Happy New Year! 2012 is upon us and as a coach you have more than likely already discussed season goals with every one of your athletes. It is now your job to navigate a path which will lead your clients to achieve their goals. This is an exciting time of the year, as ambitions and motivation are no doubt very high.
Your job as a coach is to channel all of that self-motivated energy into a well-designed training program. Narrowing the scope of the training and making the most of each and every day is your duty. As you're well aware, this is no easy task. It doesn’t matter if an athlete’s goal is to win the Olympics or simply reach the finish line as a newbie; creating an effective training program specific to each and every client is a huge responsibility.
So where does a coach start? When I start working with an athlete I like to begin with a training program that underestimates what an athlete can do. In other words I like to be on the safe side from Day One. I also like to make the athlete prove to me that they are prepared for the next level of either intensity and/or volume by setting new standards within training.
There is usually plenty of time to eventually get to the gut-wrenching hard stuff that every athlete wants to do every day. However, most athletes tend to ignore the basic fundamentals, which in the end may be the reason they’ve failed in the past. All too often too much volume, too early, gets in the way of fundamentals and leads to less than optimalperformance.
Skills and Drills
Poor mechanics and insufficient skills development can not only lead to inefficiencies that potentially reduce speed. Poor skills can also lead to injury, which dramatically diminishes the chance of reaching specific goals. Working on skills and drills is just as important for elite-level athletes as for beginners. Often times the margin of victory in elite races is very small and can be accounted for through differences in economy.
This is also the ideal time of year I recommend conducting an annual bike fit for cyclists and triathletes. I find athletes quite often change equipment and components throughout the year which affects their position and riding mechanics. If any changes are necessary the athlete can adapt while volume and intensity are low, well ahead of their A-priority event(s). Orthotics can also be another biomechanical element to review or consider, if there is a history of injuries or if you see inefficiencies within the bike fit or a run gait analysis.
Back to Basics
I like keeping motivation high and the volume and intensity well under control at the start of a training season. A program can be ever-evolving and grow with the athlete as they achieve new fitness gains. No matter who the athlete is, we set out to first target workouts which isolate the three basic abilities: endurance, force and speed.
No matter what your sport may be there are elements of endurance, force and speed involved to varying degrees. A BMX racer doesn’t need nearly as much endurance as a long-distance triathlete; likewise a triathlete doesn’t need as much speed as a BMX racer. However we all need to work on all three basic elements and at a certain point it makes sense to move on to the advanced abilities of muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and power. Again, all too often athletes skip the basic elements which end up limiting their potential to push the advanced abilities to a new level.
Knowing where an athlete’s fitness is at the beginning of a program can provide a helpful blueprint to follow. The coach’s job becomes much easier if a starting point can be quantified and measured against the level of fitness needed to attain a goal. Ideally I like to have clients schedule a lab test which incorporates lactate measurements so we can establish initial training zones and benchmarks to compare against in the future.
However, not every athlete needs a lab test. Beginner and elite athletes alike can also gain a lot of knowledge from simple field tests to help establish threshold pace, power and heart rate levels. Whether you choose to conduct tests in a lab or in the field, be sure to track as many variables as possible in order to replicate the same test conditions and protocols in the future.
Besides actual test days I will also look closely at key workouts which might give me an indication of changes in fitness. Showing the athlete how they've improved, maybe even without them knowing it, can be very motivating. This is another reason why GPS and power meters are becoming essential pieces of equipment for successful coaches. Without knowing exact changes in pace and power inputs, it's hard to accurately gauge changes in fitness, as heart rate alone won’t reflect workload.
I tend to look at key workouts as if I were an investigator collecting evidence in the hopes of solving a case. Each workout is a piece of the puzzle which helps explain the athlete’s state of fitness, fatigue and form. A good workout becomes a benchmark event which might indicate a change in pace or power zones (heart rate zones rarely have to be changed). Likewise, workouts can also indicate a drop in fitness or increased fatigue which may require changes in intensity zones.
To all coaches using our platform, I hope 2012 brings great rewards to you and your athletes. You can rest assured that world and Olympic champions, as well as absolute beginners, rely upon TrainingPeaks to reach their performance goals.
Happy New Year!