ASK HUNTER: PRE-RACE WARMUP

PCG Coach Sarah Wangerin asks Hunter about a pre-race, event-warm-up routine for one of her athletes. (Note: Sarah’s athlete would take 2nd Overall Elite Female in Custer’s Last Stand MTB Race in Ft. Custer, IN)

QUESTION:

Hi Hunter! My athlete Kristin M. (she is the one who won her Xterra Race back in August) just signed up to do an 18-mile MTB race this Saturday.   She has ridden this course a handful of times, so she knows the general flow of it.  I believe she will be at the race location the day before, so I know she will have a chance to test ride it to see its current state.

What is a good “go-to” for the kind of ride an athlete should do???

HUNTER ANSWERS:

Two days before the race:  Most important rest day.  So either completely off the bike or 1 hour super easy, no more than 15 TSS.

Day before event day:  She needs to tune-up to “open” up the legs and the lungs.  So, this means that she needs to get her HR up for at least 5minutes and also do a couple of hard intervals (short though) to create some lactate in the legs and make them “FAT”(tight/contracted)  let them release (relax/supple) a couple of times, so that they are ready for the race the next day.  This will make them more responsive on Saturday. 

The morning of the race (i.e. warm up): Fast pedaling drills to move the blood and get HR up without using much energy.  Slow ramp to bring HR up, and then a “shocker” at the end to get your athlete to cross from the parasympathetic to sympathetic nervous system.

Sarah Wangerin is a USA Cycling Level 3 Coach and a USAT Level 1 Coach. She has coached athletes to National titles, Worlds Qualifications, Overall race wins, multiple successful Ironman race finishes (including first timers), and PR’s at all distances of triathlon, working with athletes at every level, from beginner to semi-pro.

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.

Ten Simple Tips for Racing as a Team

by PCG Coach BJ BASHAM

I was working with a team of riders preparing for an important local race, and as I was writing a pep-talk email, I decided to remind them of all the things we’d been learning the hard way; things we all knew already but were not putting into practice. These things seem like common sense when you’re standing on the sidelines but sometimes don’t even come to mind in the heat of the racing action. We can all benefit from these tips when racing, either as a team or even when you’re the only one member of your team or club who shows up.

1. Have a reason for every effort you make in the race. Jumping off the front and hanging twenty yards ahead of the field for a couple of laps is a waste of energy. If you’re going to try a move, give it 100% commitment. If you don’t think it will work, you don’t have a good reason for doing it.

2. Stay in the front half of the field for the whole race. There is nothing to be gained by sitting more than halfway back where you can’t respond to an attack or launch one of your own.

3. Don’t try to chase on the front of the field all alone. If you’re racing with a team, get three or more riders to share the work. Don’t start chasing hard until you have your backup. If you’re racing without a team, try to motivate the other riders in the field to start working. Even if all they do is pull through and off, they’re keeping the speed up.

4. If you get into a break, don’t be the only rider in the break who’s working to establish the gap. If you find that no one else wants to work to get away, they probably will let you work until you die and then flick you in the end. Sit up and try again in another break.

5. Get to the race early enough to talk to the rest of the team about the race and how the team might ride. This is a good chance for the riders on the team to share experiences with the course and other riders in the race. Make a plan for how the team will ride the race and make sure everyone on the team knows the plan.

6. Have a back-up plan for your team if your original plan does not work out. Make sure everyone knows, without discussion, when it’s time to switch to the back-up plan.

7. When going for a team win, it is sometime necessary to sacrifice the results of a few riders on the team. In the truest sense, finishing the race should not be the first concern of anyone on the team. If a rider is worried they might not finish in the field if they work too hard, that rider has essentially limited the amount of work he or she can contribute.

8. Stick around long enough after the race to talk about what happened: what went right and what went wrong. Waiting too long can make it harder to remember, so plan on a team meeting right after the race while you’re cooling down or after everyone has cleaned up.

9. If you get a good result due to the team working for you, remember to let them all know how much you appreciate their efforts. Some teams share in the prizes, but a verbal thank you is usually the reward that most riders truly value.

10. Never give up. The race isn’t over until someone crosses the finish line.

BJ Basham is a USAC Level 1 power certified coach and a PCG master coach. His coaching philosophy is based on flexibility and communications. He believes that every training plan should be written in pencil, as very few people can control everything that may come up in their lives or know exactly how they will respond to a given training load or personal event. He works together with his athletes to do what it takes to help them reach their goals with the time and resources available. BJ’s primary goal is to bring his athletes to the point where they enjoy the time they spend cycling. He teaches the importance of balancing work, training, and rest; how to take care of your equipment; and how to juggle (literally). BJ can be contacted through peakscoachinggroup.com or info@peakscoachinggroup.com.

Strength Training for Cyclists

Strength training for cyclists has long been a hot topic of discussion among trainers, coaches, scientists, and athletes themselves. But there have always been three core questions: (1) Is strength training an aerobic exercise? (2) is it cycling-compatible? (3) If so, is it compatible during the same training period? To many, it doesn’t seem logical that a strength-training program (mainly an anaerobic activity) can improve cycling (mainly aerobic).

Science says otherwise.

By Bill McLaughlin, PCG Elite Coach

The primary energy system during cycling at a comfortable pace is the aerobic system. But when you start to push the pace or come to the end of a long ride or race, the anaerobic system is called into play. If you’ve worked your anaerobic system through strength training, you’ll be able to ride longer, harder, and faster before fatigue starts to set in.

These days it seems that there are as many strength training plans as there are people on the planet. Finding the right one for you and your particular type of riding is just as important as bike fit. I’d like to discuss here strength training for the transition phase, which prepares your body for heavier weights later on while giving you time to rest and recover.

A Time of Transition

Here at the end of the season is the time we rest and recover from the hard work of racing, training, and cycling in general. This phase is important, as it helps prevent both mental and physical burnout. However, this is by no means the time of year to put up the bike, sit on the couch, eat, and watch TV. It’s the time to look over the past season, see where you did well (met your goals), look over your limiters, and start setting goals for the upcoming season. Training isn’t done; we just need to shift our training.

