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Choosing your experts

by Carl Brewer last modified 2010-04-03 21:44

Who do you trust?

A coach isn't supposed to know everything.  We're supposed to be able to refer people to experts or chase up things ourselves for our riders though, so when we get stuck we can find out from the experts on a particular subject.  For example strength training or diet etc.

When I was at Uni (waaaayyy back in 1989 or so) I studied Engineering (chemical) - I was a DNF, but I did still learn a few things.  They had us do a unit of materials science, not because we were going to be civil or mechanical engineers, but because they wanted us to be able to ask the right questions and to spot the obvious stuff-ups that happen all the time.  One of the things we learned (if we were paying attention) from that was how to choose your team, how to pick the right experts.

This is a tricky thing, it's hard enough in the hard sciences but in the wishy-washy worlds of exercise science and nutrition and strength training where it's generous to even call them sciences in some cases, how do you pick your team?  Who do you refer to when there's no clear truths?

An example, strength training.   There's as many ways to do it as you can think of.  What do the top teams do?  Is what the top squads do relevant to novice or intermediate development?   Remember that at the top level the athletes are already bloody strong or they wouldn't be at that level.  I know of at least three different schools of thought with regards to strength work for sprinters.   There's the Craig Colduck "match the training in the gym to the bike riding as much as possible" approach where they use a lot of ballistic leg presses to try and duplicate the joint angles used in a pedal stroke, there's the John Beasley/Apollo's Gym "build strength and power in the gym, then train the body to use it on the bike" where they use a lot of the Westside gym methods (excluding the doping that Westside is using) and there's other approaches that say just use the gym for hypertrophy and do all power work on the bike (for example Paul Parker from Cycle Finesse is of this school of thought).  There's others, there's many other schools of thought and that's just at the high level.  Once you get into the details of rep ranges, exercise selections and timing and so on it gets amazingly fractured.  There really isn't a one best way to do it, although there probably is, but there's no concensus even amongst the experts as to what it is.

So how do you pick your strength coach?

I'd suggest going through an interview process.    Before you sign up to anything, have a sit down with the coach and ask them a lot of hard questions.  Ask them about the different ways of training, ask them about the effects of different rep and rest combinations, ask them about isolation and full body exercises and why they recommend one against the other.   Ask them about injury risks and injury management, ask about progression from novice to intermediate and advanced strength training. Ask about integration of strength work with your sport.  Always ask why and how for everything.  If they can't give you a well-reasoned argument that they can explain to you in terms you can understand, move on ... Be especially wary of coaches that are certain of things.  There's always doubt and uncertainty in athletic training, anyone who claims otherwise has stopped learning.

Do the same with dieticians.  Ask them about what their take  is on the food pyramid, on the material presented by Gary Taubes, Atkins and so on.  Just because someone spent a few years at university and has a bit of paper doesn't mean that they're competent and up to date.  I've done enough technical interviews with graduates in my IT career to know that a qualification is only one small part of the puzzle.

Do the same with cycling coaches too!  If you want a coach to help you ride and race, don't just go and sign up with the first one you find.  Interview us, find out our training philosophies and ask us hard questions.  Always ask lots of hard questions and don't be satisfied with "that's just how we do it" answers.  Be skeptical, demand high quality answers.  There's only one of you and you want to get the best you can find to be part of your team.


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