Can a bike computer or GPS watch REALLY make you faster? It seems so…
First up. I’m NOT going to troll out the very well-trodden argument that gadgets can give you more structure or precision in your training. That argument eventually ends up with you getting faster than someone else who is less prescriptive in their training – there’s certainly truth in that argument but I’m taking a different tack today.
I contend here that simply using a gadget makes you race faster. Scarily that pesky thing called science seems to support this view.
Science: Wingfield (2018) (link)
Wingfield’s paper suggests that ‘feedback’ can give a cyclist a 3% better time as a result of 10% better power. These kinds of gains are not to be sniffed at and the research found that they probably result from better pacing as well as some form of motivational effect.
We could probably all have guessed at the better pacing argument enabling us to stick more closely to our physiological limits but it also seems that the study shows the possibility that increased oxygen extraction (HHb) and stimulation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) arose from ‘gadget usage’ or, more specifically, from information about remaining distance in a TT coupled with other various physiological parameters.
Essentially the study looked at well-trained cyclists performing a time trial either ‘with gadgets’ or blind. This chart from Cycling Apps clearly shows the beneficial effect.
Interestingly, in the same experiment, the cyclists were also asked to periodically rate their RPE. The RPE of Gadget-enabled cyclists and blind cyclists were about the same, meaning that gadgets also affect the perception of effort ie they LOWER the perception of effort.
What is especially interesting is the uptake in the effort at the end of the TT. We can probably all find a little extra oomph as we near the end of a race but the chart also suggests that the ‘oomph’ is exacerbated with the provision of more information. Put simply: information could be motivational.
So much for your pre-race caffeine. Maybe it was the Garmin that was having the effect all along 😉
I would urge some caution on the results. The study used well-trained athletes but that often means people who are not as fit as you and me (and we know that there are people who are WAY more trained than us). You and I would probably also admit to being well-trained but perhaps not always being able to pace ourselves as well as we should. So the subjects could be poor pacers.
Of course, the unanswered question is, “Does a more expensive gadget make you EVEN faster 😉 ?”
If you found this interesting, here is a longer piece covering different aspects of exhaustion and time-to-exhaustion. That article also looks at how DATA DECEPTION can make you even faster than with correct data. Maybe wrist-based heart rate in race scenarios has a role to play after all 😉 (it doesn’t).