Yes, we should take about two weeks off the bike (perhaps shorter or longer, depending on your past training/racing load), but I advise my athletes to do some cross training with any type of aerobic exercise they enjoy (roller blading, hiking, swimming, etc.) to help maintain aerobic conditioning. During this period I also meet with them to review next season’s goals and lay out a rough ATP that may or may not include strength training.

At this time of year my focus toward strength training is to prep my athletes for the harder weight training ahead. This transition phase can last anywhere from two to four weeks, and the main purpose is to get started correctly with proper form and to ease into strength training without too much muscle soreness.

Most of the time I start this phase off with body weight exercises for the first week rather than going right into the weight room. Again, this gets you conditioned and makes sure that you have proper form. Typical body weight exercises are push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, leg raises, lunges, etc. But if an athlete finds that the upper body exercises are tough to do with body weight, we move into a weight room and find comparable exercises, such as bench presses for pushups and lat pull-downs for pull-ups.

After the initial week of body weight exercises, there are two different ways to proceed. The first is circuit training, where you do a set amount of exercises with a minimum of rest between (1 set of exercise A, then exercise B, then exercise C, and so on till all exercises are complete for the first set), then resting and starting another cycle. This type of training is not designed to focus on any particular body part but helps to keep the blood flowing and constantly changing. It creates a good cardio-respiratory benefit, but due to the limited rest and the varied exercises, the strength gains are minimal, and I really only recommend this during this transitional phase.

The other type of strength training that can be done during the transitional phase and also carry into the other phases of strength training is as follows: perform a set of a given exercise, rest one or two minutes, then follow with set number two, and so on for the prescribed amount of sets. There are generally no more than three sets in the transition phase, and light weights and higher repetitions (between 12 and 20) are utilized. You should combine both upper and lower body exercises. In this type of strength training, it’s best to get up and move around between sets so you’re recovered and able to put your best into the next set. This is different from circuit training, as circuit training is designed to have inadequate rest, focusing more on cardio than pure strength.

Transition Workout

The following workout is a typical transition weight workout to do following a week or so of body weight exercises. The body weight exercises are to help minimize soreness and prepare your body to handle weights. I have also included a link to ACE’s website that shows in detail the proper form to execute the exercises safely and correctly to achieve the maximum benefit from strength training. It’s short and to the point (a whole-body workout), and it’s really to be done for 3-6 weeks before moving on to the hypertrophy phase in your off-season weight training program.

I’ve also included an alternate circuit-training workout for those looking to maintain cardio fitness at the same time. Even if you elect to do the circuit workout, it is still greatly advised to move into the hypertrophy phase after 3-6 weeks. We still want to increase muscular strength, and that can’t be achieved to the fullest extent with circuit training alone due to the fact that the weights used just aren’t heavy enough. It’s really just a good general fitness routine, not a strengthening routine.

Ready? Here we go…

Warm Up: 15 minutes cardio and stretching.
Main Sets: 12-15 reps. Resistance 40-60% of 1 rep max. 1-2 sets. Follow this link to a 1 rep max calculator. (I don’t want you doing do 1 rep max tests, as these can be very dangerous and are not necessary for what we are trying to achieve as cyclists, but this will effectively put you in the ballpark). Then do the following 2-3 times per week:

  • Squats or leg press
  • Leg curls
  • Calf raises
  • Back extensions
  • Abdominal circuit (planks, side planks, leg raises)
  • Prone cobras
  • Bench press
  • One arm row
  • Shoulder press
  • Bicep curls
  • Dumbbell triceps extensions

This is a good link to review the exercises and see how they’re performed in the proper fashion.

Cool Down & Stretch

Circuit Workout

Alternatively, you could use a circuit workout in the transition phase. As I mentioned, circuit training is a good alternative to traditional weight training. In the transition phase, it can both prepare the body for heavy weights in the hypertrophy phase and help maintain aerobic conditioning.
If performed correctly, the following workout will take you to your maximum heart rate and push you close to your limit physically.

The main objective of circuit training is to minimize rest between exercises. Do each exercise for 1 minute max or in a tabata fashion (see below for explanation). This is designed to be completed in 20 minutes, but if at the end you feel it wasn’t challenging enough, do it a second time. Choose light weights for max reps; you should just be able to finish the minute. Warm up first on a cardio machine at a nice steady pace for 5-10 minutes to help warm the muscles.

  • Bench press or pushups: 1 minute max
  • Squats: 1 minute max
  • Pull-ups or pull-down: 1 minute max
  • Spin bike, treadmill, or any type cardio exercise: 3 minutes
  • Military press/shoulder press: 1 minute max
  • Lunges: 1 minute max
  • Bicep curls: 1 minute max
  • Spin bike, treadmill, or any type cardio exercise: 3 minutes
  • Tricep extensions: 1 minute max
  • Step ups: 1 minute max
  • Leg curls: 1 minute max
  • Seated rows: 1 minute max
  • Plank: 1 minute
  • Spin bike, treadmill, or any type cardio exercise: 3 minutes
  • Stretch/cool down

You can change or modify the type of exercise depending on the equipment available to you, but try to hit all the muscle groups so you get a full-body workout. It may take you a few circuits to get the weight just right. Adjust the weights as you progress.  When you’re just able to finish the minute and not a second more, you know you’re at the correct weight.

The Tabata Way

This workout is really quite simple. It’s four minutes per exercise and broken down in the following fashion: 20 seconds doing the exercise and 10 seconds resting continuously for the whole four minutes. You then proceed to the next exercise and repeat. You still do the 3 minute blocks of cardio mixed in, but not in Tabata; just at a good solid aerobic effort, then continue to the next Tabata exercise.

These workouts are designed to start you off on a good, solid, winter strength training program. Good luck in your off season training, as a good foundation in the off season can lead to an awesome race season next year!
Bill is a Peaks Coaching Group elite coach, a USAC Level 2 certified coach, and a certified personal fitness trainer. He can be contacted directly through www.peakscoachinggroup.com or info@peakscoachinggroup.com

Racing Weight and Healthy Weight Loss

It’s a diet-obsessed world out there. It’s sad, really, how much our society focuses on looks and thinness. Working in the eating disorder field, I’ve grown to hate the “D” word. But I’m not here to talk about the pitfalls of our society. No, I’m here to talk about finding the balance between managing our weight for sports performance without sacrificing our mental and physical health in the process.

