Are coaches screening their athletes?

So you’ve just found an amazing new coach! You’re pumped to get started with your new program, especially after feeling a little ‘flat’ towards the end of last season. But this year is going to be your best yet, a fresh new start, some new goals and more motivation than ever!

So how much does your new coach actually know about you? Have they taken the time to screen/evaluate how you move or function? Or are they just looking back at your Training Peaks account and basing their new programming off what you’ve done in the past?

Don’t get me wrong I’m sure that they have called you over the phone and pieced together some verbal data and hopefully they should be gathering data from your training peaks account. But have they stopped to look at how you and your body is functioning outside your swim, bike and run sets? From experience of working with a number of athletes and coaches I would say the answer is likely – no.

Whether it’s an online program or face-to-face sessions a screening process should be a priority when working with athletes. I am finding more and more athletes are on full time training programs, punching out big numbers, yet they have never been assessed physically. How can a coach prescribe any type of high intensity efforts whether its on the bike, run or swim not knowing whether that athlete should actually be doing it or not? I don’t mean the glaringly obvious injuries you may or may not have (which will likely be affecting your training anyways), but rather those hidden imbalances and weaknesses that alter the way you sit in the saddle or how your hip drops in the run. It is quite likely that you aren’t even aware of these yourself – they have become habitual and ‘it’s just the way you move.’

Its no wonder why the majority of athletes are living with constant niggles and injuries and are on first name terms with the local Osteo or chiropractor. The coach they are working with, the person who they trust simply isn’t assessing the issues that start with the athlete’s physical condition.

What is the solution you ask? Well there are a few options; the first is that your coach during their initial consultation with a new athlete should be physically screening them. For instances are they capable of performing a basic body weight squat comfortably or standing up off a chair using one leg? If they cant perform these basic fundamental movements then that should a big red flag to your coach, as it’s telling them that you have weaknesses that need to be addressed. How can a coach who knows this, then go ahead and prescribe a session of hard hill repeats, knowing that this athlete has muscular imbalances which could only exasperate lower back pain or lead to lower limb issues further down the line! Surely it’s better to get them sorted first to prevent time off later in the season. These exercises may sound simple, but give them a go and let me know what you find.

Online coaching is more common than even, removing the barrier of distance and giving us the ability to fit training into our everyday lives. So what if your coach never gets the opportunity to see you face to face to do this so called ‘screening?’ Outsourcing is the answer. By consulting a local and experienced strength trainer such as the ones you will find on the Strength For Endurance Network, you can evaluate the current state of your body and relay that information to your coach. There are so many elements to consider in endurance performance these day that ‘collaboration’ should be used to your advantage. Get the opinion from a strength and movement specialist who can then work together with your coach to implement a strength program that will run alongside your current swim, bike, run program.

The reason athletes are working inefficiently and are under performing and pulling up with regular injuries often stems from a coaches lack of education. To be fair to them, coaches with multiple athletes are commonly time poor, but the biggest issue I find is that they are too proud to ask for help. Surely if you don’t have the knowledge or time to properly evaluate your athletes you owe it to them to send them in the direction of someone who does.

Your coach may have mentioned at some point that you need to activate your glutes more, but how was this followed up?

I can promise you that supplementing your training with a strength program will be a game changer for you…it will reshape the way you look at the sport. Long gone are the days when people simply just ride longer and harder, for those of you that find ‘time’ is your most valuable commodity then start training smarter and more efficiently. Look to ensure that your body is “firing on all cylinders” before you start hammering it in the pool, on the run or on the bike.

Finally I want you to also be wary of strength/exercise professional that prescribes any type of training program without first screening you. How I start with all my clients is that every athlete should be able to complete our warm up which acts both as a early warning detection system and a movement screen. We put all our athletes through a series of movements that range from touching their toes, to supporting their own body weight on their hands or feet. Then we will ensure that they all start on a foundation level of programming, with minimal or if any weight bearing exercises. Even if they state they are competent in the movements through experience, the weights they would be using will be minimal to start. The fact is without knowing what that athlete is capable of then how can you prescribe….