We are creatures of habit, and it is very easy to slip into joining our mates every other day, doing the same loop on the days in between, and low and behold six months have gone by. To improve, our bodies need to do something different in training EVERY week. Something has to change, and that something can be directed from a coach, based on what you need to change to improve your performance. It takes a lot of time, and knowledge to understand how to implement this, and while in the first two to three months it is easy to do ourselves, it is more difficult when we have been riding awhile because we find it hard to assess what we really need, and what to do to improve. Others usually see in us what we don't – it's human nature.
I recommend all riders who want to improve, to get a coach. No matter what your level, or what your goals. If you want to improve but don't have a coach, this is the easiest and quickest way to get where you want to go. Even if you have been cycling for years, and don't think you need one - this is in fact all the more reason to get one. Or as Karyn Palmer, our new Kinetic Edge Nelson based coach says "random training produces random results" or "do the same training, and you will get the same result."
When I first started coaching I thought coaching was just writing a training programme. How wrong I was! I tried to coach like this, but it was not effective. Yes sure it gave people a general framework to work from, but it did not produce big results, because it was just numbers on a piece of paper based on what they "should be doing." It did not assess their weaknesses nor did it take into account who they were as an individual personalities. The programme wasn't developed for them as I was taught to develop a programme for the event, not the person. You are training for Taupo, then do this "Taupo" programme. It became very obvious, very quickly that this had to change. Why wasn't I getting the results I wanted? And why weren't my riders either?
One of my instigators for change was Tom Bricklebank. This hard, but caring veteran could give any A-grader in Auckland a run for their money. I wrote him a programme, and soon enough he was knocking at my door (with scones in tow) asking me why I had got him to do this and that, and that's when I realized if my performance was to change in coaching (and therefore the performance of my riders) I had to change my methods, just the same as you if you want to improve.
So now, I establish what a riders weaknesses are, their goals, and where they are relative to their goals. Then I set out a plan and a programme to achieve those goals, and only write a small amount of training at a time, reviewing every month and educating my riders what they are doing, and why they are doing it. I ride with them or video them riding so they can improve technique. Every method has to have a reason, or why do it?! This makes sure everyone is on the incline of improvement. If a rider gets sick or injured the programme changes, and I look at why they got sick or injured so as to prevent it in the future. It is a holistic approach, it is very time consuming for me, but it produces results. I tried writing four months, here you go, see you then. While it was great for about 5% of the people I helped, it didn't do much for the other 95%. A programme doesn't help someone with race tactics, give them feedback on technique riding up a hill or the results of each training session. A person does. And we seemed to have got lost somewhere along the way that training for cycling is all about the physical training. When in fact is it about; the individual, their strengths and weaknesses, their work/life/training balance, their technique, their recovery, their event or race tactics, their perception of their ability, their willingness to get outside their comfort zone, their equipment, the time of day they train, their nutrition, and the list goes on.
Now I would say that the actual programme writing only accounts for 50% of what I do for riders I work with. And that is what you need to consider when deciding whether or not you want to improve by getting a coach. Buyer beware they say in the retail industry and the same goes for coaching. Just because I watch TV, doesn't mean I can produce TV programmes, and just because a rider rides a bike, it doesn't instantly make them a coach. When you are putting a lot of time (and money) into your cycling, and have goals to achieve, you should make sure that the advice you are getting is sound. Check out potential coaches and find out if they have knowledge in coaching, in training science, and in cycling experience. All 3, not just one. Find out if it is their part time job or hobby, or if they are full time. This will dramatically affect your ability to get hold of them, ask questions, or ease of access to see them. Unfortunately we do not have a validation process here in NZ whereby you can check to see if a coach is registered and approved as good enough to work with riders, like Master Builders or registers for teachers, but hopefully this will come in the future.
Recently a veteran rider I work with said to me. "You know Amy I thought I had reached my potential, but over the last 7 weeks I have improved more than I have in seven years, and I am now excited again that I can see I still have a lot more potential left in me." We all have potential, no matter your starting point or how long we've been in the sport. We just have to surround ourselves with the resources to instigate change. In cycling, once you've pimped out your equipment, a coach is the next step. We may not be as sleak or shiny as a carbon wheel set, but we can make you go faster.
Amy Taylor is an Exercise Physiologist and Cycling Coach based in Auckland, This article originally appeared in Endurance Sport magazine.