What is a coach anyway?

I love your podcast. So much that I repeat episodes and learn new things even from repeat listens! You are all incredible and I’m so impressed by you! Thanks for doing what you are doing!

Ok. I’ve typed and erased my question about ten times now… I’m really having trouble getting it out without sounding like a drama queen.

Let me cut to the chase… I have a private coach that I pay more than ten times the TR monthly cost for (even more than the TR annual fee is what I pay monthly)… I’d love to hear you break down coaching in general. What you think one should be getting from a coach beyond “on bike routines” day to day, and who should be paying for these outrageously expensive coaches and what value they should be getting over the TR program.

I am by no means rich… I have a goal to finish a dirty century (100 mile MTB race with 12k feet of elevation gain). My major motivation on getting a coach in the first place is because I’m SO scared to fail. It would just kill me. So much that I put training above just about everything. I work, I dad, I husband and train… but mostly i train…. I’m constantly on the bike and my paralyzing fear of failure pushes me to keep going.

I’m planning to switch to TR after my race because I’ve been going solid since November with workouts 6 days a week and want to take a big break… no… need to take a big break… the sooner the better…

I’d be happy to tell you more about me if you need it… more about my interaction with coach, if that helps…

I also think this kind of information could be useful to others.


Seems a strange question to ask a company whose (kinda) jokingly professed goal (at least by the CEO) is to make coaches obsolete. :blush:

Here’s a few cents: when you are paying a coach, you need to understand his or her coaching philosophy. What are they providing you? If it’s just a training plan, you’re right, you can find plenty of those… but what is the basis of that training plan? WHY does that coach prescribe the workouts they do at the time that they do? TrainerRoad has a training philosophy. When you pay them for a subscription to follow a plan, you’re getting a plan structured a certain way. What you get from a coach will almost certainly be different.

What are the constraints of your training? Are you time and volume limited? Do you have more time to train than you can realistically use?

The use cases for a coach vs. TR vary widely based on those constraints.

Is it your intent to blindly trust a plan? Or do you want to know why that plan will work vs. a different plan based on your constraints?

Are you needing to train specifically above FTP? Do you need to raise your VO2max? If so, when? Are you limited by it, or do you have room to grow?

These are just examples of what a good, well-educated coach should be helping you with… and educating you about. They say nothing about nutrition, race and ride execution, equipment, psychology, etc. etc. I view an outsize part of my job as a coach to teach my athletes how to train (and why that way) such that someday, they don’t need me anymore, appropriate to their specific life circumstances.

At least that’s one coach’s philosophical take on it.

A coach is not just a training plan. If your coach is, yes, odds are good you’re wasting some money (IMO). I have said before and still believe that for many people, TR is among the best values out there in cycling training.


I feel like your method of being a coach is what I was looking for when i started this journey. Mostly the why am I doing this exercise, and hopes that one day I would understand the plan and be able to make one for myself… unfortunately my coach is also an athlete and I find myself asking for feedback and even my schedule quite often…

I’m intentionally trying to be vague about what I’ve received… but I’m sure a lot of my disappointment is shining right through… could be all me though…

To answer your question, I have a “Goggins” outlook on time… there’s always time. I’ll get it done because I have a goal that needs to be met. But that could potentially interfere other things… like sleep… which effects recovery… start the snowball effect right?

Thanks for the response. Excited to see how this AI training plan works for me. My A race is in 3 weeks, but I have more long rides already planned (in October) and cross season is coming…


That’s too bad. Most of us probably still train and race (I do), but it shouldn’t be at the expense of clients. I have boundaries in terms of contact and such, as we all should, but it’s disappointing to hear you’re not on the same page. Gives all of us a “bad name”. But some coaches are doing it on the side while working another job and training. It’s tough to make a living, especially starting out… it’s practically impossible unless you’re a former elite that people are dying to be trained by.

Anyway, it would be interesting to hear Chad’s perspective, and Jonathon’s too as I think Chad did some 1:1 coaching and Jon coaches a Junior team IIRC.

Joe Friel has some excellent insights on this as well. And he invented the industry!

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I haven’t been coached on the bike, but in other sports, so take what I say with a grain of salt when it comes to cycling.

My advice is: you seem to have some reservations about your coach. IMHO I would only pay that kind of money if I were happy with the services am getting. However, if you are willing to pay that much money for a coach, there are coaches out there that are a better fit. But it doesn’t hurt if you give TrainerRoad a try. A one-year subscription for TR costs as much as one month with your current coach.

