Your phone is killing your training, here's how to stop it.

Full disclosure, I am guilty of #1 and #2

The average American spends around 5 hours a day of screen time on their smartphone. A. DAY. That's enough time to binge watch an entire season of The Office in 2 days. I would sit here and tell you that I am better than that, that I have achieved Zen status and cut my time down to 5 hours per week, but that's simply untrue. All this screen time is affecting everything we do in our daily routine, from bathroom rituals to our training regime, and it’s time to take the reigns back.


I have lost count of how many apps and social media platforms I am linked into that revolve around endurance training. My watch is connected to my phone, my phone is connected to the internet, which announces my glorious training data for the world to behold (for better or for worse). My workout specifics are uploaded to Strava and Training peaks, all the while I have alltrails open to make sure I don’t get lost (because that's totally never happened before) if I’m not inside with Zwift.

This is just in the realm of activity specific apps, without mention of the likes of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. Add these all up and you have a perfect storm for ultimate distraction.

When a good thing goes bad

Are these tools great? Of course they are! I find motivation when I see my friends and my would be competition out there getting things done. I leech courage to get out when conditions are rough (or when I am feeling lazy) from others, embracing the season no matter the conditions. I am fairly certain at one point or another, we all draw on the collective power of our social network circle to lift us up when we need a boost. Still, this technological playground has its downfalls, and it’s my prerogative to break those down.

The adverse effects our phones play in our training is a two part quandary. They can inhibit physical progress, as well as be detrimental to our mental well being. So, just how does this technology get the best of us? I have laid it out into what I feel are the five most significant problem areas; from my observations as a coach and my experience as an athlete.


  1. Ineffiecient workouts

Typically the most obvious downfall from being wrapped up in our unlimited data packages. Inefficient workouts can be tied to a number of iPhone fallouts but here are my top two offenders.

  • Going too hard #becausestrava: The easy day fallacy

  • Going to light. Trying to snap that perfect shot: The mid run selfie

The easy day fallacy: When training days are displayed for the world to see, we have a tendency to want our published workouts to relentlessly show off our good side. This becomes a KOM size problem when combined with being a data nerd and needing to record every workout we do. We need easy days, period. If how our workouts are published makes us treat them differently than we would otherwise, it’s time to ditch the data. For a time, I hated doing low heart rate based training, or runs with walk breaks, knowing I could easily go faster. My stubbornness would at times override my common sense. Our desire to train effectively needs to outweigh our pride on those training days. When the time comes, effective training will do all the talkin that it needs to.

 

How I shifted my mindset

(not saying it will work for everyone, or that it’s even the best way-but what worked for me) I simply started telling myself I wanted others to see my slow runs. Watch me ride a slower mph average than usual, because in my head the people who were checking in on my Strava were people I would be competing against, and sharing my slowest of slow days made me feel like I was being sneaky about my actual fitness. Lulling them into a false sense of security to lax their training. Now this is totally bogus, because I now train for myself and no one else. My accomplishments are my own and are not tied to who I do or do not best, but this mindset started me down the path to not give so much thought to what others see, and that is the end goal.

 

The mid run selfie- Directly opposed to the easy day fallacy, but posing just as much of threat to training, is snapping photos. I’ve been hear before. You all probably know that by now.

Snap 10 pictures - they’re all trash - nothing grammable.- try again.

 
run selfie meme.jpg

Taking the phone out of whatever pocket, zipper, belt, pack to snag a picture is time consuming. Propping the phone against a rock and a branch cause you have no one with you is even more so. I will not be the guy to say that these are unworthy endeavors (nor should I be) and that you shouldn’t document your experience in any way you wish; I am a huge proponent of sharing whatever you find interesting, whether it’s your own face a thousand times over, or new trail everyday. You do you, but be cautious of your end game. If it’s social media and gaining followers, snap away- but if it’s achieving a peak performance for a big event, maybe consider leaving the phone in the car once in a while. The problem with taking too many photo op breaks exists when it keeps you from completing a workout as planned. If you steer clear from that, you’re golden.

2. FOMO (Fear of missing out)

FOMO can fester in us in multiple forms.

Not training in cool enough places | Not training enough | Not doing the right workouts

Seeing jaw dropping pictures of lush trails, clear tropical waters, soaring mountain-scapes, and winding black roads can make us feel like we aren't training in cool enough places, and that the treadmill isn’t worth our time because it’s not New Zealand or the PNW. Sometimes we have to run, ride, and swim where we are able. It’s not always glamorous, but don't think for one second your 60 minute treadmill workout was any less effective because you were sweating it up staring at a brick wall vs. jogging through Redwoods.

It is entirely possible to get so stuck on scrolling through images of “prettier” training, that we spend our available training hours tied to a screen. I call this the FOMO paradox. It’s a self fulfilling vortex that will literally leave you missing out on viable training time by your own self demise, being envious that others are suffering where we aren't suffering, and that’s insane.

The other portion comes from the training oriented apps again, “you aren’t training often enough or hard enough.”

