David Warden

Author’s note: This following is not an easy process. Although Garmin and 80/20 intensity zones achieve the same goal, they are different methods. This process does a reasonable job of merging the two systems, but is not perfect. If you are using the new structured workout run or triathlon plans, these steps are not necessary. If you have already purchased an original plan, please contact co-author David Warden for a complimentary switch to a structured workout plan.

The 80/20 intensity zones identified by Matt Fitzgerald are essential to your training success. In order to use these zones to best advantage, you need to monitor your intensity in real time or at least periodically.

One way to monitor your intensity in real-time is to memorize your zones and match them to the structure of your workout. A far more reliable and efficient way is to program your intensity-monitoring device with your zones.

In addition to ensuring that you perform your workouts correctly, and stay in-zone, programming your device allows you to get detailed feedback on a workout or an accumulation of workouts.

This article walks you through the procedure for setting up a Garmin device with your 80/20 zones.  Note: While similar devices are available, including devices by Polar, Suunto, Timex, Wahoo, and CycleOps, those by Garmin are used most commonly by my athletes. I expect to support more devices with 80/20 setups in the near future.


1. Establish your 80/20 Zones

To establish your 80/20 zones, see Intensity Guidelines for Triathlon and Running and read through the entire article.

Note: After establishing your 80/20 zones, if you are a veteran user of Garmin Connect, you can skip to step 4.


2. Set up a free account at Garmin Connect

This step is not required, but is strongly recommended. In addition to providing setup ease, a Garmin Connect account can provide you with valuable workout analysis.

It is much easier to set up your zones on a computer or smartphone via Garmin Connect than by doing it on the device itself. To set up a free Garmin Connect account, go to Garmin Connect, and then on Get Started.

Note: Some older Garmin devices are not compatible with Garmin Connect. Should this be the case for you, you will need to set up your zones directly on your device. Consult the user manual for your specific device on how to input your zones on the device.


3. Download and install Garmin Express and add your device

This step is not required, but is strongly recommended. In addition to providing valuable updates for most Garmin devices, Garmin Express will sync your zone settings (as well as your other settings) from Garmin Connect to your device.

Once Garmin Express is loaded on your device, add your Garmin device(s) to Garmin Express by following the instructions in the Garmin Express software.


4. Navigate to User Settings on Garmin Connect or Garmin smartphone App

  • Log in to Garmin Connect.
  • From the Garmin Connect homepage, select the main menu (the three horizontal lines in the upper left-hand corner), and choose Devices.
  • Select your device and choose User Settings.
  • If you have the Garmin smartphone app, select the More option in the bottom right portion of the screen, then select Garmin Devices, and then select your device.

Note: Unlike the Garmin Connect website, the app will only allow heart-rate-zone setup, not power.


5. Set up your 80/20 heart rate zones

Garmin’s zone scheme presents several challenges that limit the ability to define intensity. In a well-intentioned effort to keep things simple, Garmin has made them complicated, including items:

(1)  Garmin bases zones on maximum heart rate (which cannot be accurately measured without a doctor-assisted test), instead of basing them on LTHR (which you can measure relatively accurately on your own).

(2)  Garmin does not allow you to custom-name your zones (e.g., Zone X)

(3)  Garmin offers five HR zones instead of the seven 80/20 zones.

(4)  Garmin Connect only offers five “buckets” for five zones instead of two buckets per zone, the result being the 80/20 zones have fourteen buckets (seven zones with an upper and lower limit for each zone), while Garmin offers exactly five total buckets. Therefore, some tweaking is required, by using the following steps, to line up Garmin with 80/20:

If you have a run threshold of 165, your 80/20 zones from the calculator would be:

Zone % LTHR Range (BPM)
1 73-80 120 133
2 81-89 134 148
X 90-95 149 157
3 96-100 158 165
Y 101 166 167
4 102-105 168 174
5 106+ >175
  • From the Device page on Garmin Connect, select the User Settings tab and scroll down to the Heart Rate Zones section.

For this example, we’ll use the Garmin 920xt, which offers Heart Rate and Power zones. Note: The Garmin 920xt inexplicably does not offer pace zones.

  • Activate the Customize Zones option beneath the Running and Cycling columns in Garmin Connect.
  • Set the Max Heart Rate at the bottom of the zone table.

It is not critical that it be accurate, as long as it is approximate; 220 minus your age is a reasonable estimate.

  • Enter your individual 80/20 zone values from the 80/20 calculator into the Garmin Connect zone table in reverse order; that is: Zone 5 to Zone 1.

The reverse order is necessary to appease the Garmin Connect gods, as it cannot handle overlapping zones, even temporarily, while it is setting them up.

