My Remote Training Journey (so far)…
I’ve been working full-time in fitness since the year 2000 and in professional sport since 2003. That’s a long time to learn from the many mistakes I’ve made and to have had the fortune to have worked with clients and athletes with a diversity of needs and backgrounds.
This journey has placed me in situations where I’ve needed to assist athletes to lose weight, gain weight, improve strength, power, speed, and aerobic capacity, overcome a variety of disabilities, illnesses and injuries and so much more!! Some athletes have had the luxury of state-of-the-art gym equipment in purpose-built facilities and others have had no equipment and have trained in their bedrooms.
But since I left my role at British Cycling at the end of 2017, I’ve focussed much more on online coaching. There are two main reasons for this:
#1. It’s More Convenient for my Clients and for Me!
Traditionally, the busier I became, the fewer openings I would have available to coach my clients in person. This meant clients were limited to inconvenient session times I was working anti-social hours trying to keep my business afloat.
This is no good for anyone!
Remote training allows me to write programs for you during normal office hours (I’m blessed to have a smart little office where I can merrily tap away on my keyboard), but more importantly, it allows my online coaching clients to train whenever suits them the best. They no longer have to book appointments…just do the work and I can review and feedback.
#2. I Can Serve More Riders, No Matter Where They Are.
Probably the greatest advantage to me and to all the riders I coach is that it doesn’t matter where either of us are based. When you are no longer tied to the local vicinity of your coach, you can be anywhere in the world.
In the last 5-years, despite being based in the northwest of England, I’ve had the fortune to coach cyclists (and triathletes) from Mexico, Columbia, the United States and New Zealand. Not to mention other parts of the UK, like Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and the Midlands.
All of these riders made amazing progress despite being hundreds or even thousands of miles away and in completely different time zones.
None of this would have been possible without remote coaching!
Nevertheless, the transition to remote coaching has been a work in progress and I have learned a few key points along the way that have made the difference between my programs being “meh” and my programs being “wow”!! Taking note of feedback from all my online clients has definitely improved my effectiveness as an online strength coach for cyclists!
Here are the top 3 things I consider when coaching cyclists online. Let’s dive in…
The Top 3 Things I Consider when Programming for my Online Clients.
#1. Strength Training Doesn’t Come First.
As a strength coach, it’s all too easy to get carried away focussing on how much my athletes can lift, or how many reps they can do. But it’s important to understand that my work merely supports their real purpose, which is going faster, getting injured less and enjoying their riding more.
Because of this, their on-bike work usually takes precedence and I might have to swallow the fact that, after spending hours crafting the perfect session plan, it’s just not the right time for that athlete and it’s better for them to recover instead.
For the riders I coach who actively compete, there’s the added benefit of being able to taper for a competition or important ride, or simply plan a 10-minute flexibility session. Working with professional riders has taught me that a “little and often” approach works wonders over the long-term and programming short sessions remotely is a perfect solution to this.
For my other non-competing (yet still very competitive) riders, the emphasis of sessions will still fluctuate over the year. Naturally, there will be fewer sessions in the warmer, summer months as riding time increases and the opposite will be true as we endure our dark, cold winters. For the same price, my riders get exactly what they need, when they need it and are not tied to paying by the hour.
#2. Regular Feedback and Accountability.
Successful online coaching relies on trust, honesty and a good working relationship and that cannot happen without regular feedback and accountability in both directions.
The app I use for my remote coaching is called TrainHeroic and this allows several methods of communication between myself and the riders I coach.
As you work through your session, you will be prompted to fill out what you are doing along the way (you may even be set target loads to lift). You’ll also be asked how you’re feeling on that day, as well as how hard you thought the session was.
As an online coach, this is all important information that lets me make informed decisions about how hard to push and when to take a break.
Session & Exercise Comments.
At the end of each session, you’ll also have the opportunity to add some comments about it. Was the session too hard or too easy? Are there things in there you don’t like? Is there anything you’d like to add in?
It’s kind of like a training diary and you can look back at past sessions to see how you were feeling then and the kinds of things you were concentrating on. For me, the athletes who use this feature the most are the ones who progress the fastest.
If you’d like to be even more granular, you can add similar comments to each and every exercise in your training plan. So, if you feel you need to work on your ankle mobility to squat better, or whether you just weren’t feeling it on that day, you can let me know.
