Monday, November 30, 2009

The Aerobic Base Ride

A few weeks ago I suggested to Markus Zimmer, the owner of the Bicycle Ranch bike shop in Scottsdale, Ariz. where I shop that the store’s Saturday ride should include a “base” group in addition to it’s A-, B- and C-ability grouped rides. I usually ride with the Bs and occasionally with the As. This is only in the spring and fall. During the summer I am in Boulder, Colo. I’m also in Scottsdale during the winter but almost never ride with the group then because the A and B rides are basically mini-races. That’s great when I’m preparing to race. In the winter, however, my training purpose is not race fitness; it’s base fitness. You don’t establish base fitness by going deeply anaerobic repeatedly for a couple of hours.

Markus liked the idea and so last Saturday he offered a base group in addition to the three normal groups. There were probably 60 riders who showed up. Nearly all of them rode with the base group led by local coach Ron Arroyo. (I was injured and couldn’t ride. Fell on my knee a couple of weeks ago. That’s a whole other story I may get to at another time.)

My notion of a base ride is a long, steady workout with heart rate mostly in zone 2. This is roughly a well-conditioned athlete’s aerobic threshold. Riding two or more hours at this effort challenges the body to make some improvements. One is to become better at using fat for fuel while sparing muscle glycogen stores. The longer your races are, the more important this shift is. The other critical shift has to do with increasing the capillary bed in the working muscles. The more capillaries you have the easier it is to get fuel and oxygen to the muscle. There are other benefits also, but for now we’ll focus on these.

The problem with this base workout is that it seems too easy at first so the athlete is tempted to abandon the 2 zone and start riding variably paced with hard and easy efforts – fartlek intervals, essentially. And by so doing reduces the aerobic benefits of the day’s workout.

The aerobic threshold ride is sort of like Chinese water torture. What at first seems easily manageable eventually becomes challenging. One has to have the patience to hang in there to see what I mean. (This is one of the numerous reasons why I so often say that patience is necessary to be a good endurance athlete.) Ride for two, three, four hours at this effort and you soon learn what the aerobic system is all about.

Doing such a workout with a group presents problems, however. The greatest is that not everyone’s heart rate 2 zone produces the same power or speed. The highly fit, usually young riders are talking easily while riding in zone 2 – as they should be. The slower, usually older riders who try to keep up are often well out of zone 2 but determined to hang on. While this workout is best done alone, if in a group the best option is for the group to split up into smaller groups of like ability.

The best way to do this ride is to have a power meter onboard in addition to your heart rate monitor. While in the base period I like to have athletes use their heart rate monitors to set the effort, what happens to power is the real story. The best way to explain this is to use graphics.

Here you see two examples (click graphic to expand) of riders doing a steady, multi-hour, zone-2 ride. In both cases they are doing an excellent job of maintaining a steady heart rate as evidenced by the red line staying almost flat on both charts. But notice what happens to power (black line). In example 1 power closely parallels heart rate. That’s good. It says that the rider is staying “strong” throughout the ride. There is no fading of power (or slowing down, if you will, even though that’s not a very precise way to measure output on a bike). I call this separation of heart rate and power ‘decoupling.’ In fact, WKO+ software shows us that in example 1 there was only 1% of decoupling. In other words, power declined only 1% over the course of two hours of riding.

For the rider in example 2, however, the decoupling is 11%. He is fading significantly as the ride progresses. From these two examples I can tell you unequivocally that rider #1 is in much better aerobic condition than rider #2. If all they had were heart rate monitors we wouldn’t know this. Heart rate is only effective when we can compare it with something else. By itself it tells us nothing about aerobic fitness.

So does this mean that if you don’t have a power meter you shouldn’t do this workout? No, not at all. It’s still beneficial to your aerobic system. You just can’t measure your progress or know for certain when you’ve achieved good aerobic fitness. About all you can do in this case is to pay close attention to how you feel. If in good aerobic condition you should be able to finish the ride strongly, albeit tired. If you’re totally whipped after two hours and are struggling just to limp home although heart rate remains in the 2 zone, your aerobic fitness probably needs a lot of work.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Health, Diet and recovery

A paper coming out of the University of Chicago predicts that type 2 diabetes in the US will rise from 23.7 today to 44.1 million people in 24 years - an increase of 86%. The same paper claims that 30% of Americans are now obese , but predicts that number will fall to 27% by 2033 "since we can't all be obese," says the author.

These are sickening numbers, but it is apparent whenever I travel. Many people in US airports waddle through the terminal. Some are so big they need seatbelt extenders. The number of people who have to be delivered to their terminal gate by wheelchairs or beeping carts is just amazing in some places. Recently when laying over in the airport in Charlotte, NC there was a steady flow of these carts. I've never seen so many people in need of assistance.

I'm reminded of a movie I took my 6-year-old granddaughter to see a few months ago - "Wall-E." In the animated movie the citizens of Earth had gone into space while little robots on Earth cleaned up the mess we had created. In their space station these people had become so grossly overweight that they rode around in motorized wheelchairs (while sipping sugar drinks).

When I travel to other countries in Europe and Asia I don't see nearly as much of this, although the trend seems to be moving in the same direction as in the US. I just got back from Oslo and don't recall seeing a single obese Norwegian, although I am sure there are a few.

I think part of this mounting problem can be laid at the feet of nutrition scince going back to the 1970s. We have been told since then that carbohydrate was very healthy and we should eat more of it. Most Americans translate the word "carbohydrate" to mean starch - bread, bagels, potatoes, cereal, corn, rice, and more. These foods put sugar into the blood stream faster than eating table sugar. Combine that with a sedentary lifestyle and you produce obesity and eventually type 2 diabetes (among other problems).

We should have been telling people to eat more non-starchy vegetables and lay off of the starch. I've never known anyone to become obese eating a diet high in veggies. And for athletes, while some starch is good for recovery, we should also be eating more veggies as they are the most micronutrient-dense (vitamins and minerals) food we can eat.

What I tell the athletes I coach is to eat starch at the right times (during and post-workout) and otherwise eat more veggies.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Quick Guide to Setting Zones

I returned home from Oslo last night and seem to be very close to the Mountain Time Zone already. Traveling west is so much easier than traveling east. But that's not the topic for this post. Perhaps at another time. Now is when most northern hemisphere athletes are thinking about setting their training zones for the Base period. And since I tend to get a lot of questions about how to do that it's a good time to explain the process for heart rate, power and pace.

This Quick Guide will help you get the intensity of your workouts dialed in for your heart rate monitor, power meter, and runner’s speed and distance device such as a GPS or accelerometer. Swimming pace is also described here.

For a more complete guide to training with heart rate, power and pace please see my book Total Heart Rate Training. You will also find more detailed information on the subject of measuring intensity in my Triathlete’s Training Bible, Cyclist’s Training Bible and Mountain Biker’s Training Bible books. Feel free to share this Quick Guide with your training partners.

