Friday, October 21, 2016

Winter Will Make Your Next Season - Winter Power Training

We say it all the time, but it's still true: what you do this winter really can make or break your season next year. There are some vital components to creating a very good winter training program, and of course using a power meter is a big part of it. Once you're rested from your season's work, recharged, and ready to go, your winter should contain at least two important components:

  • focused indoor training workouts using wattage and cadence 
  • solid workouts in the sweet spot zone.

Peaks Coaching Group Winter Power Training Hunter AllenHigher-cadence workouts help ensure that you maintain your ability to quickly contract and relax your muscles. By training your neuromuscular power, you can help keep that critical ability to quickly change your cadence throughout the winter, and even enhance it. You don’t want to go too hard on these, so limit your effort to less than 110% of your functional threshold power (FTP). One of my favorite workouts is simple one-minute fast pedaling intervals: pedal over 110 rpm for one minute, pedal at your self-selected (normal) cadence for one minute, and repeat.

On the other side of the coin, lower-cadence workouts are also great to do in the winter because they can enhance your muscular strength, which can help you sprint with more peak wattages and help you push a bigger gear into the wind, in a time trial, or up a steep climb. Muscular strength workouts are based around hard but short intervals done in the biggest gear you can manage at low rpm. Many people believe that riding for hours in a big gear at slow rpm will increase their muscular strength and consequently make them more powerful. However, this is a myth; based on the data from power meter files, I have found that riding at 50 rpm for hours on end just does not create enough muscular stress to strengthen the muscles. In order to increase your muscular strength on the bike, you need to do hard, short bursts of effort in a big gear from a slow speed. Once you reach 80 rpm, your effort is over.


The second type of training I prescribe to my athletes in the winter is called sweet spot training (SST). When you ride just below your functional threshold power (approximately 88-93% of your FTP), you are said to be riding in your sweet spot. Why is it called the sweet spot? It’s an area of intensity in which the level of physiological strain (read: pain) is relatively low, and the maximum duration (read: time) you can stay in this area is quite high. Your increase in FTP is greatest in this area, as well, so training in your sweet spot really gives you a tremendous bang for your buck without causing you to peak in January.



Make it a great winter, and a great start to the next season!

Read More winter training articles

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  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Warming Up for an Xterra Race

by PCG Elite Coach Bill Earthman

When we discuss warm ups for endurance events like Xterra racing, we really want to look at a couple of key factors in determining the type of warmup we can do.

The first factor is based on the layout of the event. The second factor is how much time do you allow yourself to do a proper warmup.  Once we determine these factors, we can really decide the proper warmup to do.

The event location is important in determining warmup because some events don’t allow you access to certain areas of the course, so you need to figure out where can you get your body and your mind ready to race.

The second factor is how much time do you have to get ready.  Hopefully, you have allowed yourself at least 60-90 minutes to get setup and do a proper warmup.

Once you have determined that you are ready to warmup, there are several warmups you can do to wake up the body and get your head ready for a fast start.

The reverse triathlon warmup is pretty common in the triathlon and Xterra world. In this warmup, the athlete would start with 10-15 minutes of running from an easy pace up to 30-60 second bursts at race pace.  After your run, you would do 10-15 minutes easy on the bike with 4-6 bursts of 15-seconds at sprint pace.  I would suggest moving through the gears to make sure there are no shifting problems and try to keep cadence higher to really get the legs used to a nice turn over.  The bike portion of this warmup may be done on or off the course.  I prefer on the course because it allows me to dial in my mountain bike skills.  Finally, hop in the water and swim 200-500 yards, building to race pace for a couple of minutes.  It is important to try and finish your warmup relatively close to the start of your race.

If you are like me, sometimes life happens, and for whatever reason you don’t have ample time to do the reverse warmup, you can combine any of the disciplines, but I would suggest always finish with the swim so that you are at the starting line ready to go.

A few important things to remember are: If the weather is really hot, I would shorten the length of your warmup so you don’t bring on fatigue quicker than necessary.  Make sure you hydrate and/ or fuel according to the intensity and duration of the warmup and the weather.  You don’t want to start the race dehydrated or in a caloric deficit.

