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Running Performance (Tracking) Display

The Suunto Ambit3 Manual 7: Running Performance

Firmware 2.0 for the Ambit3 line,  beside recovery testing, also introduced a new “running performance” measurement.

Running Performance (Tracking) Display

What is Running Performance?

Where the recovery tests analyze heart rate variability to measure stress/recovery, the running performance indicator reflects how efficient one is running compared to one’s (weighted) average-to-date. Reflected in that score is the relationship between heart rate (variability) and speed/pace.

Running performance is related to VO2max (*the* indicator of aerobic fitness, indicating how well the body can transport and use oxygen) as well as running economy (technique and muscular performance) – see at the end of this post.

This running performance indication is only calculated

  • in “running” modes,
  • in moderate (to high) intensity runs (with HR exceeding 70% Hrmax, at least for some time), and
  • when the HR sensor and GPS work without too many errors.
  • Also, it only makes sense when running on flat and hard ground.

Soft ground means that more energy is needed to push off, and ascents/descents, of course, also increase/decrease heart rate compared to pace, making the running performance indicated, simply put, dubious.

Altitude measurement is actually taken into account so that ascents/descents should not matter.

However, altitude measurement by GPS alone (on all models except the Ambit3 Peak with its barometric sensor) is not the most trustworthy, and trail running tends to also give problematic results for pace, if the trail is rather winding and makes it difficult for the GPS to measure the pace correctly.

So, if such a move is set up as a “running” sports mode (rather than “trail running”), running performance can still be shown because the watch alone doesn’t recognize the data as actually not very accurate then and there.

However, I’d recommend activating the running performance analysis only in a “track-running” or “running test” mode and, especially, comparing the running performance indicated only for runs on similar, flat, and hard-surface courses.

The running performance actually appears in two different ways, as the current performance during an activity (and its trend) and as the 30-day trend.

Real-Time Running Performance

Running performance can be shown in real time, during a ‘move’ (i.e., while out for training) as a new line of data displaying “diff x%”, the percentage difference between the current running performance and the longer-term running performance.

Instead of just the single current value, one can also get a graph view of the running performance during the current ‘move’. This displays the percentage difference in the top line, the distance covered in the bottom line, and a graph of the running performance’s development, with a dot for each kilometer (mile) of the current ‘move’, in the graph in the middle.

This graph display is particularly interesting as it makes it possible to quickly see the trend in running performance.

Typically, as one gets more tired during a run, heart rate is likely to go up, heart rate variability is likely to go down, running efficiency (form) probably declines, and all of that is reflected in running performance going down as well.

Conceivably, running performance could also trend up, possibly if starting out slow and ‘cold’ and then warming up, getting more used to moving again, and moving more efficiently. More typically, when at a good (and peaking) performance level, it starts out higher (and then goes down).

Flat running performance during a move would (probably) indicate that this run is a really good one at a level that can be sustained easily in terms of both physiological load (how hard it is for you, bodily) and form (how well you keep up an efficient gait, for example).

Setting Up Running Performance Displays

This real-time display of running performance should be included in the default “running” mode of Ambit3 models, but of course (if you aren’t completely new to it, for example), may need to be added to the screens:

Just remember that it has to be a mode for the “activity: running” or it won’t display running performance, and decide if you want the single-line display or the graph display (or both).

As I mention in the video, setting up a display for heart rate, running performance value, and perhaps pace, does make some sense.

The graph view still seems the more useful to me, though.

Running Performance Tracking

The overall score for a run is also shown in the summary view displayed at the end of a run (or viewable in the exercise logbook as long as the move is still stored on the watch, and also displayed in Movescount), and that score is used in the second way that running performance features on the Ambit3:

Running performance cannot only be seen in a sports mode display and in real time, but also in the activity tracking / active recovery displays in the Ambit3’s time mode, showing the 30-day trend.

Here, you can see how your recent (last 30 days’) runs compare to each other and, therefore, how your running performance has been developing.

Understandably, even if it doesn’t look quite so extreme as in my example (which is mainly just based on some initial data – from lactate testing – that confused the analysis), seeing performance trend upwards is a good and motivating thing to have happen, and a downwards trend would, at the very least, provide a good warning that something must be off…

What Does Running Performance Mean?

