Interview with Jason Boynton PhD

In the third edition of The Next Level podcast, our host Christopher Jones speaks with Jason Boynton who has conducted extensive studies on the impact of environmental temperature on trained cyclists during high intensity intervals. 

In The Next Level we learn about the path of Jason with the studies in environmental physiology, gain insights into the results of the research along with practical applications and also learn about the next steps for Jason puts his knowledge into practice with the athletes he coaches. 

The Next Level with Jason Boyton PhD

Christopher Jones: This week on The Next Level, we welcome Jason Boynton.

Jason Boynton is over in Perth, Western Australia, but he doesn’t have an Australian dialect, if I can hear properly.

Jason Boyton: No, I have the Wisconsin accent still – pretty heavily. But the way Australians talk is pretty infectious, so I do tend to say a lot of the words that they say. It does get a little bit mixed up, but I always say, for an American to try to speak like an Australian, it would be like me trying to pick up the Chinese language because their vowels are so on-point. Midwestern people cannot get that at all. To the Midwest, “Erin” and “Aaron” are the same word. The Australians will have a fit if you pronounce those the same way.

Christopher Jones: You’ve been well-accepted and well-adopted by the community over in Perth.

Jason Boynton: Yeah, Perth people are pretty great. I definitely like it here. They have a very straightforward way of communication. They’re pretty nice people to deal with – just very chummy. The Perthians will say that, you know, Perth is just a big country town which is a pretty description.

Christopher Jones: Yes, that sounds very, very accurate, but you’ve been brought over to Perth, not for the beaches and the great white sharks. You’ve been brought over to Perth for a completely different reason, and that would be studies.

Jason Boynton: Yeah. Originally, I came over here to work with Chris Abbiss. He is really big in the cycling performance and environmental physiology realm, but mostly around heat, and heat acclimation, and how heat affects performance in cyclists and endurance exercise.

Along with him, I also had Jeremiah Peiffer who is another American. He’s from California. He was a cool supervisor like I said, and he was close colleagues with Chris. He’s actually at Murdoch. He also specializes in the cycling performance stuff.

Also, Paolo Menaspà who, when we first started, he was post-doc with ECU. He was with Team Mitchelton-Scott. I went on Team GreenEDGE at one time – same difference. Now, he’s actually the high-performance solutions director or something like that at Cycling Australia. He’s doing really well with himself and it’s truly awesome. It was a really good experience to have those gentlemen as my mentors throughout my PhD experience. That’s typically been the case for me.

I did my master’s, and it was who I worked with and what I got to work on that led me to where I went. My master’s was with Stephen Mcgregor. He’s pretty well-known in the US. He was a USA Cycling faculty member. He used to do the coaching upgrade clinics and stuff like that. Now, I think he’s the third author on the Training and Racing with a Power Meter book. Very valuable experience with him. He’s a very good thinker, I think, in my opinion.

Christopher Jones: You’re a sports scientist. Only recently, you’ve become a doctor of sport science – also more exactly termed, an environmental physiologist. This is one pair of pants that you wear, but also coaching and an athlete yourself.

Jason Boynton: Yes, I’ve always been a big fan of science ever since I was a little kid – well, in particular, in the sciences, it was biology. I was always a big fan. I really liked biology. And then, at an early age, around the time I was 13, I started racing go-karts. I really started getting into performance.

And then, I got into cycling when I was older and got into racing cycling. It just seemed like a good fit between the love of biology and performance to go into the sport science field.

I did an undergrad in cell biology and physiology. It was an honors degree. Actually, I did my honors around a sport science topic that combined with cell biologist studies – metagenetics. I just knew from that point on that, if I was going to pursue anything else in terms of education, it would be in long exercise in physiology and sport science, and trying to help, in particular, cyclists improve their performance.

I was actually into the sport side of things before I got into the coaching. Just coming out of a science degree was when I started my experience with a coach. I worked with Gordy Paulson for about five years. I never became anything much more than an amateur, but it gave me a chance to have that experience with a coach.

Something that really set weird with me within the coaching realm was how do these people know what they know, and how do these people know what they know is true, and how do they know any of this stuff? Because the coaching world – compared to the science world – was very different.

You know, these are things that we’d go out on a ride. I’d have this very complicated workout written on my top tube or taped to my top tube or something like that. Then, I would look out across the week, and I would see all these different workouts, and then I was just like, “Well, how does he know this? How does he know what benefits these have?” and that type of thing.