There are many athletes with unhealthy and disordered eating habits. In fact, athletes are thought to be at a higher risk for developing eating disorders. This is not surprising, seeing as the reality is that weight does to some extent affect endurance sports performance. Some runners talk about their racing weight as if it were a holy grail they would do anything to obtain. You hear stats like “your mile time improves by ten seconds for every pound lost” and other crap like that. Cyclists talk about how every pound lost improves power output by so much; I don’t remember the specific statistic because I don’t care.

I mostly ride my bike because it’s fun. It’s important not to lose sight of that in the process of trying to lose weight. You probably started running or riding because it was fun, too. Sure, there’s a correlation between weight and performance to some extent, but I challenge any athlete to cut off a hand (that weighs about a pound, right?) and suddenly drop ten seconds from their mile time! Okay, I kid, but seriously, the point is that the mere act of losing weight will not necessarily guarantee that your performance improves. Lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly, and your performance will actually suffer. Plus you might lose your love for the sport in the process.

If you want to lose weight solely because you feel you don’t look like the stereotypical runner/cyclist/fill-in-the-blank-kind-of-athlete, you need to stop right there. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m a firm believer that we should never modify our diet and/or exercise just to change how we look. If your only motivation for weight loss is that you think you “have to” or that you want to look better in your underwear, you might as well stop reading right now.  Trust me; it’s not worth risking falling into disordered eating or even a full-blown eating disorder. I admit to my eating disorder patients that sure, you can modify your nutrition and exercise to manipulate your body to look however you want, but at what cost? What kind of life would that be? How about working on body acceptance instead of weight loss?

Losing weight for health or sports performance is different, but even those motivations can be taken too far. It’s not always easy to know when an innocent desire to drop a few pounds to become a better athlete starts to become an unhealthy obsession with weight. As an athlete and an eating disorder professional, I am acutely aware of the issue and believe that I have developed a pretty healthy and moderate approach to the subject. I truly believe that if you focus on training right and eating well, your weight and body composition will take care of themselves over time. However, if you feel that some weight loss is truly justified and want to get a jump start, read on to learn how to do it as healthfully as possible for both mind and body. I could probably write a book on this topic (and maybe I will someday), but here are some of my top tips.

Don’t count calories.

Just because you meet your body’s caloric needs doesn’t mean you’re eating right or getting the nutrients your body needs. You could meet your daily caloric needs with ice cream, for heaven’s sake! Calorie counting can easily become compulsive, as it puts so much emphasis on hitting numbers and looking at nutrition labels. Instead of counting calories, count servings from the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, proteins, and fats. Everything else (desserts and alcohol, for example) falls into the category of extras, and you wouldn’t have a target for those; you just aim to not have too many of them! (If you’re not sure how many of each group you need, consult a registered dietician!)

Keep a food journal.

But not all the time, especially if you know this tends to become a compulsive “diet” activity for you. Keeping a food journal for a few days will give you a picture of how much you’re getting from each of the food groups mentioned above. Once you know your baseline, you can work on eating more from some of the food groups and possibly less from others. Keeping a food journal can also help you keep tabs on mindless eating and boredom eating, which are common problems. A handful of food here and there might not seem like a lot in your head, but it can add up quickly, and seeing it on paper helps put it in perspective.

Keep an eye on portions.

Most people have no concept of portions, and it’s not surprising given the ridiculous amount of food we’re served in some restaurants. For example, a giant plate of pasta does not count as one serving. One serving of pasta is actually only ½ cup, the size of half a baseball.

Focus on what you want to eat more of, not less.

The answer will probably be vegetables and fruits, as most Americans don’t meet the minimum recommendations of 5-9 servings/day. It’s mentally more helpful to focus on what you want to eat more of than what you want to eat less of, since telling yourself you can’t have something will likely make you want it more (blame human nature). Plus I find that when I’m able to up my vegetable intake I naturally don’t have room for or crave the less than healthy foods I typically like (desserts and wine, mmmm).

Choose foods that don’t come in a package more often than not.

You’ve probably heard that it’s best to shop the perimeter of the grocery store because that’s where most of the whole foods are, like fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and to some extent whole grains. There are plenty of healthful foods that come in packages, though, so don’t avoid the inner aisles completely. When buying packaged products, aim for ones with very few ingredients (i.e., if you are buying brown rice the ingredient list should look like this: “Ingredients: brown rice”).

Don’t make food rules.

If you make rules, you’ll quickly fall into the good-food-bad-food trap and feel like a bad person when you eat “bad” food. Stop. Take the judgment out of eating. There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods. It’s just food. Some foods you should eat more often and some foods should be occasional treats.

Don’t skip breakfast.

I truly believe it’s the most important meal of the day. Studies have consistently shown that breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers. This could be because skipping breakfast makes you hungrier and more likely to overeat later in the day.

Listen to your body.

Try to check in with your hunger. If you’re hungry, eat. If not, wait until you start to feel some hunger. Don’t wait until you’re starving, though, as you’ll be more likely to reach for high sugar or more processed foods and more likely to overeat. Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed.

Plan ahead.

Think about what you want to make for your meals during the week and make sure you have the food on hand. I know that if I leave work hungry and with no dinner plan I’m not going to have the patience to go to the store and cook something healthy; I’m doing takeout. Same with snacks; bring your own snacks to work so you don’t have to rely on the office doughnuts for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Drink up.

Water, that is. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so make sure you’re meeting your fluid needs. Not sure if you are? Hint: Your urine should be a very pale yellow.

Know when to use sports nutrition products.

Sports drinks, energy gels, and protein shakes are all great when used appropriately, but if you’re drinking Gatorade throughout the day or eating gels on 45-minute runs, you’re taking in more sugar and calories than you need to be.

Be safe.

DO NOT use diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or any other weight loss aid. Period.

Monitor your body fat too, not just weight.

