Self coaching vs tailored training
Happy New Year readers! I hope you enjoyed the holidays and got in plenty of riding or enjoyed putting your feet up for a change. I went for a combination of the two as I somehow managed to get a period of adaptation (aka rest) in my training plan to coincide with Christmas week.
After a couple of years of for the main part writing my own training plans, I very recently started working with a coach (Epic Coaching) as I was feeling a bit bored and uninspired by doing the same old workouts all the time and was wasting a lot of brain power fussing over what I should and shouldn’t be doing each week. It got me thinking – which is better for cyclists? Self coaching or being trained by a professional? How do you know if you should get a coach?
Before reaching this point, I’d been finding self training extremely rewarding. I’m the kind of person (a geek?) who loves spending hours reading, researching and learning so I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge (and a lot of books) in my pursuit of cycling specific knowledge. Through mining resources from all over the internet, downloading, creating and being given workouts to do on my bike and using the insights I’ve gleaned from my studies, I’ve become pretty adept at plotting out training cycles in my calendar.
Analysing my performance through results, data and feel I feel like I’ve had some success with this approach, but I’d say if you go from not training at all to sticking to a regular, considered regime, it’s very hard not to see results! What’s more difficult is to continue seeing improvements after you’ve been training for a while.
And what’s even harder is keeping your motivation when you’re doing the same old thing all the time.
Knowing I’ve had good results in the past by sticking to a certain set of exercises, abandoning all of them and embarking on new sessions that I don’t quite understand is a leap of faith for me. As a total control freak who is used to doing everything her way I’ve found it hard handing the reins to someone else and I’m trying by very best not to bombard my new coach with endless queries (though of course questions are very much allowed!) Luckily, Epic Coaching count numerous success amongst their clients so I needn’t be at all worried. But I can’t change my mindset over night.
My own neuroses aside, I’m genuinely excited and inspired by this new approach and it’s done exactly what I wanted – it’s shaken up my training and confused my body. If you just keep doing the same thing all the time, your body gets used to it and it becomes less effective and if you never take a break, you’ve can’t properly profit from the time you’ve put in. Epic work in cycles or blocks which focus on particular elements before an adaptation week, which is where your body adjusts to all the training you’ve done.
After focusing on a several kinds of high cadence workouts, endurance and Sweet Spot in December, it felt really nice to open up my Training Peaks account at the start of the new year to see a brand new set of exercises and goals for the month. Getting ‘back on it’ after my adaptation week and too much booze on New Year’s eve (my one hangover of the year!) felt really exciting with a fresh new plan made just for me.
So which is better?
At the risk of offending all the coaches out there, I’d say it’s entirely possible to train yourself and get good results if you have plenty of free time to spend a lot of time reading up about training and are keen on doing so. You’ll also need to be organised and self motivated.
As you progress through the year, you will get to know your body, your physical and mental weaknesses and what works and doesn’t work for you. You can schedule in tests to check your progress, move training sessions around depending on your recovery to maximise the effect of your session and seamlessly integrate training with the rest of your life.
The negatives are a sense of unease if you’re not totally sure what you’re doing, a huge expenditure of time for planning and research (assuming you want to do it properly), boredom and the possibility you’ll plateaux. On the plus side, it’s free.
The benefits of hiring a coach are numerous. One of the main ones is peace of mind (unless you’re me, haha!). You’ll know that you’re doing all the right things to improve and can rest easy that that side of your life is under control. If you’re very busy or short on time, a coach will ensure that all your time is used efficiently, saving you precious hours in planning and potentially, on the bike as well by making sure you’re doing the right things.
Having someone who is able to interpret data properly is one of the best things. A good coach should be able to spot your weaknesses and see things that you can’t, possibly giving you extra days off if you’re not recovering and adapting your plan to the way you feel. Being accountable to someone else can be hugely motivating and knowing that someone else will be looking at your ride data can stop you skiving off.
The other great thing you’ll get is knowledge. If you’re interested in learning about training and cycling, working closely with a coach you’ll get great insights into why you’re doing things – most coaches are happy to share with you so that when you feedback on your training you’re able to give the a more accurate description of where you’re at.
So in conclusion, having a coach is awesome if you can afford it. The one thing I would say is be extremely picky about who you choose as not all of them are created equal. There are some unscrupulous coaches who will charge you a fortune and then just copy and paste generic workouts between all their clients without adapting them for you. There’s no point paying for that – you can just buy and download a generic training plan for a lot less money.
At the end of the day, you’re paying for a professional service so you need to decide what you want from that and pay appropriately. It’s an investment in yourself. Think of it like bike components, an entry-level set of race wheels is better than those that come with your bike but is not going to boost your performance as much as a high end set of carbon clinchers. The same theory can be applied to coaching. You get what you pay for.