The more you dig, the more you find it’s just people do things because it’s old hat. People do it because people before them did it. Or they just do it because they do it every year and it works for them. From the scientific point of view, and from my way of thinking, it wasn’t very satisfactory, so I started coaching myself – I think, a year after starting with Gordy – in 2007 or something like that.

I moved to Michigan to start my master’s just so I could specifically work with Steve and learn from the best of how to start applying critical thinking and science to the process of improving cycling performance specifically.

That’s where I’m at now, I guess. I just felt like, once I got the master’s, I know I can get a PhD. I want to get a PhD. And then, I followed up and found some of Paolo’s research, and I followed-up with Chris and Paolo, and I just ended up in Perth. I got really lucky because Perth is pretty amazing, especially in terms of weather. I mean, the other place I could have gone was the UK, and I’ve already lived in the UK for a little bit, and I prefer Perth now, actually.

Christopher Jones: Does that mean that your science and your research is also based on maybe proving or debunking some of the ideas that coaches or athletes have about training?

Jason Boynton: I don’t know if “proving” is the right word. That’s kind of a taboo word to throw around in the sciences. It’s more about understanding. Admittedly, my undergrad experiments and my master’s experiments – there were two experiments I ran up during my master’s, but my undergrad and my main study within my master’s were very what you would call “basic study.” It was looking at stuff that’s a little bit harder to apply directly to the athlete.

My independent study within my master’s was the first real experiment that I did that was pretty good at being applied even though the previous ones worked with trained athletes. In that experiment, basically, what happened was, I was working at a bike shop, and I met a guy who was a dealer or whatever they would call the guy that shows up at a bike shop and offers his part services or whatever.

Christopher Jones: The rep.

Jason Boynton: A rep – exactly! 

And so, I was talking to the rep. I was like, “What do you sell?” He’s like, “We sell Racer Velotron stuff. I was like, “Really? So, you have access to a Velotron?” He’s like, “Yeah, I have one in my house.” I was like, “Can I borrow it?”

I borrowed the Velotron. I was home for the summer in Wisconsin. I was at the bike shop that I worked at – Machinery Row Bicycles in Madison, Wisconsin – the most beautiful bike shop in the world.

And so, he said, “Yeah.” Basically, from this device that we had in Michigan, this guy let us borrow it, and I took it to UW Whitewater with my undergrad mentor. We were like, “We’ve got the machine. Let’s do an experiment.” We decided to compare a 5X5-minute VO2 max intervals power output and a 25-minute power output. And then, we also had some VO2 max – great exercise data from that as well. Unfortunately, a lot of that stuff got lost because I was still a starting researcher. Now, I know you download everything, you back up everything, but unfortunately, I did not do that.

But what ended up happening was we got to see – you know, just for a poster – we ended up getting to see some interesting data about 20-minute power compared to 5x5 power and how that relationship was there.

We were trying to figure out a way around 20-minute power testing with just using intervals that were paced a certain way. Yeah, that’s out there somewhere, but it’s not exactly in the paper. It’s a supplement somewhere. Or a supplement of a journal somewhere.

When I got into my PhD, that was when I got into the really applied stuff and working at ECU was really great because one of the reasons I went there was not only for Chris, but for the technology and the equipment that they had there. One of the things they had was an environmental chamber, so I was really interested in the environmental side of things and how heat and cold impacted performance.

I think, with my generation of scientists and maybe the generation after me – because it’s hard to determine where to put me because I found this paper that was out of Chris (0:12:41 unclear)’s lab. It was Lorenzo et al. It was one of these key papers that most sport scientists I think would recognize as the title was Heat Acclimation Increases Endurance Performance. That made it into layman’s articles and cycling magazines and all types of places. I came across this and thought it was really interesting, but I had some questions and skepticism about the paper, but it was enough to really spur my interest in this whole thing.

When I came to ECU initially, there was a couple of things going on. I sat down and I had a conversation with Chris. Chris had a really good relationship with GreenEDGE at the time. He was like, “Here’s this list of questions from GreenEDGE. Do any of these stand out to you? Here’s one with temperature in it because they’re concerned about what happens with the Australian athletes when they come from that hot summer and then move over to the classics which is going to be in the cold spring.” That was one of the particular questions that they had with them, so a lot of my proposal was derived out of that.

The way a PhD usually progresses is the studies get harder as you go along. The first study is like a retrospective or questionnaire study or something like that, then you have a cross-sectional study where all the participants do something four or five times, and the last study would typically be a training study – a big training study.

In my PhD, the retrospective part of it was all about trying to investigate this transition for these athletes. After that, it was looking into potential interventions that we could use with these athletes in order to help them with their performance.

