What is the optimal number of intervals?

One of the many reasons to train with a power meter has to do with determining optimal training load.  Should I ride two hours today or four hours?   Should I do intervals or just ride easy?   Are ten hill repeats enough or would fifteen make me even stronger?  How many hours or miles should I ride this week?    Does more always equal better? These questions are asked daily by triathletes all over the world and all of them are legitimate and valid questions to ask each month, week and day, or even after every hill repeat.    There are elaborate schemes on how to periodize your training based on miles, hours, racing category, age and even your geographical location.  Some are based on heart rate, some are based on mileage, and even others are based on goals and available hours to train.  All are designed to answer the same question:  How much is enough?   

I think Joe Friel said it best in “The Cyclist’s Training Bible”, when he wrote, “An athlete should do the least amount of the most specific training that brings continual improvement.”  If you can win the race with ten Vo2 max intervals then why do twelve or fifteen?   I remember reading this when his first edition came out and thinking it was flawed in the fact that I didn’t have a way to really know how much was enough?   I mean, I love riding my bike just like the next guy, and I will ride extra miles just because it’s fun, not because it’s ‘just enough’ to give me the win on Sunday.  At the same time, I agree that riding ‘just enough’ is the right way to think about training for success,   but in my mind it was only a guess as to how much training stress  you needed in order to give you the fitness needed to win.  Since this was just a guess, and being the ever ‘over-achiever’, if I think ten- Vo2 Max intervals are what I need, then I am going to do twelve or fifteen just to be sure.

Enter the dawn of the bicycle data acquisition device- the power meter.   With a power meter, you can record every effort, every ride, every race, quantify your exact training load or ‘dose’, and then you can watch your progress to learn your training ‘response’.    The ability to understand how you respond to training stimulus is paramount to answering the question: How much is enough?   If you do ten Vo2 max intervals two times a week for a total of eight weeks before your key event, and then see that your Vo2 max power has increased by 30%, you’ll know that the training worked. Conversely, maybe you only do those intervals one time a week and in eight weeks see no difference in your Vo2 max power, or maybe you do them for ten weeks and your Vo2 max power didn’t increase significantly after week eight.

Before we consider the ‘big picture’, we need to first examine the training needed to be done daily.   In order to do this we need to understand the relationship between intensity, time and the energy system we are trying to improve.  For our first example, let’s say that Joe Triathlete wants to work on his Vo2 max power.  From the good Doctor Coggan’s training zones; we know that Vo2 Max is stressed when you are between 106 and 120% of your functional threshold power or FTP.   So, the intensity must be in the correct training range in order to cause enough stress on that energy system, in this case the Vo2 Max, for it to stimulate improvement.  At the same time, the duration of that effort must be long enough to stress that energy system.  If you rode at 120% of FTP for only thirty seconds, then that would not be long enough to actually cause it to adapt.  For the Vo2 Max system to adapt to training stimulus, a minimal effort for 3 minutes is necessary with a max time length of about 8 minutes.  After 8 minutes, it’s very hard to maintain if not impossible for most people at 106-120% of FTP.   So, once you understand the relationship between time and intensity, it allows you to set some guidelines about how many intervals are optimal to do on a workout basis.   For instance, since you are trying to improve your Vo2 Max system  and you want to prepare for an upcoming triathlon that has (8)  five minute climbs in it, then you are going to do (8) x 5 minute intervals between 106-120% of FTP(let’s use 300watts in this example).  The first interval you do, you crack out 360 watts, the second is 350, and the third is 340. This third interval is what I call the ‘repeatable’ interval.  The watts that you do in that interval are the watts that you can ‘repeat’ over and over for multiple repeats.  The first two efforts are always the ‘fresh’ efforts in which you have plenty of glycogen in your muscles and you also have a lot of anaerobic work capacity available to crack out the big watts.  However, once that anaerobic work capacity is used up, then you are left with just the right amount of energy to repeat more efforts.  The reason this is so important is that we are going to take the watts in the third effort and subtract 5% from it (in this case 340 x .05=17 and 340-17= 323 watts), and when you can’t average at least this many watts (323) for your interval, you are going to stop as now you are not training intensely enough in order to elicit a great enough stress to cause a training improvement or adaptation.    Maybe the sixth interval is 320 watts and because you are an ‘overachiever’ (aren’t we all!?) and you want to make absolutely certain that you are cooked, you do one more interval but by minute two, you see that you can’t even maintain 310 watts much less over 320.  This immediately lets you know that you are now below the intensity needed to stimulate the Vo2 max system and you can’t maintain the time needed to create enough stimulus for improvement.

 In reviewing my interval guidelines above, they can help you to understand exactly when to stop doing interval repeats based on that ‘ever telling’ third effort.   Of course, this requires a bit of mental math out on the training ride, but as long as you know the percentage drop-off to look for in each time period, then you should be able to quickly and easily figure out how many intervals are optimal for each workout.

In the example below of an athlete’s Vo2 Max workout, we see the other side of the coin and in this case, the athlete could have done more intervals to gain even more training adaptation.  This is a perfect example of using these interval guidelines to ensure optimal training.    This athlete’s watts didn’t drop at all from third interval to the first one, they actually went up!  Unfortunately, he stopped after the fifth interval, when he could have easily done another, if not two or more.

Since we are all limited by the time we have to train and we want train most efficiently, it makes sense to use your powermeter to figure out your optimal number of training intervals for each workout.  Not only does it make sense, but it now allows you to take advantage of using Joe Friel’s Maxim, “Train just enough for success”.    With a powermeter, we have now been able to quantify the optimal training load in the grand scheme, and also using some simple guidelines, you can truly optimize your training each day.   We are all limited by our ability to recover and our abilities to adapt to training stress, so that will always be a limiter in our fitness improvement. However, wouldn’t it be nice to improve at the highest rate that you can?   Of course, it would and now using my interval guidelines to help you, you can be assured that you are training optimally.  As a coach of all kinds of triathletes, from Kona winners to sprint distance age groupers to recreational enthusiasts, I use the powermeter to its fullest to make sure my athletes train optimally.   This is the key for each and every athlete, train to your optimal level and you’ll be assured of success.

To read about this concept even more in depth, read about it in Hunter’s Book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”. You can get a copy here.

Hunter Allen has online training programs available at TRAINING PLANS – Shop Peaks Coaching including great plans to make your summer better than ever. Peaks Coaching Group has over 35 coaches that can help you no matter your fitness or goal. We can help you improve in triathlon and cycling. If you are interested, you can contact Hunter directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com for an interview about personal coaching, camps, consulting, nutrition and more. Be sure to follow the Peaks Coaching Group Facebook page for great training tips.

The 20-minute test is NOT YOUR FTP!

by Hunter Allen

Conducting an FTP test isn’t merely a measure of sheer power output; it’s a strategic protocol designed to reveal an athlete’s physiological capabilities accurately.  To truly know your FTP, then you must do a 60-minute time trial on the bike that you compete on.  This is the gold standard. The actual definition that Dr. Andrew R. Coggan and I wrote in 2002 is: The highest power a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady-state w/o fatiguing. When power exceeds FTP, fatigue will occur much sooner, whereas power just below FTP can be maintained much longer. This is roughly a 60-minute test.   A 60-minute test is not easy because it requires that you push yourself on the limit for a full hour, you must have the muscular fatigue resistance to withstand a constant power at your physiological limit, and you must be mentally prepared for the physical demands of the effort as well.   Finding a suitable course over which to do the 60-minute time trial can also be problematic, as many of us don’t have access to an hour-long steady climb or flat, safe road without stop signs or other distractions.   Therefore, I came up with a “Short-cut” to the 60-minute test.  This short cut was designed to allow the rider to get close to their 60-minute FTP number without having to do a full 60-minute effort.  It’s not perfect and is only meant as a “point of triangulation” to find your true FTP.   This test has become very common and is known as the 20-minute test.  If you decide to do this “shortcut” test, then it’s VERY important that you do the entire protocol.  Most riders will skip the initial 5-minute test that is done before the 20-minute test, and this is a mistake.  Without doing the 5-minute test, your FTP will be overestimated. 

The 20-minute “short-cut” FTP Test.

Preparation: Prior to the test, ensure adequate rest and hydration.  You should do your test at the end of a rest week, so that you are rested from the previous training block and will feel fresh and strong, so that you may do your best effort. Warm up thoroughly, gradually raising heart rate and preparing muscles for the impending effort. 

Warm-up: 20-30 minutes at Endurance pace.     During this part of the warm-up, do (3) x 1 minute fast pedaling drills.  These are at low wattages, but a cadence between 100-120rpm, so that you can get the muscles contracting and relaxing quickly, heating up the muscles but not taking away from their ability to produce high sustained forces.

Do a 5-minute “blow-out” effort after your warm-up.   This is a “hard as you can go” for 5-minutes.  Your power should start over your FTP (at least 115% if you kinda know what your FTP might be to begin with) and then your power should slowly fall throughout the 5-minute test, only rising in the last 30 seconds as you give it your all to the finish line.   The reason for this test is to exhaust your anaerobic work capacity. You need to reduce your anaerobic freshness, so that there is a touch of fatigue in the legs when you begin the 20-minute test.  This fatigue will ensure that your 20-minute average wattage is closer to what your actual 60-minute test might be.    Rest for only 5 minutes before you begin the 20-minute effort.

