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.