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Coaching Considerations & Building a Baseline

Regular readers of my blog will know that many of my posts come out of conversations earlier in the day (or week) with some of my clients. This post is one of those, except the question asked comes from my sister who is a trained journalist, photographer and is just returning to cycling after a lay off, I’m helping her via my online service

As you’d expect from a journalist, when she send in her log sheets each week with questions and comments, there’s some bloody good questions.

This one I particularly liked because it caught me out as using unclear language, or at least language that wouldn’t be familiar to a non fitness pro. The following is the email conversation (well, the relevant part)

Me (answering a previous question) – Good. Ride at a consistent rate that is no more than 80% of your maximum, this will develop your baseline fitness while not stressing you so much to require extended periods of recovery. Frequency is the key to endurance yet frequent sessions can only be achieved if your able to recover from them. Once a good baseline is set, we can look at varying intensity/duration/distance etc.

KezNow, this is something I’ve never got. I don’t know what 80% of my maximum is, I just ride to the best of my current ability. I go to fast, get tired, slow down, carry on. I keep going until I feel physically, and often mentally, that I’ve had enough for that ride. I need to learn consistency, so when I start to really increase the mileage I am consistent in how I ride – that wins though. I’m learning from how Bradley Wiggins rides – this is what he does, obviously a lot faster. I think technique plays a part in this as well. I have found, so far, that I think I recover well. I don’t know how to find my baseline fitness or what it is really. I’m an amateur here just trying my best. Ahem, sorry, I get a little bit frustrated. When I did some stuff with a cycling coach online he used to say the same and it meant nothing to me them. No-one can actually explain it to me and I don’t know why.

MeThe baseline. What is it and why is it important? The baseline fitness is the minimum level of fitness required to do your task. It is a vague term because it is specific to both the task and the individual. For example, I deal with “general fitness” mainly. A good baseline for a beginner would be: 2min Plank, 5 full Pull Ups, 25 Full Push Ups, 50 full squats, run 10km in less than 1hr. For a person to qualify as “generally fit” they must meet this baseline and more importantly be able to do any/all of that on any given day. For my athletic guys the baseline is different as it will be more specific to their sport. Baseline for my Kettlebell lifting athletes is to snatch a bell for 8 minutes with only one hand change. Anyone looking to add plyometric training must achieve a baseline of strength (1 full barbell squat loaded with bodyweight) Yours is cycling related so you must decide on a baseline most suited to your current needs. The 6 mile track session could be it. Once you are at a state of fitness where you can get round the track comfortably and are able to do that ON ANY GIVEN DAY, regardless of what else has happened that day/week, then you have achieved a decent baseline. Baseline fitness is a sign that your body is capable and ready to start pushing. It means that technically you are proficient, your muscular strength is developed, your cardio vascular efficiency is adequate and your facial network (tendons/ligaments etc) is going to hold you together. It is often recommended that a person spends in the region of three months developing the baseline, that essentially means boring repetition until the baseline is not only achieved but becomes boring.

This explanation seemed to satisfy, even thought reading it back again I maybe could have been clearer still.

As a coach it is my duty to ensure that my clients fully understand what they are doing. Now there’s no need for them to know about sliding filament theory or muscle insertion points, but they do need to understand the hows and why’s of what I ask them to do.

We are communicators, we are teachers, we are leaders. If our clients/students can’t understand what we are saying to them it is our failing not theirs. One of the reasons we don’t use titles at Wild Geese, even in the martial arts classes, is that we recognise that our field of expertise is quite narrow. I may have a student call me Sensei, Sifu or Coach, all titles I may have earned over the years, but when they do I point out that they have the same right to the titles that I do. After all, what do I know about type setting, or developing film, yet my sister can do these things in her sleep.

So today’s post is a bit of a ramble but to wrap it up in some tidy fashion we have learned:

  1. The fancy terminology we throw around thinking we’re looking and sounding cool is USELESS unless we can actually explain it to someone who may not know about anatomy, physiology and program design, but most likely knows a lot about shit we don’t understand!

  2. Baseline fitness is such a term but it is more important to program it and develop it rather than talk about it.



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