. It’s not clear here but lap 1 was taken during one of the phases while the workout was still going.

Training Plans

Polar has a mixed bag on training plans. On the one hand, their solution is brilliant. It allows you to create a program based on start and end dates (event date) as well as some questions about your fitness and preferences. In this regard it’s like having a clever coach for free.

On the other hand, it only covers running and kind of obfuscates the whole thing. I’d like to see more sports and some standard programs here. If my goal is just to run 5km and I want a way to achieve that I shouldn’t need to know an end date.

Polar Conclusion

There are limits to flexibility on the Polar platform that’s for sure, the lack of cadence and power as target intensities is a big gap in capability. I’d even go so far as to say that the lack of power zones in workouts means this is not a triathlon watch. Sure, it’s marketed as one, and it can happily record a triathlon activity for you. It can’t help you train for a triathlon though. What they have done, and done really well is to polish the options they have. Everything feels like it flows well and leads me towards my goals. Even during exercise the phase warnings are just better than the competition and make the activity easier to follow. Recovery is a truly excelent experience on the Vantage which I’ll dive into later, but I really think the feedback and guidance is a massive step forwards from Polar which the competition lacks.

Overall Conclusion

Suunto watches watch you work out, they don’t really participate in your training at this point. For that reason, it’s just not something I could recommend for athletes wanting a structured workout. It also lacks that motivational edge for the couch potato. You can have all the accuracy in the world, but if the device does nothing to help you with your goals, it’s not a training watch.
Garmin and Polar did pretty well here. I find the Garmin platform to be the most complete from a feature perspective, but that’s not what this series was about. Quite the opposite in fact, the point here was to move away from ticking boxes. Polar and Garmin both adequately tick the ad hoc and the structure boxes and include enough functionality that you will comfortably be able to train with them. Garmin does offer nicer ad hoc options once you find them (they are well hidden!). Polar were a little limited here but certainly weren’t what I’d consider a limitation for training purposes, more a nuance in the watch. Garmin, it has to be said, is the ONLY watch I would consider a triathlon watch. The Vantage V doesn’t support power workouts which these days are a definite requirement for triathlon. It’s a great running watch and great for recovery so I feel that I’d be better prepared for a triathlon using Vantage V as long as I also had a head unit on the bike to train with power. And maybe that’s OK, because watches are a faff on a bike anyway!

Functionality wise they were even Stevens on the structured creation front. Polar though take a massive win here because they thought about the athlete more. It’s easy to plan and follow your workouts, and definitely more of a pleasure to do. Garmin are a bit…functional. They’ve added all the features they could which has led to a jumbled menu and difficulty finding features and using them. You can learn to use it, but shouldn’t really have to. Garmin do redeam themselves with options like power and cadence which for some may be justification enough to use their devices in spite of the poor interface.

As far as training programs go I really have to give the award to Garmin. They have so many programs available it’s hard to fault them, and all for free as far as I can tell. If Polar widen their option beyond running and offer standard programs such as couch to 5k they’d be good here too, but as of today Garmin are the hands down winner on supplying standard workout programs.

Both Garmin and Polar really support you in your workouts and add structure, which will ultimately be what helps you hit your goals. If you need training plans to be supplied for things other than running then Garmin is your friend. For pretty much everything else though, I just find Polar more polished, and I really like their training program generator it’s just a bit limited.

21 Comments

  1. Thank you for this series. It has been excellent and really helpful.

    My request list for the next Vantage firmware is (i) target power zones, (ii) instant pace from Stryd, (iii) zone lock and (iv) a race finish time prediction display (I tell it I am racing 10k, it shows my predicted finish time according to how far I have go so far and how fast I am running).

    I would much prefer that they dropped the need to schedule a workout for a particular day. If I want to chose which one to do after stepping out of the front door, surely that is up to me!

    Still, overall the Vantage looks like it could finish up as a promising training watch after work on the firmware has been completed and the GPS perfected.

    • I’m sure they plan to allow choosing favourite workouts from the watch. It’s an easy feature to add but I’m guessing they wanted to get them out of the door this side of xmas so left a few things out. I can live with it in the mean time but it does put Garmin ahead. The Polar implementation is consistently better though, they just need to work faster to get things added (without losing the quality!).
      I added my Vector 3 pedals earlier for a test and all went perfectly well including calibration. I’ll give that a better test once the speed sensor shows up and I can get on the rollers. It’s too cold here today to go outside!

  2. nice pice which i enjoyed reading your opinions on.

