Successful Holiday Strategies for Endurance Athletes

How is it even the holiday season already?!  Seems like it was just yesterday we were up in Truckee for road cycling nationals…

The holiday season can be stressful and hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  You have more demands on your time, the days are shorter, and there are the social gatherings with tempting sweets.  With all these stresses and opportunities to splurge, it is pretty easy to slip away from your healthy routines and skip a workout here and there.  While some indulgence isn’t necessarily a bad thing, letting that snowball into weeks of missed workouts and chocolate turtle cookies for breakfast can be problematic and set you back once spring rolls around.  It is possible to lose a lot of those hard-fought gains you worked for throughout the year with 3 – 4 weeks of missed workouts, cocktail parties, and cookie trays.

Cookies

The good news is that there are easy strategies to prevent that from happening.   When it comes to workouts, I like to emphasis frequency and consistency with my athletes, not volume.  That essentially means more frequent shorter workouts is better than less frequent longer workouts even if your weekly volume is the same.  For example, a 30-minute trainer workout done 4 times a week is better than 1 two-hour ride on the weekend.  This is also a good time of the year to focus on some strength training.  There are a lot of body weight programs that only take 15  – 20 minutes that could be done a lot more frequently.  Hip bridges, body weight squats, planks, side-planks, and pull-ups are all great exercises for endurance athletes.  If you have access to a gym, getting in three 45 – 60 minute higher intensity strength workouts can do wonders to retain fitness as well as give you an opportunity to work on weaknesses that have been neglected throughout the year. (Blatant plug)  Weight Training for Cycling: The Ultimate Guide is a good resource in setting up a strength program for this time of the year.

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Using an indoor trainer to maintain cycling fitness can also be a good strategy for getting in quick workouts.  Getting your bike setup and leaving it ready on the trainer is a good way to eliminate excuses from getting in that quick spin.  When you get on the trainer you should have a plan for how you are going to use your available time.  Don’t just get on and spin your legs away.  Here are a few workouts to get you started:

  1. Micro-burst intervals: Warm-up for 5 – 10 minutes.  Then complete 1 blowout effort for 30 seconds at a hard effort (9 out of 10 perceived exertion).  Spin for 2 – 3 minutes then start 2 – 10 minute efforts where you ride at maximum intensity for 30 seconds, and then spin easy for 30 seconds, repeating until the 10 minutes is done.  Spin easy for 5 minutes and repeat the 10 minute effort again.  Cool down with at least 3 – 5 minutes of easy spinning.  Total time can be as short as 35 minutes.
  2. High Cadence Efficiency Drills: Warm-up for 5 -10 minutes.  Then start 4 x 5 minutes at the highest cadence you can maintain without bouncing in the saddle.  Recover at your normal self selected cadence for 1 minute between efforts.  Your intensity for the high cadence efforts should be close to your normal endurance pace.  Cool down with at least 3 – 5 minutes of easy spinning.  Total time can be as short as 30 minutes.
  3. Threshold Intervals: Warm-up for 5 – 10 minutes. Then complete 3 x 10 minutes at aerobic threshold or a perceived exertion of 8 out of 10.  This should be close to the max intensity you can maintain for the duration of the interval.  Recover for 2 minutes between efforts and cool down for at least 3 – 5 minutes after last effort.   Total time can be less than 40 minutes.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Why Should Endurance Athletes Strength Train?

Before we even begin on this, let me say that this is probably one of the biggest debated topics in endurance training.  Every fall there are inflammatory threads starting in training forums all over the interwebs.  Most of them lack any scientific basis.  What I would like to present is a scientifically supported argument to why strength training is beneficial to performance as well as an athlete’s general health.

As the season comes to end, most endurance cyclists are taking a bit of time off for recovery (seriously don’t skip this!) and then beginning their base season training for the next year.  Base training can vary by the athlete, but the main goal is to establish the base fitness required for a successful season.  Traditionally, endurance athletes would just pile on the miles and try to fit in as much time as possible.  Recently over the last few years we have seen athletes changing that model and started including more intensity through threshold intervals, traditionally 2 x 20 minutes at ~95% of threshold, and a bit less volume.  Including some sub-threshold intensity is good, learning how to jump higher will also generally improve all sport performances but what I see most endurance athletes missing is a good weight training program throughout the base program to build strength.

“Whoa there buddy!  Endurance athletes are typically skinny, bird chested guys.  We don’t need weights!”  Who couldn’t forget this IMBA ad.