Begin the 20-minute test segment at a sustained effort level, aiming for the highest consistent power output possible within this timeframe.  DO NOT START TOO HARD!!!!  You will Maintain focus, pacing, and mental fortitude throughout and pick up your pace in the last 5-minutes.

Important tips:  1) Be sure you “calibrate or zero” your power meter before your test.   2) Ensure that your bike computer is set on “1 second recording rate” so that you capture the highest level of data.  3) Try to do this on a course which you can repeat every 8 weeks.   4) While doing your test, you will want to see:  power (3 sec. average), power (10 sec. average), cadence, heart rate on your bike computer screen.   

Everest Base Camp and More– Off-season Training!

LOTS OF PICS !!!

During the off-season, we all do many things, some of us just rest and get those home projects done that have been neglected all year, others do some different type of exercise like running, roller blading and strength training. For others it’s a chance to do something completely different and take a break from cycling. For me, I had a huge year of cycling and my tan lines were sharper and deeper than they have been for over the past 20 years. That was a lot of amazing “smiles” this year. However, I was ready for a different stimulus. For years, I have been dreaming of going to Nepal and seeing the Himalayan mountains. From boyhood dream to reality at age 54, I was beyond excited to book a 21-day trek with Highland Expeditions in Kathmandu. Not only was my most amazing adventure partner, Diane, going on this trip, but she was up for the challenge, super fit and probably going to kick my butt! (she did!) Everest Base camp is at 17,589′ and while Diane and I had never been to that elevation before, we did race in the Machu Picchu Epic MTB race in Peru a couple of years ago and every stage was between 11,000-14,000′ and we did fine with the lack of partial pressure of oxygen.

We knew from our experience in Peru that we needed to pre-acclimate with a week at higher elevations, so after a full summer of getting in some longer and longer hikes (between bike rides), we headed to Colorado to spend a week camping and hiking at 10,000+ feet and we even summited the highest “14er” in Colorado at the end of our week, Mt. Elbert.

Summit of Mt. Elbert, Colorado 14,440′

A rest week and then a week of intervals followed to maximize our red blood cell growth and then off to Nepal we went, still with a little interval fatigue in our legs! From Kathmandu, we opted to fly by helicopter to Lukla, which is the start of the Everest Base Camp Trek. Many times, the planes can’t land at the Lukla airport because of poor visibility, but helicopters can just fly around those clouds! The “most dangerous” airport in the world and the runway is a 12% gradient! Imagine landing and taking off in a plane on one of those steep sections of road that you have ridden you bike up! Watch the take-off video below. Skip forward to 2:00 where the helicopter lands and then the plane takes off… CRAZY.

Fast forward to 2 minutes in. Lukla Nepal…. Sir Edmund Hillary Airport.

We started our trek with our guide Prashant Basnet from Darjeeling, India and our Porter, BB, who lives “two days walk” below Lukla. BB carried most of our gear, which included sleeping bags, clothes, hand warmers, extra food, toiletries including toilet paper (bring your own!). We each had a limit of 25lbs, so BB was carrying our 50lbs of stuff and his own gear which was basically a small daypack. Prashant carried his own pack which was about 30lbs. We each carried day packs as well, which were about 18lbs each. Clearly us westerners don’t understand what it means to go light! This was a 16-day hiking trip, so while BB never changed his clothes the whole time, we decided that we’d like at least 3 changes of clothes!

BB!!! He weighed 125lbs and carried like 60lbs!!! HE WAS A MACHINE.

We cruised to the famed Namche Bazaar village and spent two days, three nights there to acclimate to 12,000′. What an amazing place! The main village in the Himalayans and it was just magical to be there. It also gave us our first view of Mt. Everest!

Our First sighting!!!!!!! That’s Everest!!!!

Namche Bazaar! The Rudy Project Star Dash glasses were critical to protect our eyes from the high elevation rays and all the dust and junk on the trail. Grab a pair at a serious discount. Use the link here and make an account and you’ll get a big discount on any Rudy Project product.

That’s Everest over my right shoulder. Ama Dablam in between us.

We chose a trek that was longer than the traditional up to Everest Base Camp and back, which is typically 10 days. We had 3 weeks to play with, so we chose to trek to the beautiful Gokyo Lakes at 15,000′ and also summit the Gokyo Ri peak (17,500′) which is a small peak just above the Gokyo lakes village. That was an amazing day and both Diane and I were super strong all day, setting fast paces to Gokyo Lakes and then we felt strong all the way to the summit. No headaches, dizziness, nothing. Amazing views of Everest, Cho Oyu and many peaks in Tibet (China). Spectacular.

The Emerald Green of the Gokyo Lakes

Summit of Gokyo Ri with Everest in the background, Gokyo village is visible to the left of the cairn. That’s the Ngzoympa Glacier behind us. The longest Glacier in the world. It’s covered in rocks! Prashant, kneeling and BB also crushed it up the climb!

Gokyo Lake and Village with Cho Oyu in the background.

From there, we climbed up and over the Cho La Pass at 17,780′ , which is just an amazing hike up and over the pass. It took about 2.5 hours to get to the top and then we put on micro-spikes for the hike down the glacier on the other side.

That night, we stayed in a small village called Dzongla and it was cold! (Below freezing in the room). The places you stay at along the way are called Teahouses and they are basically hotels with a common dining room and then small rooms for everyone. The walls are plywood (bring your earplugs), there is no heat and only electricity as long as the batteries are charged from the solar panels. The bathrooms are rough most of the time, being “Squat” toilets, which means there’s a hole in the floor and you squat over it. Be sure of your aim! A few of the teahouses we stayed at were luxury teahouses and they were truly nice. In room bathrooms with actual toilets, hot showers, electric blankets and electrical outlets to charge our devices. The Mountain Lodges of Nepal were pretty darn awesome, I must say. We stayed in this one, while in Monjo. Lodge in Everest Region I Mountain Lodges of Nepal

The inside of a typical teahouse. This one was in Machermo, on the way to Gokyo. BB is teaching me some new words in Nepali. We set a goal to learn 100 words in Nepali while we were there. We ended up learning nearly 300 and could even speak some phrases much to the amazement of some locals. 😉

The only thing that is heated in the teahouses is the main dining room. There is a “wood” stove in the middle of the room that is fired up every day at 4pm-ish. Wood stove you ask? Where do they get the wood from? Well, there is no wood up here! The fuel is Yak Poo! Yes, Yak Poo. There are “Yak Poo Hunters” that go out, and collect Yak Poo, put it in a bag and then sell it to all the teahouses and locals. The Yak Poo is dried into patty’s (if not already dried) and then burned. It needs a little accelerant to get started (usually diesel fuel which makes the whole room smell like diesel for the first hour), but once going, it heats the place up.

A pile of drying Yak poo! The heating source for every home and teahouse!

Here’s a really cool video from some folks that did the Cho La pass just like we did and made a great video of it. Worth a watch, just to see the scale of the pass.

From there, we made it to Lobuche where we had a wonderful meal (all the meals were really good to be honest!) of Dal Bhat and homemade pizza! That night (and the previous night) I didn’t get much sleep and I was not breathing at night and then my body would jerk me awake and I had a feeling of panic and suffocation! NOT fun. So, this night, I slept from 8:30pm to midnight and then just stayed up all night the rest of the night as I was too afraid to go back to sleep! I told Prashant about this and he said I needed to start taking Diamox (high elevation drug) immediately as this was a symptom of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). I felt fine during the day and was strong on all our hikes and no other symptoms. I told him I would start after we get back from Base Camp that afternoon. Nausea is a side effect of Diamox and last thing I wanted was nausea on the hike to EBC!

Cakes and coffee with Prashant and BB at Gokyo Resort- 16,000′

The hike to EBC went super well and we again, were super strong passing 100’s and 100’s of hikers. It’s great to be fit, endurance athletes that are properly acclimated! Many are just moving along in slow, slow motion struggling with the elevation, whereas we were moving in a normal fast walking pace. We made it to Gorekshep, which is the last outpost of a village before EBC. We had lunch there and watched the circus that it is. There are constant helicopters landing on a tiny platform, wild Sherpas riding horses, yaks walking around with massive loads pooping everywhere, people in all kinds of thick down jackets, porters carrying massive loads, tents, hotels-ish, and rocks and views and views and views. What a wild place. There is no water here, so all the water must be brought in by porters and yaks. Porters do the majority of the work along the trails. You will see 100’s of them each day. These people are incredibly strong. They carry massive loads all hunched over with a strap around their head to help take the weight off their back. Many times, they are just wearing flip-flops or running shoes and they all sleep in porter teahouses together at night. It’s usually one big room with cushions on the floor, everyone sleeping together under blankets. They don’t carry anything extra, no sleeping bags, extra clothes, food, etc. Truly impressive people.

