Before I tell you about High Anxiety and Psychopath, I want to preface the story by telling you this off-season’s work has improved my cycling. More about that later.
(Click on the photo to elarge the view.)
Those of you familiar with Breckenridge ski resort know some of the classic trail names such as High Anxiety and Psychopath. It’s been years since I’ve skied at Breckenridge, but I couldn’t pass up the new snow and a $25 lift ticket. Three of us headed for the hills and took advantage of the opportunity yesterday.
I took the newly rebuilt Garmin 800 on the trip and I could actually see trail names on the map (above), which I wasn’t able to do with theold Garmin firmware. You can see the complete Garmin Connect file for the day here.
The snow was great, but (and?) some of the most challenging conditions I’ve skied in a long time. The top t-bar and upper lift runs were windblown thick snow on top of new snow that’s been preserved for a week. (The resort’s official closing was last weekend. They decided to reopen for Friday, Saturday and Sunday this weekend.) Snow on the upper mountain was really deep with a roughly four-inch layer of wind-packed snow on the top. The top runs off of the t-bar had moonscape snow waves that were wind-hardened. Moonscape was actually a bit easier to ski than the deep powder with the packed top layer. I took a digger in the powder with packed top and when I tried to retrieve a ski I would sink to my crotch. That’s a report on the tough stuff.
We did find some lighter new snow lower on the mountain, some good wind-blown light powder and some great snow on the groomers. None of the snow was classic Colorado champagne powder, but the five feet (yes, that is FEET) of snow we've received in April is much appreciated for the water situation.
I’m certainly not the first one to find that winters sports such as skiing, skating, working on strength and doing balance skill building in the off-season helps cycling. Olympian Eric Heiden was among the first notable athletes to use this kind of crosstraining. Dave Wiens is legendary for winning the prestigious Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race and using skiing and hockey as winter training. My interview with Dave can be found here.
Though I haven’t done much mountain biking this spring, what I have found so far is that my balance is better, I have good power output on some of the short climbs and my weaker right turn ability has seen significant improvement.
Not only has more skiing been great fun this winter, I believe it will contribute to a strong cycling season.
Have any of you changed your winter training and seen some positive indicators?
Detailed off-season plans for triathlon and cycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and triathlon plans are found here.
Q. Hey Gale ~ I just read an article about training like the pros. The column was basically about high volume and high intensity training. I read another column that emphased high volume and low intensity. Finally, I read another column about time-crunched athletes doing low volume and very high intensity. I’m so confused. Can you help? I trust your advice because of your long track record of working with all types of athletes. Thanks ~ B. F.
A. Hello B. F. ~ I’ve used the different types of training formats you describe in your note. The short answer is the type of training you should use depends on your athlete profile which includes sport experience, available time to train, recovery time available and your endurance goals to name a few key areas. The mix of workouts within any training plan should be aimed at achieving your goals – not a random mix of workouts tossed together for fun. That is, unless your primary training goal is fun and variety.
With two to four key or stressful workouts in the mix each week aimed at improving your performance limitors, the remaining workouts need to be recovery and/or technique oriented.
Then you need some patience. Stick with the training strategy for at least three to six weeks to see if you are making progress. If progress is not being made, make plan adjustments. Generally, most people associate plan adjustments with more volume and/or intensity when they really need more recovery.
I wrote a recent column on balance exercises. Not only do these exercises help your balance and strengthen your ankles, they help with balancing coordination right to left side.
There’s an easy way to add balance work to your dailyhabits. It works best if you have an electronic toothbrush that alerts you to 30-second segments to brush each section of your teeth.
With each segment (inner lower teeth, outer lower teeth, inner upper teeth, and outer upper teeth) alternate left leg, right leg, left leg and right leg for 30-second segments. Of course you can go for one-minute per leg too.
Depending on how often you brush your teeth, you can get some two to six minutes of balance work accomplished every day!
Thanks to Janet Saxon for this trick.
Detailed off-season plans for triathlon andcycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and more triathlonplans found here.
For the athletes that I’ve coached for at least one season and for those with no access to a gym facility, I’ve added walking lunges to their strength training programs this off-season (base or preparation periods).
