Monitoring Meaningful Metrics

So my start to the outdoor season hasn’t been stellar, but it has been the best I’ve ever had (even though it actually included 1 indoor competition, don’t ask). It would be very bizarre as a pole vaulter if I thought I was in this kind of shape, then went into my first competition and was surprised to only jump 4.60. Yet, from my interactions with other athletes, this seems like a fairly common occurrence in other events.

Its only early season in the UK, there’s very few people who are in personal best shape from the off, a couple of races to find your form and get the competition rhythm. But to come out of training into your first couple of competitions and to be completely mystified by your poor performances how does this happen.

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Again, like everything in athletics, the answer is going to be multi-factorial, there is no cause and effect, but I’m going to give my opinion as is the point of this blog.

Stronger. More powerful. Faster?

The usual confusion seems to come from the internal dialogue of “I’m lifting more than I did last year, and bounding further, and throwing the med ball farther, I should be running quicker”. Why? Lifting more weight means you’re stronger not faster, medball throws are a measurable, indicative of power output, not speed. Now if you told me you were a 100m sprinter and you said your 20m acceleration runs from blocks were quicker, your flying 30m times were quicker and your 150m from a standing start are all quicker than last year, then yes, I can see why you may assume you are in shape to run a personal best.

This is not a post about how strength training doesn’t improve speed or performance, it does if used correctly, this is a blog about reducing the emphasis of these ancillary training modalities.

Personal bests everywhere

As an athlete myself I’ve been there. I wanted to get better every session, have a quantifiable measure of my improvement (quantified athlete anyone?). The easiest place to get this is in the weights room, a little bit of extra effort here and an extra 5 kg on your clean, a little bit more effort and the bench pb edges up by 2.5 kg, a real concerted effort and 10 kg squat pb. Suddenly you’re seeing improvement every week and it makes you very happy. This is an easy trap to fall into for a goal oriented athlete, i.e. every athlete.

Its only once you start measuring performance on the track that you can see where the extra effort in the weights room came from. Every heavier rep in the gym was taking away from the speed work on the track, or technical work for your event. And unless you’re constantly measuring and monitoring the event specific metrics, this problem won’t manifest until the athlete reaches the competitive season. It turns out there’s nowhere to hide on the athletics track.

What gets monitored gets managed

This is a popular saying which runs through business world and the whole quantified self movement. If you’re not monitoring and tracking progress of something, how can you make changes and be assured that things are improving?

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Obviously there are times in the year where a triple jumper won’t be performing full approach triple jumps, or a 400m runner doing flat-out 400s, but there has to be better monitorable metrics than squat. As much for the athletes sanity as the coaches.

Why does this not happen in pole vault?

I guess I’m one of the lucky ones, every pole vault training session there is, there is a bar. Its pretty obvious whether I get over it or not. No excuses, I always know where I am in terms of performance. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes I’d rather not know.

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