Endurance Training Recipes

I really enjoy cooking.  The act of mixing ingredients in the proper quantities at the right time to form “a whole greater than the sum of its parts” is a very rewarding experience.  For some recipes, like in baking, you have to be meticulous in measuring ingredients, temperatures, and techniques.  In others you can be a bit more off the cuff, tasting as you go, and adding in ingredients as needed.  Both are enjoyable, but completely different processes.  It is a mixture of this science and art that truly make the masterpieces.  A master chef has to have rock solid techniques, but also preserve the creativity to work outside the box to create new flavors, dishes, and experiences.  This is very similar to how we approach training athletes.

For real food recipes for athletes, this book is awesome!

For real food recipes for athletes, this book is awesome!

In endurance athletes, the ingredients are (but not limited to) the sport specific workouts, nutrition, lifestyle factors, and strength training.  The quantities of these ingredients, when we introduce them, and how they are mixed is what makes the magic happen.  Traditionally, endurance training was entirely focused on the sport specific workouts (for example: cycling for cyclists) with a bit of nutrition sprinkled in.  Now we know that the core has to be sport specific, but the other components are what can take an average athlete to a great athlete.


Change happens slowly in scientific athletic training.  Anecdotally we had been seeing how much these ancillary components were making huge differences in athletes, but it has been only recently that these results were confirmed in studies.  Part of the reason I wanted to write the Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Cyclists was to present a modern plan for adding in strength training to a typical cyclists training plan that combined what was being confirmed in scientific studies and what we were seeing working with athletes “in the field”.  Since the book has come out we have seen more studies published that provided even stronger evidence to the effectiveness of strength training for the endurance athlete. muscle_hpage_big

Most recently Inigo Mujika et. Al. published a study in April of 2016 titled “Effects of Increased Muscle Strength and Muscle Mass on Endurance-Cycling Performance.”  In that study they concluded that “Lower-body heavy strength training performed in addition to endurance-cycling training can improve both short- and long-term endurance performance. Strength-maintenance training is essential to retain strength gains during the competition season.

This confirms earlier studies done that had shown increases in efficiency and time to exhaustion (Sunde et. Al. “Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists.”).   In the last year we have seen three relatively large, well conducted studies showing the benefits strength training for the endurance athlete.

While a strength training program designed for a specific athlete to address their own weaknesses is ideal, a well-rounded strength program designed for endurance athletes that utilizes the latest techniques and strategies should result in positive results in almost all endurance athletes.  That strength program should be integrated with their own sport-specific periodized training, and should be focused on developing maximal strength.

Just as in cooking, when you add it and how much you add is just as important as what the specific ingredient actually is.  For strength training, the non-competitive season is the perfect time to add in the gym work in a relatively larger quantity. Don’t wait until the start of the new year, or when racing begins in the spring to start hitting the weights.  For most endurance athletes, the fall is the best time of the year to begin a strength program since we have the time to build a strong foundation before the racing begins.

I am a bit biased, but if you are looking for a way to add in strength training to your endurance training I can’t recommend enough The Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Cyclists.  Since its release last winter I have received numerous stories from athletes telling me how well the program has worked for them and how much their cycling has improved.

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Even if you don’t follow my strength program, getting into the gym and working on overall strength will only help your performance and overall health.  Go lift some weights!


Year End Transition Time

Not sure how everything happens so fast, but sure seems like the 2016 competitive season is wrapping up for most endurance athletes.  Unless your racing cyclocross (which is just about the most fun you can have racing a bike) there is a good chance your last race of the year has either just happened or going to happen in the next few weeks.  Locally here locally in Northern California there are a few road races, triathlons, and mountain bike races coming up but for the most part things are wrapping up within a week or two.  Most athletes that have been racing since February are probably ready for a break.  Even if you aren’t completely fried at this point, it is important to destress and reflect on the past season to ensure year-to-year gains.

Sea Otter 2016

I have written several times on the importance of recovery on an acute, day-to-day level.  The gains we make from that hard interval session is realized through recovery.  Along those same lines, year-to-year gains require a more extensive recovery period so that athletes don’t start the new season with a lot of residual fatigue.  Typically, that recovery consists of just some time off the bike while doing other activities that you don’t have the time for during the season.  That can be hiking with friends, surfing, or even just relaxing on the beach with some ice cream or a nice IPA.  The main goal of this period is to mentally and physically destress from the training and racing during the season while focusing on activities that let you recharge before beginning the build to next year.

It is also good to reflect on the previous season at this point, celebrate the successes while identifying where you fell short, and start setting goals for the next year.  I often look at season reviews from two different points of view: race results and fitness improvements.  For most athletes, getting better race results is the ultimate goal but we also want to see what improvements in fitness happened over the year and did that meet the demands of their racing.  Seeing better anaerobic power is good, but in a long course triathlete that won’t translate into better race results.  Making adjustments to their training plan will help to target the fitness gains that will translate into better race results.


Monitor Pass


This is also the time of the year that we get athletes into the gym to start working on neglected muscles, core, and improving any nagging injuries that developed throughout the season.  It is important to start slow and give yourself a few weeks to transition into the weight room.  This will minimize some of the soreness and decrease your injury risk.  After that transition period, it is time to get after it and start increasing the weights to build strength.