The most important aspects in a coach-athlete relationship are trust, mutual respect, coaching philosophy and educating the athlete. If I had a coach and didn’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth, I don’t think I’d employ that coach for much longer.

Without trust, the athlete might feel tempted to override a coach’s prescribed training plan or judgement. A coach should aim to educate you about the sport and yourself. Ideally, they should take what you say and be able to deduce what is actually going on. Should you work on your strengths or are some of your weaknesses limiters? Coaches should teach athletes, whether this is about your bike fit, pedaling technique, how being at the limit feels or race strategy. How and how much depends on the individual. Some athletes are very analytical, others more intuitive. Finding the right approach is key.

Then there is coaching philosophy. Some people are flexible in their approaches, others very opinionated. E. g. if I had a coach and that person prescribed me a traditional base plan for my base period, insisting this is the tried and true way, I don’t think this person would be a good fit for me. Coaches should be able to explain why they are doing something if you are skeptical or don’t understand.

Much of this cannot be replicated with a computer program. A coach might be able to gauge your stress levels and ask if something is up. Adaptive Training has no clue.

However, a few caveats: not all coaches are good coaches. Even when they are good with some people, perhaps the two of you are not a good fit. They could base your supposedly individual training plan off of a generic training plan they apply to everyone. And coaching is usually much more expensive than TR. One coach, a former pro, takes $300 per hour. Another one costs $800 per month. Yes, online coaches are cheaper and need not be any worse, but even then I reckon you should expect to $200/month or more (like you have indicated with your 10x TR comment). Even for a coach, you should think about how much time they invest and how much money they actually get. If e. g. the coach is working for a coaching service, the parent company gets a share and they might end up with 2/3 of what you pay. Say, that is $300 per month. For $200 how much time do you think they can and want to invest? If their hourly wage is $40/hour, that’s 5 hours per month.

Also, some successful pros don’t have a coach, including some Olympic medalists. So they are not necessary for you to be successful. That requires more involvement on your end, you need to be willing to invest time and effort into understanding the principles of training and tailor a program to yourself.

Coming back to TR, IMHO you should adjust your expectations. But I think that is clear when it costs 1/10th of what you are paying now. If it gives you 50 % of what a coach can at 1/10th or 1/20th of the price, do you think this is a good deal?

TR works best when you learn some of the training fundamentals, so you understand why it is doing something or why you might want to override TR’s suggestions in specific instances. TR has plenty of educational material and they try to strike a balance between being academically based, but approachable for a more general audience. There are other sources on the web, too.

TR is less smart, it doesn’t know about job or family stress, how well you have slept and why, etc. So expect it to make less smart decisions at times. On the other hand, try to give TR good signals, e. g. honest workout surveys and the like.

If you want to get the most out of TR, you will likely need to adjust a training plan yourself. E. g. you create a low-volume plan with Plan Builder and then add on e. g. endurance work or outdoor rides in addition. Plus, TR is very flexible. If you really know what you are doing, you could simply create your own training plan. TR’s huge workout library by itself is valuable IMHO. Some might dismiss it as making TR into a workout player, but who cares. TR is a tool, and it is nice that it gives you this level of flexibility.


I see a coach as almost a therapist, but who knows what you need on a bike. You talking about how much you need a break is a concern.

Every program I have followed (powerlifting and trainerroad) has breaks built it.

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What is a Coach?

My high school coach was a mentor, guide and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I needed that. He was someone who cared for me beyond the performances and stats and truly wanted the best for me (though granted we both are competitive, like winning and wanted that big performance). Even today we stay in contact and share stories. He is why I coach today.

A good coach is a guide… a rudder of the ship… someone who not only knows the science but the art. Training is more than a formula, it is knowing when the athlete can handle one more rep or they need to call it a day. It is knowing the calendar is flexible, that everyone is different and even when things go perfectly it doesn’t always work out. A good coach gives all credit to the athlete when things go right and takes all the blame when it doesn’t.

There are a lot of good coaches out there. Unfortunately there’s a lot of bad ones too. And as mentioned sometimes a great coach is not always a great fit.

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What is a coach for me?
Short answer, someone who understands me as an athletes, and uses that information to tweak, adjust and tailor the training based on where I am today, and where I want to be.

The biggest thing for me working with a coach has been all of the above, but also someone who can explain why we are doing X workout, or why its better to try X plan etc. I really enjoy learning how the training affects me, be able to discuss changes that I feel, etc.

