Don’t be one of the stats, too many athletes focus on worthless data when overseeing their training sessions, they want to go at a certain speed while riding a bike or stick to a specific heart rate while running. People even want to know how many steps they’re taking, how fast their cranks are spinning or how many calories they’re burning. We are overdoing it!
Remember that every workout needs to have a purpose; recovery, maintenance, stimulation, etc. With that in mind, we then manipulate factors like duration, speed and intensity but, which metric should we use to make sense of the whole session? What is important? What should we focus on? The answer is EFFORT.
There are several data fields which I think fundamentally enclosed all we need to worry about while training, I call them Linear Effort Factors. These metrics do not depend on anything but your own body’s effort. The first one is the “Rate of Perceived Exertion”. RPE is the holy grail of training and whoever successfully masters it will have a great tool to gauge efforts and training quality. It’s a scale from 0-10 that lets you “rate” how easy or difficult an exercise is depending on how you feel during it. Knowing your body will help you avoid overtraining, execute workouts better and push through many psychological barriers. But, what if you’re like me and have no idea on how to understand your body?
We should train to improve what we have, not for the times we want! -eMMa
ON THE BIKE: Power meters changed the game and we should all consider getting one. This invention totally take the “guesswork” out of the ball game. I’ve noticed it very clearly during professional cycling tours the last couple of years. #1 Attacks are not fuel by passion any more, every attack is almost “orchestrated” and it goes at a certain power value depending on the terrain and conditions. “All out” is not an option anymore. #2 The power meter is a patience boost device. Riders used to get dropped and out of the race because they were going faster than they could and over-reacting to almost everything, then giving up mentally after chasing blind folded. Now a days cyclist are able to pace themselves better. By being steadier they reduce time gaps to superior riders. Equally, time trial pacing strategies are enhanced, no guesswork, this pace (watts) for X time and hold it for a long as possible. The power meter gives you all the great things without the sugar coating; what is your body exactly doing, when, for how long and how steady.
But power meters still out of budget for the average cyclist, so what options do we have? I suggest a combination of riding for time and complementing it with a heart rate monitor if available.
Go out on your bike for a set amount of time. In between you can go hard or easy for “x” minutes. Maybe climb seated for 3’00” then stand up for 2’00”, is that easy. You can track progress by noticing how long it took you to complete a familiar route or how long did you lasted before getting drop on a group ride or crit. You don’t need much else.
If you own a heart rate monitor use it as a complimentary tool. Because hear rate is not a direct reaction to effort, focusing totally on it during training makes little sense. Hydration status, fatigue levels and weather all affect your hrt without even starting to move.
“HRT is an indication of effort, it is an indirect one at best. Similar to tachometer on a car that tells you how fast the pistons are pumping rather than how many horsepower the engine Is producing, heart rate does no tell you the speed or power that you are generating on the bike/run but only how fast the heart is pumping.” (Cutting-edge Cycling by Hunter Allen and Stephen S. Cheung)
Please stay away from using speed or cadence as your main metric. Speed is another too variable of a factor, it depends on terrain, winds, drafting, road conditions and equipment choices. Do you have control over any of those? Move on. Cadence I also consider insignificant, yes I believe in optimal cadence ranges as an efficiency tool but not to totally base your training upon it. Stay in that optimal range of 80-100 rpms, spin when possible, hammer when necessary and you should be fine.
ON THE RUN: Most on my runs I focus on time. This makes the most sense to me because It’s true that every race is based on a fixed number (distance), thus running for miles would be logical, but understand that our body recognizes/responds to stimulus and those are determined by #1 how hard the training is (intensity), #2 how long it was (duration). Counting miles as your main metric therefore is pretty much worthless.
Further evidence to this point would be elite vs amateur runners training models. Yes, I know elites train more -distance- but when you study their programs they are still looking for the same stimulus we are, it just requires “more” of it to be effective on them. A 10k run may seem long for some of us, because it takes close to an hour and provides great aerobic stimulus, but for an elite runners it might take 35min which is not enough stimulus time for them to gain any fitness, therefore they run longer. Does it makes sense?
As a secondary metric while running I will look at pace. No matter how fit or raw we are, we all should all have established training zones based on recent performance and current fitness level to use as a guide. Paces, at which we refer to an effort as easy-moderate-hard.We should train to improve what we have not for the times we want! It would be a good idea to sporadically check our pace while we run for various reasons. #1 We want to make sure we are getting the correct stimulus from the workout (easy, recovery or load). #2 We can gauge the day’s fatigued level and make a decision on the workout. Does it feels easy but it’s slow? Are you going slow but it feels hard? listen to your body.
I’ve left out suggestions for swimming because I really feel like it’s the most sensible discipline in terms of effort perception and how it affects training. I truly believe you need a coach on deck to guide you through most of the sessions. For its repetitive nature you can lose track of many things really easy, including pace, lap count or space awareness, when swimming in open water. If you think about it and pay some additional attention, notice how coaches even use whistles or some hand motions to guide their athletes even at swim meets, prove that many swimmers even at the elite level can struggle with pace selection and administration. But that’s just me.
As you can see you have many options to measure your training and reaching for all of them at the same time can lead to an consumerism vicious. If you still want to use them all I’ll say is; the winning combination is knowing how to use them all and for each one to complement the other.
- Take what your power meter/GPS watch is saying
- Determining how you’re feeling by RPE
- Compare it to your hrt and see if it match or make sense.
I guess the key is to find a factor that does not depend on any element other than your own body.
At the end of the day all that really matters is completing the workouts with the least amount of effort. Get your practice done and afterwards remind yourself of what the session’s purpose was, if you can effectively say you achieved it good job! Keep it up! If not, then wash, rinse & repeat.