Thursday, December 17, 2009

Force Training

In the last several posts I've described various aspects of Base-period training including aerobic endurance, speed skills for cycling, and speed skills for running. Now I'd like to discuss a third Base-period ability - force.

The main message here is this: Endurance athletes who are deficient in force will never fully realize their capacity to swim, bike or run fast because they lack power. You also need power to climb hills and plow through rough water. Having a good level of force, the ability to overcome resistance (such as gravity or drag), is a critical aspect of power. Let’s examine power from a physics perspective and then tie it into our world of endurance sport.

In physics, power is defined as work divided by time. I’m sure you know what time is, but what is “work”? Work is force multiplied by the distance moved. Huh? Ok, let’s try to get a handle on this by thinking about riding your bike.

If you choose a high gear, something such as 53t x 14t, the bike travels a relatively long distance on every, single revolution of the pedals. Had you chosen a lower gear such as 39t x 18t the bike would not go as far on one turn of the cranks. So a higher gear means a greater distance traveled. That’s the “distance moved” part of the power equation.

If you are in that high gear it takes a lot of muscular force to drive the pedal down. That should be obvious. When you are in a 53t x 14t you have to push harder than when you’re in a 39t x 18t. (This, of course, assumes a lot of things such as you are on the same section of road with the same wind both times.) That’s a second part of the power equation – “force.”

The last part is “time.” This is how long it takes you to turn the pedals through one, complete revolution – from the 12-o’clock position back to 12-o’clock. A high cadence means you are turning the cranks fast so the time of one revolution is brief. A low cadence means the revolution time is long.

So the application of this equation is that the way to have great power on the bike is to have the capacity to drive a big gear at a high cadence. It’s the same for swimming and running only now we are talking about stroke or stride length instead of gear size. The bottom line is that you can go faster by increasing force or distance – or both. You can also go faster by decreasing time. This means a higher cadence, or higher stroke or stride rate. I explained stride rate in the last post on running speed skills. Any of these three changes will make you faster. In the next post (when I get some time again - more travel on the way) I will introduce the process I use to improve force in order to help the athletes I coach become more powerful. The key to force is greater strength in the muscles that you use in your sport.

Here's the short message for where I am going with this: There are two training routes to improving your muscles’ ability to produce force. The first is resistance training in the gym. The other is the sport-specific development of force while swimming, biking or running. I like to have athletes start with a short, resistance-training phase in the early Base period and then switch over to sport-specific training in the mid-Base period while maintaining the gains made in the weight room. While resistance training is not the same thing as swimming, biking and running, it gets your muscles ready for the sport-specific phase which is where the greatest gains are eventually made.

I hope to follow up on this with details in a few days. Check back soon.

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At December 17, 2009 7:37 AM , Blogger UnpluggedBiker said...

Hi Joe,
I recently purchased your Training Bible and have started planning next season. One question- does time spent in the gym on resistance training count towards weekly hours listed in the workout tables, or are those hours for strictly on the bike? My guess is no. I only have 1 year of road riding experience and I wish to race next season. Thanks!

At December 17, 2009 7:49 AM , Blogger Jim said...


Great post, I love your stuff. As always, question:

I never understood why you recommend a weight phase that starts in prep (up to 6 weeks) and then ends (except for maintenance) at the end of a 4 week base 1.

It seems to me that nothing develops my force faster than resistance training. You seem to think that some of the force workouts that are sport specific, develop force faster. Why is that?

Do you ever have your athletes continue the MS phase longer, like 8 or even 12 weeks, and extend prep and base 1?

I'm assuming that you don't do anything more than Strength Maintenance after base 1 because of the volume and intensity of the sport specific workouts. Doing both MS and base 2-3 type workouts is probably too high risk. Can you confirm my guess?

Thanks again, enjoy your travel, don't write back too quickly, your wife might get mad!

At December 17, 2009 9:11 AM , Blogger wdcoil said...

Hey Joe,
I am a big fan, and I have been using your mountain biker's training bible for years. However, I have recently begun racing endurance mtb events (60-100miles). In general, how would you adapt the plans presented in the Mountain Biker's Training Bible to suit these events?

Thank You,
Will Coil

At December 17, 2009 9:27 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

u-biker--I have my clients count the hours. Up to you.

At December 17, 2009 9:30 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hey Jim--Quick answers. Short on time...

Q: It seems to me that nothing develops my force faster than resistance training. You seem to think that some of the force workouts that are sport specific, develop force faster. Why is that?

A: Because it's specific to the sport. Gyn work only starts the process but is not specific.

Q: Do you ever have your athletes continue the MS phase longer, like 8 or even 12 weeks, and extend prep and base 1?

A: No

Q: I'm assuming that you don't do anything more than Strength Maintenance after base 1 because of the volume and intensity of the sport specific workouts. Doing both MS and base 2-3 type workouts is probably too high risk. Can you confirm my guess?

A: You're right. (Again, sorry for being abrupt. Time crunch.)

At December 17, 2009 11:30 AM , Blogger Jim said...

Awesome answers, thanks. I'm going to give extra MS time a go this winter, I'll let you know how it works out for me...

Always Tri-ing,

At December 17, 2009 2:33 PM , Blogger Josh said...

UnpluggedBiker -

I count every hour and think that you should consider it. That means I count commuting, yoga, strength, and then the sports I compete in along with sports that I don't like an hour of squash for example.

What this means is that when I budget hours I am actually budgeting hours, and not budgeting hours "plus this and plus that". The point of planning is to give yourself some structure and when you count everything that stucture is the closest to your real life where there are 24 hours in each day of the week.

