Garmin’s Firstbeat Acquisition Could Change the Coaching Landscape

Unless you happen to have a Garmin device and stumbled upon the Firstbeat name behind your device’s VO2 Max or similar performance metric, you probably haven’t heard of the company. Garmin’s Firstbeat acquisition this week, on its face, seems like a simple financial or competitive marketplace move. Garmin licenses Firstbeat algorithms across most of their fitness devices, starting with their $130 mass market wearables. Buying Firstbeat could save licensing costs and block competitors.

But there could be much more behind this. Firstbeat is much more than a fitness device widget company. Firstbeat is a company of scientists across multiple disciplines who also serve thousands of elite sports teams and wellness professionals. They have been working with professional, national, and collegiate sports teams across the world for many years to help coaches to maximize the performance of their athletes. Firstbeat is at the pointy end of sports performance physiology.

Earlier this year, Garmin and Firstbeat announced a partnership that went largely unnoticed. They created new tools that feed 24/7 Garmin activity and fitness data into the Firstbeat platform to dynamically create training programs based on each individual athletes’ day. This should have been a major shot across the bow to platforms like TrainingPeaks and Golden Cheetah, among others. This is the stepping off point for imagining what could be with this new Garmin business unit.

Think about how coaches work with their athletes and how that could change. Coaches design an overall plan for their athletes, often using tools like TrainingPeaks to communicate with them. They adjust the plans based on how their athletes respond to the workouts. What if Garmin invests in Firstbeat’s R&D to build an analytics-based training platform that could do what a personal coach does? Firstbeat could simulate this by dynamically modifying plans and feeding new workouts changes directly to everyone’s devices on a daily basis. Or, coaches could use this tool to supplement their reviews and plan adjustments like professional team coaches are doing today.

Garmin's Connect platform is already robust—no one else has anything like it. It is a fully integrated, multi-tier environment that shares data bidirectionally through its layers (Web App ? Mobile App ? Device), and it integrates horizontally with external partner apps. Garmin and Firstbeat could easily expand these capabilities by adding training features through Firstbeat’s predictive and prescriptive analytics platform. They already have the interfaces to feed prescribed workouts to all their devices.

I love innovation, and this acquisition has the potential to revolutionize individual athlete training potential. It looks like a true sports science play, not just a shiny object. Self-coached athletes could use something like this to significantly improve their training effectiveness. And it could be a major market disruptor to personal coach and TrainingPeaks subscribers.