Off season goals?!

Off season goals?!

As an endurance athlete, your goal in the gym is to build strength.  We do that through lower reps and higher weights, not lower weight higher reps.  Low resistance and high reps is essentially what we do all year long in cycling, running, or swimming.  The goal of a strength program for endurance athletes is to increase the amount of force we can produce and heavier weights is the quickest path to achieve that.

Here is a good example of how we progress strength workouts in endurance athletes.  We would typically start transitioning into the gym with a lower body workout like this:

Box Squats 3 x 8 at body weight or approximately 50% of maximal weight
Deadlifts 3 x 8 at approximately 50% of maximal weight
Walking Lunges 3 x 8 at Body Weight
Hip Bridge 3 x 8 at Body Weight

After 2 – 3 weeks we would then progress this workout by upping the weight and decreasing the reps.  As an athlete adapts to the stress of the increased weight, we would then up the sets to increase training load.  We would follow this same progression with upper body weight workouts as well.

You can read more about how we incorporate strength work into an endurance athlete’s annual training plan as well as get a detailed strength program in my book: Strength Training for Cyclists: The Ultimate Guide.

Enjoy some time off and start setting big goals for 2017!


Effective Tapering for Endurance Athletes

How many times have you seen that athlete crushing group rides, winning a lot of small races, and then not be able to put it together when it really matters?  It happens pretty often and most of the time it has to do with what they did in those weeks leading up to a big event.  Tapering, the backing off of training stress to achieve a bigger peak, can bring some pretty impressive last-minute gains to an endurance athlete.  Effective tapering will increase VO2max through hypervolemia and enhanced red blood cell production; increase efficiency through biomechanical and neural origins (Houmard, 1994); and increase aerobic endurance due to improved metabolic properties of the muscles.  Combined this can give an endurance athlete up to a 8% increase in performance (Mujika. 1996).   What exactly is a taper?  A taper is a strategy to “maximize the decrease in accumulated fatigue while retaining or further enhancing physical fitness, thus leading to peak performance” (Bosquet. 2007)._DSC3581.ARW

One important aspect to realize with tapering is an effective taper does include an amount of detraining.  This is pretty easy to see when utilizing the performance manager chart in training peaks or in WKO4.  The lessening of training stress (acute training levels) allows the training stress balance to come up to positive numbers, as a result chronic training levels also drop.  Chronic training level (a rolling average of an athlete’s training stress over a rolling ~42 day period) is roughly synonymous with fitness.  Typically giving up a bit of CTL is worth the short-term advantage of being fresh for a race, however that may change depending on your goal event.  As rough guideline, longer events benefit from being fitter and shorter events benefit from being fresher but  you can fine tune this by doing some analysis on your own data (more on this below).

This performance manager chart for an Ironman athlete shows two distinctive tapers into a full IM at the end of July and one in the beginning of October. Note the drop in CTL during both tapers.

This performance manager chart for an Ironman athlete shows two distinctive tapers into a full IM at the end of July and one in the beginning of October. Note the drop in CTL during both tapers.  We gave up about 10% of his chronic training load in the lead up to the race.  Also note the loss in fitness from a 14 day rest period after the race.

When it comes to any aspect of training it is good to see where the evidence lies and use those principles to define your individualized plan.  Thankfully there have been quite a few studies done on tapering in endurance athletes that gives us some pretty solid guidelines.  Before going into specific guidelines it is important to realize that there are four aspects of training we can manipulate: intensity, volume, frequency, and duration.  Bosquet did a rather large scale meta-analysis including 27 total studies to determine what he describes as optimal guidelines  for an effective taper.

Intensity: Reducing intensity has not shown any increase in performance and most of the time resulted in a drop in performance of athletes.  However, an increase in intensity with a very low training volume did provide beneficial results.

Frequency:  Manipulating frequency in a taper seems to be dependent on what your normal training frequency is before the taper.  Several studies showed that if your workout frequency is 3 or less workouts a week than there isn’t any gains to be had from reducing training frequency (this athlete probably isn’t necessarily thinking about a taper either).  If your training frequency is 4 or more workouts per week than a reduction in frequency may yield gains in a taper.

Volume:  This is the biggest driver when it comes to taper and is the biggest variable when it comes to scientific studies.  We have seen effective ranges of volume reduction between 10 – 85%.  That is a huge range!  Mujika (Mujika. 1996) conducted a study comparing a less than 20% reduction, a 41 – 60% reduction, and a greater than 60% reduction in training volume with the biggest gains coming from the 41 – 60% reduction in training volume.  One important aspect in decreasing volume of an athlete is that of the psychological state of the athlete.  Reducing volume 60% in a highly motivated endurance athlete often results in a lot of doubt, loss of confidence, and additional stress.  Even though physiologically a 60% may be the best for an athlete, the psychological state also has to be assessed along this process and often a compromise has to be struck between the two.