Setting Heart Rate Zones (Running and Cycling)
Step 1. Determine your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) with a short test. (Do not use 220 minus your age to find max heart rate as this is as likely to be wrong as right. This is explained in detail in Total Heart Rate Training.) This LTHR test is best done early in the Base and Build periods.

To find your LTHR do a 30-minute time trial all by yourself (no training partners and not in a race). Again, it should be done as if it was a race for the entire 30 minutes. But at 10 minutes into the test click the lap button on your heart rate monitor. When done look to see what your average heart rate was for the last 20 minutes. That number is an approximation of your LTHR.

Note: I am frequently asked if you should go hard for the first 10 minutes. The answer is yes. Go hard for the entire 30 minutes. But be aware that most people doing this test go too hard the first few minutes and then gradually slow down for the remainder. That will give you inaccurate results. The more times you do this test the more accurate your LTHR is likely to become as you will learn to pace yourself better at the start.

Step 2. Establish your training zones. Use the following guide to establish each zone by sport.

Run Zones
Zone 1 Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Bike Zones
Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR
Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR
Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Step 3. When following the heart rate-zone directions in my training plans or the workouts in the appendices of my books or my workouts in the menu of workouts at TrainingPeaks use the zones as established above.

Setting Power Zones (Cycling)
Step 1. Establish your Functional Threshold Power (FTPw). Use the same 30-minute time trial test above for LTHR to determine your FTPw. The only difference is that the average power for the entire 30 minutes is an approximation of your FTPw (not the last 20 minutes). This may be done on the road or on an indoor trainer. The road will generally give better results so long as it is relatively flat and free of stop signs and heavy traffic. (Keep your head up. Time trialing with your head down is very dangerous. I have a friend who is in a wheelchair now because of this.)

As with LTHR testing, the more times you do this test the more accurate the results will become since there is a learning curve associated with such an effort. This is best done early in the Base period and then every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your FTPw will become.

Step 2. Set up your personal power training zones using the following guide (from Allen and Coggan, Training and Racing With a Power Meter).

Zone 1 Less than 55% of FTPw
Zone 2 55% to 74% of FTPw
Zone 3 75% to 89% of FTPw
Zone 4 90% to 104% of FTPw
Zone 5 105% to 120% of FTPw
Zone 6 More than 120% of FTPw

Step 3. When following the power-zone directions in my training plans or workouts in the appendices of my books use your zones as established above.

Setting Pace Zones (Running)
Step 1. Determine your Functional Threshold Pace (FTPa) using either a runner’s GPS device or an accelerometer. To do this, warm up and then run for 30 minutes just as described under “Setting Heart Rate Zones, Step 1” above. Your FTPa is your average pace for the entire 30 minutes (not the last 20 minutes). This is best done early in the Base period and then every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your FTPa will become.

Step 2. Compute your pace zones with the following guidelines using your pace as minutes and seconds per mile or kilometer. It is easier to work with this if you convert seconds to tenths of a minute (or work entirely in seconds). For example, 7 minutes 30 second would be 7.5 minutes (or 450 seconds).

Zone 1 Slower than 129% of FTPa
Zone 2 114% to 129% of FTPa
Zone 3 106% to 113% of FTPa
Zone 4 99% to 105% of FTPa
Zone 5a 97% to 100% of FTPa
Zone 5b 90% to 96% of FTPa
Zone 5c Faster than 90% of FTPa

Step 3. When following the run pace-zone directions in my training plans or my book workouts or from my workouts in the menu at TrainingPeaks use your zones as established above.

Swimming Pace
Step 1. Determine your T-time. There are many ways of doing this. One of the most common is to swim a 1000-meter/yard time trial at your pool. It may help to have someone on deck counting laps as it’s easy to lose track in such a test. What you are trying to determine is your average 100 pace for the test. Simply swim 1000 and then divide your finish time by 10. This is your T-time. This should be done early in the Base period and every 4 to 6 weeks thereafter. The more times you do this test the more accurate your T-time will become as there is a learning curve that has to do with pacing in the first few minutes when doing this test.

Step 2. In my training plans, book workouts (in The Triathlete’s Training Bible) and in the workout menu of TrainingPeaks the swim workouts will often refer to pace as T-time plus (+) or minus (-) a few seconds. For example, T-time + 5 seconds would mean swimming at a pace that would be the equivalent of your T-time plus 5 seconds. So if your T-time is 91 seconds this workout would be calling for you to swim at 96 seconds per 100. If it is a 50 meter/yard set you are doing, the time you are shooting for is 48 seconds (half of 96). In the same way, if the set calls for you to swim 150 meters/yards at T-time + 5 you would swim the distance in 2 minutes and 24 seconds (96 sec + 48 sec).

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Stress-Based Training - Road Cycling

For the road cyclist the issue of race stress isn’t just total stress; it’s also the rate at which stress is experienced during key portions of the race. Whereas triathlon and endurance running are typically steady state events, road racing is quite variably paced. So the roadie will train for total stress and also for TSS rates which are appropriate for his or her event. These rates are often very high for short episodes. And it's during these brief episodes that the outcomes of races are often decided. These may occur on climbs or when there is a strong crosswind.

The way to train for high-TSS rate episodes is by doing intervals at the anticipated episode intensity and duration. The goal is to manage greater amounts of stress in such an interval session over time, especially by making the work intervals longer and the recovery intervals shorter over several weeks.

Here’s a personal example. I had a bike road race back in October which I had done before. In 2008 my finish time was 2:58 and my TSS, interestingly enough, was 258. (The similar numbers are just a coincidence.) So in training for this I did weekly long rides in the late Base period that totaled about 258 TSS. These were were about 4.5- to 5-hour rides at a moderate intensity (around 50-60 TSS/hour). In the Build period I did a weekly workout which included a group ride, hill repeats and tempo efforts. These rides took about 3.5 hours and also were in the neighborhood of 258 TSS (problem is, of course, that you don’t know real-time TSS so have to estimate it; this will be corrected by the new PowerTap Joule head unit). Also in the Build period I did long hill repeat intervals at the same rate as from prior-year-based hard TSS episodes of the race. For example, one prior-year segment was 20 minutes with a TSS of 37 so I started by doing 4x5-minute intervals at about TSS 10. I eventually built this to 2x10 minutes at TSS 20 on each. All of these were very hard workouts but quite specific to my race goal.

So what happened in the race? I was going well and riding in the lead group until I flatted at mile 48 – about two hours into the race. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

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Age and Intensity

I just got an email from someone on one of my favorite topics - aging and training. I've grown old thinking about this topic. Here's his question and my reply.