I’ve done this for several reasons:
It’s an easy exercise to do anywhere
You can use hand-held barbells or home-made weights (including rocks in a backpack) rather than a squat bar.
This exercise is dynamic and works not only the gluteus maxiumus, but also quadriceps, adductor magnus (for those that had adductor cramps last season, working these muscles may help), soleus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius and also uses several other muscles as stabilizers.
You can find the simple strength training plan I use for my athletes under the free supporting download documents section here.
A fellow coach, Steve Diggs, sent me the link to this research paper. Several years ago, Steve and I had a discussion about high intensity training (HIT) programs that other coaches were using, as well as repeated training for Ironman distance events. The short of the discussion is that we both had a gut feeling that there is some top limit for the volume of HIT and overall volume of endurance training where if you go over that limit, it is harmful to your health.
Now there is research that is backing up our gut feelings. Here are a few key plucks from the research paper:
· Mohlenkamp et al studied 108 middle-aged German long-term marathon runners and compared them with matched nonrunner controls. They observed a greater atherosclerotic burden in the marathoners as documented by higher coronary artery calcium (CAC) scores.
· Indeed, long-term sustained vigorous aerobic exercise training such as marathon or ultramarathon running or professional cycling has been associated with as much as a 5-fold increase in the prevalence of atrial fibrillation.
The conclusion of the investigation follows:
In some individuals, long-term excessive endurance exercise training may cause adverse structural and electrical cardiac remodeling, including fibrosis and stiffening of the atria, right ventricle, and large arteries. This theoretically might provide a substrate for atrial and ventricular arrhythmias and increase cardiovascular risk. Further investigation is warranted to identify the exercise threshold for potential toxicity, screening for at-risk individuals, and ideal exercise training regimens for optimizing cardiovascular health. For now, on the basis of animal and human data, cardiovascular benefits of vigorous aerobic exercise training appear to accrue in a dose-dependent fashion up to about 1 hour daily, beyond which further exertion produces diminishing returns and may even cause adverse cardiovascular effects in some individuals.
While it currently appears the researchers are saying “some individuals” – the endurance sports and intensities that some of us do repeatedly “may not” be good for overall health.
If it turns out that anything over an hour a day is bad for you – will you give up doing the distances and intensities you love so much?
Or – will you say everyone must die of something and if doing endurance sports year after year does it, I’m okay with that? (Comments can be added on Facebook. )
Note: Find the full article here, including a video interview with the author. The short video is worth watching.
Detailed off-season plans for triathlon and cycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and more triathlon plans found here.
A few weeks back when I knew I needed my appendix removed, I asked the surgeon what to expect after the surgery and how long it would be before I could get back to doing normal workouts. In this blog, I outlined what might be expected for me.
Before Igive you details of what I did, I want you to understand this is no recommendation for anyone else. It is just the details of my recovery. I know there are plenty of people that take longer and probably some that take less time as well.
That written, all workouts below were aerobic. The early workouts were what I would call uncomfortable, nothing was painful. I expected some discomfort early in the game.
Surgery Day –The surgery went well and I was home a little over 3 hours after heading out to the hospital. I took ½ of a narcotic pain medication to bridge a gap until I could take ibuprofen. Obviously no workouts today.
Day 1 – Ibuprofen only, no narcotic meds. No workouts.
Day 2 –Ibuprofen, 30-minute walk.
Day 3 – Reduced levels of ibuprofen, 30-minute indoor trainer ride. (This felt fantastic and seemed to help removed some of the CO2 bubble below my diaphragm.)
Day 4 – No more ibuprofen from this day forward. Did a 40-minute indoor ride followed by 10 minutes on an elliptical trainer. The elliptical experience was enough to know I don’t want to run yet. (After this workout the CO2 bubble was gone. Hooray for getting the blood moving.)
Day 5 – Didn’t feel like an aerobic workout so did a 20-minute walk.
Day 6 – 45 minutes of indoor cycling followed by 3 sets of walking lunges and 3 set of squats (body weight only).
Day 7 – Very easy 90 minutes on the road bike. (Outside, yeah!)
Day 8 – 38 minutes of a run/walk combination. I felt better at the end of the session than at the beginning. It seemed that my abs needed to be stretched out a bit and get some blood moving into them – which didn’t seem to be happening on the bike.