Duration:  The most common length of a taper is around 2 weeks, however it has been shown that a short 7 day taper was effective in improving 40km time trial performance in cyclists (Neary. 2003).  Mujika also looked at taper length and found that an extended taper of 4 weeks to have additional gains over a 2 or 3 week taper, however a 5 and 6 week taper was less effective most likely due to the extended detraining effect.  For most athletes, a 8 – 14 day taper makes the most sense.

The event type definitely changes all of these variables significantly as longer events typically require more aerobic fitness, so doing a longer taper with the resulting detraining may not be in an athletes best interest.  Shorter events that typically require more anaerobic capacity normally benefit from a bit more freshness so a longer taper there may be more warranted.  Individual characteristics of athletes will also change how to best approach an event and this is where reviewing an athlete’s data can be invaluable._DSC1105.ARW

Utilizing a performance manager chart and correlating personal best performances to their training stress balance can give us a good idea of what state of fatigue an athlete needs to be at to produce the best results possible for their given event.  We can even fine tune this more by determining specifically what aspect of fitness is required by an athlete’s goal event.  For example, if we have a road cyclist who is tapering for nationals and the road course finishes on a 5 minute climb we can then go back and look at that athlete’s data to determine where their last 10 best 5 minutes efforts occurred and what corresponding TSB they had for those efforts.  We then can plan their taper so they come in to the race at a similar TSB where we were seeing their best 5 minute efforts.  For longer events like Ironman triathlons we don’t necessarily look at best 5 hour power or marathon time.  Instead we focus in on where peak aerobic metabolic function or 1+ hour powers, and stamina occurs.  Sometimes that occurs at different levels of fatigue and we need to find a balance between the two.

With this athlete we see better 20 minute powers when they are slightly tired (grey dots) versus 5 minute powers which are better when they are more rested.

With this athlete we see better 20 minute powers when they are slightly tired (grey dots) versus 5 minute powers which are better when they are more rested.

One last important point on tapering, it may not be in your best interest to taper for every event you are doing.  If you are racing a full season with several events the detraining effect of effective tapering can limit overall development of an athlete.  It is fairly common to have athletes shed some fatigue before events but this typically falls short of what I would classify as a taper.  The goal here is often to add in a bit of freshness while limiting any detraining so we don’t compromise overall builds drastically.

Hopefully this gives you some insight into effective tapers for endurance athletes and how to better plan out your approach to goal events.  As always, let us know if you have any questions in the comments!

IMG_8639.CR2Happy Training!



Injury Management for Endurance Athletes

You do endurance sports long enough and the odds are you are going to get hurt.  This may be an overuse injury (which is completely avoidable with basic maintenance on your body) or an acute injury from a crash, fall, or momentarily lapse of judgement (being glycogen depleted doesn’t always help clear thinking).  Recent studies have shown that 35 – 56% of all runners will get an injury each year.  Those numbers are lower for cyclists but injuries still happen.  Broken collar bones, tendonitis, saddle sores, and sore backs are all common issues in cyclists.  While a lot of this is preventable, some of this is inevitable.  Having a tool box ready on how to deal with injuries can make a huge difference in getting through these setbacks.


Create a team around you.  This can be coaches, chiropractors, physical therapists, bike fitters, surgeons, nutritionists, or general practice MDs.  All of these professionals bring a slightly different perspective.  Most coaches that have been around endurance sports long enough have either had these injuries themselves or athletes that have worked through them.  Their experience can be invaluable in guiding an athlete through the healing process and managing expectations on returning to the sport.  Good coaches should also have their own network of professionals that they have worked with so they can help guide you to professionals with experience working with endurance athletes.  Nutritionist can give athletes recommendations to reduce inflammation and promote healing as well as reduce weight gain with reduced activity.  Chiropractors, Physical therapists, and surgeons all have a slightly different approach, and while one approach may net the most healing, they all may work synergistically to accelerate healing.    I often refer athletes to each of those to get different perspectives on treatment.  Generally speaking, we start less invasive and move to more invasive approaches in most athletes.


If an athlete is having an overuse injury that may be caused by the bike the first stop should be to your local professional bike fitter.  Ideally the one with the most experience.

One member of this team that can be invaluable is a sports psychologist.  Being injured and prevented from doing the sport you love can be very hard on the head and having someone you can talk to can help reduce stress and keep you on track through the recovery process.  A good sports psychologist can help an athlete work through the feelings of loss, depression, and threat.  These emotions need to be channeled into positive thoughts, and the athlete needs to begin creating a vision of success even through the eventual setbacks that happen in the normal recovery process.  In the long-term, these are valuable skills to have in coping with any adversity.  This is also a good time to reexamine the difference in good versus bad pain.  Good pain is that of exertion and pushing your body to the limit, bad pain is that of injury or inflammation.  Recognizing the difference is key in the long-term rehabilitation of any injury.


Setbacks and injuries are part of sport and life.  Creating a plan to deal with these setbacks is critical to achieving long-term success.  A good healthy outlook of trying to learn from every situation can increase your resolve, motivation, and resiliency as an athlete and as a person.  Stay positive and confident that you can come out of every setback a stronger person and athlete.