PCG Texas Fall Power Camp Recap

In late 2021, PCG Texas hosted the first ever PCG Texas Fall Power Camp in Leakey Texas.  (Leakey is pronounced LAKE – E).  Leakey is a tiny town in the Texas hill country west of San Antonio.  It’s a hidden gem for cycling.  (Please don’t tell anyone else.)

PCG Texas is a group of cyclists coached by Elite Coach Rickey Wray Wilson and Associate Coach Keith Nelson in the Fort Worth, Texas area.  This group does their own weekly group rides, they also like to join local charity or organized rides like the MS-150 with Health’s Angels MS Cycling Team and The Hotter Than Hell 100.

PCG Texas Fall Power Camp was headquartered this past year at the Frio Pecan Farm. This is a working pecan farm with over 1000 pecan trees (11 different varieties), it has the crystal-clear Frio River running through it, and deer roam freely on the farm.  It is so amazingly dark and quite at night! The farm also boasts amazing cabin style accommodations, some with their own pool! Check out Frio Pecan Farm!

Rickey and Keith led the camp, they were supported by Eddie Holsopple from Eddie’s Bike Fit, while HC Gordon served as the official camp SAG driver.  HC has years of experience supporting the Fort Worth Bicycle Association with annual rides in Leakey, and he has an incredible knack for being in the right spot when you need him.

On Sunday, the camp early birds did a fun ~25-mile ride from Leakey up the 2-mile 7+% grade toward Camp Wood. Then, the camp officially started with a warm-up ride to rid our bodies of the hours of driving to the Texas Hill country.

Each day presentations were on such topics as: 

  • Training with Power
  • Training zones and testing protocols
  • Basic Bicycle Maintenance
  • Bike Fitting Basics
  • Creating an Annual Training Plan
  • Riding as a group
  • Basic cycling handling skills
  • Planning and Training to do your best at your races, rallies, or Gran Fondo

Around 250 miles of cycling were on the agenda for the week, with over 13,000 feet of climbing and campers each accumulated over 1,000 Training Stress Score (TSS) points!  Each day was capped with yoga, bike maintenance, and social hour followed by dinner by a local chef, Robin Waltrip. Of course, no Texas event would be complete without Texas Barbecue which was catered by Canyon BBQ on Wednesday night and Texas pecan pie (after all we are at Frio Pecan Farm). It was absolutely incredible having catered breakfast, lunch, and dinner ready in our open-air pavilion every day.

Phil Henslee led the campers through yoga after each day while Will Jiron was Mr. Versatility as bike mechanic, on the road assistant and general fun leader.  Casey Gordon provided on the road assistance and added spice to the riding of the speedsters. 

Day 1: Skills, Drills, and FTP testing!

After a short skills drill session, the campers went out for their FTP test.  This is an out and back course.  Following some fast-pedaling intervals and the 5-minute burn-off, the groups started their FTP.  Some of the faster campers flew right past HC at the turn around point.  The return trip was a whole lot better than the FTP test!

Day 2: 1 Minute & 5 Minute Testing

Day 2 was a blast, leaving Leakey and heading to Utopia and a much-needed rest stop at Postal Brews.  We had to be careful not to linger too long because of the pending climbs at the end of the course.  Those climbs are so much fun because the descent carries you back to Leakey where a cold one awaits.

Day 3: Thrill Ride

Day 3 is a reverse of Day 2 which means there’s a screaming descent into Utopia and the rest stop at Postal Brews. Crazy Casey hit 60 mph on the descent (not recommended by the PCG Texas coaches!). We could linger a little longer at Postal Brews because the more-gentle course awaited us, and the Day 4 Queen stage loomed large.

Day 4: Queen Stage

Queen stage featured two options either a 96-mile route with a departure from Leakey to Camp Wood or a shortened version 70-mile route departing from Camp Wood.  Both routes provide scenic beauty and exhilarating rollers along the Nueces River and ended along Monday’s FTP course. The end of Day 4 featured “awards” night where the prime rib feast was followed by Texas pecan pie and ice cream. (We burned a lot of calories!) For Awards Night, the coaches recognized the campers for their spirit and determination. 

Day 5: Cool-Down Ride

Sadly, the Friday departing cool-down ride was cancelled due to weather.

