Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pedaling Techniques

I thought everyone could ride a bike....
The other day I talked to a friend of mine and he told me that I need to pull my leg backwards when the leg is in its "resting" position in order to become more efficient.

I got a little scared because I have never done that and the mere thought of activating the back of my leg when pushing down on the other side would feel really strange.

Last night I started to investigate and quickly became aware of new ground braking biking technical terms like – Scraping of the mud…..

Don´t know if this is of any relevance to any of you at all but the avi gave me some new things to train when hitting the roads very soon…

Wonder how this affects the FTP J

HRM part II and a tough day at the office...

So - following up on our HRM discussion, here's a practical example from last Sunday's 140km ride through Catalan Wine Country, Penedes:

As you can see, we encountered a few hills, especially Ordal is pretty tough. Logging 900m of climbs in total:

And hence, you can see my HR during the 3h15m of key training (total ride was close to 4 hours):

So I am clocking 144 BPM on average, which I guess is OK for now. Must say I maxed out on some climbs, and also during the last flat home to BCN, where Guillermo pushed close to 52-53 km/h and I had tunnel vision. For a comparison, Guillermo posted 128 BPM for the same training - that's scary ;)

Map and Elevation using:
HRM is my Garmin FR405.

Cheers - T

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stay healthy, doing weights and this week´s trainings - Thomas

Started out still a bit sick after recovering from the many hours of training in Lanzarote. Remember that every training of 2+ hours leaves your immune system 50% weaker for a period of up to 48 hours. That basically means our defenses are constantly under pressure and we´re so much more in risk of catching illness. Be extra careful with bacteria and virus, wash your hands a few extra times a day, which has shown to be one of the best way to avoid spreading virus or bacteria. Also never drink from co-athletes sweaty drinking bottle, etc.

It´s strange how the mind also starts adapting to many hours of training. Before, a 4 hour bike ride was like "oh-man-that-sooo-long-and-tough" and now it feels short compared to the 6-7 hour rides we did in Lanzarote. Consider how to train your mind to better digest these long days on the bike - it all starts in your head.

Barcelona weather is at its best for January - we´re experiencing 20-22 degrees since New Years and hence taking advantage to get some hours done on the bike.

Monday: 1h run - 14km, 45min weights
Tuesday: 2h bike, 2.8km swim
Wednesday: 1h40m trail run - 20km, 30 mins compex
Thursday: 2h20m bike, 30 mins compex
Friday: 1h run, 3km swim
Saturday: 4h bike, 30 mins compex
Sunday: 4h bike (TT specific) and 60 mins compex

Summarizing some 21 hours.

I have changed my strategy on weights sessions. Before I did fewer reps (8-12) with more weight, resulting in a fast bulk-up. Last January I gained 3-4 kg of muscle mass in one month, which were looking great, but not really helping me to be light for IM Lanzarote. Good news is that I lost these kilograms during the long trainings during spring-time. And I guess it had a good impact on the improvements I experienced on the bike last year.

Since December I have been doing 2-3 weight sessions a week with 8-10 exercises, both legs (leg press and calves), swim-related weights (triceps, shoulders and back) and core-strength (lower back, abs and hips) - now with 15-20 reps. Hence, I expected no or low bulk-up. I guess I was wrong, as I am now back to around 75 kg (3 kg above racing weight) and my fat% is definitely at an all-time low (after quitting wine and beers - gotta admit, that works).

To be frank, I am again a bit clue-less on what to do - to avoid this bulk-up or just leave it be, hope for the best. I know my fast-twitch muscle fibers would make me a great body-builder or 100m runner, but that´s not really what I am after right now. Any comments or advice is most appreciated - thanks and enjoy your Sunday!

Cheers - T

Friday, January 14, 2011

Heart Rate Monitoring for Ironman Training & Racing

You can find 1000s of articles on HRM, so I won´t bother you with the wonders of the ability to listen to your heart. Just a few words on my experiences and some pros and cons.

No doubt, a HRM gives you an overview of the effort at which you body is delivering in a training or a race. After all, the reason the heart is beating, is to pump blood and then oxygen and fuel to your muscle cells to perform. The more fuel and O2 needed - the higher your pulse. There´s a nice close-to-linear relationship between effort delivered and your pulse. However, it´s not (as many think) perfect, but for the novice athlete its a great tool to measure and plan your effort in trainings. Below some pros and cons from my side - let me hear some of your experiences as comments here, thanks:

  • Gives you the ability to express your effort as a % of a max pulse. As mentioned, testing Max pulse is not too healthy - instead use Functional Threshold pulse (explained in "Going Long" and here on the blog)
  • Works as an early indicator "life saver" in case you are having (1 out of 50000 rookies in marathons do have) a heart attack during training or racing. Stop if your pulse suddenly max out with no obvious reason.
  • Gives you a good indication of when you are working out and when you are training. Stop working out - start training.

