Efficiency in training

Athletes, coaches, media and fans usually measure the success in elite sports by results, i.e. running a world record, win a medal at the championships, etc. The ultimate goal of elite sports is winning. In order to win, athletes and coaches usually set goals like running 1500 meters in 3:30min within five years. The degree to which the set goals are reached Aprendo calls effectiveness. In today’s sports effectiveness is perceived as the most important parameter of success. If we look at effectiveness in elite sports we have to acknowledge the truth that there are just very few medals to be earned and 99% of the elite athletes will not be successful in these terms.

On the way to reaching certain goals, athletes and coaches make plans, in which the use of the resources anticipated to be needed to reach the goal is determined. Resources needed typically are time, energy and capital. Time is needed to train, to rest and to fulfill other tasks that come with a life as elite athlete. Energy is needed for any movement associated with the specific sport and for adaptational processes. Last but not least capital is needed to buy equipment, food and supplements, pay for services of coaches, consultants and facilities as well as for travel and other expenses. The resources spent in relation to the real results Aprendo calls efficiency. If running 3:30 on the 1500 meters is accomplished with spending ten hours per week instead of twenty hours all other things being equal, the former solution is twice as efficient as the latter. In today’s sports efficiency certainly isn’t a parameter for the success of the training process. It’s even the other way round: successful athletes who sacrifice the most are considered to be heroes.

Contrary to this paradigm, in other fields of life efficiency is a crucial parameter of success. For example if company A wastes twice as many resources in the manufacturing of product X than another company B, all other things being equal, company B will outcompete A because B can offer the same product X for a lower price. In this field of life inefficiency is directly punished. In sports inefficiency is often not directly punished. However, less efficient training goes hand in hand with opportunity costs, that means lost opportunities to employ the time, energy or capital spent in excess for other goals.  Immediate effects of spending more than necessary resources to reach a certain goal are less time and energy for recovery and adaptation and less money to spend on other wants and needs. Less immediate effects constitute increased load on the body which increases the chances of injury and less resources left to spend in other fields of human development. For these reasons we consider efficiency an equally important parameter as effectiveness for the long-term success of the training process. Aprendo strives to maximize the effectiveness of the training process while simultaneously minimizing the use of resources the client has to spend.

An example of this approach is a talented triathlete with whom Aprendo has worked for the last four years. He improved his 5km running time from 19 to below 16 minutes with an average weekly volume of 15km. Following a more orthodox training approach for triathletes of his level he would have run around 70km per week. Taking into account the higher intensity of the former approach, it is still far more efficient than the latter. A common argument in contra goes, that if he had trained 70km per week he could have reached the same result two years earlier, or he could have been even faster now. However, these are pure speculations and one could argue the contrary on equally hypothetical grounds, namely that the less efficient approach could have caused injuries or he could have dropped out of sports or school.

Furthermore it is Aprendo’s opinion that coaches have the moral obligation to consider efficiency as an important parameter of their training programs. Elite sports is about winning, everybody strives to reach the top. However, as mentioned earlier we have to face the reality that 99% of the elite athletes will not stand at the top of the podium. Consequently they have to find a purpose in other fields of life. Since resources spent in the direction of sports cannot be spent in the direction of education, working experience and social life, they would tremendously benefit from a more efficient training process for their further development.

Efficiency is not only of concern for elite coaches and athletes, it is equally important for recreational coaches and athletes. For them spending more resources than necessary in pursuit of their athletic goals will immediately compromise other aspects of life.


Florian Kugler and Ruben Jongkind, December 22nd, 2010

Recent articles