On a whim, we were like, “Oh, let’s look at interval training because you can only do that a few times a week. Let’s try this at different temperatures.” After the proposal and thinking about it more, and just the way the PhD works was that I came across – well, this was actually in the proposal as well – this idea of almost like a “live high, train low” approach to temperature.

But, instead of do exercise in one and live in the other, it was more about what intensities you would be in cool conditions and what intensities you would be in hot conditions, and then the combination of changing between temperatures at different times and different intensities would hopefully have a performance benefit since we’d already seen – potentially in this work by Lorenzo et al – that heat acclimation improves performance, we were like, “Well, what about the other part of it? These are at sub-max intensities they’re doing this heat acclimation. What should we do in high-intensity intervals then to maximize performance?”

What actually happened was, because working with a pro team like that is very hands-on and very work intensive and you have to be with a team, what actually happened was I started my second study before I actually got into my first, and this first study was so intense, I was not able to do the first study which was okay because, once I got into the training study, we realized it was massive.

I completed my first cross-sectional study, then I finished my training study, and that was a lot of work, and there’s still a number of things to be analyzed out of all that data. And so, it would have been a massive PhD if I were to finish that first study with GreenEDGE even though I think I would have really enjoyed the experience.

Christopher Jones: Was the idea of using essentially the environmental temperature with the high-intensity training to combine real training and training that the athlete actually had to do rather than just essentially playing around and testing with environments rather bringing it closer to what is actually the training regimen of the athlete and trying to work out how you can tap into that? How do I actually apply this to an athlete when I don’t have all the resources? How can I make my training most effective using maybe the knowledge and the experience that you’ve gathered?

Jason Boynton: If you look at elite cyclists or endurance athletes in particular, the training intensity distribution is going to either be what is called polarized training or pyramidazation. Now, there’s this ongoing debate between whether we should do more lactate and sweet spot intensity training or if it’s more of this pyramid/polarized training distribution.

In either case, I think, what you can see, especially during the pyramid and the polarization schemes, but also you can argue this with the more sweet spot training schemes that include high-intensity interval training, what you are going to see is that high-intensity interval training is very, very important for endurance athletes. I don’t think anyone is going to argue against that, but what you’ll also find is that the high-intensity interval training is a very, very small part of the overall training. And so, we have that part – that’s one part.

The other part is that we know temperature has an effect on endurance exercise, so it just kind of stands the reason to think, “Well, what temperature then is really going to be the best temperature to perform these high-intensity interval training sessions in considering how important they are and how much of an effect temperature actually has on people’s body during the sessions?”

In order to explore that, again it was that cross-sectional study where I had elite-level, well-trained athletes – cyclists – come in and perform in a high-intensity interval session at either 5 degrees, 13 degrees, 22 degrees, or 35 degrees, and then we just looked at the performance differences and the physiological differences. Within the physiological differences, we also look at thermoregulatory differences.

From that study, we were able to see all of these metrics, and what we saw was between 13 degrees and 35 degrees, there was a pretty noteworthy difference in the physiological outcomes for these two scenarios as well as performance outcomes. And then, it was just that we have these two clear differences in what happens acutely in these intervals. Let’s look at what happens when you train at them for eight sessions.

Christopher Jones: This is what happens when I’m actually training and you can say, “This is the effect on the athlete,” but it’s not yet at the point where we say, “This is the result of it and what’s going to happen in competition.” We know what’s happening when the athletes are in certain environmental conditions or the differences between the10 to the 35. Now, the next step is to look and see if it has a relationship to the actual performance output in competition.

Jason Boynton: Yeah, because you can make hypotheses about the 13 degrees. If you were going to ask Chris Minson or someone like Julien Pérard maybe – I don’t want to put words into any of their mouths – and if you would have talked to me before I had my experiment or whatever on my training study, I would have said, “Well, obviously, you’re going to want to run these intervals as cool as possible.”

This is what I had been prescribing to my athletes ever since I started coaching until I got to the point where I saw the results of my own experiment. This is because, in the cooler conditions, optimal temperature for endurance performance is somewhere between 10 to 13 degrees, and that’s what we saw for the most part.

There’s a little bit more nuance in there. Arguably, we saw it was a little bit broader than what other studies have seen, but there’s a whole discussion there. But, for the most part, you would assume that, in the cooler conditions, you would have a higher amount of oxygen consumption which would mean a higher amount of time at or near VO2 max during the high-intensity interval sessions, and time at or near VO2 max is this kind of theoretical number that’s attached to the effectiveness of an interval session.

