Garth Fox - Scientific Performance Coaching
Scientific Performance Coaching

"The best athletes train consistently less hard than their competitors think is necessary. " - Phil Mosley
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Frequently Asked Questions

Expert advice

Q. I know I need to lose weight and get fitter but I need to do it around my busy career and family life. Can you help me?
A. Yes. But the busier you are the better organised you need to be. This is especially true when juggling both family and work responsibilities’.  The key with the family is to involve them in your objective from the start, whether that is straightforward weight loss or training for an Ironman. If they know what is involved upfront and you have their support, everything will be easier. As for the ‘losing weight’ part, this is quite simply a matter of adjusting your energy intake so that it matches, or for clearly defined periods, marginally falls short of your energy needs. This essentially comes down to knowing what and when to eat or drink. Getting fitter will be a case of finding (and ring fencing) short blocks of time in a given week in which we can plan structured and realistically achievable exercise. The focus will be on optimising your time and training in the most efficient manner possible in the context of your lifestyle and time constraints.

Q. I'm based overseas for long periods. Can you remotely manage my coaching without meeting face-to-face? 
A. The key to a coach/athlete relationship that works is communication. Modern day technology helps enormously in this regard – voice, email, SMS, Skype, electronic data sharing and social media platforms all mean that there is no reason why the coach and athlete cannot be in different hemispheres, time zones or countries. Then, when schedules allow, face-to face meetings should serve as great opportunities to go over the 30,000ft view of the athlete’s goals and objectives – the progression thus far, the master plan and how to achieve it. It is worth remembering that some of the most successful coach/athlete relationships of all time have operated on a remote basis.

Q. Are the effects of my sedentary job and related weight gain over the last 20 years reversible or am I too late to start now? 
A. Research shows that it is never too late to improve aerobic capacity (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14506079). You can be pretty well any age, having never done any exercise over the course of a sedentary lifetime and still, with careful, structured progression, radically improve both cardiovascular fitness (aerobic capacity - or as I prefer, the elixir of life!) and even add lean muscle mass. So don’t put it off another day, begin your physical rebuild now. Remember, you are in fact a genius, or at least your body is, when it comes to adapting itself to new stimuli. This is irrespective of age. Sure, you will never reach the heights of physical conditioning that you could have if you had started training properly as a teenager and never let up, but that is no good reason to put off real, life changing improvement, now. The saying ‘use it or lose it’ is physiologically, scientifically and unequivocally relevant. Worth bearing in mind.

Q. I am relatively fit and regularly compete in 5K and 10K runs but want to improve. I'm unsure how to choose between your Health & Fitness or High Performance coaching services?
A. If your goal is simply to take your running to the next level and you want to accomplish that in the context of your current lifestyle and training regimen, then the Health & Fitness route is for you. The aim then would be to optimise your training time and to tweak aspects of your lifestyle that compromise your consistent progress. On the other hand, if you goal is to become the best 5k and 10k runner that you can be and you are prepared (within reason) to do what it takes to make that happen (long term periodised planning, physiological testing, technique assessment and refinement, strength & conditioning, nutritional assessment and planning etc) then I would guide you down the High Performance route where essentially you are motivated to live like an athlete even though you may spend 12 hrs/day in the office.

Q. Will you be accompanying me every time I train?
A. No. Although occasionally I certainly will. When you undergo specific physiological test sessions then of course I will be present but generally speaking I will be reviewing your workout sessions remotely. Today’s technology means that I am able to peak into your physiology in a way that is just as informative for me (in fact often more so) than if I were next to you throughout you tempo run or threshold bike intervals or endurance building swim sets  and so on. That said, when possible, I will certainly endeavour to be present at the odd race or event which we have so meticulously prepared you for.

Q. I'm a complete beginner but want to take part in a marathon. Can you advise me not only on training but also on equipment and nutrition?
A. You bet. For most people, the world of endurance sport can be a confusing playground. What is more, the constant introduction of new gadgetry, technology, training ideas and gimmicks, ensures that separating essential from superfluous remains a challenge even for experienced athletes. For a novice, getting the proper guidance in each area of the sport – training, equipment, nutrition, - right from the beginning of your journey will save years of trial and error. Fear not, I will certainly lead you down the path that is right for you.