To go a little more in-depth, a final look at the numbers…

First, another word from Firstbeat:

What’s the thinking behind the running performance indicators? It looks obviously good during a run, to be able to see that one is getting ‘weaker’, okay. But that’s to be expected. How else can it be used best? Periodization and tapering before a race, perhaps? How?


“If you really want to shock your body, i.e. get high training effect, then a big decrease in performance is expected, and a good thing. That’s one example.

It is also a way to assess how your fitness develops in the long term: For example, if you have a weekly 15km running exercise for a marathon with a target pace, then the decrement in performance should get smaller week by week. This is because the same exercise causes a smaller disturbance in your body’s homeostasis (balance state) as fitness level improves.

In addition: if performance level drops fast during the workout it is a sign of upcoming exhaustion.”

Running performance, as mentioned in the introduction, reflects physiological state (cardiorespiratory fitness) as well as running economy. Through that, it is related to, but not directly reflective of, VO2max: If running economy were perfect (a score of 1.0, i.e. the best it could be for you), then the running performance indicated would directly correspond to VO2max; otherwise, it is a product of VO2max x running efficiency.

So, you cannot quite put your running performance number into that table below directly (as the table shows VO2max, which is likely to be lower than your running performance), but it does give an indication of your likely fitness level:

VO2max and Fitness Level Classification

VO2max and Fitness Level Classification (Source: Firstbeat)

The running performance / VO2max number can also be used to predict race time:

Running Performance and Race Time Predictions

Running Performance and Race Time Predictions (Source: Firstbeat)

Of course, one should keep in mind that such a prediction is an art at least as much as it is a science. For example, if all you ever run is a 10k, your performance on a marathon or an ultra will most likely be ‘weaker’ than your performance score alone would predict.

If you want to delve deeper, the White Paper from Firstbeat explaining this analysis (and showing the sources that the above tables are based on) is available here as a pdf.

Otherwise, just have fun – and use the tools you have been given well ;)

The Suunto Ambit3 Manual 6: Recovery Testing

With firmware 2.0 (released end of June 2015), Suunto gave its Ambit3 line two new features powered by Firstbeat Technologies: recovery testing and running performance.

Time to update my Ambit – or now, really Ambit3 – manual

Recovery Time

An estimation of the recovery time needed after a training session has been a part of the Ambit3 line from the beginning.

In fact, to be exact, post-exercise recovery time was already displayed by the Ambit2 and even the original Ambit. The Ambit3 line, however, added an active recovery estimation/tracking which takes into account not just the stress of an exercise, but also the amount of activity done afterwards.

(This feature is still often mistaken for an activity tracking á FitBit, and it could be implemented like that, but this is not how it is now and how it was meant to be: the data recorded is not ‘translated’ into steps and not stored anywhere it would be accessible once it has been cleared from the Ambit3’s memory. Rather, it is used to tell if you got your rest and recovery after a training session or kept on running around and should take longer to fully recover.)

Recovery Status / Tests

The new recovery tests are something else again:

They analyze heart rate variability, which is a measure of recovery state and stress, to give a physiologically based measure of how well rested one is.

This can be done in one of two ways:

Sleep Test

The “Sleep test” requires one to wear the HR strap for the whole night, which can of course be uncomfortable, depending on the person, but is less influenced by factors such as feelings of (mental) stress. It also runs over a longer analysis time, and should therefore be more of an in-depth analytical tool:

Quick Test

The “Quick test” is much faster, taking only 3 minutes, but can be influenced rather more strongly by how relaxed or stressed-out one is. This is why it is recommended that one prepare everything and then do the quick test right after waking up, before even having got out of bed.

At the very least, this is a test that should always be done under the same conditions, not whenever the fancy strikes, or it may end up measuring the effects of an earlier exercise, caffeine intake, or work stress more than one’s actual recovery state – as happened when I turned it on at the end of a day, just to show how it works:

Calibration Tests

For both tests, the first three tests done of each are used as calibration tests.

Ambit3 Calibration Test

For those, when you start the test, your Ambit3 will initially also display “calibration test”) to adjust the technology to individual status.

Recovery Test Results

Even so, the results of the recovery tests can be rather more surprising than seriously enlightening.

Case in point: Me.

