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The health and fitness industry in the U.S. has become obsessed with complexity, especially when it comes to gadgets we can wear or utilize to read all sorts of metrics and data with our bodies. Sometimes, these gadgets are warranted and helpful—look at what the power meter has done for cycling consistency in endurance racing, for example—but more often than not, digital devices have become a means to completely consume us, and it has changed the way we listen to our bodies.
It is very hard to be fully in tune with yourself during a training session or race if you are buried in your smartwatch or bike computer. However, athletes are often brainwashed (through amazing marketing) to view these gadgets as a “fast hack” to be better, faster versions of themselves. This “hack” culture has flipped our priorities away from putting in the work required to create a solid foundation of endurance training. It can be tempting to focus on the “icing” on the cake (e.g. new peak power readings, new threshold heart rate scores), instead of the cake itself (your consistent training), which is how we make overall performance changes. Rather than allowing the devices to be our only training compass, we should, as performance-driven athletes, be utilizing this technology as a facilitator, not a driver, to use as a check-in when we feel like we need a little validation of our effort.
Flipping the Script on Data
Having initial data points such as FTP, training zones, and paces is where technology is a great facilitator, but it’s important to keep those in their place. Digital devices are, of course, not human and should not be used as your sole metric for performance, since their indicators for stress, sleep, recovery, are created from a predetermined formula that is not specific to any one person. Instead, it is far better to flip the script and start by understanding the intent of each workout and execute the workout to the best of your ability based on that intent.
After completion of the workout, upload the data to see what that meant for you on the day. This then allows for you to be consistent about completing the workout appropriately first, and then—and only then—you look at the data for it to be an additional measure of knowledge to help you understand what you were able to produce based on your ability that day. If you allow the data to be the driver, you risk the possibility of either working too hard or too easy (while chasing numbers), and not lean into your own body signals to let you know whether backing off or working harder is appropriate based on how you feel. The ultimate downfall of training off data first is that you run the risk of burnout from consistently not reaching numbers you think you should be capable of producing. You can become emotionally discouraged.
Keeping It Simple
Instead of allowing data to be your driver, it’s far better to get back to the basics and listen to your body. Challenge yourself to grow, rest, and recover. Set yourself up mentally and physically each day to perform the intent of the workout to the best of your ability. Realize that the journey is just as important as the goal, and to get better you need to put in the work. Show up and be consistent. Surround yourself with people who will push you and hold you accountable. A commitment to a device isn’t nearly as powerful as a commitment to another person, coach, or training partner. It’s far better to “shop” for the perfect training partner or training group, instead of the latest wearable device. The odds are that the former will do more for your long-term performance than the latter. Dive deep into learning how to listen to your own body and its needs—then use the data as a secondary tool to keep you grounded.