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Yep, elite cyclists in particularly have traditionally been skinny with as little upper body muscle mass as possible.  Triathletes have typically been a bit more balanced, but strength training hasn’t been a huge part of a typical triathletes training program either.  Thankfully, in both cyclists and triathletes we are starting to see this change and getting into the gym during the winter is becoming much more common.  But does it really make us a better athlete?

For triathletes, the evidence is very clear that strength can be a huge limiter in running.  As an athlete runs faster the forces against the body increase exponentially.  For cyclists it is a little less clear since max force in most situations is not a limiter in cycling performance.  What can be a limiter is the drop in sub-maximal force production as we fatigue.  If you are starting with a higher capacity to create force, the drop in force production from fatigue is significantly less, and you are less likely to fatigue at all from the smaller force requirements of cycling when compared to what is required in weight lifting.   It is hard to create the amount of time under tension needed in cycling to drive these increases in force production.  While some short, over geared efforts are effective at creating the necessary torque, the dynamics of cycling make it hard to maintain that torque for very long.  Doing some strength training is necessary to get ­the required time under tension. ­

Hey Dude! Put a shirt on...

Hey Dude! Put a shirt on…

It is also that time under tension that helps increase the innervation of muscle motor units in the legs.  Stimulating more motor units is key to driving adaptation to strength training.  Work done by Dr. Henneman (ELWOOD HENNEMAN AND CAMILLE B. OLSON2 (1964) RELATIONS BETWEEN STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION IN THE DESIGN OF SKELETAL MUSCLES Department of Physiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts) has shown that muscles will fire smaller motor units first and progress to bigger fibers as force increases.  This is important when looking at how best to improve muscle innervation and overall muscle adaptation.  Movements that require less force will typically stimulate less muscle fibers resulting in more fatigue in those fibers.  If we are able to make a better brain-to-muscle nerve connection and stimulate more motor units of the muscle than we can effectively lengthen time to fatigue.  To do that we need to train our muscles at higher force levels than typically seen in cycling, or running.  I would even argue that this is a good indication that to maximize our gains in the gym we need to lift relatively heavy.  At least heavier than most traditional endurance athlete strength programs prescribe.

Beyond force production gains, strength training can also increase effective joint ranges and mobility.  The stronger we are, the better we can control extremities through a broader range of motion.  One of the most challenging aspects of riding a bike efficiently is maintaining an ideal position.  Most cyclists struggle with mobility and maintaining an effective hip range of motion while keeping a neutral spine on the bike.  This very evident when looking at a rider’s position on a time trial or triathlon bike.  Typical efficient aerodynamic positions on a time trial or triathlon bike require around 120 degrees of hip flexion which can be improved in the weight room with squats where we are requiring the hips to drive power well past 120 degrees of flexion.  An ideal road bike position typically requires ~110 degrees of hip flexion which is still 20 degrees past where most people typically flex their hips (are you sitting while you are reading this?!).  Training in a greater range of motion will result in better control in movements requiring less range of motion.

Impressive hip flexion even though he has some curvature at lumbar spine

Impressive hip flexion even though he has some curvature at lumbar spine

It should be noted that bike fit can accommodate virtually any hip range of motion.  As a bike fitter, we often have to accommodate tight hamstrings, glutes, and other limitations but those limitations don’t result in an ideal position.  It is an accommodated position that makes compromises to power production for better comfort of the rider.  By working on mobility, both in and out of the weight room, we achieve a better, more efficient position.

Runners also run into form issues when the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back) fatigue resulting in a lack of hip extension.  This creates a forward lean and more dependency on the anterior legs, calves, and hip flexors as well as a decrease in performance.   The best example of this phenomena is in the finishing miles of an Ironman triathlon where many athletes are lacking the ability to even stand up straight.

I know this copywrited but I couldn't find the photo to purchase.  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PHOTOGRAPHERS!

I know this copywrited but I couldn’t find the photo to purchase. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PHOTOGRAPHERS!

If you need other reasons to force yourself to start a weight training program this winter, you can look at the several general health benefits you can get through strength training that you can’t achieve through typical endurance training.  For example: increases in bone mass; preventing or reversing sarcopenia; more effective weight loss; and better hormonal balance.

The studies done to date have shown that to really maximize these benefits it is needed to lift relatively heavy weights.  While doing strength workouts with relatively lighter weights is needed at times, picking up the bigger weight plates and doing a few less reps will have a much bigger impact on your fitness and overall health.  This does put a bigger load on the central nervous system and the risk of injury is slightly higher, but prioritizing these workouts before getting in the endurance workout is crucial for safety and maximizing performance.

