These are pretty popular statements, right? And there are many more just like them. When athletes describe their workouts or how the felt, or when coaches communicate expectations to their athletes for a given set or workout, I find there’s quite a bit of laziness in adjectives and word choice in general. This is one area in which I challenge the athletes I work with to get as descriptive as possible when they report to me on a workout. I know an interval workout is “hard” – I wrote it! I don’t want to hear that it was hard or tough; I want to know exactly how it made you feel, precisely how your body responded to it and any sensations you experienced.
Athletes and coaches need to get better at using words that on the surface appear synonymous but really are not. Pain v discomfort. Fatigue v being tired. Weak v sick. Strong v powerful. And so on. Even catch-all concepts like “do more” or “do less” are woefully inexact in what they portray. Take any of these and what do they even mean? If I ask ten different people, I’ll get ten different definitions of any given concept or adjective.
Athletes need to really tune in to how they feel before, during and after workouts. And then it is incumbent on them to use the appropriate description when writing in their workout logs and back to their coaches. To me, this feedback being accurate is way more insightful and important than any training file on power numbers. Give me the depth, not just the surface check list details.
When an athlete tells me that a particular workout was hard, I immediately ask “How do you mean? Give me the details.” Or if an athlete says, “My knee hurt during that run,” I challenge that athlete to tell me exactly what’s going on, where the pain is, when during the stride the pain intensifies and when it diminishes, does the pain come on from the first stride and then go away after warmed up or visa versa, how would the athlete rate the pain on the 1-10 and what does that number correspond to, and so on. As a coach, I really cannot do anything with “My knee hurt during that workout.” But, I can do something with multiple data points which better describe what “hurt” means.
Same goes for “fatigue v tired” as a prime example. Fatigue is what we experience during our workouts as well as day-to-day latent feedback after workouts. Tired is what we are when we don’t sleep very well or not long enough. If I sleep 5-6 hours, I typically wake up feeling really tired. My body is heavy and it’s challenging to get out of bed and my eyelids feel like lead weights. My body is slower to wake up and shake out the nighttime shutdown than when I get 7-8 hours of sleep. Once I get some blood flowing and brew that first cup of coffee, I then tune in to any fatigue I may be feeling. Are my muscles stiff or sore from the previous day(s) workout(s)? Are my muscles quick to burn when I use them going up or down stairs? When I stand up quickly do I get a head rush? Is my heart beat strong but slow or does it easily quicken? And more. Being tired is a state of being whereas being fatigued is related to central nervous system recovery from our workouts that manifests itself in our muscles and things like heart rate and blood pressure.
See the difference?
There are countless examples of lazy speech in this athlete/coach feedback loop. It is incumbent on each of us, regardless of which role we’re in, to challenge each other to communicate more clearly, more precisely and more crisply. As a coach, tell me exactly what’s going on rather than using generic soundbites. Those don’t do me or my athletes any good at all.
I tend to think that this grammatical laziness is an offshoot of a couple things. First, people rely way too much on data. Power and heart rate data are regarded as the be all, end all. Understand these two things and all is good. Not so. RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) is the third dimension and, in my opinion, the most important to get right. RPE is the one that tells me how to create future workouts for my athletes, not the power and HR data. Second, we live in a world of soundbites. We get in, comment, get out and move on. Next! There is understanding and then there is comprehension. The quick post-cycling workout log of a power file that a coach can then dissect while the athlete moves on to showering and getting on with the day is completely devoid of value. It’s like abstract art – what in the world am I looking at? I dunno.
So, if you’re an athlete, I challenge you to be a better communicator as to exactly how your workouts go – to yourself in your workout logs and to your coach. If you’re a coach, then I challenge you to look beyond the workout files and require more human communication from your athletes. I don’t charge any extra for unlimited communication with any of my athletes. No coach should. Those who do are doing their athletes a disservice. Full stop. Because they are perpetuating the problem of surface communication and lack of comprehension around how workouts are really going and influencing an athlete’s progression.
Becoming an RPE expert is pretty amazing. Being that in touch with what’s going on with your body is empowering and opens up a whole new dimension of workout comprehension. You move beyond simply understanding what you’re doing and why you’re doing it – important things, but not the be all, end all to performance. It’s like this. I know what a perfect swim stroke looks and feels like. In all the millions of yards and meters I swam in my life, during every single stroke I thought about every aspect of those strokes – the entry, was my entry clean or were there bubbles around my hand, the catch, the pitch of my hand, the sweep of my stroke, the exit of my elbow and then hand at the bottom of the stroke, the recovery, high elbow, relaxed forearm, my breath to the side, was the water creating a cup around my mouth as I drew breath, am I exhaling completely when my face is back in the water, is my head at the right angle or am I dipping it as I fatigue, and on and on.
Knowing what a proper stroke looks like is understanding; the depth of sensory feedback is comprehension. If you are stuck on “understanding”, then it’s time to challenge yourself in ways of the mind and spoken word rather than of the body. You will get more out of your workouts, deepen the relationship you have with your coach and, ultimately, attain more progress in your training program.