How to Go Faster on the Bicycle

We all want to go faster. It's why we suffer! After selecting the fastest equipment you can afford, it's time to focus on the real engine for speed: you.

Power Training Zones 101

Determining our power zones is one of the most basic elements of power training. Click through to read more about each zone and how they work together.

Four Workouts to Make You Faster

We need all our training zones to be ready for the first races of the season! Hunter shares four workouts to make that happen.

How Training with Power is Different from Training with Heart Rate

Why exactly should we train with power? There are many benefits, of course, to power training, and Coach David gives us a few examples.

Power Up: Increasing Repeatability and Peak Power

Cycling is an endurance event. Long races, always another hill, mental stamina a must, thousands of miles needed in our legs. Plus we need to be able to put out high wattages in a single instance.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What Can You Do in Three Weeks?


All the grand tours are three weeks long. The typical build cycle in training is three weeks long. The life cycle of the cabbage worm is three weeks long. Most women recognize they are pregnant at three weeks. Three weeks, twenty-one days. How much can you improve your fitness in three weeks? If you gave yourself a three-week training camp, how many more watts would you produce at the end of it? How much fitter would you become? How much body fat would you lose? How much could your bike handling skills improve?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How Training with Power is Different From Training with Heart Rate


Heart rate monitors first came on the cycling scene in the 1980s, allowing us for the first time to train scientifically. Prior to that, we had to train solely by perceived exertion. Heart rate allows us to train at more specific levels of exertion, depending on the physiological system (aerobic, threshold, anaerobic) we wanted to emphasize. Pretty soon everyone serious about training and improving was riding the wave and using a heart rate monitor.

Then about ten years ago, power meters became widely available and began to supplement or even replace the use of heart rate monitors. Power meters offer a number of advantages over heart rate monitors, such as being able to monitor actual exertion directly, rather than indirectly as heart rate does. Power data also provides extensive analytics after your training rides to help you assess and monitor your progress.

I strongly recommend the book Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen and Dr. Andrew Coggan to learn about all the metrics that can be used with power data, but in this article I’ll give an example of how training with a power meter is much superior to training with a heart rate monitor.

Before I get into that, though, I want to emphasize that power meters do not completely replace the need for a heart rate monitor. It is still useful to measure your body’s response to training and to compare heart rate with power data.

One of the greatest advantages of training with a power meter is, in my opinion, that a power meter gives you the ability to dial in your desired level of exertion immediately. This is especially true for shorter intervals. The reason is the key difference between power and heart rate: power meters measure the power your body produces, and it can be measured directly and instantaneously, whereas heart rate is an indirect measure and responds to the body’s effort and is thus a delayed measure of exertion. In addition, heart rate can be affected by a number of other factors such as fatigue, dehydration, and temperature. I find that it takes one to two minutes for heart rate to catch up to a steady state power output

Here’s an illustration of the way heart rate lags behind exertion. The chart below is a cyclist’s five-minute interval. While the power (yellow line) is fairly steady, note how the heart rate (red line) increases and doesn’t reach a steady state until two minutes after the start of the interval.



This lag makes it impossible to use heart rate for intervals shorter than two minutes. As you can see, however, the power measurement is up to the targeted level within seconds of the start of the interval.

If you want to do short intervals and use only a heart rate monitor, you’ll have to tackle them by feel, because the interval will be over before your heart rate catches up.

Here’s another great illustration of this phenomenon. The chart below is a workout of 30-second anaerobic capacity intervals. This cyclist used both a power meter and a heart rate monitor.



Note how the heart rate peaks several seconds after the end of the interval. If you tried to do these with a heart rate monitor only, the heart rate wouldn’t be at all useful in guiding your effort. Having power data allows us to target our desired exertion level immediately.

Take a look at the graph of heart rate below. What type of workout do you think this is? Perhaps a time trial with some undulating hills?



Now look at the same workout with power data included.


The workout is actually a series of very hard, short intervals separated by very easy recovery intervals. When doing a series of short intervals of 30 seconds or less, heart rate tends to be fairly constant because of the inherent lag. Just as your heart rate begins to climb, the effort ends and heart rate starts heading back down, just as the next interval starts. The longer these go on, the more the heart rate mimics a steady-state effort despite the alternating very high and low exertion levels of the workout. Not only is heart rate not effective in determining exertion level during these intervals, it also isn’t useful in evaluating the intensity of the workout; as you can see, this was a much more demanding workout than heart rate alone would suggest.

Heart rate tracking is great if it’s getting you out there. When you’re ready for the next level, try a power meter!