Your body fat percentage tells you a lot more than a number on the scale. Healthy ranges are:

MalesFemalesRating
5-108-15Athletic
11-1416-23Good
15-2024-30Acceptable
21-2431-36Overweight
>24>37Obese
from Sport Nutrition, 2nd Edition, by Asker Jeukendrup, PhD,
and Michael Gleeson, PhD; Human Kinetics

from Sport Nutrition, 2nd Edition, by Asker Jeukendrup, PhD,and Michael Gleeson, PhD; Human Kinetics

Don’t weigh yourself more than once a day.

Don’t even weigh every day if you can help it. Your weight will fluctuate naturally from day to day, and seeing those fluctuations may psych you out. It’s more important to look at overall trends, taken into consideration with body fat percentage, than daily numbers.

Be realistic.

Set small and slow weight loss goals. If you lose too much weight or lose it too quickly, you’ll sacrifice your performance. You shouldn’t lose more than one or two pounds a week. You might not lose any weight one week, and that’s okay, too; it doesn’t mean you need to lose more the next.

Monitor your sports performance as you lose.

You may not need to lose as much as you think to hit those time goals. You may also need to accept that your body is built a certain way and that to change it may involve extreme deprivation or excessive exercise. If you find you have to cut your intake to the point of starving to drop weight, your body is telling you something. Listen to it.

Train right.

As I mentioned above, to some extent your body will adapt and change naturally in response to your training. Be patient with this process. Try to focus more on your training then your weight.

Don’t try to lose weight during the middle of your racing season.

Your performance will likely suffer if you do so. The off season and pre-season are actually the best time to tackle weight loss goals.

Your best weight on race day (or any other day) is when you are most healthy, both in mind and body!

Jen Sommer-Dirks is a registered dietitian, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, a former NASM certified personal trainer, and a self-appointed mountain girl. As a cyclist, skier, hiker, and runner (among other things), she knows firsthand the importance of proper nutrition and training.

Variations on a Theme: CX Threshold Work

Cyclocross is not cancelled! So let’s take it up a notch this year. Many riders know that riding in their sweet spot (88-93% of FTP) is one of the most time-efficient ways to increase FTP, but for cross there are some minor adjustments that can be made to make the workouts even more specific.

by PCG Coach Christian Sheridan

It’s the time of year when thoughts turn to cowbells, barriers, and mud. Yes, it is time for cyclocross. Rider approaches to cross vary widely; for some, cross is the focus of the season and they’re just ramping up their training, while others are winding down the road season and thinking about extending the racing with some cross. In both cases, there is a need to rebuild FTP, but in a cross-focused way.

If you’ve been racing all summer, your power at threshold has declined as you focus on racing and recovering. Even if you haven’t spent the summer racing on the road and instead put in some long base rides to build aerobic fitness and endurance, you’ll want to get a good block just topping off the tank, as it were. Many riders know that riding in their sweet spot (88-93% of FTP) is one of the most time-efficient ways to increase FTP, but for cross there are some minor adjustments that can be made to make the workouts even more specific.

When it comes to specificity, let’s think about what makes a cross race different from other races. First, think about the start. The first half to full lap of a cross race is perhaps the hardest few minutes you can experience on a bike as everyone fights for position into the first technical sections. So the first recommendation I make is that EVERY workout begin with a five-minute blowout effort at VO2max intensity (zone 5 power).

The next thing about cross is that the effort is never steady; instead, there are lots and lots of jumps at near max intensity. In this way cross is like a technical crit, but with a key difference: in cross there is no pack and very little drafting. Yes, there are moments when you aren’t pedaling, but it’s not because you’re being swept along by the pack but because you’re setting up for a corner or obstacle. Besides those moments, you need to be on the gas, so we design workouts that mimic that kind of effort.

There are two ways I address this with my athletes: intervals with jumps and intervals with bursts. Essentially you perform tempo or sweet spot interval (e.g. 45-60 at 80-85% FTP or 2 x 20 at 88-93%) and at set intervals you perform either a jump (a 10- to 12-second sprint) or a burst (30 seconds at 110%+ FTP). The jumps help with accelerating after a slow corner or a remount, the bursts with those times in a race when you want to respond to or initiate an attack. But the key is that after the intense effort you don’t let power fall below the zone for the interval. This forces your body to make a hard effort without easing off to recover, just like the uneven efforts you find in cross races.

Below are two of my favorite variations on classic workouts aimed at cross. I usually start with the tempo-with-jumps workout and begin with 30-45 minutes (depending on the length of the race) and work up to an hour.

Cyclocross Workout 1: Tempo with Jumps

WU: 10-15 minutes working into zone 2, with 3 x 1-minute fast pedal/low power efforts with 1 minute recovery between.

MS1: 5-minute blowout VO2max effort. Do 5 minutes at 110% FTP or Zone 5. Think of this as the first few minutes of a cross race; even if you’re not going for the hole shot, you need to maintain or improve your position. Recover 3-5 minutes afterwards (as you get stronger, decrease the recovery interval).

MS2: Ride 60 minutes in Zone 3. Within this effort do 12-20 all-out jumps of 10-12 seconds. Recover immediately to Zone 3 after each jump. Start with 12 jumps (every 5 minutes) and add more each time you do the workout.

CD: 10-15 minutes in Zone 1.

Cyclocross Workout 2: Sweet Spot with Bursts

WU: 10-15 minutes working into zone 2, with 3 x 1-minute fast pedal/low power efforts with 1 minute recovery between.

MS1: 5-minute blowout VO2max effort. Do 5 minutes at 110% FTP or Zone 5. Think of this as the first few minutes of a cross race; even if you’re not going for the hole shot, you need to maintain or improve your position. Recover 3-5 minutes afterward (as you get stronger, decrease the recovery interval).

MS2: 2 x 20 minutes sweet spot, with watts 88-93% FTP. Within this effort, do 5 x 30-second efforts at 110% FTP. After these 30 second efforts, return immediately to sweet spot, never letting watts fall below 88% FTP.  So, you are doing the bursts WITHIN the 20 Minutes. Recover 5 minutes between efforts.

CD: 10-15 minutes in Zone 1.

Christian Sheridan is a Level 2 USAC cycling coach, a professor at University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and a father of one. He has coached athletes at all levels and has helped several athletes upgrade from Cat 5 to Cat 2. Christian can be contacted through info@peakscoachinggroup.com or www.peakscoachinggroup.com.

