The technology of our industry has really escalated what’s capable. From devices that sync your workouts from your training platform, smart trainers that control your output to the T, and even the onset of Ai that is adjusting workouts based on your current level of stress and completion.
This is great in some areas, but horrible in others. This is a topic that has tangents, so stick with me for a minute on this one; Completed Imperfectly or Perfectly Incomplete.
Basically it’s a love-hate relationship with these tech advances as a coach. On one hand; it aids in execution being at your fingertips when you’re ready to throw a leg over the bike and get to work. But on the contrary, it’s this expected ease that has developed enabled athletes to forego any planning, which in my eyes is an imperative part of Preparing to Perform.
In my experience, this platform has developed an athlete that wants an exact prescription of hold exactly X watts for Y duration without any advance or reflective thought given to what’s ahead, necessary, or possible. While I am a magic worker, I don’t claim to be a snake charmer and thus able to nail these with laser precision all the time with athletes I’m working with on at a basic level. There are those athletes I work with and get paid accordingly to be on point day-in and day-out, but most coaching interactions are remote-based with a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly review, recap and adjustment.
Let’s be honest, if I, or any coach for that matter, claim to be able to give these exact prescriptions all the time, then they are probably shooting conservative leaving some performance hanging, which is ok, or just blowing a bit of hot air. At least early in training cycles when adaption and training status is still developing. And even those athletes following online training plans without any adjustments or feedback are extremes for generic prescriptions.
So how can an athlete expect these prescriptions to be so exact? You can’t! And if you approach workouts with uber-rigid expectations, then you’ll often come out disappointed and often without logging the necessary training required for an adaptive signal.
Any given day your cumulative level of stress, and not just that from your training, but that from life in general can be different and unaccounted for within your coach-athlete interface. I mean, c’mon my TrainingPeaks account totally knows that I had to was awakened at 12:13 am with my 1-year-old, then again at 3:12 am with my 4 yr old having a dream that got into my bed, then again at 5:22 am with the 1-year-old teething, just to lay on the couch in a contorted neck-twisted hunch just to have a throw blanket cover most of my chilly toes and bare torso. I should be on point today since I just did an easy hour in Zone 1 on the rollers yesterday right?
In a podcast the renowned physiologist, Dr. Stephen Seiler proposed an approach to this simply and referred to this type of “filling in the blank” training as a more general prescription starting with a guideline of goal number of repetitions and sets, range of output (power) and response (heart rate), and then you doing what you can on that day to have the best performance within those parameters.
In his proposal, it gives you the autonomy to have an excellent day or conversely a minimum effective dose (MED) day by respectively either knocking out extra reps or at a higher power within the range or just hitting the bare minimums of duration and intensity.
I’ve become an execution ninja when it comes to completing sessions with this carpe diem approach. Over the past 5 years, I’ve still managed to maintain a respectable level of performance with year to year peaks including winning a national championship while faced with ever-decreasing opportunities to log volume or quality time due to running a business from all angles, raising 2 young kids & a wife, splitting time with my wife running her business, supporting her future education & certifications, enjoying free time, and frankly just pursuing effectiveness.
How? I’ve taken the stance of just “filling the blank” over executing with perfection as Seiler alluded. Maybe the Rx is 3×10 minute and I only have time to do knock out 1×20 minute and I might be able to do it 2 consecutive days. Or I’m off my goal VO2 power by 5-10% by the end of the set, but I still can bump it down to complete the duration while keeping my heart rate elevated. In my eyes, this is making the most of the day and moves the dial versus not obtaining the necessary adaptive signal.
Is one prescription less beneficial than the other? Not in my eyes, it’s the accumulation of work within a range that matters. It doesn’t go without stating that this must be within reason of those original parameters, being sufficiently recovered to perform, and other characteristics. You can’t have a goal to do FTP work at +/- 90% and think that if you’re executing at 80% is doing the job. You likely just be better off resting.
In Jon Acuff’s book, Finish he refers to this concept of completion as getting past the day of perfection as the tipping point. Sounds amazingly simple but often genius exists in simplicity.
When is that for you? Are you on a good run of sessions, then get interrupted by work travel, family interruptions, or maybe a sickness? Then you start to believe, well 30 minutes isn’t as good or “perfect” as the hours I was logging prior, so I just won’t even bother.
Or how about you try a workout that you did in a previous year or block of training and expect to hit at previous peak values or repetitions. And when you can’t, you fold, throwing in the towel versus adjusting the expectations to still fit within those general parameters.
I propose you focus on just filling in the blanks and being more flexible within the prescription until you get into a rhythm and then you can start setting more distinct goals based on recent execution with more confidence. This has helped me and many others repeatedly succeed at a fairly high level and know it can help others by taking the pressure of perfectionism off your shoulders.
Honestly when it gets hard and the difficulty in later reps, sets or durations when the power isn’t exactly what you’d want it to be is when most of the adaptive signal occurs in endurance training. So if you constantly selling yourself short due to perceived failure at the cost of perfection, then you’re leaving some on the table.
Log the imperfect work triumphing over the perfectly incomplete and start climbing back up your personal podiums!