Technology has revolutionized both coaching and the ability to measure athletic training and performance. From early heart rate-based training and VO2 and blood testing in the 1980s to the advent of cycling power meters, GPS, and biomechanical and lactate analysis in the 1990s, the opportunity to quantify individual athletic performance and to refine targeted training progressions has never been greater. But is there a point at which too many variables cloud the pure process of mind-body connection and an athlete’s innate understanding of her own physiological processes under cardiovascular stress?

As a coach I use technology to measure performance gains and to identify development within different energy systems, refine and demonstrate technique, and educate athletes about the adaptations happening within their bodies. But I have observed situations in which athletes become so technology oriented that they have a hard time executing workouts without uploading their structured program into their Garmin or Polar. There is a lack of understanding as to the “why.” What follows is the risk of becoming a training robot, mindlessly following the instructions of their technology.

I encourage my athletes to look forward at their training calendar progression and understand how a workout in one week builds to the next – the layering of the main sets within a bike threshold progression as an example. It’s great to quantify these workouts, to understand how cadence impacts heart rate and power, or how heat, nutrition and fatigue might play their role. But the ultimate outcome I’m looking for as a coach is the athlete’s ability to associate numbers and metrics with an innate sense of movement, proprioception or feeling. When you are swimming in the open water, for example, there is no pace clock or a coach counting strokes; those metrics need to be internalized in your mental toolkit. You need to feel how you are flowing through the water efficiently and at what pace, knowing the consequences – good or bad – of efficiently sticking with a draft group or bridging up to the next pack.

So the next time you are fretting over your TSS or CTL on Training Peaks, take a step back and think about how you felt in past measured training sessions. How did you move at that certain output? What were your biomechanics on that pace time? Visualize that movement and think about translating a level of efficiency from the training arena out onto the racecourse. Ultimately, I think it is healthy to train intermittently without technology. Or to put your Garmin in your pocket and analyze the data after the fact. See if your perception of your output matches the quantified measurements.

Technology has its place and can absolutely transform your performance. Take the feedback and keep reconnecting to perceived effort and efficiency of movement. Have a strong visual of how you will move and manage a key practice before you begin. Debrief practices with your coach, understanding what the numbers say and how they impacted your head and your heart!

Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained many Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 30 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Contact to tackle your first IRONMAN or to perform at a higher level.