PCG Texas inaugural camp was so good that campers were requesting the 2022 date and plans are under development for camp in late September. Special thanks to UCAN for fueling the camp, Eddie Holsapple of Eddie’s Bike Fit, Will Jiron, Phil Henslee, Casey Gordon and of course our professional SAG driver extraordinaire HC Gordon who has an amazing instinct to be just around the curve when you need him!

Cycling-Specific Leg Strength Training

By: David Ertl

There are a lot of theories on strength training for cycling out there, and unfortunately not a lot of science to back them up. Therefore, the following strength training recommendations below are based on my reading of a lot of literature, books and articles on this topic. I‟ve put together my thoughts on what should be a sound and effective strength training program for cycling. At the very least, I don’t believe it will hurt and should help. What I‟m referring to here is leg strength training. This article does not cover upper body and core strength. Those are important as well, but will not be addressed here.

Rationale for strength training

Some people argue that strength training is not necessary for cyclists. They say that cycling relies mostly on cardiovascular fitness and you can get all the leg strength you need by riding. They also claim that off-the-bike strength training is not cycling-specific therefore useless. While I agree that cycling is first and foremost a cardiovascular sport, leg strength is still important. Cycling is a power sport. Power equals force times speed. Force is the amount of effort you put into the pedal stroke and speed is your leg rpm. Here‟s why I disagree who say strength training is not required, and why I believe it should be part of a cycling training program.

First, cycling requires leg strength. Stronger cyclists who can continuously crank out more power must also put out more force per pedal stroke. If two cyclists are pedaling at 90 rpm and one is putting out more power, he must be putting out more force on the pedals and using more strength to do so. Power = strength x speed. If leg speed is equal then the only other variable is force, which is driven by leg strength. You can work on increasing your cadence, but there is a ceiling on how fast you can pedal, so your main power improvement from increased cadence is limited. The more force you can continuously generate, the more power you can put out. Strength => force. The upward limit of strength is much more open ended than leg speed. Therefore you should work on strength. Riding a bike will give you a lot of the strength you need to ride well. However, there are times when you could use more strength to turn the pedals, such as when you are accelerating, charging up a hill or sprinting. It is possible but difficult to build this type of strength just on the bike. During the summer I typically recommend doing one strength workout on the bike each week, to maintain leg strength. But in the off-season, I believe it is a good idea to do some gym leg strength work. You can build more strength in the gym than you can on a bike. Even if strength training isn‟t necessary, it is certainly more efficient and time-effective to work on strength training off the bike.

Secondly, strength training has the added benefit of increasing bone strength. There is some suggestion that cyclists have less bone strength than other athletes, perhaps due to the lack of impact (such as fromrunning) and resistance training. It may also be due to all the sweating that cyclists do, which can leach calcium from the body. Whether or not this is true, there‟s no doubt that resistance training can improve bone strength as well as muscular strength.

A third reason for doing strength training is that you can work on muscles that don‟t get used during cycling, or at least not very much, and therefore you can become more balanced. Cycling is a linear sport – we tend to move our legs in one plane and use only some of our leg and hip muscles.

Fourth, a rationale for doing strength training in the off-season is that for those of us who live in a northern climate, riding outside during the winter is difficult and often impossible. Strength training a couple times a week gives a great workout indoors and adds some diversity to your annual training routine. It can also simulate the effect of a long ride. The day after a good leg strength workout your legs should feel like you‟ve just ridden 70 miles.

Finally, as you age, it becomes difficult to maintain muscle mass, even with training. You tend to lose your type II muscle fibers (the fast twitch ones) the most, and these are the same ones built most by strength training. If you don‟t lift fairly heavy weights, you will likely lose muscle mass as you age even if you continue to ride a bike.

Cycling requires several types of leg strength. It mostly requires strength-endurance, which is the ability to push the pedals around powerfully, for long periods of time. It also requires pure strength – the strength required to push very forcefully on the pedals when accelerating, climbing or sprinting. Cycling also requires you to have the ability to generate a force quickly. Think about the pedal stroke. The majority of the force to turn the cranks is generated from the 1 o‟clock position to the 5 o‟clock position (when looking at the right leg from the right side of the bike). This is one third of the pedal stroke. If you are pedaling at 90 rpm, you are doing 1.5 revolutions per second, or doing one revolution in 2/3 of a second. Therefore, you are generating all the down force during a pedal stroke in 0.22 of a second (1/3 times 2/3). That‟s quite fast! Therefore, it‟s important to consider some leg speed work, both with and without resistance, to train your muscles to fire quickly. So we have strength-endurance, max strength and strength-speed to think about.

