Thursday, January 11, 2018

Three Keys to Improving Your Sprint.

Old school thinking: Either you have it or you do not, either you are a sprinter or you are not.  Sprinters are born. Pure sprinters are endowed with fast twitch fibers. And if you do not, and you are not, you might as well forget it—and you'll never win a sprint. I was told that and I believed it for the longest time.

When I was in my 20s I was racing the US Olympic development race series on the East Coast against the top amateur racers in the US. I qualified for the US Olympic trials along with 44 other qualifiers in the three regions of the US. I was good enough to get in a lot of breakaways but since I knew I wasn't a sprinter (I had been told) and knew I couldn't sprint, guess what happened? I never won a race in a sprint even in a small breakaway in spite of having some great finishes.

When it came down to the sprint I knew I was going to lose, so of course I did.

Does that story sound familiar?

A serious injury (a 20 foot fall off a ladder) in my 20s curtailed my competitive biking career; it was over, at least in the way that I knew it, long 50-60  mile Criteriums and 100+ mile road races.  After marriage, starting a family and career, when I hit age 35 I decided to try Masters racing. My back had improved and I was able to handle the shorter distances in training and racing. I read and reread Greg Lemond's "Complete Book of Cycling". Among other things, he promoted  a somewhat unique protocol for training (for the time) utilizing a lot of high intensity workouts included sprint training every week--in fact--twice a week. He said, your sprint can be improved with sprint training. I started to train my sprint and I started to believe, Thus, I began my metamorphosis to remake myself as a road sprinter.

It's not always the best sprinter, or even a sprinter that makes it to the end of the race. In fact many times the successful breakaway group, or the remaining group in the pack--who survived by attrition--is filled with riders who also believe they can't sprint. Therefore in many cases it becomes out-sprinting a group of riders who believe (like I used to) that they are, in fact, going to lose the sprint.

The first key to improving your sprint is belief, believing that you can:
I can win the sprint.
Ultimately, over time, that belief needs to evolve into a belief that you will:
I will win the sprint.

When I first tried to believe I could sprint, it was a major struggle; my mind, literally, wouldn't let me do it. When I try to imagine crossing the finish line 1st, glancing side-to-side, not seeing any riders’ wheel in front of me, I couldn't do it. My mind just wouldn't go there. Whenever I tried in a quiet moment to visualize winning a race, in a sprint, I’d get into a fight with my subconscious mind. You can’t do that. That’s not going to happen, it would say to me. My mental rehearsals were backfiring. As I would picture the final kilometer--instead of pulling away at 200 meters, gutting it out for the last 100m, then finishing with a flurry of unmatched speed in the final 100, then 10 meters--I was swarmed by the bunch. Drained. Humiliated. Beaten to the line. Oh the cruelty!

At the time I was working a 50 hour a week job in the Boston suburbs, supporting a young, growing family. So I started. Every weekday, I would drive the beltway in stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic to and from my office. I had a sunroof I rolled open determined not to give up. To better imagine that I was a sprint winner, I’d raise both arms in a victory salute, out the sunroof (of course at the stop parts of the stop-and-go). Surely my rush-hour co-patriots must have thought I was crazy, but I didn't care. It was Matter over Mind.

Then to further overcome, and to make it even more impressionable on my subconscious mind, I utilized a full dress rehearsal approach when I practiced—at least—once a week. At the end of each sprint, at the final imaginary finish line, (which I would often note precisely in advance by finding a good finishing point, then “rolling back” in my predetermined sprint gear and pedal strokes, to where I needed to start), I’d raise my arms in a 2 handed victory salute, visualizing the win, crossing the line alone, hearing the crowd acknowledgement and feeling the excitement and joy of the win.

Let’s just say: It worked. I started to win. But I still had to pinch myself and fight with my subconscious. The difference: Now I had real memories to draw from. And my experience and confidence would grew with every sprint success.

Mostly the work to be done is very specific on-the-bike training, with good form. Repetition. Every week. With perfect form. It’s perfect practice that builds your mind and your body to get the job done, at the exact moment it’s needed, to win the sprint. One of the key principles of sports training, is Specificity--to be effective, training should be highly specific to the demands of the event. To become a better sprinter you must practice sprinting.