SO YOU’RE FIT, BUT DO YOU KNOW HOW TO WIN?

It’s not solely watts that win a race, but a whole host of factors, including: strategy, speed, nutrition, hydration, course familiarity, etc.
Are you doing all that you can–including building an unassailable FTP foundation–to win your race?

When it comes to data analysis, PCG Coaches are the industry standard, but we are also the industry standard for winning.

By PCG Coach Todd Scheske

Over the past 10 years, power meters have become much more prevalent, and during that time, the analysis involved has become more refined and advanced.  It is common to hear even beginner riders talk of FTP and thinking in terms of watts for outputs.  These are certainly all great advancements, but there is something that I find missing in many riders’ pursuit of racing.

That is: how to actually win a race.

It is true that without the fitness portion you will have a harder time implementing any strategy or tactics, but strength, without good strategy or tactics, isn’t going to win you a race most of the time.  I know, personally, that I’ve won races against stronger competitors.  

I have a saying that goes something like: “the strongest rider almost never wins, but the smartest rider almost always does.”  Being smart in a race is likely more important than what your FTP is, or your 5 sec power.

So what things should you be thinking about in terms of being a smarter rider?  

First of all, STAY OUT OF THE WIND.  Sounds simple right?  Look around at how many riders will ride next to the group, or (try to) move up when it is single file into the wind.  Racing is about conserving energy until you need to unleash something, not dribbling out power sitting in the wind, accomplishing nothing.  Learn to flow with the pack.  I’ve seen race files of clients that did the same race as I did, and yet they had half the percentage of zero pedaling.  This is where you can also start to use the “power” of the analytics available as well.  Look at your road race files and see how much time you spend generating less than 5 watts.  If you have a low percentage of (near) zero pedaling, and you were not in a breakaway, then you may need to look at why and find ways to save energy.  Remember it is not a contest of who does the most KJ of work!

Secondly, ask yourself two fundamental questions: “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing it?”  This will help you with the first point above and also help you start to correct for mistakes on the road.  I hear often from athletes, “I just found myself….”  Don’t just let things happen to you.  Own what you do.  If you find yourself, say, sitting on the front, ask the questions:  Q: What am I doing?  A: Sitting on the front.  Q: Why am I doing that?  If you aren’t setting up a teammate or helping chase something, etc., then stop it.  Even if you are chasing something, ask the same questions!

Third, respect everyone and fear no one.  If you ride with respect, you mitigate the tendency to ride dumb.  Kind of like the proverb that says, “Pride cometh before a fall.”  I’ve seen strong riders sit on the front, pulling people, because they think they are “hurting them”.  Most likely, the reality is you aren’t.  So respect that they are fit and strong, and don’t just pull people, or don’t lead out a headwind sprint from 500 meters, and then expect to win.  When you respect other people’s ability, you recognize that you cannot be foolish in the race and waste energy.  Along the same lines though, don’t fear anyone.  Don’t negate your chances by thinking that you aren’t good enough.  You are lining up to race, so you deserve to be there.  Ride like it!  Confidence and respect set the stage to make good tactical decisions and plan solid strategies.  

So yes, use the power meter and be strong, fit and fast.  However, make sure you are a smart rider too, so that those tools are put to good use.  Use those tools to be even smarter by knowing yourself even better.

By PCG Elite/Master Coach Todd Scheske. Living in Rochester, NY, Todd coaches road, Crit, TT, Track, CX, and Juniors.

Help! My FTP Won’t Go Up!

We receive this concern several times a week from non-PCG athletes who are either on the training-app hamster wheel or have hit some other form of the self-coaching plateau. Our answer to both? A PCG coach. Read on to learn the crucial method as to how a PCG coach thinks in tackling this all-too-common problem.

By PCG Coach Gordon Paulson

You’ve purchased a power meter. You’ve trained hard and seen progress. You’ve spent hours on the trainer doing more 20-minute sweet spot intervals than you can count. You’ve done the Functional Threshold Power (FTP) testing – multiple times – to measure your threshold. For a while, you excitedly watched your 20-minute test numbers rise but then, they stall.

What’s this!? Does this mean you’ve reached the limit of your FTP improvement? Does it mean your training is no longer working? Are you doing the wrong workouts? Are you trying hard enough? Does this suggest that you should purchase a different power meter?

All too often we assume diligent training leads to linear increasing FTP. This simply is not the case.

All too often we assume diligent training leads to linear increasing FTP. This simply is not the case. Threshold improvement is realized, for lack of a better phrase, in “fits and starts”. There are times when improvement follows a linear trajectory. At other times, however, FTP can appear to diminishing despite continued training. FTP can also appear to be “stuck” at a number despite the athlete’s efforts to improve. If this happens to you, what should you do?

To begin, I recommend checking some basic metrics. Are you getting enough rest? Knowing your Training Stress Balance (TSB) can help guide this. Are your hard workouts hard enough and your easy days easy enough? A cycling power meter can be indispensable for this type assessment. If neither of these seem to apply you may need to dig deeper.

Change Things Up

First take a long look at where you are, and how you got there. Are you doing the same workouts day after day and week after week? You may actually be getting too good at doing those workouts. Your body has gotten “efficient” at them and you aren’t triggering adaptations any longer.

Remember, you need to stress the system to send the adaptation messages. Maybe it’s time to change things up. Consider doing a really long ride if that’s not something you usually do.

It might be a good time to vary the workout pattern. If you do a rest day Monday, hard day Tuesday, easy recovery Wednesday, hard skills day Thursday, easy day Friday and two longer ride days on the weekend, try moving those around. Perhaps do an easy day Monday, hard days Tuesday and Wednesday, easy day Thursday, rest day Friday and long rides on the weekend. Give it a couple weeks and see if things get shaken up.

While it isn’t the first choice of many athletes, one way to change things up is to rest more. Often a “training vacation” of 3 or 4 days is followed by a noticeable improvement in performance.