Want to try out training with a power meter before investing in one? You can demo a power meter at our cycling training camps. Click here for more information, and review the power meters we recommend here on our store.


David Ertl is a USAC Level 1 coach, the author of four cycling training books, a father of twin sons, and a Peaks Coaching Group associate coach. He and his fellow PCG coaches create custom training plans for endurance athletes of all levels of experience. David can be contacted through peakscoachinggroup.com or through info@peakscoachinggroup.com.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Oatmeal: The Endurance Weapon


A popular food among cyclists and athletes, oatmeal is likely to be found in most cupboards and hotel rooms across the racing scene. It’s a great choice for carbohydrates (one of the more economical quality choices available, in fact), with so many practical uses in the kitchen! I use oatmeal ground up in my meatballs, mixed with eggs for oatmeal pancakes, in my smoothies, and in homemade bars, banana breads, muffins, and granola, as well as of course a good old-fashioned breakfast with yogurt and berries. Some of my racers have been known to mix protein powder or eggs right into their oatmeal as a regular pre-race staple meal. Life on the road sometimes requires simple, practical solutions, and oatmeal can be a racer’s instant best friend: just add hot water.

Types of Oats

There are several types of oatmeal. Here’s an overview of each and how they are produced.

Oat groats

All oats start off as oat groats, which are hulled, toasted oat grains. The bran remains intact when the oat is hulled and retains all nutrients.

Steel-cut (Irish) oats

These are your least-processed type of oatmeal. Oh, the hardy Irish! The toasted oat groats are chopped into small pieces about the size of a piece of quinoa. These take about 45 minutes to cook before eating and have a nice chewy texture loved by many.

Stone-ground (Scottish) oats

Scottish oats are the same as steel-cut Irish oats except that they are ground into smaller pieces. These take about half the cooking time of Irish steel-cut oats because of the smaller size, but they still have a texture different from rolled oats.

Old-fashioned rolled oats

To create this popular oatmeal, the toasted groats are steamed and then run between rollers to create flakes. Rolled oats can be eaten raw or cooked into oatmeal. They take about 10 minutes to cook. Most of us likely know them best from the red, blue, and white Quaker packages.

Quick-cooking oats

These are the same as the old-fashioned rolled oats except they’re rolled thinner for quicker cooking times. Like the rolled, these can also be eaten uncooked. They take only five minutes to cook and are great for baking.

Instant oatmeal

This contains the most processed oats. The oat groats have been finely chopped, flattened, pre-cooked, and dehydrated. Many instant oatmeal products have sugars, flavors, and salt added, although you can get plain versions. I would steer clear of the sugar-added instant oatmeal, opting instead to throw in your own fresh fruit and maple syrup. Instant oatmeal takes only a few minutes to cook.

Oatmeal Nutrition

All oatmeal (with the exception of the ones with added sugars and flavorings) is a healthy carbohydrate choice. At first glance many assume that quick oats are not as nourishing, but in reality there isn’t much nutritional difference from the other types.

Oatmeal has many great nutrition properties. It’s a hardy grain that’s able to thrive in poor soil conditions in which most crops cannot survive. Oatmeal gets its nutty taste from the roasting process the groats go through after being harvested and cleaned. Even when hulled, oatmeal retains all of its bran and germ, leaving it full of nutrients and fiber.

Half a cup of rolled oats contains:
  • 150 calories
  • 27 grams carbohydrates
  • 5 grams protein
  • 3 grams fat
  • 1 gram sugar
  • 4 gram fiber (both soluble and insoluble)
A fourth cup of steel-cut oats contains:
  • 170 calories
  • 29 grams carbohydrates
  • 7 grams protein
  • 3 grams fat
  • 5 grams fiber
As you can see, steel-cut oats are a more calorically-dense option for the same-size serving. (Do note that the comparison above is half a cup of rolled oats to a fourth cup of steel-cut.)

More Than Just a Carbohydrate

Oatmeal boasts a specific type of fiber called beta glucan, which has been shown in study after study to reduce cholesterol levels; people with high cholesterol (over 220 mg/dl) consuming only 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (what you’d find in a bowl of oatmeal) typically lower their cholesterol by 8-23%.

Fiber is of course also great for healthy bowels. With all the food we cyclists have to consume, having healthy bowels is certainly a top priority for feeling energetic and reducing GI issues while riding and in everyday life.

Regardless of who you are, though, starting off your day with oatmeal as part of your breakfast will help you maintain steady blood sugar. By continuing to fuel throughout the day with some high fiber foods, lean proteins, and good fats, you can sustain energy all day rather than battle highs and lows from sugary, low-fiber breakfast options like juice and processed commercial muffins or bars.