It is helpful to know that there is an entire, unique energy system that comes into play only for the short 12 to 15 second burst of speed. It's the ATP-PC system. It's a subtle system that needs practice to efficiently draw from it.

Over the years I spent a lot of time trainer watching CDs, DVDs and videos of professional sprinters sprinting at the end of the race. If you want to see good road sprint form, watch the best professional road sprinters of our time. Check out the flattish, sprinter Tour de France races in the final 3 to 5 km as to how the sprint sets up.

Once the full out final sprint begins (usually the final 200 meters), notice the top sprinters’ form: 1) the overall position on the bike 2) hands in the drops (not the hoods), 3) a “whipping" of the bike from side to side. 4) the length (time in seconds) of the final effort of the winning sprinter--interestingly it's rarely more than 12-15 seconds--after pulling out into the wind from the draft of the lead-out rider, 5) then there is the number of pedal strokes. Count them. Amazingly, it's almost always 20 pedal strokes plus or minus a few, in the final burst to the line. And that’s what you want to practice!

Because this is all fueled by the ATP--PC energy system, when practicing you must allow for the system to replenish before repeating. Therefore take at least three to 5 minutes (even as much as 10 minutes) rest between all-out sprint efforts.

My first cycling coach was a young ex-pro. His training program had me in the gym one day a week. I wondered why, and frankly I resisted. How could lifting weights help me riding a bike? It didn't seem specific enough. Later I discovered the importance of resistance training for maintaining muscle mass especially as the athlete ages to offset the Also to strengthen the core, back and upper body to better support the cyclist on the bike. Once again however, the more specific to the movement of cycling the better.

When I became a personal trainer a few years ago I discovered resistance training with kettlebells. In 2015 I became an RKC™, certified in Hardstyle Russian Kettelbells training. Soon after I invented KettleBell Max™ Dynamic Resistance Training System, specifically for cycling. Everything that can be done with free weights, can be done with kettlebells, but better: more stabilization muscles are required with every move; resistance training that can be done unilaterally, dynamically and explosively.

Resistance training has many benefits in addition to maintaining muscle mass: If done explosively as a power movement, it recruits fast twitch muscle fibers which helps in bike accelerations and sprinting. Also resistance training positively stimulates and recruits favorable hormones such as Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone. It can help maintain favorable body composition especially in the off season. A study done by ACE showed snatching Kettlebells burns calories at a rate of 20 calories a minute. Back-to-back high intensity KB efforts, as found in my KettleBell Max™ Training System, also doubles as a high intensity interval session with a cardio component.

Proper diet and Nutrition is a key support system as well. Most important is a post recovery shake or drink taken within an hour after a hard workout. Athletes should target protein grams per day from 85%-100% of body weight in gram. Protein pacing studies show significant improvements by spreading protein intake evenly in 5-6 doses per day. Whey protein, from grass-fed cows, is particularly important for the post recovery shake and overall to build lean muscle tissue. Almost 50% of my protein intake target is whey protein (in the form of shakes and bars) from grass-fed cows, and the balance from organic sourced meats, eggs fish etc.

Then there’s proper rest, massage and a properly designed training program utilizing progressive overload and periodization over one or more racing seasons. (More on all these topics in later columns).

In May 2016 eight months after a challenging from a severely broken leg. I found myself in the USAC Cycling Masters 60 mile Road race with 200 m to go. I was second man on the wheel of the reigning world champion pursuit champion (with 2 down the road). When I hit that 200 m mark I was ready: I was in my sprint gear and my sprint point had been rolled out; I had rehearsed this moment thousands of time in my head. I believed I could win and I did.

In 2017 I began to focus on track racing. In July 2017 I found myself on the warm-up circle at the USA Masters Nationals in the finals for the Match Sprint competition. I didn’t win but did get the Silver and had the 2nd fastest flying 200 time. In the UCI Worlds Masters track in October I managed to make it to the top ten of the fastest sprinters in the world. Not bad for a guy they said couldn’t sprint. More work yet to do--but look out next year!