What you'll find when you do this is that your weekly hours will be larger, (duh!). This means that in some big weeks your hour total could be really big, maybe you'll struggle. I found last year that during the summer I was upping my Swim Bike and Run but trimmed back an hour or two per week from what was planned as I was having less "entertainment" hours and more training hours. Diversity is the spice of life and at least for me it helps keep goal #1 in focus (Joe it's written on the top of the training plan!), Have Fun. It netted me a bike course record and a win last year. Count what you want to count, but do what corresponds to how you use the training plan.

At December 17, 2009 5:59 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

wdcoil--You really can't adapt them. The MTB TB was written or a time when 2 hour off road races were the norm. Things have changed.

At December 17, 2009 7:17 PM , Blogger Pablo R said...

Next year will be my 3rd triathlon season. I've gone up to Olympic distance. I love it, but I've had several little injuries, nothing huge, but the kind of thing that takes you out for a few weeks. I'm 6'4 and weigh 159lbs, so I'm a tall skinny guy. Í had never gone to the gym until this week. I just signed up. My question is, for how many weeks would you have me go to the gym for general strenght work so that I actually gain something meaningful in terms of strength? My goal being to prevent injury. Are we talking 2 months? 6 months? Sorry for the long question. Thanks a lot.

At December 17, 2009 8:48 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Pablo--Hate to tell you this, but the answer is "a few years." It takes around 3 years of serious training (running and resistance training) to get injuries under control for runners who are prone to them. The body has a lot of changes to go through. I could be wrong for you as, obviously, I know almost nothing about you. But this has been the case with most I have coached who are new to the sport and have problems with injuries.

At December 18, 2009 2:32 PM , Blogger Pablo R said...

Joe... Wow... 3 years sounds like a lot. But what I like about your answer is that you seem to have a history of working with injury prone runners (triathlete in my case) that after putting in the hard work for a few years have gotten their bodies "under control". I'll put in the 3 years of gym work if I have to. I just want to be able to run and enjoy it without worrying about stuff breaking or hurting or wearing out or whatever. I get the sense that this feeling is shared by thousands if not millions of wannabe runners everywhere. What a tough sport to conquer. Yet we like it so much. Thanks a lot for being so open and helpful.

At December 18, 2009 3:31 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

pablo r--It's not just 3 years of gym work. I hope you saw that it's also 3 years of running. Again, bear in mind that 3 years is a broad generalization based on my experience with injury-prone novice runners. I don't anything about you.

At December 19, 2009 4:43 AM , Blogger Fabiano - FCA Sports said...

Hi Joe,

Great post!

I noticed in your books and posts here that although speed and force skills are basic abilities, speed skills are trained before force skills (than together). Does this order matter physiologically (neural adaptations) or is it just a matter of increasing intensity with force training along the training plan?


At December 19, 2009 5:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Author !
It is a pity, that I can not participate in discussion now. It is not enough information. But this theme me very much interests.

At December 19, 2009 6:39 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

anon--Good question. I like to see an athlete get at least 6 of these AeT sessions completed before going into a maintenance mode for aerobic endurance. During this time they continue working on force and speed skills.

At December 19, 2009 6:42 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Fabiano--Athletes with poor speed skills need to devote a lot attention to that before getting serious about other sport-specific abilities. Training for aerobic endurance when skills are poor just helps to ingrain bad habits.

At December 19, 2009 12:22 PM , Blogger Sérgio said...

Another great post! Despite not having much to do with this post, I would like to ask you about AET rides. Today, I did 2 hours of AET and WKO + is telling me that my decoupling is negative (Pw: Hr =- 1.74). This is good or should be positive? It seems to me that I ended up stronger than I started!
Happy Holidays!

At December 19, 2009 12:54 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

sergio--The lower your decoupling the better it is. A negative number is lower than a positive one.

At December 19, 2009 5:28 PM , Blogger Pablo R said...

Thanks again, Joe. I did understand that it's usually (and that this is just a broad generalization) 3 years of gym work AND running. That's good, it would not be very satisfying to do 3 years of gym work with no running at all : ) I just ran a fabulous 2 miles on the beach today and felt good. Gotta enjoy the runs we can get in. Again, thanks for sharing your experience with us. It's very helpful. Actually, this is probably the most directly helpful blog I read, on any topic. Congratulations on doing it so well.

At December 19, 2009 5:47 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is about force, but I was reading some of the comments and I started thinking about DECOUPLING. I have a question about decoupling when being overreached or overtrained(I hope I'm not this). My decoupling rate was ok last week for 90 mins. Today I did my final long/hard ride before I start a recovery week, but my decoupling was bad. I suspect overreaching is the problem, since I also struggled more to maintain the wattage, which was still lower then last weekend. What do you think? Thanks.

At December 20, 2009 6:35 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

anon--probably just fatigue. Rest and try it again.

At December 20, 2009 10:54 AM , Anonymous golactic said...

Quick you make an attempt to estimate TSS scores for weight training?

At December 20, 2009 4:46 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

golactic--No, i sure don't.

At January 2, 2010 2:44 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

ed--You're right. I'm not smart enough to understand your question. Sorry.

At January 6, 2010 2:03 PM , Blogger James said...


Agree that Power = Work/Time.
Agree that Work = Force*Distance.
However, I think that the Distance is the circle that the pedals travel around, not the linear distance travelled by the bike.

Great blog/book!

At January 9, 2010 5:39 PM , Blogger Robin Smith said...

I'm training for the coming MTB season. I've found "big gear hill intervals" improve my force most specifically in previous years.

This year base I've been riding a fixie in town and a single speed 29er off road. I use both to train my speed skills too. You cant really avoid it!

I'm amazed as how easily I can hammer up the hills now. No evidence yet for overall performance but I feel strong earlier this season.

Knees get sore on occasion, so I have to be careful


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