The Garmin Fenix 6 range is a seriously powerful watch for athletes, adventurers and fitness fans – but now it’s being used in elite sport too.
INEOS TEAM UK is preparing for the America’s Cup 2021 yacht race by kitting out its sailors with Fenix 6 devices, to take training, performance and recovery tracking to the next level.
It’s equipped Team GB winners like Giles Scott with the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar ahead of the gruelling series of Regattas, starting this month in New Zealand and culminating with the historic America’s Cup race in March.
Main image credit: Joshua McCormack
Garmin Fenix super data
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar showing sleep data (Credit: Garmin)
Data points captured by the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar include resting heart rate, HR and power zones, heart rate variability (HRV), training load, sleep, body battery and stress scores.
And these are helping the INEOS performance team personalise athletes’ training and recovery, while empowering the sailors to correlate data points with how they’re feeling each day.
“All of this rich data comes straight into our world so we can analyse it very quickly and use it to inform our daily practice with ease. That’s why it’s exciting to me,” Ben Williams, Head of Human Performance for INEOS TEAM UK told Wareable.
Take sleep, for example. The Fenix 6 Pro Solar uses movement and resting heart rate data to provide an overall sleep score with additional metrics like total sleep time, time in bed, sleep cycles (light, deep, REM).
Combined with additional recovery metrics like HRV, Williams can better determine whether athletes are ready to take on a significant training load safely, or could risk injury by pushing too hard.
“Sleep hygiene forms part of our core technical model,” he said. “A lot of good things happen through sleep; the body resets itself in a whole wave of different ways – especially the recovery from training load.
"This data is also great for the athletes’ engagement. When they feel good, we encourage them to recognise the data points. How many hours of sleep did they get? What was the quality of sleep like? How was their resting heart rate in the morning?”
Devil in the details
The Fenix 6 Pro Solar can endure the tough conditions on-board (Credit: C Gregory)
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is paired with a Garmin HRM-Tri chest strap which also calculates a heart rate variability (HRV) score.
HRV derives from activity in the nervous system and refers to the variance in the time that elapses between heart beats. The higher the variance the more ready the body is to perform that day.
For INEOS Team UK it informs how well sailors are responding to the training schedule.
“People think elite sport is about absolutely pushing yourself to the max every day, but it’s not that at all. You don’t get fitter purely from training. You progress by recovering from structured training” Ben Williams added.
INEOS is using Garmin Fenix 6 Pro watches to track training (Credit: C Gregory)
“We’re looking for data points that tell us when a good period for an athlete is to push and when it’s time for them to recover in any given training block. HRV helps us delve into how the athlete is absorbing the load we’ve given them in the gym or on the water. It’s a very good tool for us and the athletes to understand their state of readiness.”
Williams says it’s all about having his athletes ready to sail for training and competition. He says over 90% of the time since 2014, his sailors have been available.
“If they’re not on the boat and ready to sail, I’ve not done my job.”
Studying the Training Load
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar showing Training Load (Credit: Garmin)
The term “training load”comes up a lot, and it refers to the strain placed on the body and its response.
On the Fenix 6, Training Load is calculated by a training stress score, the ratio of the acute exposure compared to an athlete’s chronic load and the excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption and how long it takes the body to get back to normal.
If the load score is high, the athlete may be overdoing it. If it’s low, they may not see improvements from their sessions. Getting into the optimal Training Load range means they're on track to maintain or improve fitness.
“People see us using the equipment and guess what we’re recording, but the data also goes into some internal algorithms where we look at load over time,” he said.
“We get the loading right by understanding how much exposure athletes have in HR and power zones, how much recovery they have had between exposures and as they move through the gears how their performance changes as a result of harvesting the program. It builds quite a big picture,” said Williams.
More than just heart rate
The Fenix 6 Pro can also hook up to on-board sensors (Credit: C Gregory)
For INEOS, the Fenix 6 Pro Solar is part of a wider ecosystem. As well as sleep metrics, HRV and training load information from the watch, the Garmin Connect app also absorbs data from external heart rate sensors and power meters on and off the boat, relaying it via the watch in real time.
Garmin smart scales provide weight and body composition information. It’s all fed into a central system where the team’s additional analysis models can take over.
Williams said: “We can see every part of an athlete’s incoming and outgoing load and how it’s affecting them in terms of rest, recovery, body composition, and so on. So, the whole ecosystem makes my role as performance coach easier.”
Williams points out that while the watch offers countless data points, it’s important to be selective over what’s used. “You could drown in data,” he said.
While the technical model doesn’t necessarily consider the Stress Level (a HRV based metric) and Body Battery (estimated energy levels) metrics captured by the watch, they are of use to the team.
“They’re good because they’re accessible on the athlete’s phone and watch. We encourage the guys to play ‘Top Trumps’ with it in the gym.
"They’re competitive individuals so they all want the best recovery score. So, we use tools under the Garmin platform to create engagement and in-house competition,” Williams added.
Giles Scott MBE (Credit: C Gregory)
The America’s Cup is the world’s oldest sporting competition. But not only is Giles Scott MBE part of the America’s Cup’s rich history, he’s also fighting against it. In a glittering career, the honour eludes him. In fact, it has eluded every British team.
“The America’s Cup is right up there with the pinnacles of the sport,” he tells Wareable. “It’s got this amazing history that dates back to 1851. The race was created by the Brits, but won by the Americans. We’ve never won it, so from that point of view,” he said.
England’s footballers have 54 years of hurt, but its sailors are on 170 – and counting.
Wearable technology is a great fit for the America’s Cup. The event often draws comparisons with Formula 1 for its blend of incredible industrial design, cutting-edge technology and elite sporting performance.
Behind the human sailors are a team of engineers, constantly tweaking the 75-foot AC75 monohull boat, which can reach speeds of up to 50 knots (57.5mph).
“You need the best sailors, but also the best designers behind you and the best boat beneath you to win. It’s this merging of sport and engineering that makes it so fascinating,” Scott said.
'These watches become an extension of you'
The Fenix 6 Pro is tracking training and recovery (Credit: C Gregory)
“My training for Team GB is very much lower body dominated,” said Scott. “I do a lot of cycling, a lot of bike intervals as well as quite a lot of strength training.
For the America’s Cup, I do a bit of grinding on the arm cranks to help out the power development of the boat.”
“But the key training data factors are wattage (power) and heart rate and they go straight to Garmin Connect. Ben (Williams) feeds it into the Training Peak program. He knows exactly what we’ve done and whether we’ve performed well or badly. He can then tailor sessions depending on whether we need rest, or the opposite if we’re not working hard enough.
“These watches are so smart they become an extension of you,” he added. “The sleep tracking is great. I always keep an eye on my sleep time and quality and where my resting heart rate is at because it’s a good marker for fatigue.”
While the Garmin ecosystem is preparing the sailors themselves for the ultimate test of endurance, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the data is helping the team’s engineers and designers make critical tweaks to the boat when its off the water.
“We tailor training to make sure it’s as race-like as possible. It gives us a power base so we can really dig into how efficient the yacht’s systems are in terms of where the power is being delivered to.”
Giles Scott, Ben Williams and the whole of INEOS Team UK will be hoping that power can deliver a first victory for a UK victory in the America’s Cup and the Fenix rises once again.
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