October 31, 2008

Response to recent reader comments

My apology for recent quit period - I have been taking few days off with my family in Florida and did not have much time left for browsing the web much less for posting anything on my blog. But I'm back and will continue to report on my training and the use of heart rate monitors and possibly new segment on using power on the bike. In the meantime I owe few answers to readers of this blog. I thought I'll take opportunity to combine this post with the answers to the questions posted under the last article about RS800CX and third party (non-Polar) software I use to analyze the workouts. Thank you all for coming back to my blog and keep the comments coming.

Comment from paradoxtk: In the review it seems you get the most information out of WKO+ comparing to FB Athlete. FB Athlete seems only to deliver some information about the workload of your exercises while with WKO+ it seems you are able to do more finegrain data analysis. Is this assumption right? But on the other hand WKO+ seems to be useful mostly for power-oriented analysis.

In my particular case I get most information out of the WKO+, but that is mainly because I have a coach that plans my workouts and do not need to rely on the software. For WKO+ it is quite important to use the power meter, otherwise the TSS/IF can not be calculated for the bike rides. You can still get TSS/IF for run workouts as well as normalized pace and HR/pace decoupling for long steady state workouts (well that is where it makes most sense to look at it anyways). For swim workouts I follow Joe Friel's advice he gives his athletes (see his blog) - e.g. easy workout has TSS of 30 and very hard one TSS of 100, then multiply by number of hours of the workout duration. I use this guideline also for bike workouts on stationary bike in the hotel if I do not have power meter with me or in case my foot pod battery dies half way through a very long run - like that never happened ;-). Otherwise the WKO+ and FB Athlete are different types of software. The WKO+ does more detailed analysis of the workout as well as provide a long term progression information through the performance management chart and weekly / monthly stats. The FB Athlete provides very detailed analysis of the R-R data and helps determine EPOC and Training Effect for each workout as well as provides program to improve the fitness with dynamic program. I just do not use the program as I have a coach that plans my workouts, but if you do not have coach this may be a good way to moderate your stress level in a program. Self coached athletes tend to work too hard all the time and do not always realize when to back off.

Jan, what software (either WKO+ or FB Athlete) would you suggest for the Polar RS800CX as supplement to the Polar Pro Trainer SW? (in other words: without a powermeter, but with RR-data functionality)

In this case I would probably ask what is your situation - e.g. how do you plan your season and do you know how to put together your plan. If not you may be better off to rely on the FB Athlete to help you plan the workload. If you do already plan your workouts and look for better way to analyze your progress then the WKO+ may be better option as the FB athlete does not provide as much detail as what you can get from WKO+. And you can self-assess the cycling TSS according to the guideline quoted above.

Yesterday i finally reveived my RS800CX! :-) After first tests and after configuring the watch i tried to build an exercise that uses a sport profile and individual sportzones. Unfortunately i was not able to do so. It seems the watch does really only support one sportzone set at a time. It seems it is not possible to deploy different sportzone sets in planned exercises by using the sport profile function. Can you confirm this by testing it yourself? Otherwise this could also be a bug in the PPT SW, but i do not think so. But nevertheless, i really like this watch! :-)

Congratulations on your new gizmo. As I posted earlier the watch supports only one sport zone, but you can still create the workouts that combine bike/run sport zones. You just need to set the HR limits as % of max or as actual beats per minute. I tested it for the brick workout and it works fine for the workout guidance - e.g. the watch will show you the right range you should be in for each phase you programmed in PPT5. But the issue comes when you look at the workout result in the PPT5 later - only one HR zone can be used for displaying the information - you can switch between the zones and tweak them after the workout, but it still gives you only one zone for the entire file. I found it more useful to record the brick as separate workouts and then look at them either individually or assess them as a multi-sport workout in PPT5. I'll do some more writing on this in a week or so.

Comments from Mogens:
I have the same feeling as paradoxtk regarding FB Athlete - it seems that you are lacking confidence in the programs functinality. So my question is - do I need to buy FB Athlete to analyse R-R data or is it possible to use PP5's OwnOptimizer/overtraining status?

You can certainly live without the FB Athlete and rely on Polar OwnOptimizer function to monitor your training load. I use FB Athlete as a validation of the total EPOC I accumulate during the week. But as you correctly stated it is just a validation. I already own the software and only use functions I really take advantage of. I do not lack confidence in the training program it suggests, but I also do not feel like using it when I have USAT certified coach planning my season. I really do not need the coach function in the software, but folks without access to coach may find it useful as it seems to periodize the workouts quite well. Quite often my workouts are either spot on or close to the training effect that the software suggests. While on other days my plan is totally different - like now the software does not know I'm fighting flu while my coach does. So my coach re-designed my week to take it into consideration while the FB athlete assumes I'm well rested and suggested workouts with TE of 4.8 for tomorrow - that would probably not help me. So if you decide to use the software do it with a bit of caution as it does not consider all aspects of your training. All it does is it analyzes your training load and based on it suggests next few days of load (it obviously does more than just that and the algorithm is I'm sure very sophisticated, but in a nutshell the description is correct).

You seem to have a lot of experience with diffferent kind of software related to triathlon - did you ever look at a software package called PC Coach?

