Friday, June 10, 2011

A conversation with Coach Kurt

A Conversation with Kurt Begemann, Cycle Loft's In-House Coach: This first appeared in 2008 upon Kurt's arrival to the Cycle Loft. [Check back soon for similar Q&A with Kurt about the benefits of Track Cycling. In 2010, Kurt became the Director of the Northeast Velodrome & Cycling Park in Londonderry, NH. He continues to coach riders, new and experienced, on the etiquette and discipline necessary to become a successful track racer. He will be coaching an introductory intensive course on Track Cycling June 11 & 12. See here for details on this "Try the Track Clinic."]

Kurt Begemann, USA Cycling Level II Coach, and member of Cycle Loft's staff answers Cycle Loft owner, Jeff Palter's questions about coaching. I hope you find it helpful, and that you will contact Kurt at for more information about our services. Thanks for reading, Jeff Palter, Owner, The Cycle Loft.

JP: How long have you been a coach?

KB: I started coaching on the side in 1998, and made a full time transition into coaching in 2004. I'm presently a USA Cycling Level I I Coach and will be coaching two upcoming Federation Developmental training camps this summer in Trexlertown, PA at the National Track Training Center. [Kurt has since participated in several USAC U23 Talent ID Camps in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.]

JP: How did you transition from a rider, to industry professional, to fitting and coaching?

KB: Shortly after I had become a full time rider on the Zimbabwe National Team back in 1991, I realized that I wanted to work full time in the cycling industry, no matter what the capacity. Cycling is very much a “lifestyle” sport, and once you have been so immersed in it as a professional rider, it is easy to stay in the game. By the time your racing career is over, you have a vast knowledge base in the sport, and the transition is natural. I started focusing on fitting about ten years ago, when I realized that many of the reasons I had been positioned a certain way on the bike were nothing short of old wives' tales. I was intrigued by finding a system that was based on scientific proof, and helping people get correctly positioned. Roughly at the same time I started working with riders in a coaching capacity, knowing that most people learn from their friends, and friends of friends. Having come from a disciplined national program, I felt that I had a lot of knowledge to impart.

JP: What, if any, connection(s) is there between coaching and bicycle fitting?

KB: There is more of a connection than some people might understand. One example is that pedaling style can often effect bike fit, and vice versa. Bike fitters who are trained in ergonomics, but have little experience on the bike themselves often miss this connection. Often during a bike fit, I will end up segueing into pedaling dynamics, and coaching a rider on a more efficient way to pedal. This will lead into the stability of core muscles, and the recruitment of power. That can move onto balance and bike handling, and the discussion can snowball from there.

JP: I’ve read a lot of about video programs for fitting and the use of lasers and other high tech stuff, and in fact we have many of these tools here at the Loft. Any comments?

KB: Nowadays bike fitting has become quite the science, and there are quite a few systems out there in the marketplace. Twenty years ago there were many old wives' tales about fitting, which had no scientific proof as to why they would be relevant to being efficient or effective on the bike. Around 2001 or so, some of the best bike designers and ergonomists started compiling real scientific reasons as to why we are positioned a certain way. Ben Serotta was instrumental in this, and the info he gained along with others, hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years or so. But people are continually trying to show new ways of conveying that information, with lasers, cameras, power meters etc. Often they can be helpful, but sometimes they can confuse things even more. The important thing to remember is that computers only really tell us what we ask them to, and if you’re working with a trained ergonomist who has a good eye and you believe in their ability, they can get you where you need to be without the tech show. Don’t get me wrong, there is a coolness factor to all the high tech stuff, but none of that is a substitute for an experienced eye.

JP: What would/could a potential client gain from having a coach, especially if not an elite athlete?

KB: In my opinion, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to be open minded and willing to learn. In fact, most elite athletes, or riders who have been in the game a long time are actually impossible to coach. They figure that they’ve been doing it along time, and their way is the only way. But I often ask them, who taught them what they know, and who were their teachers' teachers? A professional coach will help you target a goal, work on your weaknesses, and help you develop your strengths. They will help you obtain a better knowledge base of the sport, and educate you on how it’s different characteristics, like equipment, nutrition, training and strategy all relate to one another.

JP: How many days per week does one need to ride to work well with a coach?