Oats are also an excellent source of magnesium. Magnesium (like calcium, sodium, and potassium) is a macro mineral, needed in larger amounts in the body than trace minerals. There are too many functions of magnesium to cover here; just know that oatmeal is an excellent source for it. (Click here for more on magnesium.)

One last benefit of oatmeal is that it is a low-glycemic carbohydrate. Although many would assume that steel-cut oatmeal would have a lower glycemic load than rolled oats, the difference is minimal. The glycemic index of quick-cooking oats is higher than that of steel-cut and rolled oats; eaten alone, a bowl of quick-cooking oats may not keep you as satisfied for as long or keep your blood sugar as steady, though you can easily slow down digestion by adding some protein and fat to quick-cooking oatmeal. Protein and fats have slower gastric emptying rates than low-fat carbohydrates such as quick oats; eaten together the entire meal will digest more slowly. In some instances higher glycemic index foods could be a good thing, such as in a recovery meal after training.

However you like it, oatmeal is a cyclist’s best friend for so many reasons. Dig into your bowl and not your budget this season with oatmeal by your side!

Using Oatmeal

After years of playing around with oatmeal, I have come to really love its diversity in the kitchen, and even in the hotel room, where it can be cooked in that token coffee pot featured in every room.

I’d like to share with you my all-time favorite oatmeal recipe. Kids will love it too! You can make this recipe in mason jars (easy to transport to work or on short day travels), or you can put it in a small square pan and bake it as oatmeal squares. I like to make it in jars and then serve it warm with yogurt and fresh berries on top. Double the recipe to stock up on pre-made oat jars for days. Sometimes I swap out the apples for peaches or bananas when I get overly creative.

Recipe: Power Oat Jars

Ingredients
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup almond milk (or your preferred milk)
  • 1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 apple, cubed or chopped into chunks (or try bananas or peaches)
  • Pinch of sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Remove the lids from six mini mason jars (or use a small square pan; just remember that baking time may differ in a pan).

2. In a large bowl mix the chia seeds, rolled oats, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder. Add the vanilla, maple syrup, and almond milk; stir well. Add the chopped apples and mix well.

3. Divide the mixture evenly among the mason jars and pour any leftover milk evenly into each jar. Give each jar a nice pat-down with your hands to condense the mixture a bit. There should be a good inch of empty space at the top of each jar.

4. Place the jars on a cookie sheet and carefully slide the cookie sheet into the preheated oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. When done, the oats should be lightly browning on top and feel slightly dense when pushed down on. Remove from oven.

5. Let the jars cool for a good 30 minutes, then top with yogurt, berries, nut butter, or whatever deliciousness you like! Serve with a few soft-boiled eggs on the side for optimal protein, carbohydrate, and fat ratios.

These can be stored in the fridge for up to three days.

Nutrition Info
Entire recipe; divide based on the number of jars you use or how many servings if baked in a pan.

703 calories
127 grams carbohydrates
16 grams protein
15 grams fat

References

Delaney B, Nicolosi RJ, Wilson TA, et al. Beta-glucan fractions from barley and oats are similarly antiatherogenic in hypercholesterolemic Syrian golden hamsters. J Nutr; 2003 Feb 133(2):468-75. 2003.

Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle. New York: Ballantine Books; 2007.


Anne Guzman is a PCG nutritionist, a registered holistic nutritionist, and a sports nutrition consultant with a degree in kinesiology. Her passion lies in sports nutrition for endurance athletes, as well as general health and wellness. Anne raced full time on the women’s professional circuit in North America with some bouts in Europe from 2008 until 2011, and before cycling was a provincial and CIAU champion and national bronze medalist as a Varsity Freestyle Wrestler. Currently Anne works with athletes to help them reach their potential by combining their own training plans with her nutrition plans. Anne believes that many athletes undermine their intense detailed training regimes by not backing them with sound nutrition. Her personal experience as a cyclist and athlete is a great asset to her business as she understands the needs and nuances that come with the sport. Anne can be contacted through PeaksCoachingGroup.com or at info@peakscoachinggroup.com. Read more nutrition advice on her blog.