Day 9 – 75 minutes road bike.
Day 10 – 60-minute swim and 30-minute run later in the day.
Day 12 – Road bike to Estes Park, one way, for a total ride time of 2:40. (This is half the distance and a bit over half the time of what was “normal” for me on a weekly basis prior to the surgery. No, I don't ride to Estes each week, but similar distances and times.) I capped intensity at the top of Zone 2 on this ride and felt great the entire time. I had no issues whatsoever.
Day 13 – Had the post-surgery exam and everything looks great.
Additional items I did that may or may not have helped: I wore travel compression stockings through Day 3 since I wasn’t doing much moving. I consumed fresh pineapple (for the anti-inflammatory properties) through Day 10. I supplemented with Branch Chain Amino Acids and L-Glutamine through Day 10 (and four days preceding the surgery). Though no fun, I iced my belly Day 1. They did recommend ice on the day of surgery “if I feel like it” – I didn’t. I suspect this would have helped with healing the stretched out abdominal muscles even more, but…
I was sleeping around 10 hours per night the first five days and taking a nap each day. Sleep is critical to recovery. I will say I didn’t sleep “well” until Day 8.
I’ll stay away from lifting any weights until after Day 14. When starting back to weights, I’ll keep it light. (The concern is getting a hernia.) There are no restrictions now on mountain biking, skiing, running or riding.
If you have to do some type of non-emergency abdominal surgery, consider going into the surgery not exhausted from training. Don’t view your last few workouts as an opportunity to binge on volume or intensity because you’ll be off workouts for awhile.Instead, go into surgery well rested so you can get back to workouts more quickly. When you visit the surgeon, let him or her know what is normal for youbefore the procedure and what you might expect afterwards.
If you’re reading this prior to heading for a procedure, all the best to you ~
Cyclists and triathletes training with power can be tempted to keep pushing the same power levels and workouts in the off-season that were normal in the race season. Aiming to keep training volumes and intensity levels the same year round can lead to burnout and injuries. Even Olympic athletes change workouts so they can be faster in the upcoming season.
You too must change your training in order to achieve new success.
One way of changing training is aiming to harvest as much power from a workout as possible, without popping over a heart rate cap. For example, if you’re using one of my off-season (base or preparation) training plans you may find one of your workouts allows a range of heart rate intensities from Zone 1 to Zone 3. One way to aim for higher power levels – while restricting heart rate – is to go ahead and aim for your Zone 3 peak race season power production during the ride and recover when heart rate reaches the pre-assigned cap.
This kind of workout is great for indoor trainers and helps the time pass quickly. Here is one example 60-minute indoor trainer workout:
Warm-up 15 minutes at Zone1 to 2 heart rate.
Pick a rolling course on your trainer or simulate a rolling course. Ride at roughly XXX watts (your Zone 3 power goal) until your heart rate reaches the top of Zone 3. When HR reaches the top of Zone 3, spin easy at Zone 1 watts, or less, for 2 minutes. Repeat the sequence until 35 minutes are up.
Spin easy at Zone 1 watts.
I find this kind of “gaming the system” does a few things for athletes:
Even if you are new to using power on an indoor trainer, and you don’t have power on your outdoor bike, you can begin to figure out power zones to make winter training more interesting and fruitful.
Once you know a power goal and a heart rate cap, you can use self-talk to relax and keep heart rate lower while aiming for high power output. This skill can, and should be, transferred to the race season. In other words, how can you keep biological costs (heart rate) low while riding fast? Play with this, and you should find you can influence the numbers.
The workout allows you to aim for some of the racing season’s power production without turning the session into the same workouts you’ve done for months.
With the right mix of workouts, you can make next season your best.
Detailed off-season plans for triathlon and cycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and more triathlon plans found here.
In yesterday’s blog I covered the wide variation in recovery time and costs for an appendectomy. I told you I’d let you know what the surgeon told me to expect.
Most likely if you’re reading this blog, you understand that once you’ve reached a certain level of fitness it is easy to maintain that level and most importantly – you feel good. You also understand that doing nothing for several days or weeks means a loss of fitness, endorphins and you just don’t feel good.
