5 Garmin Hacks and Tips for Runners

I think it’s true that, when it comes to technology, we absolutely do not make use of every single feature available to us. There are certain things my phone does that I never make use of… for example Siri! I bought a Garmin Fenix 5s* at the London Marathon Expo last year and I’m pretty sure I don’t know everything it can do. But what if some of those things are actually really useful?

In this post, I’m going to share with you some of the features I like the most about my watch and the Garmin Connect app. Any instructions I give here, and some of the features, are based on my Fenix 5s so may vary from watch to watch. And, as I said, I bought this watch myself and this is NOT a sponsored post, just something I hope you might find useful!

1 Screen Set Up

Garmin is amazing for the flexibility in the data and metrics you can configure to view while you train. Personally, I like to have the same two screens for all of my running data, and I flit between the two depending on the type of run I’m doing.

My first view is what I’ll call the “total run” screen. This shows me the total time, distance, pace and average pace for the whole of my run. This is perfect for any kind of run where you’re aiming for a relatively consistent pace across the entirety of the run, e.g. a race, long run, recovery run, etc.

The second screen I use, I call the “last lap” screen. This is similar but giving only the above stats for the time and distance that’s passed since auto-lap or I manually lapped the activity. So this shows me lap time, lap distance, pace and lap pace. This is better for runs where you may have specific target paces for individual, or groups of, laps, e.g. progression runs, intervals, tempo, etc. The “last lap” data gives me much better feedback on what’s going on and then isn’t thrown off by warm up miles, recoveries, etc. being accounted for in the average pace.

Note, one of the reasons I use average pace and don’t just pay attention to the “pace” value, is that it isn’t as reliable and can vary so much from one minute to the next – it’s also heavily affected by the accuracy of your GPS. I’ve had the pace value read 11:10 one minute and 7:50 the next… only to come out at a 7:40 min/mile for the whole mile!

2 Intervals and Auto Lap

If you’re like me, you like an update on your pace every mile or kilometre. In which case, the auto-lap feature is great – you get a buzz on your watch every time you pass that fixed distance to tell you how long it took. However, for speed work, I only want my intervals to be recorded as laps, and not every mile/km. In the past, this has meant going into run settings and turning it off before a run, and then inevitably forgetting to turn it back on again for my next normal run! Ergh.

But there’s a hack for that! And I have to thank the genius that is Ian for this one… set up a workout type of “run intervals” and have its default setting with auto-lap off. I really don’t know why I never thought of it myself!

To do this, go to Settings > Activities & Apps > + Add > Copy Activity. Then select “Run”, give it a new name, turn auto-lap off and choose any different screen set-ups you want. As with above, I like to have the total run screen set-up AND the last lap screen set-up.

3 Use your Resting Heart Rate

How many of you look at your resting heart rate (or RHR) and think “oh that’s nice” then get on with your day? Thought so… RHR is actually a really good feedback tool as to how you should train in any given day.

The thinking is that if your RHR goes up from your “normal” by 5 beats or more, then you need more recovery time. That could be either a complete rest day (depending on how you’re feeling, and also that little thing called “life”) or just a step-back day with a recovery run or some cross training.

For example, my RHR is currently sitting at an average of 52, but actually the day after hitting a PB 5k time it went up to 56bpm. While that was only 4bpm over my average, my body was also feeling quite tight, so I took the extra recovery time and just did some stretching that day. The day after my long run, my RHR was only 54, so I felt ok to do a CrossFit skipping workshop and a recovery run.

Essentially, you should use your RHR along with other indicators as to whether, and how hard, you should train.

4 And Heart Rate Zones…

I think it was quite a revelation to me, and others, that my heart rate zones could change so much with just a tweak of a few settings. I was checking my stats after a run and comparing them to Ian’s results (which I know I shouldn’t do!) and noticed that while he was in heart rate zones 2, 3 and maybe a little bit of 4, I was spending most of my time in zone 5, without feeling like I was working quite hard enough to justify it! So I took a little look at my Heart Rate settings.

