In a world where there seems to be a new gadget on the market literally every week that promises to take your training to the “next level”, this is an important question to consider.
Those of you who have either worked with me as your coach or who have read anything I’ve written over the last several years know that my relationship with fitness technology is nuanced. I appreciate how technology enables me to effectively coach people who do not live in my hometown; the world is big, but technology has made it small, which is pretty cool. I appreciate that technology can be a very valuable tool to gauge progress toward a goal.
However, I am cautious when it comes to a dependency on technology. Over the last several years, I have observed that the trend is learning more toward dependency for a majority of athletes, as opposed to being a nice tool.
The Important Question
If you think you know where technology fits in your training life, ask yourself the following question:
If whatever technology you use to track your workouts (this includes watches and devices like Garmins, indoor training apps like Zwift or TrainerRoad, and any reference points you could have from something like a treadmill (i.e. belt speed or estimated distance)) failed or died today and couldn’t be repaired, how would you react?
Really. Ask yourself that question honestly. Would you be okay with proceeding with your training this week without seeking any replacement technology? Or would you be stressed and unable to determine how to train without it?
I have watched many, many athletes over the years overnight a new watch to themselves when theirs broke because they couldn’t bear the thought of even an extra two days without it.
I have read many post-workout notes that contain explanations of shortened workouts because their device batteries weren’t charged, they waited for a charge on the device, but then didn’t have a time window large enough anymore to complete the workout as planned.
I have observed athletes not complete a workout when they didn’t have a way to record it or when their technology wasn't working the way they expected it to.
I have worked with several athletes who have flat-out refused to do a workout without a device, even when that’s what I planned in their training schedule (and even when I made it very clear that using any type of device defeated the purpose of the workout).
Just like I asked you to do last week, look at yourself in the mirror, and be honest about what you see. You may not like it, but I’m here to tell you that the odds are that you fall into one of the above categories. You are likely not the exception here; that’s just not how odds work. You likely have a dependency on technology when it comes to your training, and it’s probably so extensive that your training would suffer if you didn’t have the technology you’re used to or if it wasn’t working in a way that you expected it to work.
It is important to remember the following: Intangibles (such as effort, how the body feels, etc.) do not sell. They do not generate a profit. Companies like Garmin, Wahoo, Polar, Zwift, Rouvy, TrainerRoad, Peloton, Oura, etc. cannot exist unless they come up with a tangible product to market to and sell to consumers. So, it is in the best interests of these companies and others like them to keep coming up with products to sell.
New Does Not Equal Better
Consumers like you and me demand (whether consciously or unconsciously) new and better things. The chances of us buying something that is “old” and “outdated” is low. Thus, in order to appeal to that part of our human psychology, these companies need to come up with “new” things to put onto the market for us to consume.
What does this mean? In short, it means that a lot of what they come up with is sexy, sounds good, and will sell. What it doesn’t mean is that the technology being marketed and sold is actually effective and/or valuable. It may be, or it might not be. There are many, many pieces of data (aka technology) that are inaccurate in a majority of circumstances. The main motivator behind new products is their ability to generate a profit, not whether or not the technology is truly useful or worth your hard-earned money. Yes, what I’m saying here is that we (the consumers) are being manipulated by these companies. That is what marketing is. Again, you may not like this truth (and therefore this may be hard to admit), but it is true.
In the span of a mere two decades, fitness technology companies have changed our attitude toward and culture around workouts to the point that many of us cannot imagine fitness without technology. But exercise and fitness were around before today’s fitness products were on the market, and should those products go the way of the Dodo, exercise and fitness will still be here then, too. We humans will still be able to go for a run, do a set of push-ups, and go for a swim even without Coach Garmin on our wrists.
You are the Secret Sauce
Other athletes fall into the following bucket: They purchase technology (such as a $500 Garmin watch) and for a variety of reasons do not learn how to actually use the features that make it a $500 device. I’ve talked before about how it’s best to just purchase a device that contains the features that are useful/relevant to you if you will not take the time to learn new features, but I also want to propose this food for thought this week:
The data that is being collected is only as good and/or as useful as the person interpreting it, wielding it, and implementing it. In most cases, this means that your technology (and the data it provides) is only as good as you. This is true even if you have a coach; while data is useful for coaches (I would know ;) ) ultimately, you are the one who has to implement things into your training and execute your workouts.
If your reaction to what your technology says is or to a particular data point is, “So what?”, you may want to consider why you actually own that technology or why you’re using it. If you don’t change your behavior as a result of the technology and/or data it provides, there honestly isn’t any point to having it. Save yourself the money and put it toward something else that does matter to you.
The Bottom Line
Technology in sport is here to stay; that is definitely true. But not ALL of the technology that is currently in sport is serving us well. Asking the question, “What technology do we really need and/or is actually useful?” (i.e. with real concrete things/results you can put into words) is an important conversation starter as we navigate the increasing influx of technology into sport.
Use your technology. Don't let it use you. :)
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.