Gorekshep. Cold, desolate, no water, but cell service and internet as long as the batteries stay charged from the solar panels.

“This way to Everest!” – Kala Patthar in the background- The black pointy hill! The trail up the “hill” in the background is the path to the summit of Kala Patthar, 18,890′. Pumori is the beautiful mountain behind it (23,494′)

The hike from Gorekshep to EBC was about 1.5 hours long on a trail on the Khumbu glacier. The Glacier is covered by rocks and boulders, so you don’t really see snow and ice like you would on the glaciers in Alaska or Iceland, etc. It’s not easy going to be honest and you have to watch where you are stepping the whole way, not to mention dodging other trekkers, horses, mules, porters and other random things. It was a proper snow and wind when we got there and plenty cold! No view really, but I wasn’t worried because I knew the next morning, the weather was predicted to be amazing and we would get a view then. With the requisite photos taken and our hands frozen, we headed back to Gorekshep where we were staying for the night.

EBC! We made it !

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Diane staying warm in her -29C Down bag and down jacket. Gorekshep. The water froze in our bottles that night.

Gorekshep is the highest elevation you spend the night on the trek at 16,800′ and the Diamox did it’s job! I took a nap after lunch and Diane stayed up in the room with me to make sure I was breathing. Later that night, I took another Diamox and slept great until about 2am when Diane poked me awake and told me to wake up and take another one, as I hadn’t taken a breath in two minutes!!! She was scared! Holy crap. I took another one, laid awake for 20minutes for it to take effect and then slept great the rest of the time. In the morning, we got up early at 5am and headed off to summit our last peak of the trek, Kala Patthar, at 18,209′, which is above Everest Base Camp. The sun rises behind Everest and you get these incredible views of Everest, Pumori, Nuptse, the Lhotse Wall and mountains in every direction. This was the REAL destination to be honest, as the views here are just amazing, and you can see EBC below you in the distance. It was completely magical to be there. What a dream come true. It took 1.5 hours up and back for breakfast in Gorekshep. We then headed down for an 8 hour hike all the way back down to 14, 000′ in Dingboche. It was a big day. The biggest of the trip.

That black pyramid is Everest! On top of Kala Patthar!

Summit fever!

Nuptse in the center and Everest on the left with the Khumbu glacier below. EBC is just on the left side of bottom of the pic near the snow.

We spent three more days hiking back to Lukla and it’s fast because you are super acclimated to the elevation, going lower all the time and then generally downhill-ish. Once back to Lukla, we spent the night and helicoptered out the next morning back to Kathmandu! Check out the video that Prashant shot of the helicopters playing musical chairs. WOW.

After Kathmandu, we flew to Dubai for some warmth and a “vacation from our vacation” for a few days.

What a contrast! Warm, clean, inexpensive, and friendly, Dubai is a warm place to visit!

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Totals: 102 miles hiking, 85 hours. Average HR for 16 days –102bpm for Hunter, 100 for Diane.

I can’t say enough about how amazing Prashant and BB were for us. These guys are just incredible guides and 100% professional. Over the top crushing expectations all the time. We saw a lot of guides throughout our trip, and never once did we ever say to ourselves, “Wow, I wish that was our guide.” It was the opposite and we were saying, “I am so glad Prashant is our guide, we are so fortunate. He’s head and shoulders above the rest.” We researched for a long time about which guide company to go with and so happy with our decision to go with Highland Expeditions. The owner, Passang Sherpa, worked with us leading up to the trip to make it custom for us, Passang met us at the hotel in Kathmandu, gave us his personal number, took care of all the details and even ate dinner with us in our farewell dinner after the trip back in Kathmandu. Highland Expeditions is absolutely the best in the business.

Thanks to our sponsors : The Right Stuff which was huge in making sure we stayed hydrated and no cramps. Rudy Project, which hooked us up with the Star Dash glasses (make an account and you’ll get a discount) with high elevation lenses. Those were CRITICAL. UCAN sports nutrition, which kept our blood glucose stable throughout. Sports and Gadgets which helped us with the AMAZING Garmin Fenix 7x Pro Solar watches. These watches are the best watches we have ever had. They are packed with features. Get one and use PCG7 for coupon code from Sports and Gadgets. Check out that Elevation reading!

Of course Peaks Coaching Group! 😉 Thanks also to Diane, who was the most amazing partner that I could ever have and a joy to be with on all of our adventures.

3 things that winners do in the winter.

Over the years, I usually teach fall camps and teach power seminars around the world, I have been able to ride with many different cyclists and teach to diverse groups ranging from Gold medal winning Olympians and their coaches to beginning cyclists that have never used a power meter.  Teaching to diverse groups is always a challenge, but at the same time forces me to teach with clarity, focus and patience.  A common question that I get in the “fall” of each year in my seminars and camps is: “I really want to improve this winter, what are 3 things I can do to really make a difference.”  A broad and general question of course, and the great thing about being a cycling coach is that pretty much the answer to every question begins with, “It depends……”. There are many factors that go into improvement and lots of things that affect improvement, so there is no easy answer.   We are each highly individual and respond differently to different training stimulus along with having different goals at different parts of the year.   So, before I can answer a broad question, I have to dig a little deeper and learn more about the athlete, their goals, time constraints and strengths and weaknesses.  These basics create the foundation of my answers and from there, I can build actionable answers for the athlete.  Thinking of the basics of cycling is where we all have to start in order to improve and therefore let’s consider three solid, basic, fundamentals that can help you or any cyclist this winter to improve and make the 2024 season great.

Cycling is an aerobic sport and this means you will need to have the highest output of wattage possible in order to give yourself the chance to be successful(you can be the strongest person in the peloton and still lose!).   The higher your FTP, the fitter you are, and more likely you will be to succeed in your given event.  For that big Gran Fondo in March or that first long road race of the year in April, you WILL do better if your FTP is higher than it is now.  So, first and foremost, you must always consider doing everything you can to improve your FTP.   That’s the number one thing you can do this winter to improve your chances for more success in 2024.   What does that practically mean though?  What kind of workouts should you do, how often and when?  The answer to these questions have more to do with when your season will begin and how far away your first race is from now and beyond the scope of this article.  Right now, though, this December, and you need to be riding in your Tempo and Sweet-Spot/Sub-Threshold power levels.  These zones fall between 76-90% with Sweet-Spot/Sub-Threshold between 88-93%.  Start out with intervals at the 20 minute mark and your intensity around 85% of your FTP, and then build the time and intensity until you can do at least 45minutes at 93% of your FTP.  It’s perfectly fine to break these into smaller portions, but don’t do anything less than 20minutes as that will give you enough time at that intensity to make sure you are improving your aerobic fitness. I really like doing 30 minute efforts at Sweet-Spot as they are challenging both physically and mentally and I can just complete the 30 minutes with enough mental games.    This workout should be done at least twice each week in December and increasing to three times a week in January and February.  Again, the main goal is increasing your aerobic fitness/FTP and if you can do that, then you’ll be on the way to creating an excellent 2015 season. 

Big Gear intervals. Yup, that’s number two.  Once a week, I want you to work on “applicable strength”.   This means strength that you can apply to making the bike go faster and not strength that will help you squat a piano on your back or carry a couch up 8 flights of stairs.  It also is NOT about pushing a big gear for 30 minutes.  It’s not even doing it for one minute!  This type of big gear work is not increasing your muscular strength and just makes you better at pushing a marginally harder gear in a slower than normal cadence, but not really helping your on-the-bike strength.  This is done by slowing your speed down to 5-8mph, putting the bike in a 53:13 gear, gripping the handlebars tightly, tightening your abdominals, and while staying seated the entire time, exploding with force on the pedals and getting that gear to 85-90rpm.  You will grunt and strain and think you might rip the handlebars right off the stem, but eventually you’ll get to 85-90rpm start feeling  the “burn”.  Then it’s over.  That’s it.  Not long, but with lots of strength.   The effort has been completed and now you are ready to recover those muscles for another “feat of strength”, so give yourself at least 3-4 minutes between each effort.   These are very similar to “standing starts” in Track Racing and I was privy to a “standing start” practice/training session with the top sprinter on the New Zealand track team this past month and he was doing almost identical efforts as the above.  He did them for 45minutes with solid 5minutes of rest between each to make sure he could get the maximum effort out in each.   Here, the effort must be in Quadrant II of the Quadrant Analysis chart, see figure 2.  This means that you are putting out maximum force with lower cadence and once you cross over into a faster cadence(over 90rpm), then you are no longer in the correct quadrant.

