The Blessing and Curse of Training Technology

The landscape of training and coaching technology has changed pretty dramatically in the last decade. Just as our phones, computers, and televisions have transformed, so has the hardware we train with and the software we utilize to analyze our training.

If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be able to train with a device that tracks my heart rate, pace and distance real-time via GPS, doubles as a cycle computer, and can be used to analyze a wide variety of metrics post-workout, including a 3D satellite overview of my route—all for about $200—I would have said you were crazy.

This same device can be uploaded to a computerized cycle trainer and the outdoor route you just trained on can be recreated in 3D virtual reality. The front wheel of your bicycle will be elevated in sync with changes in course grade, and even wind resistance can be programmed into the software. These computerized stationary trainers can then be linked together, and athletes will be able to race each other in virtual reality on their own bikes on the course you select, including your upcoming race course.

Sounds far fetched? All of this is technology is currently available. What a great time to be an athlete! Until the box arrives complete with multiple pieces of software, cables, manuals and the device itself.

One of the great things about being a head coach is that I get to be tech support to our many other coaches, athletes, and anyone else that may have a random question and my email address. If there was any justice in the world, I would receive a fat check from Polar, Garmin, Training Peaks, SRM, Ergomo, and Saris each month.

Depending on the day, I view technology as both a blessing and a curse. However, there are ways to avoid technological pitfalls and use this electronic wizardry to better effect.

Buying the Right Device

I love those PC/Mac commercials. Makes you want to run out and buy a Mac right? Well, the new, smaller, sleeker, more expensive Garmin 405 you just bought is not Mac compatible, whereas its much cheaper, older brother, the 305, is.

After several years of promising a Mac compatible software solution for the 305, Garmin finally delivered; then made the new 405 incompatible with both Macs and Training Peaks, the most popular training and coaching software. This is actually a fairly common refrain, as a lot of smaller companies will not spend the money designing a Mac version of their software.

Assuming your device is compatible with the computer you own or the software you use, the next step is learning how to configure your hardware. This involves actually getting out the manual and programming in everything from your weight to wheel size, and how you want to display all this information.

Years ago we had heart rate monitors that displayed, well, heart rate. Now we have pace, cadence, distance, speed, lap, heart rate, elevation, grade, power, time, interval, torque, maps, calories burned and more. Figuring out what is relevant and what is useless is a task in and of itself.

Make sure the device you purchase is the right device for you. It is easy to get overwhelmed with too much information. I have worked with athletes utilizing $1,600 Power Taps that function as little more than expensive cycle computers. Do not purchase a device unless you have the time, patience, and aptitude to learn its proper function and application. The latest technology is not for everyone, and often the newest device has the most problems. 

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