Finally, race success is often determined by how well we prime the mind and body for the event.  A successful warmup is one of the important rituals we can establish to insure a great race day.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Don't Be a Quitter

By PCG Elite Coach Marianne Holt

It’s a beautiful sunny day outside, and after being on the trainer all week, you should be looking forward to getting outside to ride your bike.  Instead, you dread it, your heart just isn’t in it.  As a result, you fail to properly prepare: not enough fuel or hydration before, during, or after the ride; you get annoyed with the guy that loves to push the hills and coast on the downhills; things that you normally would barely notice elevate your heart rate 10 beats and cause you to suffer more than you should with this group.  You decide to take a shortcut and head home.  Once there, sitting in your recliner with chips and a beer, instead of the recovery drink you know you should have, the guilt starts to set in.  What’s wrong with me?  Why didn’t I finish that ride?  Why is my knee hurting? Why am I paying a coach to put me through this misery?

We all struggle with motivation at one time or another.  One of the first things I discuss with a new athlete is the importance of setting goals.  That vision helps drive you out of bed at 5am so you can complete your workout before the workday begins.  

Often by this time of year however, with the dark days of winter fast approaching, there are no events in the near future to look forward to and your 2017 goals are too far away to even think about.  You are giving thought to just quitting.  You question if the sacrifices you made this past season were worth the rewards.  Maybe you didn’t achieve the goals you set for yourself.  Or maybe you failed to even set goals?  You feel like quitting.  But, no one wants to be a quitter.

Sometimes a slight change in direction is just the change needed to reignite your motivation and training.
As an athlete and a coach, I have faced this scenario numerous times.  It hits at every level of the sport: UCI road team racers, local/regional racers, Masters racer, Gran Fondo riders, and others that are just trying to stay in shape.  At some time or another, those feelings of burnout, boredom, lack of motivation, etc. are going to hit.

What’s a burned out athlete or coach to do?  Often, just a slight tweak in the plan or goal, or even just a few days off, are all that’s needed.  Other times, if you really feel like quitting but don’t want to be a “quitter”, don’t beat yourself up.  First, realize that it’s OK and not unusual to feel this way.  Next, and most importantly, talk with your coach about it.  If you don’t have a coach, confide in a teammate, training partner, or close friend.  Have an open, honest discussion about how you feel, what motivates you to train, and how you might want to move forward.  Especially, DO NOT label yourself a quitter.  Shifting gears from road cycling to another cycling discipline or another sport is NOT quitting.  It’s looking out for your best physical and emotional well-being.  Maybe it’s time to try an entirely new sport.  

Below are some ideas for ways to reignite your passion:

  • Try a new cycling discipline: mountain biking, cyclo-cross racing and “gravel grinders” can be great training and perfect for the colder, darker days of fall and winter.
  • Cross-train: 
    • If you have a background in running, pull out your running shoes and get in some good weight-bearing work.  Just remember that you must start very gradually!  Your cardiovascular fitness for running far exceeds your structural readiness (think all of the small muscles, tendons and ligaments in your lower legs) for running if you haven’t run in a while.  After months or maybe years with your feet locked into stiff, carbon-soled shoes, it will take a while for those soft tissues to adapt to the pounding stress of running.  Start out with walking, run/walk, then running to avoid injury.
    • Swim!  If you have access to a pool, swimming is a great activity to maintain your cardiovascular fitness and give your cycling muscles a bit of a break.
    • Gym Classes, Boot Camps, Crossfit, Adventure racing, Yoga, Pilates, and on and on.

Hopefully you get the idea; the list is endless.  Just remember that taking a break from your cycling training is not quitting.  It’s just another step to becoming a balanced, stronger athlete.  The important thing is to be aware of the feeling and take steps to address it before you throw in the towel.

As a coach, I feel it’s my responsibility to pick up on the subtle queues from athletes that the feeling of burnout is on the horizon.  It’s often difficult for the athlete to bring it up to the coach, so I will often inquire and ask probing questions to get a better feel for the athlete’s level of motivation.  If I detect any burnout, I encourage the athlete to pursue some of the options listed above so they don’t become a quitter.