With each passing year, there are more gadgets on the market, each proclaiming they’ll help take athletes to that next level. The endurance sports world has become saturated with GPS tracking devices, heart rate monitors, power meters, shoes, bikes, wetsuits — basically you name it, and they’ve developed it. One of the more recent additions to the fitness/endurance sports scene is athlete-focused social media (Strava, MapMyRun, Fitbit, Nike+ are just a few).
Like all forms of social media, there is a benefit to these platforms. They allow athletes to support and encourage one another on their fitness journeys. They also provide a standardized platform that’s accessible and compatible with popular devices so tracking your activities is convenient and easy. Of course, there’s also my personal favorite: finding new routes via others’ posted fitness activities.
However, like all forms of social media, there are a few drawbacks. The biggest downside is it can lead athletes, and especially athletes who are already prone to the “Fear of Missing Out,” to make choices based on what they see everyone else posting and doing workout-wise.
Segment hunting on Strava has changed the way that many cyclists approach their outdoor rides; they will seek to best their own times or try for the coveted king of the mountain spot for a particular segment, sometimes forgoing their original plan for the workout in the chase.
While this can provide some fun competition among riders, it also has the potential to distract athletes away from the true intent of their workouts. A recovery ride planned to be completed at an easy perceived exertion can quickly become a ride completed in heart rate or power zones too high if one decides to go for a Strava segment, which nullifies the intended recovery effect of the workout.
One of the most alarming things I’ve encountered on fitness platforms are multi-day challenges (cycling challenges and running streaks). While many of these might have their time and place in an athlete’s schedule if planned and executed mindfully and with some caution, like the segment-hunting phenomenon, they can also prove extremely toxic. For instance, athletes who decide to complete something such as a 100-Day Bike Challenge in the middle of their training plan for a goal race may get so focused and obsessed with not failing in the challenge that they actually end up “failing” in their big picture training plan for their goal event. Athletes may forgo resting when their bodies are telling them they should rest so they can keep up with the challenge. This becomes even more true when the athlete sees others succeeding in the challenge; they don’t feel they can honor themselves or what their bodies might be telling them without feeling like a failure in their social circles. Instead of building confidence (which should be every athlete’s goal), athletes can potentially get trapped in a comparison vortex.
Additionally, athletes participating in cycling challenges or running streaks open themselves up to a higher risk of injury due to the increased volume and constant impact forces being absorbed by the body. Rest and recovery are two of the most vital things in an athlete’s training plan; as I say often, “train hard, recover harder.” Rest and recovery is more than just physical; athletes also need a mental break from training, and weekly rest days provide that. This is especially true for age-group athletes who are balancing training with work, parenting and the other tasks of day-to-day life. Many multi-day challenges inherently do not embrace this philosophy, and it can be a dangerous road to embark on as it can lead to overtraining, fatigue and burnout.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” My greatest hope is that each athlete never loses his or her joy for the sport. The best advice I can offer is what I tell the athletes who I work for all the time: Focus on you, what you need and what your goals are. What everyone else is doing doesn't affect how you will reach your goals. While you might be participating in the same race as hundreds or even thousands of other athletes, your race day is uniquely your own. Because of this, the path that you will take to get to your goal should also be uniquely your own. You’re the one who will be toeing the start line of your goal race come race day, not everyone else who you’re following on social media. Eliminate or at least reduce the social media noise and forge your own path to your goals.
Laura Henry is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 3 Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, certified in RockTape Functional Movement Techniques and coaches with Multisport Performance Institute (Team MPI). She is living in upstate New York outside of Syracuse and she has been involved in endurance events for over seven years. She has raced virtually every distance triathlon and running offers. As a former swing shift worker with a demanding schedule, Laura knows what it’s like to set goals and train as a time-limited athlete on a non-traditional schedule, and she focuses on developing effective plans for other time-crunched athletes. Her enthusiasm and passion for helping athletes of all ability levels reach their personal goals has enabled her to coach many athletes to success. She is an active volunteer leader with Team Red, White & Blue, and aside from endurance sports, Laura’s other interests include traveling, hiking, photography, mountain biking, cooking, skiing and snowshoeing. She can be reached at Laura@TeamMPI.com.
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.