Deep Dive – Garmin Structured Training (Part 3)

Introduction

In this post we’ll follow on from part two where I discussed how Suunto does it and part one where I discussed the whole background of structured training. This time we’re looking at the Garmin platform. As mentioned previously I used a Fenix 5/Forerunner 935, Spartan Trainer Wrist HR, and a Polar M430 for these posts. I believe all platforms are now relatively similar between models which support these features but will say sorry in advance if the detailed instructions don’t match with your device. I can’t check them all! Please comment if your device is significantly different to what I say here so others can help/be helped.

Garmin

Garmin have a nice and comprehensive offering around structured workouts. Everything you’d expect is supported and seems to work well. Interfaces have some quirks which may be personal preferences so although I was annoyed because things were hard to find on a watch I’ve had a while, I will accept that others may not have this issue.

Ad Hoc

I had a bit of a sense of humour failure with Garmin when testing some of these features. Maybe it’s me, but even with the manual it took me a long time to find the functionality. User interface design is important, and the menu system on my Fenix 5 is a poor example of this. Workouts are not in the main menu and they aren’t in the activity start screen, so you have to know that to get to them you need to actually get to the pre-start screen for an activity type, and then press menu and you get another new menu unavailable elsewhere. This doesn’t feel intuitive to me, I’d have expected to be able to find my available workouts right next to History in the top level menu.

To get to the ad hoc training on your Garmin:

  • Press Start
  • Select sport
  • Press Start
  • Hold Menu
  • Select Training

From here you have a few options, firstly you can set a target distance or time, and the watch will count you down until you hit that target.

There’s also a nifty feature to target distance and time. With this you’d set your distance, such as a 5km run and the time you expect to complete it in.

The watch is clever enough to use your PB if available on the watch. Now when you run you’ll get a display showing how far ahead or behind you are on the pace. This is great for motivation and really nice for pacing too.

Alternatively, if you’d like a little more structure in your workout you can select intervals. This allows you to create ad hoc intervals with a warm up and cool down phase as well as intervals with a work and rest component.

The work can be time or distance based as well as open (open means lap key is pressed to move to the next phase). Rests can also be time, distance or open. Additionally you have the ability to repeat the interval as many times as you like.

Once you’re ready you just select to “Do Workout” and you’ll press start to begin. If you have warm up or cool down you’ll need to press lap to decide when to move on since these don’t have countdowns, which I think is a fair trade-off to keep the interface simple.

Structured Workouts

Garmin support creating full structured workouts on either the mobile app or the web app. There doesn’t appear to be a function on the watch to create workouts at this time. Thankfully the process seems identical between online and app these days, so once you understand one you’ll also understand the other. From the menu select Training and then Workouts. You also have the option here of Training Plans, which are predefined training regimes to reach a specific goal. At this moment in time I can only see a single plan in the mobile app which is couch to 5k running. The web interface has lots to choose from though and these will appear in the app under calendar once you add them in. They weirdly didn’t show up under Training Plans though, so maybe a bug in the app there or unfinished features. Training plans seem to all be free from what I saw, so a really great feature for those of us who don’t know how to make our own.

In the create workout page you can add in as many phases as you need, and repeat any subsection as many times as you like. This is really, really flexible as I show below with a completely arbitrary set of requirements. Do not copy this workout, it won’t help you!

Garmin New Workout

Garmin do limit to specific sports for these, although I don’t think that’s too unreasonable since swim, run, bike tend to be where you’d do this kind of workout anyway. That said, Polar allow any sport and there’s no technical reason not to support every workout type. My thinking is that Garmin have focused the interface for simplicity as we saw in some instances on the Suunto. If that’s the case, it’s not shining through (unlike the Suunto). A few extra sports choices would change very little. That said, the strength training and cardio options are very numerous and will cover most use-cases for most people. I couldn’t get all of them in, but believe me that you’ll likely find what you need.

You then get some options specific to strength training in your phases such as reps.

For a run, you see a different list, and cycling is the same but adds in power options.

If you then click “Add more” you can set intensity for your phase. This is good because we can now control everything, first the duration whether it’s time, distance, an HR target or other. Next intensity keeps you within a zone you wanted. Importantly, you can use HR for both but only the first one will move to the next phase while the second just alerts you that you’re over/under doing it.

