Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 2

I'm still in St. Thomas on vacation but found a little time to do a bit of writing. If my responses to your questions over the next few days are a bit slow you'll know why. This post will be short and to the point. The topic is a continuation of how I coach novice endurance athletes.

In yesterday's post I wrote about the first of the 6 abilities that I introduce for the novice athletes I train - speed skills. Again, even for the experienced athlete, this is the ability most often in need of attention, especially at this time of year.

2. Force. This ability is often introduced at the same time as speed skills for the novice. It takes many forms but commonly includes weight training, hills and drag devices - anything that increases the load on your muscles. This type of training is riskier than speed skills by far. But the potential pay off is also high.

Weight training comes in many forms. I usually include it for all of the athletes I coach and do so year round, although the program is greatly scaled back starting in the late Base period. With novices I am very cautious with weight training due to the high risk I mentioned above. If I have them lift it will be with relatively low loads and high reps - generally no less than about 10 reps. They often do exercises with a bar only or even just their body weight. The emphasis is on technique. Weight training is very controversial among endurance coaches. Some, like me, strongly support it. Others believe it is detrimental and, at best, not beneficial. I'm not going to get in this aspect of the topic now. Perhaps at another time.

Hills are also great force training for everyone including novices. If the athlete is lifting weights we hold off with hill training for a few weeks. For experienced cyclists with no history of knee problems I have them use slightly bigger gears and lower cadences for these hill workouts. This type of bike training may also be done on a flat course if you don't have hills available. I'm unlikely to do either of these with novice cyclists due to the risk. Hills are also excellent force work for running.

For swimming, drag devices can be used to build greater force. This could be done by wearing a T-shirt while swimming. I've also seen swimmers use carpenter's aprons (nail pockets create drag) and even pull a bucket behind them on a leash. Paddles also increase force production. Be aware that all of these devices put a greater than normal load on the shoulder and elbow and may contribute to injury.

At this initial stage of force development the intensity of the workouts is kept well below lactate/anaerobic/functional threshold. Start with a few minutes in one or two workouts weekly. Gradually lengthen the amount of time for these workouts over several weeks. I like to eventually have runners combine speed skills and force workouts by doing 20-second sprints up hills with perfect form and long recoveries.

Within 6 weeks of starting to do force workouts you should notice a significant improvement in your ability to apply force to the pedal, ground or water.


At November 12, 2009 6:33 PM , Blogger Ethan said...

Joe- thanks for the great posts. i hope you're getting some sun in between writing all of these!

i'm a cyclist starting my first full year of training with your book and i have a question about cross training. i'm currently in my pre-base period so i'm doing some weights, running, playing hockey and doing only a little cycling.

as i transition into my base periods when should i faze out the hockey? i spend a good 30 minutes of the 1.5 hour games above my LTHR. i know the early base periods are supposed to be primarily for training in zones 1 and 2.


At November 13, 2009 2:05 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, you say doing hills on a heavy gear, however i thought that on the base period one should avoid doing any anaerobic work being weight lifting and spin-ups the exceptions.

BTW, here is an article by the Australian Sprint Cycling Coach talking about force/strengh:

Read the last paragraph where he briefly talks abouts the same hill exercise.

Joe, assuming that is ok to do this exercises on base, what times should one do when doing them? 1 minute pushing the big gear 3 minutes recovery?

At November 13, 2009 3:01 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

anon--As mentioned, the effort should be below LT/AT/FT at this point in the season. Being that it is not highly stressful just ride hilly courses with a fartlek sort of approach. Now all of this changes if you have knee problems. Then it is best to avoid such training.

At November 13, 2009 3:06 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Ethan--Good question. I begin to phase out Prep period X-training in Base 1 - usually. But if someone lives in a winter wonderland with a lot of snow the X-training may continue at some level all winter.

At November 13, 2009 9:49 AM , Blogger Stephen said...

Hi Joe, thanks for the informative posts. I too am just starting the annual training for cycling this year, and have still logged long rides in the "prep" periods. Although I am cross-training with weights, I still log high volume rides (this week I have 162kms). Is this dangerous as I still have 5 more weeks of Prep?


At November 13, 2009 5:21 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Stephen--No, there's no danger. The major issue has to do with the burnout factor. Another would be if the knees are ready for the stress. Also has to do with when your first rasce is. That sort of thing. For some it's no problem at all.

At November 13, 2009 6:02 PM , Blogger Charles said...

What do you recommend for guys with knee issues? I had surgery for Osteochondritis dessicans last year. I have been doing hill repeats and strength training (on the bike)with no pain but I don't want to create problems down the road. Thanks for the info. THis is good stuff!

At November 13, 2009 6:07 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Charles--All I can suggest is to be very conservative and resist the temptation to increase the load rapidly. At the first sign of knee discomfort back off. Good luck!


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