Q: I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about 45+ masters racing. We are both a decade or so away from 45+, so I'm not exactly sure why it became a topic of conversation. Like any good discussion/debate there were a series of point and counterpoints. I'll spare you the entire dialogue. Fundamentally, we were discussing the pros and cons to road racing in your 40s-50s. My unsubstantiated opinion is that aerobic exercise, including intensity just above or below LT, is probably good for overall strength and health; but I have my doubts about the benefits of anaerobic efforts for riders approaching their 50s. My unsubstantiated conclusion was that crits and road races probably do more harm than good, and middle aged or aged riders might get more benefit from steady state events.

A: Great topic. But I disagree strongly with you. I'm a big proponent of maintaining or even increasing the percentage of high intensity one does as he/she ages. Otherwise we begin to lose muscle mass. I see many older athletes who have done as you suggest and I've seen them wither over the years. The ones who raced and trained at high intensity stayed much more muscular and lean. At age 65 I do intervals and hill repeats several times a week.

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Stress-Based Training - More

In my last post on this subject I described how you might go about setting the intensity and duration of your hardest ('breakthrough') workouts based on what you anticipate the intensity and duration of the race for which you are training will be. Jim Dicker wisely suggested that this process be based on an estimated Training Stress Score (TSS) instead of heart rate, power, pace or RPE. I agree. TSS will “normalize” the various scales allowing you to use a variety of data sources but only one 'scoring' system.

Estimating TSS is not difficult.
I’ve written on how to do this before. The table you see accompanying this post expands on the previous post’s table by including both power and pace. So with this table if you have a power meter on your road bike but only a heart rate monitor for your mountain bike, cyclocross bike or fixed gear, you can still produce a Training Stress Score for any bike workout, albeit estimated. The same would go for a triathlete who has a power meter on the bike with a GPS for running while using RPE only for swimming.

What I wrote about in the last blog on this topic remains the same. You start by estimating what the TSS of your next A-priority race will be. Then you design workouts that prepare you for that level of stress over the course of the season. In the early season workouts the stress should come primarily from low intensities and high durations. As the season’s training progresses the intensity advances to what it will be on race day as the duration decreases. Do these breakthrough workouts no more frequently than once weekly. Triathletes would generally be advised to include no more than two sports with breakthrough workouts in a week.

In the
previous post I used the example of an athlete doing a 90-minute steady state race in which heart rate was anticipated to average zone 4. Using the accompanying table you can see that would produce an estimate of 80 TSS per hour – so a 120-TSS level of stress for a 1.5-hour race (1.5 x 80). The workout progression would be aimed at 120 TSS by varying duration and intensity just as I did in the previous example.

While helping to more accurately quantify your racing and training, using such a system also provides structure for your key breakthrough workouts, and serves as a series of tests of how you are progressing. Just be sure to make the progression from high-duration, low-intensity to high-intensity, low-duration a gradual shift over several weeks, if not months. Hurrying to get to the hardest workouts is
very risky.

Some races will simply be too stressful to use this system. However, you could still prepare for portions of the race in the same way. For example, a 10-hour Ironman Triathlon may easily result in a combined TSS of 550. That’s huge. Trying to reproduce that in a single workout is simply not wise. So in such a situation you may do the swim, bike and run breakthrough workouts separately. It is possible, however, to combine portions of those sessions into ‘bricks.’

I understand this isn’t for everyone. This is what I do for the athletes I coach. It’s quite time-consuming, but beneficial, I believe. You’ve got to be a
scientist-athlete to take your training to such a level. Few athletes are. But if you enjoy the details of training for competition then this may be for you.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stress-Based Training

I've been traveling a lot this month including 10 days vacationing in the Caribbean. I'm now in Norway with some time to kill after speaking to a large group of athletes on Saturday. So I've been thinking a lot. The following is something which grew out of having a lot of uninterrupted thinking time.

Training for racing is all about adapting to stress. Pushing yourself to the limits of your abilities in a race is highly stressful. This stress comes in the form of some combination of intensity, duration and perhaps frequency. For example, the duration of a 20km cycling time trial is relatively brief, but the intensity is quite high. A 5km running race has a similar distribution of intensity and duration. Heart rate and perceived exertion are near their upper-end limits in both types of racing. In an Ironman triathlon, however, the duration is quite high while the intensity is quite low. That's another kind of stress. A cyclist competing in a stage race has a third variable with which to be concerned – frequency. This could take the form of two stages in a day or stages on consecutive days. The combination of intensity, duration and frequency is what makes events such as the Tour de France so challenging.

We can measure and quantify stress if we know duration and intensity (we’ll mostly ignore frequency for now). It’s easy for duration. Just use a stopwatch to determine how many minutes you exercised. Frequency is also simple. Count the number of races or workouts completed in a given number of days.

Intensity is more challenging. Endurance athletes are not very good when it comes to expressing how intense a race or workout was. The most basic way, the one athletes have been using for as long as there has been competition, is perceived exertion. “That was a hard race,” always means the same thing - intensity was high relative to the duration. In a similar way athletes typically use terms such as “easy” or “moderate” to describe intensity when compared with duration. But since this is al somewhat vague, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) have been used to quantify the intensity-duration combination. The most popular systems were developed by Gunnar Borg. Here is his 10-point scale [1]:

RPE Zone - Level of Exertion
5 - HARD

About 30 years ago the heart rate monitor was invented. By the late 1980s heart rate zones were being used to express intensity. For example, in the system I’ve been using for the last 20 years there are seven zones based on a percentage of your lactate threshold heart rate which can be found with a 30-minute time trial [2]:

HR Zone* - % Lactate Threshold
1 - less than 0.81
2 - 0.81-0.89
3 - 0.90-0.93
4 - 0.94-0.99
5 - 1.0-1.02
6 - 1.03-1.05
7 - more than 1.05
For the purpose of this discussion I've changed my normal normal zone titles for the anaerobic zones: 5a zone to "5," 5b to "6," and 5c to "7." You'll see why shortly.

For cycling, intensity may also be quantified with zones using a power meter in a way which is similar to heart rate zones. In this case the reference point is something called Functional Threshold Power (FTPw) which is very similar to lactate threshold. This also may be found with a 30-minute time trial. Then by using percentages of FTPw power zones are established that are unique to you.

Power Zone - % FTPw
1 - less than 0.56
2 - 0.56-0.75
3 - 0.76-0.90
4 - 0.91-1.05
5 - 1.06-1.20
6 - 1.21-1.50
7 - more than 1.50

Using the idea of FTP, running zones based on pace may also be determined. Only in this case “FTPa” stands for Functional Threshold Pace [4] and found by - you guessed it - a 30-minute time trial.

Pace Zone* - % FTPa
1 - greater than 1.29
2 - 1.29-1.14
3 - 1.15-1.06
4 - 1.05-1.01
5 - 1.00-0.97
6 - 0.98-0.90
7 - less than 0.90

Besides simply expressing intensity of a workout at any given time, these RPE, heart rate, power and pace intensity zones can be used to determine how long and how intense the key “breakthrough” workouts need to be to prepare you for stress of the competition. This is based on what the race will be like in terms of stress. Given some experience in racing you should be able to estimate what the stress of your race will be. For example, if you are doing a 90-minute, steady-state bike race that will be conducted entirely in zone 4 (using whichever system from above you prefer) then the stress of that race could be expressed as a "training stress score" (TSS) of 360 (90 x 4).

