The LACK of technology in the greatest athletes’ training programs

Posted on January 22, 2018

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(Last Updated On: January 22, 2018)

Boxing

Cruise some Floyd Mayweather training videos:

All you’ll see is mitts, bags, medicine balls, and concrete to run on. Despite the fact he’s been fighting people ten years younger than him -young guys who are more likely to try bells and whistles- he’s still undefeated. (While Conor hit him more than anybody thought, that fight was never in doubt.) The only electronics you see are the phones recording a boxing workout which could have been done 100 years ago.

Look at his most notable rival, Manny Pacquiao, and famous trainer Freddy Roach, and you get a little more. You know, like he actually runs on a real track.

Not to mention these guys love the spotlight. Love money. Love spending it. Yet hard to call anything in their training fancy.

Furthermore, they became known by coming up from unadulterated shitholes of an upbringing. Mayweather started fighting at 106 lbs. Pacquiao at NINETY EIGHT POUNDS. They both went up in weight during their careers because they actually had food to eat. They were world contenders before they could even conceive of using anything high tech in their training.

Sprinting

In the book Speed Trap by Charlie Francis, who coached Ben Johnson,

Ben Johnson side view olympics

the book is littered with example after example of how little resources they had. Not only when training Ben, but when training himself.

Charlie was a national champion in Canada. During the time he was training at a place nicknamed “Pig Palace.” The track he trained on was also used for livestock events. The track had some rubber strips laid down, but on the banks the underlying surface was wood. On the straightaways, concrete. The entire track wasn’t even one surface!

Charlie’s group couldn’t get starting blocks at first. These things!

starting blocks

Ben also had to start out with no spikes, eventually getting a pair of used ones. Screw anything tech based. We’re talking about getting shoes here.

No big deal. 30 years later, Ben Johnson is still one of the fastest humans ever. You could make an argument for second all time. 30 years later, after all the “progress” of the digital age, only one guy has clearly run faster.

Have you ever seen where the fastest people on Earth train? Where the fastest person of all time is from? It’s Jamaica. Don’t buy into Usain Bolt’s ridiculousness you seem him doing on screen. To get some decent info, a lot of this you have to look at before Bolt got famous (2008), as once a camera is on he wants to look good and put on a show. If you do that, you’ll find they don’t use things like parachutes, they use few machines, no motion analysis (they use their eyes and ears, not a machine), they don’t even bother with music.

Check out, another very fast Jamaican, Asafa Powell’s fancy facility:

Some good info on this can be found on Charlie Francis’ forum. Here and here for instance. You can see Charlie mentioning their first med-ball was a “half-broken construction block.” The fastest people ever got there with a few pieces of steel and something half-decent to run on. (The Jamaicans do a lot on grass.)

Basketball

Jordan played 20 years ago. He’s still unequivocally the best player ever. Twenty years of technological advancement couldn’t produce a better player!

Yeah, Curry uses a couple fancy toys, like sunglasses which attempt to distract him with a strobe light effect.

But Curry was already a phenomenal shooter before ever using those. One can easily argue, based on Curry’s notorious turnover problem, we don’t even know how valuable the sunglasses toy is. When it comes to passing and handling the ball, nobody would say Curry is better than Nash, who didn’t use those. Plus, Curry has had teammates use those goggles too. (Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.) Why aren’t they anywhere near as good of a shooter as him? Why is Draymond, who stopped using the goggles last I saw, a better passer?

Hey, maybe you want to point out the harness he uses,

But again, Curry isn’t where he is because of his running, jumping, or explosiveness. Though he can jump, that’s not where his bread and butter is. And now we’re trying to argue rubber and elastic is what we mean by using tech, which isn’t typically what people are referring to.

Finally, if you watch his training you’ll see these toys comprise a very small amount of his training to begin with.

Strength / Size

Powerlifting consists of some of the strongest people in the world. The strongest powerlifting gym is Westside Barbell in Ohio. It’s been that way for a very long time. Here is Dave Tate describing the gym when he first got there in the early 1990s (bolding mine):

“When I showed up, Westside was in the process of changing from a commercial-type gym to a private powerlifting club. Louie had sold all the machines to Matt Dimel and took just the powerlifting essentials to a rat hole in West Columbus.

To say this place was a dump is an understatement. There were holes in the floor and the ceiling leaked. As I recall there was even some dude living in the basement.”

westside barbell gym

From EliteFts.com

It doesn’t look like they even had a full dumbbell rack. I mean, it’s Ohio, what do we expect? (I still love you my Ohio clients.)

