March 22, 2018

7 Important Lessons From 10-Years As A Professional Coach

After 10-years as a professional coach, Coach Ben shares 7 important lessons he has learned helping athletes to become faster and healthier.

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10 years is a pretty long time!

I realised last week, that not only have I been living in Singapore a decade (I arrived 14 March 2008), I have also been a professional, full-time coach for that time as well.

That’s pretty cool and it’s a milestone that I’m proud of.

When I think back to my arrival in Singapore, a former pro triathlete, with some big goals for the next chapter of my life, I realise how far I have come and just how much I have learned.

While I still have a long way to go and an awful lot still to learn, I thought I’d share some of the most important lessons I have learned during a decade as a professional coach to ‘working athletes’.

7 Important Lessons

1. Fit Does Not Necessarily Equal Healthy

Frequent colds, nagging injuries, high blood pressure and many more common symptoms often present themselves among the ‘well trained’ athletes who come to work with Coached.

These athletes are fit, not healthy!

When I look back now at my career as an athlete, I can also recognise that in myself and a lot of my peers. I wasn’t injured a lot, but I fell sick with colds 2 – 3 times a year.

It was much worse for the more Type-A athletes that I was racing.

With this learning, all Coached programmes are created with health in mind and a belief that performance will be a byproduct of good health and the consistency it brings.

Because the athletes we work with at Coached are not professional athletes and are juggling a lot of things, we have to strike a balance between training and life stress.

When that balance is achieved, good things happen.

It’s also the reason we pay so much attention to the peripherals that support training. Diet, recovery, the mind…

2. Consistency Is The Ultimate Performance Enhancer

The athletes that seem to have the best results over time are not necessarily the ones who train the most, they’re the ones who train the most consistently.

The ones that eat clean, sleep 7+ hours a night and generally look after themselves too.

I often say that you won’t get fat by going to McDonald’s once and you won’t get fit by going on a 6-hour run. You get fat by eating at McDonald’s frequently and you get fit by jogging 20 minutes a day.

It’s an important consideration.

We are what we repeatedly do so keep showing up!

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

3. Ego Is The Enemy

We all have an ego!

As an athlete, your ego is constantly telling you all the things that you could do.

You could do an Ironman. You could qualify for Boston. You could do this session a little harder than planned. You could join this Bootcamp. You could try and drop your buddies in the bunch ride. You could do all these races on back to back weekends.

The list never ends.

The issue is that for every action the ego initiates, the body must answer.

When you let your ego drive your behaviour, you take the fun out of the process and run the risk of breaking yourself down.

4. Stress Is A Double-Edged Sword

While stress is not inherently bad (some stress is needed and beneficial), chronic stress is.

Unfortunately, many of the athletes we work with are in a state of chronic stress.

Endurance sport draws Type-A personalities to it in big numbers. Type-A people tend to be competitive, hardworking and self-critical. A dangerous mixture that usually leads to burning the candle at both ends – at work and in training.

Chronic stress suppresses fat burning and immune function and increases inflammation levels in the body.

It contributes to overtraining, burnout and a lack of consistency in training, none of which is ideal when trying to train for (and recover from) endurance sports.

The main reason, we like our athletes to use a heart rate monitor is that heart rate reflects stress.

Stress from training AND stress from life.

In periods of high life stress, heart rate will elevate and training stress will come down in response, as you’re forced to slow down.

While some athletes view this is as a negative, I can only see the upside. Remember, consistency is the ultimate performance enhancer.

5. Great Fitness Does Not Guarantee Your Best Race Performance

I learned this lesson very early in my coaching career.

Many athletes who were following our programme had shown great improvements in their fitness (tracked via lactate and MAF testing) yet failed to deliver a result that matched their fitness on race day.

On further inspection, it became obvious that their result (or lack of result) was not a lack of fitness but rather a poor expression of that fitness on race day.

If you want to race to your potential, you not only have to prepare and get yourself into a suitable condition to race well, you also have to execute your race properly and with control.

6. You Can’t Out Exercise A Shitty Diet

Take a look at any Ironman or marathon field and you’ll quickly notice that a good percentage of these people are carrying a substantial amount of excess body fat.

Maybe you fall into this category?

While not all of these people are preparing for these events properly, I would venture a guess that a high number of them are putting in substantial training time, especially those training for Ironman.

While exercise obviously has its benefits, exercise alone is not enough to sustain a healthy metabolism and an ideal body composition over time.

For that, you need to pay attention to what you eat.

As a result of the thousands of metabolic tests we have conducted, I have become a huge believer in the importance of diet and am now a proponent of eating a lower carb, healthy fat diet.

Diet plays a major role in your ability to stay healthy, lean and energetic as well as helping you to recover quickly from training and racing.

I encourage you to lower the number of processed foods you consume in favour of whole foods. Whole foods tend to be lower in carbohydrate, higher in healthy fat and they’ll help you to be both a healthy and fast athlete.

7. Less Is More

Over the last few years, I have embraced the idea of minimalism and keeping things as simple as possible. I believe this is a key to a happy and productive life.

With a growing business and 2-year old twins, it’s not always easy, but the philosophy helps to keep me focussed and avoid being “busy” just to appear successful or for the sake of it.

A lot of the athletes we work with have so many things fighting for their time. Many are self-inflicted (saying yes to everything and everyone) and just not that important when they really look at them for what they are.

When you stop worrying about things that just aren’t that important, you free up your time and money for the things you love.

In the context of training and racing, you’ll have more time to train and recover; and more money to spend on travel and race experiences.

I encourage you to look at ways you can simplify and eliminate the non-essential in your life.

When you get rid of the ‘fluff’, you’ll feel less anxious, produce more and from my experience, feel happier.

In Closing

It’s been an amazing 10 years!

I am grateful to be able to do a job that I love and to work with and influence some amazing people.

I’d like to thank you for being part of my journey and for supporting Coached by reading and sharing this blogtrying our programme or testing in our lab.

I am excited to see what unfolds and what lessons I learn as the next decade passes.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.