Sunday, March 2, 2008

Coaching Has Changed

When I started coaching endurance athletes in 1980 training was pretty simple. It didn’t take much to be a coach. The technology consisted of a stopwatch, a telephone and a postage stamp. Everybody I coached lived within 15 miles of me. Coaching was pretty much a guessing game since there wasn’t much training data. The athletes would tell me how training had been going in our weekly conversations and from that I’d design the next weeks’ training programs and mail it to them.

In 1983 I got my first heart rate monitor, a Polar which I still have, and began to slowly figure out how to use it. By 1986 I required everyone I coached to have one. Some balked at this at first but they eventually went along with me and began to see the benefits of “high tech” training. A couple of years later I got a fax machine which made it much easier to get training programs to athletes I coached and for them to get their training logs to me. Every Monday morning my office desk would be covered with rolled-up, heat sensitive, fax paper copies of their logs for the previous week.

By 1989 my clientele began to expand outside of Northern Colorado where I lived at the time. In the early 1990s I had clients in Wyoming, Arizona, California, New York City, Florida, British Columbia, and the Cayman Islands. Communication was becoming a major issue in coaching. But fortunately, about this time email came along and athlete-coach communication improved considerably. I was still guessing at what to have the athlete do in training, though. I was only slightly more affective than I had been 10 years earlier.

In 1995 I got my first power meter—an SRM that was loaned to me for three months by Uli Schoberer, the inventor of the SRM a few years earlier. I had heard about Greg LeMond using an SRM in the last year or so of his career and I was intrigued by the concept without really knowing much about it. By the end of that summer I was thoroughly convinced that power was the future of bike training. But I couldn’t afford to buy one. Then in 1998 I got a call from a mechanical engineer in Massachusetts. He had invented something and wanted to fly to Colorado to show it to me. It was the PowerTap power meter. He gave me one of the first prototypes and so I was back to training with power again. And it’s been that way ever since.

Shortly after I began requiring all of the athletes I coached to have power meters. Some balked at it as it was too “high tech.” Most believed a heart rate monitor was all that was needed (how things had changed!). Each soon learned the benefits of training with power and became completely sold on it. Podium results have a way of doing that.

About that same time—1992, I believe—Timex, and later Garmin, came out with GPS devices for runners. The benefits of GPS were obvious once I tried it out. That soon became a requirement for my triathletes, also. But now I was becoming overwhelmed with data.

Around 2004 I found out about Cycling Peaks software (now known as WKO+™). For the first time I was able to thoroughly interpret power and heart rate data. This was based largely on the ideas of Andy Coggan, PhD, who developed the Training Stress Score (TSS) concept which allowed a much more in-depth analysis of power data. More recently running TSS has made it possible to analyze running with WKO+ the same way as with power. TSS challenged the training methodology I had been using now for 20-some years causing me to rethink, and in some cases modify, how I trained athletes and even what I thought I knew about training. The learning curve has been steep the last two years because of TSS.

My business partners and associates at are working on more technology now which will soon make me more effective as a coach and allow my athletes to race even better. The stuff they tell me they are developing is pretty exciting. I can’t wait!

Now I look back at the 1980s and wonder how I ever did it. I was shooting from the hip all the time. Back then athlete-coach proximity was the key to successful coaching. It no longer is. I don’t care where the athletes live any more so long as they speak English, are experienced and have good skills. The issue is now technology and data analysis. The more data I get from the athlete the better. Coaching has certainly changed.


At March 2, 2008 11:15 PM , Blogger Hilton Meyer said...

Would you not say that all this technology is overwhelming for the novice. Having only starting racing competitively, at 26 years old last November, I'm looking for every advantage over the more experienced riders. I bought a HR monitor, Polar CS300, and have not really understood why I laid out so much money for something that has thus far just given me little more than my zones during training. I use Weblink to download the info to the Web interface of Polar but again this gives me pretty meaningless averages and totals. I'm probably not using the HR monitor for what its worth but for the amount that I payed it doesn't even have a stopwatch/lap feature. It may also be the software that I'm using that is not showing me how the actual training went. So I would really like to know why a Power Meter would be that much more beneficial for a new competitive racer?

At March 3, 2008 5:24 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

HM--Training data becomes more important and meaningful as experience increases and performance improves. The most important thing for the novice is to get out the door and do something. Anything. Getting the intensity right is not critical to the novice's development. It is for the more advanced athlete. Good luck!

At March 3, 2008 10:04 PM , Blogger Murat Altinbasak said...

I am acquainted with a number of power meter nay-sayers [which include a few who actually own one and treat it as a toy..]
The data is fascinating, especially with WKO+.. (worth every penny) It's added a completely new element to the overall enjoyment of bike racing- that is: that measurable improvement is possible even if you DNF or finish "DFL". Every ride, every sprint, climb, "match", interval, time trial and 'ride to failure' takes on a whole new set of dimensions- kind of like looking into one of those triple mirrors at the department store.. Bottom line, it's just a heck of a lot more informative and satisfying to look at your output (watts) than look at your input. (HR)
There is one distinction that is important to make though.. Buying a power meter doesn't necessarily make a difference unless you hire a coach to tell you how to use it, or.. you read-read-read enough to be self taught [assuming you have that kind of time or patience for a trial and error approach]
I do not.

At November 24, 2008 11:38 PM , Anonymous progressive cycle coaching said...

Technology today is playing a mandatory role in every field. And When it come to Coaching, technology again plays a very useful role as it makes a coach more familiar with his strategies so that it can be plot accurately, i would say technology is overwhelming for the novice.
Number of advance equipment today has banged the market, for proper functioning of these equipment , you have to hire a coach :)


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