Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Well rounded cyclist or master of the art?

We are quickly approaching the beginning of the road season and hopefully full of inspiration and motivation from all the action of both the Australian National events and the Tour Down Under. The start of the year is often the best time to reflect on the year gone and begin to map out the year to come. I have a few athletes that have given me their goals for the year and we are now beginning to decide the best course of action to achieve these goals as the year progresses.  I try to follow the old premise ‘practice what you preach’ but often find myself training without any specific direction and following old habits. This year I’ve set my first goal to change this and follow a structured program that addresses all the weakness I have in my cycling armour.

Before I go any further I’ll say that I don’t have weak points and any race that I loose is sheer bad luck!!!.... Any good periodised program consists of several key stages which most would be familiar with. Each phase has a specific goal and we incorporate specific sessions/races that will target the physiological/psychological adaptations that we desire.  The basic premise of any program should be this; Step 1: Teach the body to use oxygen, spare carbohydrate and develop endurance to go the distance. Step 2: Teach the muscle to resynthesise energy quickly via the appropriate energy systems, clear waste products, maintain chemical homeostasis and activate all muscle fibres (neural recruitment and patterns). Step 3: Get specific and determine the physiological demands of the races you wish to excel in. Specificity of training is often the most overlooked of all components. Think about.. How long are the efforts required to go with breaks, how many watts do I need to put out in a sprint, can I repeatedly attack and recover to make sure I can go with the important moves in a race?

A well rounded rider may be good at all of these components. More importantly you cannot expect to master all of them in one season. It may be better to stick to one component and focus on it. I have worked with a few guys now that have specific goals and forego the want to be the ‘all-rounder’.  If you want to be good at time trails then hang up the road bike and perform the majority of your training on a TT bike. Stop riding 100+km and focus on going as fast as you can for shorter distances. This would require dedication to interval training and a lot of time focusing on holding power in the most aerodynamically position possible. Once you have maximised your ability to use oxygen (aerobic capacity) you need to work on improving your aerobic threshold. In untrained individuals power at lactate threshold may occur as low as 70% of their peak power and elite athlete with some threshold training may increase this to 80-82.5%. With specific training I have seen individuals increase this to up to around 95% of their peak power but this has taken years of specific threshold training and the ability to hurt like nothing else.

 Alternatively, If you want to be a sprinter then be specific and perform more sprints. This gets a little trickier because you still have to be there and in a good position when the hammer goes down so there are skill components to think about. Sprint training is all about energy turn over. The more energy you can produce the faster you will go. Learning to do this defies the normal physics of endurance training and turns more to all out strength. Ever heard of the mother that can lift a car to save her baby? Under normal circumstances we are unable to activate our entire muscle, we can however learn to do this by maximally loading the muscle and nervous system through either low repetition high load resistance training or through specific all out efforts on the bike. Then comes learning to sustain near maximal power for the entire length of a sprint. Generally speaking we measure anaerobic capacity through a Wingate test which is essentially a 30 second all out sprint. We record time to maximal power, average power and the degree of fatigue throughout the 30 seconds. All of these components will determine the type of sprinter you are.

If you are more inclined to go up hill then training specifically to go up hill is required. Body mass now plays a large role and power to weight ratio expressed as Watts/kg.bodymass is the main predictor of performance.  A good club level climber has a peak power (power at VO2max) of about 6 Watts/kg and a threshold power of around 5.2 W/kg. This may be good enough to hold a few Strava KOM’s but the Pros are pushing sustainable numbers closer to 7 W/kg.BM. Climbing is not all about power to weight it is also about learning to accelerate above threshold and recover again… repeatedly!! I prescribe a lot of out of the saddle climbing for my athletes that  want to improve their climbing skills. This teaches them to recruit different muscles which is a major benefit and can dramatically improve climbing ability.  And of course what goes up must come down so learning to descend quickly and safely is essential.

To achieve goals you need to identify the specific demands of the activity and determine the best techniques to target both the skills needed and the physiological components required. Sometimes it is just the motivation in training to learn to hurt like you would in a race. Training with friends is often a good way to include a little extra motivation to push harder and the best way to improve skills if specific race type scenarios are practiced. So… Get out there and train properly. Map it out, monitor progress ensure adequate recovery and most importantly RACE HARD!!