Now that you know the stress demand of the race the next step is to determine the key breakthrough workouts to prepare you for the race. In the early to mid-Base periods those workouts would involve low intensities, especially zone 2. So to do a 360 TSS workout in the first half of the Base period you could train for 180 minutes at zone 2 (180 x 2 = 360). This is a grea way to improve aerobic endurance.

By the late Base period you would be training with more zone 3 time so this would require 120 minutes (3 x 120 = 360). But by this stage it is wise to break the workout into intervals since this duration-intensity combination is becoming exceptionaly demanding. So if you did 165 minutes (2:45) including 5 x 20 minutes at zone 3 (300 TSS) with 4 x 5-minute recoveries in zone 1 (20 TSS), a 30-minute warm up with half in zone 1 and half in zone 2 (45 TSS), and a 15-minute cool down (15 TSS) you would again create a 360 TSS workout. Excellent muscular endurance trainng as you normaly should be doing at this time in the season.

In the Build period interval training would again be the way to go. And since we want the workouts to become increasingly like the race these intervals would be done in zone 4. A 367-TSS workout (a little over our 360 but not by much) may then look like this.

30-minute warm-up with half in z1 and half in z2 (45 TSS)
9 x 8-minute work intervals in z4 (288 TSS)
8 x 3-minute recovery intervals in z1 (24 TSS)
10-minute cool down (10 TSS)

You wouldn't want to do a workout like this too often. It's very hard. Probably no more than once every week or two would be best. This would depend on how stressful the workout must be to prepare you for the race and what your fitness is like at the time. Runners would also have to take into consideration the potential of injury from long and intense workout combinations.

This is a lot of work but it may be a way of getting you prepared for the stress of your race. You can do all of this or you can simply use WKO+ software ( with your power meter and/or accelerometer and GPS device. This software automatically determines a Training Stress Score (TSS) for each workout. You can also use this software to estimate the TSS of your races. This is what I do. Much simpler. And very effective.

1. Borg, GAV. Borg’s Rating of Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1998.
2. Friel, J. The Cyclist’s Training Bible. Boulder, CO: VeloPress, 1996.
3. Allen, H. and A. Coggan. Training and Racing With a Power Meter. Boulder, CO: VeloPress, 2006.
4. Friel, J. The Triathlete’s Training Bible. Boulder, CO: VeloPress, 1998

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Triathlon Camp

The following is a repost from Coach Jim Vance's blog regarding a triathlon camp he and I are offering this next spring.

Triathlon Camp - Majorca, SPAIN March 2010

If you're looking for a cool trip, training camp, and learning experience over in Europe, then you should consider the camp I'm running with Joe Friel on the island of Majorca, Spain, from March 19th to 26th.

One week full of training, technical work, open water swimming, and incredible scenery, on this beautiful island! Details of the camp can be found here.

Feel free to contact me with questions. Space is limited, and it is filling up, so hurry!

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 6

This is the last of 6 parts on how I coach novice athletes. Note that in the other 5 I have occasionally offered comments on how what I do with novices varies from the way I train advanced or experienced athletes. This last topic is clearly in that area.

6. Anaerobic Endurance. This is the training ability that has the greatest risk-reward associated with it. Doing workouts in this category have been shown to greatly improve aerobic capacity (VO2max), lactate/anaerobic threshold, and economy. And those are the big 3 when it comes to fitness. Lots of reward. But also lots of risk. Injury, illness, and burnout can all result from a steady diet of anaerobic endurance (AE) training. This is the most challenging workout the athlete can do, and since most serious athletes are of the "never enough" mindset, they often take this to the extreme.

So the bottom line is that it is highly unusual for me to have novice athletes do AE workouts. In fact, I can't recall having any do it, but it may have happened a long time ago. If so, someone would bring it to my attention, I'm sure. I seldom have experienced triathletes do AE training also. And then primarily those who are seeking to compete at the highest level at the shorter distances. I have on a few occasions had pro long-course triathletes do shortened versions of AE workouts to bump up their fitness in the late Base period. But this is rare.

For experienced road cyclists AE training is critical to success. Road races often come down to 2- to 3-minute episodes that determine the final selection (the break that succeeds). These episodes are played out on climbs and when there are strong cross winds or when a team is clearly superior. Motivation plays a big role in doing such hard workouts. You have to get "up" for the workout well in advance. This is why road cyclists like to do their group rides. These are usually mini-races made up of lots of AE efforts.

So what is an AE workout? There are many, many variations. Here is the most basic:

5 x 3 minutes at CP6 (3 minute recoveries)

What this means is do an interval workout (after warming up) made up of 3-minute intervals done 5 times for a total of 15 minutes of AE effort. Each interval is done at an intensity of CP6 ("critical power/pace" for 6 minutes). CP6 is the highest, average power or pace you can produce in 6 minutes. This is about your VO2max power/pace. After each work interval recover for 3 minutes.

I call these "intervals til you puke." The name comes from my college track days when all my coach knew were these killer workouts. We did this every day, or some variation on it. Five days a week (we took weekends off back then). There was no reasoning behind it then. No measurement of effort (other than the coach reminding us of how miserably slow we were after he timed each interval as he sat in the stands sipping a soda). It was sickening. Literally. Guys used to vomit during the workout. Someone did that every day. Me included. It's no wonder so many of us were injured and fried by the season's end. We just thought we were wimps.

The variations on AE interval workouts include hills and shortened workout intervals with equally short recovery intervals. Research supports work intervals of as short as 10 seconds for this type of training. The key is to design a workout like this so that it takes on the characteristics of what you will experience in the race for which you are training. AE intervals may be mixed with other ability workouts in the Build period (which is when AE training is usually scheduled) to create workouts that closely simulate race conditions. This could be something such as a muscular endurance steady state followed by anaerobic endurance intervals followed by power repetitions. That's pretty much what happens in a road race.

So there you have it: How I train novice athletes with some stuff on applying the same concepts for experienced athletes. I have glossed over a bunch of stuff here since I'm a bit pressed for time due to travel commitments. But it's still probably more than most of you want to read about. I know, you'd much rather be training than reading about training. If you have a burning desire to know more then consult one of my Training Bible books.

Now, off to Oslo where I will be speaking this weekend.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 5

It's been a busy November. I'm back in Scottsdale after 10 days on vacation in the Caribbean. On Thursday I leave for Oslo and will be gone a week so hope to finish this series on training for novice athletes before that trip.

This part has to do with the fifth ability (of six). Again, I am discussing these abilities in the order in which I introduce them into the novice's training program. For greater detail you can pick up a copy of one of my Training Bible books.

