Getting started with training with a coach can be a daunting endeavor for some. There are many coaching options available and sorting through them can take a fair amount of time. Rather than a normal feature article, this one tackles some of the most common questions new athletes raise and helps demystify the process.
1. What should I look for in a coaching service? Start by identifying a coaching service with a solid reputation. Ask your friends and training partners about their experiences and then do some of your own research based on their suggestions. Coach-athlete rapport is a close second to reputation. The best coach can’t help you if you don’t get along and trust each other. Are you looking for a cheerleader, a technical expert, someone with lots of racing credentials? The appropriate coach’s background should be able to accommodate these needs. Remember that high-level athletic achievement does not necessarily qualify someone as a good coach, and just because someone hasn’t competed in or scored highly in a given sport, that doesn’t necessarily disqualify them from successfully coaching it either. A final consideration should be the type and amount of communication you desire from your coach. Some services are online only; others include phone and/or face-to-face interaction.
2. How much improvement can I expect? This is the answer every athlete wants and the one every coach is ill-prepared to provide. Quite simply, everyone will respond differently based on their age, genetics and training background. In general, those who are untrained or who have had an extended break in their training will see rapid gains in the first few months of training, followed by a reduced rate of improvement before reaching a bit of a plateau. Experienced athletes who are already training consistently will likely see smaller rates of improvement, but the gains they make may be worth more to them in terms of performance results. Younger athletes will also tend to respond better than older athletes do, yet there is an exception to every rule.
3. My life is very busy. How much time will I need to train? This really depends on your goals. Triathletes will often need to find more time to train than single-sport athletes because of the demands of three sports. In most cases, the minimum amount of training time required to see some significant progress is about 5-6 hours/week. This may be sufficient for the shortest-duration goals, but will probably leave some energy systems lacking for longer events. Athletes who can commit to regularly training 8-10 hours per week in most normal weeks, along with occasional heavier weeks of 15-20 hours, should be able to develop the fitness necessary to successfully complete most events on the endurance sports spectrum. If you find your time more limited, it may be necessary to adjust your goal events or your performance expectations to more realistically match your available training time.
4. Should I get in shape first or jump right into a training class? Cycling and swimming are both low-impact training activities and the body normally responds well to increases in low-intensity volume. A good rule of thumb here is to add 10% to your total training volume each week until you reach your maximum available training time. Avoiding some intensity may not be a bad idea at first, but the nice thing about Vision Quest indoor training classes is that the workload is adjusted for each person’s fitness and progresses with you as you get stronger. Because swimming is a very technical sport, a private lesson early in your training so you begin exercising with proper technique is a great idea. Running should be approached more cautiously because of the higher impact and risk of injury if you progress too quickly. Short, frequent, easy sessions will help to build durability and minimize the chance of injury. Run intensity should be avoided for the first 8-12 weeks, and maybe even longer for those athletes with goals that won’t require them to run very “fast”.
5. Should I train on my own or with a group? This is ultimately an individual decision that depends on your training mentality and the nature of your goals. Working out with a group can be motivating and helps the time to pass faster. Some group workouts can also help you work harder than you might be able alone. But if you’re a time-trialist or triathlete, your racing efforts will be solo, so it’s important not to spend too much time training with the group and avoid addressing your personal energy systems and training needs.
6. Do I really need a specific goal if I’m just getting started? Having an objective, time-bound goal has been shown repeatedly to improve adherence to a training plan. Goals like “keeping up” or “losing weight” are great, but shouldn’t be primary objectives because there is just too much wiggle room. An objective goal is motivating and helps lend direction to your training. All goals should be challenging, yet achievable. Your first goals may be less specific and should be focused more on completion than competition. As your fitness grows, so will the nature of your goals. Previous experience will allow you to better define what you want to achieve as well as help you to determine what is realistically possible. For example, in your first year, you may say, “I want to complete the Racine 70.3 race in less than 6 hours.” In the second year, that goal may have evolved to, “I want to complete the Racine 70.3 in less than 5:30 and finish in the top 10% of my age group”.