Muscle groups required for cycling

In cycling, there are four basic muscle actions involved in a pedal stroke. 1) knee extension 2) hip extension 3) knee flexion 4) hip flexion. Knee extension is the straightening of the knee joint such as when kicking a ball. During the pedal stroke, you are extending your knee from the 11 through 5 o‟clock positions. Knee extension occurs by the contraction of the quadriceps and Rectus femoris muscles – those big muscles on the front of the thigh. Hip extension is extending the thigh from a bent or flexed position to a straight position where the thigh is parallel to your trunk. When you stand up out of a chair, you are extending your hip. On a bike, your hip extends from the 12 through 6 o‟clock positions. Hip extension on the bike occurs mainly from the contraction of the gluteal muscles (your butt muscles). The hamstring muscles are also involved in hip extension but not to a very large degree in the range of motion involved in the pedal stroke. The hip and knee extension makes up approximately 80% of the force generated during a pedal with the knee and hip each contributing roughly half of the 80%. Therefore these are important muscles to strengthen for cycling. Muscles tend to be strongest at the mid portion of their range of their motion. For the two strongest muscles, the quads and glutes, their greatest force production is at the 3 o‟clock position. This is good news because this is where the foot is pushing perpendicular to the crank resulting in the greatest force transfer from the foot to the bike. Whoever invented the bicycle knowingly or unknowingly had this figured out. The greatest muscle force production coincides with the physics of the pedal motion in an optimal manner. Knee flexion is the bending of the knee such as kicking your foot back towards your butt. On the bike, knee flexion occurs from the 5 through 11 o‟clock positions, where you are pulling back with the foot. The hamstrings are involved in flexing the knee. As you actively pull back on the pedals, you are engaging your hamstrings. Hip flexion involves bringing the thigh up towards the chest such as when you step up and over something. On the bike, the hips flex from the 6 through 12 o‟clock positions. The psoas muscles are responsible for flexing the thigh. In actuality, most of the effort used to lift the leg up on the upstroke of the pedal stroke comes from the other leg pushing down on the pedals. Even when elite cyclists consciously pull up on the pedals, they just barely unweight the leg, and really don‟t produce enough force to propel the bike forward. However, anything you can do to help unweight that leg means the other leg can use more of its down force energy propelling the bike forward rather than lifting the opposing leg, so it is worthwhile trying to improve the efficiency of your pedal stroke by working on the hip flexors.

So the muscle groups involved in the pedal stroke are the quads, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors. The quads and glutes provide the vast majority of the force and power for turning the pedals. Many other accessory muscles are involved, such as the calf muscles, but typically they get strong enough just from cycling and they don‟t contribute much to the overall force production so we won‟t worry about strengthening them in the gym.

The exercises

The squat and leg press work the quads and glutes simultaneously. These are the powerhouses of the pedal stroke and can handle heavy weight. The squat involves both knee and hip extension at the same time as you stand up out of a squat. Therefore it simultaneously strengthens both muscle groups in proportion to each other – the quads will be as strong as they need to be relative to the glutes. Standing up out of a squat mimics the downward pedal stroke motion very well. That‟s why it is such a good exercise for cyclists. The leg curl works the hamstring muscles, those used to pull back on the pedal. If you just do squats or leg presses, you ignore and potentially will have relatively weaker hamstrings than quads and glutes. A good way to hit the hip flexor muscles is to do one legged pedaling. When you first start pedaling with only one leg (clipped into your pedal of course while the other is held out of the way), it won‟t take long before your pedal stroke becomes jerky and you have trouble getting your leg back up on the upstroke. This is because of weak hip flexors. When riding two legged, we get lazy and let the downward leg push the upward leg back up. One legged pedaling does two important things: it strengthens the hip flexors and it also provides neuromuscular training so this pulling up motion becomes more automatic when pedaling with two legs. You don‟t want to have to consciously think about pulling up with every pedal stroke. These three exercises (squats, leg curls, one legged pedaling) will hit the four major muscle groups involved in the pedal stroke.