When I went to visit the surgeon to find out details about an upcoming appendectomy, I wanted to know how much downtime to expect. Doing some research prior to my visit to his office, I expected to have him tell me it would be two weeks before I could do much of anything.
I was pleasantly surprised by his answer.
Before asking him what I could do post-procedure, I told him my current routine that I’ve carried for more years than I can remember. That is strength train once or twice per week, swim two to three times, run two or three days and ride two or three days. Weekly hours are between eight and 10 this time of year, more in the summer.
Given my current fitness and history, here are my guidelines
I will likely be on pain meds of some kind for three to five days. As soon as I’m off pain meds, I can run and ride.
The incisions close in two or three days, but don’t start back to swimming for a week to be safe.
Avoid weights for two weeks.
Initial workouts should all be less than an hour and all aerobic. I’ll be on an indoor bike and treadmill to be sure all is well before heading outside.
The primary goal of workouts is to speed recovery.
A secondary goal is to minimize loss of aerobic fitness.
Getting back to light workouts in some three days or so is a target for me. We’ll see how it all pans out.
Detailed off-season plans for triathlon and cycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and more triathlon plansfound here.
For long mountain bike races, eating on the bike is often a challenge. Accessing packaged food stored inside a hydration pack requires stopping. Most racers don’t want to stop to eat.
If you’re one of the lucky racers that can get away with using only bottles during a race, you can store food items in your jersey pockets. Many racers cannot use bottles-only in a race because their frame size only allows storage space for one small bottle and the distance between aid stations requires more fluid than one bottle can supply. These rider can carry an extra bottle in a jersey pocket, but often small sized jerseys won't hold a water bottle and all the extras needed for race day.
Some mountain bike riders have turned to using top tube storage boxes for food and a hydration pack for fluids. These boxes are popular with triathletes and multi-day, self-supported mountain bike riders. I did try one of these boxes but didn’t like the way it rubs on my top tube in rough terrain and though I liked the zipper access box better than Velcro access, the slapping of the zipper was annoying. Yes, I could put frame protectore on my top tube, but I didn't want to do that.
I prefer using a pack used by ultra-runners. The pack is made by Ultimate Direction and has generous pocket space built into the front of the shoulder straps. Two of the pockets have zippers and the other two are mesh nets with open tops. A photo of the Wink pack is below.
Depending on your personal bend, a top tube storage box or a hydration pack with shoulder strap storage may solve your food access problems.
In a blog last week, I gave you detailed data for the first three days of a bike tour. At the end of the blog I told you I’d show you data from one of my heart rate files in a rested state and let you know how the tour ended. Additionally, I want to let triathletes know that you don’t have to be riding your bike 6 days a week and endless miles to be fit enough to do a bike tour.
Day 4 of the tour I did a “no pressure on the pedals” day. I needed a recovery day. Though it was still a pretty big day riding – out 4:45 and ride time atabout 3:40, average heart rate was low at 109 and max heart rate was only 137.
Day 5 I didn’t ride at all and did an easy hike. On day 6, my intention was to hit the climb, Rabbit Ears Pass, at threshold. I had to modify my desire as I couldn’t manage threshold intensity. I find that on bike tours the more days I ride, the more warm-up I need. There wasn’t enough warm-up before the climb to push it at threshold (151-164). Secondly, the accumulated fatigue in my legs was just too much. The best I could manage was a fairly steady Zone 3 effort (144-150), dipping into high Zone 2 when I lost focus.
Day 7 was a nice way to end a tour – the last half of the ride was downhill and a good chunk of the day had tailwind. To average 21.3 miles per hour over 67 miles with anaverage heart rate of 117 is pretty darn nice. There was even a generous amount of toodling on that day. (i.e. We didn't push average speeds at all.) You’ll see that heart rate was above 140 for just a couple of pops.
In the first blog of this series, I gave you summary data. What I find over the course of a big week like this, is that the ability for me to push threshold heart rate (and above) degrades as the week progresses. Even recovery days and one day off won’t be enough recovery for most people. I’ve written about race recovery time in a past column. Though this wasn’t a race, I expect it will take me some 14 to 21 days to fully recover.
What I mean by "fully recover" is that I could drive high heart rates for extended periods like seen on this file. (Ignore the elapsed time as I forgot to turn off the Garmin. This was a race where I slit a tire at mile 18.5 and limped my way back to the start after a tire change that could have been timed with a sun dial – notice the temperature spike when I started rolling again.)
