Garmin – Unproductive

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    I’ve owned a Garmin Forerunner 245 for several months. Like many, the unproductive label really irritated me. At first, I just thought the watch hated me. But after a few months, I think I’m seeing some patterns as to how it categorizes your training status (unproductive, maintaining, productive, etc.).

    As far as I can tell, the main run variables Garmin takes into consideration are pace, and heart rate (maybe duration). Garmin is essentially trying to determine whether your fitness level is improving (productive), staying the same (maintaining), or getting worse (unproductive). If every run was done under the exact same conditions and you felt exactly the same every time, their rating system might be more accurate. But unfortunately, Garmin doesn’t consider other variables that might result in a higher heart rate at a given pace, or a slower pace at a given heart rate. So when any such variable is introduced, Garmin interprets this as you losing fitness.

    If you’re like me and run on a number of different surfaces (track, road, paved trails, dirt trails, hills, etc.), Garmin gets really confused. If I do a track tempo or interval run on a cool day, Garmin thinks I’m amazing. But if I do a hilly trail run the same week and it’s warm and humid, Garmin thinks that I’ve lost fitness. In reality, the latter is a workout that will likely have you either working hard or running a slower pace. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that you’re getting out of shape.

    The feature is still annoying. But understanding its inherent limitation does help to make it perhaps more bearable.


    With so many using Garmin watches as their primary tool, there is much angst over the Garmin Performance metrics. I think the 8020 coaches would, rightly, tell you to ignore them but if you’re like me and want to make some use of them here are some best practices I’ve learned to follow.

    – Make sure Max HR is set correctly. The Vo2Max score and many other metrics are derived from Max HR, if this is set too low/high it will skew the Vo2Max result. I have buddies that brag about their “62” Vo2max but then also sheepishly admit there is no way they could run the corresponding paces that the Vo2max score suggests they could. They have their max HR listed as too high almost certainly. But it’s not just Vo2max, this will also affect the “high aerobic” vs “low aerobic” etc measurements and since those are cumulutively scored, they feed into many of the other aspects – like “productive” vs “maintaining” vs “unproductive” etc. Max HR is very important to factor.

    – Make sure you use the Trail Running app (vs just “running”) if you’re running off road. There are special algorithms that score a run differently for Trail running vs road. These were added about a year ago if I recall correctly, and now I don’t see the wild swings up and down as a result of running on trails.

    – Make sure you pre-sync your watch when running on a hot day. The garmin will account for heat in scoring, BUT ONLY if it knows it is hot ahead of time. Syncing immediately prior to the run will give it the latest weather metrics, from the nearest weather station – improving accuracy in all manners.

    – Use a proper HR strap. The onboard HR is not good. Chest straps or something like a Scosche or the Polar arm strap are much better. You need accurate HR data for most of the Garmin performance metrics.

    That’s all I can think of for now, may circle back later if more occur to me.


    Max HR – Yes. I did set this correctly. For some reason, the predicted race times on my Forerunner 235 were way too fast. The 245 times seem to be more realistic.

    Trail Running App – I’ve been using this when it’s a trail run. What I’ve noticed is that I don’t see it dropping my VO2 max, even though it might call the run “unproductive”.

    Pre Sync – Hmm. I’ve never thought about this, but I’ll give it a try next time.

    Proper HR Strap – Yeah, I know I should probably be doing this. I have the Scosche Rhythm Plus, but haven’t used it for running in a while. For a while, I was using a field that allowed you to track your heart rate with the external device as well as the wrist sensor, both on the same run. What I was finding is that there was very difference. But I could still put this into use and see what happens.

    Thanks for your response!


    “Unproductive” is a direct connection to Vo2max going down. You might not notice it being down because it shows the value in whole numbers, but chances are you’re on a run of it reducing, even if for example 51.9 to 51.7 to 51.4 etc. You can more precisely see this in the suggested race times, and some other platform apps actually capture the Vo2max in decimal points (like Runalyze or SportTracks).

    Garmin metrics make great use of the fluctuation in HR values during a run – the onboard HRM is not only just not that accurate, but it tends to flatten-the-curve of the BPM – lower highs and higher lows – squelching the metrics in the process. For example, getting an “anaerobic benefit” from a run depends greatly on seeing wild fluctuations in HR bpm, something the onboard HRM struggles with.


    I basically ignore the Garmin fitness metrics. If I look at my power and pace changes over a longer period of time they are simply unrepresentative. It’s annoying but not representative of my fitness gains over a 24 week training plan. I’ve dived into the Garmin fitness metrics through first beat,and my assessment is that it’s one way of measuring fitness but not the only way or necessarily the best way…. Hence I ignore it.


    Garmin’s metrics seem to be much more stable for me in the cycling arena – which makes sense as I ride with a power meter. For running, it depends solely on HR/pace which are too unstable to put too much stock in.

    I generally just monitor trends on mine – like most, I like to see the Vo2max score climbing, that generally means I’m doing something right. But when it drops I don’t put as much stock into it.


    Sometimes I wish that Garmin would account for elevation / altitude. My in-laws live 3000 feet (914.4 m) higher than we do. Every time we visit them, my first run always drops my VO2 max by 1 point. Sometimes the second run will drop it by an additional point. But I guess one’s VO2 max might actually be lower when there’s less oxygen to deliver.


    One thing to keep in mind is when you are running one of the 80/20 Structured Plans you are manipulating the training variables to achieve some specific goal.

    I’m just now wrapping up the Run Faster Plan Level 0. It is a significant drop in milage for me, but the training intensities of key workouts remain high. Garmin has given me a couple of “Unproductive” days, even though I ran anaerobically during the workout. I had even dropped my VO2 Max score for a lower mileage.

    No big deal, it is just the way the math works. I suspect it will improve once Garmin introduces a way to capture the user’s training objective.

    You can find a brief description of what Garmin is telling you here:

    Alan – if you bring your phone with you, the article mentions that Garmin will recognize the climate and make adjustments to its calculations…


    Garmin metrics will definitely account for altitude, but it needs to be significant in order to trigger the metric. Looks like it starts picking it up at 2625′ ASL according to this:

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