Long rides when its nice out. That’s #3. Every time from now till April, if it’s nice out (and you live in a normally cold area), then go for a long ride.  Throw away the training plan for that day (or even better, integrate it into a long ride) and go for a 4-5-6 hour ride.  You don’t know when the next nice day will be, so you need to get in those long rides in order to increase your endurance and aerobic efficiency.  It’s the long rides that will take you to the next level of fitness with a higher FTP and more fatigue resistance and unfortunately this is no short cut.  You have to get out there and put in the longer miles.  I have talked to many master riders over the years and when they have gotten “stuck” at a certain wattage for their threshold, they always ask how they can get to the next level and why they are “stuck” there.  The answer is the same for all and that is: Longer rides!  You don’t think Jens Voigt’s FTP is 460watts because he only rode for 2 hours day do you?  No, if you want an FTP higher than 250 watts than you are going to have to do AT LEAST (2) rides a month that are longer than 5 hours. What should you do in these rides?  I would make sure that the majority of the ride is in the Zone 2-endurance range, but then also be sure to get in one solid section of 45minutes at your Sweet Spot and also do 20 fast pedaling efforts at 110rpm+ for one minute each resting a minute between them.  The goal is to come home tired like you finished a long ride, but not crushed like you “barely” finished a long ride.  It’s just that simple(and difficult).   Longer rides increase the stress on the aerobic and muscular system and that in turn causes it to adapt and get stronger which results in a higher FTP.  Nothing can substitute a long ride and this is a key for you to increase your FTP this coming season.  Even if your longest race is 2 hours, you still have to ride big long rides if you want to improve your FTP above that 250Watt “Glass ceiling”. 

That’s it , those are the three things you need to do to improve for this winter.  They also apply to just about everyone and in the coaching world is hard to do, but if you only did those three things, you would be moving in the right direction and toward a very strong 2024.  With regards to training with power, you have to remind yourself that these ideas came from the “demands of the event” first, then wattage based workouts were born from them. While you don’t a specific focus of wattages for the big gear intervals, you have a quadrant that you need to adhere to in order to ensure you are training properly. Use your power meter to train to the demand of your events, use your power meter to help guide your individual sessions, use your power meter to hone in on your training zones and then analyze the data afterward to make sure you are on track for new peaks!

Hunter Allen has online training programs available at www.shoppeaks.com  including the most popular “Next Level” plan.  Check out the e-book on Plyometrics as well at his site, which makes a difference and could be your “4th” ingredient to help you this winter. You can contact Hunter and his coaches directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com for personal coaching, camps and speaking engagements.

What we are talking with our athletes about now: Heat, pacing and supplements.

The topics we have been talking about in the past two weeks have all been centered around:

1) The heat and how to deal with it.

2) Pacing during events and workouts in the heat.

3) Supplements: What are depleted in the heat and what can be used to enhance performance.

This summer has been hotter than ever and riding and racing in the heat is a challenge for nearly everyone. Some athletes tolerate heat well, and others hate the heat and perform better in cooler temperatures. Masters nationals here in the US is coming up in 3 weeks and is one of the hottest places in August, and promises to be a huge factor in who makes the podium. We have been employing multiple tactics with our athletes

  1. Training as early as possible. Go early as you can in the morning to beat the heat.
  2. Pre-load water into your body for a better workout. Chugging a bottle of water before you go out on your workout can help to ensure you stay hydrated enough in the heat.
  3. Electrolytes! Sodium is the king of the electrolytes and you will need more of it during your longer workouts. Most athletes lose around 1000mg of sodium per hour during a hot day when riding intensely. Most of the name brand sports drinks have less than 300mg in them and it’s just not enough. Make sure you choose a sports drink with more sodium or use The Right Stuff to add into your bottle. We have all of our athletes using The Right Stuff. It’s also important to have extra Potassium and Magnesium. Bananas are high in potassium and dried fruits and nuts are high in Magnesium.
  4. How to acclimate to the heat. It takes roughly 10-14 days to acclimate to increased heat and humidity. Most of us live in our air-conditioned homes, drive in our air-conditioned cars, work in our air-conditioned offices and then ride for a few hours in the heat and humidity and wonder why we are not used to it! If you are preparing for a race in the heat and humidity, then you need to turn off the AC at home, in the car and if possible at the office. This is going to be tough, but you need some fans. Move the wind over you at night, at the office, etc and that will help it be more tolerable. Here’s a quote from Bill Simmons, one of our riders that just won Master’s nationals in the MTB. “Hunter, I just want you to know I took to heart your good advice for Heat acclimatization at Nationals. It worked. Thank you! I had no problem with 85+ degree heat and 80% humidity by the end. I couldn’t believe that. From two and a half weeks out, I tried to use heat/humidity whenever I could, to build tolerance. I used our county rec ctr steam room. I followed your advice for the 3 day drive to PA, with no air conditioning. That involved major suffering, with car cabin temps well over 100. In my Airbnb 4 days out, no air conditioning. That was very kind of you to help! I felt great on race day.”

Pacing is our next topic and this centers around events in the heat and also workouts. When it’s hot, you will definitely need to dial back the intensity, especially for any event over 2 hours. Reducing your pace by 5-15% will be normal and expected. This can be during intervals, weekend rides or events. Your heart is going to have to pump faster to produce the same power as it might during a cooler workout. So, heart rate can be very deceiving during hot weather. You may see some higher heart rates with lower power output, but that’s normal. Use your power meter to pace yourself and let the heart rate do what it’s going to do. For events over 5 hours, you will most likely need to reduce your power by 20% in order to be able to finish strong and achieve your goal.

Supplements is the last topic that we have been talking about this summer. We have been chatting a lot about taking extra iron and vitamin c. Iron is depleted during exercise through it’s use in binding the oxygen molecules to the red blood cells and also through your sweat. If you are not a red meat eater, it’s very difficult to obtain enough bio-available (heme-iron) in your diet. Even red-meat eaters in a very hot and humid environment that are intensely training for an event can become low in iron. It’s important that you have your “serum ferritin” levels checked at least twice a year and ensure that you have enough iron for optimal performance. The recommended daily allowance is 18mg per day, but keep in mind, that’s for a normal person just to function on. You are an endurance athlete so you will need 3-5x this amount daily. If you are low in iron, depending on how low, you might even consider asking for an iron shot, otherwise, you could spend 6 months trying to raise it through diet. We have also been speaking about the effects of beet juice with our athletes. This is a well-known performance enhancing veggie! We have seen such large increases in power output, we jokingly call using it, “beet doping”. We recommend the Beet Elite (just re-branded to Super Beets) from HumanN. You can get it here.

We hope this has helped in explaining some of the great topics of conversation we have been having with our athletes this month! Let us know if you’d like to see if you are a fit for our coaching programs. Schedule a time with a coach right now.

How good is your “short” game?

By Hunter Allen

So often we train for longer races and endurance events lasting many hours and even days, but it’s rare when we train or do short races like a prologue or an uphill time trial.  These essential competitions seem to be in short supply throughout the good ol’ USA  and I wish each of us had more opportunities to prove our mettle in these unique events as they demand something different than a road race or a criterium.   The aspects of your fitness that these incredibly intense short fights demand are special.  Riders that excel in them are even called specialists.   Someone who has incredible handling skills in order to navigate sharp turns at light speed, combined with an unnatural desire to push themselves to the white foam producing, lung heaving state of suffering that so many of us avoid at all costs might have the ability to become such a “specialist”.   What about the rest of us?  Those of us that have trained for 100 -mile road races, for 40-mile crits and for the dreaded district 40km time trial, how should we prepare, strategize and pace ourselves in these other worldy sufferfests?

                One of the best ways to learn how to excel in any discipline you choose is through mimickry.  Watch the best and then do exactly what they do in the hopes that you’ll be able to duplicate their winning set of skills and effort.  Let’s examine a couple of these intense efforts by those few winners and see what we can learn. However, before we even examine those gut busters, I need to discuss the proper warm-up for a short time trial.   In general, the longer the time trial or effort, the less intense the warm-up you want to do.  For a 24 hour race, some light stretching would do. For a 40km TT, you’ll want at least 30-45minutes of fairly vigorous efforts including intervals done at your FTP.   For an event, that could only be 3-4 minutes long up to 15 minutes, you are going to want to really push it in your warm-up with intense intervals over your threshold and get in at least 30-45 minutes of warming up.  The goal of these warm-ups, are to:  increase the blood flow to the working muscles so that the muscles literally begin to heat up  and therefore loosen giving you a faster response to your internal drive.  Secondly, it is important to get over the “fight or flight” response  by getting your heart pumping near its maximum rate to assure the rest of your mind and body you are not being chased by a bear and are only at a bike race.   By doing multiple efforts “ramping” your heart rate to your threshold or even higher to your max, you’ll ensure that you get over this “fight or flight” response.   

Here’s my recommended  warm-up for your short game:  

15 minutes at endurance pace (Level 2: 56-75% of FTP) 90-100rpm

 3 x 1minute fast pedaling intervals at 110 rpm with 1 minute at 80 rpm between each. Focus on the speed and not the watts in this segment.  

5 minutes at Tempo pace (Level 3: 76-90% of FTP) 90-100rpm

(2) “ramps”, each 5 minutes long and ramping up to your FTP(Level 4: 100% of FTP) in minute 4 to 5.   

Ride easy for 5minutes between each at endurance pace (Level 2:  56-75% of FTP)

Finish the warm-up with 15-20 more minutes at endurance pace (Level 2: 56-75% of FTP).

Then roll to the start line.