Originally published by Pez Cycling News
Photo credits: Shutterstock.com and Anne Guzman/Pez Cycling News
 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Recipe: Killer Kale Salad

Kale Salad - Peaks Coaching Group

It's the time of year when fresh salads are the fantastic choice for a bright and refreshing meals. Try this killer kale salad! It’s super quick, and anyone can pull it off. It's great for rest days when your carbohydrate needs are lower, or add the sweet potato and make it a regular meal for any day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How to Go Faster on the Bicycle, with three workouts

How to Go Faster on the Bike - Peaks Coaching Group

Maximizing your speed is the outcome of your ability to produce power, the economy of your bicycle, and the efficiency of your bicycle. Ultimately, as we all know, our goal as cyclists is to go faster. For the bicycle’s side of the equation, make sure you have an aerodynamic bike with aero wheels and that your bike is as light as possible, though it should at the same time be stiff enough to maximize energy transfer from you to the rear wheel, which is where efficiency comes in (along with lubing your chain!).

Once you have the most economical and efficient bike your wallet can handle, you have to focus on creating more watts. Unfortunately this is the harder side of the equation. It involves work, which is expressed in kilojoules (kJ), more commonly known as sweat. As a coach, my job is to make sure your hard work is efficient and effective in moving toward achieving your goal (more speed).

Let’s look at a couple of ways that you can directly increase your speed on the bicycle through smart training using wattage as the measuring stick.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How to Recognize Heart Disease as an Athlete

Peaks Coaching Group how to recognize heart disease in athletes

Most athletes, especially endurance athletes, are by the nature of the sport very fit, and as a result we tend to also think of ourselves as healthy. This is not always the case, however, as I learned firsthand last year.

I have been training and racing bikes for forty-two years, all the while eating healthfully, maintaining a good weight, and considering myself fit and healthy. With the exception of marginally high cholesterol, every medical indication was excellent. But then breathing pains last season led to a series of tests (I thought initially it was bronchitis) and resulted in a stress test, which resulted in an angiogram, which resulted in finding a 90% blockage in one of my coronary arteries, which resulted in the placement of a stent. Fortunately there was no damage to my heart and I was back to training and racing four months after my procedure.

Endurance sports require a strong and efficient heart to keep up with the aerobic and anaerobic demands, especially at a competitive level; therefore athletes are not only fitter but also typically healthier than the average person. While a strong cardiovascular system is certainly a good thing, it doesn’t preclude us from falling victim to cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease (CAD). In my situation, needless to say, I was as shocked and surprised as were my doctors. But it demonstrates that none of us are guaranteed clear arteries, despite our great cardiovascular fitness.

In retrospect, I can see several indicators of heart-related issues, but I failed to acknowledge them, partly because I assumed I was too fit to have heart disease. The first indicator was pain in my chest area. Although my doctor said it wasn’t typical angina symptoms, I now know that heart issues can express themselves in a number of ways and radiate in different areas of the chest and arms. The second symptom was noticing my performance had dropped over the past couple of years. I attributed this to my age (I’m 56) and a lack of usual training due to a busy life. I now know my performance was dropping faster than my age was increasing. It was getting harder to keep up on team training rides, and I was getting dropped on hills I never used to get dropped on. My threshold power had also dropped during the past two years. Interestingly, my heart rate did not decrease, maintaining a threshold heart rate of 184 and a maximum well into the 190s despite my condition. Also interestingly, I never experienced a shortness of breath, which is a common symptom for CAD. I attribute this to the fact that I frequently trained in the anaerobic range and I am used to breathing hard so didn’t notice anything unusual.

I would like to use my own experience to provide some points for athletes to consider regarding awareness of heart issues. As athletes we tend to be very in tune with our bodies; we notice every new little twinge, sore muscle, and joint ache. Sometimes we're overly concerned (even obsessed) with these pains when there is really nothing wrong. Most of the time the discomfort goes away with rest and recovery.

Conversely, at the same time we tend to think of ourselves as invincible and above having any serious health issues. We also have a tendency to push ourselves through pain that we should pay attention to. We like to believe we're too fit to have heart disease. I certainly did.

So here are a few things you can do to avoid finding yourself in the same situation I did.

1. Get an annual checkup. We athletes put our bodies through a lot of stress during the season, so we want to make sure everything is working well. But be aware that a typical physical exam will not catch everything. It would not have caught my condition (my EKG was perfect). You might want to ask your doctor whether you should have a stress test done, especially if you're male, middle-aged, and/or have any risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Be sure to explain to your doctor just how hard you work and that you push yourself much harder than a typical patient. You might even bring in a heart rate graph showing how high and how long your heart rate is elevated. Get your cholesterol checked and under control. Mine was "borderline high," which turned out to be too high.

2. Don’t be afraid to keep asking your doctor if you can’t get answers to your satisfaction or find cause of your malady. Go to a different doctor if necessary. After all, no one is more interested in your health than you.

