Coaches are not just for elite or professional athletes. In fact, coaches work with people of all different ages and experience to improve performance, peak for target events or progress in general health and fitness.

What does a coach actually do? Well, I am not a coach, I am an athlete, so I decided to ask my coach (John Wakefield from Science2Sport) to answer to the question. He is part of the coaching team that won the previous two editions of the Tour de France, plus he coaches me 😉

[The role for a coach is to provide] “scientific knowledge and approach a general athlete doesn’t have, [and] to give an objective view and analysis of their performance”.

He stresses that it’s near impossible to cultivate objectivity when coaching yourself – a coach will take the emotion out of the science. A coach is an expert in MEASURING and then applying science to see improvements all the while considering the unique person they are working with.

How do I know if a coach is right for me? Here are some scenarios to ponder if you have floated the idea of employing a coach.

I have recently signed up to an event/challenge but I don’t know where to start!

This is one of the main reasons you might employ a coach. Trying to research, plan and apply a detailed and effective program can be overwhelming for most of us. A qualified coach holds expertise in working backwards from a peak event and helping you prepare in the best (and most realistic) way possible for the big day.

They will be able to look at your unique data and physiology to write a program that will see you make consistent, incremental increases in fitness, strength and most importantly, specificity to your event. They will take the time to understand the unique demands of the event and work with you to figure out your strengths and limitations so that you can be sure you will be giving everything you have on the day. Leave the details to the experts, you just have to get on the bike and do the work!

I have a unique and busy schedule, and am needing advice on how to plan quality training around work, life, kids, commitments.

Most coaches work with everyday people, so they won’t expect you to drop everything and train like a pro! This is where honest communication with your coach comes into play. Remember, you are employing them to work for YOU, so you need to be upfront about what you can and can’t realistically do with your environment and schedule. When you first meet with them, it’s important to share all these details and clarify your non-negotiables.

Maybe you are in a habit of only squeezing training in when you have a spare moment, but amongst life and training you actually never schedule rest, so you are never properly adapting to your training. This is where a coach can look at the bigger picture and adjust as needed. The body doesn’t see a great deal of difference between stress and life stress, so a coach will be able to create a plan that respects the demands of your life and training in a balanced way.

I keep training but are not seeing any improvements, I have plateaued or keep getting interrupted by injury or illness.

You are a sucker for suffering, so you subscribe to the ‘more is more’ attitude when training. You have the ability to go deep and you don’t feel satisfied after a training session unless you finish utterly exhausted. Although this is indeed a rewarding feeling, it’s not necessarily sustainable or healthy. There are nuances in the physiology of the energy systems which need to be managed accordingly in order to create stress, rest and then adaptations. When you are exercising at high intensity or large volumes, your immune system is compromised to a degree.

If you keep pushing through a sniffle here, knee pain there, you are only going to dig yourself further into a hole and severely compromise any long term goals. My coach told me this is one of the main things he has to correct with new athletes. He sees people become frustrated that they aren’t improving, so they keep doing more, and then getting worse, and think they need to keep riding longer and harder. Then the opposite is true… a coach will create a program that includes sufficient amounts of rest, intensity and endurance that is sustainable and keeps your physical and mental health a priority. After all, a sick and injured athlete is never going to reach their potential if they keep creating setbacks for themselves.

I need a sense of accountability.

Coaches not only write programs and crunch numbers, but they are largely there to act as a bit of a mentor and encourage you, provide feedback and motivation. We all have times where our motivation waxes and wanes, Ultimately, coaches are there to tentatively push you, and pull you back when required. It is a nice feeling to know that someone will be looking at your training and asking how you feel after a session, or to give you that extra nudge to get out the door or on the ergo when you don’t feel like it. They have your goals in mind and will be able to remind you of what you are working towards and why. It is important, however, to not rely entirely on a coach for accountability. This can create a ‘training just for the coach’ kind of attitude.

Remember again, they work for you and they are not spending time and energy creating a program you don’t like, in turn leading to you lying about training or forcing yourself to train to ‘please them’ when you are feeling really run down or life gets in the way. Again this is where communication comes into play, and if you are unable to complete the training one day, the best approach is an open conversation. I promise you a good coach will listen and adapt.

First steps employing a coach:

  1. Talk to your local cycling club, friends, or use a coach matching service like TrainingPeaks to find your potential coach. 
  2. Write up your target events or goals, current things that work for you and things that don’t, and what you enjoy and what you don’t so they can prescribe training you will, for the most part, enjoy. For some people (like me) that means big variety in location and terrain, for others, its consistency, familiarity and rigid structure that keeps them keen. Everyone is a bit different. 
  3. Decide if you want lots of personal contact and really detailed analysis (normally more expensive) or if you want to try a more generic program and check in with your coach less frequently ( more affordable and more flexible) 
  4. Perhaps agree on a bit of a trial period to see if coaching works for you and them.
  5. Decide what sort of characteristics make you ‘coachable’ and if you feel you can realistically sustain a coaching relationship.
  6. Come with clear goals, communicate your needs, fill out a weekly calendar and provide clarity on how rigid or flexible your schedule is.
  7. Share your favourite routes, group rides, FulGaz routes, what equipment you have access to and if you ride to commute to work (my first coach made this a staple part of my training).
  8. If you run or go to the gym or another activity, let them know as well so they can distribute the load accordingly.

Good luck on your coaching journey and remember to keep the communication lines open!

About Brodie Chapman

Brodie is a WorldTour rider with French Team, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope. You can find her shredding trails on her MTB, or exploring her adopted home-town of Girona, Spain.