Ask the Expert: One Workout. One Goal. Why Knowing the Benefit of Each Workout Matters.

Herman Bonner

Herman BonnerCommunications Specialist, Firstbeat

Exercise and Fitness Wearable Devices

Know the benefit of each workout

The recently announced Garmin Forerunner 945 smartwatch and Edge 530 and 830 cycling computers build on the success of previous training tools and introduce new perspectives. One such new insight comes in the form of workout benefit labels that appear on the summary screen after each activity you record with the device. 

We recently caught up with Firstbeat co-founder Aki Pulkkinen, a sports physiologist by training who leads analytic development and consumer licensing efforts. The goal was to gain expert insight and a behind the scenes look at the theory and practice behind these new workout labels. 

What inspired you and your team to develop the analysis used to identify the role or performance benefit of different workouts?

It is a fairly common occurrence for athletes who have achieved a certain level to find themselves drifting along in their training activities, not achieving the fitness improvements that they want and not bettering their endurance performance in general.

This can, at least in part, be attributed to doing a lot of what I like to call junk workouts, meaning workouts that lack specific purpose. These junk workouts be can be all over the map in terms of intensity and duration, challenging and exhausting but unfocused. What we know from working with successful performance-oriented athletes is that they typically have a specific purpose or capability in mind for each workout they do.

It’s the difference between these two approaches, one successful and the other much more hit and miss, that offered the inspiration for the new workout labels you now see on the new Garmin Forerunner 945 activity summary screen and on Edge cycling computers.

Garmin Forerunner 945 - Workout Labels

The goal is to help athletes of all abilities and levels gain a clear, concrete understanding of the role of each workout plays and to reveal how different kinds of efforts pay off in the big picture.

What does this mean for individual athletes and how can it help them improve?

When you do a workout, you can immediately confirm and see when you are done whether what you achieved matched the intended purpose of the workout. It’s part of a process that will ultimately help you think in terms of the fact that you should have a specific purpose in mind for each workout.

From a developmental standpoint, why is that important physiologically speaking?

As a general rule, you can only strongly develop a single dimension of performance capacity at a time, meaning within a specific workout. A single workout, here, refers to the smallest particle or episode within your total training program or regimen.

Then, of course, there is a larger question of how many and how often you perform specific workouts, and put them all together to achieve your goals. That’s where the new Load Focus data screen comes into play, as it automatically detects and organizes the totality of your efforts based on how low-intensity aerobic, high-intensity aerobic and anaerobic exertions contributed to your overall Training Load.

What are the advantages to this approach compared to other methods out there?

There are those who might ask, why not just track intensity minutes and log them according to the number of minutes you spent in each heart rate zone? And, obviously there are many out there who do just that, but there is an inherent weakness in that approach.

It is entirely possible, common even, to train in such a way that you create what looks like an ideal distribution of time spent in each of the HR zones without challenging yourself in the specific ways that will help you achieve your goal of  better performance.

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As an extreme example, you could design a single workout that includes a certain percentage of time in each of the normal HR-based intensity zones. Execute that workout 20 times over the course of a month and you’d end up with what looks like, based on your timed HR-zone charts, a pretty solid training program. In reality, what you’ve created is a classic junk workout, a powerful recipe for plateauing your development as a performer.

As mentioned earlier, a more effective approach is one where you utilize specific workouts to improve only one particular aspect of performance at a time. This is something that good coaches try to instill in athletes. They set expectations, where this workout is designed to improve your VO2max and today we are going to focus on that. Then next time we will work on improving Lactate Threshold, Anaerobic performance capacity, or work on facilitating Recovery.

Workout labels reveal the primary benefit you can expect from your activity.

Workout labels reveal the primary benefit you can expect from your activity.

We are constantly thinking in terms of how we can create better understandings and  training, tools that you can rely on to guide your training in specific directions. Hopefully, what we’ve done here is to provide insights that will help you avoid drifting through training, executing workouts that aren’t well-suited to your goals.

How would you summarize what’s happening here?

Combining the new 4-week Load Focus data screen with the primary role of benefit of each workout on your Activity Summary screen offers a significant advantage. You get to see the effective impact resulting from high- and low-intensity, steady-state aerobic efforts along with the impact from dynamic anaerobically produced efforts like intervals and sprints.

Firstbeat Feature - Training Load Balance

More than that, you have the evidence you need to sharpen your understanding of what kinds of workouts you need to do to improve your endurance base, maximum aerobic capacity, your ability to sustain higher intensity efforts, or other dimensions of performance.

Now you automatically get confirmation straight from your watch that your workouts are on point. It’s about being able to understand what you’re doing a little bit better and being able to train with the confidence that comes from knowing what you are doing makes sense.

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Herman Bonner

Herman Bonner Communications Specialist, Firstbeat

Herman is a former U.S. World Cup fencer, coach and high-performance manager. Keen to explore how people make sense of the world around them, Herman currently thrives at the bustling intersection of technology and everyday life. His educational interests include mechanical engineering, economics, ethnomethodology, and sports management with a focus on marketing and communications.

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