When technology becomes crippling
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
by Laura Henry
How are you reading this right now?? More than 62% of you are reading this article on a mobile device, whether it be a smartphone or tablet. Approximately 38% of you are reading it via a web browser. And exactly zero of you are reading a hard copy of this, namely because we don’t publish hard copies. Even if we did publish hard copies, that would still be the least utilized method to read our newsletter or articles that we post here at Team MPI.
Technology is omnipresent and is woven into the fabric of all of our lives. At this point, we have an incredible dependency on it. As a coach who works remotely with athletes all over the world, I am acutely aware of exactly how true this is. I couldn’t coach a significant number of the athletes I currently work with if I didn’t have access to reliable Internet service or access to great tools such as Google Apps for Business or Final Surge.
I’ve watched this particular industry (endurance sports in general, but coaching as well) evolve into a primarily technology-based industry over the last decade. What was once sketched out in notepads with a pencil is now created on Google Drive. The wristwatches of yesteryear are all but extinct (you know, the watched that ONLY told time??). Everything we do is somehow weaved into something else and some technology-based gadget or platform in an attempt to make our lives “easier.”
Here’s what I’ve also observed over the last decade: as things have become “easier” for us, we have actually made things harder. What do I mean by this?? I mean that we have become SO dependent on technology that many of us have lost the ability to free-think for ourselves and function without it.
Let’s be clear: technology IS wonderful and can be incredibly useful!! But like all things in this world, it can fail. It can glitch. And here’s what I’ve seen when this happens: People stress - BIG TIME. I have had countless conversations with athletes who are frustrated and upset that one of the pieces of their fitness technology isn’t working as designed. Here are a few examples:
Garmin Connect doesn’t sync data over to other platforms (such as Final Surge or Strava) immediately. Systems like Garmin Connect process tens of thousands of files every single hour. On higher-traffic days (such as Sundays or Monday holidays in the United States), sometimes there is a delay in sending off the file to connected platforms/apps. And then, sometimes, one of those tens of thousands of files doesn’t come over the way it is supposed to. This is a numbers game; with that much data, mistakes are liable to happen. In these cases, I remind folks that it’s OKAY - that their bodies record what they do, even if the technology glitches. And if the file DOES exist (but just isn’t automatically coming over), then downloading it and then uploading it manually are always options.
I will plan workouts that advise athletes not to use any recording or timing device at all. This is meant to serve a wide range of purposes, but one of the biggest ones is that it is meant to be “freeing” for the athlete. However, it often has the opposite effect: just thinking about doing a workout without any watch or timing device causes a TON of stress for people (and many athletes will not do it). They cannot fathom “letting go” of the technology that they have become accustomed to. This exact reaction just reinforces how important it is to train to let go; if you cannot handle mindfully letting go, how will you handle it if something pops up where you don’t have a choice but to let go?? What happens if your watch dies a final death and you cannot replace it?? Are you going to cease doing workouts all together?? Or, is the wiser choice to figure out how you can modify things so that it IS doable for you??
Indoor smart trainers have become incredibly useful and valuable tools for athletes, particularly those athletes who live in climates where riding outdoors year-round just isn’t possible. But the “Erg Mode” on those smart trainers has created a culture where people fear actually doing the work themselves. This phenomenon is relatively recent; I’ve seen it manifest over the last two years or so. Basically, when Erg Mode (the mode on a smart trainer where the trainer controls practically everything about the workout for the athlete) isn’t available, athletes are unable (or perhaps - unwilling) to do the thinking/planning/execution of the workout for themselves. They have effectively become too dependent on that technology. Again, like with the device-less workouts, this reaction to “losing” Erg Mode only reinforces how important it is not to become entirely dependent on one thing in training.
This may sound quite doom and gloom, but all hope is not lost. I’ve written this and said it countless times: Just like we train the body, we need to train the mind. And part of training the mind is how to be present during workouts, including thinking about their execution. This means being engaging with the workout, thinking it through, and mindfully executing it. Like anything, this too can be taken in the wrong direction, but overall, we are seeking a balance of technology and self. In short, we want technology to be a tool, but not a crutch. And above all, we want to trust OURSELVES. The “peak” of this type of training occurs when an athlete is able to use technology in a way that enhances the workout and their overall training, but doesn’t feel incapacitated if they are left without it.
Take an honest look at your training: are YOU very dependent on technology?? If you are, talk to your coach about what steps you can take to reduce your anxiety about losing technology or doing something different than what you are used to. If you are self-coached, be sure to schedule effort-based workouts for yourself that don’t have any set parameters. And for everyone: I strongly advise device-less workouts every now and again just as an “accountability check” to see if you are doing okay without your technology.
Don’t let technology overtake your training so much that it becomes crippling. Seek to have it be exactly what it is intended to me: an enhancement to your training.