By Marilyn Chychota

USAT, Safe Sport, Red Cross, IronAthlete

Fri Jul 26, 2019

If you’ve been in this sport for any length of time, you start to learn about gauging effort, the importance of it, and the different ways to do it. It can get pretty confusing learning this stuff because people refer to the same thing in several different ways. There can be multiple terms that are all describing the exact same level of effort. Complex terms, simple terms, very science-based terms…every different term you can imagine. The most important thing is to understand what you are setting out to do when you start your training session. Whatever term you use to understand that, define it, or communicate it is up to you. What is important is that your understanding of the effort and the goal of the session are the same. 

We also know the more experienced the athlete is, the bigger the ranges are between some of these efforts. For example, I’ve seen ITU Olympic male athletes do their EASY run at 10min mile pace, and then later run a 29min 10k off the bike. I’ve ridden with cyclists that can average 400 watts for a 40km time trial when they race (5.5-6.0watts/kg) and then spin easy for their recovery rides at 100 watts. I’ve seen swimmers hold :55-:57sec/100 as their base training pace, and then they flop along at 1:45 pace for easy swimming. So you get the picture: the really experienced top athletes know that when it’s time to go EASY they can go REALLY EASY, and when it’s time to go FAST, it’s like they’ve been lifted to another planet we can’t even imagine. One common factor with all these athletes is they have A LOT of hours under their belt. They have developed this ability through millions of miles, hours and hours of work, for years on end.

Now let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum. With a newer athlete, everything feels hard. Just doing the sport at all and not sitting on the couch IS HARD!!! Getting from one end of the pool to the other is HARD, breaking into a jog of any kind is HARD, and just learning how to clip in and ride in a straight line down the road is HARD. You’re getting the picture here. Ranges between easy and hard are pretty darn tight because you know what… it’s ALL HARD!

So how do we handle this? Do we give them all the same charts, zones, terminology and so on? The answer is obvious: no. That won’t work. However, our goal is still the same. We have to develop each athlete and teach them to truly understand how to execute, gauge and effectively train each effort. 

The first step is understanding your current level correctly. Most people are going to fall somewhere in the middle between the two extremes of elite athletes and basic beginners. Next, I recommend not overcomplicating it. Just because you’re getting stronger, faster, and you’ve been at this longer, it doesn’t mean it needs to get a million times more complicated. In fact, often it’s the athletes in the middle who tend to overcomplicate this, and then turn around and not execute their sessions with the proper understanding of what they’re training that day. Using technology can be a very useful tool for new athletes to really start to learn where easy is. You can set hard numbers to follow, and they can be clearly seen and applied. Most often, new athletes need to be held back at the start, and technology can help set those clear standards for them to follow.

Keep it simple!!! Simple and effective! That is likely going to give you very good results over and over. “Simple” doesn’t mean ineffective, or poorly thought out, or unclearly planned. It means if you keep it simple, you are likely to be MORE accurate and execute closest to the best desired training effect you are needing in that set.

My rule of thumb is keep the easy EASY and the hard HARD. If it all feels hard, then try going easy until it starts to feel like you understand the difference between the two. Once you know the difference between the two, and you can clearly see differences in them, move to: Easy, MEDIUM, Hard. Once you have that nailed down, start to think about the next level of understanding these deeper. It can all get very detailed in the science behind it, but as you truly learn it, you’ll figure out that every test out there will, in the end, fall mostly in these three levels of effort. It might get more advanced for very top athletes in specific sports, but again, keep it simple until you have those Olympic rings and professional contracts knocking at your door. You’ll find it’s the best way to your best results, and I bet you’ll find more than a handful of Olympians who stay right here all the way to a gold medal!


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