How to Train Like an Elite 2020


Could you sign up for an online coaching plan from a pro athlete to help fast-track your performance? H&F investigates…

Every great athlete is a great coach, but hiring a sports expert is a luxury many think they can’t afford. Instead, everyday exercisers turn to the next best thing – books or guides to help them design and implement proper training. Some even have a local club coach, who they train with as part of a group. The problem? These methods are missing one key ingredient – personalized training, or workouts designed especially for you, your goals, your time and your skills.


For years, a one-to-one coach has come with a hefty price tag, but modern technology is making individualized coaching services accessible to mere mortals. How? By enabling expert coaches to train people remotely via the internet. In the past decade, online coaching has proliferated, and now a new wave of instructors is taking over the industry – elite athletes turned online coaches. For a small fee, you could have a professional sportsperson provide you with a personalized program, moral support, and expert feedback, but do you need it?


Having this kind of coaching is useful for anyone, whether you want to run your first park run or podium at an Ironman triathlon.

Research from the University of California Los Angeles backs this: compared to self-trained fitness fans, those with an expert instructor boasted more lean body mass, higher VO2 max levels, greater strength and enhanced muscle power.

So, why choose an online coach? Because the person who has the specific experience to guide you to your goal may not live around the corner – they might be an ex-athlete who resides on the other side of the country. You might also have family or work commitments that prevent you from training with a local coach. ‘Often, coached club sessions are very rigid – every Tuesday and Thursday evening, for example – so online coaching enables you to have more flexibility,’

explains Jonny Mellor, international long-distance runner, and owner of JM Coaching. ‘Coached group sessions can be based around the ability of the whole group; online coaching is more personal.’


Some coaches offer consultations, calls and GPS data analysis; others offer a training plan and minimal support. Do your research and consider what you require and what your budget is. ‘If you want a personalized plan with occasional feedback, it’ll be a lot cheaper than having one with weekly phone calls,’ says Mellor. As a rule of thumb, the more one-to-one time you get, the more you’ll pay. Fortunately, you won’t necessarily have to pay a premium for a pro-athlete coach, and the benefits of having someone who has competed in your sport can be a boon. ‘I have a huge understanding of what it takes to run a successful marathon, as well as how to enjoy the build-up and the emotions,’ explains Mellor. You might also get to heed tried and true tips from the coaching elite. ‘It helps that my own coaching mentor is Steve Vernon, widely regarded as one of the top UK running coaches,’ adds Mellor. ‘I’ve learned a huge amount from Steve over the years and continue to pester him!’


Just because someone is a former or current athlete doesn’t mean they’ll be a great coach, so do ask around before hiring an expert. Check their credentials – do they have the recommended qualifications? Look at their social media – are there any testimonials? ‘Among other things, a coach should offer good communication and have a general interest in your goals and training,’ says Mellor. ‘They should also take time to find out as much information about you as possible to help them to design the best plan for you, based on your history, previous injuries and goals.’

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