Tips for the Trail – Greg Rock on How to Find a Coach

By Trey
Apr. 20, 2018

Two-time XTERRA Trail Run Regional Champ Greg Rock has been an XTERRA off-road triathlete and trail runner since 2007. In addition to his own success on the trails, he has been coaching athletes since 2015 through his program, Rocket Fitness. He is a certified personal trainer and is currently finishing his Level II Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) certification. We recently caught up with Greg to ask him about his coaching philosophy, the benefits of working with a coach, and the top questions you should be asking.

Q. What is your coaching philosophy?
I’m a proponent of exercise scientist Stephen Seiler. He warns against “black hole training,” which is the moderate exertion zone in which most people train (roughly 4-8 on the 1-10 scale.) Most people fall into the training zone that is hard to resist – an enjoyable but vigorous workout that isn’t painful but that’s challenging enough to feel good about yourself after the workout. This is the zone where you start running fast enough so that it’s difficult to carry on a conversation.

The problem with running at this level most of the time is that you aren’t ever running hard enough to make big fitness gains and you aren’t running slow enough to truly recover.

My coaching philosophy is similar to Seiler’s – run hard and run easy but don’t run in the middle. The middle is the “black hole.”

Q. Can you talk more about the 1-10 scale of effort?
Sure. 1 is basically zero effort and 10 is an all-out max sprint. Recovery days should be below a 4 on the effort scale and hard days should be above an 8. An 8 translates into 80 percent effort, or 80 percent of maximum heart rate. If you are using a heart rate monitor, you can estimate max heart rate with the equation 220-age. This gives you a safe starting point and can be adjusted as fitness improves and wearing a HR monitor during significant efforts will help narrow down your exact max HR.

Q. What are the benefits of having a coach?

A. A coach can save you a lot of time from doing research on your own and trying to find a program that works for you as an individual. A good coach has already done extensive research and he knows how to apply this research to individual athletes. There is so much information and coaching methods out there that it can be overwhelming as an individual to know what will work for you and your situation. A coach can be objective and apply her methods to you specifically. This means a coach can look at your life situation, fitness level, and goals and create a program to get you from where you are to where you want to be. It’s much more difficult to do this on your own.

Q. What should an athlete look for in a coach?
First you need a coach you can communicate clearly with so that nothing is confusing or left to interpretation. Second, the coach should have experience with your particular situation, whether it’s an injury or a busy work schedule. Third is to understand the Coach’s credentials by spending some time researching the credential so you understand what it means and how it compares to others.

Q. What questions should an athlete ask a prospective coach?

A. The best questions you can ask are, “How can you help me specifically?” and “How have you helped someone in my situation before?”

Q. What’s the worst thing you can do as an athlete?

A. Not being 100 percent truthful is probably the worst thing as this hurts the relationship and the training effectiveness. This would be another area in the coach selection process to cover. You need to find a coach you are comfortable sharing with.

Greg is available to answer specific questions from athletes. You can reach him at: rocketfitness1 [at]

Trail Run