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February 14, 2011 | Triathlon Training Blog

The Real Deal with Training Plans

Surely, by now most triathletes have picked at least one race for their upcoming triathlon season.

The longer the race, the more critical a training plan becomes. Training plans are offered by well-respected coaches online, including those posted on the USAT coach’s forum. Some are free of charge and almost all will cost a lot less than what you would pay for individualized coaching.

One caveat, though: A good number of these training plans, including those written by renowned coaches, promise you a “customized plan.”

In my experience though, you get what you pay for.

Unless the online coach asks you a lot of questions upfront, gets back to you in a reasonable time frame after establishing a first contact, is willing to test your fitness and reevaluate it and your health status on a regular basis, and takes the time to get to know you, your plan may not be as tailored as you’d like.

Here is a list of questions I would consider pivotal for creating a truly customized plan:

  • What is your experience in training athletes of a certain age? (At age 44, I’m learning that I need a lot more recovery time after high-intensity workouts and high volume weeks than in my 30s or 20s, and I would want my coach to have a good understanding of the exercise science behind that).
  • Will you help me work on my strengths and weaknesses, and how will you address both?
  • What is your training philosophy (High intensity vs. volume vs. recovery times, etc.)?
  • How will you assess my progress in fitness, fatigue and need for recovery?
  • Will you do fitness tests upfront, ask me to download data from a Powermeter or Garmin (how will you assess my fitness level and progress)?
  • Do you track clients by computerized data and how important are those to monitor a client’s progress etc.? (Considering that certain gadgets, such as a Powermeter cost $1,000 and more; a heart rate monitor comes a lot cheaper).
  • Do you use a computerized formula to create training plans based on the days and times a client can swim/bike/run, and if so, are you able and willing to adjust that plan? (Life changes, which needs to be reflected in your plan).
  • How will you communicate with me? Will I only have email access? Will I able to talk to you by phone? How often will we be able to communicate a week? (I found that most basic plans include unlimited emailing, but for a customized plan I would think it’s important to talk to your coach on the phone).
  • Will you consider the hours I have available during the day to fit in my workouts? (That’s not always a given with computerized programs. I once had a 3-hour bike ride on my training plan for a Tuesday followed by a run—not likely with my full-time work schedule).
  • Will you help me figure out my nutritional needs? (This comes into play during longer distance races)
  • Will you discuss race strategy with me?
  • How many clients do you have? (More clients means less time for you).
  • Is there a minimum time of commitment (Granted, even the best coaches will need time to get a feel how your body responds to their plan)?

That said, many basic online training programs offer valuable guidance with coaches that can motivate and support you and provide the accountability you need to carry you through your hard training weeks and to a successful finish.

But if you want a truly customized plan, I would suggest asking a lot of questions upfront, so there are no surprises after you sign up.

Joe Friel authored a series of books that are insightful and valuable for people who are just getting into the sport as well as advanced triathletes and include training plans.

I’d like to hear about your experience with online training plans and whether you agree or disagree with my findings.


By Marion Webb
Marion Webb

Marion Webb is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Webb has worked as a longtime award-winning business journalist, covering fitness, small business, health care and biotech issues. A competitive age-group triathlete and two-time ITU Long Distance World Championship qualifier, Webb competes mostly in the Half Ironman (70.3 miles) and (140.6 miles) Ironman distances.

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