    I query this point
    “Garmin, it has to be said, is the ONLY watch I would consider a triathlon watch. The Vantage V doesnโ€™t support power workouts which these days are a definite requirement for triathlon.”
    1. Garmin doesn’t support power workouts for running (via their online workout creator)
    2. Power is not a “definite requirement” for triathlon…it’s just a definite requirment for those who train with power!!..of which i’d guess there are more pure cyclists than generic triathletes. & WAY more triathletes do not use power than there are triathletes who do use it (OK maybe not at the higher end, even then i’m not sure tho)

    I would personally include things like brick workouts as being a requirement unique to a triathlon watch (the vantage can’t do that)

    • Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚
      I don’t necessarily disagree. However…almost nobody but you uses running power ;), and running power isn’t actually power as we discussed the other day so you probably wouldn’t structure workouts the same way as you would with cycling power (i.e. high power intervals with rests). In running, that’s just hill repeats ๐Ÿ™‚ I agreed with your point about what running “power” is good for, and yes Garmin ought to add that.
      Cycling power is pretty ubiquitous for serious triathletes these days. Given the time trial nature of the bike component power is the most useful metric there. Using turbo trainers power is now very much the normal metric so the ability to set up a phased training there is core functionality I’d say for a triathlete. You’re right that a lot of people don’t use power, but I still feel this is core functionality to call yourself a tri watch.
      Pretty sure Garmin supports brick workouts, although perhaps not planning them?

  3. ahhhh, stop baiting me to respond. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    at the end of IMUK the two guys next to me both had STRYD. And there’s a lot of STRYD CIQ downloads.
    Running power IS officially measured in “Whatevers”..because I said so ๐Ÿ˜‰
    yes power is useful…but how much is it used?

    sy yes garmin (properly) supports bricks but not Polar Vantage

  4. Did you try Polarโ€˜s new season planner? It popped up in Polar Flow under the Programs section a few days ago. I think no other watch manufacturer offers such a tool. Reminds me a bit of the TrainingPeaks annual training plan.

    • No I’ve not seen that one yet I’ll take a look and update. That said, my Vantage V crapped out mid-run so Polar are on my naughty step right now ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. One extra question please. Can I set a phase in a structured workout to be an indefinite length ie. to end only when I press the lap key?

    Thank you.

    • No, you do have to put a value in for distance or time. You can, however, set the phase to be manual rather than automatic. This means you’d need to press a button to move on which would achieve the same thing since it would carry on recording until you press the button to move on.
      I can’t think of a scenario where you’d want that in a structured workout though, so it may just be easier to use a normal workout and press the lap button whenever you change between work and rest.

      • Thanks. Actually I use this a lot in structured workouts. For example, when doing hill reps I set the recovery phase to have an indeterminate length. That leaves me free to press the lap button when I get back down to the bottom and am ready to run back up (or when I feel sufficiently recovered!). It is also useful to have an indeterminate warm-up phase to do some drills and strides before tackling the hard part of the workout.

        • Ah good example, yes that makes perfect sense. I don’t do hill reps as I’m not fit enough to enjoy them ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • I used to use this option when doing track repeats. Wanted the first repeat to start at a certain point of the track after the warm-up.

  6. Do Polar now insert manual lap markers, when moving between phases?

    • Laps and phases are different things on Polar. This is a very good thing. Both have markers in the file and third party sites interpret them in different ways.

      • In the past Polar has not inserted any markers in files, which means that when exported to other sites its not possible to analyze your intervals.
        Even worse is that no lap data fields on the watch cant be used during interval training.

        • Not the case on my Vantage V. As I said laps work fine and show up in Strava.

          • But, as I understand it, phases do not. So if I do a structured workout and export it to Training Peaks, I will not see the workout divided into its different phases. Is this right?

          • From what I can tell Polar put both in the file and that’s a Training Peaks issue. I’ve seen both phases and laps in external platforms but it varies by platform. This is likely due to most platforms optimising to Garmin’s way of working because they are the giant of the platforms.

          • Hmmm :/ everything broke yesterday. The planned activity I was going to show you this with didn’t actually count the phases despite successfully starting. Then when (after an hour!!) I got a planned activity to start and record, none of the laps or phases showed up in Strava despite previously working. So I gave up. As I always say, if it doesn’t work or I can’t find it, it’s not a feature and so this particular function right now is dead to me. Let’s hope they get it fixed soon.
            I also have a ticket open because recovery pro has told me not to exercise every day since I got the watch. That’s not a great training tool ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Thanks for trying! Sounds like there are a few bugs for them to sort out.

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