​Polar Flow: How to use your Polar app to become a better runner

If you're using a Polar running watch, don't hit the roads without this guide
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Whether you're using the Vantage V, its smaller sibling the Vantage M or something more meaty like the Grit X, Polar's current crop of GPS sport watches and fitness trackers are smarter than ever – but the watches are just the start. Behind the devices is Polar Flow, a hugely powerful app that holds the key to better running.

Master the web tools that support these devices and you can unlock another level of insights to help you fine-tune your training and improve your running.

Just like Garmin Connect, the Flow web platform offers a vast range of planning, analysis and social tools to help make training easier to manage. You can build a training plan, monitor your progress, see what friends have been up to and even relive recent runs.

Here are some simple things you can do harness the power of Polar Flow to become a better runner.

Build a running program


Polar has finally added a dedicated running program that's designed to build plans for 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon races.

To set one up, you'll need to head to the Programs tab in the web app and pick out a plan along with the date of the race. It'll then devise a plan including a variety of different types of running sessions including intervals and tempo runs. It also adds a series of timed circuit workouts and adapts the running program when you've missed a session.

Top tip: Run with a heart rate monitor and you'll get a better insight into the heart rate zones you commonly train with and get valuable information regarding run recovery. Basically, when you need to give your legs a day off.

Check your vitals

Just as we recommend with Garmin Connect, customising your age, height, gender and heart rate zones will help get you the most accurate training data next time you hit the road. From overall calorie burn, to what type of calories (fat or carbs) you're using to fuel your sessions, if you have tested your actual thresholds, such as anaerobic and aerobic thresholds, or upper and lower lactate thresholds, it's better to use those stats.

Polar picks: Polar Vantage V2 v Vantage V v Grit X

That way you can be sure you're training with zones based on your individual thresholds rather than defaults or estimates. It also improves the accuracy of the Training Benefit notifications you get after each session as this is also then based on these zones.

Polar recommends that you set your anaerobic threshold as the minimum heart rate of zone 5. If you also use aerobic threshold, set that as the minimum of zone 3. The minimum of zone 4 is halfway between zones 3 and 5.

Set your sport profiles


A lot of Polar's fitness gear has multi-sport smarts and the web tools are built to back that up. You can create multiple sport profiles, tailoring everything from heart rate zones to whether you view your heart activity as BPM, percentage of maximum heart rate and percentage of heart rate reserve.

You can also change which stats display on your watch depending on whether you're running the road track, trail or treadmill. Just click your username in the top right of the screen and select Sport Profiles from the dropdown menu to add, edit or delete.

Find some friends


A little bit of competition can provide some motivation to head out running when you're tempted to give it a miss and go for a drink instead. Polar Flow lets you follow or check in on friends to view their progress.

To do this, click on the Feed tab where you'll find all of your most recent logged activities. On the right hand side you can search for users that have their privacy set to public. Here you'll be able to view training sessions, see a breakdown of tracked sports and a host of other metrics.

Relive your session


Relive is a brilliant feature on Polar Flow that lets you retrace the steps and stats of any of your recent sessions. Click on the Relive button from any workout page and you get a Google map and Street View mash-up of your run, complete with all of the vital info like pace, heart rate, time and distance. While you don't get to see every twist and turn in Street View it is a brilliant way to visualise how your run went in a way that brings your data to life. Spot where your heart rate soared or your pace slowed.

Use this tool to review your monthly benchmark run and you'll be able to build a picture of how your performance is improving – for example when that hill at mile eight you've struggled with for the past three months is no longer a problem.

Follow someone else 's footsteps

It's not just your own training you can Relive either – Polar Flow lets you delve into the training runs of anyone who has their settings on share mode. Why is this useful? Not only can you use it to find new routes to run almost anywhere on the planet but you can also see how other athletes have performed on that same route.

Find someone who's done the distance you're attempting, in a time you're aiming for, and you can see how they ran it. With access to heart rate and pacing, you get insights like where they slowed down or sped up and how they approach the beginning middle and end of their run. If you've got the time to do a bit of digging, there are lots of lessons to learn from other runners already out there putting in the miles. If you want to take it one step further, follow our next tip too.

Get support from Polar Flow community


Just like apps like Endomondo and Strava, Polar Flow has a social side. You can follow other runners and see how people in your network are getting on with their training; just click on the Explore tab.

From here you can also show support with a Like button or leave comments. Seen someone run a 10km in the time you're chasing and want to find out how they paced it? Drop them a comment next to their activity and ask for advice.

As an added bonus, sharing your workouts has been proven to keep people committed to training plans for longer and having moral support from people going through the same pain and getting the same rewards is really powerful.

Get yourself hooked on benefits


Combined with the Training Benefit feature on many Polar devices, Flow makes it really easy to understand the training effect of each of your training sessions and the cumulative benefit over a week or a month.

On your session screen – and on your watch – Polar gives you post-workout feedback on what kind of session you've just had, whether it's Steady State, Maximum Training Benefit or Tempo, based on how much time you spent and how many calories you burnt in each heart rate zone.

Keeping a close eye on these will help you get an idea of the types of runs and routes you can string together to build a fully-rounded training plan.

Check in on your Running Index


In the Reports tab is an option for the Running Index report. This essentially gives you an insight into your maximal running performance, every time you track a session with heart rate and speed both recorded.

By tracking this information this over a long period of time, you'll then be able to see how you rank against other runners of your gender. What's actually more useful is that it can also create predictions for certain running distances, which can provide a guide as to whether you will nail that sub one hour 10k or you'll complete that marathon race in a respectable time.

Keep an eye on your training load


In the Diary section, Polar Flow gives you an at-a-glance indicator of the physical cost of every run, along with recommendations on how long it'll take to recover from that training load.

While it's by no means the absolute truth about whether or when you should next train, because it's based on your heart rate profile it's a reasonable barometer of how hard you're pushing yourself. It's a great tool to use for constructing a balanced training plan that should help you get the most out of each session.

Make friends with other apps

Polar Flow is feature-packed but it doesn't cover everything that's vital to keep you fit and healthy. Thankfully, Flow is compatible with a handful of third-party apps.

Head to the mobile app and go to General Settings and you'll be able to switch on the likes of Apple Health, Strava, Nike Running Club, Komoot, TrainingPeaks and MyFitnessPal to share data and provide a more comprehensive picture of your fitness levels.

You can also chose to sync your training results into your Google or Apple calendars.

Get in touch with your feelings

Most successful athletes keep training diaries and while it might sound a bit old school to add notes to each of your runs in the Polar Flow web tool, it's a brilliant way to keep track of what workouts suit you best. Sometimes the data only reveals half the story and adding some emotional context will help you spot how certain types of training session impact one another.

Perhaps you need three rather than two days after a long run to hit the hill training, or you feel that niggle return each time you hit a certain number of miles in a week. Heart rate and pacing stats don't necessarily give this insight when you return to them after a month.

TAGGED Running

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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