Wearables and fitness trackers are a huge industry and even a few years ago more than 20% of the population was using them. With continued growth in the market this number has no doubt gone up, which makes understanding the metrics and data provided by our fitness devices becomes a more crucial matter.
Among the leading fitness tracker brands, it is Garmin that has captured the attention of many individuals, providing a rich array of metrics essential for wellness, like heart rate, sleep, stress level, and more. Garmin of course does not only work in wearables but is also a major manufacture of things like cycling computers and GPS devices which opens up even more data points.
This article aims to provide an understanding of these key Garmin metrics from their smart watches and wearable devices, and how to make the most out of them. We will offer a comparative analysis on how Garmin’s metrics stack up against other leading fitness tracker brands including the Apple Watch and Whoop bands as well as how things stack up to virtual training tools like Zwift, how they integrate to Training Peaks, and of course how they work alongside the behemoth of the social fitness tracking, Strava.
Garmin Metrics Explained
Steps: The Basic Measure of Physical Activity
Garmin devices track your steps during the day, promoting a healthy lifestyle by encouraging users to reach a 10,000 steps-a-day goal. These steps are measured using an internal 3-axis accelerometer that detects motion patterns like walking, running, or other physical activities. It uses pattern comparison to differentiate regular movement from steps. This data is recorded and processed using Garmin’s specific algorithms to derive the total number of steps you’ve taken each day.
Steps are not unique to Garmin, nor are they unique to wrist worn devices. Left alone a smart phone in your pocket will measure steps. It is also worth noting that their is nothing magical about the 10k number, it is simply a round number that indicates a non zero amount of movement and one which is more than many people get to in a day.
In wearing a Garmin for more than a month the accuracy of its step counting is well within the expected. It is hard to establish the specific accruacy as there is no ground truth, but unlike trackers like the now-defunct Amazon Halo (see our review of the lacking step accuracy for Amazon Halo bands) it is never off from an Apple Watch by more than a few % of steps.
Heart Rate & VO2 Max: Monitor Your Cardiovascular Health
Most Garmin watches offer wrist-based heart rate tracking using a technology known as photoplethysmography. By shining a light onto the user’s skin and measuring the light that gets scattered by blood flow, Garmin devices can determine the heart rate. Your heart rate data can prove useful in identifying periods of intense exercise and recovery, measuring your overall cardiovascular health, and identifying potential health problems when unusual heart rate patterns are detected.
VO2 Max is a metric that tracks the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. This is a leading indicator of cardiorespiritory fitness and endurance capacity. Garmin devices estimate the VO2 Max level based on pace, heart rate, and heart rate variability collected during exercise. By monitoring changes in VO2 Max, individuals can understand how their fitness is improving over time and adjust their training accordingly.
The term VO2 Max also gets simplified by a number of other devices. Apple Health kit calls this “Cardio Fitness” while also showing it as VO2 and the Withings App calls it a Fitness Level. Regardless of what it is called a VO2 max is a trailing indicator of fitness and NOT something that is likely to change from day to day. Realistically the most efficient way to alter a VO2 max is to gain or lose weight since it is measured and compared by body weight (mL/kg/min). For this reason things like Whoop (which we’ve previously reviewed and does NOT support VO2 max) downplay the focus on VO2 max and instead focus on other factors.
Sleep Tracking: Deciphering Your Sleep Pattern
Garmin’s sleep tracking feature offers comprehensive insight into your nightly slumber. By examining movements and heart rate variability, Garmin devices are able to determine your sleep and wake times, as well as the specific sleep stages: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Garmin’s advanced sleep monitoring provides important insights into the quality and quantity of your sleep, allowing you to make any necessary adjustments to optimize your rest.
Stress Tracking: Tracking Your Stress Level
The stress tracking feature on Garmin devices uses heart rate variability (HRV) to estimate your stress level. When your level of physical or mental stress rises, there are changes to your heart rate pattern, identified as a decrease in HRV. Garmin stress tracking calculates a score from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating higher stress levels. This continual stress monitoring can help you identify patterns or situations that cause stress so you can better manage those situations.
Insights into Garmin’s Metrics: Body Battery
Garmin boasts a unique metric known as the Body Battery. This tool evaluates the wearer’s energy levels by compiling data on stress, heart rate variability, sleep, and physical activity. By comprehending how their daily routines, such as dieting, exercising, or sleeping, can have an input on energy levels, wearers can make necessary lifestyle adjustments to maintain equilibrium and efficiency throughout their active periods. As such, Garmin’s Body Battery proves to be a revolutionary tool in conserving energy, preventing burnout, and promoting overall well-being.
Garmin’s Body Battery is one of the advanced metrics that it offers. Its purpose is to gauge our overall energy levels. The Body Battery uses a mix of measures including heart rate variability, stress levels, and physical activity. It works on a scoring system of 0 to 100, where a higher score means you have more energy. Significant activity and stress cause the Body Battery to deplete, while rest and sleep let it recharge. It can play a helpful role in planning your day. You can schedule high intensity activities when your Body Battery is high and ensure you rest when it drops to maintain healthy energy levels.
