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Ask A Pro: Train Your Way

How do I decide between joining a club, hiring an online coach or just training by myself?

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How do I decide between joining a club, hiring an online coach or just training by myself?

An experienced athlete might like to take control of planning his own training, while a beginner might require more one-on-one instruction and immediate feedback. Some athletes love to train alone on their own schedule, and others thrive on the competitive atmosphere of a group. Figure out what kind of athlete you are and what you are looking to get out of the sport. The cost of coaching can range from free to thousands of dollars a year, but cost doesn’t necessarily correlate to quality—there are just as many great, free, organized group rides and runs around the country as there are bad, expensive, private coaches.

Outlined below are a few of the pros and cons of personal coaching versus group training, so you can decide what you require in a training program in order to make your triathlon experience a positive, productive one.

Online coaching

Pros: Hiring an online coach gives you access to a wide range of levels and styles—from an experienced fellow athlete to a world-class triathlon coach anywhere in the world. A specifically designed program is particularly important for people with a busy daily schedule or who travel frequently. An athlete with significant goals in the sport, such as specific races and qualifying for championships may need this kind of structured program in order to address weaknesses, plan taper and recovery weeks, and to develop a nutrition plan.

Cons: The main drawback to online coaching is the delayed feedback and lack of direct observation by the coach. Frequent communication is vital; a good coach will require feedback from their athletes to adjust loads according to training response. And it is difficult, if not impossible, to correct technique flaws remotely.

A final thing to consider with a personalized program is that without a dedicated training partner, athletes may do most of their training alone. Solo sessions can be helpful for developing mental toughness required for endurance racing, but most of us appreciate a little social time training with other athletes.

RELATED: Eight Reasons Your Coach Hates You

Triathlon club

Pros: Triathlon clubs are popping up all over the country—you probably have one in your area. They range from casual meet-ups to serious, structured training squads with like-minded athletes. The inherent competitiveness in group workouts can challenge and push athletes to better performances. And a coach who will plan and periodize the training program can also provide immediate feedback, as well as evaluate skills and make adjustments on the spot. I have always enjoyed my best workouts within a group structure—like most athletes, I can always push myself harder with a little friendly competition. The atmosphere is usually fun and social, and rookies can take advantage of the steep learning curve that comes from training around more experienced athletes.

Cons: Group training can be a double-edged sword, especially for the inexperienced athlete. There is less personalized attention and workouts may not be tailored to each individual’s needs. Coordinating group sessions requires a flexible schedule and may not be as efficient as running or riding from your front door. The competitive atmosphere that can be a great motivator on hard training days can also lead to overtraining if every session is approached as a race. It can be especially hard to train with others when preparing for race day—I tend to do most of my taper sessions on my own so that I can’t get drawn into going too hard at someone else’s pace.

Photo Gallery: Full Throttle Endurance Triathlon Club

Individual sport training

Pros: Most gyms now have spin classes, and some offer running groups and Masters swim programs. These sport-specific training groups can be a good resource for integrating group sessions into an individual training program. This can be a great way to get started with some general fitness before turning to a more structured training program or else to focus on one sport intensively, usually during the off-season.

These group workouts are very effective and time-efficient, and can be a fun social activity as they allow a wide range of athletes to all train together.

A sport-specific training group or single-sport coaching situation (e.g. a track club or one-on-one swim technique session) can allow you to focus on improving a weaker area and provide a higher level of knowledge and insight into one of the individual sports.

Cons: The hazard of participating in these training groups year-round is that the program will be structured for single-sport athletes and generally does not provide for integration of all three sports. Runners may be able to perform three high-quality track workouts per week because they are focused on recovery, not swimming and biking, on the other days. Sport-specific training puts the onus on the athlete to plan and balance his or her own training program, but can be an effective tool in more experienced hands.

RELATED: Why Self-Coaching Can Be A Good Thing

Olympian Samantha McGlone (@samanthamcglone) is a former 70.3 world champion and was runner-up at the 2007 Ironman World Championship. She lives, trains and attends medical school in Tucson, Ariz.