Scientists hypothesized that once they have figured out an interval session, instead of having to run a whole training experiment every time they come up with a new high-intensity interval session, what they could do or what they do instead is they will just measure the time at or near VO2 max that’s doing that individual session.

And then, they hypothesize from there that, “Well, this high time at or near VO2 max is going to mean higher performance gains and stimulation. Or higher stimulation during the interval session and therefore higher performance gains and adaptations after the session down the road for the athlete.”

But you can notice there’s a lot of maybes and hypotheses and things. There’s only a minimum amount of studies that have actually compared differences in time at or near VO2 max and performance outcomes, so it’s something to consider there.

Going back to what I would have prescribed and what I think a lot of environmental physiologists would have prescribed for interval sessions was try to keep it as cool as possible without being uncomfortable because that way we know that you are going to get this maximum wattage and this maximum oxygen consumption and that’s going to relate to generally the thinking in endurance sport is that what you want in your trained endurance athlete is a higher amount of peripheral stress because the essential stress for the most part, the thinking is that it’s already been maximized. The central adaptation in an endurance athlete, the general thinking of it is it happens pretty quickly, and the massive amount of it happens pretty early on.

Generally, what sport scientists and coaches I think look for is peripheral stimulation to get peripheral adaptations and therefore increase performance in those athletes – skeletal muscles, capillarization, mitochondria, biogenesis, and that type of things. For cyclists, it’s the stuff that happens in the legs.

We would think that, if we want that type of stimulation to happen, then we should probably cool the intervals down as much as possible to maximize. One thing that happens during exercising in the heat is you have a tachycardia that occurs and there’s also a shunting of blood to the skin, but all of this results in basically a decrease in stroke volume. That means that less oxygenated blood is typically going to get to the exercising muscles for the same amount of heart rate and the same amount of effort.

Under that, you would assume that, if you cool an athlete down, you’re going to get more of this oxygenated blood to the muscles. Therefore, just cause more stimulation – not only in the fact that you’re just pushing more oxygen through the oxygen utilization system as you could call it, but you’re also just pushing more volumes of blood to the capillaries and potentially leaving more sheer stress and that increase in sheer stress in the capillary beds would potentially stimulate more adaptations there.

Like I said, this is a lot of hypothesizing, but you can make reasons and conclusions about anything, and we were wrong about that conclusion. It ended up, in the trainings, we did see a higher time spent at or near VO2 max. We did see a lot more of what you would think would be stimulation of adaptations in the cooler conditions, but we did not necessarily see higher improvements in time trial performance under temperate conditions. We had that time trial in 22 degrees and didn’t necessarily see a massive increase in performance even though we were thinking the cooler conditions would be better.

There was no significant difference in the improvements between the 13-degree high-intensity interval training and the 35-degree high-intensity interval training, but we did see that the magnitude of the increase that was after the 35-degree session was actually quite a bit bigger. It was twice the size than the 13-degree session. We’re working on getting that data ready to submit to a journal. It’s hopefully going to be published as a part one and part two because there are some other things that we’ve kind of looked at within that training study which I think is interesting and novel. Hear it first – well, second after talking with Damien.

Christopher Jones: That’s Damien Ruse from Semi-Pro Cycling who’s also had some fantastic discussions with you, taking a really scientific look at the way that you’re working in your studies. 

Link: Semi-Pro Cycling - 

Heat, Intervals and Performance with Jason Boynton Ph.D.

What is your own view now? If you’re working directly with your athletes or even racing yourself, what does it mean for you? Does it not matter which environmental temperature you’re training now? Or would you prescribe something to get the best performance when you know when the competition day is?

Jason Boynton: Yeah, you do have to see the forest before the trees here – definitely. And so, it does get cool here in Perth. You know, I still run interval sessions with my athletes outdoors – pretty much all-year round, even when it’s kind of wet and cool and that type of stuff.

I can definitely notice that, when I’m riding with them in Kings Park and we’re doing our sessions, the coolness at the base of the hill is definitely anecdotally feels a lot different on the cool days than it does on the hot days, but then you have to consider, when we ran our 13-degree session, they did it just in jerseys and shorts. Most people who are doing their stuff outside in that type of temperature are going to put on their knee warmers or their tights and base layers and all that kind of stuff, so they’re going to be a little bit better dressed for it. It gets into how much really from the lab translates over.

But I’m not at the point where I’m saying, “If it’s 13 degrees out and you only have your jersey and bibs to wear, then you should avoid intervals that day.” I would definitely take an interval session over a non-interval session right now. It’s just something to be thinking about.

