If you read typical triathlete, cycling, running and swimming ‘training bibles’ you will read that measuring heart rate [HR] is an appropriate and sufficient manner in which to gauge the stress of the training performed, and to gauge the degree of recovery in between training sets and training days. Bull!
If you have not read the post titled “Flaw In Training Zone Training Plans” then I would encourage you to do so; in the post you will read just how ‘intelligent’ it is if all that is measured is one data point. So why is heart rate [HR] training made out to be appropriate and sufficient? Because to sell ‘training plans’ and training for endurance events en masse, you need to dumb-down training concepts to the point that an in person relationship between athlete & coach is eliminated, selling all the fairytales and fantasies that training is as cookie cutter as following a 10, 12 or 16 week training plan to success or that training can be completed entirely in an online relationship. This is neither training nor coaching. The root source of this ignorance is that most coaches don’t have the education or experience to actually know how to coach, and in many cases don’t have the education or experience to realize that they don’t have the education or experience.
Before going any further, consider this…
You walk into your doctor’s office for your annual appointment and what is the key measure that your doctor takes, each and every time?
Heart rate? No.
If your doctor isn’t interested in your heart rate, but is interested in your blood pressure as a proxy for your heart health… then isn’t that a clue that perhaps heart rate alone is insufficient. Your doctor doesn’t even ask you in all likelihood what is your heart rate – at resting, or while exercising – yet this is the professional you go to with all your health concerns. If you are exercising for health, to be healthier, then heart rate is clearly not the one and only metric you should be concerned about; if its the only metric your coach is… then that should tell you all you need to know (i.e. your coach doesn’t know enough to be coaching, anyone).
Here is a quick primer on all the other stresses and systems that a coach needs to have a handle on, if they are truly going to coach an athlete…
Hydraulic Pressure – your circulatory system: your heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins are a closed system that pushes blood around. This is a hydraulic system. The pressure of this system is critical to your well-being and it is why your doctor takes your blood pressure: its one overview of all the stresses you are dealing with, and its a reflection on how you are dealing with all those stresses.
Pneumatic Pressure – your respiratory system: your lungs… all the tubes from the trachea in your throat to the smallest little bronchioles which end up in the little sacks of grapes you likely learned about in high school biology called alveoli. Indeed this system is responsible for oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange; however, the lungs themselves have another function: the lungs can place the entire fascial connections of the body from head to toe under total tension by inhaling and holding the breathe, or eliminate tension by exhaling and pausing before another breathe. Because the lungs are encased by the rib cage, by filling or emptying the lungs significant changes in air pressure – pneumatic pressure – are possible. In addition, the lungs can change the balance of pressure in the thoracic-abdominal cavity because it too is a closed system. This is a combo system of hydraulic and pneumatic pressures and at this point its suffice to point out it exists but the complexity of its function is beyond the scope of this post.
Mechanical Pressure – your musculoskeletal system: your muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and all the connecting fascia are an interconnected set of winches, pulleys, and ropes. Understanding how everything is connected and interconnected is critical if the goal is to be able to handle massive loads, massive loads repeatedly, and doing so by generating power. The complexity of this system is magnified when you further disassemble joints to appreciate how their surfaces are designed to maximize certain movements while preventing or minimizing others plus appreciating the role of cartilage and synovial fluid in joint health as well as performance.
Before moving onto other stresses and systems of the body… consider that just muscles alone – nothing else, not even other mechanical stresses – are the sole focus of study for physiologists and exercise physiologists. As important as this research is to understanding performance, can you begin to comprehend how overlysimplistic it is to take any single study regarding muscle strength, endurance and performance and apply it directly to training. Muscles do not act alone with the mechanics of the body, let alone all the other stresses and systems. It takes a professional who understands all stresses and systems to truly understand how the body works, thus how to train the body (and brain) in order to obtain greater amounts of work, which are achieved without costs or consequences on other systems (i.e. illness & injury). But hey… the typical coach took an entire 2hr training session and earned a coaching certificate from the “university” of an event management company (e.g. Ironman U)… so clearly they know everything there is to know in order to coach athletes properly… as if!
Metabolic Pressure – your metabolic system: your digestive tract, pancreas, liver, kidneys, and bladder work together to provide your body with the fuel it needs to function and to eliminate the waste products. But simply ensuring that you have fuel is not the sole function of this system, this system is also responsible for balancing compounds necessary to maintain homeostasis in the body. From the mineral composition of your bones, to the electrolytes in the intercellular spaces, the function of this system is simply more complex then ensuring that muscles have the energy they need. Long term homeostasis is the true role of this system, which balances the short term homeostatic function of the respiratory system. Failure to understand the entanglement between the respiratory and metabolic systems in regards to homeostasis, leads to failure in understanding how the body truly functions.