3. Pay close attention to any pain in the chest area. While it could be caused by several things, you should always rule out heart problems.

4. Listen to your coach, friends, and spouse when they suggest you get something checked out. They often look at your situation from a more objective, less biased position than you do yourself.

5. Don’t assume, just because you're a fit athlete, that you're immune from heart disease or other serious ailments. Always check things out when they don’t feel right.

Training and being fit are both wonderful things you've got going for you. If you ever do develop an illness, you'll be better prepared to fight it and will probably return to fitness more quickly because of your physical fitness.

Want professional help staying healthy and fit? Find out more about our coaching or schedule a consulting session with one of our expert coaches. With power training, we get powerful results.


David Ertl is a USAC Level 1 coach, the author of four cycling training books, a father of twin sons, and a Peaks Coaching Group associate coach. He and his fellow PCG coaches create custom training plans for endurance athletes of all levels of experience. David can be contacted through peakscoachinggroup.com or through info@peakscoachinggroup.com

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Recipe: Pina Colada Smoothie

When I'm carb loading for a ride, it's always best to follow my own advice! The nutritionist can never bonk on a ride. I don’t have that luxury. So what’s on my carb loading menu? Here’s my favorite item, the pina colada smoothie!

Pina Colada Smoothie

Ingredients:

2 cups pineapple juice
3/4 scoop whey protein (I love North Coast Naturals vanilla)
1 frozen banana (freezing the banana makes the smoothie cold and thick)
1/4 cup light coconut milk

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Podium nutrition!

Nutritional information:

Calories: 500
Carbs: 100g
Protein: 20g
Fat: 4g


Peaks Coaching Group Anne Guzman
Anne Guzman is a nutritionist with Peaks Coaching Group. She is a certified kinesiologist, a registered holistic nutritionist, an AFPA-certified sports nutrition consultant, and a former professional cyclist. Anne can be reached directly through www.peakscoachinggroup.com or info@peakscoachinggroup.com, and you can find more nutrition tips and recipes on her blog atnutritionsolutionsanneguzman.com/blog/.

Image Credit: A Whisk and Two Wands

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Post-Race Recovery Nutrition


No matter how full your event schedule is this season, it is important to properly recover from all of your races and training workouts. This means good post-exercise nutrition, proper stretching (something I’m not always good about), and rest days (but not too many).

Here’s a plan I developed one year for my first race of the season (note: this is based on both science and my personal experience):

Post-race nutrition recommendations

Within thirty minutes of finishing, consume:

  • Carbs (1-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight)
  • Protein (10-20 grams)
  • Fluids (16-24 fluid ounces for every pound lost)
  • Electrolytes, particularly sodium (1 pound of sweat loss contains about 100 mg potassium and 400-700 mg sodium depending on whether you’re a salty sweater, which I think I am)
My real world plan

Since the particular race I did was only an eight-mile race, I went with the lower end of the carbohydrate recommendation, which for me is about 62 grams of carbohydrate. Since I didn’t weigh myself before and after the race to determine exactly how much water weight I lost (and I haven’t bothered to do training runs where I calculate my sweat rate), I had to estimate. I drank one packet of Generation UCAN chocolate protein shake (33 grams carb, 13 grams protein, 140 mg potassium, 240 mg sodium) made with 12 ounces soymilk (15 grams carb, 9 grams protein, 150 mg sodium, 450 mg potassium) and 20 ounces of G2 (12 grams carb, 75 mg potassium, 270 mg sodium).

Grand total: 60 grams carbohydrate, 22 grams protein, 660 mg sodium, 665 mg potassium, and 32 ounces of fluid (plus I probably drank another 8 or so ounces of plain water as well). I was a little high on the potassium (who knew soymilk was such a good source?!), but otherwise I was pretty spot on.

Post-race recovery

Cool down: To burn as much lactate from your legs as possible (and lessen soreness), it’s recommended to go for a short slow jog or walk after a running race. I’m not hard core enough to go for a run after a run, but I made an effort to walk around after the race. Any movement helps. Definitely don’t jump straight into a car; you’ll regret it later!

Stretching: Stretch after cooling down to help keep your muscles as loose as possible. I’m not always good about stretching, but I spent at least a few minutes stretching all of the muscles in my legs, butt, and hips. I didn’t have my foam roller on me after the race, but I used it later in the day.