What is the best way to start?  Learn to front squat and deadlift properly.  These can be huge foundation movements and can drastically improve movement patterns for everything you do in life.  Honestly, the benefits of learning these movements are huge and should not be underestimated!

I am very happy to announce that later this winter, my book Weight Training for Cyclists will be released and will further expand on the above topics as well give the athlete a good weight training program that can be easily added into their on-the-bike training.  Stay tuned for more details!

References:

Abt, John P.; Smoliga, James M.; Brick, Matthew J.; Jolly, John T.; Lephart, Scott M.; Fu, Freddie H. (2007), Relationship between cycling mechanics and core stability.  Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: November 2007

Bolam KA, van Uffelen JG, Taaffe DR. 2013. The effect of physical exercise on bone density in middle-aged and older men: a systematic review. Osteoporos Int. 2013 Nov;24(11):2749-62. doi: 10.1007/s00198-013-2346-1. Epub 2013 Apr 4.

Christie, A., & Kamen, G. (2009). Gender and age-related training adaptations in maximal motor neuron firing rate. ACSM 56th Annual Meeting, Seattle, Washington. Presentation number 2700.

Elliot, Diane L., Goldberg, Linn, Kuehl, and “Effect of Resistance Training on Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption.” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: May 1992

HENNEMAN, ELWOOD AND CAMILLE B. OLSON2 (1964) RELATIONS BETWEEN STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION IN THE DESIGN OF SKELETAL MUSCLES Department of Physiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Nichols JF, Palmer JE, Levy SS. (2003), Low bone mineral density in highly trained male master cyclists. Osteoporos Int. 2003 Aug;14(8):644-9. Epub 2003 Jul 11.

Porter C1, Reidy PT, Bhattarai N, Sidossis LS, Rasmussen BB. (2014), Resistance Exercise Training Alters Mitochondrial Function in Human Skeletal Muscle. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Dec 23.

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Hollan, I. and Ellefsen, S. (2015), Strength training improves performance and pedaling characteristics in elite cyclists. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 25: e89–e98. doi: 10.1111/sms.12257

Warner SE, Shaw JM, Dalsky GP. 2002. Bone mineral density of competitive male mountain and road cyclists. Bone 30(1):281-6.

 

 

Interbike 2015 Part 2

Open U.P.

In case you missed it, I covered the latest on power meters and a few other technical items from interbike earlier this week here.  This is the post on of the other fun things seen at interbike plus a few other bits of tech.

Between the fit symposium, technical power meter reviews, and discussions over new fitness products we are able to sneak in some time to check out some cool new bikes and products.  This year didn’t disappoint either.  There was plenty on convention floor that count our attention and we were stoked on to try.  There were a few other things that had us shaking our heads as well.  Here is a little bit of both.

Open U.P.

Open U.P.

Open’s U.P. (unbeaten Path) 650b cross bike with full 2.0 mountain bike tires, or 700c x 40 cross tires, was one of the first bikes to catch our attention.  Not only was the concept of an adventure cross bike with more capable tires pretty rad, the attention to detail on this bike was amazing.  Direct mount disc brakes, fully internal cables and hydraulic lines, top bag adventure mount, and through axles to keep the frame stiff all made this bike one of the top of the show for us.  

Merckx EM525

Merckx EM525

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More on the road side, the Merckx EM525 was another bike that really caught our attention.  The disc brake DI2 bike had swoopy clean lines, with internally routed cables and hydraulic lines, as well as direct mount disc brakes (which is thankfully becoming the standard).  

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One of the more awesome displays was Bradley Wiggins hour record-setting TT bike on display at Pinarello.  This had to be one of the sleekest TT bikes I have seen.  Every detail was meticulous on this bike down to the 3-d printed custom aero bars used by Wiggins to set the record.  _DSC5568

A bit more on the tech side, new GPS computers were everywhere at the show with Wahoo, Lezyne, and Garmin showing off new bar mounted units.  The new Wahoo Elemnt is their first computer that can work as a standalone unit and doesn’t have to be paired with your phone, although there is some pretty awesome features on this one when you do have it paired including map integration with third-party services like Strava, and direct upload of workout files to Garmin connect, Training Peaks, or Strava.  The Elemnt can also pair with power meters and heart rate straps via ANT+ or bluetooth.