Strength-Endurance Training

When pedaling along at your anaerobic threshold or time trial pace, you are only using a fraction of your absolute leg strength with each pedal stroke. When a body builder or weight lifter refers to „strength endurance‟, they typically are referring to 15 reps of a given exercise. However, you are doing many thousand reps per ride. Our definition of strength-endurance is a little different – a lot more endurance and less strength required. When a weight lifter is doing 15 reps of a given exercise, he can lift approximately 65% of his one rep maximum lift. So you can imagine that a cyclist doing a time trial doing thousands of reps is using an even lower fraction of his total leg strength. I can hit 800-1000 watts for a few pedals strokes but my threshold is less than 1/3 of that amount. So cycling at a fairly fast pace requires only a relatively small fraction of overall strength. This is a reason some coaches give that strength training isn‟t necessary for cyclists – cyclists don‟t need a huge amount of strength when cruising along. However, it‟s also been said that a strong muscle tires less quickly. Let‟s say you can crank out 1200 watts briefly while another cyclist can only hit 1000 watts. Let‟s say you both have a threshold power of 300 watts. You will be using a lower percentage of your muscle strength than the other cyclist when both of you are riding at threshold. Your muscles should tire less quickly.

Now, strength-endurance is effectively trained by riding a bike at or near your threshold level. In order to use the strength you have, you must be able to support aerobic muscular force by supplying oxygen and sugar to the working muscles. That is cardiovascular fitness. If your cardio system isn‟t able to keep up, then it doesn‟t matter how strong your legs are, they will slow down because they aren‟t being fed enough sugar and oxygen. I‟ve been dropped in races doing 180 watts, much lower than my threshold, but when I am exhausted, I can no longer generate the force I could when fresh because of cardiovascular fitness, not because I was weak. So on-the-bike threshold work is very important, but the other half of the equation is having the strength to use assuming your cardio system is able to support it.

Improving your strength-endurance requires fairly high reps with moderate weights. I like to prescribe 30- 50 reps per set of exercises when working on strength-endurance. This sounds huge to a typical weight lifter, but when you consider you normally do thousands of reps, 50 isn‟t that many, but the force (actually the torque, but we won‟t worry about that detail here) required for each rep is considerably higher than pedaling a bike, even uphill. I like to think of this type of training as mimicking hill work. Your leg speed is somewhat reduced, you are generating a lot of force and you may do a couple hundred reps (pedal strokes) going up a hill. At the beginning of the leg strength phase of training, you want to ease into it gradually, otherwise your legs will be extremely sore. So start off strength-endurance training with very light weight. The first time I do squats in the fall, I just use the bar. I will do 2-3 sets of 15 reps. It‟s amazing how sore you may feel that the next day! Once over the initial shock, your muscles will respond quickly and you will be able to increase the weight quite fast. Work your way up to 5 sets of 50 reps of each exercise. The exercises I suggest training this way are the squat and leg curl. You should also do one legged pedaling to improve strength-endurance of the hip flexors. Start out trying to make it one minute with each leg and build up to two minutes. Do at least three sets of one legged pedaling per session. Use the highest gear you can while still pedaling a smooth circle. This is actually a good exercise to do during your warmup.

A word about squats: If you do traditional back squats where you rest the barbell on your shoulders and then drop your hips towards the floor, you as a cyclist should try to go low enough so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Some trainers suggest doing half squats, where you only go down to the point where your knee angle is 90 degrees. This is recommended for safety and for people who may have injured knees. As a cyclist, your knee is bent considerably more than 90 degrees at the 11 o‟clock position. Just hop on your bike and look at your knee angle at the top of the pedal stroke. You want to mimic that with squats, (unless of course you have knee problems), then you are better off stopping at the half squat. Another thing to consider: When doing squats, you put a lot of stress on your hamstrings when lowering yourself down to the squatted position. The hamstrings act as brakes to slow you down and prevent you from falling on your rear. This action is called eccentric muscle action, when the muscles are lengthening while under tension. It is this eccentric action that causes the most post-exercise muscle soreness (DOMS = delayed onset muscle soreness). Because cyclist never do eccentric contractions while cycling (the hamstrings are contracting while the hip is being flexed), when we start doing squats, it can be a fairly painful experience. Therefore I suggest you do box squats, where you squat down and sit onto a box or low bench at the bottom. You want the bench to be low enough so that you are able to get your thighs at least parallel to the ground. I actually do my squats standing on a board which raises me up slightly so I have the proper knee angle when sitting on my bench. What sitting does is allows your hamstrings to relax as you sit down so they don‟t have as much of an eccentric stretch, and they don‟t have to hold you up during the bottom of the squat. You will find you can squat more weight doing box squats than regular squats yet your hamstrings won‟t be nearly as sore the next day or two.

