03 May Training by Numbers or Training by Feel?
After a frustrating weekend’s bike training – Sunday’s group ride was packed full of unavoidable events, including wrong turns, lost riders, two punctures and a broken chain; and then my Garmin lost all the morning’s data – I got to thinking about the training by numbers or training by feel debate.
Coming from an engineering background, I appreciate well that everything in the world is driven by numbers. And I see it in sport too, particularly in multisport – from Polar to Fitbit, through Garmin and Powertap, numbers are taking over our lives. It’s all well and good for professional athletes who have a trained team behind them to interpret the vast amount of data output by these devices. The question I would ask: has the amateur athlete lost the ability to train by feel?
In my early university years, my powerlifting coach set me on a simple path when it came to weightlifting. The philosophy was you completed the stipulated number of sets and reps but you lift the weight you are able to lift on the day. Some days you’ll simply (and sometimes inexplicably) be capable of more than on other days. More commonly, people are saying “I’m not done till I’m done”. How do they complete these sets? They still push themselves to their limit (on any given day) but they understand the feel for training.
I’ve heard many people say they have just invested in training by power on the bike and it’s going to change how they train to be stronger. Many are then quick to tell me that they have no idea what the data is telling them yet. In some cases, six months after installing their new power meter, athletes are telling me they understand what is being shown but they don’t know what to change in their training. It’s then a case of data for data’s sake. The reliance on numbers is then complete.
So what is the feel for training? We all know when we’re tired, hungry or thirsty. The feel for training is similar. When you’re on the edge, sprinting for the next lamp post or road sign and you feel the burn in the legs and in the lungs. That’s the limit. This doesn’t mean stay away from it. You need to keep finding the edge. When you’re riding or running, sitting back and chatting is the baseline and you need to sometimes go beyond that to start driving improvements in strength and fitness.
So when people have moved from feel to numbers did they have the feel for training? That is something only the individual can decide, however my recommendation is start simple and keep a diary and make notes as you go. This will help you understand what’s going on and is great for trending data and ultimately finding the balance for how often to aim to push yourself to the edge.