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Lezyne debuted a full suite of GPS computers including the mini GPS (10 hour of battery lift and 40 hours of recording), the Power GPS (22 hour battery life with 200 hours of recording time), and the Super GPS  (22 hours of battery life with 400 hours of recording time).  The Mini GPS is just a simple GPS cyclometer with no power or HR integration, the Power GPS has bluetooth connectivity but no ANT+ (ironically making the Power GPS not compatible with a lot of power meters on the market), and the Super GPS can do both bluetooth and ANT+.  All of the Lezyne computers look like a nice option for a small, simple computer that can give you solid core functionality.  

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Last but not least, Garmin was showing off the compact 25.  This being the smallest GPS computer I have seen, it was nice to see that it still has bluetooth connectivity for heart rate straps and works on the more sensitive GLONASS GPS system for better accuracy.  At this point it doesn’t have any power meter integration (though they indicated that might happen for bluetooth enabled PMs through a firmware update at some point) not ANT+ integration.

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One of the more ridiculous things I saw at the show was WTBs new lock on grip system that requires cutting your bars at a 45 degree angle to allow for the locking mechanism.  To cut your bars you will need a special tool that fits into a standard Park Tool steerer cutting guide.  Alternatively, WTB makes a special bar to use with these grips as well.  I still don’t know why this is any better than a standard clamp on grip…  A close second in the ridiculous category is Rotor’s hydraulic drivetrain.  While impressive from an engineering standpoint, electronic drivetrains is where it is at…

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A few other quick notes in general:

  • Electronic integration in bikes is continuing to progress.  Electronic drivetrains, wireless drivetrains, electronic wireless mountain bike dropper posts, and electronically controlled lockouts for dual suspension mountain bikes have continued to progress and finding their way on to more and more bikes. _DSC5591
  • As a whole, the cycling industry has really stepped aerodynamic technology.  No doubt driven by Specialized who has led the industry in aerodynamic advances (it helps having your own wind tunnel).  
  • Matte paint (preferably high vis and black) for road, cross, and mountain bikes is definitely the new trend.  Norco bikes had some of the best looking bikes all with matte paint treatments. _DSC5574
  • The better the shoe, the brighter the colors.  At least that is the theme at Sidi, Scott, Giro, and Shimano.  Also, laces are rad!
  • Lastly, Cross Vegas is awesome and this year was made all the better with it being the opening round of the UCI World Cup.  20150916_220555

 

Full gallery of photos here!

Interbike 2015 Part 1

Vegas

 

Among the lights, glitter, and show girls every September Las Vegas hosts Interbike to show off the latest and greatest.  Interbike is by far the biggest cycling convention in North America and has continued to evolve from just a place where companies show off new products to a congregation of the smartest minds and companies in the cycling industry.  A good example of that was the Interbike Fit Symposium hosted on Tuesday afternoon before the indoor show began.  Among the presenters and attendees was Dr.Andy Pruit (arguably the originator of modern bike fitting and BG fit), Ben Serrotta (master fitter, owner of Serrotta Bicycles, and responsible for the original education program for bike fitting), Dan Empfield (owner of slowtwich and FIST fitting methodology), Paul Swift (owner of Bikefit and creator of the Lemond Wedges now used by almost all fitting philosophies), and Paraic McGlynn (owner of Cyclologic and creator of the Trek Bike Fitting system) among others.  It was an incredibly powerful collection of minds in the fit industry.  Not only were new ideas and concepts shared, but this also created a very good opportunity to network with other leaders in the industry.  

Interbike Fit Symposium

Interbike Fit Symposium

Monday and Tuesday of the week is Outdoor Demo Days.  It is an opportunity to take out the latest bikes and ride them in real world conditions to see how they perform.  I honestly ride very few road bikes while there mainly because the trail network in Boulder City is so phenomenal.  It really is a fun place to ride.  The highlights of demo days was the Jamis Defcon, which was by far the best all mountain bike I rode, and the Pivot Mach429 which was the best all around bike. Besides bikes on display, many companies have opted to also show components out at demo days and allow attendees another opportunity to check out their goods.  Speedplay and SRM were two such companies that took advantage of the opportunity.

Speedplay

Speedplay

Wednesday morning started the convention indoors and allowed companies to show off their new products.  Being a coach and bike fitter, I tend to concentrate on the latest training gear and bike fitting products including shoes, saddles, and pedals.  For this article, we will just go over the latest in power meters.  In the next article I will go over the latest in contact points as well as other cool things seen at the show.