5. Power. This ability is of primary concern to the cyclist and of little concern to the triathlete. For the experienced cyclist and perhaps for the advanced triathlete I may introduce power training sometime in the middle of the Base period. It's important for road cyclists since race outcomes are often determined by a sprint, and criterium racing is essentially a seemingly endless string of sprints. This type of training may even be beneficial for high-level triathletes as it has been shown to improve overall power at lower intensities. But since it places great stress on joints I don't include it in the training of novice triathletes and I hold off on introducing it into the training program of novice cyclists until the Build period.

Before power workouts are introduced it's best that the rider's force and speed skills (especially sprinting skills) are well-established. Power workouts combine high levels of force with the turning of big gears along with a high cadence. A heart rate monitor is of no value to this type of training. Using a power meter is ideal, however, since what we are after is achieving a high power output as quickly as posssible.

There are many different power workouts. My favorite is "12-stroke sprints." After a long warm-up and a few form sprints the rider does a maximal-effort sprint. This may be done on a low-grade hill or flat terrain. Count every time the right (or left) foot drives the pedal down. On the 12th stroke the sprint ends. The purpose is to see how great of a power output can be generated in 12 strokes (or less).

Doing these the rider learns to keep weight distributed fairly evenly between the wheels when standing with a low profile by keeping the butt over the nose of the saddle while selecting the right gear for the terrain and effort.

After a 3- to 5-minute recovery the second sprint is done just as with the first. Sprints may continue with long recoveries until there is an obvious decline in power output. These may be done in sets of 3 to 5 sprints with very long recoveries (10 minutes or more) between sets.

This may also be included at the start of another workout such as muscular endurance or aerobic endurance. In the Build period the sprint portion of the workout is often shifted to the end of the workout to better simulate the stresses of road racing.

I hope to post the last part in the next two days depending on how much work I need to get done before my next trip.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 4

Now we move on to the last three abilities, the more advanced ones. The outcomes of races are determined by these three. They are also the most stressful in training, so for the novice athlete caution must be applied. The risk of injury and burnout increases as these abilities are added to the training mix.

4. Muscular Endurance. This ability is the most important for triathlon and running races. For the cyclist this is critical for time trialing. It has less impact on the outcome of a road race but allows the rider to hang in with a fast moving group. I include it in the training of all novice athletes, but generally delay introducing it until they are well into the Base period when it is apparent that aerobic endurance and force are progressing well. Working on muscular endurance before these more basic abilities are developed is not very effective.

Muscular endurance (ME) workouts involve relatively long intervals with short recoveries, or long, steady state efforts. The intensity is at lactate/anaerobic/functional threshold or slightly below. Using my heart rate zone system, this would be zones 3 through 5a.

For the novice I start with zone 3 steady states in the late Base period. An experienced athlete will typically begin this training in Base 2. A typical workout is swimming, riding or running steadily for 20 minutes in zone 3. For advanced athletes I look to see if there is much decoupling (as explained in Part 3). If aerobic endurance is coming along well the advanced athlete should experience little decoupling and so we can move on very soon to ME intervals. For the novice athlete it may take several weeks to achieve an acceptable level of decoupling before advancing with training.

For advanced athletes ME intervals, which I call 'cruise intervals' (I stole that term from a swim coach), are about 6 to 12 minutes long. But for the novice athlete I will start with about 3-minute durations. The recovery intervals are about one-fourth of the work interval duration. So after a 3-minute work interval the recovery is 75 seconds, and after a 12-minute interval the recovery is 3 minutes (for swimming these recoveries may be shortened by half). The work interval duration increases as the athlete adapts to this new form of stress. The intensity is now zones 4-5a. For the novice I start with about 12 minutes of cruise intervals in a single session once a week (per sport for triathletes so long as the novice is handling the training load well). The advanced athlete will do 20 to 30 minutes of cruise intervals in a single session weekly in the Base period. In the Build period the session volume of these intervals increases to whatever the athlete can manage. Again, this type of training is critical for steady state events such as time trials, triathlon, and running races.

There are many variations on cruise intervals. For example, they may be done on long hills when preparing for a hilly race, or to maintain force along with ME in the Build period. For long-course triathlon, especially half-Ironman distance, I often use 20-minute cruise intervals on the bike totalling 80 to 120 minutes of work interval time (4-6 intervals). I save this type of training for advanced triathletes only.

Once ME training begins in the Base period it continues uninterrupted through the remainder of the season and remains a primary focus of training for the novice athlete.

If time allows I will follow up with the next post on power training followed by anaerobic endurance soon after. Travel back to Scottsdale may delay these last two installments. We'll see what happens.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 3

I'm up early before my wife and friends where we're staying on St. Thomas so here's another installment in how I coach novices.

3. Aerobic Endurance. While most athletes want to start here with their training I hold off a few weeks as speed skill and force are coming along. These abilities will begin to develop aerobic endurance without any additional training.

I define aerobic endurance as extensive, steady state training which is done at near the aerobic threshold. I'll explain this.

By 'extensive' I mean 45 minutes for swimming, 2 hours for cycling and 90 minutes for running. Once the athlete has built up to these levels we are doing aerobic endurance training. How rapidly the athlete progresses is an individual matter. For some these levels are reached in a few weeks while for others it is months.

'Steady state' means that the training is done continuously at the prescribed intensity without a lot of variance. Someone sent me an email today saying that he rides with a group once a week that does a 3- to 4-hour zone 2 ride. At the end there is a 2km climb which they 'race' up. Is this finish detrimental to their training, he asked. My answer was that such a finish is fine. Several hours riding steadily in zone 2 is excellent at this time of year. A few minutes going anaerobic is not a big deal physiologically. I've read some saying that something such as this would negate the gains made previously in the workout. I sincerely doubt it. The body doesn't work that way.

Using my heart rate and pace systems the aerobic threshold is zone 2. With Coggan's power zones it is also the second lowest zone. This will seem quite easy as you start an aerobic endurance workout, so easy that you'll be tempted to go harder. Don't do it. Be patient and you'll reap the benefits with much greater aerobic fitness, which is, after all, at the core of endurance training. By the end of the workout you will understand what we're trying to accomplish here.

Since I require everyone I coach to have a heart rate monitor, power meter (bike) and a speed-distance device (run), after such a workout I compare their heart rate (input) with their power or pace (output) to see how aerobically fit they are. WKO+ software does this for me and so I look for what I call 'decoupling' in these aerobic endurance workouts. That means input and output are separating as the workout progresses. Either heart rate is rising while power/pace is steady or power/pace is dropping off while heart rate remains steady. I've found aerobically fit athletes decouple less than 5%. I don't consider the athlete aerobically fit until we achieve this.

Such training may be done once a week for the novice. Experienced athletes may do it 2 or 3 times weekly at this time of year.

As with speed skill and force, once aerobic endurance is built to a satisfactory level it is maintained by doing such a workout every other week throughout the Build period.

