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The Power of Wearable Technology

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

Early in my cycling career, I had a small and delicate Cateye mounted to my bike. It offered me minimal data like speed, cadence, and distance. At the time that was the technology available to cyclists (wired sensors!). I had the Nike+ Sportsband when I ran, which connected to the pod in my shoe, and offered me data like distance and average pace. It didn't offer me detailed data like cadence, splits, and heart rate. For swimming, I used a digital Timex Ironman watch to keep track of swim interval splits. And then in 2011, I bought a Garmin Forerunner 910XT and hit the age of data — and more data. I can't lie, I like the data. It motivates me, helps me to reflect on performance, plan future training, evaluate areas of weaknesses and strengths, and more.

As I upgrade from my rather old (but super trustworthy) 910XT to a more contemporary (and sexy) Garmin Forerunner 935, I reflect on how (and why) I use technology. In addition to my new 935, I also have a Garmin 520 for cycling, which I love. It's quite a leap from that little Cateye I used back in the day.

Products like Garmin offer athletes a plethora of data: VO2 Max, cadence, pace, speed, heart rate, sleep analysis, anticipated recovery time, mileage, steps, and much more. That Cateye and Timex watch I once used didn't offer me a fraction of the data that today's technology does. And so I wonder, with all the advantages of wearable technology and the data it generates, are there any disadvantages?

Wearable technology provides data that can be motivating, while offering an athlete a super easy way to keep track of workouts and training. Garmin has their own platform for data collection called Garmin Connect. And of course, you can link your Garmin account to your STRAVA account. I like STRAVA. It lets me follow fellow athletes and friends (as does Garmin), join clubs, track my progress, and set goals. On the flip side: Having access to your data and fellow athletes' data can lead to being overly competitive, which doesn't always work in our favor. I'm in multiple cycling and triathlon clubs, and I find myself feeling disappointed if I'm not training as many hours or cycling the furthest distance as my fellow athlete, which is not a beneficial training approach. Comparing your training to other athletes is counterproductive, as we train for our own goals and results.

The data from wearable technology allows you to track your progression and plan training accordingly. One method to planning training is creating SMART goals. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. SMART goals can be re-evaluated and adjusted based on the progression of the athlete. On the flip side: I find that I can be derailed by the data and let it dictate too much of my goal setting and training, which of course can have an impact on future performance. For instance, I set a goal of achieving an 8 min. mile average by the end of 2017. In late November of 2017, I achieved this goal, which I was very excited about. And because of my competitive nature, I believed that every run would now be in the 8 min. mile range. However, that wasn't the case and this is where too much data can hinder training as it can lead us to having unrealistic expectations and thinking that we can maintain a particular pace or even a race pace each and every run or ride. This is where it's critical to use the data wisely and productively.

I truly love my Garmin for swimming, especially OWS, as it offers me insight into what kind of line I'm swimming, and how efficiently I'm sighting. As a triathlete, I find this data invaluable. If my line is pretty jagged then I know I've got some work to do with sighting and and my stroke. In the pool, the Garmin offers me immediate feedback on sprints and longer sets, and I can see my times right away, which I find gratifying. On the flip side: I recently worked out with a swim coach on stroke technique. He has observed me swim many times and has identified my athlete quirks. We all have them! As we began our time together, he mentioned to me that I have one quirk in particular. Any guesses? Yup, he said that I was too reliant on my Garmin while training. I didn't even question him about this, as he is right. I am. I get obsessed with my splits and the volume of yardage I'm doing, instead of being in the moment of the swim and the training. So, during that 90 minute swim technique session, I turned off my Garmin so I could take in every piece of advice he offered me on my stroke and focus completely on my technique and form. Did my world crumble because I didn't know my exact yardage from that day's training? Nope. Did I have a completely different type of swim without looking down at my Garmin constantly for data and instant gratification? Yes.

Even after all years and years of using a Garmin and culling the data, I have a lot to learn and unlearn. For future training, I intend on leaving my Garmin at home occasionally and allowing myself to be in the moment with my training. I challenge you to give a try too and see what you notice.

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