Friday, October 2, 2009

Old School. They did the best they could with what they had.

With Opening Day of the Cross season having hit nearly everywhere in the US now, I've overheard my fair share of this that and the other about ad hoc training, "proven" training, or excuses to not train and ride/ race. One thing I'll never be able to understand is the rationalization for the comment: "I'll just train Old School, by feel. Because that's what works."

Reality Check!  Old School is just that.  Old and antiquated! 

First, let's take a look at THE cutting edge for the application of modern training knowledge and technology. The Olympic Training Center and their $374.7 million of assets at the end of 2008. Anyways, take a look at the US Olympic Training Center and their Performance Services. Everything is "state of the art, cutting-edge, highest of quality" etc. etc. Not once to they mention, "traditional approach, from the 1980's, or aged technology."  Never.

How about some history of the Old School methodology while we're here.....
Everything is based on a biased and subjective Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE). This scale was established by Dr. Borg, circa 1970 as a way to measure aerobic training intensity in the field because of an inability to quantify workload or intensity due to unavailability of portable cycle ergometer (pronounced- "power meter"), or heart rate measuring devices (HRM).  Let's also keep in mind that no race or athletic competition has EVER been won simply by doing "tempo."

RPE measures how hard a workout session "feels" vs. the absolute intensity (work output). In one large study, efforts at 60%, 73%, and 86% of VO2 max were all given the same RPE even though the duration was different. Throughout any aerobic training session, RPE numbers trend upwards, despite a constant or decreasing workload which hints that RPE is also linked to fatigue. Therefore it can only moderately coupled with Heart Rate response or lactate production, at best.

Much of the performance training based on RPE research ended in the mid-1980s due to improvement in HR and power meter technologies. As a primary training variable, RPE is no longer used at the Olympic, Professional, or Elite level to dictate training intensities and is only used as a tertiary training variable that mostly measures feedback.

This makes sense as none of us drive our 1986 cars or use that old Comodore 64 computer.  Also, when we think about the evolution of sport, then the application of power meters and more complex physiological measurement/ quantification when compared to the "Old School" method becomes a necessity if one is to outperform the competition.  Sport performance has always used the best that technology can offer to see consistant improvement.  The "by feel" method WAS the best at the time (until the 80's).  Then it was followed by heart rate, which WAS the best way to measure and prescribe training at the time (until the mid 1990's).  Now training with power IS the best method of measuring and prescribing training.  Michael Phelps never jumped in the pool, turned a few thousand "tempo" meters, and then went to win 8 medals. And you can bet Fabian Cancellara doesn't "just ride around" and dominate the field in the World TT Championships.  They both use training methods much more comprehensive and complex.  Why would anyone who is passionate about their sport, or whose job depends on performance, ever settle for mediocrity, especially when the ability to drastically improve is readily available? 

I'm not saying it's a bad method, just like I'm not saying I don't like driving a '69 Impala.  There's simply better ways to go fast.

I'll leave you with this.....

The "gifted athletes" will always be that.  They will always be fast but they may never know how fast they can truly become.

If you spend thousands of your hard earned dollars on a bike, you expect it to go fast. And it should. It's a competent piece of equipment that feels fast and probably is fast. However, a bike doesn't make the rider go faster. Only the rider makes the rider go faster. If one invests countless hours of training with the goal to go that one little bit faster, the best use of that time/ energy investment must also be made.  We all look for a reason why we don't perform at the level we think we should, when sometimes the hard and honest answer could be, "I just am not fast enough."  But, how often does such a hard truth really need to be so?