Q. Do I need to purchase any expensive equipment such as heart rate monitors/GPS systems/power meters in order to train effectively?
A. No, but it helps. If bringing the power of technology to bear on your training is not your cup of tea, leave it to me. If you really don’t want to use/buy even a basic heart rate monitor, then simply learning to gauge how your breathing rate and depth alters as you exercise harder can tell you a lot about the intensity, and by extension, the fuel mix your body is using. That can be very useful and it is even worth the most tech savvy of athletes occasionally leaving all their gadgets and measurement technology at home in order to relearn how to ‘listen’ to what your body is telling you. That said, if you can measure it, you can manage it. As a trained scientist, analysing the numbers from completed workouts (output), greatly helps in prescribing the correct training dose (input) for future workouts, which in turn ups the efficiency of the whole process. Ideally, a cyclist/triathlete would use a power meter to record every pedal stroke, a runner would use gps/heart rate to record every step and swimmers need only a pace clock and the ability to count strokes. Combined with the appropriate test sets at the appropriate times in the training cycle, these metrics give the coach real insight into the physiology and training status of an athlete at any given point in time.

Q. I am aged 65 and wish to improve my overall fitness with a view to running a half-marathon. Am I too old to train effectively for such an event?
A. No you are not. If you are healthy there is absolutely no reason why you cannot train progressively to the point where a 21.1km run holds zero fear. The key to your success in this case will be patience. Running is high impact and in the very short term causes micro damage to both soft (muscles, tendon, ligaments) and hard (bone) structures within the body. This is no bad thing. Given sufficient recovery time and good nutrition, these structures will regenerate and ultimately get stronger than they were before. But, and I will say it again, patience is key. At 65 years old there is no reason why certain training sessions cannot be hard and performed at high intensities just as you may have done when younger, but the difference is that you will need more recovery from those hard sessions than when you were younger. Respect that simple guideline and half or even full marathon finishing times that put many 30 year olds to shame, are yours for the running.

Q. Can I lose weight purely through exercise or do I need to modify my diet as well?
A. The science is clear here. Calories in, equal calories out. That is the hard and fast of it. For more of an overview go here: http://www.garthfox.com/articles/view.php?p=eat-right. Essentially, if you maintain your usual food intake and then introduce some exercise into your daily lifestyle, then you will lose weight. If you do not, then you are still tipping the balance with too much going in. Now, this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt so to speak, because changes take a few days to show, either way, and there are some foods that might cause you to hold more water (typically processed) or increase appetite to a greater (salty foods, alcohol, processed carbohydrates) or lesser (lean protein, full fat dairy) degree. But overtime, the scales do not lie! So far, so simple then. The problem arises when, after increasing activity levels over a few days, as in the start of a new exercise programme, appetite tends to rise and we generally want to eat more. There are ways to deal with this and make appetite easier to control, but the end game is always the same – less has to go in if you want weight to come down. When a sedentary office worker takes up triathlon and trains accordingly, appetite will rise but so will the energy demands for training and recovery. It takes a little experience to gauge what is ‘enough’ in that context. But generally it is less than the body tends to ask for! It is also worth remembering that the nutrient content of foods differs enormously and when we consume food we need to be thinking about its effect on our general health and fitness and not just body mass manipulation. It may well be the case then, that diet modification is required then even for those looking to maintain weight.

