Want to get better cycling results this season? Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about working with a coach. Without a doubt, I think it can be one of the most worthwhile investments you can make as an athlete for optimal performance gains. But it’s not just my opinion! I spoke with some of my favourite coaches about why you should work with a cycling coach and the value it will provide to your life.
With January almost done and dusted, I am now on my second training block with my coach. It’s been a few years since I did Ironman Wales and to be honest after being a research participant in an overtraining study, I’ve needed those years to recover. Last year I had planned to do some road racing but my PhD work and role as sports nutritionist with Team Dimension Data kept me pretty busy… so my riding has been for fun and fitness as and when I could find the time.
BUT! Now I have a BIG BIG BIG training goal for 2020 and it’s time to be consistent with training to achieve that goal so I don’t get injured or overtrained again. Without a coach it can be challenging to get the balance right, push yourself hard enough (but not too hard) and ensure you peak at just the right time of year.
A coach creates a training plan that works for where you are right now
Unless you’ve been riding for years, trained and studied all about different types of training strategies and actually KNOW what you’re doing, chances are there’s a bit of guess work going on. You may start to wonder, are you riding enough? Too much? Too hard? Too long?
When I spoke with Dave Smith of Velocity and Vitality and Grit Girona and he reminded me that “assuming the coach has sufficient knowledge and experience, they will provide a balanced and unbiased assessment of the athlete’s current status and how to move them closer to achieving their goals. They shouldn’t just be a data analyst, but consider all aspects of the athletes’ life that may impact performance”
It’s easy to start second guessing yourself, add extra training sessions in that add quantity but not quality. Especially if you are starting with a low level of fitness, coming back after an injury.
My fitness level felt at rock bottom when I finally got a chance to get back on the bike just before Christmas. I was comparing my current fitness to my previous fitness and just wanted to ride all the time everywhere and do ALL the rides, especially with all my mates doing the festive 500. Fatigue quickly set in….
My coach actually banned me from riding with other people for two weeks to ensure I didn’t push too hard! Frustrating at the time, but so good for me in the long run as it meant that I got some quality baseline riding in on a consistent basis instead of going hard and going home and needing weeks to recover!
They save you time, mental energy and keep you accountable
Working with a coach takes so much stress out of knowing what to do, when, which saves you so much time and energy.
If you travel a lot for work like myself, a good coach can adapt your training sessions depending on your location, changes in your schedule availability to keep you progressing towards your goals.
Before we started working together, my coach Edward Greene from Science 2 Sport coaching agreed that “the time crunched people are the ones who actually need coaches. You need to achieve the maximum possible in the least amount of time to ensure you meet your goals. That means well-planned scientific coaching – tapered to your goals and around your life commitments. Having a coach also creates accountability and consistency which is more important than anything else.”
Life is busy with my sports nutrition consultancy here in Girona and PhD work, so I needed a plan that incorporated my cycling training, strength training, flexibility etc around my work and life schedule. This where a coach becomes invaluable – whether you train at an amateur or elite level.
They help you know when to dig deep and when to hold back
I saw a TED talk a few weeks back about the ‘Go hard or go home’ sort of mentality around training. It’s pretty common for athletes to have too many rides that aren’t hard enough, aren’t easy enough and are instead stuck around the murky middle.
I’m definitely guilty of this when I’m ‘riding for fun’. Too many hardish sessions (that aren’t hard enough) and too few easy recovery rides that just leave me feeling exhausted all the time. No more!!
Dani Rowe of Rowe and King shared that the most important role of a coach is ‘helping riders know when to dig deep and when to ease training back. You can’t train full gas every day, and it’s the easy days / days off that you become stronger. Too many easy days won’t give you enough training stress but too little recovery may see you overreaching or even worse, over training in the longer term which is a huge no-no!”
For me personally, having someone there to tell me to hold back, go slower, slower still and even stop, rest and take time off is important. I like the chase, I like pushing hard, but if left to my own devices I’ll probably burn myself out which isn’t what I want in the long run.
They remove the emotion from decision making
Having to made decisions about when to train, where to train, how to train can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Add work, family and life stress into the mix and it is so easy to get overwhelmed.
Kevin Poulton from Powerhouse Cycling reminded me that “The number one reason for working with a coach is to remove the emotion attached to decision making. A coach will use valid and reliable data to make informed decisions that meet the needs of the athlete.”
This was such a good point and certainly one of the reasons why I have found value in being coached. It’s one less thing to think about if I get overwhelmed with the craziness of life. I trust the process about what my coach is doing, what he knows and how it is going to help me achieve my goals.
Personally I’ve found that getting my training sessions uploaded into Trainingpeaks every few days suits me best. All I need to do is shift my training sessions around my work schedule, turn up and get the work done on the day without much thought or stress on my part (aside from the physical work required!).
They provide confidence and reassurance
When I spoke with Matt Rowe of Rowe and King, he reminded me that “A coach provides an athlete with assurance that the sweat and tears they pour in to their sport is actually of benefit! Even the best bike riders question themselves and their training at times, which is where a coach is worth their weight in gold. Confidence and reassurance.”
So so true!
Everyone has moments of doubt, of their motivation, their ability or reason and having someone externally cheering you on and fighting in your corner is so incredibly valuable. That feedback and reassurance a coach provides can help you with your motivation, so you remain consistent in your training and ultimately achieve your goals.
They provide feedback about how your training is progressing
We all like getting stronger, faster and hitting new PBs, right?
Thing is, it’s not possible to get a new result EVERY single session. You may not see a new max power, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t progressing or getting stronger. Subtle shifts can be going on in the background because they can see the bigger picture.
I’ve found it incredibly valuable to get regular feedback from my coach about how I am responding to the training load – both positive or negative. That feedback loop goes two ways also – by communicating regularly with my coach about any lingering fatigue, injuries or illness I can make the most of their expertise and ultimately my performance.
Different coaches work in different ways. Some might log a months worth or training sessions at once, update on a weekly basis or while others may provide daily updates. It all depends on what sort of input you thrive on.
Every coach is different and just like relationships, not all will be right for you. Finding the coach that suits you best can take time and a few conversations.
Your training and nutrition can work together for optimal gains
From the perspective of a sports dietitian, having a clear training plan in place leads the way to develop a nutrition strategy that suits your specific goals and gets results.
I see so many athletes eating the same thing day in day out of habit, which could be holding them back from recovering optimally or getting the most out of their training.
The intensity, duration and focus of each training session you do is going to influence what is best to eat before, during and after. It’s not about being high or low carb, from my perspective as a sports dietitian this is about being smart with your carbs. Sometimes high, sometimes low.
Some sessions could be ideal for a fasted training to improve endurance capacity, while you want to be fully fuelled for a sprint session or else you’ll keep on missing those top watts. It all comes back to your training plan and the key goals for that session.
By working with a coach and having a clear training plan in mind you can then adjust your food intake to suit so that you can then train, recover and perform at your peak.
Do you want sports nutrition advice to improve your cycling training sessions? Gain clarity about what to eat when for optimal results on and off the bike? Why not book an online sports nutrition consultation to make the most of your training and performance goals.