Rest days: I once heard an exercise physiology professor say that an athlete’s rest days are actually the most important training days; they’re when our bodies really heal and recover, allowing them to work harder in the future and get stronger. I went for a bike ride the day after this race to keep my legs loose, took the next day completely off, then resumed with an easy run the day after that. Then back on to full on training for my next events!

So that was my plan. Take what you find helpful and tweak it for yourself. Good luck!


Want expert help with planning your post-race recovery? Click here to find out how we can help! You can also check out our pre-made meal plans and our eBook on post-workout recovery nutrition.


Peaks Coaching Group Jen Sommer
Jen Sommer is a registered dietitian, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, a former NASM certified personal trainer, and a self-appointed mountain girl. As a cyclist, skier, hiker, and runner (among other things), she knows firsthand the importance of proper nutrition and training. She offers nutrition coaching and consulting through Peaks Coaching Group. Find more great tips, recipes, and articles at Jen's blog, Mountain Girl Nutrition and Fitness. Jen can be contacted through Peaks Coaching Group or at info@peakscoachinggroup.com

Photo: PCG athlete Ben Strine takes 6th at the Men’s Cat 3 Turkey Hill Country Classic

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Power Training Zones 101

Peaks Coaching Group Power Zones 101

Understanding power zones can unlock the impressive potential of your power meter and ensure your training is targeted to take you to the next level of performance. Not all coaches use the same description of training zones; the names, values, and even labels vary among the different systems. Here at Peaks Coaching Group we use the seven zones developed by Dr. Andy Coggan for training with power. Each of these zones is expressed as a percentage of functional threshold power (FTP). The time you can sustain a continuous effort in the power zone (“burn time”) decreases as the wattage for the zone increases. Keep in mind, however, that these changes take place on a continuum and are not represented by “bright line” points.

L1: Active Recovery (AR)

Active recovery zone intervals occur when you maintain power below 55% of your FTP. It isn't time limited; theoretically you could ride steadily in the active recovery zone without running out of energy (as long as you’re refueling, hydrating, etc.). The key word in the label is recovery! This is probably the most difficult zone to ride in consistently; most athletes tend to ramp it up a bit when the terrain, conditions, or fellow riders create an opportunity.

One of my athletes has become very capable at riding true active recovery, and he describes the sensations in his legs while riding active recovery as “letting the weight of the shoe move the pedal.” He actually selects his routes to make it easier to stay in his active recovery zone; not surprisingly, he has developed faster and to a higher watts-per-kilogram than any other high-level cyclist I've seen.

L2: Endurance

Intervals in the endurance zone occur when power is maintained between 56% and 75% of your FTP. A well-trained athlete can maintain a continuous endurance zone effort for a very long time; as Dr. Andy Coggan suggests, we can ride endurance zone “between two and a half hours to two weeks. Cyclists who ride a lot spend a lot of time in their endurance zone. The ability to do this is not especially helpful when doing criteriums or road races, but Ironman triathletes and racers doing epic rides (such as the Race Across America) live in this zone.

One athlete I worked with loved riding in this zone so much that he routinely added three or four hours to his workouts, with the extra time almost always spent in his endurance zone. Eventually, perhaps in part due to his love for this zone, he decided to transition from local road racing to long distance events like the Race Across America.

L3: Tempo

When you ride in your tempo zone, you’re maintaining power between 76% and 90% of your FTP. Efforts in this power zone can be maintained for durations between two and a half and eight hours. Long course triathletes (half and full Ironman events) may spend a great deal of their bike leg riding time in this zone, but full Ironman bike legs (followed by a full marathon run!) should not be targeted in this zone, as the burn time for tempo efforts would guarantee the triathlete runs out of energy before running out of race.

This is kind of the in-between zone. Structured intervals are rarely designed to work in the tempo zone in training situations, though I will include a fair amount of work in this zone as race season approaches. Intervals targeting a tempo training effect must generally be about two and a half hours. Athletes who do a large number of group rides may find that much of their ride time occurs in this zone. This is predictable due to the burn time for the efforts in the zones above tempo. As a coach I often discuss the need to avoid large amounts of riding in the tempo zone for athletes working to improve their TT or criterium efforts, since time spent in tempo isn’t doing much to improve performances in those type of events.

L4: Threshold

The threshold zone is extremely important to you as a developing cyclist. You are training in this zone when your wattage is between 91% and 105% of your FTP. By definition, you should be able to maintain an effort in this zone for sixty minutes. In order to trigger a threshold training effect, intervals in this zone should be at least ten minutes long. Many of the structured workouts I design target this zone, because FTP is so important to your overall training levels, and it is crucial to increase your FTP in order to improve your performance in zones 1-4.