Max Leg Strength Training

To improve your absolute strength, which is what weight or power lifters typically do, you need to lift heavy weights. In order to do so, you need to reduce the reps you can lift. Also, because heavy weights are involved, you need to be very careful not to hurt yourself. So some modifications are in order. To build strength most effectively, you need to lift a weight that is heavy enough to prevent you from being able to lift only 6- 8 reps at a time. The last rep should be very difficult to complete. We will work on the quads, glutes and hamstrings this way, but not the hip flexors. They will get worked enough just doing one legged pedaling. For the quads and glutes, it is best to use a leg press machine. This is safer than trying to do squats with very heavy weights. First of all, when using heavy weights with a squat, most people‟s back muscles become limiting before their leg muscles, so you won‟t be able to hold as much as you can lift. You also don‟t want to risk injuring your back, or losing balance and falling. Instead, use a leg press machine or similar type of machine. These are safe for your back because it is stabilized. The weights are also stabilized so you won‟t be able to lose balance. If you run out of weight that you can push (quite possible on some machines), then you can do these one leg at a time. For the hamstrings, you can continue using the leg curl machine you‟ve been using for strength endurance, just increase the weight and decrease the reps. These can also be done one leg at a time. You won‟t start doing heavy strength work until you‟ve had a good base of strength-endurance, to give your leg muscles a chance to get stronger and to get used to strength training.

Leg Speed-Strength Training

As mentioned above, you need to not only have strong muscles, but they must be trained to fire quickly. Strength training increases the muscles‟ strength but not necessarily their speed. So to work on rapid firing, we will incorporate some jumping exercises. This is not to be confused with plyometrics. I do not advocate plyometrics for cyclists. Plyometrics are a jumping exercise which begins by pre-stretching the muscles and then exploding into a jump. For example, jumping off a box and then back up in one quick motion. As you jump down, you do an eccentric stretch of the glutes and quads and then as you explode back up, they contract from this stretched condition. This type of exercise is used for ground-based sports such as football and basketball, where the players stop
suddenly and jump or change direction. The pre-stretch is helpful to these athletes because a stretched muscle has elasticity which helps spring the muscle back as it is contracting. You can jump higher if you quickly drop into a squat and back up than if you just start from a dead standstill. However, in cycling there is no pre-stretch at the top of the pedal stroke so there is no elastic potential energy stored up in the muscles that we can take advantage of. So, for our jumping we will start each jump for a standstill. The other reason I don‟t like plyometrics is because the risk of injury is so high. Even if supervised, it is very possible to twist an ankle, strain a joint or pull a muscle. It‟s not worth getting injured during strength training, especially a muscle or joint injury as these take a long time to recover from.

The main jumping exercise will be the squat jump. This involves starting in a squat position and then jumping as high as you can. I find it helpful to have a step or box to jump up onto – it gives you something to aim at. But if you don‟t have anything available, you can simply jump as high in the air as you can. As you land, lower yourself back down into a squat position and stop momentarily before jumping again. The key is to jump from a deep squat position, similar to the joint angles when your pedal is at 12 o‟clock. Jump rapidly and forcefully into full extension. Keep your hands on your hips as you jump. Typically squat jumps are taught with throwing your arms overhead. That just creates artificial momentum. You want your legs and hips to do all the work. Anyway, you don‟t throw your hands in the air while riding, do you? (except when you cross the finish line first! True story: I actually saw a guy throw his hands in the air so forcefully at the end of a race that he threw himself right off his bike backwards. To make matters worse, he was second and didn‟t realize the winner had already crossed the line. Oops!).

The amount of power you generate while jumping is much higher than the power you generate doing squats or leg presses with weights. That‟s because power is a function of both force and speed. Because you are contracting the muscles so much faster when jumping, you are creating a lot more power. Keep in mind that you are still lifting your entire body weight, so just because you don‟t have a barbell on your shoulders, it‟s not like you are not lifting any weight.

