August 19, 2017

Garmin 910XT … New Training Tool

My new Garmin 910XT with optional Garmin Foot Pod.

This month I received my new Garmin 910XT along with the optional Garmin Forerunner Foot Pod.  I find significant value in training with heart rate (HR), as do many other trainers and coaches.  I recently started leaving my Polar products behind after a very positive 6+ year history with Polar’s 725X (no longer available), RS400sd, and CS200cad, having switched to the latest versions of the GPS-enabled Garmin products.  I made the change primarily to provide my coach for Ironman Cozumel, Michael Hagen, a more robust look into my training activities (the wealth of data that the Garmin products collect is exceptional, if not overwhelming at times).  Also, the switch to Garmin coincided with my move to the Mac platform (Polar’s ProTrainer5 is not currently supported on a Mac).   The Garmin units, utilizing the Garmin Connect interface offers sharing features as well as near seamless integration with Training Peaks.

Watch the YouTube Garmin video introducing the new 910XT here.

During my last endurance training cycle, I utilized both the Garmin 310XT (the predecessor to the new 910XT) as well as the Garmin Edge 500.  The Garmin 310XT was plagued by several nagging issues (primarily, although billed as multisport training tool, it lacked any true swim features).   There are others, e.g. relatively short battery life, large size, etc.  The dedicated swim feature is what sets the 910XT apart … Garmin touts the new 910’s swim metrics (e.g. stroke count, lap count, etc.) and for that, I could not be any more excited … I love to swim, but find stroke, length, lap counting tedious and monotonous (even on the high intensity days).

Note: I can’t say enough good things about the Edge 500.  It is a fabulous cycling computer that has become a constant training companion on my bikes.

My hope is to simply share my “out of the box experiences” with the 910XT.  (I will also plan to revisit this post and comment further as my experience with this unit grows over the upcoming training year.)

Out of the Box & Initial Set Up

The out of the box "essentials."

What you get in the box that are the “essentials”: (1) 910XT unit, (2) USB ANT stick, (3) HR strap and transmitter, (4) wall charger and USB cord, and (6) “Quick Start” manual (note that you receive the Quick Start manual in nearly every known language; however, you do not receive an “Owner’s Manual”—it can be downloaded here) along with some extraneous items (e.g., country-specific power adapters, extra watch band, etc.).  Right out of the box, I noticed the sleek new profile of the 910XT, sporting a significantly smaller footprint than the somewhat awkward 310XT.

After repackaging the unnecessary components and filing a copy of my receipt in the box (never hurts in case of the need to return or expedite customer service), I moved on to the “Quick Start Manual.”  STOP: Charge unit before first use (mine arrived with a 56% charge)!  On to the charger the unit went (the 910XT boats a 20-hour life, significantly greater than the 310).  So much for the quick swim, bike, and run that I had hoped to accomplish within minutes of unpacking the unit!?

Garmin's USB ANT stick (allows wireless data transfer)

Fully charged, 100%, and ready to tackle the “Quick Start” manual before heading off for a swim, bike, and run workout.  Before turning the unit on for the first time, I am directed to go outdoors to an open area … out I go.  Once powered on, the unit finds the satellites (or vice versa) in less than 15 seconds.  I take a moment to enter my “user information,” and read the remainder of the manual.  Total setup took approximately 7 minutes; however, note that due to the fact that I already train with other Garmin units I had previously installed the latest version of Garmin’s ANT Agent software (for Mac/for PC—this software allows wireless communication between the 910XT, Edge, etc. and your computer via the “USB ANT stick”—unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the Edge 500 requires a “hardwired” USB connection and does not use the USB ANT stick.  Next, I set my pool length to 25M, and headed off to the pool to have the unit count stokes, distance, and calculate my SWOLF score.

Swim

A word about SWOLF … SWOLF is simply a measure of efficiency.  Although the name is new to me, the efficiency metric is not.  Your SWOLF score is the sum of the time for one length (1/2 a lap) and the number of strokes taken to complete the measured length.  The lower the score the better.

In my initial swim test, I swam 800M (I counted laps) and looked down at the end of my 800M set to see that my 910XT showed precisely 800M … so far, so good.  A SWOLF of 55 … yikes (whatever that means!? … see text block above).

