Training on Feel: Put Away Those Gadgets!

By Su
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Just recently one of my friends bought himself a new GPS watch that came with two different heart rate straps. He also mulled whether or not to get himself a footpod so he could more accurately count his steps while running so he could ascertain his run efficiency. We had a good laugh at his tendency to become an Inspector Gadget-type character with all sorts of things strapped to his body to measure everything.

Gadgets like the GPS watch, heart rate monitor, and power meter enable us to quantify our performance according to training targets, and they can help push and motivate us further and faster. They are tools and we employ those tools to help us improve, depending on what we are working on.

But they are also just tools that provide numbers, and Thanyapura’s head coach of triathlon Sergio Borges feels that sometimes we allow these numbers too much power over our performances. He says, “I have seen athletes that are so dependent on their gadgets that if they forget to bring their heart rate monitors or GPS to the local group run, or they forget to charge their power meters before the ride, they turn around and go home! Is it impossible to train without these tools? Of course not! They may actually be better off without them.”

Coach Sergio is a big believer in developing body awareness and becoming more mindful so you have a sense of pacing and effort without having to look at the numbers. Even if it means sometimes keeping the watch in the bag instead of on your wrist, learning how your body feels will allow you to decide how hard or how easy to train.

When training exclusively using gadgets, one can fall into the error of ignoring what your body is feeling. Have you ever tried becoming more mindful and listening to your body during training — getting to know how it normally runs and what its rhythms and patterns are? It’s what is called training on perceived effort or feel, and due to our millennial obsession with gadgets, it’s something we don’t do often enough.

If you’re too busy looking at that little screen obsessing about heart rate, pace, or power, you may not be able to tap into a mindful state which allows you to pick up on other things happening during the session, such as your form or physiological changes in your breathing and heart beat. Coach Sergio notes, “For example, your body may feel great on a run so you pick up the speed a little. Then you look at your HR monitor and notice that your HR is way above your training zone so you slow it down. Your body was telling you that you are adapting to the training well and you are getting stronger, but because your HR was too high, you wasted what could have been a really good training session. This is how numbers just get in the way.”

Trying to hit certain numbers regardless of how you’re actually feeling during a training session may even do more harm than good, as you may end up under- or over-training. The 2014 Ironman World Champion Sebastian Kienle famously never rides with a power meter because of his tendency to try hitting even higher power readings.

Doing some of your training on perceived effort allows you to become attuned to your body’s signals. Perceived effort provides context for the numbers you’re logging. For instance, there’s a difference in the perceived effort holding a 250-watt effort when unfit versus when you’re fit. Heart rate and pace can vary depending on how much rest you’ve gotten and on external factors such as heat or cold.

Anecdotally, some of my triathlete friends set their personal bests when their watches were kicked off their quick releases during the swim. I’ve set my 10K PR’s by trying to hang onto the lead pack for as long as I could.

When you know how you perform based on feel and become more mindful, you set yourself free from being a slave to your own gadgets. We shouldn’t get so locked into what our expected paces, heart rates, and efforts should be that we miss out on really pushing our limits and producing breakthrough performances.

Being less dependent on the numbers and tuning into our bodies is an intuitive process. The majority of us find it hard to quiet the voices in our mind and get out of old habits which is where our mind trainers at Thanyapura can help. You will able to see first hand the benefits of becoming more attuned to your body’s signals and the positive effect it has on your sports performance.

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