The Significance of Garmin Metrics
Garmin Metrics: Sleep and Stress Levels
Garmin’s advanced sleep and stress tracking metrics offer insights into the wearer’s overall wellness. The devices measure different stages of sleep – light, deep, and REM, along with movement and awake periods throughout the night. This information can be used to assess sleep quality and identify potential disruptions. Consistent reviewing of sleep patterns can aid in making necessary adjustments to improve sleep quality.
Similarly, Garmin devices monitor stress levels based on Heart Rate Variability (HRV). The device uses this data to generate a stress score that helps the user recognize when they are experiencing periods of high stress. Apple Watch and others track HRV, but typically require a third party app to make sense of the data. Garmin however keeps these readings understandable by simplifying them into a single Body Battery metric.
Understanding stress events and their triggers can help individuals invest in stress management strategies like mindfulness and exercise. Moreover, regular tracking of stress levels can contribute to better mental health and overall well-being as well as performance improvements for athletic endeavors.
Comparative Analysis of Garmin Metrics vs. Other Brands
Comparing Metrics: Garmin Vs Fitbit
Both Garmin and Fitbit offer an array of metrics used to monitor fitness-related data, metrics such as steps taken, distance covered, calories expended, heart rate, and sleep patterns. However, Garmin outperforms in its advanced performance analytics. This includes the calculation of VO2 max (a measurement of the maximum quantity of oxygen consumed during intense physical exertion), training load, and recovery time. Garmin further provides running dynamic metrics like cadence, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation. Conversely, Fitbit’s devices are more centered on general health and wellness data like active minutes and constant heart rate tracking.
Garmin’s Interpretation of Data Vs Other Brands
A notable difference between Garmin and other brands like Fitbit and Apple is how they interpret and present the collected data. Garmin Connect, the brand’s proprietary app, categorizes data into different sections for more detailed analysis. It presents daily activity data, sleep data, and body battery data separately. Garmin’s advanced sleep tracking not only records duration and stages but also your pulse oxygen level.
Body Battery feature computes your energy levels based on heart rate variability, stress, sleep quantity and quality, and physical activities. Unfortunately, Fitbit and Apple do not provide this level of energy monitoring.
Comparison in Features and Functionalities
When it comes to features and functionalities, Garmin stands out with its array of outdoor and adventure functionalities. Many of Garmin’s devices are equipped with GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite systems, a barometric altimeter, compass, and gyroscope. They are capable of tracking numerous activities, from standard ones like running and cycling to activities like paddleboarding and skiing. Garmin even has specialized watches for golf, aviation, and marine activities. While Fitbit and Apple offer sturdy designs and comprehensive health and fitness tracking, they do not match Garmin’s extensive array of advanced features.
Garmin Metrics Vs Apple Metrics
In comparison to Apple, Garmin provides a broader range of sport and fitness metrics mostly because it has dedicated devices for things like diving, cycling, and more. While the Apple Watch does excellently with health metrics like heart rate, ECG, sleep tracking, and fall detection, and while it offers similar activity profiles and metrics that Garmin does it also has to account for battery life due to uses like email and messaging so readings for heart rate and others sometimes take a back seat.
Garmin devices can track, analyze, and provide insights on running, cycling, swimming, hiking, paddleboarding, skiing, rowing, golf, and much more. Sophisticated metrics like Anaerobic Training Effect, Training Load Balance, and training status are not unique to Garmin but can sometimes be unique in how much importance is placed on them.
For activity specific metrics, like SWOLF, which measures swim efficiency Garmin helps highlight it. Apple Watch also surfaces SWOLF, a portmanteau of Swimming and Golf, but hides it a bit in the repetition stats of a workout. You can learn more about what SWOLF means for swimming from our overview.
Still, all of these metrics can be shared with Apple Health kit. Many users wind up having a Garmin device for dedicated running, cycyling, or other activities but switch to Apple Watch or a Fitbit for day to day step tracking.
There is no reason that you have to choose a single device for tracking. Especially if you prefer to have the “Body Battery” metric, you may find preference for a Garmin device since Apple Watch has no similar training and stress load metrics.
Garmin trackers offer a wider variety of advanced fitness metrics and multi-sport tracking capabilities compared to other fitness tracker brands. Catering to athletic and outdoorsy individuals, they provide more detailed and sport-specific data to help optimize performance and recovery. Despite this, brands like Fitbit and Apple do offer commendable general health, lifestyle, and wellness tracking capabilities that might be more suited for everyday consumers.
The journey to optimum health and fitness isn’t one you have to embark on blindly. With a wealth of metrics from your Garmin device, every step, heartbeat, and hour of sleep can bring you closer to your goals. Understanding these metrics, their significance, and how to utilize them, you empower yourself with knowledge to take command of your wellness journey. Conversely, analyzing Garmin’s metrics against those of other brands equips you with informed decisions when choosing fitness tracker that suits your needs. So, seize control, make well-informed decisions and let every bit of data guide you to the path of fitness and wellness.