I’m hoping someone was thinking, “That Westside photo is really before their notoriety shot up. What’s it look like now? I’m sure they’ve upgraded.” From Westside’s Instagram feed:

Westside 1

So…the walls are whiter.

Look at the power rack on the left in the following photo. The “white” one.

1) That’s as basic of a power rack as you can purchase

2) The thing is so worn the paint is half gone

3) A separate barbell is tied to the top of the rack to simulate a pull-up bar.

Westside 2 with arrow

They didn’t even bother to buy a rack with a pull-up bar built in, despite the fact Dave Tate owns a company that makes such a thing!

Remember how I said it looks like they didn’t have a dumbbell rack when they first started? In what is one of my favorite photos of all time, here is their 2015 dumbbell set-up:

Westside 3

I genuinely feel the owner of Westside, Louie Simmons, posted that photo with the mental caption, “🖕 pretty boys.”

Ronnie Coleman is the best large bodybuilder ever. Rusty steel For The Win:

In fact, bodybuilders (and powerlifters) are notorious for working out in gyms most everyday people would consider to be health hazards. The greater the risk of asbestos, the more likely hardcore lifters will be there.

 

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CrossFit

I wrote about Mat Fraser, the top CrossFit athlete, here. The most techy device he uses is a “fancy” TENS machine, which is electrical stimulation. Those have been around since the 70s. (And the efficacy of them is questionable.)

Football

Gotta love the jeans from Aaron Rodgers’ personal trainer:

Drew Brees gets as high tech as using a bosu ball when a couple pillows could suffice:

Oh! Another ball! JJ Watt with a stability ball:

Dez Bryant gets as fancy as using a sled and weighted vest (efficacy for speed training also questionable):

Track and Field

Let’s look at some world records in track.

The pink and blue highlighted boxes are world records set at least 10 years ago. That is, before the iPhone came out. This burst of technology the last decade hasn’t coincided with much increase in performance. Look at how many of the recent records are set by people from Jamaica, Kenya, Ethiopia. These aren’t highly developed countries. Technology isn’t why they’re on this list. Kenya for instance, is on the list because they’ve actually been able to compete the last couple decades. (Kenya didn’t even enter the Olympics until the late 50s, and you couldn’t make much money running until the last 30 years.) Your phone has transformed the last ten years; human performance has not.

Middle distance running

If we look further back, we’ll see many of the records that have improved haven’t done so by much. In 1979 Seb Coe ran the 800 meters in 1:42.33 seconds. The world record currently is 1:40.91 seconds.

  • 1:42.33 = 102.33 seconds
  • 1:40.91 = 100.91 seconds

The record has improved by .014, 1.4%, in 36 years. What’s especially ironic here is I picked Seb Coe because I remembered his name from reading his father’s book on distance running. His Dad actually wrote quite a bit of using high end tech equipment, and fancier methods. I just took a quick look at the book. Heart rate monitoring, body composition analysis, blood sampling, VO2 max testing, running economy, lactate threshold, iron analysis, respiratory exchange rate, meteorological balloons. There are 20 pages dedicated to lab analysis.

Meteorological balloon.

The guy who currently has the 800 meter record is from Kenya. Kenyans are notorious for crude training methods, from a tech perspective. No MRI analysis, motion analysis, intense nutrition analysis (eat a lot of carbs, done), cardiology, complicated strength training (a lot of it is hill running), EKG, etc. Seb Coe did a lot of this 36 years ago; a guy who has run faster than him did not.

Here is an excerpt from The Sports Gene (bolding mine):

“…as 800-meter world record holder David Rudisha sank into the couch. In the backyard is “the gym,” a single metal pole dipped in cement at both ends so it resembles a barbell.

In this documentary on Rudisha, you can see the gym his coach assembled. Here it is:

Rudisha leg press station

Close up of the barbell:

Rudisha barbell

That coach -Brother Colm- has worked with quite a few notable track names. According to him, most of them have “rural, peasant farming” backgrounds. Not exactly advanced upbringings. Rudisha was one of these.

By 16, Rudisha had run under 50 seconds in the 400 meters. He didn’t even have spikes yet:

Rudisha barefoot

He ran the 800 meters because there were no lanes for events like the 400 meters. Before he ran his first 800 meters, a guy had to draw the starting line. A line in the dirt. With a stick.