These options are what I consider to be comprehensive and I have no real complaints here. These devices can really push you in any way you or your coach can think of.

Below you can see a real structured workout, which I have permanently on my watch. This “killer K’s” came from a running magazine years ago and I use it a lot for speed workouts. It’s the one I showed in part one as a graph after the workout.

Garmin workout

As you can see, a nice simple warm up with repeats and a cool down.

On the watch, to start an activity do the following:

  • Press start activity
  • Select an activity type
  • Press start
  • Press and hold menu
  • Select Training
  • Select My Workouts
  • Choose workout
  • Select Do Workout
  • Wait for GPS and sensors as usual
  • Press start to start your activity and let the training begin

During the Workout

As requested, I’m adding this section in to show the details during workouts. Sorry for the poor screenshots – I’m suffering a hangover (yes, I see the irony) so getting a shot of the device during a run with pace numbers was a step too far today! I think I’ve captured enough to show the details though.

Once you’ve selected a suitable workout, the watch will sit on this screen until you press start. This shows the first phase, in this case a 10 second warmup (this workout was purely to demo these images, don’t copy it!)

Once you have GPS signal and sensors connected, press start and you see this screen as usual but with the phase name at the top.
During the phase, you’ll see this timer screen. The 0:03 is time remaining and the blue bar gets smaller as you approach the end. I really like this concept, but the blue is a little washed out for my liking so hard to spot while running. It’s certainly better than just a counter though.
When your phase is finished, you’ll get a banner showing details of the next phase, indicated by a beep (quite a weak beep on the Fenix 5, better on the Forerunner 935). Here, we’re starting a 15 second phase where I’m to run between 2:00 and 2:15 minutes/km. With this hangover, I managed…no distance at all.
But you do then see a pretty good performance screen with your pace and a simple indicator showing whether you’re on target. This is a really good screen to help keep pace.
When finished you get the next phase info, we don’t get “lap” info here as there’s more work to do. The summary should really be the same as the phase banner at the start if you kept pace so this is a good thing and stops you getting distracted.
Cool down looks the same as warmup with that little blue bar.
And finally it says you’re done for the day. Whether you now decide to press stop is up to you; by default the watch reverts to normal activity mode with lap button intact. You can continue as long as you want, but bear in mind that we structured this for a reason so don’t overdo it. I sometimes feel like a little more cool down is needed, or I continue at a light jog to get home/to the car and it’s nice to record this extra part.

During the workout, the lap button moves you to the next phase. I don’t really like this behaviour as I’d still like a secondary lap function. As with when Garmin does auto-laps there is only one lap type available. Once the activity is complete you can take further laps as you wish.

Both Garmin and Strava show the phases. Garmin refer to them as splits and Strava as laps. Strava uses the word split to mean a km or mile pace so you have to look at a different screen to see your lap info. Personally I’d rather see laps on the main screen, but that’s really a personal preference.

Scheduling

To schedule a workout in Connect go to Calendar and click the date you want to add a workout for. Choose add workout and you can choose an existing workout or create a new one. And you’re done. This is how computers should behave. The workout will then sync down to your watch calendar.

The training calendar is difficult to access on the watch. So much so that I can honestly say I would not choose to use this feature on the watch other than to start an activity I already knew I needed to do. It’s my firm belief that if I have a workout scheduled I should be made aware of that by the watch, otherwise why is it even scheduled? The watch doesn’t alert you to planned activities, it just stores them in the calendar which you have to know is there.

The full process to check if I have training scheduled today is:

  • Press start activity
  • Select an activity type
  • Press start
  • Press and hold menu
  • Press down to select Training
  • Press start
  • Press down, 6 times to select Training Calendar (or press up if you already knew it was last on the list
  • Press start
  • You can now see workouts scheduled

Really? And you want me to do that every day on the off chance I have something scheduled. No thanks. I checked and couldn’t see a way to add this function to the shortcuts (called “Controls” in Garmin speak). Of course I could use the mobile app or Connect website. But then, why did I spend nearly a thousand pounds on a training watch?

Training Plans

Garmin have lots of training programs available for you to use. These are like having a coach if you already have a goal. In Connect on the web, go to training plans and you’ll get the below search page.