We all get that feeling. It’s second nature to wonder if we are doing enough if we see others doing more. This is detrimental to not only our physical well being but also our mental health. Letting another’s training routine dictate how we feel about ourselves and our own training is entirely self defeating, Whether we are doing enough isn’t based on any other person. Full Stop. Unfortunately, I can’t be the cheerleader here and say that everyone is for sure doing enough, because that will vary based on an individuals end game, time constraints, and fitness. I do know that worrying about whether or not your are doing enough is a question that can easily be answered with some self searching and with help from qualified others. The point is, you can find out how much is enough for you, and that that amount, should only be dictated by your individuality. No one else.

3. Undermining the Accomplishment

The most sly way our smartphones get the best of our training, and arguably the one with the most severe consequences.

A side effect that can slide under the radar while creating a depressing void inside our self worth, and it’s more than self inflicted witchcraft, it’s science. Some of the same chemicals that give us a runners high are also the ‘feel goods’ tied to likes and comments we get on social media, mainly serotonin and dopamine.

You got a kudos for your ride on Strava? Boom, dopamine release. Posted a cool picture and it got some likes? Boom, dopamine release. It becomes a traceable addiction to a pattern whos outcomes we don't control, that's what makes it dangerous. It is no secret the app developers understand this neurological pattern, and incorporate to keep us coming back for more. Our brain seeks the reward tied to that chemical release, and when we don’t get it, we feel bad. When we feel a post underperforms, as silly as it may seem, it has a biologically negative impact. It’s not just you being a sensitive snowflake.

Many of us know how it feels to spend time crafting a post, and it performing poorly, or to achieve a new PR and have it go unnoticed by fellow followers. What might have been hours, weeks, or months of hard work for us, gets skimmed by with hardly a passing glance. It’s rough. This undermines our accomplishment. If we have spent our time to achieve something we deem valuable, then we solely are in charge of quantifying its worth. If we fall in the trap of feeling let down when we don’t receive the virtual payday, it is the same as letting others decide the worth of our achievement, instead of ourselves.

The good news is, the mind is malleable, and we have control over our perception, our worth, and the worth of our exercise routine; as simple or as complex as it may be. Your workouts belong to you, as do your achievements. They look better on you than they do someone else anyways.

4. Analysis Paralysis

vo2 max | watt/kg | TSS | rpm | bpm | lactate threshold | training zones

Abbreviations and acronyms are heavy in the realm of science driven training, and what is accessible to the everyday athlete is far and away more advanced than it ever has been in the past. We have training watches that can pick up heart rate without a strap, predict vo2 max, estimate power output, and detect intervals. Different apps can provide us valuable feedback on how our bodies are adapting to a training load so we can tweak the plan accordingly.

I have seen athletes become so hung up on data, however, that the stress of not being ‘exact’ begins to bog down their improvement. Being so focused on the minute details that the grand picture blurs out. Like staring at one star so hard the rest vanish from eyesight. How hard, when, and what workout to do are all viable questions, but when we overthink things it’s possible to let all that data become a hinderance rather than a help. Ever hear the term “like drinking from a fire hose”? To someone new to the geekier side of training, all of this information can hit you in the face at 500 gallons per minute of cold gibberish. If you try to analyze and scrutinize every piece of data both before and after workouts as an athlete who has a day job, the stress of that analyzation, training, working, and everything else will eventually be overpowering and wear you down mentally. If data is important to you then it is worth reading up on and familiarizing yourself with, but don’t let it become your burden. That's what a coach is for. If you have one, put your trust in them to analyze the metrics you are giving them and to make sure things are going smoothly. If you don't, consider finding a coach who will be able to help you in this area of training. You should feel confident in their ability to understand the science and give you what you need. If you don't feel confident in a coaches ability, then it’s perhaps time for a conversation, or for a coach better suited to your needs.

5. Inadequate Recovery

The “glow” from electronics is also at work against quality shuteye. The small amounts of light from these devices pass through the retina into a part of the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls several sleep activities) and delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
— https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/power-down-better-sleep#1

This performance hinderance sneaks by under a cloak that appears to not be related to your training at all. It is the final point and the shortest, as not much needs to be stated that hasn’t already been said on the subject. Screen time at night effects our sleep patterns and has been directly linked to poor sleep behaviors. Rest and recovery is critical to effective training, and if your screen time is cutting into that recovery, it’s going to take it’s toll. Lets sum it up in a short and sweet bulleted list.

  • Late night screen time = Less than stellar sleep

  • Less than stellar sleep = Inadequate recovery

  • Inadequate recovery = Poor performance

If part of your nightly routine is opening up your social media apps, binge watching tv, or even opening up your laptop to check emails or view your days training log (because #4) then it’s time to make some habit changes that will allow for better sleep and thereby better recovery. Allowing you to train and perform and your best potential.


There are countless ways technology can aide our quest for adventure, and promote our growth as endurance athletes. There are also many ways it can negatively impact our personal growth as athletes and free thinkers. It is up to us to recognize potentially harmful behaviors or habits, and to find suitable ways to turn the tables to make our phones our bitch.