*An important thing you should always take into consideration when the effort is short and that is your anaerobic capacity.  Your Anaerobic energy system works at its maximum when you are fully rested, so if your warm-up is too intense, you risk using up a good bit of this system and reducing your wattage in the first few minutes of the effort.  With this in mind, stay away from doing “ALL-OUT” type efforts in your warm-up when preparing for a short time trial.   In a longer time trial (greater than 15minutes), you should be able to do some all-out efforts if you like and not hurt your chances. *

O.k, now that is out of the way, let’s examine a hard prologue race.  Riding over your FTP will be the norm for very short events, so the numbers you will read about and see in your own training and racing will be higher than your traditional ride-at-threshold-by-the-book time trial.   In figure 1, You’ll see this rider started out strong and pushed over his FTP by 36% by averaging 572 watts in the first 45 seconds.  He then settled in to a rhythm for the next two minutes averaging 546 watts (still 30% over his FTP).  After 2 minutes and 45 seconds into the effort, his anaerobic capacity was clearly exhausted and his power started dropping off to the finish.   In the final 57 seconds, he averaged 483 watts (15% over FTP) as he struggled to the finish line in a winning time of 3:42.  One thing is clear from just reading the numbers, a winner in short prologues must have an incredible anaerobic capacity and also an ability to suffer to the deepest dark of dark places.

San Dimas is an early spring race that many riders do on the west coast and includes a hill climb time trial for its first stage.   It’s a tough little stage, not too long and not too steep, and it’s a hill climb time trial, so by its very nature it’s a sufferfest.    In Figure 2, we see a rider who placed in the Top 10, do a good  job of pacing himself through the time trial.  In a time trial that is longer than 10 minutes, pacing becomes more a part of the strategy and it’s important that you don’t start too hard.  If you start too hard then you’ll blow up half-way through the TT and have nothing left for the final half.  However, if you hold back too much, then you’ll under-perform and your slower time will reflect that sub-optimal performance.    The rider in Figure 2 knows this very well and I gave him an upper and lower limit to his wattage for the time trial.  This can be a useful tool in a short (and long TT), especially if there are undulations to the course.  I told him to keep his watts over 365, but under  420 as much as his could and that would give him some goals to shoot for when he got tired.   The first 15 seconds he gets himself up to speed averaging 484watts, but then settling into his limits and averaging 391 watts for the next 12 minutes.   Keeping himself within these limits allows him to ride right on ‘the edge’ and have an extra push for the last minute.  In that last minute, he is able to dig deep and push to 109% of his FTP, which is 415 watts giving him precious speed that keeps him in the Top 10 for the stage.  The profile of this power file is the classic “double peak” profile that indicates a personal best effort has been done and this is something that I look for in time trials and also in training when an athlete needs to do their best.

The training for a prologue or shorter time trial must consist of four main components.    The first component is plenty of threshold training in order to have the highest threshold power you hold.  This means plenty of 2×20, 4 x 15 and 6 x 10 minute intervals done between 100-105% of your FTP.   The higher your FTP, the faster you’ll go.  Period.  Secondly, you’ll need to address your Vo2 max and Anaerobic Capacity in order to be prepared for the prologues and short hard bursts of efforts above your FTP during the time trial itself.    I would suggest doing  7 x 3, 8 x 2, and 10 x 1 minutes on a regular basis(Do 1 Vo2 max and 1 AC per week) in the final 4 weeks leading up to your event.  For the 3 minute Vo2max intervals, they should be at 115% or greater of your FTP, whereas you have to push even harder in the 1-2 minute efforts striving for 135% or greater.   The third component you must do is to come up with and master your pacing strategy.  By carefully analyzing the event itself, you’ll be able to figure how many watts you should hold for the event.  From that initial number you can dig deeper into the course and apply specific tactics along the way, like pedaling harder on the steepest sections.   Pacing is an art and it takes practice.  I highly recommend that you do some practice time trials using your power meter for accurate effort measurement and then download later for analysis.   The key things you are looking for are:  1) Sustaining power with an increase towards the end of the effort, 2) Did you start too hard? Evidence of this would be in a pre-mature decline in power before the finish, and 3) Were you able to push harder on the steeper/headwind sections?    The fourth and final component that you need to master is the easiest.  Rest.   When you are doing a very short time trial, you need to make sure your glycogen stores are packed full!   The shorter the time trial, the more important your anaerobic capacity will be for success. If you are coming into a stand-alone race on the weekend, you are best off just resting and riding very easy in the entire week before.  If you are doing a stage race and the first stage is short, then I would suggest to taper more than normal, so that the first time trial stage serves as your ‘blow-out’ or tune-up effort to open up the legs for the rest of the race.  Resist the desire to go hard the day before or in the week before, as your anaerobic capacity can be used up easily and quickly. 

Short time trials have special demands that can be trained for and the races themselves are great tests of truth. With an special discipline within cycling there are keys for success and if you are getting ready for a big event this spring that contains a short time trial, then make sure you adhere to many of the suggestions in this article for a top performance.  Remember that all of the best physical training will get you nowhere without the proper mental attitude as well, so when preparing for your event,  stay focused, prepare to suffer and dig deeper than before in order to win.

Come to one of Hunter’s Fall training camps or sign up for personal coaching at his website,  www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com  Hunter has a monthly power newsletter in which you can subscribe to so that you will quickly learn the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of power training and also some great insights into the best riders in the world.  Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks WKO+ Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group.  He has online training programs available at www.shoppeaks.com   and you can contact Hunter directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com

Who wants it more?

In your quest for success in cycling, one of the first things you learn is that bike racing is not easy.  There is a large amount of amazing riders out there better than you and in order to win you are going to have to improve your fitness and your race tactics.  After a while (sometimes a long while), you learn that each step up in success comes from one improvement at a time, with each small step contributing to a bigger step.  Let’s examine this process with a few examples using power files, so that you can see the clear step by step progressive nature of success.

Let’s start with a hard workout and tearing apart a power file.  The goal in training is threefold:  1) create training stress for the body to adapt and get stronger. 2) Develop mental toughness. 3) Build self-confidence.  Because if you can do it in training, you can certainly do it in racing.  I call this the “triangle of success”.   

This third reason is very important in your steps to success because if you can’t do it in training, why would you expect to do it in racing?   These three goals, when accomplished make a huge difference in the athletes’ success rate because they make up the first component in winning and that is ‘believing you can win’.  Once you learn and prove to yourself that you can indeed win, your chances of success become more and more certain with every race.

“Belief” is a fickle thing and the level of belief you have in yourself comes and goes with the confidence you have in your abilities.  The only way that I know how to increase your level of belief is through hard training that demands you do more in training than you would do in your race.  Most mediocre racers believe that they never have to train harder or longer than their longest race, but this way of thinking is why they are mediocre.  If you want to succeed, then you need to push harder and longer then the rest of the riders and certainly be able to go “deeper” into your “well of courage”.    If, after going to a race, racing well and surprising yourself with a top result, you think to yourself, “Wow, that was easier than many of my training rides”, then you are ready to win.  When this awareness takes place ,  you really bolster your confidence in your current fitness  and that is critical to you believing that you can do it.   In figure 1, we see a very difficult workout  designed to  enhance the “Triangle of Success”.

“Do the Work” Workout:

6 hours- Go. “Do the Work”. Use Wattages as guidelines, but do not stop or cut any intervals short. DO all the intervals no matter if the wattages are  at 70% of FTP watts. “Do the work”.

Warm-up for 30 minutes, then do 10 x 1 minute fast pedals- 1 minute at 120rpm, LOW watts. 1 minute easy at 80rpm, low watts.

2nd hour- Do 2 x 20 minutes at 100% of FTP watts. REST for 5 minutes between. Can be done on a climb or on the flats. You Choose.

3rd hour- Just ride and enjoy the sun. Nothing Special. Keep watts under 85% of FTP.

4th hour- Ride at 88-93% of FTP watts and do (10) attacks(one every 6th minute). Each attack is a SPRINT out of the saddle for 15 seconds, then back in the saddle and DRILL it for 3 minutes. Go into TT mode and just drill it. Do your best here. Don’t worry about watts, but just do your best. REST for 5minutes between each.

5th hour- Just ride and enjoy the sun. Nothing Special. Keep watts under 85% of FTP. AFTER, STOP at a café, drink a TRIPLE expresso and have some food- get some sweet thing, but also get something with protein.

6th hour- After digesting your food, I want you to ride at 85-95% of FTP watts in the last 45minutes. I want you to dig deep and push here. If your watts are at 80%, I don’t care, just push hard in these last 45minutes. You better be tired by here, so I am not expecting you to have crazy watts. The goal is to “Do the work”.

2nd component:  Smart racing. 

