by Coach Steve
Lately I've had discussions with athletes about whether to train
by the numbers or by feel. Is it better to define training efforts
with scientific methods like specific heart rate ranges, or to go
by RPE (relative perceived exertion)? Both have merit.
Near the end of a discussion with a potential client the subject
of recording workouts came up. She asked what sort of documentation
I require, and I said that's up to the athlete. I'm comfortable
with whatever they have time to record as long as I get some kind
of feedback. For some athletes this means downloading stats from
their HRM (heart rate monitor), maybe even their HRM/GPS device,
and sending it to me to analyze. For others it's just sending me
an occasional email with a report of how the workouts felt. Some
athletes combine both in a log.
The potential client was not happy with my response, she said:
"I need a coach who uses more scientific methods." For
this athlete the concept of how her workouts felt was irrelevant.
Over her last two race seasons she had been doing everything right
by the numbers, yet was not satisfied with her results. Hum...
I had a good conversation on this topic with an athlete during
a ride last week. I was especially interested in this athlete's
perspective because he's been an elite triathlete for 20 years,
and I consider him the best ever at distances through 1/2 IM. He
described himself as "old school," going by feel on any
given training day. He said that if he feels good he pushes it,
if not he takes it easy. I hope it was a 'feel good' day as he managed
to drop me more than once on some inclines, not a good thing for
an ex-bike racer (me).
If you began training for endurance sports before the appearance
of heart rate monitors you know going by RPE works well if you stay
tuned to your bodies' feedback. Of course few athletes have the
benefit of 20 years' trial and error, so using a HRM and going by
the numbers can expedite the learning process of what works and
A good coach can explain the concepts and maintain an objective
view of your training. Years of racing experience combined with
an observant, analytical thought process gives a dependable perspective.
Even a coach without a racing background will eventually figure-out
what works (and what doesn't) from athletes' results.
When athletes ask me for pacing guidelines at their next event
I recommend they go by both 'numbers' and feel. The two methods
are complimentary. After using an HRM for many runs you should know
what a certain percentage of max heart rate feels like. Watching
the HRM on race day with a certain max or average in mind can keep
you from over-doing it early, potentially running out of 'gas' later.