What's Cool In Road Cycling

Coaching: What is it Good For?

Many of the reviews that you’ll read @ Pez are for, well, stuff…all of which is designed to make you go faster or at least look better while doing it. Reader Bob Kinnison recently purchased something that will almost guarantee that he’ll get faster, thus making him look better…

Part 2 of our Coaching series

Unless you’ve been riding indoors locked in a darkened bank vault watching nothing but Gilligan’s Island reruns the past decade, you will know that cycling has finally caught up with other sports like rowing, swimming, and athletics. Cyclists at both the amateur and pro ranks have finally embraced the concept of working closely with coaches to maximize their training and athletic potential.

I’ve long wondered why cyclists have been so slow to follow, and I think it comes down to cycling being such an unrestrained activity. You can do it anytime anywhere without being constrained to a dedicated facility, and there’s the perception that cycling is not a technical sport.

Make no mistake about it, you can only take yourself so far by coaching yourself, but there’s a reason you won’t see any top athletes without a coach or a sport scientist like myself close at hand. Sure, most training ideas boils down to common sense, and there has been an explosion of easily accessible training info in the past decade. However, the coach-athlete relationship is a deeply symbiotic one, and working with a coach will bring endless benefits and can be the best investment in yourself you have ever made.

We start today with an unsolicited reader testimonial on the value of coaching, then follow it up in the coming days with reader testimonials for our own Toolbox coaches Frank Overton of FasCat Coaching and Bruce Hendler of Athleticamps. Finally, we’ll survey what a sport scientist like myself contribute to athlete development.

Meet Bob Kinnison – One Satisfied Customer
I’m 6’1”, about 205, 36 years old, and built more like an NHL power forward than ANY kind of endurance athlete. In short, an avid recreational rider/wanna-be racer just like many of you. As recently as two months ago, I was just TOYING with the idea of doing some racing in 2004. Any races would be my first on the road, and while I put in a fairly good average weekly mileage…I’m not going to be confused for a pro by speed, or by sight.

Some of the many questions I kept asking myself when considering coaching included. I’m sure you’ve pondered them too:
“What could I possibly achieve with a coach?”
“It’d be cool, but is it really worth the $$??”
“Will I really get faster?”

After a month in the program (I hired CTS), I can tell you that it’s among the most useful, fun, motivating, reasonable, and valuable cycling purchases that I’ve made in a LONG time. My CAAD7 Cannondale still takes the cake, but just by a nose! Long and short, I think that a coach would benefit YOU this year, no matter what your goals are. Here are some of the reasons why:

Goal Setting
If you don’t know where you’re headed, you’ll get somewhere, only it just not may be where you wanted to end up. Your coach will help you set some reasonable goals at the beginning of your program. These are anything from losing 15 pounds, to being able to hang with the “A” group on your local club rides, to winning a town-line sprint, to winning a stage in the Tour de France. Your weekly training will be built around these goals and your availability. Your coach knows, going in, that you don’t have 6 hours a day to train, and will do a great job of fitting your training into your life. As I’ve discovered, many of them don’t have all-day, every day to train either, so they’re in the same boat.

Most of us don’t need motivation to ride our bikes, it’s fun all by itself, but once you have a goal, training (especially in the winter, when we’re on the trainer 99% of the time) takes on a special purpose, and allows you to recognize that EVERY session on your bike can be productive as well as fulfilling, healthy, and fun. Having a plan ON PAPER that gives you specific workouts on specific days really helps you to focus your on-bike time and keep you on track. I’ve also found it really freeing to have someone else responsible for setting up my workout time. I get to focus on doing rather than planning.

For the first 4-5 years that I rode, I followed the mathematical computations of the heart zones, and I could never figure out why I wasn’t losing weight or getting faster. About two years ago I had a VO2Max test done, and was given my ACTUAL physiological values along with some target training zones based on these values. I can’t tell you how far off the math was for my physiology. I began training at the new (correct) zones, and got almost immediate results. When you KNOW that you’re doing the right thing, there’s a confidence and meaning to your training that wasn’t there before. The same is true with coaching. Your coach can help you set the correct zones even without the VO2Max test, and help you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, versus just thinking you know what you’re doing. For me this by itself is worth the price of admission.

Your coach should not create the plan and then walk away. Of course, the more extensive (and expensive) your coaching program is, the more contact you’ll have with your coach. Unless you’re an elite/pro rider (in which case you already have a coach) once or twice a month is probably enough contact to make adjustments in your program on-the-fly. My coaching program has a web-accessible feedback option, and it’s really easy to track your workouts. I haven’t looked at the other coaching sites, but I’d be surprised if they weren’t web-enabled also.

There’s no way to sidestep the money issue – good coaching is going to be an investment of faith AND money. To be involved in the program, I’m going to spend around $425 this year on my program. There are packages that are half that much, and packages that are more than 10x that. For the benefits that I’ve outlined above, it’s completely worth the dough. Since I’m being honest, I think I spend more than that on coffee. Bet you do, too…

I use this analogy to another sport when assessing the value. I have a close friend that is a golf pro, and he tells me that the average golfer in this country spends $500-$600 a year on golf equipment, and their handicap never goes down. TWO $35 golf lessons can improve your game by as much as 30%. I’m not sure that you’ll go 30% faster than you did last year if you hire a coach, but if you’re like me, you could EASILY carve money out of your bike “stuff” (or coffee) budget and put it into your coaching program. You will get faster, more confident, and probably skinnier for the money.

Part 2 of our Coaching series

Check out the CTS Website.

About Stephen:
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. His company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at [email protected].

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