Thursday, October 12, 2017

Not a pro? Why would you need a coach? - By PCG Coach David Ertl

Professional cyclists and triathletes typically hire coaches.  This makes sense as their career and income depend on their results.  Paying someone to help them be successful is good business.  But what about recreational and amateur athletes who hire coaches – what is the rationale there?  For an aspiring amateur wanting to get to the professional level, coaching just makes sense.  However, many  athletes who purchase  custom coaching through Peaks Coaching Group are avid cyclists/enthusiasts with no intention of racing let alone ever attempting to become a pro.  Many don’t even consider themselves athletes.  They may just want to keep up with their fellow cyclists on group rides, participate in a local or regional triathlon, compete in or just complete a gran fondo.  In many cases, they have no aspirations of entering, much less winning, a race.   So why would an amateur athlete invest good money in a custom coaching program when there is absolutely no financial reward?

To answer this we have to look at the reasons why these amateur athletes participate in their chosen sport. While not pros , most athletes who hire a coach are very committed to their chosen sport, often giving it a priority in their lives only behind family and jobs in importance.  They are very invested in their sport as evidenced by the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars they invest in training and equipment.  If athletes are willing to commit this much time and money to their sport, doesn’t it make sense for them to invest in their own “motor”, which will have greater impact on their results than equipment ever can?  There are a number of benefits that an amateur athlete can gain through coaching. Let’s take a look at them:

Time: Most amateur athletes have time constraints such as full-time jobs, families and other obligations. They certainly can’t devote large blocks of time during the week and even on weekends training like the pros do. So they need to get the most of out their limited training time.  Additionally, because of their other obligations, their recovery time is also limited and may be impeded by work and family obligations.  Also, because of their busy lives, they may not have time to develop their own training plans.

Expertise, Knowledge and Technology:  Amateur athletes typically do not have the knowledge and tools to create a scientifically sound training regimen. One alternative to coaching is to buy a pre-built training plan, but the athlete would need to know enough to adjust it specific to their own situation. Analyzing data from workouts is an area where a coach typically has far more education and experience than a self-coached athlete.  As new methods and devices become available (heart rate monitors, power meters, GPS computers, motion sensors, software tools), the amount of data collected on a simple ride can be overwhelming. A coach can help sort through and identify the critical pieces of data to examine.  

Interest level: While some very motivated athletes are fully capable of designing a workable training plan for themselves, others are not.  Even those that are, often choose to hire a coach simply because they don’t want to invest the time (see Time above) and energy in coming up with a plan. They would rather let someone else do the planning for them so they can focus on training and following the plan. When the coach takes on the responsibility of crafting the plan, the athlete can get back to doing what they like doing (riding their bike and training) rather than doing something that they have to do (creating a custom training plan).

Accountability: This is a big one.  Often amateur athletes need some accountability for remaining on task and following the plan , especially for busy folks or those lacking discipline.  A coach provides that accountability. For the athlete, knowing the coach will be taking a look to see if they followed the Training Plan as prescribed provides much needed motivation at times.

Perspective:  Another big one.  Self-coached athletes tend to let their emotions get in the way. A coach can be more objective and help the athlete keep perspective when things aren’t going well.  A bad ride or an illness may seem like the end of the world to a committed athlete while the coach can assure the athlete that it is only a minor setback.  A coach can also provide objective feedback on training progress and provide positive feedback when the athlete is doing well and is showing improvement. A coach evaluates and determines your actual strengths and weaknesses and gets to know you on a very personal level.

Intensity and Recovery: As often as not, a coach needs to help an athlete understand the importance of intensity, which is a bit of a “double edged sword” in itself.  Amateurs aren’t going to have the physical capacity to handle professional level workloads so, workouts should be tailored to the individual client’s needs. Recovery is too often downplayed significantly by self-coached athletes.  Self-coached athletes tend not to push themselves hard enough when they should be training hard.  But then again, they don’t take enough easy days (really easy) either. They tend to do most of their training going moderately fast but never pushing the limits (which will lead to improvement ) and then not allowing adequate rest and recovery (where that improvement really  occurs!).