The other thing that is really important is I’m really excited about this research, but at the same time I have to be realistic and look at it from a coaching perspective and my own previous rules that I had in place about jumping on things that are the latest and the greatest. I’ve said this with Damien as well that the latest and greatest things that we look at for performance increases have the least amount of information out there to back up how true it is and also how to actually utilize it.

I think there is enough data from my study. If I was going to do everything as I did it in the study, I think I would feel safe doing it with the right athlete coming into the right event and, if they had a total buy-in on it, we could figure it out without messing with everything else in their life too much. To this point, I think I’ve had one of my athletes that I’ve started the conversation with on that.

The other thing is, if you do it wrong, if you don’t do the protocol correctly, there’s plenty evidence to show that high-intensity interval training prescribed with heat in the wrong way can actually decrease performance. There are more studies for that than for the increase of it. It has to do a lot more about recovery and how much stress you’re giving the athletes and that type of thing and how much time they have to recover, I think.

Even if I was going to do this with an athlete, I would have to have a big buy-in from them. I would have to weigh it against everything else in their life, and I wouldn’t necessarily be doing it for anything but some race that they think would be really important, but then also I would be bringing a very high, high amount to the amount of how their recovery is looking. And so, it would be nice to have some kind of HRV device – or something like that – that you already have been using before you come into this so that you can kind of be looking at how they’re managing their stress during an intervention like this because I’ve seen this before.

There are no free lunches in physiology. If you want lots of gains, you’re going to see a lot of stress, and then you’re going to have to figure out what you’re going to do with that stress, and maybe you might be able to figure out and manage your life better or eat better in order to manage that stress and improve your recovery, but then again, I don’t think there are any free lunches. If there is one, then maybe you should be talking to (0:34:50 unclear).

Christopher Jones: Probably another way to describe that, or maybe translating it, is that you have to do a lot of things right. You can’t jump on one thing and say that’s going to be essentially the magical silver bullet and going to solve all the problems, rather it is a big picture.

Jason Boynton: Yes, definitely.

I think a pretty good research for that is Seiler’s Hierarchy which he has put out. You can just Google search that. I think that is a pretty good approach to how to train athletes. If you look at that, just off the top of my head, you know, high-intensity interval training is probably third or fourth tier. And then, higher than that would be things like heat acclimation and stuff. We’re talking about putting heat stress on top of high-intensity interval training. This is something that’s going to be higher towards the pyramid.

If you’re looking at something, the higher something is towards that pyramid and it’s after that pyramid, it really says you have to make sure the rest of the base is going well. I think it’s more about training physiology. It doesn’t even really take into nutrition. You have to take in all that type of thing.

Christopher Jones: Mental aspects as well – you know, the race day feel. Am I feeling good and perhaps having a good day or a bad day? It’s non-related to all the training you’ve done previously but can have a major impact anyway.

Jason Boynton: Yeah, there’s a lot of things. Before you run after something like what I did in my study, it’s going to be much more conducive, I think, to overall performance. Do you have the basics right? If you have the basics right, then you can start looking at these things.

I think, with amateurs, getting the basics right when you have a full-time job is going to be a lot harder. Getting out and putting in the training volume that is required to increase performance then also making sure you’re getting enough recovery and socializing and all the other things that life requires, I think that’s going to be a lot harder.

And so, you would have to also say, “Well, I’m the amateur athlete, and I really want to try these things,” but then just the realization that, well, sometimes, people hate to hear this stuff, but not everything is for the amateur athlete. I hate to sound elitist or anything like that, but it’s more about coming from a place of concern and making sure that people aren’t overtraining or that type of thing, if that makes sense.

Like I said, it’s not a place about elitism. If you’re an amateur and you think you can do some of these things that are higher in that you have everything organized and you have your life together and you can do some of these things that are higher in this hierarchy, then you have more power to you. Just be real with yourself about how long you want to do it for and when’s the best time to do it. Is it working or is it not?

Christopher Jones: I guess the level of access you have when you are an elite athlete – probably a full-time job or dedicated purely to this with professional coaching and support – simply gives you the ability to essentially take more time and look at the nuances of how you can improve training whereas it could be something which is probably from the time constraints not within easy reach of the everyday sport person who wants to be a good athlete and wants to perform but doesn’t have the time and maybe even the financial resources to have the same level of access.

It does feel that, with the idea of the impact of heat or the impact of temperature, it’s still a topic which has a lot of discussion at the moment, but it’s very, very young as it appears, and to really understand how should I – as an elite athlete or a competitive athlete – use this? There are some different things.

