Mountain Bike Specific Training Tips

The Effect of Racing at Altitude

by Jake Rytlewski, Associate FasCat Coach

Throughout the summer, the western United States plays hosts some of cycling’s hardest races and events. The Leadville 100, FireCracker 50,  Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, the now-defunct USA Pro Challenge, and the newly created Haute Route all come to mind.

These races are all decided by the rider’s ability to maintain high outputs for over 30 minutes at high altitude. To put it into perspective, the high point in the Tour De France is frequently between 7,000 and 9,000 feet, whereas the Leadville 100 never goes below 10,000 feet!

Needless to say – if you’re racing at elevations above 8,000-9,000 feet, you had better understand how to modify your race strategy.

The Effect of Racing at Altitude

As you gain altitude there is a reduced amount of pO2 (partial oxygen pressure) meaning that there is less oxygen for your blood to carry to your muscles. The USA Pro Challenge takes place mostly above 7,000 ft and at that altitude, the body will take in at least 25 percent less oxygen per breath because of the reduced amount of pO2 in the air when compared to sea level. With less oxygen available to deliver to the muscles, riders will see a decrease in performance when compared to lower altitudes.

The effects to your body when racing at altitude are higher heart rate and lower power output. Since you are getting less oxygen to your muscles your body increases its heart rate to help bring in more oxygen which means you reach your max output quicker. This leads to a lower Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and also makes it harder to recover from maximal efforts.

Acclimating

In preparation for these events, many racers have arrived in Utah and Colorado well in advance to help acclimate to the altitude. Since there is less oxygen being delivered to the muscles the body will produce more red blood cells which deliver the oxygen to the muscles. By spending this extra time at altitude the racers will have more red blood cells and become more acclimated which will lead to a lower drop-off rate in power at higher altitudes.

Many riders will take this approach when preparing for any race. They will have specific altitude training camps. By spending more time at higher altitudes they can increase their red blood cells, allowing them to make longer and harder sustainable efforts at lower altitudes. But they will only want to stay up for three to four weeks. Any longer than that and they will begin to lose muscle from riding at the lower power outputs. There are other methods as well such as training low sleeping high and training high sleeping low.

Want to make riding at altitude easier this year? Check out our Haute Route Colorado 6-week Plan!

Available Aerobic Power

These equations from Bassett et al.1 were generated from four groups of highly trained or elite runners, so they are population-specific to that group, but they can be used to estimate aerobic power at a given altitude as a percentage y of what is normally available at sea level, where x = elevation above sea level in km:

for acclimatized athletes (several weeks at altitude): y = -1.12×2 – 1.90x + 99.9 (R2 = 0.973)

non-acclimatized athletes (1-7 days at altitude): y = 0.178×3 – 1.43×2 – 4.07x + 100 (R2 = 0.974)

Whereas Peronnet et al.2 found

y = -0.003×3 + 0.0081×2 – 0.0381x + 1

Here is a table derived from these equations:

Applying to the Race

Racers competing at altitude will no doubt feel the effects of racing at altitude whether they are acclimatized or not.  All power numbers will be reduced across the board because altitude throws out every number they have used all year. They now have to readjust their FTP, pacing strategies and be careful not to attack too often or dig too deep to stay with riders surging on the climbs. With the reduced amount of oxygen being delivered to the muscles, it becomes harder to catch your breath and recover.  Honestly, feel becomes as important if not more so than watts.

For example, take an athlete who at sea level has a 380-watt Functional Threshold Power. If they want to use their power meter to set a pace for the Vail TT they could be looking at trying to average only 335 watts. This is taking in a drop of their FTP by 16 percent because of the altitude while being able to race at 105 percent since the effort will only last around 25 minutes. Another example is when they are climbing up the 11,000 foot Monarch Pass they may be riding full gas at 310 watts because of the altitude.

Altitude creates yet another variable in the already complex world of bike racing. The reduction in available oxygen creates a series of physiological issues. While riders can do some work to prepare for racing in thin air, much of it comes down to proper pacing and knowing the limits.

  1. Bassett, D.R. Jr., C.R. Kyle, L. Passfield, J.P. Broker, and E.R. Burke. Comparing cycling world hour records, 1967-1996: modeling with empirical data. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 31:1665-76, 1999.
  2. Peronnet, F., G. Thibault, and D.L. Cousineau. A theoretical analysis of the effect of altitude on running performance. Journal of Applied Physiology 70(1):399-404, 1991.

Copyright 2017, FasCat Coaching

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Coach Jake is an Associate Coach with FasCat Coaching, a boutique brand coaching company  in Boulder, CO. Jake and his fellow FasCat Coaches have been training at altitude since 2003. To talk with Jake or another FasCat Coach about your race at altitude, call 720.406.7444, or fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire for a free coaching consultation.  Additionally check out our $49 six week training plans here.

Criss Cross Threshold > Zone 6 3 x 15 min

Criss-Cross Intervals for Road and Mountain Bikers

Criss-Cross intervals mimic the power demands* of road and mountain bike races. In this training tip, we’ll describe the how, what, where, and why of criss cross intervals and give you some example workouts plus a 4 week interval progression to follow.

