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Steer Clear of Your Comfort Zone: an Interview With Coach Jon Sharples of TrainSharp

on July 07, 2016

Founder and Managing Director of TrainSharp, and official coach of the Canyon//SRAM Zwift Academy, Jon Sharples tells us how to optimize your training.

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TrainSharp is a UK based cycle coaching company that is the brainchild of Jon Sharples. Jon has built an impressive team around him that includes two World Tour Directeur Sportifs who come with distinguished cycling palmares of their own. Sean Yates is a former stage winner of both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, and Dean Downing is a former UK National Criterium Champion. The trio bring a wealth of experience and knowledge that is the key to the success of TrainSharp's program.

Jon began cycling at the age of 16, and by his own admission, was an average competitor. He was, however, quick to embrace new technology and adept at analyzing his own strengths and weaknesses. In 2000, Jon focused his attention on Time Trials and began not just winning events, but breaking records. Impressed by his results, local riders would regularly seek training advice from him. As word of his expertise spread, it was soon clear that he could actually build a company out of his passion - a company with some of the best sports science and knowledge in the business.

Hi Jon, thanks for talking to us. You're the figurehead of TrainSharp, can you tell us about the aim of the business?

At TrainSharp, we use a team approach when designing our programs. We have the staff and resources to deliver a very high level of coaching to athletes across the board, from the novice rider all the way to the elite. Ultimately, we are trying to become a ‘center of excellence.’ We want to provide an unrivalled level of support and guidance to the end user. We are not a one-man band – with a team of us at TrainSharp, you get the involvement of a number of dedicated coaches taking expertise from racing experience, sports science and time in the pro peloton.

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Tell us about TrainSharp's history and how you feel it's different to other coaching available?

TrainSharp has grown organically really, starting from a small office coaching a selection of local riders. Over time, I have built a team around me that I genuinely believe is the best equipped to grow TrainSharp. I have always said that our ‘unique selling point’ isn’t anything unique at all! What we do have that sets us apart, is the spread of resources we can pull from each individual.

We have the experience from British Pro Cyclists and Elite Road Coaches, the race tactics and know-how of a World Class Directeur Sportif and the understanding of the physiological adaptations from a sports science perspective; all this together, makes for a ‘Bank of Knowledge’ that all of our coached riders benefit from.

In 2015 we set up our Inspire Talent Program (ITP), a dedicated coaching platform for aspiring young riders. With a yearly cohort restricted to about 10 riders, only the most suitable riders are selected. Eddie Dunbar (currently riding for Axeon-Hagens Bermen U23 Team) is a prime example of a young rider showing excellence in the sport and continuing to improve. With our ITP riders, we look to improve not just the individual’s physical ability on the bike, but to leave no stone unturned. We want to showcase their willingness to impress through developing the best rider CVs, and working on elements that young individuals might not normally dream of doing - their own laundry and cooking!

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What made you want to get involved with the Canyon//SRAM Zwift Academy program?

Traditionally, cycling has been a male dominated sport. In recent years we have seen a significant surge in female cycling participation. Coaching is similar to any other endeavor: an individual should share as much as possible with their coach. The more the coach knows about the individual (both on and off the bike) the better we can prescribe your training, manage stress and ultimately help you improve as an athlete. Female cyclists have not always had the same support network compared to male riders and this is something we wish to challenge.

Do you have any interesting insights to share with us about coaching women, compared to men?

The physiological components of a female riders training are similar to that of a male cyclist – the timing and delivery of those components varies depending on the individual, monthly cycle and the specific constraints of the individual.

In my experience, female athletes are much more willing to understand the reasons behind each training session; the reason as to why they are completing the training and not just barrelling ahead and doing it. With this in mind, the individuals that appreciate and understand the principles behind the training are those that get the most back out of it.

What do you make of the Zwift Academy program so far?

It's very exciting to see such a great response to a program such as this, from all over the world. There are definitely some very powerful riders out there capable of holding their own in Elite level races!

Most of the Zwift Academy students aren't hell bent on winning a pro contract. How can coaching and structured training help the enthusiast rider be better in their day-to-day life?

Whatever level you are riding at, it is always more enjoyable when you have good legs and the fitness that mean you can get off the bike feeling as though you achieved something from the session. So many riders train poorly, often meaning that they are consistently training at a mid-level and find that progression stagnates. Structured coaching allows you to hit the hard sessions hard, and enjoy it, knowing that you have achieved what you set out to do.

So what are the roles and benefits of indoor training, in the overall picture of structured training?

Turbo trainers have previously been seen as a necessary evil in the overall training plan – when the nights grow longer and the cold and rain prevent the road sessions from materializing! The general response a few years ago when asking riders if they train indoors was, “when I have to”. However, with the inclusions of Zwift and structured training sessions you can come to enjoy the indoor session! That’s not to say that you can turn pro purely from indoor training! A huge element of professional cycling is bunch riding skills, tactics that simply cannot be honed elsewhere than in a race situation, and the confidence that comes with that.

What do you make of Zwift and the possibilities of helping coaches with clients?

We have already had a number of riders adopting Zwift into their training schedule. If it encourages riders to train (without overdoing it), then it’s great for us coaches!

Tell us about the TrainSharp workout programs available on Zwift. Who are they aimed at and what are the benefits Zwifters should expect?

The TrainSharp workout programs are designed to offer a good training stimulus to all levels of riders. Rather than go two feet first into a training plan, we have tried to focus on some specific areas, but providing a range of sessions that gives variety – and a taste of what structured, targeted training can offer.

So, any thoughts on product development for Zwift? How would you improve Workout Mode?

I'm not sure if this is already a possibility but I like the ability to communicate whilst riding in a group – similar to in-game communications games consoles have – maybe through a headset or microphone add on to the turbo, it will really bring the ride to life.

We usually ask all our interviewees to describe Zwift in 5 words - can you try?

Interactive, Gamification, Supplementary (to your training), Social, Tough!

 

You can read more about trainSharp and their ethos by visiting http://www.trainsharpcyclecoaching.co.uk/ or you can contact info@trainsharpcyclecoaching.co.uk.

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