These three keys have worked for me. And over the last 10 years as a USAC cycling coach I’ve helped many athletes utilizing these same principles to win: scores of sprints, races, regional and state titles and 10 national championships.

LeMond was right: if you practice sprinting--with the correct form and frequency--you will get better!

Charles Gary Hoffman is an Elite Cycling coach with Peaks Coaching Group. Click here to learn more about him and his coaching philosophy.

Friday, December 15, 2017

There’s No Cramming in Cycling

By PCG Elite Coach David Ertl

Have you ever crammed for an exam?  Have you ever observed someone who has?  How has it turned out for you or them?  I have never pulled an all-nighter before an exam because I observed a college roommate who did and it wasn’t pretty. I went in the study in the morning and he was bleary-eyed and babbling nonsensically.  At that point I realized whatever additional knowledge he may have gained by studying all night was negated by his ability to think straight and failure to make use of all the other knowledge he had gained through the entire semester.  This same logic applies to cycling.  Last minute training cannot make up for lack of preparation earlier in the season and can in fact be more detrimental than beneficial.  I’d like to share a few thoughts on how to properly prepare yourself for a race or event that you wish to prioritize in your season. I believe this is an area that has not received a lot of attention but can have great benefits.

There are lots of books and articles written about tapering before a major event.  But what I would like to discuss are those last couple of days leading up that that important event.  I’ve often noticed that I place better in races than some of my teammates who beat me up and drop me like a rock on our Tuesday night team training ride.  Why is that?  Preparation.  I don’t put the same amount of energy or effort into preparing myself for a training ride that I do for races.  There is both a physical and mental preparation that needs to take place.  

Physical:  It is very important that your body is fully recovered and fresh going into a major event. Depending on the length of the event, your taper will vary, but regardless of the taper length, for the last couple of days you want to be very deliberate about what you do. All your riding at that point should be focused on recovery and keeping the legs loose and fresh.  I’ve often observed cyclists who will do a hard training ride two days before a major race.  This is like cramming. There is no way that training can help improve your performance on race day as the training effect will take more than two days to be realized.  But it will be detrimental by fatiguing your body going into the race. (Note that I am talking about the ‘A’ or ‘B’ events that you are peaking for and aiming for good results. This doesn’t apply so much to those ‘C’ races that you train through and treat as a training race.)  Maybe a recent training session will improve your fitness by 1% but if you are fatigued and only can race at 95%, what’s the use of that?  Preparation for a race is an individual thing and you need to figure out what works for you.  Some people take the day before an event completely off; others prefer to spin or do some light efforts the day before.  I prefer to take the day off two days prior to a race and then do some loosening up the day before.  But whatever you do, keep it easy to avoid fatiguing your body and legs.

Nutrition and rest are also critical going into an event.  Eat appropriately for the distance and ensure you have the proper mix of carbs needed and focus on getting fully hydrated.  Get plenty of rest for the last couple of days leading up to an event if you can. We often have to get up unusually early the morning of a race so factor that in and try to compensate by going to bed earlier and make sure you get a good night’s sleep for the days leading up the event.

Mental:  I believe this is a critical piece of race prep as well although I’ve not seen much written about it other than some articles on visualization. I like to spend a fair amount of time thinking about an upcoming race and getting myself psyched up for it.  I want to be ready to go to the start line full of determination and ambition.  By building up your anticipation in the week leading up to an event, you can bring your full focus and fortitude to the race.  As we all know, in competition the mental aspect is just as important as the physical one. The ability to eke out every last bit of your fitness depends on a mindset that allows you to do so. In the days leading up to an event, try to avoid negative thoughts and don’t allow yourself to become overly nervous, but instead focus on the goals you have for that event. Build your confidence and determination.

You put in a tremendous about of time and effort into your training.  Much of at that can be wasted if you fail to take the proper steps to fully realize your preparation during those last couple of days before your event.   This can make the difference between meeting your goals and dropping out.  It’s a small investment that can have huge effects.


Written by Peaks Coaching Group Elite Coach David Ertl. David lives in Waukee, IA he is a LEOMO motion analysis certified coach. Learn more about David.