  • HRM can be deceiving, since it IS not very precise. E.g. I can do a 40mins 10K run at 81% of max HR one day. And a week later do the same test, only to find that my HR was 89%. Nobody can (still) explain this deviation - but certainly it has to do with sleep, food, stress and we all know that substances like cigarettes and coffee put the heart under an extra stress. Don´t make HRM an exact science - it´s NOT!
  • "Optimal Fat Burning Rate" is a myth invented by producers of Treadmills - forget it, it´s too low to be a good training anyway.

Get a good HRM:
Nowadays the producers of HRM are struggling to win this huge market, introducing Oh-so-great features in many colors and facets. A HRM can be a cheap tool, that (by the end of the day) must only support the ability to measure:
  1. your HR here and now
  2. express it as a % of your max pulse (or Functional Threshold Pulse)
  3. average pulse over the course of a training
Good brands are Suunto (e.g T3 or T6), Polar and also Garmin, who make the FR405 and FR305 which has a GPS to precisely add distance to your trainings.

It can be nice to have a water proof HRM and timing for swimming - Garmin is NOT!

Personally, I don´t use HRM. I dropped it after various conversations with my coach Marcel Zamora (5 times winner of IM France), who is very explicit on the downsides of HRM. Also I push myself a bit harder if I can, without looking at my wrist every now and then. And finally time seems to fly by faster in my trainings.

Please comment - let me know what you think about HRM - Cheers T

Monday, January 10, 2011

Functional Threshold Power

So addressing Peter´s request on Max HR test, which I´d initially advice not to do. Instead (as per "Going Long" - find your Functional Threshold Heart Rate and calculate your levels from here. It is not exactly rocket science, but big books has been written on this subject. Read below article on a primer on Threshold HR and advice on training - this is pretty advanced, but really useful to get a hold on:

Now we're in to the big scary world of smoke and mirrors! Whether you know it or not, Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is one of the key factors of your cycling armoury. But don't worry if you don't know what it is or why it should be important to you, you're not alone.

Functional Threshold Power is a phrase that has as many perceived meanings as there are gears on a bike. In this article we'll try to explain, what it is, why you should be interested in it and how you can go about understanding, measuring and improving it, to enable you to be a fitter, faster, stronger cyclist.

Before we start, a reality check. Whole books have been written on this subject, so we're not going to cover every nuance, or better still overcomplicate things, in a simple, one page article. I'll try to make this factsheet deep enough to portray a meaningful representation of the subject but not that deep as we end up drowning in science and psycho-babble. So here goes...

The General Consensus
It's generally agreed that your Functional Threshold Power is the maximal power output you can sustain for the duration of one hour. It's NOT your "average" power. As average has a different meaning in a power context to "sustained".

There are many ways to compute, extrapolate or test for Functional Threshold Power and Dr Andrew Coggan seems to be the man with a plan when it comes to this area of cycling science. So who am I to contradict. Most of this article will be a reflection of the work of himself and others, with punditry and anecdotal insight from myself!

Your Starter for Ten...
Calculating your FTP is quite straightforward. If you've got power meter analysis software (WKO+ see sidebar on the right) you can use your race and training data to accurately estimate your FTP through the Normalised Power function at the 60 minutes axis point. If you're unsure just email me and I'll send you a link.

Ramp Test, MAP Test or Conconi Test.You could do a Ramp Test, a profile of which is seen here, and extrapolate the figures you need from its results. The final 60 seconds of sustained power are computed and approximately 75% of that gives you your FTP.

An alternative is to carry out a six minute wVO2max Test and extrapolate your figures, from that. There is also a 20 minute test for slightly more accurate results or you could go the whole hog and do a one hour test (a 25 mile/40k TT) and get pretty much 100% accurate results from that.

You can also compute your FTP from your lactate threshold as the two are very closely related. They're not the same but they are near neighbours in the world of FTP figures.

So loads of ways to calculate it so there's no excuses for not having a ball park figure! You can even do it with heart rate alone, you don't need a power meter, although strictly speaking you obviously won't actually have your functional threshold power figures!

If you're anything like me (an accomplished slacker) you'll find it very difficult to concentrate for a full 60 minutes, especially when it starts hurting and there's no one to talk to. So a 20 minute test (shown above) is a good a way as any of getting some scores on the doors.

Crack out a full on 20 minute ride (a 10 mile TT), grab your normalised power figure, and you've got 105% of your functional threshold. It's not as accurate as a full hour test, but it's less stressful, easier to fit in to a busy schedule, and as close as we need to be for the level of racing and training we undertake. Remember, this site is written for people who live in the real world!

Realising your potential
Okay, now we've got a figure for our functional threshold what do we do with it? Functional threshold development is all about making our athletic engine more efficient.

As a competitive cyclist, raising FTP should be your primary objective. We need to become more efficient at making use of our overall effectiveness. Here I'll explain why.

Two riders can have exactly the same relative VO2max, but it will be the one with a higher Functional Threshold Power that prevails come judgement day; or the Island Championships as they're known in Jersey.