Go to Settings > User Profile > Heart Rate and check your Max HR, LTHR (lactate threshold).

Now, there is a really rough formula for figuring out your Max HR, which is what Garmin will have as a default.  But in a lot of cases it’s just not accurate. For example, the stereotypical 220 – age would give me a HR Max of 188, but I quite regularly hit highs of 185 in training! In my opinion, the best way to make sure your zones are right is by doing some sort of a max heart rate test… although PLEASE make sure you are fit and healthy to do so, and/or talk to your GP if necessary! I found my max HR by doing a 5k race and going absolutely flat out at the end of it and then adding 5 bpm on.

Once you have your Max HR, you can plug that into the watch. For LTHR, this is usually around 90% of your Max HR, so you can also now calculate this. Finally, make sure your Zones are “Based On” % Max HR and you’re good to go! These two figures combined will make your zones much more accurate to you. I now spend a lot more time in zones 3 and 4, although not as much zone 2 as Ian does! The above snapshot, though, is from my 5k PB, where I spent most of it in the red – a sign I was working maximally!

5 Training Status – Are You Productive?

Garmin’s clever “training status” feature is one I particularly like. If you’re following a specific plan, it will be set out to achieve many of the statuses Garmin recognises at varying phases of the plan. For me, who’s not following a specific plan, it’s a good indicator of what my training schedule is doing to my fitness and readiness to race.

Basically, there are 7 different statuses, plus the “no status” status, which means you haven’t recorded enough data for Garmin to determine your training effect. The statuses are:

  • Productive
  • Maintaining
  • Peaking
  • Overreaching
  • Recovery
  • Unproductive
  • Detraining

Underneath the summary status, you will see two individual indicators – “fitness” and “load”. One is based on your Vo2 max, and the other based on the amount and effort of the sessions you’ve been doing. You will see arrows below each indicator: ⬆️, ➡️ or ⬇️.

If your fitness is going up and your load is level or going up, you’re being productive. If your load is going down and your fitness is going down, you’re detraining. But if your load is going up too much you’ll hit overreaching.

You’ll want to time your progress and recovery well (i.e. a taper) so that you hit the “peaking” phase right before you want to race! I’m hoping to keep in the productive or maintaining phases right up until a week or two before Brighton, at which point hopefully my taper will hit at just the right time for me to see that magical peaking status. After both Brighton and London have passed, I’ll happily sit in the recovery status for a while!

To find out more about each status, refer to this support page.

6 Dynamics Pod

Bonus tip, partly because this one requires an extra purchase… the running dynamics pod* was actually an extra when I bought the watch, and I’m really glad I got to put it to use. Basically, it’s an external accelerometer that you put on the back of your shorts/leggings and it measures a number of different things. The data it gives you is your ground contact time (amount of time you spend with your feet on the floor), ground contact balance (left to right foot), vertical ratio (distance travelled up and down versus distance travelled forwards), and vertical oscillation (the distance you travel up and down). It also gives you colour coding compared to elite and average athletes.

This may seem like a lot to take in, but it’s incredible for giving you feedback about your running form and also really interesting to see on longer runs or in races, for example, because you can see where you tire or if you’re favouring one leg over the other due to muscle tightness. I also only recently found out (by accident) that you can actually see these on the fly on your watch and not just retrospectively on the app. This could be great for if you’re testing out running drills or activation exercises that you hope will improve your running form as part of your warm up.

If you like a bit of a geek out, then the dynamics pod is for you!

Your Tips?

So I’ve shared my screen set up, how to programme an intervals workout type to avoid faffing with auto-lap, what to get from your Heart Rate data, and how to tell if your training is productive and your running style efficient. If you’re going to focus on any new parts of your watch for your next run, what will they be? Have you learnt anything new from this post?

This post is not sponsored or endorsed by Garmin in any way. All products in this post were bought by myself. However, this post does contain affiliate links (marked with an *). If you buy the products via these links I will earn a small amount of commission, which helps to fund the maintenance of my website!

Georgina Spenceley

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