I'm afraid I did not have the pleasure of using the PC Coach. Before you buy make sure the software is compatible with the RS800CX. You can call their help desk and I'm sure they will help you. I believe the company also sells the Polar products so they will be able to help you. The only contact I had with the company was indirect when I read their older article about the Timex, Polar and Suunto HRMs.

Comment from Gorka:
I'm 90% sure to buy the RS800CX MULTI (with two bike sensor for VTT and road bike). I know that this watch can not be used as navigator (I understand navigator as something that tells me which way to follow). But, does the Garmin Forerunner 405 give this options? (I suppose that not, but I'm not able to find something that it confirms this). Thank you very much.

Gorka, the navigation features in Forerunner 405 are very basic - it basically points you to the next waypoint and depending on the software you used to plan the route it can be on the road or not. It does not have a map or visual indication of where you are in comparison to the next waypoint, just an arrow that points the direction. It is OK for running and I used it on one long run just to test it out. I was not impressed, but it may be good enough for finding your way around if you upload the route to the watch prior to the training ride. Friend of mine had only the best to say about the Forerunner 305 for navigating him on his bike rides. The display on 305 seems to be better for this type of navigation, the 405 has fairly small screen. You can get the 305 fairly cheap now - if you are in the US the REI discount is coming soon so you may be able to snatch one at very reasonable price. If price is not a concern a lot of cyclists use the Garmin Edge 605 or 705, but they are much more expensive than the Forerunner 305. Note that the Forerunner 305 does not have a map, only a drawing of relative position of you vs. the planned route. Check Fred's page linked above for actual pictures of how it looks.

October 21, 2008

Analysis of training data (part 3 of RS800CX reviews)

This is a third article focused on how I use the HRM in training. If you missed the previous articles you can find them on this site. Follow the links below:

RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions I.
RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions II.

I selected a different title for this post than for the previous two as it is not much about the RS800CX watch, but more about 3rd party software I use for analysis of data that I gather during training. I'll also make references to CS600 with power sensor as that is what I use on my bike and the software analysis tools leverage the power data. And lastly instead of discussing the programs one by one without much context I'll talk about the entire process from the workout planning to the analysis of results of individual sessions as well as weekly, monthly and season.

Before we get down to the details let me talk a little about the software I use for my training. First up is the TrainingPeaks.com - website designed for endurance athletes that fully follows the Triathlete's Training Bible from Joe Friel (and also Cyclist's Training Bible from the same author). The Training Bible outlines a very structured approach to planning an entire racing season and periodizing the training for peaking at the key events. The TrainingPeaks.com site helps with planning the season, setting the goals and monitoring the progress.

Second software I use is the WKO+ from the same group that developed TrainingPeaks.com. The WKO+ used to be called CyclingPeaks and was geared towards cyclists, but in the recent few updates the software introduced features that help runners assess their workouts. As you can expect there is integration between the WKO+ and TrainingPeaks.com.

The third software package I started to use recently is the FirstBeat Athlete. The FB Athlete provides wealth of features including the Training Coach, but I use only parts of it that I found useful. I do not use the Training Coach in the FB Athlete as I prefer to rely on real coach rather than have software determine my plans for me. But there are folks that rely on software for fitness level training and are quite happy with the results. Now with the major packages introduced let's look at how I use them through out the season.

Season planning - the big picture

I'm not going to describe the whole Training Bible philosophy here, you can read it in the Training Bible books (note that new version of The Triathlete's Training Bible will be released soon, I suggest you to wait for it as Joe Friel made significant revisions to the book as he discusses on his blog. In short the season planning is done after your last priority A race in the previous season. The planning starts with setting the preferences for the next season like annual training hours, time frame, your personal data, then you are guided through setting the season goals and assessing your limiters. In the next step you plan individual races for the season and prioritize them as A, B or C events. Essentially the A events are the ones you will taper for and B, C events are either tune up races or testing races. It does not mean that you do not push hard in B or C race, it just helps you structure your plan. Once you set the races and their priorities the site will compute your annual training plan. The training plan basically spreads the annual training hours through out the season and assigns each week to a specific training phase (transition, preparation, base, build, peak, race). There is logic in the software that assigns the hours to each week according to the phase that you will be in during that week. You can adjust the annual training plan any time later or even re-calculate it during the season in case you need to re-assess due to unforeseen circumstances. The next step is to plan your week. The picture below shows the annual training plan that already has workouts logged against it (new one would be empty). Also note that the training plan has section for strength training, swim, bike and run and for each week you can determine which abilities you will work on (see the colorful bars at the top of the picture). The annual plan suggests the sports you need to work on based on the races you planned, but you can modify the plan as you see fit. There is much more that you can do with the plan, but as an introduction this is hopefully sufficient.

04 TrainingPeaks ATP

Planning training week

When I started training few years ago I used to put plan for the entire build-up to the A-race into the TrainingPeaks.com and it was typically a plan I derived from a book or combination of few canned plans. Few months ago I hired a coach and no longer do the detailed weekly planning. I receive them and execute them to the best of my ability. Typically my coach plans first few days of my week on Sunday the previous week and the rest in early part of the training week. There is a general schedule we agreed in the beginning that is pretty much dictated by my work and family commitments. If I have any changes to the general schedule or my status (like injury or sickness) I advise my coach via e-mail or through the TrainingPeaks.com site. The next picture shows the completed week (actually this is my last week) with individual workouts and instructions from my coach.