Q. I've heard a VO2 max test is a good indicator of fitness. Can you provide such a test so I know how fit I am?
A. Endurance athletes love discussing VO2 max scores. I think the reason for that is that the measurement of VO2 max is straightforward if you have the necessary breath-by-breath gas analysis equipment. But it reminds me of the ‘Street Lamp’ story where a policeman approaches a man crawling around on the pavement on his hands and knees under the glare of an overhead street lamp. When the policeman asks what the man is doing, he replies that he has lost his car keys and is busy looking for them. The policeman asks where exactly does he think he dropped them, to which the man replies that he dropped them somewhere on the other side of the street which unfortunately is not lit anything like as well. The policeman, somewhat surprised, asks in that case, why was the man looking on this side of the street? To which the man simply replies that the light is so much better over here under this street lamp! If you crave a VO2 Max test, then I will happily organise one for you. But firstly consider what it is you are trying to determine from the test and is it the optimal test you should be doing given your individual goals? Firstly, what does a VO2 max test tell us? Essentially it is designed to assess the maximal aerobic capacity of an individual. In other words, it is a function of the body’s maximal ability to process oxygen for energy production. Typically, highly trained cyclists will score in the region of 70-75 ml/kg/min (ie millilitres of oxygen per kilo of bodyweight per minute) for this physiological variable, whereas the average sedentary male will be in the 30-40 ml/kg/min. Because the consumption of oxygen is directly related to energy production and more energy tends to mean more power, it goes that more oxygen consumption  leads to better performance. The problem with that train of thinking is it fails to take into consideration how economically or efficiently an athlete uses oxygen. That is a physiological variable that is much more closely related to performance in endurance sports. Equally, if your VO2 max score is representative of your maximal ability to process oxygen (ie the point at which you collapse due to exhaustion if you have performed the test properly!), then much more interesting to me is the fraction of that score that you can use sustainably, sometimes referred to as fractional utilisation. This variable is likely to tell us much more about your ability to perform well in a race than a VO2 max score. In any case, cyclists have it made if they own a power meter - if you have a power meter on your bike, then simply from some easily executed field test we can take a look into your physiology in a way that far better measures and informs training status and objectives. Consider if it is genuine performance improvement you are striving for or simply a ‘how big is yours?’ number. Remember, the biggest VO2 max number is worth little if the athlete is not also economical and efficient in their movement patterns and, by extension, fuel consumption.

Q. Can you help me prepare for an ultra-endurance event in three months’ time?
A. Wow! Why the big hurry!? If you have a solid background of training for and maybe even competing in, long distance events like marathons, cross country skiing,  adventure hiking and cyclosportive events, then taking that step up to an ultraendurance event such as, for example, any Ironman triathlon, the Marathon des Sables, Ultra 100’s or Speights Coast to Coast race is reasonable. If you are a total novice, I certainly would not recommend it. After all, solid preparation is part and parcel of doing the job well and from which flows the satisfaction. Doing the job as a box ticking exercise without the right preparation is just rather silly and childish. So, assuming you are a grown up and prepared to pay your chosen ultra its due respect, then start with your doctor and get a clean bill of health. Then bear in mind that 3 months of solid, consistent, injury free training is a feat in itself but ultimately is destined to get you into survival shape, not performance shape. The training itself will be as specific to your goal as we can make it given your circumstances. Replicating the heat of Death Valley can be a challenge in Richmond Park! But race nutrition and equipment is something we can get using right from day one for example. Bottom line is we can get you to the finish on an accelerated yet sensible schedule if you have an adequate training base already, if not, I will tell you as much.

Q. Do I need to engage your services on a permanent basis or can I use you on an as-and-when basis?
A. If you want a coaching service then the options are for you to engage me on a rolling basis or to do so for a specified, finite period of time. So for example, if you really want to change up and lift your physical condition to be the best that you can be, this takes time, especially if you are new to training. In this case you might want to take the longer view. If, however, you are in good shape, you have a good grasp of fitness basics and you are essentially just in need of new stimulus or are looking to smash a PB at a race you do year after year but are have clearly plateaued, then in that case you may want to engage me for a one off training cycle of say, 6 months. This is enough time for me to improve your performance in a race or event at the end of that period of time. Sport science services are priced individually or can be purchased as a battery of tests. Contact me to discuss your needs.

Q. Can you manage my training analysis on Training Peaks? I'm bewildered by the amount of data available and what to do with it.
A. Absolutely. Training Peaks is actually a really excellent platform and at its most base, is simply a useful means of keeping training information in one easily accessible location. But when used properly, becomes a really powerful tool for the collating and analysis of an athlete’s training and racing history. The ability to view all of the athlete’s ‘numbers’ through a personalised dashboard of performance metrics is invaluable. If you, the athlete, can see your way to getting in the habit of recording and uploading every training session you do into Training Peaks (takes seconds and is super simple), then I will do the rest and tell you what you need or want to know thereafter.