Setting Achievable Goals & Measuring Progress: While a  fair number  of athletes coached through PCG do race, a surprising number don’t – they just want to improve. This can create real challenges for the athlete in measuring improvement.  The first step here is to assess the athletes current condition and with their input determine achievable goals.  A coach can help them establish goals and in turn convert those goals into data points without the need for race results.  Using speed, heart rate, power, cadence and now motion analysis, a wide range of goals can be determined and metrics can be used to measure progress toward those goals.

Coaching Bonuses:  A coach looks at the complete fitness picture and can schedule in mobility routines, appropriate warm-ups and cool-downs, foam rolling, pedaling drills, strength training and even nutrition - aspects of training that are very often forgotten by athletes who are too busy ‘training’, when these can be important components of training as well.  Something often overlooked is the positive influence a  good coach can offer by providing encouragement and motivation, read “cheer leader” for an athlete.

Equipment and Ride Recommendations: Need a new head unit , power meter or even a bike?  Ask your coach for advice.  Looking to venture into giving gravel, mountain biking or CX (Cyclocross) a try and don’t know where to begin? Want to give racing a try? Do you want to try an endurance ride? Maybe just a medio, piccolo or gran fondo?  Even a big group ride? A coach can help here too.

Yes, coaching costs money, yet your time spent on the bike can be made much more efficient.  Those new carbon wheels you just bought could have paid for a year or more of coaching and you could be so much faster on your “old” wheels with coaching.  Over the long-haul, you may even save money and time off of the bike by preventing overuse injuries. 

If hiring a coach simply isn’t in your budget, ask about other resources your coach can offer, like consulting which could include goal setting, writing a custom training plan, or even just finding the correct pre-built plan while you save up some money.

David Ertl is an Elite coach with Peaks Coaching Group. His Coaching Focus is on Road, MTB,CX,TT. 

Find out more about David

Friday, August 25, 2017

LEOMO TYPE-R and the PCD - Power,Cadence,Dead Spot Score

The PCD (Power, Cadence and Dead Spot Score) Map is an excellent tool to review on a regular (daily) basis.  The PCD map consists of   Cadence on Y axis, Power/Wattage on X axis) the frequency of your “dead spots”.  As the  percentage of  dead spots within a particular Power and Cadence range the increases, the box will change color from Green to Red.  The opacity of the box has to do with count of the total “cycles” within that power/cadence combination.    If you mouse over the box, you will see the Dead Spots in relation to total cylces or revolutions.  This map was developed by myself, along with Dr. Michael Coco and the team at LEOMO in order to solve the seemingly “unanswerable/ultimate” question:  What is your optimal Cadence and Power combination?    It turns out that using the TYPE-R motion  analysis device, your power meter, and the PCD map, you can darn near if not outright answer the question.  (And the answer isn’t “42” for all you “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” fans).   

After having studied many of these maps now, I have found that each of us have multiple “optimal” cadences.  What the real question we should be asking is: What is our optimal “gearing” for a specific cadence and power combination?    This is what the PCD map is showing you.   Where is the pattern on the map that gives you the least amount of dead spots?   These are your optimal gearing combinations.

Let’s take a look at what I would consider one of the best PCD maps I have seen. This rider is PCG coach Gary Hoffman and he has been racing bicycles for over 45 years now, had tremendous success at local, regional and national levels on the road and the track.  Gary is the epitome of efficient and economical.  He wastes no energy ever on the bike and when you see him ride, it appears even more effortless than the best TDF pros.   He’s clearly honed his pedaling technique with millions upon millions of revolutions. Notice how his “pattern” that I have so precisely(sarcasm) drawn over his map.  This pattern is a diagonal from bottom left all the way across his entire power band to the upper right at the highest cadence values.  This shows his Optimal cadence for each power output across the entire map.  Not many people have this ability across all wattages and cadence ranges.

Not only does he have great range, but both legs are basically identical! This is what you are looking for: A pattern in your map where there are less deadspots.
Let’s contrast this with another PCD map.  This map was created by an athlete that has been riding for 20 years, went on a long ride in the middle of summer with 95 degree heat, got dehydrated and over-heated.   First, have a look at the first half of his 5 hour ride.  Clearly over 90rpm, he produces less dead spots, but as soon as he drops below 90rpm, his frequency of dead spots increase.

Now, have a look at the second half of the ride.   This shows just how much fatigue can contribute to poor motion patterns, which in turn contribute to more fatigue and a downward self-replicating spiral.