For the triathletes out there, know that I still train like a triathlete though my key races this season are mountain bike events. I was fully capable of completing the bike tour of near 460 miles and 29 hours of ride time in spite of the fact that in the 12 weeks prior to the bike tour, my weekly training hours were typically between six and 13. Those hours typically included two hours of swimming and two hours of running. Some weeks the hours included 30 to 60 minutes of strength training.
Key points: Cross training helps your fitness for a bike tour and you don’t have to give up the other sports to prepare for the tour. I do recommend cutting those crosstraining sports during the tour so you can fully focus on cycling.
In summary, if you:
Properly prepare for a bike tour
Pick key days to ride fast
Use some days as aerobic-only ride days
Recover properly after the tour
…I guarantee your fitness will see a significant boost. Obviously your cycling will improve. Not as obvious, I’ve seen improvements in swimming and running (after full recovery) for triathletes and I believe this is due to the huge increase in aerobic training.
You can find bike tour preparation plans on ActiveTrainer and in my book “Training Plans for Cyclists." One of those plans may help you prepare for, enjoy and benefit from a bike tour.
It’s no surprise that I often get asked the question, “How can I get faster?”
The short answer is, “It depends.” (Those of you that know me well, know this is my short answer for 90% of the questions I get asked.)
Though the precise answer depends on a lot of things, I can tell you that there are eight major training principles that affect all training – no matter if you want to go longer or get faster. Those training principles include overload, volume, duration, frequency, individual response rate, intensity, specificity, rest and recovery.
In the next few blogs, I’ll take at least one of the principles and give you a couple of things to consider when applying that principle to your training. Know that these principles are discussed, and applied, to the training plans in all my books.
Let’s begin with overload.
Taken from my book, “Individual and progressive overload must be applied to achieve physiological improvement and bring about a training change. A widely accepted rule of thumb is to increase annual training hours, or annual volume by 10 percent or less.“
If you’ve looked at any of my training plans, you’ll quickly notice that I increase weekly volume by more than 10 percent in most all plans.Why?
I’ve found that short-term overload can be increased by more than 10 percent if adequate recovery is included in the plan. When I work with athletes over the course of a year, annual volume is typically increased by around 10 percent. There are, however, exceptions.
What’s the biggest mistake I see self-coached athletes make with training overload?
The biggest mistake I see is the ever-increasing-by-10-percent overload. In other words, people increase weekly volume each and every week, week after week, by 10 percent. This eventually leads to an overtraining situation. This mistake becomes the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Over the weekend someone asked how I was doing on my winter weight goals. This athlete, Kevin, and I are sharing the same journey this winter - trying to maintain weight.
The short answer is I’m maintaining my weight and so is Kevin. We discussed some of the things that we think are contributing to our success, perhaps one of these tips will help you too:
Start the weigh-in process while your weight is “good”. In past years I didn’t worry about stepping on the scale from May to November or maybe as late as February. My weight is typically “good” in these months, so I didn’t worry about weight. I only decided to check the scale when I thought there might be a problem.
Oh there was a problem alright, a big one. How did six pounds suddenly appear?
Once I was over my comfortable weight, the scale became my enemy. If my once-per-week weigh-in news was bad, I felt bad. That resulted in one of the following:
Oh well, I’ll be better next week.
Screw this entire weight loss program. I’ve been starving myself and the scale isn’t changing. I just as well eat brownies, enjoy beer and chips.
I’m going to have to try completely eliminating (pick any…bread, cookies, chips, alcohol, cheese, etc.) to see if that makes a difference. (It only made me want the eliminated food more.)
Maybe I need to add more exercise? After all, sans my exercise sessions I just sit at my desk answering e-mails, working on training plans and typing articles. Maybe I need a treadmill desk for winter? This usually resulted in some type of retail therapy…after looking online for a treadmill desk set-up.
Because I started weigh-in when my weight was good (a few weeks after the last race of the season), the scale isn’t the enemy.
Weigh yourself every day or two. In past years I weighed in weekly. Once per week just isn’t a good picture of what weight is doing. Within the week, my weight can fluctuate a couple of pounds anyway. It’s tougher to spot a trend with four data points per month versus 16 or more.
