FirstBeat Athlete Software Review
Training by yourself is hard. It’s hard to not only stay motivated, but to know what to do, and whilst nothing can beat the actual expertise of human coach, not everyone can afford one.
In my recent review of the Suunto T4c, I covered the coach feature that comes as part of the watch’s core functionality. This feature is enabled by the tech developed by FirstBeat Technologies of Finland (lots of good tech comes from Finland!). The specific software that I’m reviewing here, is the ‘industrial grade’ version of the T4c’s training software, so to speak. I should also note that I found the coach feature on the T4c instrumental in my recovery from my overuse injury. This is not because it was designed for that specific purpose, but because it guided me through the incremental process of loading up on training and letting me know when enough was enough. Part of the reason why I got injured in the first place was because of not knowing when to stop, and with the T4c’s coach feature, that was no longer an issue.
I should say up front that the FirstBeat Athlete software is not for everyone. From a hardware perspective, and to get the most out of it, you will need a device that can record R-R heart information. Without it, you will merely be limited to using it as a log, and an expensive one at that. Please take a look at their hardware requirements both from a PC perspective (only runs on Windows unfortunately) and from a device perspective. If all you would like is to have the coach feature, but have another heart rate monitor than the ones supported, check out their Mobile Coach which runs on your mobile phone (iPhone isn’t supported yet) and does many of the same features, but without the detailed analysis that can only come from having the specific heart rate data.
So, for this review, I used Suunto’s T6c (which I will review in detail on a later post). The T6c generates all the data necessary for the FirstBeat Athlete software to give you a full analysis of your workout. However, because I didn’t have a T6c to start with, I used the TE values of my T4c, which doesn’t interface with the FB Athlete software directly. In order to do this, I had to manually type in the training effect value into the workout days, and whilst this helped me ‘get started’ it didn’t allow me to have a lot of historical data from which to compare my future training sessions. Below is a screenshot of what the main screen of the software looks like:
On this screen you will notice a few things. Firstly, words that you may have never used or heard before such as Training Effect, EPOC, and Activity Class. I encourage you to follow the links to further understand what FirstBeat is trying to derive from your data before you continue reading this post. For the files in the image that came from the T4c, for example, I was only able to input my activity class at the time as well as my training effect, but the EPOC values were not gathered since that is not part of the T4c’s feature set (only the T6c). Additionally from this image you can see how my heart rate progressed over time, and how that equated to the training effect values on the graph. However, for a more detailed analysis of your workout session, the FB software gives you another viewing option:
From this point of view, you can now see what all the exact metrics are for your exercise session. Effectively, you can map out the impact your session had on the different types of training they’ve outlined: Slow distance, Fast distance, and VO2Max. Both the screens above are just examples of the kind of correlated data you can determine from the data gathered from your heart rata file. You can also, for example, see how your heart rate increase correlated with an increase in altitude, or speed, etc, but for that you will need to have the T6c or other supported device paired with a pod that can record speed data. You can also generate a PDF report of your workout session should you want to email it to someone.
Moving on to the main feature of the FB Athlete software, the training coach.
As I mentioned before, I was familiar with the coach feature from using the T4c (which has it built in). The coach feature from the FB Athlete software is very different from the one in the watch for it can be edited. This allows you to plan your week and even your month ahead of time. If you have a day that you usually like to rest, the software can factor that in. If you worked out on a gym’s machine and only have your average heart rate and time, the software allows you to input that too. If there is a day that you like to train (like when your friends like to go run or cycle) it can also arrange the training program around that. If there is a race you expect to attend, you can input the max value and expected time you want to make, and the software can help you with scheduling exercises before it. I find the coach feature valuable because I don’t have a personal coach or trainer. If I did, I think I would still get value from the data crunching the FB software does (from the two first screen shots), but I feel that largest value for me, is the coach program. Below, is a screen shot of the coach software:
As you can see, my upcoming week’s exercises are outlined in a scale from training effect 1-5, rest days are included, and I always have the option of modifying the intensity of the workout, and also the duration, but I unfortunately, don’t have a way to upload the target training effect back to my watch so that I get a ‘beep beep’ when I’ve achieved the training goal. With time, the software also adapts to the amount of work you do. If you have a hard week, for example, the next week is soft. If you are continually training a bit more than before, it’ll increase your Activity Class.
The coach feature can also extend a month into the future so that you can plan your month’s training (around vacation or a special event):
Another nice feature about the coach is that if you have Suunto’s PC pod you can start the training guide which will guide you through a training session. It is actually very cool. It will tell you to speed up or slow down (literally, it’ll speak to you) in order to achieve the desired goal (just remember to turn off your screen saver and power saver features). This is great if you’re working out at home and watching TV (or otherwise distracted).
In conclusion, the FB Athlete software is very complete. I found the UI to be clean and easy to follow, and the software to be stable. The FB Athlete software will not only disect your HR data in any which way, but it will also help you achieve your goals faster as you will have a progression to follow rather than worrying about how to adapt your training when you miss a day. If you have the hardware, but don’t have a coach, I would consider it as an additional tool to analyze and plan your training sessions.
I will continue to update this post with any additional data and thoughts that I gather through using the software in an extended form.
To some extent, I didn’t mention that although the software is designed to help you in all cardio sports (not strenght training), it can sometimes feel constraining for cycling as cycling sessions can be rather long(er) than the suggested ones. For that, I merely ignore the suggested time (unless I’m on a turbo trainer) and just shoot for achieving the Training Effect Goal.
I do wish they would include greater detail on how you could, in theory achieve the higher Training Effects, be it via interval training, or hill work, or something… maybe for a future revision.