Move Your VO2max Level Up

Increasing FTP does not increase VO2max. To do that, you need to do VO2max level training. Here’s the thing, VO2max can act as an upper level ‘ceiling’ for FTP improvement. When you first begin training to improve FTP it’s likely that there’s a pretty wide range of power between the two energy levels. But, as you improve your FTP numbers they will get closer to the VO2max level. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where more FTP training doesn’t have an effect on increasing FTP (although, as explained below, it may improve your durational window at FTP).

I have observed that for many serious amateur cyclists who train hard their FTP number is generally in the range of 75-85% of their VO2max wattage. In this situation focusing workouts on improving VO2max can be beneficial and might open the door to increasing FTP. Note, however, getting improvements in VO2max is difficult. Improvements do not come in large numbers. Additionally, there is an increased danger of overtraining when your training focus is predominantly on VO2max.

Change Your FTP Focus from Watts to Duration

The concept that there was a power output / duration connection for effectively establishing training zone targets really took off as a result of Hunter Allen and Andy Coggan’s ground breaking book, Training and Racing with a Power Meter, (Training and Racing with a Power Meter). There Dr. Coggan[1] stated, “FTP is the highest power that a ride can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing for approximately one hour.” (emphasis supplied). Note, it says “approximately”. But, “one hour” became the standard for duration. Unfortunately, a static 1-hour duration for FTP output doesn’t apply universally. Some authors have indicated that the 1-hour duration for threshold output applies only to about 50% of training athletes.

FTP is an estimate of the power output that corresponds most closely with the maximal metabolic steady state, what’s more commonly referred to as “threshold.” In contrast to VO2max, which is primarily limited by the cardiovascular system’s ability to deliver O2-carrying blood to contracting muscle, FTP is primarily determined by the ability to balance aerobic ATP production via mitochondrial respiration with ATP utilization. This does not happen in the same duration for everyone.

As the concept of Functional Threshold Power took hold coaches and athletes began to implement training using FTP derived targets. By using FTP testing to set targets amateur cyclists made a giant leap up in the level of their performance. It was a revolutionary concept that made a meaningful difference.

The label “FTP” is used in general as a level of output (power) sustainable over time. Initially the time component was said to be 1 hour. That was easy to measure and fit well with a protocol for testing. As training progressed, however, it became clear that the time component varied from one athlete to another.

Power training theory has advanced in the past 10 years. With the release of powerful analytical training software such as WKO4 or 5, it became feasible to look at the concept of FTP in a more robust way. WKO4 introduced the concept of TTE (Time to Exhaustion). TTE is the maximum duration for which power equal to mFTP (“modeled Functional Threshold Power, i.e. a concept too broad for discussion here) can be maintained. (TrainingPeaks.com)

This development recognized that sustainable “threshold” power of a cyclist can occupy different durations for different athlete’s. Also, this TTE can change for each athlete in ways related to what was happening with the athlete’s threshold. Given this expansion of analytical capability, I believe we should not assume that FTP should always be based upon a 1-hour effort.

So, how does this relate to being stuck at a stubborn FTP level? It may be that your training efforts are resulting in an improvement of your TTE while your FTP stays the same. This is not a bad thing.

Change Your Training Focus

While it might not help push your FTP higher, a change of focus for your training may help you become a stronger, more effective, rider. Don’t get fixated on one number i.e., your “FTP”. Success on the bike, especially in competitive situations, is related to a number of factors, some not even physiological. And, in the physiological realm, it is related to more than having an enormous FTP number. Altering your training emphasis might impact your riding success more than single mindedly chasing a higher FTP.

For example, this might be a good time to focus on ‘training’ your recovery. Recovery is a process which benefits from training. Just as you repeat intervals to get stronger, repeating a pattern of the recovery process will hep your body adjust to prompt effective recovery. Armed with improved recovery you might discover that you can respond to pack surges, or deal with rolling terrain much more effectively even if your FTP remains the same.

Repeatability might be another area for focus. Training your ability to do FTP level efforts for less than your TTE but doing an increasing number of them as your training progresses may yield another trump card which can be played when the numbers are pinned on or your ride mates decide to ramp up the ride. You may find that the ability to repeat 5 or 6 efforts near your FTP for less than your TTE can gain more advantage over someone who might have a higher FTP that was attained by a steady diet of 20-minute efforts.

We get better at the things we do over and over.

We get better at the things we do over and over. If that’s doing 20-minute efforts, then that’s where your strength will lie. But if that is the only ‘card in your hard’ you might come up short for many riding or racing situations where the intensity is not required for 20 minutes but is required for shorter, repeating durations with, in many cases, less recovery time.

So, what does it all mean. Don’t get discouraged if your FTP seems ‘stuck’. Don’t panic. Assess what you’re doing. Develop a new strategy and implement it. Be patient and persistent. In the end, you’ll have the FTP you deserve!

Gordon Paulson is a Peaks Coaching Group Elite/Master Coach and a USAC Level 1 Power Certified Coach. He is a LEOMO Motion Analysis Certified Coach and focuses on Coaching: Road, TT, CX, and CompuTrainer.

Your First FTP Test: What to Expect

BY PCG COACHES: HUNTER ALLEN & RICK SCHULTZ

Your first FTP test is no joke, and for many of us, the test is a skill that takes time to develop.

While we do several tests to better understand each PCG athlete, let’s not forget three crucial reasons that FTP testing with a power meter took over the cycling industry:

  • Replaces the need for professional testing in a laboratory
  • Allows for athletes to set and dial-in their own individual training zones
  • Allows athletes to understand not only where they have been, but where they are and where they are going.

There are numerous articles regarding How to Perform a FTP test, but not much on (a) prepping for or (b) what to expect from your first FTP test.

This is surprising since these are the two questions I always get from new clients.  In this short article, I will share many of the points discussed. At the end of this article, I will also include the FTP test protocol.

First, Functional Threshold Power is defined as “the highest power that a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing for approximately one hour. When power exceeds FTP, fatigue will occur much sooner, whereas power just below FTP can be maintained considerably longer.” 

Since it is difficult to find a road that has no signals, no stop signs, no traffic, etc., a more popular test that gives an approximation of the one our test is “20 minutes less 5%” test. Now, this isn’t truly an FTP test, but can be used as a “point of triangulation” to find your true FTP. It’s very important that you do the 5 minute ALL out effort prior to the 20minute to help pre-fatigue your muscles and achieve a more accurate test. MOST PEOPLE FORGET THIS STEP.

