Feel vs Data Training

We started TCR in 2006.  Back then, I was showing people how to use heart rate monitors and develop individual training zones.  Where do you burn fat and where do you burn sugar?  VO2 testing was our initial gateway to training with science.  No more using formulas and guessing what heart rate was appropriate.  People had enough of training by “feel”, we wanted some hard numbers and specific workouts.  It was an exciting time of teaching and training. Power meters were just starting to come of age and the cheap ones were $1500!  How times have changed in a relatively short period of time.

Sixteen years later, there has been an explosion of knowledge and training with data.  Power meters for cycling are no longer for the elite few; they are in spin classes, on cranks and pedals at half the price of 2006.  We know how to use them, and they are fantastic for measuring our fitness and our progression.  Runners also have the data with stride rates, vertical oscillation and even run-power meters.  We have the data and there are many apps that help us make sense of the plethora of information.

Are we getting any better as athletes?  I think yes. 

How do we continue to improve? 

I believe the next step is to truly integrate all the science data we have access to with what we did over 20 years ago.  Let’s re-connect with our internal power meters and dial into our bodies.  We do have the ability to measure exactly how hard and fast we are going without having to look at our watches and power meters.  All the technology we have should be used to validate what you feel.  It is possible. 

For some feel-based athletes, this may be some welcome news that you don’t have to become a computer tech to improve.  It’s OK to ride by feel and you don’t have to be “connected” all the time.  For the data monsters, you need to re-connect with your gut as it is just as accurate as your dual-sided power pedals.  Try some workouts and pay attention your body as much as your power meter.

The more I coach and older I get…. the more holistic I think people need to get with their training and racing.  I have seen too many times athletes validate their workouts by the data they collect and their Training Stress Scores.  “Hey Coach, take a look at my data…was it a good ride?”  The problem with this is that you cannot set a personal best on every workout and when you do not hit your intended target, you are then deflated and feel bad about yourself.  Exercise is meant to make us feel good!  Data should not be your key to happiness.  It’s a quick path to burnout and unnecessary mental fatigue.  

The next step in performance and longevity is to be open-minded about data and how much of it is useful.  Also, how data can also be “super informative” but also “super detrimental.”  How you mix all the data with your “gut-feel” depends on your personality and experience.  Some of you love data and find it motivating.  Some of you do not.  There is a mixture that is appropriate for each one of us.  Finding that right blend is the key to our path of life-long sport and movement.  These are some good questions to ask yourself that may take some experimentation on the dark side, whatever side that may be.