In the next post on this topic I'll discuss muscular endurance.

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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coaching Novice Athletes, Part 1

A few days ago I posted Advice for Coaching a Junior Cyclist. Someone asked if I would do something similar for novice athletes. Good idea. This topic could turn out to be a rather long blog so I'm going to break it down into smaller parts with the rest to appear over the next few days.

Both juniors and novices fall into the beginner category, but there are some differences due to the mental and physical maturation process the junior is experiencing that is not an issue for the older novice. If you work with junior athletes you know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. I won't get into those things here.

Back on subject... There are many ways to address this topic. What I will do is go at it from the perspective of the 6 abilities I discuss in my Training Bible books. All of the workouts I schedule for the athletes I coach, regardless of their sport, are based on these same 6 abilities. If you understand them and how they interface with periodization then you can easily understand training.

This series of blogs will discuss the order I introduce the 6 abilities into the training programs of the novices I coach along with the usual timing of each and comments about the ability. The abilities are...

* Speed Skills
* Force
* Aerobic Endurance
* Muscular Endurance
* Power
* Anaerobic Endurance

You can find more details on each, including examples of workouts, in my books, especially in the appendices.

An example of the success of this process for novices can be found with a 30-something athlete I train from from New York City. When we started working together last winter he was new to the sport of triathlon. We began very slowly. For example, he started with walking instead of running. By late summer he finished in the top 10% of his age group at the competitive New York City Triathlon and completed a half Ironman done just for experience while holding back in 5:06. I don't usually recommend a half Ironman for novices, but he made such rapid progress that I sensed it would not be a concern. It wasn't.

By the way, these same abilities and the order in which they are listed are exactly what I do for experienced athletes as they start back into the Prep and Base periods of training. So this isn't just for novices, although for them the entire season may follow this pattern, while an experienced athlete will move through it in about 8 to 12 weeks.

1. Speed Skills. This is where I begin. Until an athlete has mastered the basic skills associated with the sport there is no need to do lots of aerobic endurance training - which is where most endurance athletes want to start. If we did that we'd only be reinforcing bad skills and prolonging the time it takes for the athlete to approach his or her potential.

Speed skills are a subset of economy which is one of the three basic elements of fitness I discussed last week in my post on VO2max and Race Performance. Some day I'll write more about economy here, but for right now let's just summarize it as having something to do with how much energy you use (or waste) during exercise for a myriad of reasons. One of those reasons is speed skill - the ability to make the movements of the sport efficiently when the arms or legs are moving at race cadence.

Improving speed skills initially involves doing slow-cadence drills that overemphasize the mechanics of a movement and gradually, over several weeks if not months, refining the skills and increasing the cadence until the athlete is able to do the movement at race cadence for extended periods of time.

At first skills are best learned by short, frequent drill sessions that avoid fatigue and emphasize mental focus on the movement being learned. Feedback from an experienced athlete or coach and video recordings are very helpful at this stage. This is the same whether we are talking about a swimmer, cyclist or runner. Or any other sport, for that matter. I am far from being a scratch golfer (a challenging, skill-based sport), but I have gone from a 20+ handicap to 8.9 over 10 years by following this strategy (I hope it doesn't deteriorate too much with 17 days of travel this month!).

Here are speed skill workout examples. I have triathletes swim 20- to 30-minute sessions several times a week focused only on technique while swimming 25-yard/meter intervals with very long recoveries as they stand at the wall. While swimming a 25 they are to focus on only one movement pattern. While standing at the wall they can think about anything they want. Something similar is done with runners using 20-second 'sprints' with walk-back recoveries that sometimes include skipping drills. Cyclists do one-legged pedaling on a trainer with a few seconds for each leg and two-legged pedaling for recovery. And, as you can imagine, there are a myriad of other drills for each of these sports.

Speed skill is probably the most neglected ability by all endurance athletes with the possible exception of swimmers. Many athletes at all levels could improve their performances remarkably by devoting more attention to this ability.

Next I'll talk about the force ability. I'm on vacation so it may be a day or two until I find the time. (Don't tell my wife I'm sneaking in some work!)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Advice for Coaching a Junior Cyclist

Today I received an email question from a rider who is working with a 14-year old mountain biker. The youngster just finished his first season in the sport. The bottom line is that older rider is looking for advice on how to train a junior who appears to have good potential for the sport. I went through this with my own son, Dirk, about 27 years ago. He's now 39 years old and is still a hell of an athlete. If I did one thing in my life that I got right, this is it. So here is my reply...

Around the age of 14 it becomes very difficult to offer advice for athletes without knowing them. While offering advice is hard for athletes of all ages, it's especially challenging at that age range because some youngsters are already quite mature while others are just starting to mature. I'm assuming that if he was second last year that he is in the more mature category and offer the following advice accordingly.

I should also preface this by saying that what you are aiming for is several years away. So the most important aspect of his training should be enjoyment. Your primary goal is to have him still training and racing when he is 24. If you achieve that everything else will take care of itself. If this is achieved he'll grow as an athlete at a rate which is appropriate for him.

So with all of this in mind, here are replies to your questions.

Q: What sort of annual hours should I schedule for him?

A: Athletes can typically increase their volume after their first year by 15-20%. But to be truly competitive the key is not volume but rather workout duration and intensity, especially race-specific durations and intensities. The best way to do this is to race for fun and to also do group rides.

Q: Should I get him to use a HR monitor and if so should I try and test him to set his HR zones for training? While I don't have a power meter I plan to purchase a turbo trainer with a power function. Could I test him on that perhaps?

A: It's good for him to have a HR monitor just to start figuring out what this is all about. You can certainly test him on the trainer to set up his zones. That's fine. But I'd probably have him training mostly based on perceived exertion as this is something a successful athlete must master. Knowing how he feels is more important than monitoring biometrics. He'll eventually be a better athlete because of that.

Q: From watching him race I would say that endurance and strength would be his areas of weakness in comparison with the others in his age group. What sort of workouts should I schedule for strength? Should I get him to do some body weight squats and step-ups? Would hill reps be appropriate?

A: I would not have him do much traditional strength at all. But it would be good if he spent some time in the weight room this winter just becoming familiar with such training and using very light loads, such as an empty bar. Don't load him up on any exercise. Learning the various exercises and how to do them with perfect form is more important now than gaining strength. As for hill reps, I'd suggest not doing that but rather keep the workouts less structured. Races and workouts on hilly courses would be preferable.

Q: Also he suffered a sore back in one race which I think was due to a weak core/lower back. Should I get him to do some core and stretching even at his age?

A: Do you have a physio/physical therapist you could take him to for a full-body assesment of physical strengths and weaknesses? While it would probably be beneficial for him to do core work and stretching, before devoting a lot of time and effort to it you might find it helpful to know more about his exact needs.