Once your FTP is calculated, it is easy to determine your training zones as %FTP. A training plan can then be created based on the athlete’s goals and workouts can be created based on the %FTP value. Workouts can be either (a) created ‘manually’ or (b) via a more ‘automated method’ such as our customized TrainingPeaks structured workouts (Workout Builder) and/or Workout Creator in Zwift where the power required to perform effort is dynamically calculated based upon the athlete’s FTP.

BEFORE YOU TAKE THE TEST

The Hunter Allen 20-minute FTP test with 5-minute blowout
Table 1: The Hunter Allen 20-minute FTP test with 5-minute blowout

You will need a power meter and a head unit to display your power and time.

Before you start the test–don’t forget to ZERO YOUR POWERMETER!

You have the option of taking the test either outdoors or indoors. We suggest that you take the test in the environment that you will do most of your training in. For example, if you are riding indoors now because it’s winter, then you need to test indoors. Once you go back outside and ride outdoors, then test outdoors! This is important because you can have different numbers inside vs. outside. Also test ON the bicycle you are training on, and if you are racing on a different bike then you really need to consider training on it exclusively as well. We have seen some triathletes that will train on their road bike, test on their road bike and then do their races in an extreme aerodynamic position on their tri bike and then wonder why their numbers are lower.

If possible, it would be great to have a coach with you! We have done virtual Zoom meetings with our clients during their testing days to help motivate and push them all the way to the finish line. On several occasions we have had athletes ready to give up with less than 5 minutes to go. With a coach by their side or on the screen motivating them, they completed the full 20-minutes and were very pleased with the results. We are convinced that if they would have done the test on their own, their numbers wouldn’t have been as high or worse, they would have quit prior to the end.

Again, be forewarned, this is a VERY HARD test.

With that said, it is important to note that you will likely need to take the FTP test 3 times. More specifically, once a week for 3 weeks. Why? Most “first-timers” push way too hard and blow up halfway through. The second time they usually hold-back too much ending up with energy left to spare. The third time is usually the charm.

Often, this is referred to as a “20-minute FTP Time Trial.” Don’t let that title fool you. This is NOT a SPEED test. This IS a POWER test. So, for this test, it’s OK to place your hands on the tops of the bars. It’s OK to sit up to allow your diaphragm to work easier getting air in and out of your lungs. In fact, sitting up is preferred. Remember, it’s NOT about SPEED, it’s ALL about consistently generating as much POWER as you can for the entire test, whether that be 60 minutes or 20 minutes. (That being said, it’s still important to be on the bike you race on)

SEE Table 1. FTP TEST PROTOCOL. For those that will be taking the FTP test for the first time, your effort is based on a scale from 1-10 of PERCEIVED LEVEL OF EFFORT where 1 is EASY and 10 is MAXIMUM+. For the second time, you will have FTP data that you can display and track to for this test.

TAKING THE FTP TEST 

After a good warm up, get yourself mentally ready, take a few deep breaths and get yourself up to speed. Click START on your GPS head unit, hit the “lap” button to record the effort and ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes. Remember to click the “lap” button at the end of the 20 minutes as well.   This means, that you will have to “HOLD BACK” for the first 2-3 minutes as you will invariably start too hard. PACE YOURSELF!!! Build up after that third minute and then begin pushing the limits.

When the timer gets to 20 minutes, press stop and take note of your AVERAGE POWER. Since this was your best effort, your AVERAGE POWER will be your AVERAGE POWER. For a 20-minute test, take this number and multiply by 0.95 as this is generally the average (5% off) for most people and will be close to your one-hour power.

Again, we recommend doing the FTP test 3 times (only if this is your first time ever doing the test, just until you get the hang of it) , once per week for 3 weeks.From this point on, you will create your power zones and start training as a % of FTP. But, not to worry because in 6 to 8 weeks you get to do this test all over again! The workout shown above is an actual FTP test.

Hunter Allen is the Founder and CEO of Peaks Coaching Group. He co-authored the book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” with Dr. Andrew Coggan and Dr. Stephen McGregor and co-developed the TrainingPeaks WKO software. Rick Schultz is a PCG Certified Coach, USAC Level 2 Cycling Coach and holds multiple certifications in bike fitting.

Joseph’s First Gravel Camp

Texan Joseph Nguyen attends his first PCG Gravel Camp. Here is what he has to say!

This time last Tuesday morning I was driving to Peaks Coaching Group Gravel Camp in Bedford Virginia.

I have been coaching with my PCG coach, Rickey Wray Wilson, for over a year and he recommended that I attend the camp to better my bike skills on gravel. Who better to learn from than the cyclist master himself, Hunter Allen, and Selene Yeager, fit chick and cool chick. 😉

Crick Swimming in Arcadia on Long Day.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon after stopping and resting in Franklin TN on Tuesday. That afternoon, Hunter took the campers and PCG coaches to a park nearby to work on cornering and bunny hop. Important bike skills to know whether you’re on the road or gravel or trail.

On Thursday morning, we completed a 1-minute test followed by three climbs of 10, 20, and 40 minutes. OMG!!!! I have never climbed that long living in Texas. It hurt so bad that I cramped on both quads. I only stopped once to catch my breath but I was determined to finish each climb. Hunter helped me with my breathing technique which helped out for the rest of the week. So glad for the wonderful recovery drink that Hunter’s wife made for all of us and the massage I got at the end of each ride. I felt like a pro. 😜 According to Strava, I climbed 4,501 ft of elevation for 34.24 miles.

On Friday, Hunter took it easy on us and I climbed 3,573 ft of elevation for 37.22 miles. We climbed up the famous Thunder Ridge and again I cramped toward the end. Selene waited for me near the top of the climb to ride up together and kept speaking words of encouragement. She said to me, “You don’t have to talk. Just keep pedaling.” Even though I was cramping real bad and I was in no mood to speak with anyone, I just wanted to complete the 40+ minutes climb. Let me say this, climbing is not my strength but I completed each climb each day. Again, massage at the end of the day helped me recover for the next day.

