Monday, November 12, 2007

Old-school by choice or by default?

From where I am sitting, it seems that a lot of people are getting on the "old-school" bandwagon. Which is really easy because it's a slow moving wagon. But it also seems to me that while there are some that are old-school by choice, there are others that really have no other choice than calling themselves old-school.

Some things never change. Some things do change. I like to call old-school those that stick to the things that never change. But hat I see now is people that are sticking to the things that have changed in the last 10-20-30 years, and calling themselves old-school. I like to call old-schoo learning from those that got so many things right many years ago, not those that have seen their methods contradicted by scientific evidence and still use them. I like the term old-school for the "school" part, and the "old" serves to stress "school". Others it seems are just "old", with little or no "school".

We live in the information overload age. Even though information is a source of knowledge, it is not knowledge itself. In order to build knowledge, you have to go through information, pick what's relevant and systematize it. It can be a daunting task for us all and apparently, in response to the overwhelming quantity of information we are exposed to constantly, many people simply choose to disregard it. For those that are overwhelmed by information to the point that they refuse to go through it in order to build new knowledge, one available open door is to proclaim they are old-school. They proclaim the "old way" is better, there's the "old" without the “school” like I mentioned above, while refusing to even acknowledge there can be a new way founded on "old-school" principles. These I would call “old-schoolers by default”.
Of course there is also the new-school. Among those there are the self-titled evidence-based coaches. The "evidence-based coaching" concept is based on a misconception-ridden article that, perhaps not surprisingly, is devoid of scientific proof of the premises that it states. Anyway, these "evidence-based coaches" pride themselves in the superiority of their methods, supposedly scientifically based. However, maybe one of the readers of the blog can point me to the piece of scientific work that shows evidence that athletes using means of quantifying their training load, namely through accurately measuring power during the activity, are actually faster. Faster than the “old-school” that either uses other methods to quantify training load, or even that don't use any methods at all (!). I have yet to find such scientific evidence.

Some of the best coaches I know, read about, and learn from, are old-school. Through the considerable number of years of experience, the several dozens of athletes they coached, the knowledge they acquired and transmitted, and the scientific literature they read, they chose to be old-school. By trusting and developing the tried and true methods put forth by others before them, they are able to focus on the athlete and how to apply their training methods to the specific individual. Instead of constantly trying to re-invent the wheel, they stand on the shoulders of giants and are able to look further. And that I call being old-school.


Trigirlpink said...

Very much enjoying TTB. Thanks for putting it together. Long overdue!

Kurt P. said...

Good stuff.

I I old or new school...

Unknown said...

Hello Dr. Paulo,

I just discovered that you are not posting on Slowtwitch any more.

I will miss your interesting and acerbic comments.

Hope you come back soon.

Do I misread the sense of your ‘old school’ blog as antediluvian?

Do you believe that there can be progress from new ideas and tools?

I compiled some of the Slowtwitch thread responses to the Chuckie V blog book review of 'Training and Racing with a Power Meter' .... the comments that seemed most rational to me - (not all authors' names were collected).

At risk for flogging a dead horse .........

What do you think?



Abstract (tentative): 'useful new tools for implementing old school work'.


Ashburn comments start followed by others:

i've been looking at power profiles of athletes who win and perform well at IM races, and i'm just wondering how many who race ironmans with power get the same sort of profiles.

What we're trying to get at here is the question: "What is the best tool to use when pacing the bike?"

The folks (both pro and elite/FOP AG) who perform consistently well, and win, IMs all have the same power profiles -- in terms of VI over the whole course, and comparing first half and second half. This is even true of guys who rode with power meters, but ignored the data screen and had it hidden from view. These guys (unfortunately, virtually all of the data I've seen is from guys) also ride at a TSS of around 275-290. Going any harder tends to implode the run.

Bike TSS is a very strong predictor of run performance. Percent of FT and, by extension, % of FT/AT heart rate, is a rather poor predictor, because it fails to account for time spent on the course. The work rate, combined with how long you did it, is the ultimate pacing guide and determinant of run success. TSS captures this very nicely (relative intensity squared, times how long you were out there).

Your muscles don't get tired or burn substrate based on how fast your heart is beating. Muscles get tired and burn calories based on the work rate they are doing, and how long they are doing it. HR is merely a secondary indicator of the work rate, and an unreliable one at that.

As I've written before, even those who don't believe that what we're saying works -- actually do what we're saying they do. More than one fast athlete has insisted, even after I showed them what they did, that they didn't do it that way. It's a head-scratcher.

I'm rather disappointed in Chuckie -- it makes little sense to slag on a race tool or technique that you don't understand and have never undertaken to master. Master it first, then decide if it works.


That approach quite obviously works for lots of people. Part of the skill set of getting to the top is learning to do such things. This is true even of people who use HR monitors and power meters.