Periodization of leg strength training

There is a timing element to leg strength training. Some coaches go to great detail to create a week by week periodized leg strength training plan. I prefer to keep it as simple as possible. However, there is an order in which you should do strength training. Begin at the end of your transition period, typically in October. Start by doing squats and leg curls with very light weights and increase the weight and reps as you get over your initial muscle soreness, which should only last a few days if you aren‟t too aggressive. Once you‟ve had a good full month of training with high reps (strength-endurance), such as mid November, you can start adding in max strength workouts. Again, work your way up to your maximum lifting weight. Don‟t try to do it first time you do this workout. Do both strength endurance and max strength workouts concurrently (each workout once each week) through February. Once you get to March, you are hopefully doing more riding outdoors. Strength training is hard on the legs and takes its toll on muscles. You will notice that you don‟t have as much energy or pep if you ride the day after a strength workout. So as the weather starts to improve, phase out the max strength work. Continue to do the strength-endurance work but start to back off the weight and do the motions more quickly to transition the muscles into a faster, more powerful action suitable for riding.

Continue to do one legged training year round, at least once a week during the riding season just so you don‟t lose that muscle memory. Do them twice a week during the off-season. For squat jumps, you can do those starting in October and running through March.

Sample Plan

Here is a layout of a generic leg strength training plan by month.


October: Single leg pedaling, squat jumps, low weight, moderate rep strength endurance squats and leg curls November: Single leg pedaling, squat jumps, moderate weight and high rep strength endurance squats/leg curls
December thru February: Single leg pedaling, squat jumps, moderate weight strength endurance squats/leg curls alternated with high weight max strength leg presses and leg curls
March: Single leg pedaling, squat jumps, high speed lower weight squats and leg curls
April – September: Single leg pedaling, on-bike leg strength workouts (low gear climbs, seated grinds, etc).

Here‟s what a single leg pedaling workout might look like:
Warm up. Pedal with right leg for one – two minutes. Switch to left leg. Spin easily with both legs for two minutes. Repeat for a total of 3 sets.

Here‟s what a squat jump routine might look like:
Warm up on a stationary bike. Do a series of 15 squat jumps. Rest (or do a different exercise). Then do 4 more sets.

Here‟s what a strength endurance routine might look like:
Warm up on a stationary bike. Do a set of 50 squats. Then do a set of 50 leg curls. Repeat until you‟ve done 5 sets of both exercises.

Here‟s what a max strength routine might look like:
Warm up on a stationary bike. Do a set of 7 leg presses, then do a set of 7 leg curls. Repeat until you‟ve done 5 sets of both exercises. On days when you are doing strength endurance, here‟s how you might set it up. Warm up on a stationary bike. Do a set of squats, then leg curls, then squat jumps, and finish up with a set of single leg pedaling. If you are at a gym, you can do single leg pedaling very effectively on a spin bike so hopefully you can hop on one easily between your strength sets. Go back through this routine 4 more times, or whatever is called for in your training plan.

On days when you are doing max strength, here‟s how you might set it up. Warm up on a stationary bike. Do a set of leg presses, then leg curls, then squat jumps, and finish up with a set of single leg pedaling. Go back through this routine 4 more times, or whatever is called for in your training plan.

Supplemental leg and hip strength exercises: Cycling is quite one dimensional. We pedal in one plane and push and pull with the legs and hips. Never do we move our legs side to side or fully extend the hip. These motions become underdeveloped and may lead to muscle imbalances. It‟s a good idea to incorporate a few of these exercises to help maintain some balance.

Hip adductors: Hip adduction is the pulling of the leg in towards the center of the body. A little adduction occurs in the pedal stroke as you work to keep your knee in towards the top tube, but not much. The hip adductor muscles can be strengthened with specific hip adduction machines (where you squeeze your knees together against resistance) and it can be easily done with exercise bands or a cable machine. If using bands or a cable machine, attach to your ankle and pull one leg across the body in front of the other leg, while keeping the knee straight. Try to keep the hips stationary and only move the leg. Do both legs.

Hip abductors: Hip abduction is when you pull your leg out to the side, away from the body. Ice skaters and roller bladers use these muscles a lot but cyclists do not. Similar to hip adduction, these can be strengthened with specific hip abduction machines, where you push your knees out away from each other against resistance, and with bands or a cable machine. If using bands or cable, attach to your ankle, then pull the leg out away from the body while balancing on the other leg. Keep the knee straight and lift as high as possible keeping the hips level. Do both legs.