Bike

I encountered a snag when it came to the bike setup.  It had nothing to do with the data capture and connection with the HR transmitter, all of the training features worked flawlessly; rather, it had everything to do with my Type IA personality (I label myself TypeIA, as a play on the slow-twitch muscle type and my innate endurance bent).  I was determined to set up each of the three bikes that I typically train on (i.e., road, MTB, and TT).  However, I was unable to get the unit to accept more than a single bike (although the unit shows 5 available bike presets) and, as the minutes passed, I became more and more determined to solve this inconvenient little problem.  Against my better judgment, I called customer service (USA: 1 (800) 800-1020) and was pleasantly surprised.  “Amanda” solved my problems in a matter of minutes.  Unlike my previous 310XT, bikes must be added and selected using the “MODE” button.  First, you select the number of bikes that you wish to set up.  Second, you select “MODE” and then select “BIKE” and you will be prompted to “change bike” (it as it this point you can enter the selected bike details through the settings feature)  The unit allows you to then toggle between each bike by selecting “MODE” and “BIKE” … simply pick the bike you wish to train on and away you go.

As an aside, I also alerted Amanda to an apparent error in the Owner’s Manual (once again note that this manual is NOT included with the unit and can be downloaded from the Garmin site here).   This error had to do with returning the unit to its factory setting.  How did I discover this error?  Was I seriously considering returning my unit to its factory settings after entering all of my user information and experience precise lap recording at my home pool?  Well, yes.  I wanted everythingto work as designed.  Anyway, the correct instructions for this “nuclear option” aka “Hard Reset” (and, one that I thankfully did not have to employ) follow:

With the unit powered OFF, press and hold both the POWER and MODE buttons = restore to factory settings.

(or so I have been told … ha).

 

Amanda spoke about future software updates that the Garmin team was already working on.  I added my suggestion to the mix and she provided me with assurances that it would be passed along.  Here is my suggestion:  The unit allows the athlete to select different units (i.e., statute or metric) for various training modes: swim, bike, and run.  I run and bike with statute pace and distance on my mind (with the exception of track workouts that keep me focused on meters); however, I swim in a 25M pool.  I suggested that it would be great if the unit would allow you to keep statute measurements as defaults for both the run and the bike, but switch to metric measurements automatically when in the swim mode if you select the distance of your pool in meters.  We shall see!?

Update: My proposed suggestion has turned out to be unnecessary.  When you change the “mode” (e.g., swim, bike, run, or other) to the swim setting, you are prompted to select either open water or a pool swim.  If you select pool swim and select a length of 25M, the unit functions in the metric units while leaving all of the other statute setting unchanged (i.e. for the bike, run, and other modes).

As expected, performance on the bike was flawless.  I slapped the unit on the TT bike currently stationed on my CompuTrainer and started a steady-state workout.  HR, cadence, distance each paired precisely with the units calculated by the CompuTrainer (for HR I utilized the CopmuTrainer earpiece).  Although my Edge 500 will remain my primary cycling computer, it is nice to know that the 910XT will function in multisport applications as it is billed.

Run

Off the bike and outdoors again!  (Note: That I turned the unit on and off to reset it from “indoor” mode).  As a true multisport device, this extra step would not be necessary depending on how you have the unit configured (e.g., “multisport”).  I ran a known course of 2.0 miles.  The 910XT again performed flawlessly, HR and distance were both accurate.

Supplemental Treadmill Test: Following my initial swim, bike, and run flash testing I put the unit to another “indoor” test on my treadmill.  I attached the optional Garmin Forerunner Foot Pod and started up my trusted Precor 93.1.  The unit detected my foot pod immediately and, even without calibration, distance fairly accurate with pace varying from ­+ 20 seconds at training pace, to almost 3 minutes at a walk.  I will revisit this issue after calibrating the foot bod by distance (the preferred method, see p. 25 of the “Owner’s Manual”).  A day later I performed a second test, again without calibration, and this time the distance measurement was accurate (no deviation) and the run pace discrepancy had narrowed to less than + 10 seconds.

Note that in each of the different modes (i.e., swim, bike, and run), the 910XT offers fully customizable data fields (e.g., HR, pace, lap time, time of day, etc., etc.—the available data fields are too numerous to name).

Data Transfer

After installing the latest version of Garmin ANT Agent, the data transfer was immediate and seamless (with new activities added directly to Garmin Connect).  No issues here.

Conclusion

After using the 910XT for approximately a week of training, I will admit that I am generally impressed.  The data collection is robust and the unit, while not exactly user-friendly, has met my expectations.  Really, it is new and improved over the 310XT and I can recommend the 910XT as a training tool for those who are inclined to collect data (if nothing more, this unit serves as a convenient device to keep track of training volume).  Spend some time with both the Quick Start and Owner’s Manual to familiarize yourself with the unit’s basic functions and you will be well on your way to collecting accurate training data.

While my review, by design, offers only a look at some of the “highlights,” several exhaustive reviews are available on the web, see one in Beyond Limits Magazine and, another, exceptional review by DC Rainmaker (a consistently reliable source for in-depth reviews of swim, bike, and run technology).

 

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