Pick up any running, cycling or triathlon magazine and you’re sure to come across an article that gives training and racing tips from a top pro. I get it… secretly (or not so secretly), we’d all like to see 2:10 when crossing the marathon finishing line or ascend the Tour de France climbs with the ease and speed of a pro World Tour rider.
There are a few fundamental issues with getting advice solely from professionals.
Often times, professionals recommend a training load that is incompatible with that of someone who works full-time, has a family, etc… We all know that training for endurance sports take quite a bit of time. This often means 4am wake ups to get in the requisite training volume (sound familiar IM athletes?). While not all professionals assume that everyone has all day to train, this can often be an issue when receiving training advice from pros.
STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT DATA
Unless a professional is also a coach and/or researches training studies, they often use their own training data as their primary source of advice. Look, personal experience is an important factor as a coach – as one can more easily relate to their clients and also give tid-bits of information that one only picks up through doing a sport. However, when a coach gives an athlete advice that is only based on their own personal training and most likely their own personal successes, its unlikely that all of their advice will hit the mark. Will there likely be some applicable take aways? Probably. Should you follow this advice in totality? Probably not. This is where they saying, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes” is highly applicable.
Training programs and advice should be individualized, as everyone responds differently to the same training stimuli. Therefore, the best advice should come at the intersection of personal training observations, science-based training data and historical training data (if possible) of the client. This ‘formula’ has the best chance of success.
STUDENT OF THE SPORT
The best coaches (and athletes) are students of the sport. In our humble opinion, the most important trait of a coach is to inquisitive. A great coach takes every opportunity to evaluate and learn and then apply, if applicable, to a client’s program. For example, a coach might be out for a run and they notice that when they shorten their stride and land on their midfoot, their calf muscles (soleus) begins to tighten up a little. A coach that isn’t a student of the sport may entirely dismiss this observation or equate it to their muscle being tight that day. However, a student of the sport will likely be inquisitive enough to do some research to figure out why this might have happened and most importantly, pass this information along to applicable clients if they see fit.
Lastly, professional athletes are professionals for a reason. In addition to hard work, they also chose good parents! Every athlete has different genetic strengths. For example, some naturally have great endurance while others have incredible speed. This can become an issue when a coach erroneously assumes that if something comes easy to them, it comes easy to everyone.
As professionals are typically born with a genetic edge over the rest of us mere mortals (ex: biomechanics, aerobic capacity, etc…). As such, they are often able to attain and sustain higher workloads with a decreased chance for injury as compared to non-elite athletes.
As a coach, you should always be learning and professional athletes often offer valuable advice in many different areas. However, don’t take their advice blindly and only apply the information to a clients program if you think it is truly applicable and most importantly, don’t let professionals’ advice be your sole source of training information.