The second half PCD map displays a lot more red especially with the right leg and across all wattage and cadence ranges.  His left leg seems to be pretty decent still above 90rpm, but even at lower wattages (under 150w) he has more dead spots with the right leg in the second half of the ride versus the first half of the ride.  Clearly an example of fatigue.
Let’s take a look at another rider in a recent training ride. This was a tempo ride that had two intervals of 20 minutes each at his “Sweetspot” (88-93% of FTP).

Here we see that above 100rpm, the frequency of his dead spots are significantly reduced and in some cases, half of what they are at 91-100rpm.  The right leg clearly likes a little faster cadence and the left is fine at 91-110rpm.  What is obvious from this map, is that below 100rpm, the number of dead spots dramatically increase and become very noticeable between 71-90rpm.
From these three different riders, we see different patterns of the “Optimal” power and cadence relationship.  There really isn’t a “Norm” for all riders, and has been the case with over 50 riders that I have analyzed now and each of our optimal combinations are a little different.  However, once you discover your pattern, it will be pretty much the same unless you make a change to your “pedaling print” in some way.   The next step is to determine your optimal for different types of riding:  Hills, flats, races, etc.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Power of Cyclo-Cross

Cyclo-Cross is a unique discipline within cycling that shares many of the same demands of other disciplines, like criteriums, road races, mountain biking, time trialing and even track racing.   This is one of the characteristics of  CX, that makes it popular along with very demanding.    To be successful at CX, you must have a high functional threshold power, 
be able to time trial at the limit and over it quite frequently, have the anaerobic capacity to accelerate for short periods of time,  be able to do incredible intense short bursts of power and have the handling skills of a cheetah in pursuit.   Because of the varied demands of the sport, training for it is not just as easy as using all of the same workouts you have been using for the road racing season.  If you have spent the season doing some racing and training smart, you are going to have many of the skills needed for successful CX racing, but there are some critical aspects you’ll want to fine tune before the season starts.    Let’s take a look at some of the demands of CX, a couple of key workouts you should incorporate into your pre-season training.

PCG Webinar: Think Train Prep Like A Pro

Let’s take a look at some of the demands of cyclo-cross first.  Anytime you embark on a new athletic endeavor, one of the first things you must consider are the specific demands of that event.  No sense in continuing to train for hill-climbing if you are trying to prepare for cyclo-cross!   Cyclo-Cross is characterized by:  Short, very intense bursts of power, followed by a relatively short period of very little leg muscular contractions (downhills, coasting), some running, and finally a flat out period of high power for less than a minute or two.    All the while, the event itself lasts from 45-60minutes, which makes it relatively short in comparison to most cycling events.    Once you understand what is involved in the sport, then you can start to tailor your training for it.   My co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”, Dr. Andrew R. Coggan, has preached to the masses at every seminar we have taught that one of the most important things to consider when training for an event is event specificity.  Learn and understand the demands of the event itself, that’s the first step towards planning a training regime.

Let’s take a look at a cyclo-cross power file and see what we can find in the file that will further help us develop some specific training for success in Cyclo-Cross. 

18 minutes spent “Not Pedaling” in an one hour race, means that 30% of the race was spent coasting. While this doesn’t mean recovering, it does mean that technical skills are critical to success in a CX race.

In examining just this one power distribution chart above in TrainingPeaks WKO4 software, it’s easy to see that cyclo-cross has some interesting characteristics.   This above distribution chart is very similar to how a criterium road event might look.  The first thing you notice from this power distribution chart is the sheer amount of “not pedaling”. Here, in an hour long race, 18 minutes were spent coasting, which tells us something about the course.  Most likely the course was technical and included some run-ups, and other sections that just didn’t allow for pedaling.   The second thing we see in this distribution chart is the relative even distribution of power from 200- 600 watts, with a concentration from 400-500 watts, which is significant, since this rider’s FTP is 350 watts, but the majority of the time in the race he spent at a much higher wattage than his FTP.

  Here in the graph below, we see just how incredibly ‘stochastic’ or highly variable the power in this file is.  This race is nothing but a set of ‘micro-bursts’ all strung together!   Tiny effort after tiny effort, with equally short rest periods for an entire hour, makes this race incredibly unique.   One thing to note as well is that we do not see much extended time without power, so there must not have been any significant running sections in this race.