01 TrainingPeaks

The second picture shows one of the planned workouts. Besides having the workouts on-line the site also sends you e-mail (if you chose to) with the workouts for next two days. If you need to you can move workouts around (unless they are from your coach - then you need to ask for them to move it).

03 TrainingPeaks-workout

For more complex workouts or for workouts in which I want the HRM to monitor key parameters of the workout I create planned workout in PPT5. In the workout I set the limits as I need them in the specific workout - for cycling sessions it is generally HR, cadence or power (I use CS600 with power), for run sessions I use mostly HR limits. I do not plan swim sessions in the PPT5 as the S625X does not support guided workouts the same way RS800CX and CS600 do. Plus when I swim I just have a printout of the workout in a ziploc bag on the pool side and follow it - not a big need to have the watch beep at me. Example of workout in the PPT5 is below.

11 PPT5-workout-plan

The planned workout is then transferred to the HRM and I execute the training session according to the guidance. In case of simple workouts I use the Free workout type from the watch which does not have any guidance and is ideal for self-guided workout.

Workout analysis

After the workout is complete I load it to the PPT5 and look at the key parameters of the workout. The PPT5 has been discussed in the previous articles so I'll not go into too much detail here. Typically the assessment consists of reviewing the pacing information, looking at whether I reached the workout goals and assessing where I had troubles. This may be a very short assessment for some workouts like easy recovery workout where I would only check if I went too hard at any point. For specific workouts like long bike, brick or long run I would look at the splits, power output (in cycling), pace, cadence and other variables on the chart shown below.

12 PPT5-workout-result

The PPT5 allows to change the selection (the thick blue bar under the graph) and select specific segment or segments (even non-continuus) and then review parameters for the selection. I may also add notes, laps and correct the errors in the recording (which does not happen often).

Once I'm done with the workout editing in the PPT5 I take the hrm file and load it to the WKO+. In the WKO+ I look at the overall training stress score (TSS) and intensity factor (IF). Note that the TSS and IF get only calculated for cycling workouts with power and running workouts with pace/distance data.

21 WKOplus-record-workout

Then I look at the individual parameters of the workout and review the power zones (for cycling) and HR zones (for running) on the screen shown below. I also tend to look at Mean Maximal Pace for runs and Mean Maximal Power for cycling sessions. The software is very flexible and lets you define additional graphs to review other parameters of the session.

22 WKOplus-workout-detail

For majority of sessions I also look at the detailed graph and look at other parameters - like HR / power or HR / pace decoupling that is quite good way to assess your base in long steady state efforts. I may analyze cycling sessions to see how many candles I have burned - this is quite useful for race analysis to understand why you blew-up later on bike or did not have good run in triathlon race. There is just a lot you can derive from WKO+, but the software requires you to do good amount of reading of the manuals and I also recommend you to read Joe Friel's blog. Following picture shows the detailed graph of the session.

23 WKOplus-workout-graph

Last step in WKO+ is to load the workout results to the TrainingPeaks.com along with comments for my coach. The TrainingPeaks.com then lets my coach review the workout in detail and if I want I can share the workout with my friends via Facebook or just send people link to the workout details.

42 TP Results analysis

After that I take the R-R file from the workout and dump it into the FB Athlete for very quick assessment. I do not rely much on the FB Athlete in my training and use it to assess and cross-validate the overall weekly load. The FB Athlete computes EPOC and Training Effect for individual workouts and that is all I use it for. I do not utilize the Training Coach function. Here is a picture of the FB Athlete page.

32 FB Measurement graph

For some workouts I review the graph showing which part of the workout I spent in which VO2 zone. It is interesting to see where I labored more than I should have. But I do not really rely much on the FB Athlete results and use them only as additional info.

Week, month and season assessment

On regular basis I review the weekly, monthly and entire season statistics. Most useful are the graphs I get from the WKO+. The program comes with pre-defined set of graphs that you can modify or add new ones to analyze your entire season, previous few days or specific date range. I have bunch of graphs on my overview page that show me weekly training volume and time for the season, HR distribution for the entire season and then the same graphs for each sport. For cycling I have a section that shows distribution of power in automatic buckets and also in training zones, mean maximal power over the previous month with mean heart rate, mean maximal power and mean maximal pace for the season and week, training stress and intensity factor for biking and running, cadence for biking and running, performance management chart and summary of the training with weekly and monthly average HR, TSS, power and pace. If you want other stats you can play around with the graphs and get them displayed on your athlete page in the WKO+. Sample of the page is below - not all graphs are displayed. Again as for other WKO+ related details read the WKO+ help on-line.

24 WKOplus-season-graphs

Second area where I look for overall data about the training volume is the TrainingPeaks.com - the Annual Training Plan shown on the first picture in this article shows the volume per week. The Actual field then indicates with color code whether I trained just enough (no background), more (red) or less (yellow) that planned.

As a secondary information for my weekly load I look at the overall EPOC for the week in the FB Athlete. The summary of the week is on the right side of the picture below.