Q. I already have a coach who provides me with training plans and advice. Can you work alongside my coach and bring additional innovation and expertise to bear in the pursuit of my sporting goals?
A.Yes. This multidisciplinary approach is very common at the elite level. Some coaches are very good at what they do, but what they do might more motivational or organisational than scientific in nature. The best coaches out there are voraciously curious as to the latest techniques in training science and prepared to try new methods if they are fundamentally underpinned by rigorous research, even if that means changing the way they have worked for years. This is good and as it should be. Equally there are untold numbers of coaches out there who are luddites when it comes to new science and its implementation, who lack the necessary expertise themselves but also the self-confidence to bring in a science guy with fresh ideas. That is not a coach you want as your performance will stagnate under their influence.  Yet, in no way should old skool methods be uniformly discarded. Many are rooted in tradition for good reason – they work (-all the latest research into High Intensity Training (HIT) and how it can improve endurance, should never persuade anyone that running a marathon is best done on bouts of very short, hard exercise!)This is the reason why a multidisciplinary approach, with really fluid lines of communication between the ‘experts’ can be such a powerful combination and, by way of example, is one of the key reasons why the world’s best Ironman triathletes are performing at a level now – specifically in terms of metabolic efficiency and by extension power and speed -  which really challenges what traditionalists ever thought possible.

More questions? Contact Garth for advice >

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  • Hi Garth
    Many thanks for a truly memorable weekend. The training, teaching and experience was fantastic: I was still reliving some of those climbs on the plane home! It was also great to meet your lovely family.
    Thank you again and I can’t wait to get back down for another weekend of precision training.

    David Persaud, London May 2015

    Read the full testimonial >


  • I was fairly new to cycling. I loved it, but felt like I had reached a plateau - I was suffering from frequent illness and injury, I didn't see much reward out for the extra effort in, and consequently my motivation was starting to falter. By good fortune, the gurus at Cyclefit recommended Garth Fox - and I haven't looked back since.

    Max Kirby

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  • {Garth is} a man of integrity, who seems to be driven by nothing more than a desire to help others to achieve their dreams - be these to finish a sprint triathlon, or to qualify for Kona - Garth will be at your side (sometimes literally!) every step of your journey. You're in safe hands.

    Professor Alison McConnell, BSc, MSc, PhD, FBASES, FACSM.
    Professor of Applied Physiology, Brunel University, UK. Author of "Breathe Strong, Perform Better"

    Read the full testimonial >


  • My goal after having two children was to get back to at least the level of 10k running performance I was at before having children, which was 50 mins. Under Garth's highly professional guidance I recently managed a time of 45 mins and came 6th in my age group! I am ecstatic and have already set my sights on a triathlon next year. As Garth always tells me, the limits are only where you set them. Thankyou!

    Karine Seguin - Head of European Business Development – Financial services sector, London


  • Garth's success in the field of sports physiology begins with his passion and respect for endurance events and the human body. He has a deep understanding of the connection between training, racing, recovery, and nutrition and how proper balance in life can optimize one's performance.

    Michi Weiss - Pro Ironman Triathlete.
    2011 Xterra World Champion, Olympian and 3X Ironman Champion.

    Read the full testimonial >


  • Garth's enthusiasm for endurance sports physiology seemingly knows no bounds. He has a great understanding of the human body and how it responds to rest and training. He's also one of those rare people who have both communication and analytical skills, when most people only have one or the other.

    Phil Mosley - Elite Triathlete & Coaching Editor of Triathlon Plus magazine

    Read the full testimonial >


  • Garth really knows how to connect the dots between training and performance. His enormous expertise in physiology and sports science makes his training interventions very perceptive and his ability to tease out the precise adaptations required for the desired improvement in performance with different training stimuli is uncanny.

    Peter Leo - U23 Triathlete - Student of Sports Science

    Read the full testimonial >


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