An LTHR of 165, for example, would look like this:

Garmin Connect BPM Garmin Connect Bucket Corresponding 80/20 Bucket
 120 Bottom of Zone 1  Bottom of Zone 1
 148 Bottom of Zone 2  Top of Zone 2
 158 Bottom of Zone 3  Bottom of Zone 3
 166 Bottom of Zone 4  Bottom of Zone Y
 175 Bottom of Zone 5  Bottom of Zone 5

Notice that to accommodate the Garmin zone restrictions for 80/20 zones, we had to do the following:

  • 80/20 Zone 1 and 2 are merged into one big zone: Garmin Zone 1.

This merge is not optimal; however, because a central tenet of 80/20 training is 80% at low intensity, ultimately the best performance will occur from training that takes place when 80% of your time is spent between Zone 1 plus Zone 2. We would want to see about 80% of your time in Garmin Zone 1.

  • Garmin Zone 2 becomes 80/20 Zone X.

When you are analyzing your intensity distribution using Garmin’s scheme, or monitoring your intensity in real time, you will want to spend very little time in Garmin Zone 2.

  • Garmin Zone 3 equals 80/20 Zone 3.
  • Garmin Zone 4 equals 80/20 Zone Y plus Zone 4.

This is necessary to squeeze in the 80/20 zones into the Garmin system. Although Zone Y should be avoided, it is very narrow and not as problematic as Zone X.

  • Garmin Zone 5 equals 80/20 Zone 5.


6. Sync your device with Garmin Connect

Now that your zones are defined in Garmin Express, they need to be pushed to your device. Some devices, such as the Garmin 920xt, will sync with Garmin Connect via WIFI. Other devices require syncing with Garmin Express (from Step 2).


7. Set up your 80/20 power zones

Garmin’s power zones offer you eight zone buckets.

While still on the Garmin Connect User Settings page (just below the Heart Rate Zones section), you will see the Power Zones section.

To set up your Garmin Zones to match the 80/20 zones, perform the following steps:

If you have an FTP of 230, your 80/20 power zones from the calculator will be:

Zone % FTP Range (Watts)
1 55-69 127 160
2 70-82 161 190
X 83-91 191 210
3 92-100 211 230
Y 101 231 233
4 102-110 234 254
5 111+ 255
  • Set your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) in the top field under Power Zones.
  • Enter your individual 80/20 zone values from the 80/20 calculator into the Garmin Connect zone table in reverse order; that is: Zone 7 to Zone 1.

The upper end of Garmin Zone 7 should be 20 watts higher than the upper end of Zone 6.

An FTP of 230, for example, would look like this:

Garmin Connect Watts Garmin Connect Bucket Corresponding 80/20 Bucket
127 Bottom of Zone 1 Bottom of Zone 1
161 Bottom of Zone 2 Bottom of Zone 2
191 Bottom of Zone 3 Bottom of Zone X
211 Bottom of Zone 4 Bottom of Zone 3
231 Bottom of Zone 5 Bottom of Zone Y
234 Bottom of Zone 6 Bottom of Zone 4
255 Bottom of Zone 7 Bottom of Zone 5
274 Top of Zone 7 No corresponding 80/20

Notice that to accommodate the Garmin zone restrictions for 80/20 zones, we had to make Garmin Zone 3 equal 80/20 Zone X, which sets up the following chain of events:

  • Garmin Zone 4 equals 80/20 Zone 3
  • Garmin Zone 5 equals 80/20 Zone Y
  • Garmin Zone 6 equals 80/20 Zone 4
  • Garmin Zone 7 equals 80/20 Zone 5

(It would have been an act of true user-friendliness if Garmin had allowed us to rename our zones!)

You might find trying to remember how each Garmin zone lines up with the 80/20 zone a bit cumbersome. Because there are eight Garmin buckets, there is an alternative to this cumbersome approach, but it has its own drawbacks.

The alternative approach involves lining up the Garmin zones to the 80/20 zones as follows:

 Garmin Connect Watts  Garmin Connect Bucket Corresponding 80/20 Bucket 
127 Bottom of Zone 1 Bottom of Zone 1
161 Bottom of Zone 2 Bottom of Zone 2
211 Bottom of Zone 3 Bottom of Zone 3
234 Bottom of Zone 4 Bottom of Zone 4
255 Bottom of Zone 5 Bottom of Zone 5
274 Bottom of Zone 6 No corresponding 80/20
274 Bottom of Zone 7 No corresponding 80/20
274 Top of Zone 7 No corresponding 80/20

In this approach, the zone names and values technically match, but with the risk that Zone X is now blended with Zone 2 (and a lesser risk that Zone Y is blended with Zone 3). Mixing Zone 2 and Zone X is anathema to the core concept of 80/20 training; that is: Know your Zone X and avoid it. Despite the complexity of the first approach to power zones setup, I consider it superior to the alternate option.

From a post-workout analysis perspective, your best option is to do your analysis in, instead of on your Garmin device. Unlike Garmin Connect, provides you with complete control over total zone buckets and zone names, and allows you to match your zones exactly to the 80/20 concept. While this won’t address the challenges with real-time monitoring on a Garmin device, it does allow for a post-workout analysis that is completely in sync with the 80/20 zones.