Monday, October 9, 2017

That bike, tho'

I recently read a post from a triathlete. In it the athlete mentioned that their bike speeds aren't where they should be. This person doesn't have a Coach, and we all know how I feel about that.

BUT that aside....

Since I started working with Liz, my bike speeds have exploded. In the past year, specifically, my watts/kg has improved significantly.  I consistently race at 100-103% of FTP.

THAT is really the thing. Right? It's racing in the appropriate zone for a race distance.

Maybe I have (from the perspective of an athlete who has improved), maybe I have advice that I can pass along to people who are either new to the sport OR have been racing a long time but haven't quite figured out how to race in the zones they need to race.

Along the way, I have run into a number of Myths of Cycling. Just like when you read my blog, take everything with a grain of salt. Just because a supposed "expert" says something, doesn't make it true. That's why having a coach is so important.

Before I go into the training aspects, let's talk about technology. If you are committing to the sport, you can really benefit from training with a power meter. The price has come down significantly over the years. If you simply plan on doing a race here and there, with no goals, don't worry about it. This post isn't aimed at the casual rider. This post is written for those of you who want to get faster. You can use HR, but HR fluctuates with dehydration, conditions, whether you are sick or healthy, depending on where you are in a training cycle. Power is consistent. That's why it is so important. Also, I'm not a fan of perceived effort. I think you have to be extremely experienced to use this. Even then, I suspect most people don't train in the appropriate zones.

And very very important: THE LONGER THE RACE, the more important it is to train with power. In a sprint, going all out is going all out. In an oly, most people don't get near they could definitely benefit....but most people use the oly as a stepping stone to longer distances and aren't really interested in learning how to hold 95-100% of FTP.

When you get to the 70.3 and IM...oh dear god......PLEASE ride with power. Learn your zones and follow them.

1.) Ride inside or outside?
Don't listen to "experts" who tell you things in black and white. 

Who needs to ride outside? Typically, newer riders should get outside once a week. My advice is if you are a newer rider, join a riding group OR sign up for a cycling tour. Once you've done that and feel more comfortable on the bike, maybe do a TT. (That's not necessary, but it will teach you to ride in a pack).

You have to learn bike handling skills. The only way to do that is outside.

If you've been riding for any length of time, you don't have to ride outside. There is a HUGE benefit to this.
1.) You can do your workouts as written.
2.) No stopping or slowing down, means more time doing your focused workout.
3.) You can do drills focused on cadence work, single leg drills, sitting and standing, etc. Drills are very very tough to do outside.

If you want to ride outside, ride outside. If you want to ride inside, ride inside. Don't feel like you have to do one or another.

I almost exclusively ride inside. Are you surprised? My time is valuable. I want to get as much bang for the buck as I can. For me, that means setting up workouts and following them.

Remember. There's not a right or wrong way, but if you want to get faster, you need to spend time on the trainer. (I'll address trainer workouts below).

2.) Zone work:  When I first started working with Liz, one of the things she told me was "Work the full zone". When a workout says Z3, I would hang out at the bottom of zone 3. Now, I start at the bottom, and I finish at the top of whatever zone is listed in the workout.

Look. You need to feel the discomfort in training. The only way to learn how to deal with it is in training.

3.) Go above and beyond. How do I hold 100-103%FTP in a race? Liz has me do intervals at 120-150%FTP. Let me tell you, 100% sure does feel easy after I've done 150%.

Another good workout is over/unders. This means you hold a higher FTP like 95% then do a spurt from 100-120% and then back down to 95%.  This is very hard to do and (again) best done on a trainer.

4.) Leg strength: BIG WATTS/SLOW CADENCE. The workout that can actually make triathletes cry.  The reason this workout is so effective is because it keeps your heart rate down but really works your muscles. Your legs get stronger, but recovery time is much shorter.

5.) Using a trainer. Smart trainer or traditional trainer? 
If you are just getting started, you are going to having to decide on costs. Power meters cost money. Smart trainers cost a whole lot of money.

