With fitness apps creating tailored training schedules for a low monthly subscription fee, or instantly downloadable cycling training programmes, what’s the benefit of paying more for a personal trainer?
Training programmes you can buy cheaply and easily online and are probably appearing in your social media feed as we speak. Often designed in conjunction with world-famous pros, they can be great for beginners and for raising your general fitness and stamina. The downside to this convenience is that you’re likely to reach a plateau at about 3 months in – and that’s if you’re motivated enough to get that far.
Although the apps are structured so you can target certain fitness goals and have gamified features like points and levels to increase motivation, there’s a limit to how long most people can stick with training, let alone train at the right intensity and frequency with just an app to spur them on.
For some cyclists, especially those looking at competing, this is where a personal trainer is an investment that could pay off.
Benefit #1 Personalised programmes bring individualised results
Serious cyclists tend to be training for specific races, held on fixed dates so there are goals built in that are beyond the remit of most generic apps. Quite simply, if you’re doing the same training as thousands of other people, you can expect the same results as them on race day.
With a programme you can download online, even if it asks a lot of questions to find out details about you, it’s essentially assigning huge groups of people to the same start points. But it can’t really know where you are in your fitness and training journey, plus everyone is starting from a different place. The generic app doesn't know where you started from, so you could be on the wrong trajectory and you might never realise.
Benefit #2 Personal coaches adapt to your life
Will Harper, head coach at Duchy Cycle Coaching in Girona, says, “It’s not just that we plan a programme 100% tailored to your unique physiology, it’s that a personal coach will set the training to be full of the characteristics to mirror the characteristics of the race you’re doing.”
A trainer will also be on hand to adapt to your changing life circumstances. In fact, Will thinks that “the best training plans have to be completely adaptable – every day if necessary!”
For example if you’ve been up all night with work or a new baby, an app will set your programme as usual. In the worst-case scenario, just cracking on to get the day’s points or tick off the app goals could cause injury.
But even in the best case, you’re not going to get the results from training when you’re tired and the knock-on effects of pushing through will affect training a few days later.
A personalised coach might get you to rest that day and make adjustments to your programme another day to make up for it, saving you injury but also keeping you on track to your goal.
Benefit #3 A coach stops you overtraining
From amateur to pro, one of the most common mistakes is overtraining. Working harder and for more hours, racking up junk miles, doesn’t necessarily improve fitness or performance.
A personal coach will spot that you’re tired, often before you realise it yourself. It’s a scenario Will has seen a lot. “The kind of subtle fatigue that creeps up on you and makes you lose perspective on what it feels like to be rested causes riders to make bad decisions because they’re tired and it becomes a vicious circle.”
A coach, on the other hand, is emotionally detached so can detect when a client is tired. The first step a good coach will take might be counterintuitive: they’ll reduce your training volume.
Benefit #4 A personal coach works on mindset
The key to getting from a good level to a high level, especially to competing, in cycling – or any sport – is mind not just body.
“It's invaluable to have someone to call when you have the jitters the night before a race,” says Will. “Or maybe you have a niggling injury that resurfaces at the last minute, you just can’t beat a qualified professional who knows you. Having someone to reassure you can make or break the event.”
As well as giving you expert advice and reassurance, having a mentor to call and talk to can save you the fatigue that comes from being up all night with worries magnifying themselves in your head.
So although there is an obvious price difference between a 12€ monthly app subscription and a personalised coach, there might come a time in your cycling career where the investment pays off.