34 FB Training History

If I used the FB Athlete for training planning I could also look at the training plan that dynamically changes as the workout results get loaded to the software. According to the software help the recommended training sessions should be taken as recommended durations and TE levels. If you need more time to achieve the TE you can take more time. I did not do any analysis of this function so I can not really comment on this.

This is in nutshell how I use the software to help me train. I must admit that I'm a geek and enjoy playing around with gadgets and hoard data that I can later review and analyze. It is important to say that you do not need to do all this to be successful. The most important part of all this is actually me working with personal coach. The rest is just making it more fun for me to train...

October 16, 2008

RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions II.

Evaluation of training

This is second article that continues the discussion about the RS800CX. Today we will discuss the post workout analysis that you can do in the watch and in the PPT5 software.

As you can see from the previous article the RS800CX captures just an amazing amount of information about the exercise. In the examples here I use few different sessions to show the amount of information you get in the watch and later can review in even more detail in the software. The RS800CX is watch for anyone who likes to dig through data and wants analyze workout details for selected workouts (or all of them if you have enough time). Let's start with few pictures that show the data you can get directly in the watch right after you finish the session.

First picture shows the overview information about the workout. It includes the start time, distance ad duration of the session.

RS800CX Training Log

You can drill down through the data and review the min / max and average HR, calories burned, max / avg pace info, cadence (shown below), stride length [the previous two are specific to S3 sensor for the run and cadence sensor for the bike], Running Index, Altitude info, Ascend, Descend, Temperature.

RS800CX run cadence

Besides the above listed information you can review the time spent in each HR zone, Time, pace, HR and other information about each phase if you followed pre-planned workout and also review the details about each lap that you recorded during the workout (see the picture below for top screen, you can then drill down to details). The amount of information is more than sufficient.

RS800CX laps info

You can then transfer the data from the watch to the Polar Pro Trainer 5 software that comes with the watch and works on Windows (or if you are Mac user you can use it in Parallels, VMware or BootCamp). The analysis in the PPT5 gives you detailed data for each recording interval you selected - e.g. 1s, 2s, 5s, etc. as I listed them in the previous article. The actual workout file provides a great amount of detail from the session as shown below.


You can review each data point of each lap for various information. Additionally you can play around with the selection bar below the graph (the blue thick line) and select only specific parts of the exercise and then review the details of the selected part of the session. As shown in the example below (note that this is a different workout than the one shown on the watch above).


Generally I enable display of maximum of four variables in the graph - e.g. HR, pace, altitude and cadence which is still possible to read. But you can enable as many as all variables captured or just one - the flexibility of PPT5 is hard to beat in this segment of the software from HRM manufacturers. In the analysis you can review the lap information, change the lap type to indicate specific events during the race or training session (like I blew-up here). The colors in the background are showing the HR zones for the session. In PPT5 you can define up to four different HR sport zones and assign them to individual sports. This is extremely useful for triathletes and other multi sport athletes that train at different intensities in different sports. The watch itself supports only one sport zone, but I do not find that limiting as each exercise you define uses the HR zones of the sport you define in the software. E.g. if I define a run in zone 1 and 2 it will have different HR limits than if I define bike in zone 1 and 2 as separate exercises. It is little more complicated when you have to do a brick, then you need to set the HR zones manually in the brick phases to stay within the limits as you intend. This also introduces an issue in analysis of the brick as only one HR sport zone can be associated with one sport. Therefore I think the way Polar handles the multi-sport mode on the watch is good - record each part of the brick as separate exercise you can evaluate separately, but when you exercise you can see the combined time, distance and calories in the multi-sport view. Then in the analysis you can also activate the multi-sport view and review the workouts. Since I did not do any bricks with the watch yet I'll need to do some more research on this and report back in another article.

The RS800CX in conjunction with the Polar G3 GPS sensor captures location information for each session that you can later view in the software directly or in the GoogleEarth. The analysis in Google Earth is pretty nice as the path shows graphically not only the location but also color codes the HR zone you were in and shows the phase switches as well as the lap information. It is pretty interesting to review the workout in this way and see where you pushed harder and where you relaxed a bit. At this point you can not load the workouts to a website and share easily with friends (as Garmin Connect allows), but I have no doubt this will eventually become available on the Polar Personal Trainer on-line.


Let's look at another part of PPT5 which is reporting - most products from other HRM providers have pre-defined set of reports with very minimal ability to customize them to fit your needs. Not the PPT5 - the ability to define additional reports than the five enabled by default is great. You can customize the standard reports or define new ones as you need and then look at the data as you are pleased. It is quite impressive how much you can customize the reports and review any combination of data from your log over any period of time. Below are two simple reports showing time in sport zones per week.


The second picture shows the run pace with average HR and distance. You can define anything you want.


In the next article I'll look at the additional third party software I use for analysis in addition to the Polar Pro Trainer 5.


A unique feature of any Polar HRM is the set of tests that Polar devised in their research and built into the watch. The RS800CX offers two tests - the Fitness Test and Optimizer Test. I run the fitness test twice a week to see how my fitness progresses over time and as part of running it I have RS800CX predict my maximum HR. The Optimizer test is used to determine whether the training is structured optimally and the test result can help determine when you train too hard or too easy. I'm still figuring this one out as most of my results come as normal training or rested. But that is probably because I have not done a solid week of full training since the accident.

