Thursday, February 14, 2013

Entry 2.5, Why the system works.

Perhaps a long post for a simple explanation.  Skip to the end if you get bored.

Your body uses a chemical called ATP to make your muscles contract (as well as a whole bunch of other stuff).  At any given moment, your body only has enough ATP for about 8 seconds of effort, so you're constantly replenishing it*1.  While exercising, most ATP production comes from the breakdown of sugars.  The most efficient way to do this is to use oxygen in a process called aerobic respiration.  In this process, a single sugar molecule will get you about 36 ATP molecules.  Anaerobic respiration on the other hand, will only get you 4 ATP per sugar, and will produce lactic acid, which as we all know, hurts.  A lot.  Aerobic respiration is much more efficient, but it is limited by how much oxygen you can pull in, and how fast you can get it where it needs to go.  ATP production from anaerobic respiration is practically unlimited in the short term, but is unsustainable over time due to the lactic acid buildup.  At high intensities, production of lactic acid outpaces your body's ability to neutralize it.  In the very short term, we are limited by our muscles, the force they're capable of delivering to the pedals, and the speed at which they can spin.

As road cyclists (and in particular, those of us who dislike sprinting), we very rarely use more than our body weight, so our legs are plenty 'strong' in terms of how much force they have to deliver to the pedals.  What we're really working on when we train are the first 2 mechanisms: Aerobic and Anaerobic respiration.  It's a weird way of thinking of it, but at the end of the day, the strongest cyclist is simply the one who is the most efficient at turning food into forward motion.

As long as your body has stored sugar and oxygen, Aerobic respiration is superior.   You can get more work done with a limited supply of fuel, and it's relatively painless.  Anaerobic respiration is necessary for energy needed above what aerobic respiration can handle*3.

Ok, so there are two systems, maybe I've gotten too into describing it, but the TL;DR is.  Aerobic respiration is good for sustained efforts below a certain intensity and Anaerobic respiration is necessary for high intensity efforts.

Here's the part related to training though:  Aerobic fitness takes longer to gain, and takes longer to fade than anaerobic fitness.  This is why we spend the bulk of the season on low intensity work, and why we do it first.  You are maxing out your capacity for aerobic gains before moving on to anaerobic workouts.

*1.  Molecular biologists and physiologists will say I'm oversimplifying most if not all of this, but for the sake of our purposes, I think this is fair.  Feel free to clarify if it will contribute.

*2.  Track sprinting is almost a different sport in this sense.  Sprinters are much more focused on pure force strength than any sort of endurance.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reddit training series entry 2

So here is my interpretation of the standard cycling training plan.  It is not new; most books offer variations on the same thing.  What i've done is to try to condense it into an understandable forum post, rather than a 100+ page book.

Every ride should be broken into intervals.  Every interval should be as intense as you can continuously sustain for the given time period.  As the season progresses from the beginning to end, intervals should get progressively shorter (and therefore more intense).

That's it.  There's no magic, no special tricks.  Devote as much time as possible to training (as opposed to riding), and follow the plan.

Ok, so let's now get specific.  We will break the season up into 7 main periods.  Base1, Base2, Base3, Build 1, Build 2, Peak/Race, and Rest.  With the exception of the last two, there is no clear distinction between periods, just a steady progression.

Base1: (ALL Z2 ALL THE TIME!!)Start with as many hours as possible in zone 2.  20 hours/week or more is preferable, and 15ish is sort of a minimum for this plan to work.  This is not easy.  You should be exhausted at the end of a long ride, but exhausted because you did 4 hard hours at a constant pace, not because you blasted up the hills.  If you go on standard group rides, you'll get dropped anytime the pace picks up, but you'll drop them when they all slow down to talk or be lazy.

Base 2: (Z2/Z3)  Keep the Z2 stuff up on your longer days, but on shorter days, work in some Z3 stuff.   Work some   2(or 3)x30 at or 1x60 into your week.  On your long weekend ride, see keep it well under Z4, but do as much Z2 and Z3 as you can.

Base 3:  (Z3/Z4)  Start working one or 2 Z4 workouts in per week.   Options include 1x15, 2x20, or 3x10. Do Z2 the other days of the week and try not to go so crazy over the weekend that you're tired when you get back.

Build 1:  Z4.  3 (or more)  LT workouts per week plus one ridiculous group ride. (destroy/get destroyed by your friends)

Build 2: (more Z4/less Z5) Work in 1 or 2 Z5 workouts (3x5, 4x4, 5x3, etc.) while keeping the Z4 going strong.  Group rides should start to feel like long races.

Build 3: (less Z4, more Z5):  Just what it sounds like.  Continue the progression.  You're only working on top end here, so count on 1 fun group ride or race per week to keep your endurance on the radar.

