Five things to consider before investing your money, time and energy
Let’s be straight. When it comes to endurance, any training you do is better than doing nothing at all. Equally, when just starting out and coming from a low fitness base, some gains will be made using just about any training regime. However, once those initial gains have been made, continuing to improve and reaching one’s potential can be quite a challenge. The fact that the web is flooded with information and miracle training plans (not to mention supplements, recovery aids, super-fast equipment………., ok let’s stop there) can make the process more confusing and complex than it really needs to be.
When scouring the web, or even local coaching services for a training plan or sessions to add to an existing plan, there are a few key components riders should look for to ensure the best possible fit, therefore maximising the return on investment (time, money, energy). Think of it this way; your time/money/energy is precious and should not be wasted or even used inefficiently.
So here are five things I would advise all riders to check for before signing on to a training system or coach:
1. Riders are assessed or analysed prior to the development of the training plan. It is impossible to maximise the effort invested in a training plan without having first assessed the rider’s capacity, experience, goals and riding profile. So whatever coaching or training arrangement you choose, make sure there is a comprehensive assessment component up front. Not all riders are created equal, which means the range and degree of response to training varies greatly. In fact, even cyclists of a similar age and training history may respond differently to precisely the same training. An accurate prediction of rider response can only be made through testing, anything else is a guess. So make sure your training program is based on some level of testing, preferably more than a simple FTP test. It will save you a bunch of time spent riding hard for no real gain.
2. The plan incorporates adequate rest. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that excessive amounts of intense endurance training (cycling, triathlon, running, cross-country skiing) can increase the risk of cardiac dysfunction, especially arrhythmic conditions such as Atrial Fibrillation (AF). A cardiologist I know (and he is not alone) is strongly of the opinion that training excessively without adequate rest and recovery is a big part of the problem. Not only does strategic and well-planned rest & recovery almost certainly reduce the risk of cardiac arrhythmia but it will also improve cycling performance for almost every level of cyclist and in particular, masters athletes. Rest includes both active recovery (EASY rides) and taking a complete break from cycling as required and determined by factors such as age, gender, riding experience and a thorough analysis of the riders response to training.
3. Full customisation. There are plenty of generic training plans around, most will ask riders to input their FTP and “presto” there is your training plan. If you want real improvement from your training investment, the sessions you complete week-to-week must be matched to your goals, experience and rider profile. FTP is but a small piece of the puzzle and true customisation will require multiple inputs such as; age, riding experience, test results, rider profile and lifestyle impacts. I would consider these a minimum and many coaches will go even further, exploring recovery, nutrition and many other important inputs.
4. There is an element of continuous evaluation. As riders improve and their physiology adapts, a good training plan should be adjusted to suit. This requires a mechanism of continuous evaluation and re-testing. Whilst predictive systems such as Training Peaks and WK04 can be extremely useful, true evaluation requires a fair bit more than just ride file updates. Look for a coach or a system that gathers data (other than ride files) on a regular basis and uses this information to continuously adjust the training plan and sessions.
5. The plan or training system is based on evidence. It is very important that the training system you use is based on real evidence. This means that there is a significant amount of science and research behind it. Most qualified coaches will cover this for you, but if you are looking at an online system, then do a little bit of probing, ask a few questions force the training system to prove its mettle before you buy in.
Once you make a choice based on these principles, jump in, give it your very best effort and commitment, confident that you are using a robust system that will produce outstanding results. Following a training plan should be highly motivating and there is no better motivation than seeing outstanding results.
If you would like some help with your next training plan or anything else to do with your cycling, please feel free to contact me through the web contact form on this site.