I could look at one study and that tells me one thing and then make an assumption based on that but look at the other one which refutes the findings. It’s a little bit hard when I do look to know what to do. I guess it also would mean that there’s a lot more work to be done to open up and explore this field and, as it trickles down, other athletes have a clear idea how to implement training and be more effective using the topic of heat and what this does to my body when I do sports.

Jason Boynton: I think that I like to approach that from maybe a slightly different angle.

In terms of where the power meter comes in – or the heart rates and things like that – I think you can see that there is this direct relationship between what’s going on there and performance. With temperature, it gets a little bit more complicated. Let’s put a pin in that for a second.

With that said, what would be the advantage to having temperature data right now which gets into a discussion of what type of body temperature are we talking about? Because there are a few different definitions.

If the cost of acquiring the data – not just monetary but also in terms of what the athlete buy-in is – if it’s as easy as putting on a heart rate monitor and they’re already putting it on and the cost is something that the athlete is fine with in terms of monetary cost, then I don’t see any harm in collecting the data for the sake of the data just in case it’s good for something to go back to and look at and look at retrospectively.

Even though I don’t necessarily look at heart rate and do an analysis of heart rate every single time I look at a workout, it is really, really good and really handy to make sure that you have your athlete wear their heart rate monitor every single time because it’s good to look at that – maybe intensity distribution through heart rate versus an intensity distribution through a power meter. They’re going to tell you different things sometimes – or most times, in my experience.

And so, it’s the same thing with the temperature stuff. If you don’t have it, then you can’t look at it. But, if you do have it, then you can. And then, it’s just a matter of understanding what it is telling you.

For me, it gets into specific scenarios. What it really can and what it really can’t tell you is going to depend on the individual claims, and those claims I think are going to be divided into two main categories about what the acute temperature meant – you know, whether it’s core temperature, body temperature, core to skin gradient or skin temperatures.

All of these are going to have different points of temperature data or different types of body temperature data that you would want to look at. Just having those things to look at and to consider acutely – either during the exercise or after the exercise when you do the analysis of the workout itself. Or the other way to look at it I think is in terms of what this data is going to look like if it’s complied over time.

Until we start getting these large amounts of data that we’ve stored and collected – collection of data, that’s the word I’m looking for – as soon as we get that collection of data, then I think we can start looking at doing a little bit more retrospective research on it and trying to figure out what it’s correlating with.

But the other thing I would note – as with any data that’s coming towards an athlete, especially now with like your athlete and you both have access to all the data that’s safe for saying training piece.

And so, I tell my athletes, “If the data is not helping you, then you have to change how you’re looking at it, then it’s in your head. It’s only there to help. If it’s not helping you, then you have to be thinking about it in a different way.” And so, it’s not to say that you have to ignore things or not see what reality is, but the data shouldn’t be putting someone into an emotional turmoil or a shutdown or this thing where they go, “I can’t perform today because the data says this.”

Well, what happens if you’re wrong? What happens if the data is wrong?

Christopher Jones: There’s other aspects as well. We see elite riders who will ride without computers while they’re training – training based on feel – and riders who only want the data and are data nerds, and they’re both great riders.

Jason Boynton: The whole point of doing science is to try to figure out what reality is. It’s my belief that the better you understand reality, the better the intervention you can put into place, and the better that your outcomes will be. That’s at a societal level – flying planes or whatever – and definitely in terms of sport science.

There’s a little bit of an epistemological can of worms that you have to open up when it comes to scientific experimentation because the best way to figure out if something works is to control things as much as possible. Just as an aside, with sport science, that’s going to be really hard because humans aren’t robots and we don’t have clones available to run all these experiments, so there’s a ton of variability with athletes and what they’re going to do outside the lab. You have to figure that in.

Again, to touch into your point, funny enough, one of my issues with the Lorenzo paper (link) was that what I saw in the experiment wasn’t necessarily what would really happen in real life if someone was training outside, so I was like, “We need to look at this a little bit closer.”

And so, yes, I think the fancy name for that is a “failure of induction” where you mis-extrapolate what a scientific finding really says when you put it into the real world which is always going to be kind of a limiter because how often are you going to get real life to mock what you have done in the lab? That’s why I think it’s really important to look at methods when you’re taking the scientific finding and having a good understanding of the methods before you really are prescribing things to athletes and determine how well those findings really overlay with what you’re trying to get in the end.

That was the one type of scientific study would be like, “This is the thing that we’re testing. We’re going to try to control for everything and we’re going to analyse the data after we run the experiment.” Again, those have limitations when you try to put them into real life sometimes.