Seems like every year there are a handful of new powermeters on the market, most of which never make it to market.  One example of that is the Brimm Brothers cleat mounted power meter.  Shown last year at the show, it is still in a “pre-order” phase with no ship dates being shown.  It is important to keep that in mind when talking about a few of these new products.  

Powerbeat by Wattteam

Powerbeat by Wattteam

One brand new product shown was the Powerbeat by Wattteam.  It is a user installed, dual sided power meter, that is set to retail for $499.  The Powerbeat is compatible with almost any crank on the market including carbon cranks, and is both ANT+ and bluetooth compatible.  It features a rechargable battery with about 40 hours of ride time.  Considering that it took Stages quite a while to have a carbon product (more on this below), I am a bit skeptical they will be able to hit their 2% accuracy claim across all crank arms.  The install process is also quite interesting given that 4iiii decided on not following through with their original plan of letting users or bike shops do the install.  I didn’t get to see the install process first hand but the tools and videos online look to be pretty straight forward.  They are set to start shipping near the end of the year so expect to see some real world testing soon.  I am hoping this product lives up to its claims as it could be a very affordable way for athletes to get into a dual sided power meter.

Carbon Stages Options

Carbon Stages Options

The latest at Stages was they now have a carbon arm product and have dropped prices to a $529 entry point.  The carbon crank arm (with an interchangeable bottom bracket spindle for SRAM and FSA) starts at $629 for the crank arm and $70 for the bottom bracket spindle.  The carbon products are set to begin shipping this winter or spring.  Here is the full pdf of all their options and pricing.

Pioneer debuted a new left side only powermeter starting at $800 for an Ultegra version.  They were no changes for their awesome dual sided power meter for Ultegra and Durace cranks which retail for $999 if you already own a crank, and $1850 (Durace) or $1550 (Ultegra) with a complete crank.

Pioneer Power Meter

Pioneer Power Meter

 

There were no major changes over a Quarq but they were still showing the best option for a mountain bike power meter.  The Quarq XX1 power meter is light, reliable, dual sided, and is $1399 for a GXP and $1449 for a BB30 model.

Quarq XX1

Quarq XX1

SRM only attended demo days earlier in the week but there was not much new with them besides the fact that the Power Control 8 computer has finally begun shipping.  

Powertap had lots new with the not only small refinements to their hubs (enduro bearings and a new disc brake version), but the debut of their new chainrings (110mm 5-bolt spacing) and new pedals.  The Powertap C1 chainrings are only offered in a 110mm 5-bolt spacing as of now.  This is somewhat limiting but there are still multiple crank options that are compatible.  A full list of compatibility is available here.  At $699 these enter the market as a good lower cost option for a dual sided power meter.  

Powertap C1 Chainrings

Powertap C1 Chainrings

Power tap also released their new P1 pedal system.  This is a dual sided pedal based power meter system that has overcome some of the complexities of other pedal based systems.  It is literally an install like any other pedal without the need for torque wrenches.  It uses AAA batteries with approximately 400 hours of ride time.  Cost for the P1 is $1199.

Powertap P1 Pedals

Powertap P1 Pedals

Last but not least is the new RPM2 footbed based power meter system.  What is exciting about this system, besides being extremely portable, is its ability to give an athlete power for running and cycling as well as determining force distribution for other weight-bearing exercises like squatting. The insoles use 4 piezo electric strain gauges mounted in a left-right toe and heel pattern which would allow the athlete to see how they are running (heel striking and/or toe off patterns) and distributing their weight both on and off the bike.  Measuring power for running is very new, and something I am a bit skeptical about at this point, but it could be a huge leap forward in objective measurements of running performance.  Research is currently being done on how to best use power for running and how accurate it will be as a driver of running performance.  The system is currently expected to retail for $699 and be available near the end of the year.

RPM2

Two concerns I have with this system is that it doesn’t allow the customization of arch support, although they said it wouldn’t be an issue to add arch support above or below their footbed although overall shoe volume may be a major constraint.  The footbed is 7mm thick at the heel and 3.5mm thick at the toe making it hard to add additional support.  My other major concern, and really is a deal breaker until fixed, is that they aren’t ANT+ compatible and only bluetooth compatible with their own app which doesn’t allow for sharing of a data file.  This means no training peaks, strava, or other analysis software integration.  Most of the value from measuring power is done post workout and without that ability these really have limited use.

 

Stayed tuned for all the other cool stuff we saw at interbike last week including this SWEET bike!

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