Even though you feel stronger and faster than before doesn’t mean you are going to win, you still have to pedal your bike, make the winning breakaway and then figure out how to win from the breakaway.   In my world, the perfect race contains two attacks.  One attack to make the winning breakaway and one attack to drop them and solo to the finish line, getting the win.   While ideal, this certainly isn’t the norm, so your training and preparation has to be adequate (see previous component above).   There are many tactics that you can employ in your race, and I have discussed them at length in previous articles, so I won’t delve into them here, but in reviewing Figure 2, we see some fairly common ones that are used almost universally.   First off, the goal of conserving energy is important especially early in the race. Why?  Well, the finish line isn’t until the end and no one cares who was the strongest in the first half of the race, so while your ego might feel better after you make the peloton suffer in the first half of the race, it’s all about who finishes first at the end of the race.  In figure 2, it’s easy to see that this rider spent most of the time not pedaling in the first half of the race.

The second thing that this winning racer did was that he attacked multiple times, even getting in an unsuccessful breakaway at one point, before finally succeeding.  Being willing to try again and again, over and over is critical.  Not every attack is going to become the winning attack, and this is why you do tons of intervals in your training and if you do 18 intervals in your training, then you’ll easily be able to 6 in a race.   The other common mistake that I see many athletes make is that they become “attached” to the breakaway and then put all their effort into a doomed breakaway.  Instead, recognizing that a breakaway won’t succeed early on in the formation of the break, will allow you to save precious energy, get caught by the peloton, “re-shuffle the deck” and get in the next move that contains the right ingredients for success.  What are the right ingredients for a successful breakaway?  1) There has to be representative riders from the major teams in the area.  This will ensure that none of the dominant teams put in a chase and also actively discourage a chase by lesser teams and individual riders.  2) The breakaway has to be comprised of riders in which 75% of the group is of relatively equal strength AND willing to work.  You might have plenty of strong riders in the breakaway, but if there aren’t enough riders willing to work to keep it away, that will kill the breakaway soon enough.   Or you might have the opposite combination, only a few guys willing to work and those riders are much stronger than the rest of the riders in the breakaway.   If that’s the case, then those couple of strong riders will burn themselves out quickly as they just don’t have enough help to keep the breakaway from holding off a big peloton.

Being willing to “give up” on the breakaway and allow you to “re-shuffle the deck” is a useful tactic and the sign of a mature racer that has the confidence to know that instead of working in an obviously failed breakaway, they are willing take a chance on getting in another breakaway or even missing the next one instead of wasting precious energy.

3rd component:  The Finish.    Now, that you are getting closer and closer to the finish, whether you are in the winning breakaway or a group sprint, you have to have a plan to win.   The best riders are always thinking to themselves, “How am I going to win this?” and then creating an A, B and C  scenarios in their mind.   If you don’t have a plan to win, then you are planning to fail, so it’s critical you know your particular abilities that will best help you to win.  If you are not a great sprinter, then by all means, don’t let the breakaway come down to a sprint if you can help it.  Attacking solo as many times as possible will be better than just waiting and unleashing your smoking 900 watt max sprint upon the unsuspecting breakaway…   Or maybe you are really hurting in the break and aren’t even sure you’ll be able to get to the line without getting dropped out of the breakaway.  In this case, you need to stop working in the breakaway and conserve as much energy as possible, but never ever think that you can’t win.  There have been many, many cases when the eventual winner has been dropped out of the breakaway multiple times only to come back and win it.  This result only occurs with the most mentally strong riders as it requires an absolute dedication to never quitting.   Death will come first before you quit racing to the finish line. 

This brings about the final point of the finish that is key to success. Who wants it?  Who really, really wants to win?  Is it you?  Because in the end, if you take away all the scientific training, all the super wahzoo aero gadgets, all the secret diet foods, it always comes down to who wants more.  The rider that wants it the most is the one that is going to win in 99 out of 100 races.  That is the ultimate delineator in the final few miles, who wants it the most and is willing to suffer more than anyone else to get it.   This can’t be trained, but it can be focused.  Desire to win is something that is internal most of the time, but it originates from two things:  1) A clear understanding of your “Why?”  Why are you a bike racer?  Why do you want to win?  Why are you out every day doing intervals?   When you have a very clear and strong “why”, you will have more desire.   2) Goals drive desire, and you need clearly defined goals that you can think about over and over and visualize on a daily basis in order to create more and more desire.  3) Desire can come from that need to prove something to yourself or someone else.  Generally, wanting to prove something to yourself is a much healthier form of desire, but sometimes if you want to just kick that  m%&*f@#  guy’s  butt, then that can be a powerful elixir of desire.

Winning is not easy, but if it was, everyone would do it.   Learning to win is a lesson that each of us can learn and then take that throughout our life into other area’s and also into the future.  Once you learn the ingredients for success, then you will be able to apply them to your work, family, business and in other sports.  The principles for success and winning bike races are universal and it’s time to get started. Go do some hill repeats!

Hunter Allen leads Peaks Coaching Group and is a leading edge coach, that has written many books on cycling, including the water-shed book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”.You can contact Hunter directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com for personal coaching and camps.

Two weeks to burning more calories

Train your body to burn more fat.

By Hunter Allen- Peaks Coaching Group Founder and world renowned expert in training with a power meter.

Weight loss is somewhat of a math problem.  3500calories equals 1 lb. of fat.  Divide 3500 by seven days and that’s 500 calories a day you need to reduce in order to lose a lb. a week.  Or you could burn 500 more calories a day and maintain your guiltless glutton at each meal.  Or maybe you could do a bit of both?   Reduce your calories by 250calories a day and increase your burn by 250 calories by increasing your exercise volume, intensity or both.   Follow the plan below in increase your metabolism in just two short weeks. A final note: whatever your current exercise level is now, in order to increase your metabolism, you’ll have to increase that by riding more intensely or longer. With that in mind, I have devised “additions” to your current workouts to help you.  Add them in each day for improved fitness and calorie burn.

Day 1: Lengthen your ride by 30 minutes and add in (3) intervals, each last 10 minutes each and close to your threshold power or heart rate. Rest for 5 minutes between each, pedaling lightly. (Threshold power or heart rate is the average power or heart rate you can maintain in a 20 minute test)

Day 2: Add in (5) intervals for 3 minutes each, and do these as hard as you can maintain a steady pace. Don’t go so hard that your pace slows after a minute, but go as hard as you can to maintain the highest possible power or heart rate for the entire 3 minutes.  Rest only 3minutes between each, pedaling lightly.

Day 3: Lengthen your ride by 45 minutes and add in a short sprint (8-10 seconds) every 2 minutes in these 45 minutes. Make them only about 80% of your normal sprint. The rest of the time, just ride at a moderately fast pace or what is called tempo pace.

Day 4: Add in (10) short one minute intervals today. Do these really aggressively and attack them so that you’ll  be fading in the final 15 seconds, but push to the end.  Rest for 2minutes between each.  These will help improve your anaerobic capacity along with stimulating your metabolism with short, high intensity efforts.

Day 5: Do your normal ride here or take a rest day.  Watch food intake though!

Day 6: Do your normal ride here. Start your ride today without eating anything for breakfast and only drink black coffee.  So, start on an empty stomach.  Take plenty of food with you, and begin eating at the two hour mark so you don’t bonk.  

Day 7: Start your ride today without eating anything for breakfast and only drink black coffee.  So, start on an empty stomach.  Take plenty of food with you, and begin eating at the two hour mark so you don’t bonk.  If possible also increase your duration by one hour today.  Just ride longer.

Day 8: Do your normal ride here or take a rest day. Watch food intake though

Day 9: Add in (4) intervals of 10 minutes each today and do these at threshold power or heart rate. Push yourself in the last two minutes.   Rest for 5 minutes between each.

Day 10: Do (10) hard sprints today and make these very intense as if you are Mark Cavendish sprinting for the finish line.  Rest for 4 minutes between each.  Do both small ring and big ring sprints.

Day 11: Do one of my favorite workouts emphasizing your anaerobic capacity.  The recovery intervals are short and the intervals are very intense. Do (3) x 2 minutes striving for 135% of your threshold power with 2 minute rest between each, then 5 minutes easy, then 3 x 1 minute, striving for 150% of your threshold with 1 minute rest, then 5 minutes easy and finish with 3x 30 seconds ALL out with 1 minute rest.

Day 12: Lengthen your ride by 45minutes today and pick up your pace in that last 45minutes to nearly your time trial pace, or what is called upper tempo pace.

Day 13: Start your ride today without eating anything for breakfast and only drink black coffee.  So, start on an empty stomach.  Take plenty of food with you, and begin eating at the two hour mark so you don’t bonk.  If possible also increase your duration by one hour today.  Just ride longer.

Day 14: Start your ride today without eating anything for breakfast and only drink black coffee.  So, start on an empty stomach.  Take plenty of food with you and begin eating at the two-hour mark so you don’t bonk.  If possible, also increase your duration by one hour today.  Just ride longer.

This is a starter two weeks! It’s made to help you “teach” your body how to burn more fat than carbs and extend your cycling “range”. This will allow you to use your muscle glycogen stores in the final part of your ride or race, so you can really put out the higher wattages when needed.

Hunter Allen has online training programs available at https://shoppeaks.com/product/ftp-power-threshold-improvement-the-next-level-12-weeks/ including the most popular “Next Level” plan. You can contact Hunter and his coaches directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com for personal coaching, camps and speaking engagements.