Daily use of the watch

I use the RS800CX as a regular watch for daily use and find is comfortable to wear the whole day without any issues. The design is somewhat unusual and does not resemble regular watch. Some people do not like the design, but I find it OK. Not excited about it and I prefer the design of Sunnto T6 as a daily watch, but the RS800CX is in my opinion the best HRM for multi-sport athletes and I do not need to witch between different watches. I love the back light on Polar - it is easy to activate and lights-up the watch very nicely (also during the exercise under low light conditions). The watch can be set to one of two time zones and you can quickly switch between them - useful if you travel a lot. The watch also has an alarm with snooze timer - sometimes I miss the alarm, but I guess it is more of a hard sleep on my part and me switching off the alarm while I sleep (I guess I need to put the watch on the bedside table and it will be OK). Besides alarm you can set number of reminders that I use to remind myself about doing the fitness test and own optimizer test. And lately to remind me to take the antibiotics - yeah the autumn season is upon us.


The prices quoted in this article reflect the US market prices. The prices in other markets may be quite different and I encourage you to check with the Polar dealer in your region about the actual prices of RS800CX. The watch itself can be had for 400 USD on-line. Polar also ships three different packs with pre-bundled sensors that are a better deal than buying the watch only and then adding the sensors. The RS800CX RUN with S3 stride sensor sells for 470 USD, you can buy the package RS800CX Multi with the G3 GPS sensor for the same price and if you are a cyclist you can get the RS800CX BIKE for 430 USD. The individual sensors are 135 USD for G3 GPS sensor, 140 USD for S3 stride sensor and 55 USD for bike speed sensor and the same price for bike cadence sensor. You can also pair-up your RS800CX with existing W.I.N.D. sensors you may have either with your RS800 or CS600 computers.

You may also like to review the other articles:

RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions I.
Analysis of training data (part 3 of RS800CX reviews)

Free wattage seminar from Allen Hunter

TrainingPeaks invited me to an on-line seminar with Allen Hunter where he discussed the power files of following riders from the Tour de France - Adam Hansen, Markus Burghardt and George Hincapie. The seminar shows the analysis of the power files in the WKO+ and is quite interesting for anyone training with power or thinking about it. You can view the seminar on Peaks Coaching Group website. Highly recommended.

October 12, 2008

I'm back: training load resuming

This week I slowly ramped-up the training volume and although it was a slow start the overall results for the week are not bad. I had great long bike ride yesterday. Took off in the afternoon in the general direction of one major route that I knew heads to next city. I followed the back roads and enjoyed the colors of autumn that is turning the leaves to all very nice mix of yellow, red and green. After about 20 miles I encountered a huge climb on which I had to stand and was moving up the hill at about 4-7mph while pushing the pedals real hard. It was a tough climb, but I'll be riding that route again. It is a great challenge. I may reverse direction as the other side of the hill looked as challenging as the one I was taking. The rest of the ride was as good and I really enjoyed the time out. I did some fast descends to see if I chicken out after the crash, but nope I can still get going down the hill.

Today was a run and swim day and it was as good as the biking. I ran this morning for about an hour and covered little over 7 miles at fairly relaxing pace - not really slacking pace, but I was not laboring during the run. It was a nice and chilly morning so I really enjoyed the time out while listening to IM Talk podcast discussing predictions for Kona. Well I saw Kona on the web last night and could compare the predictions with reality. They got the women's winner right, but did not almost even talk about Crowie. Well I guess so much for predictions of such a long and unpredictable race. Anyways the run went well and I had really great time out. Then in the afternoon I went to the local pool and swam a good 40 minutes session focusing on the areas Erica pointed out I need to work on. The pool was busy with some kind of party, but almost no-one swam so I had lane to myself and enjoyed my time in the water. I also tested rubber HR belt instead of the Wearlink+ that tends to flood and report weird heart rate - like 18 bpm after a hard 50 yards. The rubber belt worked very well and I did not see even one problem. At times I had little lower HR, but never below 100 which is what I would expect in a swim with fairly short rest intervals. I'm back to training and enjoying every minute of it.

October 10, 2008

RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions I.

My recovery is progressing quite well and I have been able to do few low to medium intensity workouts with the RS800CX and can report on how I find it. I initially thought I'll put it all in one post, but there is just way too much information for one post. So this is the first post with the review. As in my other reviews I'll look at how the watch works in training planning, training execution and how well you are supported in training evaluation and analysis. Besides the core training function I'll also comment on how the watch performs as a daily watch and discuss the pricing. In this first article we will focus on training planning and training execution. The rest of the topics will appear on this blog sometime next week.

If you are looking for advice whether to buy RS800CX, Suunto T6c or Garmin Forerunner 405 you can combine this article with the one I published earlier this year. It should give you a good overview of what each watch does and help you select the one for you. This article is not really a comparison with other HRMs (that may come later). I'm more focusing on discussion of functions, features and how to use the watch for training.