L5: VO2Max

Intervals targeting your VO2Max have a wattage goal of 106% to 120% of your FTP and must be approximately three minutes long to have a VO2Max training effect. Most mortal cyclists can maintain efforts in the VO2Max zone for no more than eight minutes of burn time. Intervals at this level are very intense and must be approached with care; when an athlete does VO2Max efforts it is important to closely monitor training stress, in terms of both intensity and volume, to guard against overtraining. Improvement in VO2Max is hard to come by, and when it does occur it never comes in large amounts. Doing VO2Max intervals will create a high level of fatigue and often legs that literally hurt after workouts and for days afterward. To be effective, VO2Max intervals should only be attempted following effective periods of recovery.

L6: Anaerobic Capacity (AC)

Anaerobic capacity intervals are done in the wattage range of 121% to 150% of FTP. The burn time” for AC intervals is approximately two minutes, but it is a rare athlete who can maintain this level for that long. The floor duration to trigger an AC training effect is about thirty seconds. These are high intensity, hard intervals, and workouts focused on this training zone are generally dreaded by athletes.

I prescribe an AC workout that has become popular with a number of my athletes; it’s done in pairs and involves one rider drafting the other and then the drafting rider “attacking” her partner. The partner must then jump onto the wheel of the attacking rider, and both of them continue a maximum ~150% effort for a total time of thirty seconds. They recover for three minutes and repeat the workout, switching the roles so the attackee becomes the attacker. One of my athletes who had historically disliked AC interval work confided to me that this workout was able to sneak in AC intervals she would normally dread on her own.

L7: Neuromuscular Power (NP)

Training in the neuromuscular power zone is as intense as it gets! This zone isn’t targeted toward specific wattage; you simply go as hard as humanly possible for at least five seconds. The burn time for this type of effort is about 15 seconds. One of my athletes who is an engineer and very much a “numbers type” told me that the reason there’s no power number targeted for NP efforts is that if you’re doing them correctly you can’t see straight to even note what numbers your wattage meter is displaying. Your legs really take a beating when doing NP interval work, and it’s not a good idea to do consecutive days of NP intervals; adequate rest and recovery is an absolute must before repeating intervals at this level.

Things to keep in mind

  • Power training zones are based upon an accurate, current measurement of your FTP. FTP must be rechecked at regular intervals (every four to six weeks) so that your zones can be accurately adjusted.
  • Percentage of heart rate (HR) is not the same as percentage of FTP.
  • These are zones. You’re working on training specific energy systems (e.g. VO2Max, threshold, endurance, etc.) when you train within the power numbers for the zone for an appropriate amount of time.
  • The necessary time in the zone to trigger a training effect varies with each zone and with where your power is relatively within the zone. For example, intervals in your threshold zone should last at least ten minutes to get a threshold training effect, but if you do a threshold interval at the low end of your threshold zone (for example, at 96% of your FTP), you might need to do intervals of at least 12-13 minutes to trigger the same training effect that you get from doing ten-minute intervals at 100% of FTP.

Sweet Spot Intervals

Power zone workouts are usually designed to have you produce wattage at a level in the zone for a specific amount of time, with a specific amount of recovery. The “sweet spot” workout, however, crosses the boundaries between zones to produce a threshold training effect. Compared to threshold level intervals, this type of workout makes it possible for you to do more and longer intervals. That’s what makes it sweet!

To perform a sweet spot interval workout, you should ride for twenty minutes at 88-92% of your FTP. Try to perform two of these intervals with at least five minutes of recovery between intervals. When you can complete two twenty-minute sweet spot intervals in a workout relatively easily, you should add a third. Dr. Coggan created the following chart that graphically shows how the sweet spot can improve threshold while limiting physiological strain to an optimal level (credit goes to Dr. Andy Coggan for the diagram).



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Peaks Coaching Group Gordon Paulson
Gordon Paulson is a Cat 1 racer, a Level 2 USAC cycling coach, a Peaks Coaching Group elite/master coach, a practicing attorney, and a father of three in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. He has extensive road racing experience and has set numerous course records in Wisconsin and Minnesota, many of which have now been eclipsed by athletes he has coached. Gordon can be contacted through info@peakscoachinggroup.com or www.peakscoachinggroup.com.

Image: PCG coaches Tim Cusick and Scott Moninger ride at a PCG training camp in Mallorca, Spain.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Elevation and Racing

Peaks Coaching Group Cycling Racing Elevation Altitude

Riding at elevation is always a challenge, regardless of whether you live there and deal with it every day or whether you’re a sea-level rider who gets the privilege of higher riding only once in a while. It requires adjustments to our training, including the types of intervals and rest periods we use, and we may have to change our racing and pacing strategies to compensate for the lack of partial pressure of oxygen. The wattage we’re able to produce reduces dramatically based on our acclimatization, time at elevation, and height above sea level.