During a few weeks of testing, I have hardly ever seen my sleep recovery giving a value above 50%, marking me as constantly “recovering,” even after several days without much physical exercise and with what I felt was decent sleep.

For the same days, the quick tests were only rarely below 50%…

By the way, what the recovery is meant to indicate is the following:

  • 0%-20%: “Not recovered” – Rest is recommended, not training.
  • 21%–50%: “Recovering” – Easy training is okay, but more not recommended.
  • 51%-80%: “Recovered” – Training up to hard intensity / HR zone 3 is okay.
  • 81%-100%: “Fully recovered” – All training should be okay.

In this final video, you can see the results from an(other) morning, with an overnight sleep test followed by a quick test. The combination of the two is hardly necessary and also gave the above-mentioned divergent results, but this quick test, at least, was done as it should be and gives a decent result:

With the different results from two tests following on the heels of a each other, it’s a case of “Go figure.”

The two measurements did, however, at least tend to track each other’s ups and downs relatively well, so the trends are probably interesting and useful.

Also, even with the differences, I prefer a measurement done when I want to do it (as with the Ambit3) to the implementation of the recovery check on Garmin’s fenix3, which comes after 6 minutes of an exercise, when I’m already out and doing my training. (And the fenix3 said that my recovery state was only “fair” rather than “good” only once during all my testing, on a second day of mountain training, when I could tell that I was sore anyways. All other days, it was never anything but “good.”)

Interview with Mikko Seppänen, Firstbeat

Seeing these idiosyncrasies, I asked Mikko Seppänen, physiologist at Firstbeat Technologies, to explain further…

Sleep quality testing is being explained as also being a kind of recovery testing, but is much longer-term and gets different results. So, which test is recommended for what user / use case?

Firstbeat: Sleep recovery test always gives a broader insight to recovery state because there are less external interfering factors that influence results AND the measurement period is much longer. That’s why it gives a more reliable result.

Quick recovery test is easy and quick to perform and therefore gives extra value for the cases when night measurement is not the best option:

You may sometimes feel unwilling to sleep with the heart rate belt / you have simply forgot to start measurement in the evening / something unexpected has happened during the night (baby crying) etc…

Sleep quality testing requires that one wears the HR belt while sleeping, which some people will find a disturbance itself… (Why) Is it worth doing so?

Firstbeat: Sleep measurement is definitely worth performing because it gives more reliable results (see the arguments above).

The instructions for the quick recovery test say that it should be done in the same conditions and that it also needs a baseline of tests. Does that mean there is no good use for the QRT to just quickly see how exhausting a (just-finished) training session was or if recovery level is good? (If one compares to Garmin’s fenix3, there one gets a recovery level indication after 6 minutes of a training session using the HR belt – totally different time/use.)

Firstbeat: Using the quick recovery test after an exercise makes no sense because the test is designed to measure the recovery status always in the same condition. This is to help the user to estimate his/her readiness for a coming training session.

Post-exercise condition is always different and the results are associated to fatigue à the harder the exercise, the lower the recovery score. This is because the sympathetic tone is dominating after exercise and consequently, heart rate is high and heart rate variability diminished.

The feature that Garmin has is slightly different: It evaluates “readiness” based on current performance level (measured at the beginning of the exercise)  and recent training history (how much and how hard the training in the recent days was). Both Sleep recovery and Quick recovery tests allow the user to assess his/her “readiness” and consequently plan coming workouts already beforehand.

Related to the last, why is there a need for a baseline when other HRV testing seems to be used to give an indication of stress levels from single measurements… What’s the difference in analysis?

Firstbeat: Three “calibration” tests are recommended for both sleep and quick tests and the recommendation is to perform them in a well-recovered state. This allows to  scan an “individual recovery scale”, i.e. to find what is the maximum intensity of recovery for that person. After this personal scaling, the future results are more reliable.

What would explain a (rather large) difference between sleep and quick recovery test results?

Firstbeat: One explanation for the differences between sleep and quick tests is that the sleep test is always performed in a calm state whereas interfering factors may appear before or during a quick test.  Both test results tell you how recovered you are compared with your best result. So, if you have not done any quick test in a really calm state then all results that you get are slightly overestimated.

But anyway, the quick test is more like a screening tool to, for example, observe trends in recovery state while the sleep test is more like in-depth analysis. AND it is likely that there are differences between the two test results to some degree.