Peaking…. How do you maintain your peak?

Peaking is a delicate matter.  To create a peak takes hours and hours of hard work, hundreds of intervals, long rides, buckets of sweat and tears and gallons of electrolyte drinks.  When you finally get your FTP to the highest that it will be, you are both excited that you are “flying” and also in denial because you it’s hard to accept that this will probably be the fittest you are this year.  In other words, it could be all downhill from here for the rest of the season.  When you are on form, you have to have both the highest level of fitness for the year and also just the right amount of freshness, as form in its simplest, mathematical definition is Fitness+Freshness.  

That very first race you do when you come into your peak or form, is magical as you generally know you are riding well and feel strong, but all of the sudden you are in the breakaway (that you might have never made before) and you are also one of the strongest guys in the breakaway which might be a surprise (a very pleasant one!).  After your first successful race on form, you feel confident, exhilarated and happy.  This feeling of strength is a great feeling and one that you want to last for the rest of the season. All those doubts you had about not being good enough to ever win a big race or be in a strong breakaway with the best riders has been erased forever.  You are now ready to show the world that you are the winner that you have always known that you could be.   This incredible realization and breakthrough and will most certainly “change your world”.    If you have just read this and aren’t quite sure you have ever been “on form”, then you haven’t.  Give it some time though and with enough persistence, proper planning, you’ll achieve the magical “no chain” days.  When you are on form, it is a time when your legs don’t hurt as much, your heart rate can go higher than normal at threshold, you pull through harder, and you look at the riders around you and wonder why they are all hurting so much because to you it doesn’t feel like this pace is that hard.   Like, I wrote earlier, it’s a feeling you want to last forever, but in reality, you “might” be able to maintain for a maximum of 8 weeks, but more likely for 4 weeks.   In this article, you will learn some of the rules you need to follow in order to maintain that peak.  There are many critical things you need to do correctly to stay on form, there are things to avoid doing when on form and what absolutely cannot happen when you are on form as well.   

Rule # 1.  You will only have 10-12 days of just “AWESOME” legs in the roughly 4-8 week period of peak fitness.    Use them wisely.  Most athletes will use 6 of these in training, throw away 2 because of flat tires in races or some other calamity that doesn’t allow them to use their good legs, which leaves only 2-4 days of perfect legs on the weekends that you want them.   So, the trick here is to prevent yourself from using ALL 6 days in training.  You will need to use 2, maybe 3 for sure in order to build confidence and also keep your FTP high, but be very careful in planning too long and intense workouts during this period.   You know you are doing it correctly, when you come back from nearly every ride and say to yourself, “Wow, that wasn’t that hard, I could have easily done another hour”.  You can’t allow yourself to “Dig Deep” in training, if you are doing intervals when on form, always do one less interval than you would normally do.  Leave energy in the “bank” and leave that for the races.  It is very hard to resist going out to the Tuesday night world championships and just crushing everyone, but you have to preserve your “AWESOME” legs from training too hard during the week.   A typical week of training when on form would look like:

Monday- Complete Rest- Yoga or massage

Tuesday- Easy ride, even though the legs feel amazing, light and strong, just ride for 1.5hours at less than 56% of your FTP.

Wednesday- This is your work day.  Get in a ride in which you address ALL energy systems, so some Endurance/Tempo, Threshold, Vo2Max, Anaerobic Capacity and even Neuromuscular Power(sprinting).  The trick here is to UNDER do the workout.  Instead of 2x 20 at FTP, do 2 x15.  Instead of 10 hill repeats at Anaerobic Capacity, do 3.  Instead of 6 big ring sprints, do 2.   You get the picture. Reduce your interval work by at least 20-30%.

Thursday- Go for an endurance ride of at least 2-3hours but resist, absolutely resist the temptation to go hard.  You’ll feel strong.

Friday- Tune-ups and sprints, readying for the weekend.

Saturday- RACE- Make sure you race smart and don’t lose your head. You’ll be strong and want to chase anything that moves.  Race like you don’t have form. Then you’ll be in the winning move.  Make sure you do everything to recover afterwards: Recovery shake, cold bath, massage, whatever you can do to help recovery.

Sunday – RACE- Again, race smart and its O.K. to dig deep today!

Rule #2.   Immune system is key here.  You HAVE to stay healthy.  If you are on form and you get sick? Well, that’s pretty much it, game over (especially if you have to take anti-biotics) so do everything you can to keep yourself healthy.   Wash hands obsessively, stay away from people who are sick, carry a bottle of anti-bacterial gel around and wash your hands if you even think you might have touched something with germs on it.  Don’t share ANY water bottles or food and generally become a germ-o-phobe.  It is super critical you stay healthy, and I would go as far as avoiding people to a certain extent if you can.   You can also take steps to boost your immune system during this time and this means eating lots of colorful fruits and veggies along with taking vitamins that help to boost your immune system.  I highly encourage the use of vitamins/minerals and some herbs to enhance the immune system.   Echinacea has been proven to help boost the immune system and also increase red blood cells, so definitely use that.  I am also a big believer in the 4life products that include the Transfer Factor immune booster.  This has made a difference in many of my clients’ immune systems.  Email me and I’ll let you know which specific ones if you are interested.

Rule # 3. Form is incredibly fragile, especially in the last few weeks, so make sure that you balance the right amount of training in the “Middle” of the period of form.  This “middle period”, generally weeks 3-4 have to have 1 big long ride in order to maintain endurance and 1 intense ride in order to keep the FTP up.  This is different than the sample week above, as your form will be starting to wane at this point and you’ll need to do a little more training in order to maintain it.  I would make sure you go back to your 2×20 intervals at threshold for these two weeks, but don’t try to knock the wattages out of the park.  Right at threshold or at 95% of threshold is perfect to elicit a training response and also not use an “Awesome” Leg day either.  The problem with being on form is that you are gradually losing FTP because you are not training enough, and therefore in weeks 3-4, you need to help boost this back up a bit with a couple of longer and harder rides. Your CTL should be generally “FLAT” during this period or gently downward sloping.  That’s an indicator of more freshness and something that you have to balance throughout this 6 weeks.     See Figure 1 to understand how an athletes’ CTL (chronic training load) begins to plateau and slide when on form.   This slide leads to too much freshness (TSB-Training Stress Balance) and not enough fitness to keep you on form.

THE Performance Manager Chart…..

Rule # 4. Everything has to go right in order for the “form” to stick around for 6-8 weeks. I mean everything.   You can’t get sick.  You can’t crash, you can’t have their girlfriend/wife issues.  There cannot be any major emotional traumas (death in family, break up with your girlfriend, etc.) and life in general has to be very smooth and positive.    Some of these things you have no control over, but they one thing you can do is wash your hands obsessively like a crazed compulsive disorder fruit cake and absolutely avoid anyone that could be considered sick.   Avoid risks (other than cycling of course) and absolutely stay away from doing any type of cross-training for a while.  If someone wants to take you on a hike up a mountain, politely refuse and become hermit.  Oh, and be really nice to everyone also so you don’t create a bunch of unneeded drama.

Rule #5.  What happens when the “form” goes away?  It’s like a faucet turning off.    One weekend you are off front and in the winning breakaway.  The very next weekend, you are dropped.  Seriously. It turns off and instantly you suck. Bad.  It’s incredibly depressing.  You have to be ready for this mental state of being as it can put you in a tailspin for a long time.   The way to prevent a tailspin is with a plan to re-build and awareness that you are now “OFF-form”.    That starts with a FULL rest week, then a “mini-year” periodization cycle, so that you can gently re-build the aerobic fitness and then bring back up the level to a nice higher FTP.  I suggest starting with two weeks of endurance riding, 1 week of tempo riding, 1 week of SweetSpot, 1 week of FTP and then 1 week of intensity above FTP.  That should bring you back around to decent and normal fitness, but not back to peak form. That is more complicated and it will take at least 3-4 months of well-planned training to get back to your peak.  What to do after your peak is over is the subject of another article as re-building that fitness takes some finesse and careful training to bring yourself back to another peak.   Many riders think they can peak soon after their first peak, but this is nearly impossible.  Even the fastest recovering athletes need a solid 3 months between peaks and for most of us, it’s 4-5 months.    If you want to peak twice in a season, then plan for a peak early on and then later in the year.

As you have realized, being on form is like being on the razor’s edge. If just one thing goes wrong you get cut and fall off of your peak.  It’s an incredibly fine balance and why maintaining form for longer than 4 weeks is an accomplishment in and of itself.  Make sure that you are tracking your Training Stress with your power meter and that will make a big difference in extending your peak so that you don’t lose fitness nor gain too much freshness.