Peak/Race.  This is personal, but I prefer to do 2 weeks of intense Z5 with lots of rest in between.  On the race week I'll take it easy and just do some hours of recovery.  Some people like openers.  I don't.  YMMV.

Some things to keep in mind:  You obviously can't do this for every race.  Pick the most important race of the season, set it as your "race", and work backwards to build your training plan.  As a Cat 3, I did this and won 2 major (to me) races on back to back weekends.  If you have an important race relatively early in the season, take a week of rest and start over at Build 1 (or 2, whatever you have time for).
Each period should last about a month, but this means 3 weeks on and 1 week of easy rest.  As the season progresses you'll notice that you have much less interval time (3x5 is only 15 minutes of actual hard riding).  The rest of your riding hours that week should be spent in recovery.  You can't ride too easy during this period, since you really should be wasted from the harder intervals.

This post got super long and I haven't said nearly enough yet.   I skipped the 'why' and just talked about (some of) the 'how.'  If you want to know why this plan works so well, feel free to ask.  If enough people care, I'll throw it into a different post.  Otherwise, I'll ask any questions you'd like and I'll get more specific in the next post.

Credentials:  I started cycling seriously at 25.  Upgraded from Cat 5-Cat 1 in 5 years.  I spent 1 complete season as a 3, but upgraded once/season otherwise.  All of my points came from wins or podiums in RR's and stage races.  All of my good race results came from small group or solo breakaways.  I was decent at TT's, but hated crits and any RR that finished in a pack sprint.  I stopped racing last year to finish my PhD in physics, and now I work a full time job that doesn't permit the sort of hours necessary to race against 1s and Pro's.  I'm not interested in being mediocre at racing, so I now ride for fun and enjoy sharing what I've learned on the internet.

Disclaimer:  You should read The Cyclists Training Bible, by Joe Friel.  Every training book I've read follows the same basic guidelines, this book just happens to lay it out most effectively.  Everything I'll have to say here is a combination of what I've read in this book, what I've picked up by critically reading stuff online, and the experiences of myself and my teammates.  If you think I"m ripping off Friel, I probably am, but he wasn't the first or the only person to have published what I'll be referring to as 'the plan.'  His book also has a lot of what (in my opinion) is just filler designed to kill time and fill pages.  No matter how effective, you can't sell a training plan if it's only a few pages long.  Also, if you have 1 hr of intervals to do on a particular day, but need to do a 2 hour ride, you need to fill the rest with something.  The solution to both of these is the filler that doesn't really make you faster on the bike:  Spin ups, cadence drills, one legged pedaling, all of these sound more interesting than "ride around for an hour but don't go too hard," which is really what they accomplish.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I'm back, sort of... training advice from a has been!

I am starting a series of posts related to training over on Reddit.  Pretty much, I'm sad that I'm no longer relevant to my cycling friends because I don't do it anymore.  I have all of this knowledge and experience that mean absolutely nothing to most people   So in an effort to get people (even imaginary internet ones) to be impressed by me, I'm writing a series of posts about training.  They'll pretty much look like this blog, but should be a little more directed, and possibly more serious.  Since only the coolest of cool kids care about reddit, I'm going to CC all of the posts here too.  The first one isn't very interesting, but I wanted to make sure I could use the language we're all so familiar using without having to explain myself.  Here goes.....

So that we're all on the same page on what we're talking about, here is a list of terms.  Not much advice quite yet, just a framework for us to discuss fitness training in the future.

First let's talk about training zones.  First I'll give a name, and a time interval associated with that intensity.  If you can hold a particular intensity for longer than the max time, your zones are low and you need to increase them.  Percentages are all given in terms of LT power.  You don't need a power meter to play along, however if you can afford it, a power meter (and the correct training plan to go with it) is the best money you can spend in cycling, outside of a simple bike and healthy food.  You use roughly the same percentages for HR or rate of perceived exertion (RPE)

Zone 1: Recovery (0-50%)(all day):  The hard part about Z1 is forcing yourself to ride easy enough in it.  It's very common to creep up into Z2, and then you aren't accomplishing your goal of active recovery.  If you are too tired because you haven't fully recovered or you rode too hard on your easy day, then you won't be strong enough to hit the right numbers later when it gets hard.

Zone 2: Base.(50-75%)(all day)  The biggest misconception about base is that it should be easy.  It shouldn't.  Base rides are very long; and at the end of a 4 hour day, you should be exhausted.  The only difference between base and other types of training is that the intensity is kept as constant as possible.  Instead of the ups and downs of a standard group ride or race, you ride at 75% of your LT the entire time.  This means going super easy up hills and pedaling down them.  You should be getting dropped by groups whenever they go hard, but you should be dropping them when they stop to chat afterwards.

