If you have a newer Garmin device, you may have experiences your watch telling you, ‘unproductive’ after a run… Maybe you even smiled when you saw the word ‘peaking’ after a solid workout. However, what is the science behind these watches? How does your watch really know? We are going to do a deep dive into the algorithm we believe Garmin uses and how to interpret the readings.
Many of the new Garmin watch models have a training status feature where it lets you know if you are:
❇️Detraining: Training much less than usual for seven days or more
❇️Overreaching: Training load is too high and is thus counterproductive
❇️Unproductive: Training load is optimal, but your fitness is still decreasing due to improper recovery
❇️Maintaining: Training load is enough to maintain current fitness levels
❇️Recovery: Lighter training load allowing for recovery for your next bout of hard training
❇️Productive: Properly managing your training load and thus seeing improvements in fitness
❇️Peaking: Peak race condition because your VO2Max is increasing/maintaining and your training load has decreased
That sounds like a lot of options, but what we really want to look at is WHY the watch is telling us these various statuses. Is it true that we are peaking? Is it TRUE that we are unproductive?
The training status is based on your training load and your VO2Max estimate over the last seven days. This is a computer generated algorithm that uses very selective data points to draw a conclusion. We must understand that when data is analyzed and thrown into ‘averages’ or labels, there are ALWAYS situations that arise when a run or workout falls outside of the bellcurve. There are also some cases where the entire athlete in his/herself falls outside of the bellcurve. The watch is not a physic. Sometimes we fall outside of the bellcurve. Sometimes one run is an outlier. Your training status can go from peaking to unproductive with ONE outlier run.
As consumers, we must understand that when automation and algorithms are at play, the general direction can sometimes be right, but it can also be very wrong. We want to take the Garmin Training Status with a grain of salt. Perhaps when we see ‘unproductive’ as a status, it can provide an opportunity to reflect on what may have caused this run to be an outlier. Why the sudden flip of a switch? Perhaps we only got 6 hours of sleep last night. Perhaps our body was exposed to an illness and it working hard to fight it off so our HR is 10-15 BPM higher on the run. Perhaps we are extremely sore from the workout the day before and naturally going slower to allow our body to recover better. The reason WHY the watch beeped ‘unproductive’ in the middle of a marathon training cycle was not because your run was unproductive. It was because your watch read a data point that was a little different than usual.
The reverse can also happen. If you were ‘peaking’ for 4 weeks leading up to your goal race but as the race approaches 1 week out your watch beeps ‘detraining’ after an easy run, it can cause some athletes to panic. WHAT?! Detraining? I thought I was supposed to be in peak shape for my race this weekend? Garmin will put you on detraining after 7 days of reduced mileage. Their formula for a taper may not look like your coaches or your training plans. When the formula creators generated this algorithm, they had to put certain rules in place. The taper is not a time of detraining! Remember to trust in your plan and not your watch.
If you have one of these watches, you know it feels good to have your status read “productive” during training or “peaking” if you’ve got a race coming up! 😄 But don’t let the training status on your watch trump how you are feeling…he reality is, like all technology, it has its downfalls. It is ❌NOT❌ perfect. These watches do their best to assess your stress levels, but they just can’t know the whole picture. The sleep measures are not perfect and the wrist-based heart rate data can be undependable on these watches. If anything, use the data as a trend over time and not on a day to day basis.
Most importantly, be sure to use proper training methodologies like the 80/20 rule, get proper rest and recovery, and eat well! Your body is the smartest tool you have, and it will let you know if your training is unproductive or productive! 👍