Hormonal Pressure – your endocrine system: your glands… adrenal, thymus, thyroid, pituitary, pineal, hypothalamus, and the sex glands are the in house pharmacists. These glands communicate to all aspects of the body chemically. The brain may be the centre of thought, but your glands are the centre of health. Misunderstand what this system does, misuse this system and you will be injured, you will be ill, you will create and cause disease in your body. Consider now what most coaches consider training: HiiT which is simply a way to short cut your way to your performance goals by pressuring your endocrine system to produce the hormones that will allow you to raise your output more and more; that your coach fails to understand how badly you as an athlete will suffer in the long term as a result… hey, its no consequence to them because by then they will be long gone, as for you… oh, well too bad. As a result, this system is the most abused by uneducated and inexperienced athletes and coaches, and is the system which takes perhaps the longest to recover. What most wannabe/hobbyist/hacker athletes and coaches fail to appreciate is that when you push this system to be the source of performance gains… you risk creating disease from which recovery may be more challenging than every competition you ever do.
Electrical Pressure – your nervous system communicates via electrical signal, like any electrical system, your nervous system is made up of conducting fibers, wrapped in insulating material that ensures no short circuits; however, like any electrical system… put too much energy for too long in it and it will start to malfunction. Electrical systems with too much energy flowing overheat, melting insulating material, exposing live wires, risking short circuits and in some cases total melt downs. Now if this sort of melt down happens usually it will trigger a circuit breaker such as those in your home preventing a fire; problem is… there is no circuit breaker in your body. Overload your electrical systems continuously and your nervous system will start to break down.
On that note, let’s take a breather, and…
Let’s consider just one organ in the body… your heart: it has electrical components, hydraulic components, and is influenced by both the pneumatic pressures generated by the lungs which wrap tightly around it, and on top of that the hormonal system can supercharge the electrical activity of the heart pushing it into overdrive mode in times of fear (i.e. your flight-fight-freeze reflexes) and measuring heart rate seems simple enough, but what does it mean when you consider all the internal influences that impact HR, and then consider all the external influences?
Anyone who belittles coaching, training and competing as a task that can be dumbed-down into a training plan without coach and athlete ever getting to know one another, without the coach respecting the athlete as an individual, and the athlete understanding their individual uniqueness requires respect… and you get what we have today: morons proclaiming themselves to be coaches marketing themselves as able to train athletes to their goals, and moron athletes who think that all it takes to train to a goal is hard, harder or training which is harder still. And now lets refer to the prior post and review just how many dead or near dead athletes there are as a result of this and consider if maybe ‘Something Ain’t Right’ in how we train and compete (especially if teens are ending up dead).
Alright back to stresses & systems…
There is still other pressure: Psychological. Your brain and all that goes on in your brain: your beliefs, your narratives, your self talk, your doubts, your fears, your aspirations, your self image, everything about how you see yourself, the world around, and how you fit into the world around will determine how all the other systems above will function. If you don’t see yourself or the world or how you fit into the world straight… then all the kings horses and all the kings men ain’t gonna put you humpty-dumpty together again. The psychological pressures that athletes encounter has led to sport-psychology being a stand alone profession… think on that and all of the pressures and systems in your body next time you are disappointed or frustrated with a performance goal and then think on whether your training actually is training you to deal with these pressures, are you training your body systems to operate better under these pressures.
For the point of this post… I skipped the immune system and all the senses as standalone systems because… I think the point is made: to train anyone properly requires a level of education and experience that unites all the stresses and systems into the body and can see the athlete’s performance as a sum total of these stresses and systems. If not, then you are left with the typical approach of… since every problem is seen as a nail, then the proper fix is a hammer and its only a matter of hitting that nail hard enough (i.e. hard, harder or harder still training) in order to achieve one’s goals.
Next time someone dumbs-down training into a 10, 12 or 16 week plan, or dumbs-down performance to you taking this supplement or that superfood, or dumbs-down peak performance to ‘trying really hard’… walk away… because they haven’t got a clue, and if they haven’t got a clue but think they do, then there is no helping them and if you stick around you too may get ‘helped’ by them too. Caveat emptor.
Be smart. Find someone who is smart. Then you will train smart, you won’t get ill or injured and you will achieve your performance goals.