Rudisha drawing starting line

And you can’t say “Well, what if Rudisha did do all the fancy things Seb Coe’s dad talks about? He could run faster!” You don’t think Rudisha has competitors who are doing all those things? Who are still running slower? Or, say Rudisha, the current 800 meter world record holder, is doing all those things. Say his coach is lying about his training to prevent competitors from catching on. Say ALL the improvement in his time compared to Seb Coe’s is from technological progress the last 36 years. Then it’s given him a total of 1.4%!

Here is a picture of the Kenyans’ “track facility” before Rudisha had much success:

Rudisha track

Here it is after Rudisha was a world record holder:

Rudisha kenya chalk lanes

They added some chalk lines for lanes. That’s it! Being the fastest in the world in an event is a pretty damn good moneymaker. Yet you don’t see some “state of the art” facility being erected in Kenya.

-> Some of the Kenyans actually worry about making life too easy. For instance, some of the great runners don’t think their children will, or can, be as good, because their upbringing is so much easier. The parents had to run to school as one example. The children of world record holders do not.

Masters

Ed Whitlock ran a 2:58 marathon at 74 years old. His training consisted of running a four minute cemetery loop near his house. His clothing, shoes included, were decades old. He didn’t go to a doctor from age 40 until his death at 86.

Credit: http://www.runnersworld.com/masters/ed-whitlock-and-the-age-of-simplicity

Where is it all?

The watches, masks, heart rate monitors, various wearables, the AI personal assistants, the machine learning workout predictor, the heart rate variability monitors, the hyperbaric chambers, the home workout equipment, the dumbbells with electronic sensors in them, the motion analysis software and hardware, the fecal analyzers?

Why aren’t athletes talking about it as a necessity? Why do so many appear to not even be using these tools? Even if they are using a certain gizmo, can we really say any of them clearly lead to performance improvement? This is a fancy way of doing an old task, icing:

But icing hasn’t been found to increase recovery (from injury or workouts). So it’s fancy version of doing a useless task = still useless.

What HAS changed the last few decades is the technology of the equipment used in the sport. Track surfaces, different handles in cycling making the bike more aerodynamic, lighter shoes, field turf, surgery, continual evolving of drug use (though most drugs have been around many decades too).

But what we use to get the human ready has changed very little. In some cases, like Kenya, we’ve actually reverted to older methods.

-> The top coaches have also made leaps and bounds in preparing their athletes. Knowledge is technically technology, but it’s not typically what we think of these days when using the word. Now tech colloquially means electronics.

Not only are these things not proven to be better, you don’t need them to begin with.

General- you’re not a professional athlete, nor do you care about their performance gains

  • Usain Bolt 9.58s 100 meter
  • Ben Johnson, 30 years ago, 9.72s 100 meter (estimated time if he didn’t put his hand up and slow himself down)

Difference of 1.5%. These are percentages only mattering to .000000001% of the population. And who knows how much of these differences are due some anomaly. Maybe Rudisha had perfect wind conditions on his fastest runs. Maybe Usain Bolt had a gust of wind that didn’t register for some reason. Maybe Usain Bolt just had a better track to run on, a springier surface more conducive to faster times. With percentages this small, over the course of decades, these things are not at all inconceivable. It’s estimated Jesse Owens, who was running in 1936, had he run on the same surface as Usain Bolt, would be within one stride!

Don’t forget how fast and strong people get with minimal resources. Don’t forget people get jacked in jail. Don’t forget how ripped people were getting over a hundred years ago.

Eugene sandow

Don’t forget Jim Ryun ran under four minutes in the mile, in high school nearly 55 years ago. He has a 3:51 best. For weights they went to the gas station, got oil barrels, filled them with concrete and put a bar in them.

Are you really concerned with running faster than him? Then why worry about gizmos he didn’t have?

Finally, do not forget, Rocky beat Drago.

Tech is not evil

I don’t dislike technology. I run an internet business using a laptop, email, smart phones, the cloud. It’s a business that couldn’t have meaningfully existed until 2012. Clearly, I see value in tech. But there is a consistent mirage in the value of technology when it comes to routine human health, as well as performance. Being in-shape, strong, muscular, we look at technology to solve everything for us, including fitness. We have hype men and women constantly berating us with how we need to newest gadget to get where we want to go.

You’re extremely unlikely to need any equipment you do not already own or have easy access to. I consider one of the miracles of the fitness movement to be how much one has access to for at most, $50 a month. You might significantly benefit from hiring another human- like a personal trainer, but the moment you start thinking “I bought this new tool, now I’ll get to where I need to go,” you’re in a dubious position. (Unless that tool is a coach.) The switch most need is more psychological, more philosophical, than technological.

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Stop messing with the fancy stuff and get serious.

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