Full hip extension: While cyclists do hip extension during the pedal downstroke, it is only a partial extension. We rarely fully extend our hip, even outside of cycling. If you have done cross-country skiing, you will notice that your lower back and hip get tired quickly. While skiing, we bring our leg back as far as it with go while pushing off on the ski. In cycling, most of the hip flexion is due to the glutes working. When doing a full hip extension, it more fully engages the glutes and other muscles (hamstrings). This motion is best worked using bands or a cable machine. Attach to your ankle and pull the leg back, keeping the knee straight, keeping the hips stationary. Do both legs.

Putting it all together – creating a powerful, smooth pedal stroke

Leg strength is critically important for cycling, but it is also important to use this strength in a manner that creates a smooth and efficient pedal stroke. Here are some ideas for turning the pedals in a smooth fashion. You may have noticed that the knee is maximally flexed at the 11 o‟clock position instead of the 12 o‟clock position. This means your knee starts to extend as the foot comes over the top of the pedal stroke. Therefore, you should be thinking about pushing the foot forward as it crosses over the top of the pedal stroke, which engages the quad muscles. Starting to push at the 11 o‟clock position instead of 12 or 1 o‟clock results in a smoother, less choppy pedal stroke. Try this sometime when riding, especially uphill or into a headwind. You will notice a difference. It‟s like your leg gets a head start on the downstroke and it helps smooth out the dead spot at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke.

As your foot goes down through the downstroke, you are engaging both the quads and glutes. You really don‟t have to think about this, it comes naturally. But keep in mind that the most force is generated at the 3 o‟clock position, as the force is perpendicular to the crank arm. However, as you get down to 5 and 6 o‟clock, you are pushing mostly parallel to the crank arm and very little force is being used to turn the crank. So don‟t continue mashing down on the pedals once it reaches the 5 o‟clock position. You are just wasting effort. Once the pedal reaches 5 o‟clock, instead you should be thinking „pull back‟ on the pedals. The objective is to try to put a force on the pedals in such a way that the force is always as perpendicular to the crank arm as possible throughout the pedal stroke. So at the bottom of the stroke, where the crank arm is vertical, you need to be pulling back on it to create useful force on the cranks which translate into forward motion of the bike. To pull back, you engage your hamstrings. It is commonly stated that you should be envisioning scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe as you are pulling back through the bottom of the pedal stroke. This helps visualize the feeling in your hamstrings.

Now some people recommend breaking the pedal stroke into three parts: 12 o‟clock to 5 o‟clock, 5 o‟clock to 8 o‟clock and 8 o‟clock to 12. We‟ve just covered the first two parts, the pushing down and pulling back. The third part is pulling up from 8 to 12. This engages the hip flexor muscles. However, I don‟t advocate breaking the pedal stroke into three parts, for a couple of reasons. First, it‟s more complicated. Your legs are flying around at 90+ rpm and your brain really doesn‟t have time to think push pull- lift, push-pull-lift, with both legs at the same time. I find doing so, especially the lifting or pulling up phase, actually makes my pedal stroke more jerky. Plus, as mentioned above, the hip flexors are pretty weak and don‟t really contribute much to forward motion so accentuating this motion doesn‟t really help power the bike forward. So instead, I recommend just thinking „push-pull‟. Push from 11 o‟clock to 5 o‟clock, and pull from 5 back up to 11. By pulling back on the pedal, you will actually be flexing the hip and pulling up and lifting as the pedal comes up through the backstroke without even thinking „lift‟. If you have been doing one-legged pedaling religiously, your hip flexors will be trained to fire as you are pulling back and up. Also, you will be able to think fast enough to think “push-pull” during pedal strokes with both feet. Give it a try the next time you are out riding. I bet you find you pick up a little speed plus you should notice a smoother pedal stroke, especially if you start pushing at 11 o‟clock and start pulling at 5.


Coach David Ertl

This article was originally posted on his personal coaching website: Cyclesport Coaching


David is a licensed USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Cycling Coach and a coach with the Peaks Coaching Group.

He enjoys sharing his years of training and racing experience and love of cycling with recreational and competitive individuals and teams.  He offers training plans, ebooks, training articles, and in-person and distance cycling coaching.  He would be happy to talk with you about achieving your cycling goals, whatever they may be.

How Was Your Race Season? – What needs to be done for 2022?