Low sleep score may also be related to heart rate dynamics, e.g. when you have a high heart rate and a training effect (as measured by HRV analysis during the exercise, shown via the PTE) that accumulates quickly. So, you may have individual physiological characteristics related to a high sympathetic tone of your autonomic nervous system. If you usually train with a high intensity and have lots of work stress in addition, that may intensify sympathetic tone and decrease recovery score. Ilnesses and medications also decrease the recovery score.

For users who also use Firstbeat’s Athlete software: How could one – or Could one – use Firstbeat Athlete and the data from the Ambit3 (especially recovery and running performance) in parallel the best?

Firstbeat: Neither of the recovery tests is available in Firstbeat Athlete software. Athlete’s Training coach feature provides added value, for example.

So, if I do a recovery test and it tells me I must be completely stressed out (my average sleep quality value seems to be around 30%…), would you recommend going with that result and not doing any intense training, going with the recommendation given by Firstbeat Athlete’s Coach feature, or just going by feeling? This is where I’m wondering how to best approach all this modern tech ;)

Firstbeat: As you know, Training Coach only measures how you have trained and prescribes coming training sessions based on that. So recovery score does not influence Coach’s training prescription. Training Coach prescribes training sessions safely so that there are more easy/maintaining training sessions than improving (or harder) sessions, which usually allows you to recover adequately, thus allowing your fitness to improve. So I suggest that you could try to follow the coach for some time and see how your fitness (and sleep score) progress!

The Suunto Ambit3 Manual 4: The New Workout Planner

A little interlude in the regular (finally returning) Suunto Ambit(3) manual videos / video manual, as Suunto has just updated the Movescount app (still only for iOS devices, but coming to Android next month – April 2015) to version 2.1.1. and the Ambit3 software to version 1.5.

Included with this update: a new workout planner in the app and a new workouts menu in the exercise options. (Voice guidance in the app had to be pushed back a little.)

So then, let’s have a look at how it works.

First, setting up a workout in the Movescount app:

Secondly, of course, putting the workout to actual use:

A few small updates will be a good idea (for Suunto to do), but the capabilities of this new workout planner are very nice. It just makes the Ambit3 line nicer again; the lack of this feature in the earlier lines and the lack of an Android version of the app (to date) more noticeable, however.

Play around with the different “target” (and zone) settings, I’d advise.

Questions? Comments?

The Suunto Ambit(3) Manual 5: Custom(izing) Sports Modes

After time mode displays/basic functions, navigation use, and training plans and guidance, it is high time to get to one of the fundamental capabilities of Suunto’s Ambit line, the customization offered for the sports modes.

More than the time mode, which already offers quite a few functions (in the form of displays that can be turned on or off), sports mode offers various possibilities.

Going out walking and interested in nothing but a record of how long you walked?

Set up a “walking” mode that shows you the time of day and a stopwatch.

Running a mountain ultramarathon?

Set up a mode with 50 hour battery runtime (with “good” GPS recording, on an Ambit2), showing ascent/descent graphically, giving heart rate and pace and an estimate of your 100 mile finish time, given your current pace, and showing when the sun will set or rise again.

22: Introduction to Sports Mode Customization


23: Customizing Sports Modes

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it, onto Movescount and to the customization page for a look at examples of how sports modes can be set up.

My main example(s), of course, are running-related: A general running mode with pace- and HR-focused displays, on the one hand; an “ultra” mode set up for ultramarathon running (with longer battery runtime thanks to a lower GPS setting, with the sunrise/sunset app, etc.) And there’s also a “marathon” mode…

… and I’m not even getting into indoors training or the HR check mode I’ve set up for easily doing nothing but seeing the HR. Let alone swimming modes.

24: MultiSport Mode

On most of the Ambit models, one sport doesn’t seem to be enough; you can also set up MultiSport modes combining various of your individual sports (modes) into one multisport mode.

That way, it is easy to transition from one sport to the next in the course of one “move,” as for example in a triathlon (which is actually a pre-set multisport mode on the Ambits/Movescount and the example I use here).

One theme mentioned but not explored: If you want to have a separate record of your transition time(s), you can also set up a “transition” mode and add it to the MultiSport mode here. (This is, indeed, how the “triathlon” multisport mode has come to be set up by now.)