An incredibly stochastic race, with lots of bursts, and nearly lacking in sustained power for more than even 30 seconds.   Plan for lots of hard efforts in your upcoming races.

As we examine the file even further, let’s see what we can learn by ‘smoothing’ the data over a 30 second time period.  Smoothing by 30 seconds is a good time course to use when smoothing a the power file.  This time course of 30 seconds relates well to the time it takes for the heart rate to respond to the increase in workload, along with the half-life of lactate in the blood, which impacts your ability to recover quickly.   What we see below with the data smoothed, is that we can pick out the individual laps in the race and we can also see that the upper limit of watts which are limited to a range from 350-450watts for much of the time this athlete was pedaling.
These two components will help us to design some workouts in the future to meet these demands.

By smoothing the power file a little bit, we can see the individual laps in the race more clearly.  The light blue line is at 600watts, the yellow line at 500 watts and the thicker, dark, blue line is a simple linear regression that shows the trend of the power throughout the race as this rider fatigues.

Another important aspect of the above graph is we can nearly pinpoint when the athlete was no longer able to produce the same power that he produced for much of the race.  This gives us insight into the athlete’s fitness and ‘repeatability’, or the ability to do multiple hard efforts and recover quickly.  In this case, this athlete begins to fade around 45 minutes into the race, so he needs to increase the number of intervals that he is doing in training to make sure he can maintain the needed wattage for the entire race.

Now that we have determined some of the key components for cyclo-cross success, let’s design some workouts that will help better prepare our athlete for the next event.  The first workout that is very obvious in which the athlete needs to be able to do with their eyes closed is the ‘Micro-burst’ workout.   The micro-burst workout is done by a series of 15 second ‘ON’ periods with watts at 150% of the athletes functional threshold power(FTP) and with the ‘OFF’ period only 15 seconds long at 50% of FTP.   So, 150%-15 seconds ON, 50%- 15 seconds OFF.  Repeat this ‘on-off’ cycle for 10 minutes, take a break for 5minutes or so, and then go again.  If your race is going to be an hour long, then you need to be able to do at least (6) of these interval sets without any major drop in wattage from the first set to the sixth set.  This will be great preparation for the stochastic nature of cyclo-cross.

The second workout you should consider is a variation of this workout, that I call the “30
Cubed” workout.  It’s also a microburst workout, but now the ‘ON’ period is 30seconds long at 150% of FTP, followed by 30 seconds of 50%, followed by a 30 second period of running.   This makes you get off the bike every minute thereby practicing your mounts and dismounts, along with giving you a huge burst of power as well. 

The third workout that will help the cyclo-cross rider is an hour of 2 minute efforts.
Normally when you do a 2 minute effort, you are trying to hit at least 120% of your FTP for each one, but when you do an hour of them, it’s impossible to do the that high of a percentage of your FTP and finish the workout.  So, by reducing the intensity of the effort to 100-110% of your FTP, it will help you in completing the workout, and thereby accomplishing your goal of increasing your ‘repeatability’.  Since the ability to consistently repeat a strong effort over and over is paramount in cyclo-cross, you need to address this ‘repeatability’ issue with the only thing that will help….. and that’s hard work!   When you do this workout, make sure you are warmed up well, and use your power meter to regulate your effort, as you will tend to overshoot your goal wattage if not careful.  On the rest periods,  start out by making them double the length of the interval, so 4 minutes, and then as you get better and better, see if you can do this workout with only 2 minutes rest, or a 1:1 work/rest ratio.

As you can tell from this article, cyclo-cross racing has some very specific demands to the sport.  Not only do you have to love the cold, rain, mud and to suffer, but you have to be able to put out the effort needed for the event.  With the popularity of the event continuing to rise and the demands of the sport being better defined, the use of a power meter becomes more and more important in training for a cyclo-cross event.  Make sure you race with your power meter as well, so that you can be certain that you are training specifically for your event.  By understanding the demands of the event, training specifically for them and then racing your hardest, you will be assured of a greater chance of success in this fun new popular sport in cycling.

Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks WKO Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. He has coached over 500 athletes ranging from professionals to fitness enthusiasts, and has helped many athletes achieve dreams and goals that they didn’t think were possible.  He specializes in coaching cyclists with wattage meters and is on the forefront coaching with cycling’s newest tool.   He has online training programs including Cyclo-Cross plans available at    and you can contact Hunter directly