Monday, December 11, 2017


By PCG Elite Coach David Ertl

I have to admit that when I first received my LEOMO TYPE-R, I wasn’t sure what it would tell me about my pedaling motion and if there was a problem, I was skeptical that I would be able to do anything to improve it.  After all, I’ve been coaching for 16 years and racing for 45 years and my pedaling motion is pretty well ingrained.  I incorrectly assumed that my pedal stroke had probably evolved to a point where I was fairly efficient.  After one ride with TYPE-R, it was quite obvious that my pedaling motion was “messed up”.  My left leg looked great but my right leg was somewhat of a “train wreck”.  My Pedal Stroke Intelligence (PSI) graph shows a lot of movement of my feet, especially my right foot. Here’s an example of my PSI graph shortly after I began using the TYPE-R.

There are dead spots at both the top and bottom of the pedal stroke on my right foot and at the top of my left foot.

Below are my Power Cadence Dead Spot Score (PCD) maps for this same ride, again showing how poorly my right foot is working.

As I watched my feet as I pedaled, I noticed more motion in my right foot. It was subtle, which explains why I never noticed this before, but it was certainly there. I seemed to be “ankling” (bringing my heel down over the top of the pedal stroke and again at the bottom).  I conducted the toe down pedaling exercises recommended by Hunter Allen and it improved immediately, seeming to eliminate the Dead Spot Scores almost completely. After several rides showing similar results, I began focusing on pedaling with a more toe-down position and found this cramped by pedaling style, so I moved my saddle up a bit to allow my leg to move a little more. This seemed to result in improved comfort.  As I continued to ride, I found it easier to concentrate on keeping my heel up on the backstroke and over the top of the pedal stroke, than to think about pedaling toe-down. But when I did this, I still felt tightness in my right hip. This probably explains the “ankling” and foot movement. If my right hip is stiff, it would be difficult for the thigh to come up as far and then my ankle would have to flex more as the foot came up over the top of the pedal stroke. When I focused on keeping my toe down, or heel up, that helped force the knee up and flex the hip more.  My erratic foot motion actually seemed to be the result of a stiff hip. This illustrates that the solution is not in trying to improve my foot motion, but improve the mobility/range of motion in my right hip. Recently, I’ve been stretching my hip before rides in an effort to loosen it up.

For several weeks I rode without the TYPE-R and just thought about keeping my heel up on my right foot. At the beginning, I really had to concentrate on my foot position but as time went on I noticed I had to focus less on it and it was in fact becoming more automatic.  Forty-five years is a long time to develop a habit that had to be overcome. 

I then rode again with the TYPE-R to see how I was doing.  To my surprise, my DSS numbers had improved significantly.  Here is a Pedal Stroke Intelligence (PSI) graph of my first ride with TYPE-R after focusing on my pedaling style.

It’s pretty clear to see the improvement in my Dead Spot Score (DSS), most noticeably on my right foot, but even on my left which has never been all that bad.  Here is my (Power Cadence Dead Spot Score (PCD) map for this same ride.

My right foot was almost as good as my left foot.  Keep in mind that this was a fairly moderately paced ride.  I still notice that when I really work hard at high power and force, my Dead Spot Score (DSS) numbers rise and I tend to resort back to my old ways.  I’m pretty sure that over time this new pedaling style will become more second nature, even under these high power efforts.  Time will tell, but I’m encouraged that focusing on my pedaling motion over time can become my new “normal”.

The TYPE-R appears very effective at identifying pedaling motion inconsistencies.  However, I’ve learned that it may not diagnose the cause of the problem.  That may take some investigation and may not be initially obvious, but if an irregularity is found there must be something causing it.

The one question still remaining is whether improving my Dead Spot Score (DSS) will actually improve my power output. That may be difficult to test but it makes sense that if my dead spot scores improve, my pedaling efficiency will also improve which should result in more energy conservation.


Written by Peaks Coaching Group Elite Coach David Ertl. David lives in Waukee, IA he is a LEOMO motion analysis certified coach. Learn more about David.