Coach Tip Tuesday: Coach Garmin isn't as Smart as You Think
Another week is gone, and another Coach Tip Tuesday is here!
I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but it ends up coming up a lot, so I definitely want to keep the conversation about this topic going since it’s one that so many people can benefit from. This week, I want to tell you this:
Coach Garmin isn’t as smart as you think.
Very specifically, Coach Garmin’s Training Status feature is not as smart as you might think it would be. (This also goes for any fitness device that has a similar feature, but I’m specifying Garmin’s Training Status feature here since it’s the one that pops up the most often with the athletes I work with and the athletes I interact with at Fleet Feet Syracuse.) This feature shows a user how training affects their fitness level and performance. It will show screenshots such as the one featured in this post about whether or not the user is doing something “good” or “bad” for their training.
As I often say: I LOVE data. I prefer it when athletes can upload at least some sort of data, because it really helps me dial in their training and help them reach their goals. Data recorded from a device plus the athlete’s subjective input will always and forever create a “complete” picture of what went on in a given workout or on a given day.
And I love Garmin. I have personally spent thousands of dollars on their products over the years. Combine my personal use of their products with my use of their products via athletes who I coach and then customers who I sell Garmin products to at Fleet Feet Syracuse, and I know a LOT about Garmin and their products and features, and I recommend them to dozens of people every single month.
This all being said, I have a very strong dislike for Garmin’s Training Status feature, and here’s why:
Since Garmin is not a human, it can’t think like a human. It can only think like a machine based on the parameters that a human inputted into it when it was programmed. So in the case of the Training Status feature, the computer behind the scenes can only make “assessments” based on the data that is recorded and the algorithms that are programmed in for it to use. And the only way those assessments have a (remote) CHANCE at being accurate is if data is recorded PERFECTLY and all parameters (weight, heart rate zones, etc.) are set perfectly.
Guess what, friends? Nothing is ever perfect. There are ALL kinds of reasons why the data recorded might be off. Maybe the heart rate strap wasn’t on quite right. Maybe GPS couldn’t be found. Maybe you didn’t calibrate your power meter prior to the start of your ride. Maybe you ran on a treadmill and your paces weren’t recorded accurately since another algorithm-based system (the device’s accelerometer) was used for measuring pace. Maybe you haven’t updated your weight or other personal information in a long time.
If the data recorded isn’t accurate, the output of the Training Status feature won’t be accurate. This is true of any system like this.
Furthermore (and more importantly), it can’t account for how a person FEELS. Garmin doesn’t know that your run felt amazing. It only knows what was recorded. It’s exceptionally two-dimensional in this way.
I’m writing about this topic on THIS particular Tuesday because it has come up with at least a dozen individual athletes who I’ve interacted with over the last two weeks. One of my friends (she knows who she is ;) ) was peaking/tapering for a marathon recently. Her Garmin was telling her that she was “Unproductive” and she “desperately wanted her Garmin to tell her that she was peaking.” She actually is a coach herself and KNEW very well that she was peaking (I reminded her of this ;) ), but Garmin made her second-guess this just a bit.
Another crew of athletes went out on a training run together this past Sunday at Fleet Feet Syracuse as part of our Cold Feet Community Run Series that we host at the store each Sunday morning. When they came back, their Garmins were telling ALL of them that they were “Unproductive” and “De-Training.” They were distressed about this, but as I told them: there is NO way that ALL of them were “Unproductive” that day. NO chance. I asked them how they felt, and they told me that they felt amazing.
Finally, one of my athletes on Performance Coaching left me the following notes in a recent workout: “I felt good because: 1) No pain 2) I pushed through 3) I didn’t stop 4) Constant pace; I think I got faster during the second half.” However, her Garmin told her that she was “Unproductive” on this workout and that she was losing fitness; that made her “feel really sad” about a workout that she had previously felt REALLY great about.
I have exactly zero tolerance for things that cause people to change from feeling great to feeling sad and down on themselves. My greatest goal for all athletes is that they be strong, happy, and joyful throughout all of their time in endurance sports. In my experience, the Garmin Training Status feature can really compromise this for an athlete, and there isn’t any reason for it to do that.
So, as I told all of these athletes: my advice is to disable or completely ignore that feature in Garmin Connect. Focus on how you FEEL. Learn how to interpret your own data; if you don’t know how to, ask someone with experience (i.e. a coach) to help you learn how to do that. Focus on YOU and rely on yourself to dictate your emotions about your training and workouts; do not listen to Coach Garmin or let Coach Garmin negatively influence something that you know to be different or true. You wouldn't give most humans that right, so why give that right to a computer? YOU (and your coach, if you have one) are smarter than Coach Garmin, every day of the week. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.