Two club riders may turn out exactly the same power over the course of an hour. They're physical attributes, heart volume and lung capacity, may differ so their heart rates could be miles apart. The power outputs and the lines on the wattage graph may be the same but their physiological response, sensations and emotions most definitely won't!

There's more to this game than just high power figures.

Not big and not clever
Power meter users often try to hit the big maximal power numbers to reflect the measure of their prowess on the bike. Mines bigger than yours type of thing.

I'm sorry to have to disappoint our macho men, but it's the biggest FTP that's going to do the damage when it matters not maximal power output. You may have a 1000 watt sprint but if you've only got a 200 watt FTP then you ain't going to be around at the end of the race to show everyone what a sprint god you are.

I've tested some phenomenally strong riders in the lab that would be dropped before they got to the first hill in the 25 mph "race to the base". As with all things at our level, moderation in everything is the key to success. It's the lactic threshold, aerobic/anaerobic boundary that determines who'll be around for the sprint. It isn't necessarily the strongest sprinter in the race that takes home the medals.

You're more likely to be "in for a win" with a 900 watt sprint and a 300 watt FTP. Just redirect your focus to the less glamorous side of the training spectrum and reap the rewards.

Functional threshold power gives you a baseline from which which you can design your future training levels. Once you have enough power data to draw a conclusion, changing your FTP is pretty straightforward, it's hardly easy to do but is easy to target; if you get my meaning.

First you need to establish your FTP baseline. Re-read the General Consensus text above and decide how you are going to evaluate your current fitness level and determine your functional threshold power.

Once you have an accurate baseline figure we can now go to town on improving it and transforming your season, your results and quite possibly your sexual prowess. The final conclusion is from highly anecdotal evidence that has little chance of being peer reviewed; but at least I've now got your interest!

In the table above we've taken a rider with a a Functional Threshold Power of 300 watts. If you can knock out a 25 mile TT in or around an hour you're in this region.

The table describes Coggan's Power Levels that have become the benchmark for many power meter users over recent years. Don't be misled in to thinking the levels are compartmentalised in to "black and white" discrete bins of power and physiological response. There is a sliding line continuum that blends from one level to the next. It just fits our mindset better if we put it in to pretty coloured boxes.

For instance you don't go from below 74% of FTP being wholly Endurance pace and 76% of FTP being wholly Tempo pace. There is no physiological switch from one level to the next, just a sliding scale of effort that eases across the identified training responses. However the levels do give us a framework for understanding, developing and structuring, sustained improvement.

To summarize
So there it is. Get tested, by doing it yourself or in a lab; get your Functional Power Threshold numbers, do some really easy maths, train at the right level twice a week for three weeks. Take a recovery week, measure yourself again and recalculate the figures for your next batch of three weeks' sessions.

It really is that simple and that quick. And it's a 100% sure fire hit of increasing your threshold, your performance and your enjoyment on the bike. Other than a race win, there is little more satisfying experience on a bike than knowing the training your doing is bringing results. It's such a gratifying feeling, as an athlete and a coach, to see immediate, sustained, measurable progression.

If the rewards aren't enough to accept the lack of variety, then don't feel there isn't an alternative. These intervals don't have to be carried out as an exclusive session. Why not do a one hour turbo session in the week based on this work out. Then include the other 20 minute sessions as part of a road ride. I try to get my big distance sportive riders and Iron Man athletes to include a 20 minute controlled burn up in every hour of their long weekend rides as part of their Pre-Competition build up. The results they bring, as you can see, are spectacular.

The Message
Hopefully this factsheet has provided the information to help you take your threshold power to the next level. You don't advance your power output by riding around for three hours on a club run at whatever speed the leaders choose; or knocking out 1000 watt intervals for 5 seconds at a time. There is a sweet spot or, as you'll find when banging it out on the turbo, a sweat spot, that brings returns that far exceed the perceived effort. And I'll vote for that any day.

These intervals should not be a bare all, gritted teeth, hang on for grim death, type effort. They should be a controlled effort on the edge of aerobicity (my new word from last month!). You are not Einstein, you can't redefine the laws of physics. The maths, the workout and the results are simple;

85% of FTP for 20 mins = continuous improvement

So stay at that intensity and reap the rewards. If you want to make the interval harder, cut the rest interval by one minute per week. Then after your recovery week, increase the effort and reinstate the 4 minute recovery period. DON'T increase the wattage because you think you can. Of course you can pedal as hard as you want you just won't get the results you were expecting. Reign it in and wait for the gains to arrive; show restraint and save your pent up energy for the race.

Functional Threshold Power can be described to a layman as "how fast you can cruise." Cruising plays a major part in endurance sports such as cycling and being efficient at high cruising speeds is our ultimate aim. The fresher you are when you get to the finish the better position you'll be in physically and mentally for the finale of the end game and the race winning sprint. Enjoy the rewards of your 85% efforts because they bring 100% results.

Read full article here: