How to avoid training data overload

As triathletes, we’re inundated with tech promising to enhance our performance. But for many it can be bewildering and even damaging. Professor Greg Whyte's advice? Start small…

Start with data that relates to your response to training rather than data that measures your performance

Having spent a lifetime in sport and over three decades as a sport scientist, I’ve witnessed the rapid rise of technology and data in sports training and performance. From large scale laboratory-based equipment operated by dedicated specialists, technology has moved from unaffordable to affordable and from macro to micro, ranging from wearable tech to technology embedded in our equipment.

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Alongside this tech revolution has come an explosion of performance data across the entire spectrum of sport science disciplines (physiology, psychology, nutrition, biomechanics etc).

But while data has become more accessible, education surrounding the use of data has been much slower to evolve, leaving many athletes accumulating masses of data related to all areas of performance without knowing what it means or what to do with it.

Knowledge and understanding is key

This data- collection exercise has been accelerated due to a number of factors including: the sports tech industry; a desire to own the latest kit; to join in the omnipresent data debate; and FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out!).

Having employed data in my own performance and the performance of athletes I have coached, I fully respect the value of data and its role in optimising performance. That said, data is irrelevant without knowledge and understanding.

Furthermore, knowing what to do with data is critical for performance enhancement. I’ve been around long enough to have evolved with some of the available data but, for many new to sport, the array of data can be bewildering and potentially damaging.

Multi-ethnic swimmers checking watches
Knowing what to do with data is critical for performance enhancement

Start small with your data

When it comes to deciding what data to collect, and therefore what technology to buy, I always recommend starting small and ensuring you understand the data, and its application, before progressing to more data.

My advice is to start with data that relates to your response to training (i.e. heart-rate during sessions and recovery) rather than data that measures your performance (i.e. power output). Personal data, particularly for newbies, can be valuable to ensure your programme is tailored to your needs.

A common mistake I often see is the obsession with using data to dictate a session. While there’s merit in this approach in certain situations (i.e. monitoring progression/testing), it’s important to avoid being led by data on every session.

Do some sessions based on feel

Occasional sessions without data (turn it off or, better still, leave it at home) can be so much more rewarding. Enjoy the session for what it is and how you feel, don’t let data dictate success or failure.

Data, and the associated technology, is a tool to enhance your training performance. As we move into winter, data can be valuable in prescribing and monitoring training volume and our response to it, but it shouldn’t be the sole measure of success. Resist the pressure to collect more and more. Instead, focus on quality data that has a demonstrable impact on your health and performance.

Remember: more is not always better! Seeking out a quality coach to guide you through the advantages and pitfalls of technology and data and help optimise your training, is likely to be a much more productive investment and will help you avoid ‘death by data’!

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Images: Getty Images