Often, the athlete is faced with the question of whether to follow a training plan or hire a coach. This is a broad overview of following a training plan and hiring a coach as well as an outline of the benefits and drawbacks of each.
To begin training plans are not coaching and athletes following a training plan must understand that they are not being coached by a professional. However, most triathlon and endurance coaching companies offer training plans. There are some benefits of training plans:
- Less expensive than customized coaching
- Provide guidance for new athletes as well as those athletes that cannot or choose not to invest in coaching
- Usually will result in improved performance when compared to unstructured training
There are, however, some drawbacks of training plans:
- Assume you are equally talented in all disciplines (most plans)
- Ignore the uniqueness of the individual athlete
- Do not take into account that an athlete will have a sick day, an injury, an emergency, family trip, or any other reason for missing workouts
- No accountability
Each individual athlete responds to training stress differently.
So why are training plans inferior to individualized coaching? A training plan will often consist of a large amount of the training to be on the bike. The reason being that the bike leg is takes up the largest amount of time in the triathlon. However, this doesn’t do the athlete justice if the athlete already has a strong cycling background and is a rather weak swimmer.
Additionally, it is not uncommon for an athlete to have a physiological/performance limiter within a discipline. The athlete may be a relatively weak runner compared to cycling, but the specific weakness may be the aerobic capacity of the athlete and not the lactate threshold of the athlete. So now an athlete would need to (1) identify the very specific limiter within the sport and not just the discipline itself, (2) find a training plan that addresses the weak discipline as well as the limiter within that discipline, and (3) have the training plan structured in such a way so that it switches emphasis when the discipline is no longer the limiter (which is impossible to know ahead of time).
Training plans fall short also when training day(s) are missed unexpectedly. If an athlete misses a day or several days, most often they “double up” the next day, when, in many cases, that does not benefit the athlete. On the flip side, the athlete continues to push through workouts while sick or injured and only exacerbates the issue.
Now let’s discuss individualized coaching. The benefits of coaching are:
- Training zones can be adjusted as improvements are shown
- Designed for the individual athlete and the individual athlete’s unique physiology, schedule, and goals
- Training can be adjusted moving forward to take into account any injury, illness, or otherwise missed training
- Accountability to one specific person
The drawbacks of coaching are:
- Significantly more expensive than training plans
- Requires detailed feedback from the athlete on how the workouts went
- Requires the athletes to be committed and complete the workouts as prescribed
Customized coaching will provide better results than following a training plan because it is designed for the individual athlete. Constant monitoring of the athlete’s progress and setbacks and adjusting the training accordingly is the reason why more athletes have better performance results than following a generic training program. This includes customizing the training based on test sets, progress as observed via training logs (pace, heart rate and/or power wattage), and the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.
Every athlete responds and recovers differently to training stress. There are many factors to take into consideration: age, fitness level, goals, training load, work schedule, stress level, etc. A coach will write training based on how the individual athlete is responding to training while taking into account the individual stress factors of the athlete.
Injury management is also why hiring a coach is more beneficial than using a standardized training plan. A coach can adjust training if an athlete develops an injury such as a sore shoulder or foot. This is when a coach might switch one activity that seems to aggravate the injury for another sport-specific exercise while the athlete can work with a doctor and/or PT on how to relieve the problem.
There is a major difference between hiring someone to provide a training plan and hiring someone to be your coach. The major drawback to training plans is the belief that “one plan fits all” while the major drawback to coaching is the cost. Coaching does cost more than training plans, but in essence, “you get what you pay for.” The main difference between having a coach and following a training plan is that a coach can edit/modify/adjust training plans as the athlete evolves and becomes stronger (as well as provide ways to scale during illness or injury). The major benefit of using a training plan is the low cost. There are numerous free training plans for essentially any type of race or race distance available online.
Training plans are not “bad” but they should not be used or expected to provide similar results as following the guidance of a knowledgeable coach.
Train Smart – Tri Smart!