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Why Do We Train With Devices?

It used to be that the most sophisticated training device an athlete could use was a wristwatch that recorded lap splits. Thanks to technological advances, we now have heart rate monitors and GPS devices that measure distance and pace along with time (not to mention altitude, elevation gain/loss, cadence, and other metrics), plus power meters for cycling. With the multitude of gadgets available these days, multisport athletes can monitor and record nearly every aspect of a workout. And we often do. Yet this raises an important question: why do we record and to what ends?

Greater self-awareness of the reasons why we use training devices can help us use them more effectively; or, in some cases, allow us to know when to turn them off. Although the specific reasons for using training devices may be as varied as the athletes that use them, here are a few basic categories that cover most uses.

The Training Effect Function

One of the most important functions of any training device is to monitor performance to help target a particular training effect. A heart rate monitor, for example, can be a cost-effective and easy-to-use tool for time-crunched athletes looking to make the most of every minute of training time. The key to effective use of a heart rate monitor is to establish your personal training zones by correlating heart rate to blood lactate. This can easily be determined by conducting a simple field test. (For a detailed guide on how to do this, see the Multisport Training Guide on the Alpine Fitness website.) Once you have established your sport-specific heart rate zones, then you can target desired training effects.

For example, if you are working to develop the body’s ability to handle blood lactate, then you can use the heart rate monitor during a tempo workout to put yourself in the zone just below the lactate threshold. The feedback you glean from the heart rate monitor can ensure you neither go too hard nor too easy. Especially for athletes preparing for races or specific events, using a device such as a heart rate monitor to target training effects provides a streamlined, effective, and productive means to achieve peak performance. It allows us to train systematically to achieve our goals.

The Motivational Function

Whether we train for competitive events or for general fitness and health, a training device can be an important motivational tool, especially when used in conjunction with a training log such as TrainingPeaks. Logging workouts on TrainingPeaks allows us to track and acknowledge milestones such as reaching our goal average weekly training time or yearly mileage.

Some people are intrinsically motivated and thrive on the self-satisfaction that accompanies knowledge of accomplished feats. Others are more extrinsically motivated and respond to the acknowledgement of peers. Now that more and more devices connect to social media, the social dimensions of using training devices continue to expand. For example, TrainingPeaks allows you to share workouts with friends, family and fellow athletes through Facebook, Twitter, emails or links to your personal blog or website.

Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, the motivation that comes from seeing what we’ve achieved on the screen of a training device (and then in our training log) just might help us get out the door on a cold day to go the distance. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) agrees. In their Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, the ACSM recommends charting exercise achievements as part of a general strategy towards enhancing program adherence. Also, as one athlete reminded me, “An examined life is a valued life,” and charting one’s training accomplishments can “increase the examination and joy one takes in the art of living.”

The Obsessive-Compulsive Function

Finally, there’s the obsessive-compulsive function. Granted, this isn’t a function per se, but training devices can sometimes enable obsessive-compulsive behavior that can detract from optimal training practices and goals. Recording data in the service of attaining motivational milestones is one thing, but it’s a different game when it becomes an obsession with logging certain data points (e.g., mileage) for the sake of seeing those numbers at any cost. Obviously, using training devices to enable obsessive-compulsive behavior is to be avoided.

How do you know if you or a training partner falls into the overly obsessive category? One sign is if you find yourself circling the block at the end of bike rides or running up and down the driveway at the end of runs just to see your GPS click off a few more tenths of a mile so you can record that nice whole number in your log. Remember, a workout should be judged by the training effect it has accomplished, rather than by how close you arrive on your training log at the prescribed distance or duration written in the workout plan. Especially if your body is telling you it is time to end a workout early, let your body be the guide rather than the mileage indicator on the training device.

Overall, training devices harness the best of modern technology to deliver a plethora of data to the athlete’s fingertips. They can be invaluable tools for providing feedback along the road to increased fitness and performance. The key is to use the training device as a tool for healthy and productive fitness gains, and not to become a slave to the technology so that it overshadows effective and enjoyable training practices. Train smart!


TrainingPeaks is compatible with over 90 devices, making it easy to upload all your data and use it to monitor and analyze your fitness. Learn more about our Software for Athletes here. Also, have you tried TrainingPeaks' free desktop software Device Agent to help you bulk upload workouts from your devices? Learn more about Device Agent here.

Adam Hodges, Ph.D., is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach, as well as an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. He has worked with a variety of endurance athletes over the past two decades, including Masters swimmers at the University of Colorado as well as runners, cyclists and triathletes of various ability and experience levels. As a competitive endurance athlete for over twenty-five years, he has achieved USAT All-American status as an elite amateur and has competed in the ITU World Triathlon Championships, the ITU World Duathlon Championships, and the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Visit to learn more about Adam's coaching practice, or follow him on Twitter @adamcolorado.

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Reader Comments (3)

I agree that seeing your workouts in a log can inspire you to head out next time. Jerry Seinfeld had something similar and it really does make sense.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

I do not agree with the "Obsessive-Compulsive Function", when one should look at Training Effects (TE) instead of ran kilometers.
Well first of all most devices I know do not give you the TE live, while running, but even if this was the case, one should trust those algorithms and not your training plan plus your body feeling.
The bottom line is, if I fell well and I can finish the scheduled workout I do so, no matter what the TE is on the device.

March 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicola

I don't agree with the Obsessive Compulsive function either, but mostly because I'm like that and I've never noticed any problem with it. It makes me feel like I've accomplished more to hit 5.00 miles instead of 4.89. I feel happy and it doesn't hurt anyone, so, no problem, right?

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda L

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