No deprivation of things you enjoy, only portion control. In the past, once I was already over my goal weight, I took drastic measures to get my weight backunder control. I deprived myself of foods I enjoy. Currently, I still enjoy those foods, but I really watch portion size. That means no eating mindlessly out of a bag. Most of the time I take a serving size, close the bag and go enjoy the food. Though I don’t have to do this in summer, I must do it in the winter.
As my cycling buddies (there are a few others that are trying to do the same thing as Kevin and I) continue the winter weight maintenance journey, I’ll keep you posted on what helps us maintain weight and what things get us into trouble.
To see what your winter weight does to your speed, enter that number in the box for “your weight”. Put velocity at 10 mph, zero wind velocity and a grade of 10 degrees. Hit “calculate” to see the power required to maintain constant velocity. You’ll get a wattage number. Write that number down.
Now enter your summer racing weight keeping everything else the same. You’ll see that less watts are required to power your bike – which makes sense.
Since many of you do not own power meters, you can get a better idea of cost in speed. Begin making the velocity number faster by tenths of miles per hour, then hit “calculate”. Keep making the speed faster, until you equal the power number you wrote down for your winter weight.
Assuming I didn’t lose any power, in pure watts, by keeping my weight down 10 pounds I picked up nearly 1 mph (0.8 mph). Picking up 1 mph on my early races would make a big difference – especially if I could improve the power number rather than worrying about peeling off the pounds.
A few weeks ago I had a rather blunt reminder of how much work 10 pounds makes on a climb. This day was the primary incident that spurred my interest in keeping winter weight gain minimized. To go watch the USA Pro Cycling Challenge I packed a backpack with 100 ounces of water and carried 48 ounces of water on the bike frame. The weight of 148 ounces of water is just shy of 10 pounds.
I had food and extra clothes in the backpack as well. The pack and all the water was probably some 12 to 13 pounds. Since I always carry some 48 ounces of fluid when I ride, I figure the backpack was a physical example of riding with around 10 pounds of extra weight.
In one word – ugh.
Want a harsh visual and physical reminder of how expensive (in miles per hour) that winter weight gain will be? Go ride your favorite course with a 10-pound backpack and watch your average speed plummet. Notice how hard it is to pedal the bike. Between the bike calculator and the loaded backpack, perhaps you’ll find incentive to keep winter weight gain minimized?
Some athletes struggle with balancing life responsibilities and athletic goals. When the dreamy world of training like a professional athlete collides with the reality of life, it can be disappointing.
I’ve found that the more stress an athlete has in his or her life, the less training volume and intensity they can handle. Too much of either volume or intensity and there is a higher risk of illness or injury.
This stress scale estimates the likelihood of illness based on the number of stressful events in your life. If your score is 300 or more, you are at a high risk of illness. Scores between 150 and 299 indicate a moderate chance of illness (50-50). Scores 150 or below indicate a slight risk of illness.
Keep in mind this scale was designed for “normal” people, not those aiming high for athletic accomplishment.
When you find your stress scale is on the increase, consider reducing the amount of volume and/or intensity in your training.
The extra rest just might keep you healthy and make you a better athlete as a result.
Q: In my training I usually keep a weight training routine (usually following what's in your training plans). One of my friends said that her trainer recommended that she not do any weights. For me it's beneficial because it maintains a base strength. I just change it to match my goals. Any thoughts?
A: For strength training, I too use the routine from my books and it seems to be affective for me and many of the athletes I coach. I keep one day of weights in my routine throughout the summer, changing the sets and reps and noted in the training plans. I’ve tried seasons without weights at all and I thought I lost power and speed because of it.
The summer routine, as you know, lightens the weights some, changes set numbers and repetitions to keep from having the gym affect your endurance work.
All that written, I do have some athletes that stop weights in the summer. They run and/or ride enough hills that it doesn’t seem to make a difference – best we can tell.
I think keeping strength training in a summer routine, or not, boils down to:
Training time available
Individual response to strength training
It seems you respond well to strength training and you have the time to do it. If it helps you and doesn’t negatively affect your swimming, cycling or running; it appears to be a good investment of your time.