You can filter and search for what you need, and the system will then guide you through scheduling based on an event date or start date. This is really, really useful to the average person who just wants to enter a charity 5k or their first half marathon. The various workouts will then be added to your calendar so you can see what’s coming. They’ll sync to your watch too, so all you need to do is turn up and train. And that’s what this series is about.

Conclusion

Garmin have almost all the features you’d ever want. They support structured workouts in all of the main sports, the web and mobile apps both allow creation and scheduling of workouts. Some things are hard or awkward to find, however, so a few points lost for that. Overall, I’d say that Garmin have done a good job, and these devices really can help you with your training and push you forwards to success in whatever targets you set for yourself.

 

Now read the fourth and final part

18 Comments

  1. A few questions:
    – Can you set interval average pace as a target? i.e. 1K@4:30min/km I miss it in Polar’s watches. Race pace on V800 looks great but it’s only for the whole activity.
    – What does the interface during workouts look like? Notifications at interval ends? That’s equally important….
    – Does it produce real laps at interval boundaries? Polar does not.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’ll update the post later today with some new content to answer your questions.

    • Done!
      Yes (and see new screen shots above)
      Agree, see above
      Yes

  2. Thanks for this series which is really useful. I think workouts is a feature of GPS watches to which reviewers give insufficient attention. I agree with Greg’s comment above. The interface during the workout is important.

    Garmin 935 and Fenix now do this relatively well, with a clear interval count in blocky text at the bottom (2/10 for 2nd of 10 reps) of the principal workout screen. This screen shows three variables: on the top there is the value of whatever you have chosen to target (pace/HR/cadence etc.) under a coloured semi-circular gauge with an arrow showing the same thing. You can’t customize the two other variables shown in the bottom half of this screen which is a pity. I think the watch choses them according to your target eg. lap distance, lap time. You can though create your own screens and scroll up or down to them from the workout screens (the other workout screens show written cues/messages for each step which you insert in Garmin Connect).

    The upper and lower limits of your target pace/HR zones are completely customizable and don’t have to corresponding to your Garmin connect zones.

    Each step is a separate ‘lap’. If Polar doesn’t do this, I would be interested to see how the post-workout analysis shows up?

    The alarm which sounds when you stray outside your target pace/HR zone etc. is OK, but when you go back into the target zone the watch shows a screen telling you so, hiding the workout screen for a few seconds. This can be annoying if you are at the limit of a target zone and keep flipping in and out of it.

    • Thanks to both of you. I know a lot more now.
      More questions:
      – interval end: V800 does a nice thing: it beeps/vibrates like 4..3..2..1..0 with 0 at the end of an interval (regardless of work or rest), so you’re not surprised; you can use that time to get up to speed at the end of the rest interval – how about Garmin?
      – interval average pace – can you get it? when training I prefer to go by average pace, not pace range, due to how GPS works; anyway – that’s how my plans were made, e.g. 1.5K warmup + 6x(1K@4:30min/km+90sec rest) + 1.5K cooldown
      And an answer: V800 does a kind of internal lap markers so you can analyze your workout in Flow. But these are not available in exported files, so no analysis in external platforms/apps. Also these are not real laps, so you can’t get a lap average pace even if you put such a field on your display. And you can’t mark a manual lap at the time of interval changes because it does not let you.

      • I’ll test the Garmin one again but I’m pretty sure it just buzzes the end of a phase when it ends but displays the countdown. I’m working on the Polar post now and have to say the Polar implementation is “nicer” to me. Garmin is more flexible but overall I’m finding Polar more helpful as a training aide. The pace will always be a range so as to allow you a zone in which to sit. If it was just a number you’d always be over or under.

  3. Greg,

    – As you approach the end of an interval the watch beeps five times at one second intervals, and then makes a longer multi-tone sound and vibrates to mark the start of the next interval. It is a bit like the beeps before the 6 o’clock news on BBC radio. So yes, you get an audible countdown.

    When the new interval starts the watch displays on an inverted colour screen for a few seconds either (i) the target you have set, the length, and any comment you have written yourself, for the next interval or (ii) at the start of a ‘rest’ interval, the distance you ran in the last interval (I think it is always distance, but to be checked if you set, say, a HR target). It then reverts to whatever screen it was showing before.