By: Coach Paul Ozier

Train to Win

I hope everyone is staying motivated and thinking about the upcoming season. Last year has come and gone. How was it for you? Did you meet your objectives? Think back about your best performance, or your worst. What could have been different? Not just in that particular event, but what could you have done differently to have a better result before the event? If you won your event, well I guess you are pretty happy. If the event had a less than expected result, what was the cause? Do you need a stronger and faster sprint, higher FTP, better VO2Max, or better race tactics? Let’s talk about a key point that a lot of riders miss in training; race tactics. We all go out and perform our intervals, long rides, and whatever else we are told to do by our coach, team mates, or whomever is directing you toward that path to glory. In my years of coaching and racing I have seen time after time that the rider with the most horsepower does not always see the results that the training numbers show he/she should receive. How many times do you go out and practice winning a race? How many times do you go out and train to win? What data do you look at to see how you performed and why you just could not pull off the race results you hoped for? Personally I upgraded to category II and I am definitely not the strongest rider around. Race smarts, experience, and having a game plan (and goal) was my key.


Some race tactics that are often overlooked are cadence, and conservation of energy.

Do you know your competition?

If you have trained all year and timed everything just right for your A event of the year, then you will most likely be feeling very good on the bike. You will feel like you are unstoppable. You may feel like hammering away to show everyone you are king. However, the only time you can claim the title of king is when you are standing on the top spot of the podium. Your A event is not the time to make senseless attacks or efforts. The thing to do today is know your competition, conserve and let other riders make the unsuccessful attacks and moves. Why waste all your training on showing off today. How many times have you seen the race come back together in the final few miles? You need to stay in the shelter of the peloton as much as possible, this is your A event and what matters most is achieving the goal you set for yourself months earlier. Save your legs for when things really start to heat up, like the last break away with 10km to go, for the final climb before the finish, whatever you have determined to be the deciding moment! Many riders that did the earlier work, attacks, moves, will fall by the wayside. If you know the competition, and you should, after all this is your A event, keep an eye on the riders that have a history of placing well or better yet, try to learn why they are racing today (what is their goal?). Watch the riders that always seem to make moves that stick. These are the ones that you will need to go with if an early move is made. Do you know the racecourse? Is the course one that always ends in a field sprint, or is it the course that has that key 1km climb, 5km from the end? Plan for the race, make a game plan and stick to it as much as possible. Game plans are great, but sometimes you have to be aware that the plan needs to be adjusted slightly if circumstances warrant. Think, be smart, and do not react senselessly. This is a race and things most likely will be unpredictable. Be aware of the environment around you; wind, course conditions, road surface, other riders, cars/traffic, etc.

Know “Your” Cadence

Cadence is something I will touch on briefly. Research with your coach all of your racing and the key training files and compare cadence in training to cadence in racing. So many times I see riders train at X watts and Y cadence. In a race they still race at about X watts, but the cadence is higher than in training. This excessive cadence variation if not trained can cause a higher respiratory rate, increased heart rate, a higher perceived exertion (and this is one I have heard many times destroyed the riders mental focus), and a different level of fatigue that many times spits a rider out the back. Key here is to know “your” cadence and stick to it in training and racing. Watch cadence in a race just like you watch watts and heart rate. If race data shows you always exceed training cadence by 10 or 15 rpm during a 30 second blast out of a corner, or a 2 minute effort to close a gap in a criterium, then you would benefit greatly by training at a similar cadence and power as you plan for your racing block. We must prepare the body for the demands of racing, while in training.

What is it going to take?

Now is the time to look back and educate yourself about the previous race season and get a grip on what you need to be doing right now so that this year coming up has a happier ending. Now is not necessarily the time to do only months of long, slow, and easy riding. The fall and winter hold the keys to a successful race season ahead. Now is the most important time to work properly to move to the next level in the coming year. What must you do to
make the coming season a success?

Paul Ozier is an Elite/Master Level coach for PCG. He is a USA Cycling Level I Coach, and TrainingPeaks certified. Paul has been with Peaks Coaching Group from the beginning of the early 90s when he started getting coached by Hunter himself. About 10 years later he became a certified coach and started coaching for PCG. He has a background in road racing, mountain bike racing, Zwift, Gran Fondos, and gravel racing as well. Paul’s goal is to make your goal possible, no matter what the cycling path you take.

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.