Coach Tip Tuesday: Technology Does Not Work by Osmosis
Once again it’s Tuesday, which means it’s Coach Tip Tuesday!
It’s 2021 and this is being communicated to you on some sort of digital device. Thus, it’s a fairly safe assumption to say that all of you reading this are fully aware that there are more gadgets and technology out there than any of us could have ever dreamed possible. Specifically in the world of endurance sports, it seems like there is some new gadget or device coming out every other week (and sometimes more frequently than that).
With such an influx of technology into this space, it can be really hard to discern what’s a good piece of technology to purchase and what’s extraneous. And then, even if you do decide to spend money on fitness technology, you may or may not know how to actually use that technology.
Let’s travel back in time to our middle school/junior high years when we learned about osmosis. Osmosis is a process that takes place in our cells where molecules move through a selectively permeable membrane in order to equalize the solute concentrations on both sides of the membrane. Basically, two differing solutions can be placed next to each other and will balance each other out. In other words, this is a process that takes place without conscious, active work.
Learning about data related to training and racing and then learning how you can optimize the very expensive fitness devices you choose to purchase for yourself does not happen passively, or by osmosis. It takes very real work on the part of the user to study and learn not only the device itself, but what the data that it generates means. As a full-time endurance coach, I have taken a deep dive into fitness data and devices, and as such, I can tell you that it takes time and true cognitive engagement to really learn. Being very truthful: I still am learning, each and every day.
All of this being said, if you want to get the most out of your fitness devices (which, again, you spent a lot of money on to have more features than a standard watch, so don’t just use them to tell time), you need to mentally engage with said technology. You need to sit down and spend real time learning it if you want it to be an asset to your training.
I’ve observed that it is this - the sitting down and spending actual time with the device - is the hardest thing for many athletes to do. Why? I can hypothesize all day long, but here are my best guesses:
People, while entirely dependent on it, are actually sick of technology.
If people are not actually sick of technology, they are overwhelmed by it.
People don’t leverage technology; they let technology leverage them. (Cal Newport talks a lot about how it’s important to use technology in a mindful, thoughtful, deliberate manner to enhance our lives rather than letting it consume us in his 2019 book Digital Minimalism; I highly recommend that you read it.)
Engaging with the “easier” data points (such as pace and distance) during and after a workout feels easier than learning how a bunch of data points interrelate (and sometimes contradict) each other.
People perceive that they do not have the time to learn something new.
Just having the device itself feels like one is doing something productive in training.
If any of my hypotheses resonate with you, I encourage you to take stock of that feeling and then take a look at how you’re interacting with technology from a broad perspective across the landscape of your daily life. If you’re feeling like you don’t have the time to learn this, I respectfully will advocate for you spending 5-10 minutes three times a week to study a new-to-you feature within the technology devices you use. While learning fitness technology might seem overwhelming when it is layered in with all of the other technology interactions you have, this is actually a realm where the time you invest into learning it can serve you very well over the long haul in terms of your training, racing, and goal-setting.
All of this being said, the number one rule of leveraging technology is that you also need to know what to do if it fails. I know, I know. I sound like a hypocrite right now. I just spent several paragraphs telling you to learn how to use your fitness technology, and now I’m telling you that you have to learn how to exist without it.
But, hypocritical or not, it’s true. Technology isn’t perfect. It isn’t a guarantee. It’s a tool. And like all tools, it can break. I’ll even take it one step further and not only say that it can break, but that it will. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day, it will not work as designed. And you need to have the tools in your toolbelt to be able to handle that adversity and manage that situation when it comes knocking on your door.
What I’m advocating for here is a well-rounded approach to your training and post-workout analysis. As the athletes who I work with can tell you, I strive to help them learn as much as they can during their time working with me as their coach. But, I can’t inject knowledge into their brains; I can only show them the door. They are the ones who need to do the hard work by spending time learning concepts that are unfamiliar to them. And this week, I’m seeking to show all of you that same door and that you and your goals are worth spending this time on.
So, take the time to learn about the devices you choose to spend your hard-earned money on. Learn about what they can do for you and your training. Learn how they can be an asset. Explore the features that they offer. Decipher which features are useful for you, and which ones you don’t find as much value in. If you have a coach, have a conversation with them about the things you are learning or ask them questions if you realize you don’t know something.
Remember that the most rewarding things rarely, if ever, come easily at first. Don’t be intimidated by your fitness technology; see what it can teach you about yourself and then leverage that knowledge to become wildly successful in any/all goals that you set for yourself. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.