The other way to look at things and try to determine reality is maybe through retrospective studies where the conditions haven’t been controlled as well, but you would be looking at the data you have collected from the past and just trying to figure out, looking back at things and using some complicated analysis – what might be the case.

The example that comes to mind in my field for this was one of the ways that they determined optimal temperature was just looking at the temperature that was collected at marathons and then looking at changes in performance over time for athletes who did these marathons year after year.

You wouldn’t be able to do a good analysis on that if you only had a small cohort of athletes, but when you get into the size of a big marathon, then the assumption is that you start taking out a lot of the variability that you would see in an individual because maybe one year they didn’t train as well as they did in the next and that type of thing.

There’s always going to be these limiters in determining what is true in endurance sport. On one side, you have the retrospective stuff that’s nice because, if you have the data there, then you can go back and look at it. But, like I said, the analysis is going to be pretty complicated, and there’s going to be a lot of variability. You might not have the data there that you need to look at things, and the list goes on.

Sometimes, it’s easier to look at the data you already have as opposed to run this big training study like I did and look at something as it goes forward. But, on the other side of running a big scientific experiment, it’s very, very, very time-consuming.

Working with human participants is like herding cats. Not only that, but athletes are very rare. Trained endurance athletes are not easy to come by. Not only that, but they’re trained. Training is their thing. They do that on a regular basis. Trying to get them to come into a lab to help with your study is going to be pretty tough to do, especially if they think they’re in the control group.

Christopher Jones: One of the things we’ve seen is that you have an athlete, they have a training program, and from a scientific perspective, you’re asking them to do something which is not part of their program, and that’s a concern. How does it affect it? Because I know what I’m meant to be doing. How does it align well with my own objectives at the moment?

Jason Boynton: Yeah, for sure. You need to get buy-in from the participant.

One thing that I said at the end of Damien’s podcast (Semi-Pro Cycling) was kind of a plea to the trained athletes out there. after a lot of years of doing this in the lab, the thing you notice is that the easiest people to get are going to be a males masters rider.

The older the individuals get, the more they want to come into the lab – 50 to 60 years old, upper 40’s. Those are the years that you usually get when you put out an experiment to people, and that is awesome. I love the fact that those people are eager to come in and participate in a lab. That makes my job a lot easier.

Unfortunately, the people we want this data for are quite a bit younger if we’re going to use this for elite sport. These individuals are going to be 18 all the way to maybe 35 at the oldest. And then, the paradox being that age group is the age group that is the hardest to get into the lab to come in for experiments.

I’ve had a lot of unfortunate times where I’ve had to say no to masters’ athletes because I’m watching the mean age of my study participants and it’s just getting too high. I just have to say, “Look, if we get to the point where we need the participants, we’ll do it, but now I need to look at people that are younger.”

It’s nothing against older individuals or anything like that but, at the end of the day, I know that, as a sport scientist or a coach that’s going to read my study, they’re going to look at the mean age for the individuals that are on the study and they’re going to want that mean age to be close enough to the individuals and athletes that they’re going to be working with.

Christopher Jones: I think that the call is quite clear. Athletes who fit within the age group, there’s a high demand, and potentially opportunities to learn and to improve your own training. My next question, however, is about your future because you’ve now finished your PhD. You’ve published or you’ve put your paper into publishing which will be released shortly. (link: Effect of Environmental Temperature on High-Intensity Intervals in Well-Trained Cyclists)

Jason Boynton: Hopefully!

Christopher Jones: There’s a process to go still. What happens now? What’s the outlook for yourself? Are you into professional life coaching and using your abilities? Or do you continue further studies?

Jason Boynton: I think, because I’m so new being out of my PhD, that’s continually evolving as I move through the post-PhD process, but I think it’s actually moving in a better direction – in a really good direction in terms of realising the role that I can fulfil with individuals and teams and that type of thing.

As I interact more with teams, the week before last, I had a presentation with the UCI World Tour Team and a consultation, so that was really neat to have that opportunity, and I’m looking forward to doing more of that. If there’s any UCI pro teams listening or even just teams in general that are listening that would like me to come and present and do that, you know, I work with amateur athletes right now. I’d love to work with pro athletes if there are any pro cyclists out there looking for someone that is not only an experienced coach but also has the sport science background.

It gets into an interesting conversation, if you want to have it, based on my earlier thoughts on coaching and why I got into the sport science thing. This is just a thought of mine, and if people have counterarguments to it, that’s fine. I would love to hear what other people’s feedback on my analogy is here, but initially I was in motorsports – from 13 to 18 – so I have a bit of a feel for that, and then I also have a feel for what it’s like to coach endurance athletes.

