Training By ‘Feel’

These days it is easy to become convinced that in order to train properly, you must have all the latest tech toys and gadgets on your bike and body…….. GPS, cadence sensors, HR monitors, power meters, smart phones and apps, turbo trainers and the list goes on.

Whilst all of these items can help your training if used correctly, there is another way that is both cheap and simple, and with practice it can be quite reliable.  Training by ‘Feel’ is where you use your own perceptions of intensity to gauge how hard you are working at any particular time on the bike.  It is about getting to know your body and learning the signs that tell you how hard you are working.  Once you can do this, you can then train at certain intensities for specific periods of time as part of a training programme and you will need nothing more than a watch.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is the name given to the scale that sports coaches and scientists use to monitor efforts in athletes in training.  It is simply a number that reflects how hard you are working at that time or that reflects how hard you worked over a period of time.  Whilst there are different RPE scales, I like to keep it simple and use a scale of 1-10 with my athletes, with 1 being really easy, barely breathing or moving and 10 being the hardest you could possibly work.  With a simple scale like this I can use it in the gym; “How hard was that last set?” or I can use it for programming rides; “I want you to ride at RPE 2-3 for 3 hours.”

Training by feel you get to know certain markers that give you clues as to how hard you are going.  Can you hold a conversation?  If so you are probably at an RPE below 4.  Speech practically impossible?  RPE 9 or 10.  Feeling moderately uncomfortable?  Probably RPE of 7-8 and so on.

Whilst it takes time to learn the signals that your body produces, if you concentrate on using this technique for a few weeks of properly structured training you can start to become fairly effective at using it to gauge intensity.  The beauty is that you don’t need to charge anything up, monitor numbers or download any data.  You simply make a plan and ride.  Learning to train like this also has one real benefit for those of you who regularly use a heart rate monitor for training.  As you may know a HR monitor is great for monitoring intensity over longer efforts, but is very limited for short efforts of 2-3 minutes or less due to the fact that it lags behind.  If I want somebody to perform 3 x 2 min efforts at a high intensity, the HR monitor is pretty useless until the end of the first minute as it is trying to catch up the whole time and so there is not point using it.  Training by feel and knowing how hard you can go for 2 minutes without any outside assistance is a great skill for an athlete to have.

Table showing RPE:

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The message to take away here is that by learning about your body and how it works and feels, you can effectively monitor how hard you are working and therefore you can train effectively.  It will never be as accurate as a power meter, but then a power meter costs hundreds of £’s and training by feel is free.

Stay Strong

Ben