Sunday, November 25, 2007

I am not a cook so don’t ask me for recipes

I often get emails from athletes asking for training advice, which is something that obviously flatters me. But in most cases, what people are looking for is an easy to use guide for success. This is the case with most posts on Forums asking for training advice. After a brief background, a very broad question is asked. To that question, most people expect a set of guidelines, a complete program is preferred, for them to follow. They expect a recipe.

In this context, the one-size-fits-all coaches have the advantage. Even knowing very little about the athlete, they will tell you what to do. Do this and you will go fast. Factors like individual characteristics of the athlete, his/her background, period of the season, time available and many other relevant factors are not important. Do this and you will go fast.

Of course coaching is a little more complex than that. Effective coaching is not made of gross exagerations and stereotypes, but of focusing on the individual characteristics of an athlete and working within the individual constraints. I hear the expression “regular age-grouper” quite a lot. However, my experience with coaching age-groupers is that there isn’t such a thing as the “regular age-grouper”. They all have different jobs, different families. They have different commitment to training and different priorities. Stereotyping athletes does not serve the interests of the athletes, but it does serve the interests of some coaches… the cook book coaches. So what exactly is effective coaching? Effective coaching is the application of solid training principles and methods to the individual athlete. Is having an effective training program that is tailored to the specific athlete. It’s a lot about individualization.

I really enjoy discussing training. However, there isn’t a lot of people I enjoy discussing training with. Not because I am an elitist (I am not) or because I don’t like to talk to people (That might have some truth to it), but because not a lot of people are capable of discussing training concepts that can then be individualized to each athlete. Most discussions about training end up being discussions about workouts. Should I ride 5 hours or 6 hours? Should I do the 2x20? Should the long run be 2:30h or 3:00h? What about 400 repeats, should I do those? One pet peeve I have is when discussion training with a coach, the coach starts talking about his own training. I don’t want to hear about your training, I want to hear about what you use with your athletes as a whole. And the more athletes you coach, and the more successful they are, the more I’ll listen.

In the next few weeks I will try to write more about triathlon training and less about coaching. But just don’t ask me for recipes. I am not a cook.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Short interview

Around Ironman Florida I gave an interview and it's finally out. Go check it out at *

*The "Get Fitter Plan" is a trademark of Will Ronco, 2007.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Old-school by choice or by default?

From where I am sitting, it seems that a lot of people are getting on the "old-school" bandwagon. Which is really easy because it's a slow moving wagon. But it also seems to me that while there are some that are old-school by choice, there are others that really have no other choice than calling themselves old-school.

Some things never change. Some things do change. I like to call old-school those that stick to the things that never change. But hat I see now is people that are sticking to the things that have changed in the last 10-20-30 years, and calling themselves old-school. I like to call old-schoo learning from those that got so many things right many years ago, not those that have seen their methods contradicted by scientific evidence and still use them. I like the term old-school for the "school" part, and the "old" serves to stress "school". Others it seems are just "old", with little or no "school".

We live in the information overload age. Even though information is a source of knowledge, it is not knowledge itself. In order to build knowledge, you have to go through information, pick what's relevant and systematize it. It can be a daunting task for us all and apparently, in response to the overwhelming quantity of information we are exposed to constantly, many people simply choose to disregard it. For those that are overwhelmed by information to the point that they refuse to go through it in order to build new knowledge, one available open door is to proclaim they are old-school. They proclaim the "old way" is better, there's the "old" without the “school” like I mentioned above, while refusing to even acknowledge there can be a new way founded on "old-school" principles. These I would call “old-schoolers by default”.
Of course there is also the new-school. Among those there are the self-titled evidence-based coaches. The "evidence-based coaching" concept is based on a misconception-ridden article that, perhaps not surprisingly, is devoid of scientific proof of the premises that it states. Anyway, these "evidence-based coaches" pride themselves in the superiority of their methods, supposedly scientifically based. However, maybe one of the readers of the blog can point me to the piece of scientific work that shows evidence that athletes using means of quantifying their training load, namely through accurately measuring power during the activity, are actually faster. Faster than the “old-school” that either uses other methods to quantify training load, or even that don't use any methods at all (!). I have yet to find such scientific evidence.

Some of the best coaches I know, read about, and learn from, are old-school. Through the considerable number of years of experience, the several dozens of athletes they coached, the knowledge they acquired and transmitted, and the scientific literature they read, they chose to be old-school. By trusting and developing the tried and true methods put forth by others before them, they are able to focus on the athlete and how to apply their training methods to the specific individual. Instead of constantly trying to re-invent the wheel, they stand on the shoulders of giants and are able to look further. And that I call being old-school.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Repetition is your friend

That was my reply when an athlete I started coaching only a few weeks ago enquired why his weekly schedule was the same as last week. This might seem shocking to some, but I often prescribe the same week two, three and even four weeks in a row. And why not? Given that the adaptations to training are also a function of, among other things, the level of fatigue the athlete is experiencing, the same week is never the same week. In fact, I can think of dozens of reasons why the same week is never the same week. The same week is perhaps more difficult to accomplish the second or third time around, which might indicate that the level of training we aimed for was probably too optimistic. Or maybe the first week of a block of training was hardly challenging and then it would be foolish to repeat that week.

Repetition is also your friend as a means to challenge and motivate. Having the same workouts from week to week is an excellent way to push for improvement, instead of just wondering if improvement is happening or not. Many times an athlete will only “nail” a workout after trying that workout a second or third time, and that can be give him/her great confidence. This obviously only works when you can measure pace or power accurately, so that improvement can be unequivocally checked.

So when does repetition stop being your friend? Well, basically when it stops serving its purpose, which is to help in the adaptation to new training stimulus. The training principle of biological adaptation tells us that in order for continued improvement, the training stimulus should be changed every 6 to 8 weeks, by manipulating either volume or intensity individually, or both at the same time. So repetition stops being an athlete's friend after he/she has reached a new level of adaptation to training.

So go ahead, find a week structure that you can stick to it for some weeks straight. Every week, even if it’s the same workout, push yourself a little further, go a little harder, push the boundary a little bit. Stick to it and be patient. You will soon reap the fruits of this approach.