Most people just use base as an excuse to ride easy in the early season.  There is a time for riding easy, but it isn't during base rides.  Also, most people don't have the time required to devote to properly training base.  If you can't throw at least 15 or more hours per week into training, base should be swapped out for endurance and LT work.

Zone 3:  Endurance(75-85%) (30 mins - 1 hour)  This is the point where you first start to notice pain.  Endurance intervals aren't as intense as LT ones, but they seem to hurt just about as much.

Zone 4: LT(86-105%) (10-30 mins);  Lactate Threshold.  Also called anaerobic threshold (AT), functional threshold power (FTP), and Carmaichel might call it CP30 or something.  All of these are slightly different in terms of their definition, and what is going on in your body

LT is the holy grail of cycling.  Of course other things are important, but if you can have 1 thing in cycling, it's a high LT.  LT is the point where the lactic acid produced by your muscles is just barely capable of being cleared out be the rest of your system.  It's what you can steadily sustain for 20-30 minutes.  It hurts.  A lot.  The end of a LT interval leave you gasping and drooling and both physically and mentally exhausted.  Note that all of the other zones are based as percentages of LT.  If your LT goes up, the power at which you can recover goes up, so at a certain speed in the race while others are working a little, you are recovering.  Similarly, when others are dipping into their V02MAX reserves during a surge or hard effort, if you can hold the same speed but stay in your LT zone, you can ride for twice as long as they can before giving out.  Everything done in terms of fitness training is about raising your power produced at LT.

Zone 5: V02Max(106-140%) (10 mins - 1 min)  This is the power associated with a surge or an attack in a race.  It's not an all-out sprint, but it hurts, and you'll need to dip below LT for some time after the effort is over.  VO2 max training is important for 2 reasons:

1.  Surges tend to be when people get dropped in races.  Attacks are how you get away.  You can have LT for days, but if you don't have enough V02Max to get away, then you'll just finish in the pack.  This happens to triathletes in road races ALL THE TIME.  They can drag the pack along all day, but they can't get away or sprint, so they finish 20th or whatever.

2.  Training V02MAX intervals can increase your LT.   I was hesitant to believe this because I don't like the short, searing pain of these intervals compared to the longer, slightly duller pain of LT intervals.  The year I got serious about V02MAX intervals corresponded to a sizeable jump in both V02Max power and LT power.

Zone 6+:(150%+) (0-1 min.)  Anaerobic/Sprint.  What it sounds like.  If you get to the end of a race and you aren't alone, you're going to have to sprint.  Sprint power has little to do with breathing and LT and lots to do with muscle strength.  Track sprinters care about this and almost nothing else, which is why they tend to have huge legs compared to road cyclists, and the majority of their training isn't even on the bike, it's weight training and plyometric stuff.  I'm a horrible sprinter and won't be giving much advice on how to sprint in groups larger than 5.  I'm sure a pure pack sprinter can give you all the advice you need if you're willing to ask.

Intervals:  An interval is simply a stretch of time where you're doing a single effort.  It doesn't have to mean 2 minutes of pain.  It could be a 20 minute LT interval, or a 30 second rest interval.

Intensity:  Intensity refers to how hard you are riding.

Volume:   Volume refers to the duration of your ride.  Most people will measure volume in hours, not miles.  You can tell a newbie to training, because they'll tell you how many miles they rode last week.  A 20+ hour week is impressive.  A 500 mile week (as some bike shop kid claimed to me recently) means you're lying.  Anyone who can actually train 500 mile weeks is measuring their volume in hours.

2x20, 3x10, 4x5x8 etc.  This nomenclature refers to the number & duration of intervals in a given workout.  The first number is the number of intervals done.  The second one is the time duration in minutes.  The third number is often omitted, but represents the rest between intervals in that set.  If I go out and do 3x10's that means I'm riding for 10 minutes, resting, and repeating for a total of 3 intervals.  5x2x2 means 5 intervals, 2 minutes long, with 2 minutes of rest in between.

Power/weight.  (measured in watts/kilo) is a popular metric people on the internet use to compare against each other.  It's often called the eWang, and there's an eWang chart that says which category you should be in based on your W/kg for different time periods.  There a lots of ways to cheat and lie about this number, but if you are honest with yourself, it's a great way to track progress and take into account weight loss or gain when gaining or losing power.  The value commonly accepted as the maximum human capacity at LT is 6 W/kg.  This is the number guys like Schleck, Contador, and Cuddles are capable of in recent years.  Lance (and most of his team) regularly did 7 back in the day....

Please let me know if this was useful or not, and if there's anything in particular you'd like to hear about and/or discuss.  Thanks for reading...