Monday, April 30, 2007

Q Rings

Here's another product I like and suggest to the athletes I coach. Let me tell you why.

There are two times in every pedal stroke when moving the cranks in a circular pattern falters and pauses – at the top and bottom. At the top the foot and leg must transition from moving back and up to forward and down. Just the opposite is necessary at the bottom of the stroke. Because of this, tension on the chain goes through big swings and power output is jerky and uneven. So riders who are not very efficient at these two critical points - which is most riders - waste a lot of energy and are often referred to as “mashers.” They drive oversized gears pushing down hard from the 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock positions. On the other hand, “spinners” transition at the top and bottom of the stroke more smoothly and ride with a higher cadence and a more graceful pedal stroke. This makes for a much more economical use of energy.

Learning to smoothly pedal through the top and bottom transition areas can take months of focused training and drills. But I find using Q-Rings made by Rotor Cranks USA accomplishes much smoother top-bottom transitions almost immediately after installation. I recommend these for all of the athletes I coach who are mashers. I’ve seen great improvement in their efficiency right after making the switch.

Q-Rings are oval-shaped chain rings which replace the standard chain rings on your bike. Here’s how they work. When your pedal is at the top and bottom of the stroke the Q-Ring is in the smallest-radius position which means your foot can more easily make the transition. When in the power position at 3 o’clock the radius is at its greatest length which gives you more leverage and therefore more power. For example, a 53-tooth Q-Ring is the equivalent of pedaling a 51 tooth at the top and bottom (fast transitions) and a 56 tooth at 3 o’clock (high power output). If the picture above was rotated 90 degrees you'd get a better idea of what is going on. This would put the shortest radius in the vertical position and the longest in the horizontal position. They are also adjustable so you can change this short-long radius position slightly for time trialing, climbing or riding on flats.

Q-Rings retail for about $200 to $240.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Swim Gear I Like

Poor technique, not aerobic fitness, is the primary limiter for most triathletes when it comes to swimming. And the #1 contributor to poor technique is inefficient breathing. The need to breathe frequently gets in the way for most athletes trying to perfect body position, and arm and leg synchronization. One of the best tools I have seen to help with this challenge is the Freestyle Snorkel from Finis. Worn in front of the face, this device allows you to concentrate on getting body mechanics right without turning to get air. Once that is learned then correct breathing is more easily incorporated. The Freestyle Snorkel retails for about $30. See

Many new triathletes and even some with years of experience have a great fear of open water. Reducing one’s fear of drowning can go a long way in producing better swim times—and make triathlons more fun. The best product I’ve ever seen for this is the SwimSafe from Tri-Aids. This is an inconspicuous belt that inflates using a CO2 cartridge when a cord is pulled. It is reusable and approved for USAT races so long as it is not inflated during the race. Disqualification is always preferable to drowning. The SwimSafe sells for about $80. Go to

Monday, April 23, 2007

Weight Loss

Although training for endurance sports typically keeps athletes lean, there are a few who seem to have a hard time establishing and maintaining low body fat. They may gain a few pounds over the holidays or during times of reduced training and then find it difficult to get the excess pounds off. My experience with several such athletes leads me to believe that if they ate a diet based on the principles in Dr. Loren Cordain's and my book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, they would stabilize around their ideal weights.

We propose two principles in the Paleo (PAY-lee-o) diet book that allow the athlete to take in adequate carbohydrate to meet their training demands while helping to ensure that they don't take in excessive amounts of high glycemic carbohydrates which are quickly converted to fat. These principles are based on five stages of recovery throughout the day.

The first principle is that the athlete should only eat high glycemic foods (mostly starches and simple sugars) during exercise (stage 2), in the first 30 minutes post-exercise (stage 3), and for a period of time afterwards that lasts as long as the workout lasted (stage 4). During stage 1 (before the workout) the athlete eats moderate to low glycemic foods depending on how much time remains until the race begins. The more time there is before the race or workout, the more moderate the glycemic index of the food should be.

Stage 5--the remainder of the day--is the real key to weight loss and is the second principle. During this time the athlete focuses meals on vegetables, fruits and lean proteins, especially from animal sources. Lean protein is best found in ocean-caught fish, free-ranging turkey breast, egg whites, and wild game. In stage 5 snack with moderation on nuts, berries, seeds, fruit, and dried fruit.

The best recovery foods for stages 3 and 4 are potatoes, yams, raisins, bananas, and, to a lesser extent, grains (cereal, pasta, rice, corn). Foods best avoided altogether or eaten in very small servings are dairy and legumes. If you're concerned about calcium intake relative to dairy, don't be. It's a non-issue with the Paleo diet. You can see our book for the details and supporting research on this topic and others.

Back to the body weight issue... This past weekend I did a series of clinics in New York City at Jack Rabbit Sports. A young woman there told me she had lost 15 pounds following the Paleo diet and was training better than ever. I often hear similar comments from athletes from around the world. I've also seen this diet work with the athletes I coach which have included an Olympian, pro Ironman triathletes, top age groupers in cycling and multisport, and novice athletes.

From time to time, however, someone tells me they don't recover well on the Paleo diet. When I further quiz them I generally find they aren't taking in enough high glycemic carbs in stages 3 and 4. That's key to recovery on this diet.

You can purchase a copy of The Paleo Diet for Athletes here.