Saturday, December 7th, 2019

Personal Cycle Coaching Review

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RichardSimmonds

Richard Simmonds

At the beginning of 2009 I was pretty much mush when it came to my physical condition. I had let myself go mostly out of laziness and ‘lack of time’, but really it was just that getting to the gym was kind of a pain, and winter had grabbed a hold of me. I had cycled most of the summer of 2008, but around November I kind of started drifting. I was never any good, but I enjoyed putzing around on my bike.

So, in 2009, I started the formal series of heart rate monitor reviews, with each review exploring the latest technologies to aid you to improve singlehandedly (albeit it, with the help of a computer, watch or otherwise). Throughout the year I’ve gone through quite a few devices, not all which I reviewed, but for the most part, I reviewed the major ones that helped someone start from scratch and someone that did not necessarily have the means to have a personal trainer or coach.

Having navigated from an overuse injury earlier in the year (before I reviewed some of the virtual coach software), by September, I could safely say that I was ‘in shape’ or at least as fit as I had been in the summer of 2008. However, I was still getting dropped by my fellow slow-group London Dynamo teammates. It was both frustrating and confusing as I was ‘trying my best’ when it came to my training. Purchasing a turbo trainer earlier in the year helped a whole bunch in terms of reducing the surprise ‘weekend warrior’ load on my body that not training during the week caused (part of the reason for my overuse injury earlier in the year), but it had not been enough.

I needed to try ‘the next step’. Recruiting a cycling coach. In this case, it was Richard Simmonds of PCC. Being the official ‘coach’ of London Dynamo made my search job easier, although I did consider a few notable others (Ruth Eyles, Gary Palmer, Carmichael, etc). Richard was very patient during my consideration process. I had tons of questions for him.. mostly because I didn’t understand what in the world he would do… would he cycle behind me yelling at me like a drill sergeant or would he simply be a no-name coach behind an email address? Having never had a coach, I was not sure what to expect. Adding to my anxiety was the concern that I’d have to buy a power meter in order to train with a coach.

Power meters are considered to be the best way to train (if you can afford them) for they provide a non-variable measure of your performance regardless of how you ‘feel’. Unfortunately, heart rate, although perfectly usable for training, can vary depending on whether you are sick, tired, or just anxious, thus power, measured in watts (think pedaling to power a light bulb) is more constant. You are either pushing the watts or not. Also, your heart rate can lag when you exert yourself.. try running a sprint when you’re cold, you are exerting yourself, but only after a bit will your heart rate catch up. In spite of its benefits though, the cheapest power meter I found (that was consistently well reviewed) was the CycleOps PowerTap (roughly $800) which goes within your bike wheel (hub) and that involved replacing my nice wheels. The best power platform, the SRM cranks, were almost twice as expensive… thankfully, although he does recommend it as the best way of training, Richard said that it is perfectly possible to train in a time effective way without power.

The next thing that I was wondering, after having read Joe Friel‘s Cycling Bible (I highly recommend the book before you hire a coach so you can understand what coaches are trying to do for you) was how Richard would organize a training plan for me. Most plans nowadays are perioditized. This means that you aren’t training for a race every month, you train for your key events and then the rest of the year you are either building up to those events or you are recovering from them and reading yourself for next year’s. This new format allows your body to recover and for your performance to improve (as opposed to just training hard non-stop). However, the process of dividing your year into key dates and then backtracking into some sort of schedule is beyond me. Sites such as trainingpeaks.com try and do that for you to some extent, but I just found the whole thing rather tedious.

Luckily, Richard had a process for this. He basically sat me down after I decided to take the leap of faith and walked me through what I wanted to accomplish (or thought I wanted to accomplish). When we were done with the interview, Richard asked if I could send him the file that I had mentioned I had received from my lab test as well as files from my previous workouts (he uses the WKO+ software, so all my previous files were supported). Richard took about 5 days to go through all of the information which I gave him and he sent me a new plan in Excel for the month. For the record, I requested Richard’s ‘middle plan’ since I wasn’t cool enough for the ‘high plan’ and the ‘low plan’ didn’t have enough macho factor.

This is the key way that Richard sends you information. He provided me with a month’s  worth of workouts. Each day either stated something like ‘Turbo Session 2’ or ‘Rest’ or ‘Saturday Ride with Team’ or ‘Slow Steady ride 4 hour ride’. These shorthand notations were explained further by another set of excel files which defined them. Specifically, he sent me an excel file for the month’s plan, another one that defined all the turbo sessions he uses, a doc about training in the winter which allows you to look up substitute exercises when the weather is bad, a doc about weight training, and a doc which defined the level of exertion (heart rate zones) he would use in his shorthand.

For example, within the turbo session excel sheet, turbo session 2 had a series of 3 minute intervals with variations in gear ratios, cadence, and expected heart rate. By monitoring my heart rate monitor and cyclocomputer, I would work my way through the peaks and valleys of the session. Other sessions, such as the more ambiguous ‘slow and steady ride’ were explained as trying to keep your heart rate below a specific zone. Whenever I ran into problems, I was easily able to reach Richard for an explanation. He’s obviously as available as can be expected during working hours, but I didn’t dare call him after hours at the risk of having him assign me some ridiculous workout that would kill me.

In addition to the series of Excel documents Richard wanted to go for a ride around the park to see if I had any cycling anomalies (bike fit, cadence issues, posture, etc) as part of my pre-planning assessment. I went out for a 2 hour ride with him one early Saturday morning and was surprised to hear that my form wasn’t the problem. Apparently all that reading (and the bike fitting) did teach me something after all. However, it was clear to him that I needed to work on spinning more up the hills.

I’m now two months into my training program. Throughout these two months I’ve had various program alterations to fit my schedule, but in spite of that, do feel a substantial improvement to my form. I still get dropped on my Saturday rides, but at least now it is by a faster group. In part, I will admit the progress is due to the discipline that having someone looking after you creates, but the more time-efficient way of training a coach brings has also had an impact. Richard’s programs are about training smarter and getting the most out of your time. They will require your dedication, no doubt about it… but you will reap the rewards.

Would I recommend a coach to a complete beginner? I think I would.. It would surely save a lot of time and research, but I would only encourage a determined beginner to take the commitment. Additionally, I would discourage anyone with crazy schedules and no turbo trainer since I just can’t see how you could fulfill the requirements set for by a coach.

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