Selene Yeager being her bad-ass self

On Saturday, I was nervous at the start of the ride knowing that we would be climbing over 6,500 ft. But I kept telling myself to enjoy the day and keep pedaling when it got hard. We completed two climbs before we stopped at a creek for a dip to cool off our core and have lunch. I changed into a fresh cycling kit and took off early on the 12 miles climb knowing that the rest of the campers will catch me. I completed the grueling 12 miles climb in 1 hour and 46 minutes while Jill Patterson completed in 59 minutes with some change and QOM and KOM. WOW!!!! She can climb. Again Selene came down looking for me to encourage me to finish the climb. She is SO AWESOME!!!

Not all rides started from the facility, so we loaded them into the Peaks Trailer

After resting at the top, we started on a long descent to the bottom through the winding trail with one stretch of about 100 yards that was so steep and filled with big chunky rocks that I was so terrified. I was on the brakes the whole time and slipped and slid while descending that steep part of the trail. I thought I was going to go over the handlebar but luckily I didn’t.

Hunter gave campers tons to think about in terms of gravel watts

Thank you God for a nice recovery ride on Sunday. Hunter took it easy on us with only 2,930 ft of elevation. 😬

Overall, it was worth the drive of 17 hours to be at the gravel camp for 5 days. I learned how to corner from PCG coach, Bart Lipinski. He took the time on Friday morning before the ride to teach me the 1-2-3 cornering technique. I learned from Selene to be relaxed on the bike. The bike will go straight as long as I am relaxed and let the bike bounced off the gravel and rocks. I learned from Paul Ozier about the bike’s mechanics. I learned from Jill Patterson to enjoy the climb. She is the QUEEN of hills. And I learned so much from the cyclist master himself, Hunter Allen. He truly knows the ins and outs of cycling.

Joseph between gravel roads looking at the Blue Ridge Mountains

And lastly, I made 5 new friends: Joel Denny, Andrew Simpson, Simon Holland, Jim Fingers, and Matt Sodikoff. I definitely will visit them soon.

I want to thank Hunter and his family (Kate, Jack, Susannah, and Thomas), Lee Sandstead, Mr. Hunter Allen Jr, PCG coaches Bart Lipinski, Paul Ozier, and Jill Patterson for putting together a 1st class gravel camp. I look forward to putting everything I learned from last week to become a better cyclist.

Look forward to 2021 PCG Spring Camp. 🚴‍♂️

Dollar Bills, Bacon, and Beer: Mastering the Extracurricular Skills of Cyclocross (The Hand-up)

By Gordon Paulson, PCG elite coach

Cyclocross racing is different. Apart from the mount/dismount, suitcase carries, step-through dismounts, and bunny hopping, a CX race can present rare and mysterious challenges unlike those of a typical criterium. You’ll need to be prepared. Before you line up for your first CX race, make sure you’re ready for that ‘cross-distinguishing element: the hand-up.

Now if you want to get technical, there are most likely rules against accepting hand-ups in your ‘cross races, and there’s no feed zone. But it’s ‘cross; what’s a few rules to get in the way of general craziness? Hand-ups are as much a part of the culture as the dismount.

There are basically three types of hand-ups you should prepare for: bills, bacon, and beer.

The Dollar-Bill Hand-up

Payouts at most CX races barely cover the cost of gas to get to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t profit from ‘cross, however, but you’ll need to master the dollar-bill hand-up. (Sorry, the $1 bill seems to be the best you can hope for, although a $20 bill hand would make for a much more interesting event.) Novice spectators simply hold a bill out in their hand, while seasoned spectators delight in more creative methods of offering the bills for retrieval. To practice snatching your race entry in dollar bills, have a friend stand at the hardest part of the hardest hill you can ride with a dollar carefully hooked between his/her belt and rearmost anatomy (make sure it’s a very good friend with a very good sense of humor). But first you’ll need a plan. After you fish that grimy, sweaty dollar bill off the ground or, worse yet, out of someone’s BVDs, where will you put it? It’s not uncommon after events to see racers emptying skin suits of crumpled dollar bills.

The Bacon Hand-up

If collecting your travel money out of someone else’s gym shorts isn’t your thing, perhaps you want to pursue a quick breakfast snack. If so, the bacon hand-up is your best bet. Who doesn’t love bacon? There’s just something unique about shoving bacon in your mouth between gasping breaths as you charge along in your VO2max zone. Things to watch out for are undercooked bacon, bacon covered with whatever’s floating around on the ‘cross course, and too large a piece of bacon. It’s a good idea to think through the consequences of taking a bacon hand-up before grabbing a slice. Like the bill, what are you going to do with it? Stuff it in your mouth, and you may find your race is an exercise in choking and gagging.

Oh, the Beer

If you have enough money for gas and have already eaten breakfast, there remains a hand-up that can turn a dull race into a party: the always-popular beer hand-up. This is the trickiest hand-up to master, and the process can be broken down into four phases: the snatch, the drink, and the what-do-I-do-with-this-darn-beer-can? (Obviously, this particular hand-up is not one for the under-21 crowd. Also obviously, you should have either a designated driver or lots of time to sleep off the effects before heading home.) Again, think through the process. Are you going to stop and enjoy the beverage before continuing on? This puts a bit of a damper on your chance for a podium finish, although to be fair it’s a rare athlete in general who can manage to accept beer hand-ups and finish on the podium; this requires lots of practice and highly dedicated training.

It doesn’t take too much pedaling before ‘cross racing starts to look decidedly un-racelike. It’s hard enough riding full gas, then no gas, then off the bike and back on, but when you encounter the hand-up gauntlet, you realize you truly aren’t in Kansas anymore. There are new skills to develop! But play your cards right, and you can leave that ‘cross race with a belly full of greasy bacon, a slight buzz on, and a pocket full of gas money.

What could be better than that?

Gordon is a Cat 1 racer, a Level 2 USAC cycling coach, a practicing attorney, and a father of three in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. He has extensive road racing experience and has set numerous course records in Wisconsin and Minnesota, many of which have now been eclipsed by athletes he has coached. Gordon can be contacted through:

 info@peakscoachinggroup.com or www.peakscoachinggroup.com