If Possible, Keep It Simple
The more complex you make something, the greater the likelihood of failure. There is a lot of buzz about open-source ANT+ technology that will allow different devices to essentially be cross-compatible with each other. On the surface this is great for the consumer, as it may cut down on the number of devices you need to gather training data, making data transfer easier. However, I believe there is also potential to open a Pandora's box.
Recently, the Garmin 705 cycle computer was made compatible with SRM power meters using ANT+. If you are uploading your cycle data to your Training Peaks account this requires that three different manufacturers products (four if you include your PC's operating system) all have to work together to get the data to the right place.
This means the manufacturers of these products have to communicate with each other when they make changes to software or hardware. If one link is taken out of the chain, whose responsibility is it to fix the process? I like to take the simple path to getting the data I need and try to stick to devices I know work well most of the time.
I warn my athletes to not become overly dependant on a device or the data it produces. You have to be able to train and race "blind" when a gadget inevitably fails. Athletes are often distracted when they become fixated on data.
Why Get Techie?
With so much potential for problems and frustration, why would anyone subject themselves to such technological misery? First of all, I have admittedly overstated the amount of problems these devices have. For the most part they do work, work well, and work well together.
If they did not, people would simply stop buying them (which has happened with particular devices). It is in manufacturer's best interest to get technical problems ironed out, and make their products relatively easy to use and reliable. Most issues are not with the devices themselves but are user error.
Secondly, I firmly believe that the more information I get, the more effectively and accurately I can coach an athlete. Years ago athletes were given a simple piece of paper with a training plan, perhaps based on their perceived exertion. The coach wound them up and let them go, hoping for a good result on race day. Perhaps they did well, perhaps they did not, but there was not a lot of objective feedback to work with in the interim.
I can now see more information on what goes on during a workout than if I was next to the athlete during it. I can see when they are overreaching and I am in constant communication with them through our software. I can instantly update or change a plan as needed.
I can quickly compare their race data in each leg of a triathlon to last year's race—or any other race—and gauge improvement trends in power and pace over time. I can crunch numbers until the cows come home and spend a much greater percentage of my coaching time focused on actual performance data vs. performance speculation. Verbal communication will always be a mainstay of coaching, but if you can show an athlete objective performance improvement, they are more apt to be on board with the process.
Every year, athletes get faster, new world records are set, and performance barriers are broken. I do not believe this is due to better athletes being born, but to greater knowledge and application of better coaching methods. New technology is never easy to integrate, and it takes time and patience by both the coach and athlete. But the more accurate the training stress load and analysis of it, the faster the athlete will become.
I was surprised to find that only a handful of the thousands of USA Cycling-licensed coaches have become USA Cycling-licensed Power Based Training Coaches. Training with power in and of itself requires a learning curve, more of the coach's time, and can even be intimidating. But once you start gathering and tracking an athlete's power data, the feedback on their progress becomes invaluable; and you quickly wonder what you did without it.