Addicted to the numbers?

Really interesting article today in the NYT re: smart watches, but I think the overall theme fits us as well….we can become so focused on the numbers, that we lose sight of how we actually feel, what our bodies are telling us.

We chase CTL, TSS, HRV…and now PL scores, etc.

I still maintain that so much of what we dive into is relatively meaningless for the vast majority of athletes…mostly because we lack the background to really understand it, let alone know how to take advantage of it. But we still chase those “numbers”.

Anyway, food for thought…would love to hear others opinions.


It’s a very easy rabbit hole to fall down. Because its a hot topic theres always a lot of articles about sleep and recovery. I started thinking about it but once I did I realised that at this point in my life I am not in control of my sleep schedule (two small children) so if I was to track it then I would only be setting myself up for disappointment. That in turn lead me to think about what I track in general and how those numbers affect me. Now I dont monitor anything unless I am prepared to make a change from it. Everything else I just ignore.



I hate them… but like a train wreck… I cant look away


such numbers make sense to have an overview on the overall amount of training, keep track of workout schedules, can help to evade overtraining and give hints when to take a pause. Moreover for non sporty folks such a watch can be a great way to get moving and stay motivated!

But eventually one either needs to ignore such pressure by the device as mentioned in the article… or needs to understand the numbers and know how to read them. Just to look at “training status” and blindly follow it… that is indeed not helpful.

Unfortunately most users have no clue how to read all this data, and many of us are even haunted by numbers.

I get motivated a lot by such numbers like climbed meters, distance, calories (i know), much less or even not at all by speed or speed/distance…


I see new riders starting with a power meter and becoming obsessed with the numbers. They are so focused on the power metric and assume that power is all that matters although they can’t even survive a hard group ride or get a decent result in a race.

Nobody cares what your FTP is, the results are what matter IMO


1 Like

oh noooo… results are mostly shown in numbers, too… 1st, 2nd, 3rd…
arfggg… damn!!! easy to get obsessed by those, too :slight_smile:

(btw finishing “last” is at least not a number) :wink:



My best training has been done by feel. Even when I hired a coach and was using a power meter, most of my efforts were done by feel. I am actually going back a little to using that method again more.


Yup…that is my plan for this year as well.


I see the biggest advantage of “stable” numbers (opposite to very fluctuent number as HR) like Power, Cadence etc in the comparability between trainings or efforts. Knowing that I climbed a certain hill already ar a certain Watt I am confident I might do it again.

I absolutely love the numbers. They give me motivating indications that my fitness is improving and confidence to know that I can hang or excel in a group ride or race. I am faster now training with the numbers than I was 13 years ago training without them.

Maybe learning how to ride in a group, dig deep, and train before I had numbers is an advantage.


A couple of key quotes form the article, which I think apply to the discussion…

I also worry that the safety-net sales pitch ignores one major downside to all this quantification: It can interfere with our ability to know our own bodies. Once you outsource your well-being to a device and convert it into a number, it stops being yours. The data stands in for self-awareness. We let a gadget tell us when and how to move, when we’re tired, when we’re hungry.

My watch could measure my overall fitness level, assigning it a number, plotting its change over time and telling me how my levels compared with others’, sorted by gender and age. I craved its approval.

You become dependent on external validation. This in itself is nothing new: As with weighing yourself on a scale, or calculating your body mass index, or measuring your step goals, it’s easier to read a number than it is to know instinctively whether you are healthy. But [you can’t quantify your way]to good health. The reality is much harder.

That last quote is especially true for “fitness” vs. health, IMO. We try and quantify fitness (TSS, CTL, etc) but it is still very much a “black art”. But by focusing so much on the numbers, are we losing touch with what fitness “feels” like?

1 Like

Who needs to look at numbers anyway :wink:

Brandon McNulty pulls off 60km solo attack without power meter or heart rate data for Mallorca win | Cyclingnews


Think the opposite is also true: by measuring “feelings” with numbers, they become more real, and both long-term trends and short-term reactions to behaviour more easily observable. For example, stepping on the scales regularly shows how weight shifts over time, but as its a slow gradual change, many people wouldn’t notice that quickly. Or sleep tracking can quite easily bring home how an afternoon drinking session affects sleep for several days.

Over time, once the trends are understood, the data is probably not needed anymore, but a hightened sense of body awareness might still be there.

I actually found that tracking too much stressed me out, so I’m going back from it. For example I used mufitnesspal to track calories for a while, but felt it could easily lead to disordered eating, like you are being watched and judged all the time.


Much like all numbers or statistics, they are only useful when used properly. For health markers, they are probably only useful when used in conjunction with introspection. In my n=1 case, I got to use a CGM at work and it made me acutely aware of how I feel when my glucose levels spiked. Gummy bears raised them more than anything else I ate while wearing it. The first time I ate popcorn after taking it off, I felt exactly the same way as I did after gummy bears so I knew my glucose levels spiked.

I think when properly used, power meters can improve results in a subset of races. Mainly races where pacing is critical. Sometimes self-awareness doesn’t work - especially if your legs feel great after a taper + carb loading. I also hypothesize that the reason younger riders are winning the tour more frequently is because they don’t need the experience of learning how to pace it. They have their power meter to keep them in check.

I could pretty much reduce everything down to 2 metrics - sleep hours per night and riding hours per week. When the former is consistently >8 and the latter is consistently >10 then that generally means all is well!


isnt TR, and even more AT, all about numbers? :slight_smile:

1 Like

Kinda yes, but kinda no. To a degree, I see TR (with the addition of AT in particular) as trying to apply the least emphasis on numbers possible while still getting desired results.

Nate and TR have taken very specific steps of NOT including the great number of metrics out there (ATL, TSB, etc.) despite numerous requests to add them from some users. That aspect of offering what I see as a relatively minimal data set is key to TR’s approach from all I have heard via Nate.

Sure, they came up with a new set of metrics, Progression Levels along with Workout Levels that are kinda the salt & pepper of the TR menu), as well as a survey step with “numbers”, but these were a new means to improve and replace other metrics (IF & Duration to a degree) in order to make plan creation and adaptations more targeted to each user.

AT in particular is trying to leverage the data behind the scenes for what I might call a “plug & play” approach. Once you have an FTP set and plan on the calendar, you can largely ignore the stuff of old and let Adaptive Training alter your plan that follows you performance.

So, I see them trying to pull most of the old number crunching out of the user’s hands if they want, and let AT drive the bus. It is largely my experience at least and parallels the pendulum swing of my own experience. I made the full “noting to everything… and then dial it back a ton” transition in my training over the last 6 years. I am on the “less is more” approach now and AT is working super well with that.


it’s possible to put in 10 hours of junk miles and get no fitness out of it. You may know from experience what threshold and tempo feel like so you can take it for granted now but in order for >10 hours to mean something, you have to at least know internally that you’re riding hard for those miles. That knowledge was probably informed by all the time you spent looking at a bike computer earlier in life.

Like a math problem, the art of using numbers is knowing to ignore most of them, most of the time, and only pay attention to one or two that actually help you be more self-aware. Real-time data should inform and reinforce the feelings.