Q: Finally should I use the workouts detailed in your books for the base period such as S1 spin-ups, S2 etc and? What should the majority of his training focus on this year?

A: Speed skills workouts such as those you mention here are excellent for a young novice rider. As a mountain biker he should also work on trail-riding skills a lot. If you want to really challenge him with something, make it skills. Young athletes typically enjoy mastering skills and this is also something that will pay off for many years to come.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

VO2max and Race Performance

Here's an interesting one. I got an email from a road cyclist who, along with four teammates, was tested for VO2max and various other things recently. He wonders how the data he and his buddies got from the testing could be of help. I'm not going to go into all of that here, but will do so at another time. I'd like to take a look at something else related to the test data - what determines the outcome of races.

To set the stage, here's the most basic data--the tested VO2max of each rider and his power at VO2max:

-Kevin(age 36) VO2max = 65, power at VO2max = @550w

-Mike (age 53) VO2max = 71, power at VO2max = @520w

-Matt (age 43) VO2max = 66, power at VO2max = @500w

-Marc (age 48) VO2max = 56, power at VO2max = @425w

-Nick (age 45) VO2max = 47, power at VO2max = @450w

Not knowing anything else about these riders but assuming all other things were equal, if they each did a 40k time trial who would you put your money on? Would it be Mike with the highest VO2max of 71, Kevin with the highest power output of 550w, or one of the others?

Before answering the question let me tell you more about these two variables. VO2max, also called "aerobic capacity," is a measure of how much oxygen your body uses when exercising at a maximal effort for an extended period of time. It is typically measured with the athlete wearing a breathing apparatus that determines how much oxygen is inhaled and how much is exhaled. The difference is what was used by the muscles to produce energy. The more oxygen one can use, the more aerobically fit that person is. We know that the elite cyclists in the pro peloton all have quite high VO2max levels. Should we test all of the riders at the start of one of the Grand Tours I'm sure we'd find they all are at least at a level of 70 (milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute). The same would be true of the elite male runners at the start of last Sunday's New York City Marathon. The elite women there would probably have tested about 10% lower.

So it sounds like Mike with the highest VO2max is where you should put your money, right? Let's examine this a little closer.

If we did indeed test all of the pro riders at the start line of a bike time trial race and then ranked them from the highest VO2max at the top to the lowest at the bottom, how would that compare with how the race actually finished? Would the highest VO2max win the race and the lowest finish last? Not at all. This has been done in several different sudies and the research has found no relationship between race results ranking and VO2max ranking - among elite athletes. Does that seem strange? Frank Shorter proved a long time ago that it isn't strange at all.

When Shorter was at the height of his running career in the 1970s his VO2max was about 72. That's very pedestrian for a world-class runner. One his top competitors was Bill Rodgers who had been found to have a peak VO2max of about 78. Even though Shorter's was 8% lower than Rodgers' aerobic capacity, Shorter usually won when they went head to head. In fact, Shorter proved to be one of the top marathon runners in the world with Olympic Gold and Silver medals along with wins in most of the major marathons of the day.

Back in 1989 I was invited by a friend to go for a run with Shorter and Rodgers in Boulder, Colorado. It was the first time the two had ever run together in a workout. Running with Shorter on my left and Rodgers on my right it was quite obvious why Shorter was so dominant despite a rather mundane VO2max. He ran like water flowing downhill, like a cloud passing by. There was no excess motion. No wasted energy. He was the definition of smooth. Rodgers, on the other hand, could be seen out of the corner of my eye and appeared to be some sort of Victorian machine with flywheels, crank arms, pistons and steam engines. He oscillated up and down, his arms swung across and around his body, and one leg had a flail to it in recovery. Shorter wasted none of his 72 VO2max; Rodgers wasted a great deal of his.

You see, there's much more to being fast than just aerobic capacity. At the elite level it's just a "ticket to the club." If you want to be an elite athlete you need to have a high VO2max. But that just gets you to the start line. To compete well you also must be economical like Shorter was and you need an anaerobic/lactate threshold at a high percentage of your VO2max. Shorter was undoubtedly excellent in this last category also. I've never seen any numbers on that for him.

Now back to our five teammates... You should be able to pick the TT winner by now. It's Kevin, the one with the highest power output at VO2max. Given the choice of a high VO2max or a high power output at a lower VO2max, always pick power. It should be obvious that the person who can put out the most power when at his top end is the person who is most likely to win. There's a close relationship between power and the results of a race. In the same way, if you know the paces a group of runner can do at VO2max you have the best indicator of how the race results will come out.

Running races and time trials are won by the fastest athletes, not by the athletes with the highest aerobic capacities. It's like asking all of the runners at the 10k starting line in your age group what their best 10k times have been in the last 8 weeks. Assuming comparable courses, you can quite closely predict how the 10k race will finish. Of course, there will be a few minor variations due to motivation, race-morning diet, fatigue, injuries and a few other factors. Power on a bike is much the same. It's a great predictor of performance.

Now with my luck Kevin will post a comment here saying that Mike usually beats him in time trials.


Preparing for the 2010 Season, Part 5

This is the last installment on how to prepare your Annual Training Plan (ATP) as you start thinking about the 2010 season. While I've been doing periodized planning for nearly 30 years now I realize that many see it as overly detailed and analytic. There's no doubt that it goes well beyond what most athletes are willing to do. If you are satisfied with your current level of race performance then this is not necessary. Just continue doing what you've been doing. But if you have set high goals for yourself I guarantee you that long-range planning will make those goals easier to achieve.

Step 6: Assign Weekly Hours
You’ve now got most of the ATP complete and have a general idea of what you will do in training. What remains are the specifics including setting the number of hours you will work out weekly—your volume. Once volume is determined you’re ready to take care of the final details—the actual workouts.

In your copy of The Triathlete’s Training Bible go to Table 7.2. In The Cyclist’s Training Bible it is Table 8.5 (3rd edition) or Table 8.4 (4th edition). The Table is titled “Weekly Training Hours.” Find your Annual Hours from across the top row of the Table and read down that column to see how many hours to train in each week by period. Write these numbers in the “Hours” column on your ATP. (Realize that these hours are not sacrosanct and only meant to be ballpark - they can and should be changed to better suit your situation when you come to that week in your training.)

If you do not have a copy of my book (shame on you!), use the accompanying "Weekly Hours Table." Simply multiply your Annual Hours from the top of your ATP by the number in the “Multiplier” column to determine how many hours to schedule for each week of a period.

Step 7: Schedule Weekly Workouts
Period Purpose and Length Table tells you the abilities to focus on each week by period. Let’s get to what the specifics of those workouts are.

Now you know which abilities to train in each period (Period Purpose and Length Table) and what the workouts for each ability are like (see accompanying Workout Examples by Ability and Sport Table). So at the end of each week you can plan your workouts for the next week. It’s generally a good idea to separate the most stressful workouts by 48 or more hours. There are exceptions to this rule that I may get at in future posts. In the Build periods, for most athletes, that means only three or four muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance workouts, or some combination of both in a week (divided between the three sports for triathletes). The workouts done between these are for maintenance of the basic abilities (aerobic endurance, force, speed skills).

