National Geographic Adventure | February 2006

Training 2.0 Download PDF

Web-based coaches are out to hook everyday athletes with pumped-up new features. Should we take the bait?

Last summer I took up kiteboarding—a sport not unlike windsurfing, only the board is smaller and the sail is a parabolic kite you fly from 65-foot lines. After my first few sessions, I learned that (a.) head-to-toe lactic-acid paralysis strikes even those athletes whose primary concern is staying upright and (b.) if I wanted to survive a week-long kiting trip in Mexico, I needed help getting up to speed.

Online coaching sites have been around since the late 1990s, but until recently they’ve mainly targeted hard-core triathletes and marathoners looking to better their personal records. Today, however, sites such as and Carmichael Training Systems ( are rolling out streaming video, personalized nutrition analysis, and increased “human contact” to lure average folks with tight schedules and diverse interests. For me, a travel junkie, going virtual is a no-brainer—the Web is everywhere, and so, too, will be my trainer. I just hope I won’t be stuck with a one-size-fits-all program that keeps me on the losing end of a tug-of-war with my kite.

The Evaluation: Your trainer will Google you now

Step 1: I opt for Carmichael Training Systems, founded in 1999 by Chris Carmichael, who coached Lance Armstrong through six Tour de France victories. To begin, I plunk down the $149 monthly fee for a middle-tier program that offers unlimited interaction with a coach, fill out an eight-page questionnaire, and, 24 hours later, get a call from my new trainer.

Nick White, 26, is based at Carmichael headquarters, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and has certifications from both the USA Triathlon and USA Track & Field governing bodies. Though that’s all I’ll ever learn about White, I find myself trusting him immediately: He’s a triathlete and a competitive cyclist, while I have a hard time hanging on to my kite for more than 20 minutes straight.

White admits this is his first time designing a training regimen for kiteboarding and says that he’s already Googled the sport to figure out which muscle groups to target. Googled? I recently Googled “ACL” looking for knee info and was linked to the Association for Computational Linguistics. Nevertheless, White’s findings are impressive. As he rattles off muscle groups, I realize he’s recounting in detail the anatomy of my post-kiting fatigue. “We should focus on your core section: abdominals, obliques, hip flexors, lower back,” he says. “And since you travel a lot, I will build a whole program that you can take on the road.”

The Routine: Wind sprints are just the beginning

Step 2: Online newcomers are expected to do an initial field test—either cycling, swimming, or running—so trainers can gauge their overall fitness and establish a benchmark against which to measure future gains. I decide to run, which requires an all-out sprint for eight minutes, something I haven’t done since I was seven. Still, White says my distance covered (1.15 miles), average heart rate (158), and peak heart rate (184) are “very good” and e-mails me three color-coded spreadsheets. One is a set of core exercises, another details a 45-minute resistance workout, and the third is a strength-training routine for when I’m traveling and can’t get to a gym. All told, for my requested six-day-a-week schedule, White specifies 46 different exercises. And while I’m a little uneasy about doing “power skips” in public, the variety is crucial for someone who bores as easily as I do.

Après workout, I go online and record my results: Did I complete as prescribed, modify, or skip my routine entirely? Weekly summaries keep tabs on my total resistance, strength, core-training, and running stats and generate a graph of my progress. When I’m not exactly sure how to do “high knees,” I click to the Carmichael video collection for a narrated how-to. Carmichael, I realize, has successfully idiotproofed my training

The Fine-Tuning: No workout goes unnoticed

Step 3: “Every day when I start up my computer, it tells me who has logged in and when,” White says. That explains why he sends an e-mail wondering about my inactivity during a recent trip to San Francisco. I fumble with an excuse about “tight deadlines” and a “backlog of work.” He fires back with a pep talk: “Sometimes the hardest part is just standing up and telling yourself you need a break,” he writes.

Later, White follows up with an e-mail informing me that he has tweaked the schedule to account for my slacking off. Doh! Other fine-tunings involve swapping a Monday weight workout for an aerobic session after I complain of muscle soreness, and integrating new leg exercises following a calf strain.

After only a month with Carmichael, I drop a couple of pounds and boost my overall strength enough that White has to bump up the intensity of my weight-training regime. As for kiteboarding, I recently rode a two-hour nonstop session—my longest yet by more than 65 minutes. The core exercises especially have given me an edge in my man-versus-kite showdowns. Mexico no longer looms, but beckons. And whether I need a workout adjustment or a well-timed pep talk in the last days leading up to my trip, White will always be just a keystroke away.

Copyright © Michael Behar. All Rights Reserved.

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