Training Technology – Friend or Foe?

Naked Training, and a few takeaways from some time spent with the legendary Dave Scott

Have you had a helpful acquaintance tell you about how much they are in love with their Fitbit?  Or perhaps you and your friends are competitive in Strava with your segments? Maybe you know people of the belief that if their Garmin didn’t record the workout, the workout didn’t “count”?

Technology can be an excellent tool to enable us to understand what our bodies are doing, and to see how effective our training is in achieving our goals.   Whether you use your phone or a pedometer, chances are if it vibrates and celebrates the milestone of 10,000 steps, you’ll smile; even if you weren’t trying to hit that target. It’s nice to goose our competitive spirit to get to those 10,000 steps, and to be rewarded when we do.  The funniest thing I ever heard about step counting came from a fellow coach who said she had 19,000 steps at 11 PM at night, so she got a glass of wine and walked up and down her driveway until she hit 20,000.  The most pathetic story I heard was of a guy who, in order to win a corporate challenge with money on the line, found a way to rig the device with his bike to get more “steps” for the month.  Regardless of the outliers, measuring our work is one bona fide way to know what we are doing is working.

As a marathon coach in the 1990s, I used heart rate based training and rate of perceived exertion as my go-to training methods for my athletes. At that time, of the more than 380 people I helped coach across the Chicago Marathon finish line, almost all were beginners who just wanted to finish the race.  Heart rate training and rate of perceived exertion were “good enough”.  During that training, we would complete practices during the week at the track, and each athlete would have to run at their prescribed effort based on how it felt, as they didn’t have a wrist device telling them how fast they were going. On weekends we did mileage based runs with a goal pace per mile that was again based on what the run should “feel” like.  Some of these folks were 70 pounds overweight, and others were whippets, but all had to learn to “feel” their pacing, and in turn, listen to their bodies.

Today, athletes looking to train for that same marathon will most likely have a GPS enabled wrist device with a heart rate monitor.  They will know their heart rate at every moment, what their current pace is, and how far they’ve run, but they won’t know how they feel.  They won’t understand the messages their body is sending because they can’t hear over the noise from the device.  While getting all that information can help an athlete train effectively, what happens when the battery dies the morning of the race?  If an athlete is completely reliant on their device, then you may see a full meltdown and a race – along with months of training – go out the window.

While I firmly believe in “measure, don’t guess” in training, and encourage athletes to purchase as much technology as they can afford for measurement, we also teach Naked Training.

Alright, alright, simmer down Francis.  We’re not talking nude beach decathlons, our version of naked training means without technology.  Throughout a training season we will send out athletes with devices securely stowed in pockets so they can not see the screen, and give them a prescribed workout with a rate of perceived exertion and goals and targets.  The workout would be one we had already given the athlete with technology readily available, so we know they can complete it.  Then we take those monitors away and say, “Recreate the results.”  If an athlete can do this, then we know they’re getting close to being mentally ready for competition.  If they can’t, then we know we have some work to do.

For individuals looking to improve their overall fitness and move more, devices like the Fitbit are effective, and I recommend them regularly with our general fitness clients.  Athletes looking for performance need to know that each training session is achieving its goals, and should use as much technology as they can afford.  All that being said, an individual needs to know their own body, whether for life or performance, and sometimes they simply need a little help with the listening part.  (Don’t we all?)

At the Endurance Coaching Summit a few weeks ago, Dave Scott reiterated this to all of us coaches.  Even he, a six-time Ironman World Champion and Hall of Fame athlete, regularly has his athletes train “naked” so that they know what they can do come race day.  In a race, tactics are used and positioning is key.  Knowing how much you have left in the tank is knowing who you are as an athlete.  Ultimately, no technology can tell you that.


“Know Thyself”  Socrates

One Comment on “Training Technology – Friend or Foe?”

  1. I think this is really important to take into consideration.

    After a very long recovery period from an overuse injury – and being allowed and ordered to resume running – I have relied on technology to ensure I am meeting my prescribed goals and not overdoing it. When I achieve my pace and distance for the day, I stop. No more. No less.

    Between my Garmin Forerunner 900XT and my Lumo Run (which has been a tremendous boon for improved form), I’ve become disconnected from how I feel when running. I’m waiting for Lumo to tell my to keep my cadence at 180 or above; or to roll my shoulders down ‘n back; or to stand tall, engage my core, tuck my head down and look forward…but I’ve become disconnected from what my body is telling me.

    This weekend – as I train for the NYC Marathon – I’m leaving Lumo at home. I’ll time the run with my Garmin but that’s easily ignored. I just want to listen to my music, run based on perceived effort and have fun.

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