All that remains now is to decide how to distribute the weekly hours on a daily basis (see Daily Training Hours Table, 8.1 in The Triathlete's Training Bible and 9.1 in The Cyclist's Training Bible). The longest workouts will generally be for the aerobic endurance ability with muscular endurance being the second longest.

For the triathlete the starting point for distributing the hours by sport is to do about 50 percent on the bike, 30 percent running and 20 percent swimming. But this is modified by your performance limiters. For example, if you are a strong cyclist but poor runner you may want to shift time away from the bike and into running. In the Base 1 and 2 periods you may even consider placing an even greater time emphasis on your weakest sport. And, of course, within each sport focus the workouts on your ability limiters. For triathletes in Build 1 and 2 bike-run combination workouts (“bricks”) are generally the longest sessions in a week.

When Things Don’t Go Right
Of course, following a plan does not mean doing so rigidly. There will be times when you shouldn’t follow the plan because you are not recovered from a previous workout, or feel a cold coming on, or for whatever reason you sense that it is just not right to challenge your body. At times like these it is always best to do less—to go short and easy or even take the day off. To do otherwise is to risk illness, injury, burnout and possibly overtraining. Missing one scheduled workout is preferable to missing one week, or more, of training. When you come to race day, having missed one workout has no impact on performance.

Also, don’t try to make up for omitted workouts by doubling up on the workouts later in the week. This will only lead to greater problems down the road. Let it go.

What happens if you are injured for, say, a month? In such an extreme case you are going to have to start over again with an earlier period (usually Base 3), re-evaluate your goals and get back on track again. There may even be situations that cause you to greatly modify the periodization plan, say, for example, if you missed a couple of weeks of training and the national championship is in six weeks. There is no formula for such situations. This is where the art of self-coaching comes into play.

Generally, missing fewer than about seven consecutive days of training is treated as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. Press ahead. But if more days are missed it’s likely you will need to return to a previous week in your plan and start over again from that point. This will require an overhaul of the ATP.

If you have never trained with such a detailed plan you may find it difficult to adjust at first. New habits are hard to create. But once you get used to it I think you will find that your training and race performances improve significantly. To make it work, review and refine your ATP at the end of every week as you plan out the coming week's training. From this overview decide what you will do for each day's training in the next few days. When you sense some reluctance to plan ahead remind yourself of the reason you are doing this - to reach high goals and to be the best athlete possible.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Preparing for the 2010 Season, Part 4

I had hoped to get this posted earlier but it turned out to be a busy weekend. So I was up early on Monday morning to get it done. Below is Part 4 of how to plan your 2010 season. There will be one more installment in this series in a couple of days. As mentioned in Part 1, you can download a free Annual Training Plan form which can be completed electronically by going to the TrainingBible Coaching website. Or you can sign up for an account at TrainingPeaks where a VirtualCoach I designed will do all of this for you. A couple of athletes have mentioned that they couldn't get the Excel form to open on the TrainingBible website. If you run into a problem like this feel free to email me and I will send you one. I'll need to know your sport in order to do this. Back to planning...

Step 5: Divide Year Into Periods
The next task in completing your Annual Training Plan (ATP) is to periodize the season. The accompanying “Period Purpose and Length Table” will help guide you. The “Purpose” of each period as described in the table is generally the way it is done by most athletes training for most events. But there may well be differences in the way you train at any given period in the season. For example, when training elite Ironman triathletes I often have them do Anaerobic Endurance training in Base 3 to boost aerobic capacities before starting into the Build period with a heavy emphasis on Muscular Endurance. The only hard and fast rule in periodization is that the closer in time that you get to your A-priority race, the more like the race training must become.

“Periodizing the season” means assigning training periods to each week of the year in the “Period” column of your ATP. You’ll fill in this column by working backwards. Start with the first A-priority race of the season. At the intersection of the Period column and the first A-priority race row on your ATP write in “Race” in the Period column. Then go up one row and write in “Peak 2” and then up one more and again write in “Peak 2”.

The next two periods vary based on your age or, more accurately, your capacity for recovery. If you are younger than 50 (or recover relatively quickly) count up four weeks and write in “Build 2” for each of these weeks. Then count up four weeks again and write in “Build 1.” Do the same for Base 3, Base 2, and Base 1.

If you are older than 50 or recovery relatively slowly assign three weeks to each of these periods but include two Base 3 periods and two Build 2 periods. The reason for the age or recovery differential is that older athletes or those who recover slowly typically need more frequent rest weeks. The last four to seven days of each Base and Build period is a recovery week. Some athletes who recover quickly will be ready to start training at a higher level after only four days of active recovery. Others may need as many as seven.

The top two to six weeks are labeled “Prep” regardless of age. How many of these you schedule depends on when the previous season ended and how ready you are to start focused training again.

Finally, the week after your first A race write in “Tran”—short for transition to a new long-term training program. If this first Transition period comes early in your season then I’d suggest taking just a few days off from focused training. This may only be three days but could be seven depending on mental and physical fatigue or niggling injuries. After the last A race of the season you may need two to six weeks. The idea is to give not only your body but also your mind a break. It’s alright to “exercise,” but “training” is forbidden. The purpose is to rest and rejuvenate by not having a routine or workouts that must be done.

The novice athlete does not do the Build periods so as to focus attention on the basic abilities for one or two seasons. In this case, Base 3 is repeated and replaces the Build periods.

Planning up to the first A-priority race schedule of the season is now complete. It was the easy one. Basically, we just followed a formula to plan it. For the subsequent A races you have a decision to make and some periods to leave out. For example, when scheduling beyond the first A race you will not repeat the Prep period and probably not Base 1 or Base 2 either. However, you may want to return to Base 3 after the first Transition period if your basic abilities (Aerobic Endurance, Force or Speed Skill) have obviously declined in the last few weeks. This is not unusual when the first A race was a short event and the next is long. You may even want to do Base 3 twice, if there are enough weeks until the second A race. If your basic abilities, especially Aerobic Endurance, are lacking it will greatly detract from training and racing for the rest of the season. But if the basic abilities are still strong after the first A race then you may want to start back into training with a Build 1 or Build 2 period. A note of caution: Don’t short change the Base abilities in order to do more high-intensity training.

Of course, at this point as you are planning the season you are guessing about what sort of fitness you’ll have several months from now. That’s another reason why the ATP is likely to change throughout the season.

Finish filling in the “Period” column on the ATP through the end of the 2010 season. Later on, should you decide that the plan you have isn’t right, you can always make changes (I hope you’re doing the work with a pencil or electronically). I’ve never coached an athlete who made it all the way through a season with no ATP adjustments.