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The Technology Crutch

By Patti Waller | May 05, 2016, 1:44 p.m. (ET)

Heart RateCoaches and fitness professionals that have been in the business for 20 plus years have seen the trends of the industry. Technology has laid the groundwork for power meters, GPS, heart rate monitors, activity trackers and phone apps. Bikes have become lighter, more fragile and faster. Running shoes are minimal, stabilizing and dropping and cushioning our biomechanics. Swimsuits are now speed suits and wetsuits fit like skin. Every company comes out with fit kits for tri suits.  I could go on and on. We are all spending more money to shave those seconds off our times or just to look good while doing it. It is a billion dollar industry.

I grew up in a time when you pedaled a Schwinn, wore Converse and swimming was recreational as swim teams were not abundant. The simpler times. Do you remember the first bike you rode in a triathlon or the first time you did a brick and thought your legs weighed 50 pounds each? I recall my first tri: the swim felt like I was lost at sea for two days. How did I ever survive without my GPS and HR monitor? 

What do I witness with today’s athletes? Gadget Attachment Disorder (GAD). Athletes are very dependent on their technology. What if your Garmin malfunctions — will you get lost? Will your heart stop beating? Will quit the race?

Far too much energy is displaced during events trying to make sure all your stuff is working. Can you function without it? Do you train without it? I hope you can answer yes to both those questions.

My athletes will tell you there are dedicated days to zero technology”. I want the mind and body to connect. This is a lost art in training and racing. 

The RPE scale (Rate of Perceived Exertion) was implemented in 1982 by Gunter Borg. I use a simple 10-point version. Most athletes will race in the 4-6 range. 

10 Point Scale
  • 0 - Nothing at all (sitting)
  • 1 - Very light
  • 2 - Fairly light
  • 3 – Moderate (sweet spot, happy place)
  • 4 - Some what hard (race pace)
  • 5 – Hard (just above race pace-tempo)
  • 6
  • 7 - Very hard (lactate zone, anaerobic)
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10 - Very, very hard (no talk zone)
There have been races where my bike computer failed or I hit the wrong button on my Garmin. What did I do? I kept going. The mental frustration and energy it takes to try and resolve it are distractions. Mental preparedness as well as understanding perceived exertion can be stabilizers to success. 

Take time in your coaching or training to work on perceived exertion. Short sessions, long sessions, speed sets — it is a viable method to training. We work at becoming faster (and spend a lot of money thinking it will help). Instead, try becoming wiser.

Patti Waller is USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist and Trainer and has eight years coaching experience and 12 years competing in triathlon. Learn more about Waller at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.