Before we dive into the details I want to make few disclosures. First is that I have been using Polar products since I got back to being active few years ago. I started exercising with Polar S625X and later upgraded to RS800sd when it bacame available. I have used RS800sd for over 18 months before making switch to Suunto T6c and for a brief period Garmin Forerunner 405 (few months). I'm glad Polar released RS800CX as the new generation of high-end multi-sport watch that was so painfully missing from their product line. Key reason for me to sell the RS800sd (and also the Garmin 405) was that neither of them was supporting me well in triathlon training and racing. They are both very good HRMs for runners, but each has few deficiencies for triathletes. I still consider Suunto T6c a very good watch for triathlon training and racing, but the Polar RS800cx fits me better so the T6c is on eBay now. In a week or two I'll run comparison article between the two to give you an idea of the key differences. I trully believe that both T6c and RS800CX will work for most triathletes and it is only about what functions and features you prefer. My preference is to use the Polar RS800CX. On more disclosure - I also own the Polar CS600 with power and like it a lot. I upgraded to it few weeks ago from using the Polar Power Option wit the S625X. And in full disclosure I still use the trusted S625X for all of my swims - I'll be keeping it around as it is the most reliable and sturdy HRM I ever used. The Polar RS800CX is in a way evolution of the S625X cross-bread with the RS800 HRM from the running line. Now with the disclosures out of the way let's take a look how the RS800CX stacks-up.

Training planning

I do all my training planning directly in the Polar Pro Trainer 5 (PPT5) software that allows for very detailed planning of workouts that are then transferred to the watch and used to guide the user through the session. The software comes with the watch and works on Windows (also on Mac if you use Parallels, VMware or BootCamp). The workouts can be also created directly in the watch, but I prefer to design them in the software. The picture below shows the calendar view of the PPT5.


There are basically two types of exercise that you can define - first one is called Targets and is part of the training program. Each target is assigned to a specific day and can be scheduled to a specific hour (your watch can be set to remind you at the right time). The second type of exercise is stored in the watch as a pre-defined template and you can pick it at any time even when no workout is scheduled. The watch comes with few pre-defined exercises - Free, Basic, OwnZone and Interval. You can define more as you desire. I prefer using the scheduled workout targets in my plan during the main season. But sometimes during the transition period after A-race or during off-season I do either Free workout or OwnZone workout. The Free workout is basically without any HR zone guidance and the OwnZone workout uses first few minutes of the exercise to determine your aerobic heart rate zone from the heart rate variability (R-R intervals) and then guides you through to workout while keeping you exercising in aerobic zone. The following picture shows the screen on which you can customize the above mentioned pre-defined workouts directly in the watch.

You can lay out the training plan in the software which is very intuitive process. Each day you plan an exercise you can define guided workout and then copy the exercises from one day to other if you repeat the same workout every few days. You can build the guided workout (Polar calls them Targets) in few clicks by utilizing various options to control the length of individual phases of the workout - time, distance, manual or increasing/decreasing HR. For each phase you can also define the limits that will guide you through the phase - either HR limits as bpm / % of max / % of HR reserve, HR zone, speed/pace limits or cadence limits. The example on the picture below is very basic - 10 minutes at low intensity (well I did just very easy low intensity sessions this week and do not have many examples of complex workout that I used with RS800CX yet).

Diary page - target
But you can define much more complex workouts in the software and then transfer them to the watch. You can define a up to 12 training session phases with various durations and then define repeat pattern in very flexible way. This is very good for designing complex sessions that other HRMs do not handle as well. The phases of the workout can use different combination of limits - e.g. one can use HR zone, next one cadence and the following one HR as % of max. You can mix and match to design your desired workout. It sounds complicated at first, but you will find it real useful when you need to build a workout like this: following intervals ladder with 1 minute rest 400m, 800m, 1000m, 1200m and then all the way back to 400m. With PPT5 you can define the individual phases and store them in the watch that will then guide you during the actual session and prompt you every time phase changes. You would be hard pressed to define the above workout in the HRM like T6c or S625X as a guided workout as both are limited to two interval timers. The guided workouts are also available in other Polar products like RS400 and CS600 training computers (and probably others as well). Also Garmin has similar feature in their Training Center software and supports it on Forerunner 305 and Forerunner 405, but the flexibility is not as good as with PPT5.

After you defined the training plan in the PPT5 and you synchronized with the watch, the watch will show two additional menu items. The two are 'Today' and 'Program' where you can view your planned exercises for the day and monitor progress against the plan. You can review your daily progress as well as weekly stats. It is very useful and much more sophisticated than anything I have seen on Suunto or Garmin HRMs (maybe the only exception is the T4/T4c from Suunto that has FirstBeat functionality built in and helps schedule workouts for you dynamically. More on FirstBeat software will be in the post training evaluation section in continuation of this article. Besides monitoring your results and progress in the watch you have much more sophisticated tools available in the PPT5. More on that in the training evaluation section in the next article. Following picture shows the synchronization of the watch with the PPT5. During which the workout logs gets transferred to the software along with test results and the watch is updated with the scheduled workouts from the software.



