Developments in human progress are objective. They don't care. They are neither good nor bad. In all cases, situations arise where the development is used in a manner that is not necessarily part of the vision that was intended when it was conceived.
I doubt Marie Curie ever intended for her work on radium radioactivity to be the basis of weaponized uranium. Likewise, I am positive that Tim Berners Lee never intended for marathon training plans to be transmitted across his interwebs. I'm also certain that the children in the Vietnamese sweatshop who made my compression shorts didn't intend for them to have a seam in the crotch which, when exposed to sweat, would create a system of razor-like teeth which would tear into the side of your nutsack with the ferocity of a rabid badger. However, they did and for that they should receive a hearty thunder punch to the baby-maker (and Tim should be right there in line with them).
Along with all the pluses of the information superhighway (the ability to avoid state sales tax, argue with people you never met using language you never normally would and access to free porn for 14 year old boys without needing to look under their fathers' bed ) there inevitably come the negatives. Contextual advertising making it obvious what you'll be getting for Christmas once someone has searched the item out on Amazon, the inviting notion that mini-pigs will remain mini their entire lives and never shit in your shoe closet and online athletic training plans are just the tip of the iceberg of evils inflicted upon us. Let's agree to just deal with the latter today.
First, let me say that, on the whole, I'm a big fan of the internet. It allows me to do things for my business that I could never do any other way. One day, I may be put out of business by a Watson-like computer that can remotely assess your form and weaknesses, prescribe drills to hone your technique and then motivate you throughout the workout as a result of it's psychoanalytical capabilities. Until then I think I'm safe. Unless, that is, people believe that online training plans are a good, useful thing full of value for it's end user and not a cynical attempt to remove hard-earned greenery from your bank account while providing you with a blueprint for frustration or even injury.
The best you can hope for
long-term is bacon. Real talk.
Here lies the rub. It's not that I dislike the dissemination of training plans using the internet. It's an excellent tool which I use daily and therein lies the problem. Training plans are disseminated as a result of assessment which means at high frequency. The workouts prescribed by a coach should be done by acquiring data, by visual assessment, telemetry, HR monitor / GPS system and then the process can begin in earnest. The data collected can be analyzed to determine whether or not the athlete met the objective of the workout. If that objective was met then perhaps a new objective can be fed to the athlete via their training plan. Perhaps further work is needed on technique requiring the prescription of drills. Perhaps aerobic or anaerobic capacity change was being sought. Regardless of the reasons for the last workout there is an assessment of performance, comparison to the outline of the plan and a decision can be made as to the objective of the next workout.
Compare that process to the one used by the online training plan. Usually there is a rudimentary stratification based on ability (beginner, intermediate and advanced). None of these have any definition associated usually which leaves the athlete to decide themselves what level of athlete they are. Next, you pay money and receive the plan. The whole plan. Without asking your age, gender, skill level, fitness level, PR times, injury history, med history or any other relevant data you are diagnosed and prescribed. Not so much as a "how do you feel today prior to your workout"? I suspect you're starting to smell what I'm stepping in here. What happens in week 8 when I get hit by a bus? How do I adjust my workout? What if my boss insists on me travelling to India for 10 days with no possibility of working out at all? How do I accommodate that kind of change? Do I just skip the workouts? If I can skip them then why did I have to do them? Now it's all going pear-shaped and we're getting awful close to race day. Bummer.
I don't remember who to credit with the following notion but it's been in my head since reading Covey and Collins et al in the business world. It was one of them, not I, that asserted that there is no value in a plan but there is much value in the act of planning. It is important then, that your training plan is adaptive. A coach must assess the activities of yesterday and the manner in which they are performed in order to formulate the optimal objective and mechanism for improvement today. Maybe for the sake of your sanity and economics it can be done weekly. It sure as hell can't be done monthly. Your plan is worthless. Plain and simple. A plan for improving athletic performance which is 1 month out is on par with a horoscope. With that said it would logically follow that one twelfth of you will be winning your next race. Tough titties if you're not an Aquarius.
Now, does it hurt to have a plan to follow to help you organize your workouts and time? Well, actually it could well do. I'll admit that anything written down will give you something to do today that you didn't have to think about and it therefore comes closer to achieving execution. However, once that workout doesn't seem palatable then the plan may not be adhered to. Worse still, you may end up doing a workout with volume emphasis that requires a level of technique that you aren't prepared for. The result is discomfort, then pain, then injury. Your coach is what keeps you from moving along that continuum. A plan will not care. It will work you to inoperability and dysfunction.
In summary, a training plan prescription is an egregious supposition about important factors influencing human performance and leaves them without consideration. Metaphorically, visiting your doctor, paying him, sitting down in his office to have him ask "on a scale of 1 to 3 how do you feel" and upon your numeric response prescribing you Xanax and bidding you good day, well...that actually sounds about right in many cases. Enjoy your training.