For those of us not accustomed to a higher elevation, it can be quite a shock to the system as our watts plummet, our breathing rate shoots through the roof, and our heart just can’t seem to beat fast enough to keep up with the demands we put on it. As we climb higher, it just gets worse and worse. An FTP of 300 watts at sea level is soon reduced to 250 watts and suffering a thousand deaths. Even if you’re already acclimatized to a higher elevation, riding even higher is still difficult and lowers your watts, though it’s a little easier for you and the suffering is less.

The impact of high elevation varies with each individual; no standard measurement of its effects can be exactly applied to all cyclists. One rider might be highly impacted as he approaches 7000 feet, while another won’t really begin to feel the effects until 9500 feet. It’s very tough to figure out ahead of time how you’ll respond; really the only way is to just get out there and do some riding at various elevations. There are quite a few good studies that go in depth on this topic alone and propose elevation adjustment schedules based on detailed research. Check out the study by Bassett, Kyle, et al., and a very good one by Fulco, et al. These give us some insight into just how difficult it is to predict the effects of elevation on cyclists; while they get to within 5% accuracy in their elevation correction tables, 5% is a very large number when considering wattage output; it could be the difference between trying to hold 300 watts and 285 watts! So we must be careful to adopt a wide range of power output when considering a specific pacing schedule at elevation.

The next consideration we must make and understand while at elevation is that it’s the aerobic component of fitness that is affected by a higher and higher elevation. This means that our power output will still be the same for short, intense anaerobic and neuromuscular power efforts lasting from 5 seconds to 1 minute. Since these efforts don’t rely as much on producing energy through using oxygen, we should be able to knock out almost the same wattages as we would at sea level. The critical consideration when doing such intervals, though, is that we have to increase the rest period between the efforts. Recovery from high-intensity exercise is heavily dependent on the aerobic system (even for super short efforts), and I suggest lengthening recovery periods between intervals to three times the normal length. For example, instead of doing 10 x 1-minute at 150% of FTP with two minutes of rest between each, we should increase that rest period to six minutes. Yes, that dramatically lengthens the time of a ride, but it also allows us to still achieve the maximum training stimulus for our anaerobic and neuromuscular power efforts.

It’s also important to consider our initial pacing of longer, more aerobic intervals when we train and race at a higher elevation. Any time we do intervals longer than three minutes, we should consider taking it a bit easier in the first three minutes to “ramp” into the effort. A normal, super-hard attack from the start of the timer will be a mistake; we can’t even come close to maintaining sea-level intensity for longer, more aerobic efforts. We should start strong on intervals but “sneak up” on our wattage goals for each interval, and possibly lengthen the interval at least 20% so we appropriately stress the correct energy system. For example, we would normally do VO2Max intervals between 106-120% of FTP and for 3-8 minutes. When doing a 5-minute interval at sea level, targeting 115% of FTP would be a great goal and certainly achievable, but when we’re at higher elevation, we should extend the time of this interval to 7 minutes and target 110% of FTP only in the last 4 minutes of the interval, using the first 3 minutes of the interval to ramp up to that wattage carefully so that instead of “blowing up,” we’ll be able to maintain that 110% for the full final four minutes, which should be long enough to create an appropriate training stress to improve the VO2Max system. This also applies for longer FTP-type intervals, as well as pacing in an attack off the front of the peloton or starting out in a time trial at elevation. Time trialing is especially problematic from a pacing perspective, since at sea level we should always hold back at the start to allow our perceived exertion to catch up with our actual exertion; when at elevation, however, we need to hold back even more and for a little bit longer so we can, again, ramp up to FTP.

A final thought: When analyzing power data after a training session or race, it can be difficult to account for the effects of elevation. It is clearly nonsensical to simply apply a generic correction equation to adjust power outputs across the board (i.e., at both lower and higher intensities). As mentioned above, not only do the effects of elevation vary between individuals, but also the different energy systems (i.e., aerobic and non-aerobic) are impacted to varying degrees. Ignoring these critical aspects (as some do) often leads to significant under- or over-correction of the raw data and thus incorrect values for TSS.

Enjoy the view! For more reading, Dr. Randy Wilber's excellent book, Altitude Training and Athletic Performance.

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Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter and Cutting-Edge Cycling, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com.