Training with the RS800CX is straightforward - either select Today on the watch and launch the workout you pre-planned in PPT5 or simply press the red button on the face of the watch to start the workout or select one of the exercises stored in the watch. You can then press the start button again and off you go. What I like a lot on this watch is that before starting the exercise you have opportunity to tweak quite a few things if you need to without a need to navigate through menu to get to them. You can:

  • Enable/disable GPS sensor - this option is only visible if you paired G3 sensor with the watch and simply switches the use of it.
  • Select different exercise - this option lets you pick any of the pre-defined exercises in the watch instead of the one that is pre-selected. You can also use the left top button and hold it for a second to switch between the exercises without going to the menu.
  • Change shoes or bike that will be used in the exercise - this is really a selection of equipment you will use in the training session. You can start exercise with any of the enables shoes or bikes (watch allows up to three of each with different calibration factors for the shoes and wheel sizes for the bikes). This is pretty cool especially if you use multiple pairs of shoes or have different calibration factors for road, treadmill and track workouts. No need to remember all the calibration factor values, just pre-define in the software and switch to the right shoes before you start. The selection of equipment also influences which sensors will be active in the session - e.g. for shoes you can rely on either S3 for speed/pace, cadence and distance or G3 for speed/pace and distance. For any bike you can select whether you use speed sensor, cadence sensor and GPS sensor. You can also select that you do not use any equipment - like in swimming where you can set the monitor to None. The picture below shows the screen on which you can customize the shoes and bikes in the RS800CX.

  • Switch on/off altitude recording - in case you do a lot of indoor training you may not want to waste the memory on recording altitude. If you head out you can easily switch on altitude recording for your session and calibrate the altitude for your run (or use automatic calibration to pre-set value).
  • Adjust recording rate - you can change sampling rate of how often you want to store the data you are recording. The watch will show you how much time it will be able to store with the different sampling periods - the options you have are 1s, 2s, 5s, 15s or 60s. Quite a good range and the watch can store from few hours of workout with 1s sampling to close to 100 hours with 60 seconds sampling. All depends on the information you record - location info and R-R data seem to be the most demanding types of information.
  • Switch on/off recording of R-R data - you can enable or disable recording of HR variability during the exercise. If you use post-exercise analysis in products like FirstBeat Athlete you will want to keep this option enabled otherwise you will be unable to determine the EPOC and Training Effect of the session. If you are not doing analysis of the R-R data I suggest to disable this feature and save watch memory.
  • Target Zone Alarm - switch on/off the target zone visual and audio alarm. The watch beeps and lights up the display when you are outside of the pre-determined zone during the exercise.
  • HR view - you can decide how you want to see the heart rate on the screen - e.g. as beats per minute, % of HR max or % of HR reserve
  • Speed view - you can determine how you want to see the speed displayed on the monitor - either as pace min/mi (min/km) or speed mph (km/h)
  • Auto-lap - if you want you can define that the watch should take automatic lap after a pre-determined distance that you also specify here
  • Display - this is a new option compared to RS800 - you can tweak the display information prior to the exercise directly in the watch
  • Check location info from GPS if the GPS is on and linked with satellites

Note that all the tweaks described above can be done (and most often are done) directly in PPT5 and transferred to the watch prior to the exercise. The options above are useful in case you need to make last minute tweaks before the session - like when your coach suggested to keep the HR in 65-75% of your max instead of usually asking you to stay in zone 1 or 2.

When you press the Start button the first time the training session the watch will try to locate all active sensors and report any issues with linking to them (HR belt, S3 speed/cadence sensor, bike speed. bike cadence, GPS G3). Then you can start the exercise.

During the training session you can cycle between the displays with the right top and bottom button and view information about your workout from HR to pace, cadence, R-R variability, altitude, ascend, descend and a lot of other data. I'm still amazed how much information this watch collects and shows. The list is just too long to put it here. Great thing is to customize your watch to display only the data you want to see. I usually have different display set in training and different in races - quite often I would hide my HR during the race. I find that useful especially in shorter races. Instead I go by feel and try to stick with the pace or hit specific splits. If RS800CX is your first watch the customizing of displays may get little overwhelming. I suggest to stick with the pre-defined ones for few sessions and then you can redefine them as you see fit. I found t useful to printing out the few pages of the RS800CX manual that lists all the data you can display, then select info you want to see and use that as a guide to define each display view.

Each display contains three lines with information, but if you want to you can zoom the display to the top two or bottom two by holding the up or down button. During the exercise the red button serves as a lap button, which is no surprise for anyone I guess. But you may not know that holding the left top button will get you to workout menu in which you can do all kinds of interesting stuff - like lock the buttons, switch on/off the target zone alarm, change the way the HR is displayed, change speed view or search for sensors again. This is described in the manual, but is is easy to miss.

Any time during the workout you can use the Light button to switch on back light and it will stay on for few seconds or until you keep pressing the buttons. After you finish the session you can press the Stop button which will pause the exercise. In the menu that is displayed you can continue the session, review the summary of the workout, combine current session with the previous workouts, change settings, switch to Free mode or you can select exit and close the exercise.

I hope that after reading this article you have a pretty good idea of how you can use the Polar PPT5 and RS800CX to plan and execute your workouts. In the next article I'll detail the analysis of workout data and discuss the tests you can perform with the watch. Feel free to use the comments to ask questions or suggest what else you want to know. I already received few good questions in previous article and will soon publish a response.