You can “only” have 2 multisport modes and(/or) 10 single sport modes, however, so choose wisely. Then again, if you don’t mind looking into the menu a little bit, you can always combine the modes you have on your watch into a multisports move, manually (as shown in the video).

25: Customizing Sport Modes in the Movescount App

If you have an Ambit3 and a compatible device (still only newer iOS devices, but the Android app should be out next month [April 2015]), you can also customize sports modes (as long as you have internet) on the fly via the Movescount app…


I’m undecided. So, you tell me: Should I give some more detailed advice / suggestions on how to set up specific sports modes?

And, I guess I should give a look inside the Ambit app zone? Or not?


The Suunto Ambit(3) Manual 3: Training Plans and Guidance

Moving (after a look at the time mode displays and the navigation) to what is the true raison d’etre of the Suunto Ambit line: outdoors training, adventure, exploration.

The fitter you are, the easier it is to explore and enjoy it, and you might want to use a training plan to guide yourself in a regular fitness regimen.

How can you best use training programs when you have an Ambit?

By planning your training ‘moves’, getting the Ambit to remind you of them and guide you, either in your pace or in your chosen heart rate zone…

16: Planned Moves and Training Programs

The Ambit is enough of an outdoors device to not offer the most complicated of training guidance, but one should know how to set up training programs or plan ‘moves’. Those give quite a bit more guidance than a sports mode by itself would…

17: Planning Moves for Pace/HR Guidance

Just a quick video here showing the set-up for planned moves (or moves in a training program, those work in the same way), with or without distance. This, as we’ll see in videos #20 and #21, showing the planned moves in practice, gives two different kinds of guidance.

18: Setting Up HR Zones for Planned Moves

If you’ve wanted to set up planned moves or training programs before, maybe you’ve wondered what the “intensity” is actually supposed to mean.

It’s all there in the HR zones under “Profile” -> “Body Metrics”: The zones there are the HR limits that will be used in planned moves (as long as you don’t set up a distance).
The next videos will show how it all works in practice…

(Sorry about the focusing / exposure problems. The black background of the Movescount website is hell for a camera…)

19: Putting Planned ‘Move’ into Practice

It’s a training day as per the planned moves (or training program), and this here is what the Ambit then shows as a reminder, and how to get started using that plan the right way.

You can also see how to calibrate the compass, which should be done before going out on a ‘move’ that will be recorded by GPS or (even more so) before using navigation.

The reminder for planned moves that is very necessary, to also put it in writing: Start a planned move by going into exercise mode (hitting “start/stop”) while in the training plan display (in time mode), NOT any other display (such as that of time and date, where you’d probably, usually, start a ‘move’)!

20: Planned ‘Move’ in Practice – Pace Guidance

The first of the two moves set up in video #17, for 4 km in 30 minutes, in practice.

Having planned for a distance makes the planned move give guidance on pace, and it means that the “50% complete” and “100% complete” displays will come at 2 and 4 km, respectively.
Pace guidance is by visual markers on the pace display, in real time, and by acoustic alarm, after 2 minutes outside of the proper range.

21: Planned ‘Move’ in Practice – HR Zone Guidance

Here’s the second of the two moves set up in video #17, the one for 30 minutes of running at a “moderate” intensity, used in practice.

Not having planned this ‘move’ to be for a certain distance, but rather for time and intensity, i.e. heart rate zone, guidance here is (only) for the heart rate to be in the selected zone.

(Unsure how/where to set up these heart rate zones? See video #18.)

The “50% complete” and “100% complete,” therefore, come at 15 minutes and 30 minutes, respectively.
Again, visual guidance (now on the HR display, of course) is instantaneous; acoustic alarms for having fallen outside of the selected zone, here too, only come after 2 minutes outside the proper range.

The Problem with Planned ‘Moves’

What the planned ‘moves’ of/or training programs do not give you are warm-up times.

You can simply add a cool-down, the ‘move’ continues recording after it is “100% complete,” after all, but the guidance starts just as soon as you start the planned ‘move’.

So, if you have to have a more-detailed plan, also and especially with intervals, then you need another approach: You will need to use Ambit apps. And if you also want heart rate zones, you will also want an app for that.

But, all of that is a different theme from the training plans and planned moves… Something for next time.

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