Fools and Fanatics

I'm not a philosopher, but I know as a coach, trainer, or athlete - it helps to have some core beliefs. Without those, how do you justify your approach? How do you formulate workouts, season plans or adapt to changing circumstances? How do you make any decisions? You have to believe a certain approach can lead you to a certain result. And hopefully those beliefs are rooted in something - education, personal experiences, literature, observations, etc.

I like to think there is something of a "Spectrum of Belief" or spectrum of coaching styles.
 
On one end, a coach or athlete believes there is one absolute best way to train for an event. On the other, the individual believes nothing matters - decisions in training or training itself makes no difference.

I think good coaches reside in the middle of this theoretical spectrum. They are able to make decisions based on their knowledge and experiences  - believing those decisions will lead them and their athletes in the right direction. But they also acknowledge the complexity of training and can admit there is no absolute solution.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.

-Bertrand Russell

All Roads Lead to Rome

I was reminded of this cliché when I read a blog post on FastFitness.Tips. Using a simplified model of training's influence on functional threshold power (FTP), Alex Mitchell demonstrates many methods can (in theory) improve FTP - and one method may not be clearly better than the other.

If Rome is your metaphorical training goal, how do you choose a "road" to get you there?

I don't think you need to choose a "road." But you can't aimlessly wander either - you may never reach your destination by wandering. Instead, you need to know which direction to move and that direction should be dictated by well established concepts. But we seem to live in a world of "experts." It's easy to find these "experts" posting the about merits of high intensity training, threshold training, low intensity training, polarized training... or perhaps their own proprietary variation of training, like they've cracked the code and unlocked "maximal human performance potential." I suppose some people need that loud, matter-of-fact steadfastness to help them believe in their choices. 

But I think it's harder to throw your hands up and admit, "There is no right answer."

I hate that some people interpret this response, or refusing to take a side, as a weakness. Admitting uncertainty requires more input, more information, more calculation and an acknowledgement that you might still get it wrong. This is not a sign of weakness, nor is it an excuse for ignorance, but an acknowledgement of a complex problem.

In my opinion, the "weaker" response is holding steadfast onto long-held biases. When faced with changing circumstances, the weak response is doubling down on your belief that A + B is still equal to C. It has also been my experience that these fanatics enjoy evangelizing those beliefs, as if to make up for their deep-rooted uncertainty. Maybe if they say it often and loud enough; if they threaten to die on their hills, it will be true... The more difficult response is not so simple.

Charting a Course

Hopefully you or your athlete(s) have some goals. To attain these goals, you will have to decide on a plan of action. So, how do you begin to formulate a training plan? How can you believe you're training properly if there is "no right answer?"

The best answer I can give you is: Read, Do, Observe and think critically.

Read - peer-reviewed publications, scientific reviews, text books, training books, magazines, interviews, blogs, online lay articles, etc...

Do - educate yourself, go to school, attend a coaching seminar, experiment in your own training (but recognize that n=1), find a mentor, volunteer coach, ask your mentor and other coaches how they developed their own training philosophies, engage in conversation or debate and be humble

Observe - Take notes. Keep a training log and have your athletes keep training logs. What has or has not worked for you and your athletes? What are other people doing and why? How do these anecdotal observations compare to the scientific literature?

Stay Humble

Over time, I've noticed some common themes in endurance training. I've noticed high performing athletes typically perform a relatively high volume of training. But I've also seen distinctly different training programs yield similar results.

I have a few years of experience, but I know I still have a lot to learn. I recognize my views are biased and I have some closely held convictions. I try to recognize that there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

Those who are so sure of themselves, the diehard evangelicals... Well, they seem a bit foolish to me.

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