    – Yes, you can display Lap Pace which is the average page for the current lap/interval (being same thing). I think, however, that if you set a pace range as your target for the interval, the workout screen shows ‘instant’ pace as its principal value, with interval time and interval distance as secondary fields underneath. In practice the instant pace is slightly smoothed, perhaps a five second average. So if you want to see the average Lap Pace, you need to configure your own screen which you can scroll to from the workout screen during your workout (there is no need to look at the workout screens if you don’t want to).

    You can reorder all the screens you set up, so you can choose how many screens away from the workout screen each one is to scroll to.

    I configure a screen ‘adjacent’ to the workout screen showing me Last Lap average pace, Last Lap distance, Last Lap HR and Last Lap Cadence. I can quickly scroll to this during a rest step to see how I the during previous step.

    – Thanks. Bit frustrating for a Training Peaks user like me.

    • @Mike, I just checked again and none of my Garmin devices do that. All I get is a single long buzz at the end of a phase. I also don’t see an option to make it alert more than the long buzz. If it’s trying to beep it’s not doing a very good job, and I have all the alerts on!

      • That is curious. I am using a F935. It has always worked like this, a series of beeps followed by a multi-tone beep and vibrate. It worked the same way on my old F620.

        I would really miss the countdown if it wasn’t there. I start accelerating when I hear the beeps.

        • Weird, I have the 935 and Fenix 5 and neither of them do what you say and I can’t see a setting anywhere that would change this behaviour. I’m certainly happy to take your word for it that yours does, Garmin certainly have a long way to go on consistency even within a single watch let alone between devices 🙂

        • OK, I did a search and found that Menu>Settings>System>Sounds> Alert Tones needs to be set to During Activity or On. It was. On both my watches. I turned it off and then on again and now get the countdown beeps.

          That having been said, on the Fenix these are barely audible in my home office, and on the 935 I can hear them but certainly wouldn’t notice them while running. There is no vibration countdown, just a weak buzz when the phase ends. I definitely, without a shadow of a doubt prefer the Polar for this. If you’ve not tried one, give it a go. I’m also very annoyed with Garmin that settings which are set are not actually active. That’s just shoddy in a £700 watch.

          • You have solved the mystery! It is bizarre how turning settings off and on sometimes resolves an issue. Still, I think Garmin watch firmware is generally much more reliable now than it was a couple of years ago.

            I agree with your point about the volume – I have missed the start of more than one interval because a bus happened to be going past just at that moment. I do usually feel the vibration though. It would be great if Garmin could boost the volume of the beeps and strength of the buzz.

            I am very encouraged by your comments on the Polar system. I am very tempted by the Vantage V, but could only buy one after I am convinced that structured workouts have been properly implemented. For me this is absolutely essential.

            I not worried about navigation, let alone smart phone notifications. I prefer that Polar just concentrate on training features.

          • From what I understand, the Vantage will work identically to the M430 at launch but will lack the ad hoc parts until December. You can easily create a Flow account at https://flow.polar.com/ and try out creating some workouts. The on-watch experience is definitely great on M430 so worth a try if you find one second hand cheaply. I’ll be buying a Vantage V as soon as Polar let me buy one so will report back on volume and vibrations which will hopefully be as good as the M430.
            I think the Vantage will convert quite a few people who want to get training done. Garmin have a lot of features, but they just don’t have the polish. It’s almost as if Garmin engineers get a feature working and immediately switch to the next feature rather than finish or finesse the last one.
            And all this before I even delve into information display and usability 🙂

    • Thanks. Seems good. Especially the average lap pace. Instant pace, at least on V800, is still too instable to be of use. Pace ranges are based on instant pace so not quite usable either.
      As far as interval ends are concerned – V800 both beeps and buzzes. It’s barely audible and barely palpable, but the combination of both makes it recognizable just enough. Other than that, lots of requests for Polar to make V800 louder and stronger.

      • That’s interesting, I wonder if that’s why the M430 is so strong on the buzzing. Let’s hope the new ones are as good. Garmin instant pace is pretty hopeless too, although it is stable as I think it only updates every 5 seconds.

  4. Thanks. I look forward to reading your report on the Vantage.

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