You may also like to review the other articles:
RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions II.

Analysis of training data (part 3 of RS800CX reviews)

October 9, 2008

Thank you all for the well-wishes

I want to thank you all of you who contacted me over the past few weeks via comments, e-mails, Twitter or personally with the wishes of speedy recovery. Indeed I have been making good progress. Already last week Craig suggested easy spins on the bike trainer and they were not giving me any trouble even with the staples in my leg. We later added long walks with my son which was very good combination of physical exercise and family time (I wish I could do that with the other training as well). And yesterday was the first day when I ran - whole 10 minutes after 40 minutes on the bike. And everything felt good. My ankle is still little stiff, but it does not swell or hurt. Things are definitely looking up. Tomorrow is 30 minutes run and a short pool session.

October 6, 2008

Selling off few items - T6c, Polar Power and Suunto Bike Pod

I used the past weekend to review newly forming stack of boxes with heart rate monitors, power sensors and speed sensors and decided to sell off few items that I no longer use. In case you wanted to check out the eBay auctions click on the picture below:

Polar Power

Suunto T6c

Suunto Universal Bike Pod

October 3, 2008

Polar RS800CX field test - compared with Garmin Forerunner 405 output

I have been silent over the past few days, but that is only because the body needed well deserved rest and recovery time. Over the past few days I was pretty much sitting around and resting my leg. It got swollen on Monday and Tuesday around the ankle so I gave it enough rest before putting any stress on it. The swelling went down on Wednesday so yesterday I did first short bike ride on the trainer and in the evening went out for a walk with my son. I took the RS800CX with me for the walk with the G3 sensor to see how it performs. I also had the S3 sensor in my shoe, but it for some reason did not activate so I'll need to take it with me next time we go for a walk.

As we walked I took few laps to see how they show in the Google Earth and how the whole thing is implemented in the PPT5. Here are few pictures of how the walk turned out.

The first picture shows the exercise - yeah it was a very slow walk. I did not want to put stress on the leg and also walking with three years old involves few stops to check out various things - like a leave, manhole covers, trees, dog, car, house, and many other things. It is also like walking with Spanish inquisition... You with kids understand what I'm talking about.

RS800CX PPT5a.jpg

The second picture shows the PPT5 window with the location information - not yet overlaid over a map (like Garmin does in the Training Center), but ready for export to GoogleEarth or GPX viewer. Since I have only GoogleEarth I tried that option.

RS800CX PPT5b.jpg

On this picture you can see the GoogleEarth depiction of the walk. Contrary to the path shown we did not walk on other people lawns, but walked on the road. The section close to lap3 where we are shown to walk on the lawn in both directions has pretty good tree cover which can explain the error. But I did not walk in straight line, but instead walked back and forth as my son drove his bike next to me.

RS800CX walk.jpg

Third picture shows the lap information that is shown in the GoogleEarth. Pretty good information that get into GoogleEarth that helps analyze the segments much better than plain analysis in the PPT5 (which is still available, this is just an additional set of features Polar added to RS800CX).

RS800CX lap.jpg

This picture is not from Polar, but from Garmin Forerunner 405 from one older run in the same area (longer than what we walked). And it is here just for comparison purposes. You can see that Garmin captures each coordinate and depicts it as a square so it appears to stay on the road.

Garmin FR405 run.jpg

But zoom in and you will see that even with Garmin the GoogleEarth shows you running on the lawn next to the road. Road is the gray line to the right of the Garmin captured path.

Garmin FR405 detail.jpg

Last picture shows the information Garmin provides for each captured coordinate. It does not specifically highlight the laps and the provided info is almost useless - I'm not sure if anyone can use it. If you can let me know. I just can not imagine I would have use for immediate pace for each point and how far I traveled between two samples. But maybe I'm missing how to use it.

Garmin FR405 loc.jpg

Overall I like the way Polar depicts the path little better than what Garmin provides. I just wonder if and how Polar will depict the different zones - the example above is all in zone 1 as I did not even get my HR above 100 bpm and from there it is still long way to zone 2. When I'm able to run (probably some time next week after they remove staples from my leg) I'll do a few short bursts to get my HR all the way to zone 3 or 4 and see how Polar captures this. I'll also test the S3 sensor along with the G3 sensor. I did a short test last night and it works, but the test was like 200 meters so it does not really show much in GoogleEarth.

Other cool things I found is that the watch prompts you if you want to merge the exercises if you start new exercise within one hour of finishing the previous one and the watch has a new display for multi-sport view where it shows a combined distance, calories burned and combined time of the exercises. I still need to test out the transition from bike to run and see how the sensors need to be handled. Something tells me that it will not be as smooth as with the T6c where all you need to do is be more than 10 meters away from the other sensor - e.g. once you get far enough from bike sensor the watch picks-up your foot pod and changes the display from speed in mph (or km/h) to min/mi (or min/km). But I'll see how that works soon enough.

Soon I'll be selling some surplus stuff - Polar Power Sensor for the S625X/S725X, S210 HRM, Suunto T6c with comfort belt and probably one more HRM. Need to clean-up the desk again...