I will point out however that Dave's main rival in his winning years also raced on feel, and imploded on multiple occasions after being out in the lead. Only after he started learning how to pace by some technique other than "feel" did he start winning races (6 of them).

I use a power meter so much in training that, if you took it away from me at a big race, I know that I would end up with my target VI and be within a watt or two of my goal. I rode for a few weeks during my last big build with the power display taped over. I could always guess the result of a ride within a few watts before looking at the download. PE is a good tool -- but only if it is well-calibrated.

Be aware of the subtle message here...before pacing tools, success in racing was perhaps limited to those who developed or had an inherent pacing skill.

The availability of tools can allow more people to have a higher chance of realizing their potential.

I'd lay odds that fewer people screw up when being guided by their PMs than screw up guided by perceived exertion .

Funny you should say.
I think a PM is invaluable for interval training. Back in 2003 or 04, I would ride with athletes on their first intervals session where I gave them a PM. The session was to perform fixed intervale of 1min on,2 min off x6 reps and 3sets of these. Based on test scores and some recommended theory, I would predict the power at which they should try the intervals.

For the first 3 reps I taped-over the PM's power-field display and said "do the intervals like you always have." I allowed them to see HR if they wanted, but not power. In the case shown, the athlete had probably 10 more years of racing experience than my own. His first three intervals began far above the target power, and ended far below it. This was very typical behaviour in the other athletes who did the same session with me. With full knowledge of the workout upcoming, he still overestimated how hard he could go. He believed he went as hard at the end of the effort as at the beginning, even though he knew speed had decreased, but he blamed it on conditions such as the wind.

Then I removed the tape and demanded he hold the target power for the 1-minute effort, as best he could, given it was his first ride with a PM. His impression at first was the interval was too easy, but by the end, it was very difficult to maintain the same power.

Upshot: while the first three intervals' AVERAGE power DID come out on target, regular analysis would show much time spent above the target training zone, and much time spent below. Very little time actually "on target". This is also typical of what happens when HR is used to regulate this workout, and reveals one case where the HR's slow response is a weakness. When the athelete could monitor power, more time was spent correctly in the target zone.

Lesson to the athlete: This experienced athlete was very frustrated by the whole thing, since what he had believed about himself and his many years of proven abilities was cast into some doubt. The rest of the session became him trying to prove that he could exceed the predicted average power of the expert who designed the workouts. I allowed him to try only during his third set, but his late attempts at higher power per interval, generally did in some cases devolve into a pattern of "too hard and then diminishing once again".

Lesson to me the coach: Athletes will often try to exceed expectations. Given a target, they MAY have in the back of their mind a plan to try to exceed it. A PM can help to beat this out of them. I decided I didn't care if they tried and succeeded, but when they actually screwed the workout with this behaviour, I had a guilt-free license to rag on them...

Click the links to see a picture of the intervals analysis:

First set showing first three intervals "blinded power" last three observing power TREND ANALYSIS VIEW
First set showing first three intervals "blinded power" last three observing power Average ANALYSIS VIEW
Third set showing attempt to exceed preplanned average targets TREND ANALYSIS VIEW,
/LASTsetintervalsTrends.jpg power was observable to athlete
Third set showing attempt to exceed preplanned average targets Average ANALYSIS VIEW,
/LASTsetintervalsAVERAGES.jpg power was observable to athlete

The second set is boring-correct since I claimed "Coach's Iron-Fisted control or we're bloody going home" privilege.



Ironically, that is exactly what many are using powermeters for on race day. It is more percise than HR in this case. You can spike your power output over and over again with very little impact on HR (i.e., riding over short rollers). Too much lag time in HR response. When you ride a powermeter you really see the high variability in power output and how that can destroy your legs with little speed gain (burning matches). I like Rich Strauss's approach of using his PM as a "stupid meter" to keep him from putting out stupid power on the bike. Like Andy said, HR can be out of whack a bit during certain parts of the race. WIth a PM, you can even out the effort. Plus having the data for post race analysis is very good. THe data is proving interesting. It looks like an optimal IM bike pacing strategy is somewhere between .68-.75 IF and a TSS of around 300ish. Nice to have that data to see what happened on race day.

THose that are using the PM correctly are also looking at HR and percieved exertion to make good decisions on race day. More data can be very good if you know what to do with it. Some do not.

Paulo Sousa said...


Thanks for your comments. You ask me:

"Do you believe that there can be progress from new ideas and tools?"

Of course I do! Being old-school means that you are constantly learning, it's the "school" part of it.

Regarding the powermeter, I see it in a very simple way. Here's a tool that tells you how hard you're working. Obviously that is relevant information that will have a positive impact in your training and racing. For swimming and running we've had such a device for years and years, it's called a watch. So if old-school coaches found a watch valuable, I'm sure they will also find a powermeter useful.

jonnyo said...

freaking boring blog... i waste of my time if you ask me, there is no point of me reading this boring reflection... my coach already know all that stuff anyway...