5 ways the Polar Vantage V could change the way you train

Polar Vantage V

 

Polar just reshuffled its GPS running watch pack with the launch of two brand new products that’ll replace the popular but aged Polar V800 and the Polar M430.

The Polar Vantage V is the successor to the V800 and is undoubtedly the company’s most fully featured watch to date and is primarily aimed at elite runners or anyone who’s very serious about performance.

The Polar Vantage M, steps in for the M430, and while it has many of the same features and pretty much the same looks, it’s cheaper and designed for the more casual runner who likes to know their stats but isn’t quite as hell bent on eking out marginal gains.

Related: A beginners guide to running watches 

Our tame running tech expert Kieran Alger headed to the the European launch and got hand on with both watches. Here’s his take on what this all means for us everyday runners.

Switch from pace or heart rate to power

While we’ve seen devices such as Stryd tracking power via a footpod, the Polar Vantage V breaks new ground as the first running watch in the world to track power from the wrist.

Now here’s the techy bit: Polar’s power is measured by a combination of an on-board barometer that knows when you’re climbing hills and GPS-based speed that knows how fast you’re running. Clever scientists have worked out the correlation between speed and power in the lab and created an algorithm that estimates your power and displays it on your watch.

In practice you get one number in Watts, just like you would pace or heart rate, and you can use this to govern your runs.

Why should you care? Well power could well change the way we train and the way we race. This metric, measured in Watts, has long been used by cyclists as a consistent way to monitor performance because as a measure of the actual workload it’s less influenced by external factors.

Heart rate can be affected by external influences such as stress, fatigue or even caffeine and tends to lag behind what’s happening in real time – so when you increase your effort running up a hill it can take time for your heart rate to respond.

Pace doesn’t fare well when it comes to hills either as it’s not only more complicated to work out how far to drop your pace to maintain a consistent level of effort on an undulating run but also when you’re looking back at your stats it’s not that easy to see just how steep that climb was – you can just look like you were running slow.

Power, on the other hand, gives you an objective reading of the actual work you’re doing in real time and this brings some great training insights and some very real racing benefits.

For a start, by measuring your power in training you can start to see things that you couldn’t previously such as how your running efficiency fares later into your longer runs.

Let’s say you’re doing 400m or 800m intervals, with identical sessions two weeks apart. By comparing your power output for both sessions you can see if you’re making progress, particularly if you’re able to sustain even power from the first interval to the last.

When it comes to racing, power can help you avoid that most classic mistake of going out too fast. By running at a power target that’s just below your threshold for a marathon distance, you can ensure a more even, consistent and well-paced run without the fear of hitting the wall. That’s right, power can prevent the wall.

Polar Vantage V

Ditch the chest strap – almost

Power on the wrist is big news for runners but so is the improved optical heart rate sensor technology on the Vantage V. Polar says it’s Precision Prime system delivers the most accurate wrist-based heart rate monitor yet.

The system takes data from a series of sensors: there are 9 LED light sensors in two colours (4 red and 5 green) the use more wavelengths to penetrate deeper into the skin to more effectively stop those changes in blood flow; 4 bio-impedance sensors that know when the watch has good skin contact, vital for a better heart rate reading and a 3D accelerometer that can sense motion and help Polar filter out any distortion that may affect the accuracy of the reading.

We got to test it briefly at the European launch and compared it to the optical heart rate on the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus. The Polar definitely picked up the true intensity of our 600m intervals better, reading a max heart rate of 168BPM compared to Garmin’s 148BPM max.

This will of course need further testing to see if it’s honestly the most accurate but we were also shown data from Polar’s research the showed the optical heart rate holding its own against Polar’s flagship heart tracker, the Polar H10.

Goldilocks your training

Knowing how to get in just the right amount of training is tough and on first impressions the Vantage V looks like it might have a way to help us manage that balance.

The idea of measuring training load isn’t new, it’s been on Garmin and Polar devices for a while now, but what is new is the way the Vantage V assesses your training load.

For the first time that we’ve seen in a watch, your load is broken down into muscle load (how hard you muscles have worked), cardio load (how hard your cardiovascular system has worked) and perceived load (how hard you think you worked).

By combining these three sets of data, the Vantage V can make more complete assessments of the overall load on the body and tell you if what you’re doing is productive.

Rather than just spitting out a number, it tells you if you’re training too much, too little or just right. It’ll then recommend what you should do next as well, such as do a lighter session or consider a rest.

Altogether this makes the V, look like a serious tool for monitoring how much and how effectively you’re training.

Polar Vantage V

Spot when you’re fully recovered

In addition to tracking your training load, the Vantage V will also look at your overall recovery and tell you if your cardio system is fully restored and you’re good to train again or you’re not yet back to your best and it’s time to rest. It does this by bringing other data such as health status, mental stress and sleep into the picture and on first impressions appears to deliver this information in a really easy to follow format with notifications on screen.

In order to get the most out of this you will need to conduct a regular 4 minute heart rate based test that requires putting on a chest strap for a period of lying down and standing, allowing the Vantage to take accurate heart rate variability measurements.

It might sound like a faff but so is getting injured and if this turns out to be an effective way to prevent over training and wasted training effort then that’s got to be worth four minutes, three times a week.   

Go for longer

In recent months we’ve seen the Suunto 9 revolutionise how long we can expect a running watch battery life to last. While the Polar Vantage V won’t quite match the 120-hours of run time the Suunto boasts, it does claim the new watch will go for 40 hours with GPS and the optical heart rate in play. That’s more than enough for most people’s weekly training and almost enough for you to complete a bonkers ultra like the UTMB.

We haven’t yet had the chance to test this fully but after 48-hours of living with the Vantage V and a one-hour run, we still have close to a full battery.