Come to one of Hunter’s spring training camps or sign up for personal coaching at his website,  www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com  Hunter has a monthly power newsletter in which you can subscribe to so that you will quickly learn the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of power training and also some great insights into the best riders in the world.  Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks WKO+ Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group.  He has online training programs available at www.shoppeaks.com  and you can contact Hunter directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com

Maximizing your speed….

by Hunter Allen

Maximizing your speed is the outcome of your ability to produce power, the economy of the bicycle, along with the efficiency of the bicycle.  Ultimately as we all know, the goal is to go faster.  The easiest way to do that is to produce more power or watts on our bike.  You should also make sure that you have an aerodynamic bike with aero wheels and that your bike is as light as possible at the same time making sure it’s stiff enough to maximize energy transfer from you to the rear wheel, which is where efficiency comes in(along with lubing your chain!)     Since we are all trying to go faster, and once you have the most economical and efficient bike your wallet can afford, then you have to focus on creating more watts and unfortunately that’s the harder side of the equation, since this involves work, which is expressed in kilojoules (kJ) or more commonly known as sweat.  As a coach, my job focuses on making sure that your hard work is efficient and effective in moving forward to achieving your goal (more speed!).   Let’s look at a couple of ways that you can directly increase your speed on the bicycle through smart training using wattage as the measuring stick by which you are improving.

I was chatting with some newer coaches at a seminar that I taught earlier this year, and one of them asked me a question,  “What is the most important thing we should train our beginner/lower category racers in order to go faster?”    FTP, functional Threshold Power is the most important single factor that can be improved to make an athlete faster.    As Dr. Andrew Coggan always states at our seminars together, “It’s an aerobic sport, dammit”, which he means that since nearly 90% of our success is based on our aerobic capacity (the ability to uptake oxygen , combine it with fuel and get it to our muscles to create force-we are essentially big air and water pumps!), then it makes the most sense to improve your ability to pump air and water.    Before you do anything else, you have to increase your FTP and in order to do that, you need to work close at your threshold and create stress which your body will absorb and adapt to become stronger which in turn allows you to produce more watts and go faster.   First, you need to know what your FTP is, so you’ll have to do a FTP test, which is either a flat-out 60minute time trial or a 20minute time trial.  If you choose to “man up” and do the 60minute test, your average watts from that will be your FTP.  If you choose the easy way out, then take your average watts in the 20minute test and subtract 5% in order to get a close approximation of your FTP.  Once you know your FTP, then you can begin designing workouts around this in order to improve it.  Think of your FTP has the height of a tabletop above the floor.   When you first start in cycling, your table will be low to the floor, but as you train more and more, the legs get longer on your table and the height of the tabletop increases above the floor, till eventually you reach the ceiling.   Now, what is the easiest way to pick up a table in your room and move it?   You get a buddy on one end of the table and you on the other, you put your hands just UNDER the table top and you lift it up!   Right?  You can’t walk up to the table pretending you are Spiderman with sticker fingers  and sticking your fingers to the top of the table to lift it up from the top, although that would be handy.     If we transfer this analogy to your training, then I would suggest doing workouts just below your threshold in order to lift the threshold up.   One of my favorite workouts is actually where you pick the table up and put it back down again, so to speak.  This is called, “FTP Criss-cross intervals” and I recommend doing this at least twice a week in the early season and then once a week later in the season.   This workout addresses your FTP in the first hour and then in the second hour addresses both your FTP and also your muscular strength, finally giving your neuromuscular power a shot in the leg with a few sprints.

Warm-Up:15minute warm-up with (1) 3 minute effort at 100% of your FTP watts in order to shock the system and prepare you for the next hour.  Ride easy for 5 minutes, and then begin your main set of work.  Nail it at 88-95% of FTP for 60 minutes, with 20 bursts (every 3 minutes!) to 150% of FTP watts hold for 10 seconds, and return back to 88-95%.  After completing the hours, ride EASY 10 minutes at less than 56% of your FTP.  Begin the second block of sub threshold work by riding for 20-30 minutes at 88-95% of your FTP, but this time do big gear intervals- 53:13 – 50 rpm from 12 mph to 31 mph every 2minutes, so 10-15 total…so slow down, stick it in the 53:12, stay seated and then use strength to turn the big gear over until you reach 85-90rpm or 30seconds, whichever is first and then return to your previous sub-threshold pace. Ride easy to recover for 10minutes at less than 56% of your FTP.    Finish the workout with 5 hard sprints – your gearing should be around 53:16 for these and starting from 20mph and sprinting for 250 meters each.  Make sure to rest for about 5 minutes between each sprint.  Cool-Down: 10 minutes easy spinning at less than 56% of FTP.

CRISS-CROSS…… A great workout for you.

The next workout you can do to improve your FTP, would be to ride right at your Threshold. These are a little more difficult, but also very effective.   I suggest doing these about 4 weeks before your first race of the year and then at least once during the week during your racing season, thereby giving you two days of threshold work a week.   Hey, this is the number one thing that is going to make you better, but you’d ought to accept it and get on with the work!   I suggest that you start out with 15 minute intervals at your FTP in the beginning and progressing toward longer efforts until you reach 45-60minutes straight at FTP.

This next workout I call, Tabletop Edge Threshold efforts: 2 hours-

Warm-Up: Ride for a nice 15 minute warm-up with watts under 76% of your FTP.  Now get ready for your main set of work with (1) blow out effort with watts at Threshold for 3minutes, recovering for 5 minutes at endurance pace.  Now, you are ready for efforts, right at your FTP, so start out with 2 x 15 minutes at threshold watts (100-105%), and giving yourself a little rest for 5minutes rest between each. At the end of those intervals, you could do another one, or continue to improve your endurance with 90 more minutes after the 2nd effort with watts at upper end of endurance pace, which would be from 80-88% of your FTP. Cool-Down: 15minutes at less than 56% of your FTP.

The final way for you to improve your FTP or increase the height of your table is through VO2 max, or drilling holes into the top of your tabletop!  Yes, you can take a self-drilling hook and screw it down into the top of your tabletop and then lift the table up from the top, but if you do it too often, you’ll leave your tabletop with holes in it and eventually it will collapse on itself.    However, occasionally, like when you are in the final stages of building for a peak of fitness, or if you are in a slump, then some really focused work on your Vo2 max will bring up your FTP.   Doing Vo2 max work means doing intervals at 106-115% of your FTP from the three to eight minute range.  These are super hard efforts, where your respiration rate will be very high (over 50x a minute), they will be painful and you’ll have to push very hard to stick with the wattages needed to elicit a response.   Improving your absolute Vo2 Max is impossible after a certain point of development, you are only born with a certain size of lungs and that can’t be changed, however improving the efficiency of moving O2 from your lungs into your heart and bloodstream can be improved along with improving your velocity at Vo2 Max.   There is that speed thing again, and doing intervals at Vo2 Max, improves your speed at Vo2 Max, so that’s incredibly helpful in races.   I recommend one to two Vo2 Max workouts per week during the period in which you need to be doing this intensity.   Again, limit this work, as putting too many holes in the top of your tabletop will eventually make it collapse.     Give this work out a shot, it is designed to increase your cadence as well as teach you to use cadence to increase your watts when you are suffering and someone attacks or when you are on form and you feel so amazing that you want to attack after doing 5 minutes at vo2 max. I call this workout the “Vo2 Max Overdrivers”

Warm Up: 15 minute easy spin and then do 30 seconds in easiest gear with the fastest cadence possible without bouncing, then do a 30 second recovery.  Repeat this three more times.   Now do 20 seconds at cadence 5rpm faster than before with 20 second recovery. Repeat three more times.  The final part of the warm-up is now 1minute fast pedaling efforts at cadence 5 slower than first sets, with 1 minute recovery. Repeat three times.  Relax for 5-10 minutes of endurance riding while mentally psyching yourself up for the “Overdrivers”.     The main set begins on a hill or into the wind and each interval is five minutes long at cadence 10 slower than typical self-selected cadence.  Each interval is done at 110-115% of FTP in order to guarantee you are stressing the Vo2 Max system.  The “overdriver” part comes at the end of the interval where I want you to do a final 30 second hard burst changing to three gears easier(or the easiest gear you have) for 30 seconds, spinning faster and pushing harder to really fatigue the muscles and increase the respiration rate just a little higher!   Do 5 intervals of 5minutes each.  Recover for 5 minutes between each at your endurance pace 56-75% of FTP.

Returning back to our goal of increasing your overall speed in bicycling, we have learned that improving our FTP and Vo2 max are the foundations of increasing speed on the bicycle.   While it’s great to buy new faster stuff (yes, you can buy speed!), eventually you have to work on your engine in order to go faster.  Pushing that tabletop higher and higher will also eventually reach the ceiling in your room, but making sure you are approaching and close to that ceiling is the best thing you can do for more speed.  Keep in mind that your training first begins on the aerobic system and the higher your FTP, the faster you’ll be period.   While FTP is king,  you can’t neglect the smaller contributions of the energy systems either, as they all play a role in winning.   Spend most of your time on the three workouts above and then get in some shorter anaerobic intervals along with some sprinting and throw in a bunch of long endurance rides as well.

Hunter Allen has an obsession with speed and does just about everything to increase it, whether on the bicycle, in the car, on downhill skis, and even online.   He has fast online training programs available at www.shoppeaks.com ,  which feature improving your speed through FTP and Vo2 max improvements.  You can contact Hunter directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com for personal coaching and camps.