And of course, someone who pushes me harder than I would have been able myself. And pushing someone doesn’t mean they are overloading me, just that they know what I might be capable of, and pushing me towards keeping that consistency and training mentality that is key to getting faster.

I have also created a nice personal bond with my coach which definitely helps with motivation, know that its a great and wholesome individual on the other side in TP.

Coaching in my view covers some or all of:

  • having the knowledge and experience to put together a good plan designed around you, your goals, and your strengths and limiters. This one is kind of a deal breaker!
  • providing motivation and accountability
  • bringing objectivity to adjusting the plan as you progress through it and hit all the usual peaks, troughs and bumps along the way
  • having the expertise to advise on nutrition and fuelling, equipment, fit, aero, handling, tactics, strength training, etc, and/or able to refer you to appropriate experts as necessary
  • knowledge of local races, teams, courses to help you with race selection and strategy
  • potentially having the connections to get you on the radar for pro or semi-pro teams or development squads if you’re looking to progress to the higher levels of the sport

My observation is that the people who have coaches tend to fall into 3 camps. First is those who are pretty serious about the sport, want to extract the maximum benefit from their training, and are happy to pay for the expertise to help them do that and to outsource at least some of the thinking. Second is those who struggle for motivation and to train consistently for whatever reasons and need that accountability of having a coach. Third is those who just seem happy/able to pay for a coach without necessarily asking themselves if they actually need one. That third category seems to be more of a box ticking exercise than anything else e.g. The guy who posts on Strava one day that he’s starting a recovery week and then the next day you see he’s gone and joined a group ride where he’s smashed himself to pieces with a bunch of time in every single power zone!

I don’t have a coach at the moment because I get my motivation/accountability from team mates, I have enough understanding of training and myself to take a TR plan and customise it to fit me and actually quite enjoy doing that analysis and planning myself, and I’m at a stage of life where I put a higher priority on enjoying my training and racing than from extracting as much as I can from myself. And I’ve built up a pretty good network of experts who I can turn to as needed if I need help with fit, aero, strength training, etc. TR is a great resource for me and a big help in deciding I don’t need a coach.


Maybe look at the training for coaches to see what they should be doing?


As a former world class athlete this raises some concern. If an older me could talk to a younger me I would invest some time (and perhaps coaching money) into getting a better understanding of my relationship with the fear of failing. What that means to me, and how it ultimately serves me and the people around me.

Best of luck friend. :blush:


Similarly, I listened to this podcast last week, which also includes Joe.


I had a great coach years ago. I hired him to design a plan but, more importantly adapt volume/intensity to match my schedule as it changed due to work, family, sickness. That requires knowledge about fitness, fatigue and general training principles about periodization. That’s the hard part.

I did not hire him to hold my hand with much else. Nutrition, equipment, sleep, tactics etc…while important, were things I felt I had a handle on. So, I hired someone who could fill in the areas I was weak and/or unknowledgeable at.

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I’ve never had a personal coach for cycling but in my younger days I was a fairly high-level competitive swimmer and along the way I had several professional coaches, some of them were quite accomplished having coached national level swimmers and been selected for coaching international US teams. ( and a couple who were awful). I didn’t pick any of them, they came along with the teams I was on And I certainly was hitting well over my weight in terms of the level of coaching I got given my not epic swimming performance but it gave me great window on to top level athletics.

First off, basic training is the least of what a dedicated coach brings to the table. Not that it’s not important. But, for anyone who is holding themselves out as being competent, the ability to come up with a training plan that is generally effective is just a given. The science and practice of training is really not that mysterious at this point. Anyone who wants to spend a little time studying has access to 99% of the knowledge that is out there. It should be the basic price of admission to the professional coaching ranks.

What you should be getting from a good professional coach is constant tailoring of that training plan to you individually. In swimming, you literally have a coach watching most workouts in real time and sometimes those training modifications can come moment to moment.

A good coach will also be implementing and coaching you on the ancillary activities that go along with your sport. This could include strength training, other Physio work, nutrition, the mental side of the game, etc. In college, we had a team of coaches including trainers to address injuries, a sports psychologist and a dedicated strength coach. We even had an assigned team doctor although he got the job because he was known to never give anyone permission to miss practice :slight_smile: That was a couple decades ago. Now the team has all that plus academic tutors and nutritionists working with them as well. Professional coaching is a holistic thing. Even if your basic cycling coach doesn’t come with a team, the coach should be able to address all these areas to a decent degree.

