Every night, Doane analyzes his athlete’s response to the day’s training. He’s looking for the best way to expand Potts’s aerobic capacity, power output and lactate threshold, without overtraining. If Doane sees that Potts’s heartbeat has been sluggish—say, beating 140 times per minute while Potts is trying to produce 410 watts—that means his body is struggling to recover from earlier training, so he’ll dial back the intensity of his workouts. If, on the other hand, his heart rate stays in the sweet spot around 165 while he churns through a series of 360- to 400-watt intervals, that means he’s fully recovered and ready to be pushed again. “We’ve created a feedback loop,” Doane says. In other words, Doane subjects Potts to a careful dose of punishment, and Potts’s body tells Doane, through empirical data, what he needs to do next.
Potts is certainly not the first guy to use monitoring tools—Lance Armstrong pioneered the use of cycling power meters, and every other weekend jogger straps a heart-rate monitor to his chest. Potts is, however, the first to allow these gadgets to rule his life. “I really don’t know anyone else who’s done what Andy’s doing, and I’ve been doing this since 1992,” says coach Troy Jacobson, a former pro triathlete. Joe Umphenour, a competitor in the Tuscaloosa trials who has trained with Potts at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, can attest to the novelty of the approach. “There’s a lot of data available, and he’s found a way to turn it into a precise science,” he says. “And it’s obviously working. Andy’s capable of winning any race.”
Nearly all of Potts’s competitors use a training regimen called periodization, which typically involves a preplanned year’s worth of block-scheduled training and rest. These athletes use some of the same tools as Potts, but only to measure progress incrementally. “We’ll do a 20-minute time trial on a bike or a three-mile tempo run on a track to establish benchmarks,” Jacobson says. “I’m a proponent of using devices to occasionally establish some empirical data, but not all the time.”
Periodization is essentially an attempt to predict the body’s reaction to training stress using those benchmarks. But it can only provide estimates, and there’s no reason to believe it’s the only way. “There’s not a great deal of scientific evidence out there showing that a periodized training schedule for endurance competitions yields superior results,” says Neal Henderson, the head sports scientist at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colorado and a triathlon and Olympic cycling coach.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.