If you’re going to look at Formula One or something like that, you can break it down. Car or chassis, engine and driver, but if you break it down like that in cycling, it’s driver and engine are one, and then you have chassis or whatever you would want to call the bike. In Formula One, you have an engineer that works on the chassis – engineers and mechanics that would work on the engine to make it fast. And then, for the driver, you would have a mentor. You would have someone that used to race that would be teaching the driver how to drive.

In cycling, I think it’s different though. It’s interesting. If you look at the model in cycling, the engine is a lot of times tweaked and improved by an old driver, if you want to keep the analogy. Or you would use an old coach. Someone that used to be an ex-pro or a fast person would be the person that would be improving the engine which to me, using the Formula One analogy, seems a little weird, if you think about it like that.

For me, with moving athletes forward, when it comes to “engine building,” I think that’s a good role for a sport scientist – someone that has a good feeling of the training science. I think they’re going to be the best person for improving their performance which, you know, I’m not trying to step on any toes. I’m just saying what the coaches that are out there that are ex-pros and that type of thing.

I’m just saying, if we’re really concerned about moving the athletes forward, then in terms of just their physiological ability to produce watts in this case, then a sport scientist is going to be a really good person for them to consult and work with. That’s not to say that the ex-pro coach can’t improve performance in an athlete because I’m sure they do all the time.

Also, the other half of that equation is, with the driver, you would have a mentor. Certainly, the ex-pro and the seasoned racer is going to be a good person for this racer cyclist to consult with. I think it’s also really important to point out that there’s plenty of overlap between a sport scientist and a coach. Like I said, an ex-pro that is a coach can get an athlete faster. I also find it kind of a false dichotomy to say that a sport scientist can’t provide mentoring in terms of cycling and how to ride as a cyclist and that type of thing. I think there’s a certain amount of overlap between these two roles.

To get back to your question on what my direction is and that type of thing, what I want and what I have always tried to strive for is to get this coaching person and sport scientist rolled into one in order to optimize my ability to improve cycling performance for the individuals that I work with. That’s been my approach.

Again, going back to that analogy, that’s how I thought. I’m not an ex-pro, but not a slow racer, and I’ve been coaching now for almost 15 years, so I definitely know what the coaching world is, too.

Again, I’m not going to step on anyone’s toe or try to downplay the role of a coach because I am one, but I think, moving forward – and I think some of the big pro teams have figured this out – if we start having a little bit more of the engine building happening on the sport scientist side and a little bit more of the mentoring happening on the ex-pro race director side, that might be the optimal way to improve performance – not to say that either of these roles diminish either of these roles, and not to say that there is some kind of hard dichotomy between the two, if that makes sense.

Christopher Jones: Yes, it makes perfect sense.

If people wanted to find you as a coach, where would they look?

Jason Boynton: I actually have a website. You can go to Boynton Coaching and you can find me there. I also have Instagram – it’s Boynton_coaching. I am actually trying to get more into the new app Clubhouse. You can find me on Clubhouse. Damien and I are trying to have regular conversations there every week. So far, it’s such a new app, it’s just him and I kind of airing out our weeks, but usually we try to have people come into the room and we bring them on the stage right away.

Christopher Jones: That sounds exciting.

Jason Boynton: We see some good growth potential in it. Unfortunately, we haven’t really figured out how much you have to be on the app to get a club going yet. And so, we really were shooting for getting a club going, but there seems to be this very high amount of activity that you have to have on the app to get a club going even if it is a unique club, and there is no really clearly defined amount of activity that you have to hit in order to get a club.

Christopher Jones: It’s a brave new world. I will include some of the links to any other references. For example, there are some fantastic cycling tips and articles which Jason has published. Absolutely let’s say mind-boggling from a scientific level of detail you can go on these topics.

I’ve really enjoyed having you as a guest on The Next Level, Jason. I’m sure we’ll stay in great contact because you have some fantastic insights and are on the edge of groundbreaking research to really help and feed back into the sport.

Thank you very much for being with us, Jason!

Jason Boynton: Yeah, no worries! Thanks for having me! I appreciate it.

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References

Lorenzo S, Halliwill JR, Sawka MN, Minson CT. Heat acclimation improves exercise performance. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Oct;109(4):1140-7. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00495.2010. Epub 2010 Aug 19. PMID: 20724560; PMCID: PMC2963322.

Boynton, J. R., Danner, F., Menaspà, P., Peiffer, J. J., & Abbiss, C. R. (2019). Effect of Environmental Temperature on High-Intensity Intervals in Well-Trained CyclistsInternational Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance14(10), 1401-1407. 

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