My first 10 years of triathlon, I trained on a traditional trainer. I still improved. I improved significantly. Getting faster is more about quality workouts than anything. If you are newer to triathlon or have budget constraints, a traditional trainer will absolutely help get you faster.

If you've been in the sport awhile OR have unlimited funds, a smart trainer is the way to go. I've had mine for almost a year now. Here's what I learned:

1.) The smart trainer is only as good as your training. If you're expecting magical improvements from just sitting there pedalling, riding around Zwift or BKool ain't gonna happen. You could have saved your money and gotten the same benefit from riding outside.

2.) The BIG thing with smart trainers is being able to ride in ERG mode. THAT's the kickr (pardon the pun).  TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT. Otherwise, why even bother with a smart trainer?

Here's how it works: There are a number of software programs out there. My personal favorite is Trainer Road. (Quick note: You can use any of these software programs with a traditional trainer. You don't even need a power meter, but your best option is using a PM).

You either create a workout (enter a workout from your coach) OR use the workouts in the software program.  In ERG mode, each interval will be held to a certain range of watts. On a traditional trainer, your watts will fluctuate with cadence. On a smart trainer, you are forced to hold a zone, regardless of cadence.

Even when you are will hold whatever zone the interval is. THAT's the benefit of a smart trainer.

Let's say you are training for a 70.3, your goal is to hold 81%FTP. When you use a workout in ERG mode, you will be forced to hold 81% or whatever range is set. Can you see how powerful that is? When you ride outside or ride in SIM mode, it is much much harder to actually hold 81% when you are going up and down hills or have to deal with traffic, etc.

When you are on a traditional trainer, it's very very easy to back off.

A smart trainer (in ERG mode using a workout), doesn't let you do that. THIS has had the biggest impact on my training this past year.

There are other ways to use a smart trainer. You can ride around virtual worlds and experience the hills or flats, etc. In my opinion, those don't give you any bigger benefit than riding around outside.

If you want to really improve, get a smart trainer, use ERG mode (not sim mode), enter a workout, and experience some serious discomfort. (Also there are workouts specifically for drills and cadence work. Power drops, so you can do high cadence work and single leg work. You don't get that benefit when riding in sim mode.

6.) Strength training. 
I cannot stress enough, the importance of strength training. Personally, I have found that the compound exercises work best for me. In other words, you won't see me doing bicep curls. I use heavy weights, to failure and do compound exercises. I do squats and lunges and single leg squats and tons of core work. One of my favorite exercises is start standing with dumbbells overhead (like when your arms are extended for a shoulder press), bring the weight down, squat all the way down to the floor then jump your feet out into a plank position. Jump back, stand up and press those dumbbells up overhead again. I love that type of workout.

In triathlon, we use many different muscle groups at once. To me, it makes sense to strengthen those muscles in the same manner.

Strength training is so so important regardless of distance. For a sprint, you want to be as strong as possible to be able to push big watts. In an IM, you want to have the endurance to be able to go seamlessly from from swim to bike to run. 

7.) Nutrition. If you know me, you know how important this is. PLEASE work with an RD. As you move up in distance, fueling becomes harder and harder. Daily nutrition becomes harder. Race day fueling becomes harder. I continue to work with Dina as I move from race distance to race distance. Your body will accept foods at a lower effort than it will accept at a higher effort. If you plan on doing longer races, you need to know what to put in to get the best output. Heat, humidity, lack of humidity, wind, cold, rain.....they all factor into a race day performance.

You can't out train a bad diet. What you put in on daily basis affects your ability to push hard when you need to push hard and recover when you need to recover.

There it is. That's my recipe for success. It doesn't mean it will work for everyone. I hope that someone will gain something from this.

The big thing is....remember that if you don't do something in training, it won't happen in a race. You can't expect to hold 80%of FTP in a 70.3 if you don't train above that threshold. You can't train above that threshold without strength training. (Let me tell you, it is a very different animal to go from swimming 1.2 miles to riding 56 miles than it is from swimming 750m to riding 20k).