KB: If you want to make gains of any sort, then you have to ride a minimum of 4 days a week. If you want to be competitive, you’ll have to commit to 5 days a week, and if you’re serious about your competitiveness, then you’ll need to go to 6.

JP: I know there are heart rate monitors out there, and now power meters? Does one need one or both? What’s the “real" deal?

KB: This is a complicated one. Both are very helpful training tools, which can also become very destructive crutches. The best riders in the world use Power Meters to train with, but they very seldom (if ever), use them to race with. The same can be said about Heart Rate monitors. Too many athletes end up becoming anchored (literally) to these tools, and not developing their own intuition or feel for their own effort. Great riders such as Merckx, Hinault, Roche and Lemond all rode using the "old fashioned" RPE scale. RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion is still an extremely accurate way to train, and is in fact the most accurate way to race a time trial or break away effort. I like to work with this first and instill that a rider has to know their body and be able to accurately gauge their own effort first, before taking them on to a Heart Rate monitor and then ultimately a Power Meter. Having all the training tools in the world won’t help one iota, unless you know how to use them. How can you interpret the knowledge from your efforts on your training devices, if you can’t accurately gauge your efforts?

JP: What differentiates your coaching style and services from those of some of the national companies I see marketed?

KB: I actually meet with my riders in person, and ride with them weekly. You wouldn’t take a music lesson over the phone, so why would you be coached by someone over the internet. People often see the successful relationships between star cyclists and successful coaches and forget that these people have met personally many, many times, and have relationships that span months, if not years. Working with someone who hasn’t personally seen you, your position on a bike, your pedaling style, and your execution techniques, and then expecting to improve over a couple of months, is more often than not…a set up for disappointment.

I don’t just prescribe training plans. I teach you how to execute them properly. How to ride more efficiently, and how to handle you bike more confidently. Ultimately be a more fully prepared and experienced athlete. Too many coaches just prescribe training programs, straight out of the science lab. Very few coaches actually teach people how to ride or race their bikes. I still do that.

JP: If one wants a cycling computer, do recommend one with a cadence feature?

KB: Yes. Cadence and its different characteristics are the basis of all cycling. Cadence is always relevant. The sooner you understand this as an athlete, the quicker you will improve.

JP: I’ve heard the statement, “ride faster by riding slower.” Can you briefly explain this?

KB: Briefly stated…it’s about economy of effort. Often cyclists equate riding hard or fast by riding in the big chainring (typically a 53T ring), and they think that riding big gears day in and day out will make them faster and stronger. That’s a recipe for over-training. The bottom line is that there is a very real science to how the body works efficiently and effectively. It incorporates applying workload, and then allowing time for adaptation to take place. That means hard days balanced by easy days, and big gears balanced by easy gears.

JP: The Loft offers “fitness/VO2 testing,” how does this interact, intersect, or connect with your coaching?

KB: Fitness testing is a good way for you to learn about what size engine is in your ribcage, and what types of cycling you might excel at. It can also be helpful in determining a nutrition plan, or to determine short comings in your training. Once you’ve done the testing and have the information…then it’s like…okay…what are we going to do with this now? It’s helpful in determining what you’re capable of in cycling, and if anything…you’ll learn a lot about yourself in a short span of time.

JP: Do I need a fitness test before I start working with a coach?

KB: No you don’t, but it is very helpful if you can do one. It’ll take some of the guessing out of “why you are at where you are at”. So information is always better than none at all. I will always recommend doing one, but it’s certainly not a requirement.

JP: While working with a coach, how long before one would start to see results?

KB: It takes a while to make gains in the sport of cycling…and unfortunately that’s just the way it is. When you look at the big names in the sport, particularly in this country it shouldn’t surprise you that the majority of them were racing as juniors. It’s very rare to have someone pick up the sport as a young adult, and go far in it. With that knowledge, you need to understand that it takes time to learn things, put them into practice, and then make gains. Especially in a complex and multifaceted sport such as cycling.

That’s why I have a minimum commitment of 3 months when you sign up on coaching with me. Different people learn at different rates, and I’ve had some athletes learn in two weeks, what others have in two months. I have often felt that ones ability to learn and absorb has a direct connection to their enthusiasm and openness. The old adage of “what you put in, you get out”…very much applies.