A huge part of professional coaching is both the day-to-day implementation of the training plan and all aspects of preparing for and strategizing for competition. In order to be truly successful, an athlete needs to be pushed or at least cajoled into doing slightly more than what they want to do and definitely doing things that they don’t want to do. Doing that without really pissing somebody off is an art form. With regard to competition, being mentally prepared and having a sound strategy and a toolbox of tactics and knowing how to implement them is extremely important. A good coach will spend a substantial amount of time on these issues.

At a high-end amateur level and certainly in professional levels, the coach will even take care of the logistics with regard to competition such as entering events and taking care of transportation etc. That’s a little much to expect for an amateur level coach coaching individuals but some help with these issues Or at least tips and tricks with regard to specific events you were interested in is very nice…

The biggest drawback to having a personal coach is that you are really letting someone way inside your life. That can be absolutely awesome when you click with somebody and they are a good coach generally and specifically a good coach for you. I can attest from personal experience that it absolutely sucks if the person who was coaching you it’s not somebody get along with, or worse, a total prick – don’t ask but I know :slight_smile: The skill of being good at being coached is just as important as finding a good coach. Coaching is a two-way street.

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Thats not THE training for coaches. It’s one man’s opinion and one resource. I am enjoying Friel’s work, but he doesn’t dictate what coaching is or what it should be. That’s decided between the individual athlete and the individual coach.


Unhelpful for us, and I’m not sure if your diplomatic venting of frustration is helping you all that much :thinking: Well it wouldn’t help me, so I say “just let it all out!!!”

Look, it is clear you feel that the current coach is not worth time/expense/results (you aren’t exactly clear about that).

Two options - get another coach or try something else (TR, or a training plan from a top coach).

Maybe I got lucky, my coach is awesome. Never thought I’d hire one, but honestly its made a huge difference the past 2 years. Having learned so much about myself and needs, I’d have no problem self-coaching using an off-the-shelf plans from a few top coaches.

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Does this passage mean you are paying a ‘coach’ $200 a month and this person is not delivering your daily, weekly or monthly workout schedule on a timely basis without being asked? If that is correct interpretation then I would terminate the relationship as you are not getting proper service for the fee.

As to other contact and feedback. All the good coaches I know have different programs at different price points with level of ‘touch’ spelled out upfront. That prevents misunderstandings later.

Here is an example of different plans, expectations, and a short explanation of what to expect from a coaching relationship. The coach is question here is IMO excellent and a colleague. But for this discussion am just using his link and web page as an example. (Click the “more info” hot link for more details on each “level”)


Welllll… I think I asked what a coach should be/do in the forum members minds… I also said I’d be willing to give more info on my specific experience if asked.

I won’t call them out, or the company. That’s inappropriate.

My current experiences that I’m not thrilled about:

I was scheduled for weekly calls, and I get weekly schedules.

I haven’t spoken on the phone in more than 2 weeks and more often than not I have to reach out asking if we are even doing calls anymore. This week I had to ask if I was even getting a schedule.

I asked the coach about the plan… what are we doing? It’s easier to work towards something when you know the plan… I still have yet to get one.

I’ve complete 6+ expert XC races and have received not one race recap.

Just the first couple of items on my mind.

What I am happy about:
My performance has gotten vastly better. Is it coach? Is it me? Hard to tell. I’m doing 2x the amount of riding or more than I ever have… of course I’m improving…

I haven’t gotten hurt! All that extra training, and not one injury! Nov-April I did on my own, April to now I used the coach. Still unsure it is the program or me…

Only one ftp test at the end of March. Not another one ever even though I’ve asked about it. My workouts are easy. Very easy. Even over/unders where I spend most time at threshold and vo2max. I don’t need those numbers for bragging rights, I want the checks to show improvement and put my zones in appropriate places. Not an explanation on why we are not testing and increasing numbers.

Does this help?

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There are quite a few good podcasts by reputable coaches that you can get a good idea of their coaching style just by listening to them. If you’re unsure about your current coaching relationship, and it sounds like you are, you might want to start here.

That’s a huge issue. Every coach should be very interested in how their athletes are doing in the events they are training them for and ALL good coaches are. Of course, race recaps are a fundamental coaching tool. But some sort of detailed “how’d it go?” conversation should just happen on a human interaction level, long before you even get to actual coaching. Who wants to work with, and pay, someone who can’t even fake some interest in the joint work product?