I can reply to these comments and give you more advice if needed.
Finally, there is the inbuilt messaging service within TrainHeroic, called TH Chat. This can simply be a way of contacting me to give feedback or ask questions, but I also encourage riders to send me videos of themselves performing the exercises, so I can give them a critique of their technique and a few pointers to improve.
I also like to give a regular snapshot of their performance data, as well as screenshares of their upcoming training phases.
For me, these three methods allow two-way communication, which keeps us heading in the same direction and keeps my athletes doing the work they need to do when they need to do it.
#3. Keeping It Simple.
There are about as many different ways of training as there are coaches, but one thing is for sure. If I confuse my clients, they’ll be switched off, uninterested and will eventually either get injured or just lose interest.
That’s no good for anyone, so I’ve most definitely worked out it’s far better to keep people engaged by keeping things as simple as possible. And you know what? The simpler my programs have become, the more buy-in and the better the performances of each and every client who’s done them.
Here’s how I’ve simplified things:
Focus on One Thing at a Time.
Physical training can be confusing at the best of times and for people who are already combining two different kinds of training (aerobic on-bike training and strength training), if you throw other things into the mix, then it’s too common for no actual progress to take place.
In general, the vast majority of people I coach need two things:
- To have more mobile joints. This improves resiliency against injury and makes all training much safer.
- To be stronger. Strength is the mother of all other physical qualities, so by becoming stronger, you improve everything else too!
Because of diminishing returns, it’s still important to have some variety in the programming, which is why I typically cycle between three phases of training:
- Volume. Lifting the same weight for more reps. This is a great time to concentrate on technique.
- Density. Completing more work in less time. Of the three phases, this is the least important.
- Intensity. Lifting heavier weights. Challenging the work of the previous phases.
We then start again, but with a slightly lower volume and slightly higher intensity than in the previous cycle.
This keeps things simple. Athletes know what they are working on and why they are working on it. It doesn’t make for a great social media post, but this is how you get stronger and better consistently, without getting injured!!
So, I know from experience that my remote clients have two options when it comes to completing their strength training sessions online. The first is to train from home; some of my clients are fortunate enough to have invested in their own equipment, but many are very limited. The other option is to go to a commercial gym (the pay-as-you-go 24/7 style gyms are perfect for this).
Either way, it’s very important that I consider this when designing sessions for them.
If I plan an array of exercises that use a wide variety of different gym equipment, it will be awkward, time-consuming or simply impossible to complete.
With that in mind, I make sure that my sessions only use a small amount of equipment, which remains consistent through their program (that way, if they want to invest in gym kit, they know it’ll be used regularly). Typically, sessions will only need:
- Bar and collars. These are preferable to dumbbells as they are more versatile and allow smaller increases in weight.
- Bench. Very useful for loads of exercises, stretches and just to sit on between sets!
- Resistance bands. I recommend multiple light bands rather than buying bands of different sizes. It’s much more versatile that way.
- *Discs. Only necessary if also using a bar. These can be added to as the athlete gets better.
- *Squat Stands. Only necessary if also using a bar. Allows for easy placing of the bar on the shoulders.
Remote strength coaching is a fantastic option for those people who need the flexibility in time, location and training content that it provides, but that comes with the need to be pretty self-reliant and to have a quality working relationship with your coach. It’s a different way of working as your coach will not be there in person to cue each movement as it happens, so it’s for people who are comfortable taking things slowly and/or have some experience.
Whatsmore, it allows for session fluctuations around the stage of the season and your cycling plan. Tapering down for competition and assistance sessions, such as specific mobility, recovery and regeneration sessions can be added in for you, whereas they may be impractical to do face-to-face with a coach.TrainHeroic, the platform I use is an amazing resource when it comes to programming remotely as it allows for various methods of communication, which therefore leads to improved feedback and accountability.
To minimise the things they need to concentrate on, especially in-season, I make sure to keep things as simple as possible. This included having consistency in the training aims of each session (with some variety at appropriate times), as well as only using a small amount of equipment.
As an online strength coach, I find working remotely with clients both fun and challenging in a completely different way from coaching people in person. It requires me to think ahead and be much better at communicating and I look forward to expanding my remote services as I continue to learn as I get feedback from my existing clients.