*surges in the peloton, steeper pitches up climbs, switchbacks, and technical singletrack

Criss-Cross  intervals are structured tempo intervals with a “cross” up to harder intensities for 60-180 seconds, every 2-5 minutes during the tempo interval. After the “cross” the athlete returns to tempo wattage until the next “cross.” Here is an example Criss-Cross workout:

Criss-Cross, Tempo > Sweet Spot: 3 x 10 minutes ON 10 minutes OFF  with a 1 minute “cross” at 4 & 9 minutes

As the athlete and training progress, one can increase both the length of the interval and the intensity of the “cross” from Sweet Spot to Threshold > VO2 > Zone 6/Anaerobic. Here’s the same 3 x 10 Criss-Cross interval workout as above except the “cross” is now at FTP watts:

Criss-Cross, Tempo > Threshold: 3 x 10 minutes ON 10 minutes OFF  with a 1 minute “cross” at 4 & 9 minutes

Criss-Cross, Tempo > VO2: 3 x 10 minutes ON 10 minutes OFF  with a 1 minute “cross” at 4 & 9 minutes

Criss-Cross, Tempo > Zone 6/Anaerobic: 3 x 10 minutes ON 10 minutes OFF  with a 1 minute “cross” at 4 & 9 minutes

I like to take athletes through the above Criss-Cross workouts once a week as they progress and are finishing up their base and CTL build. The intensity from the “crosses” is just enough to bridge the gap from base training to full on, full gas high intensity interval training. Criss-Cross intervals are also great for:

  • bridging the gap from base training to high intensity interval training (the crosses)
  • generating larger TSS’s than traditional Sweet Spot and Tempo advance aerobic endurance training, and thus raise CTL even higher
  • help the time pass quicker during indoor training sessions!

Additionally, Criss-Cross workouts may be ‘enhanced’ by increasing the length of the “criss” interval, number and intensities of the “crosses. For example, progressing to a sweet spot interval that crosses up into Zone 5 and even Zone 6.  There are so many possibilities I encourage you to customize & diversify your Criss-Cross intervals.

The most diabolical Criss-Cross Interval workout I’ve ever prescribed is the following:

Threshold > Zone 6, 3 x 15 with three 1 minute “crosses” in Zone 6 at minute 4, 9 and 14 minutes. Note how the 3rd “cross” of each interval is full gas (150% of FTP!) to mimic a race winning move.

If you’d like to buy a $49 training plan with the 4 week Cris-Cross interval progression I detailed out above, we’d love for you to give them a go and crush your goals!

SUMMARY

Copyright 2017, FasCat Coaching

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To talk with a FasCat Coach about Criss-Cross intervals for your training and racing, please fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a complimentary coaching consultation. Additionally nearly all of our road and mountain bike $49 training plans have criss cross intervals designed in an easy to follow weekly training calendar.

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Jake Rytlewski racing the IceMan Cometh MTB

Training for the Iceman Cometh MTB Race

by Jake Rytlewski,  August 2015

If you have ever heard of or been to Kalkaska, Michigan chances are you have done or heard of the Iceman Cometh. The Iceman Cometh is a 27 mile point to point mountain bike race in northern Michigan held yearly on the first Saturday of November. What started off as a small event with only a handful of races has turned into an end of the year party drawing over 4,000 racers. Even though there is a lot of talk about the after party, many riders like to finish of the year on a high note with a good result.

But how do you train for the Iceman Cometh MTB race? Here is a 13 week training plan showing you how!

Of course the biggest variable is the weather where it can be anywhere from 70 degrees to 20 degrees and 6 inches of snow or anything in between. Each week has a training day dedicated to skills. You should look to ride in different trail conditions such as sand and mud so you will be ready and confident.

Iceman is said to be a road racers course with all the two track and dirt roads. You will need a huge aerobic engine as you will be spending a lot of time riding as close to your FTP as possible, while being able to make those anaerobic efforts getting over the short steep climbs.

From the start you have to be ready to go Full Gas. This is true regardless if you are looking for a result or just to do personal best time. For those looking for a result you will need to get in position to hit the trails in the front, and for those looking for a fast time you will want to take advantage of the draft from the other riders. You will be sprinting off the start line and fighting for position to get to and stay near the front for the first 2 miles. Once you hit the trails it is single file and there is very little passing. Without a good position you can find yourself losing the leaders, and or being held up by slower riders and crashes. With Iceman being more a road course it is crucial to draft and stay with the leaders. You don’t hit the first single track until 8 miles into the race.

You get 2 miles of single track after the fast start and need to keep up. Again any mishaps or slow up will cost you as the race heads for Steve’s secret and some tough climbs before opening back up on some two track and dirt roads. After 4 miles of fast two track and dirt roads you will be approaching the Williamsburg road crossing. This is a great opportunity to get a feed or make sure are eating and topping off with fuel. You will have a fast mile or two before hitting the Vasa Trail.

The Vasa Trail can either be your friend or enemy! If you have been able to sit in the draft, been staying fueled and have put in the training you can really enjoy the last 8 miles. Here you will find many little climbs that can make or break you race. These hills will take you 1 – 4 minutes at a full gas effort. You want to stay smooth through here and keep the pressure on over the top of the climbs. Use the last ones as a launch pad to try to separate yourself from the rest. You’ll want to be in the front before you hit the last twisty mile through the camp ground as you will find little opportunities to pass.

For the first build cycle of this training plan you will be focusing on your aerobic engine with just hint of anaerobic efforts. You will begin with sweet spot and some long tempo intervals to help build up your aerobic engine to be ready to race hard for 2 – 3 hours. The plan mixes in the anaerobic efforts with tempo burst workouts during the week and the weekends mix in Zone 5 and 6 efforts in with aerobic intervals. In a race you will very rarely just sit at a steady pace throughout. By mixing in these surges it trains your body to be able to respond and recover between harder anaerobic efforts.

During the second build cycle you will start working on your FTP with threshold intervals. Having a high FTP for Iceman is important as you will be spending a lot of time at it and above. The sweet spot intervals will continue during this phase as well, but they will be longer. You will be doing up to and over an hour total of sweet spot riding on your weekend rides. Really helping you be prepared to put in over 2 hours of hard race. These efforts are going to carry you through the fast two tracks and dirt roads. By the end of this cycle you start some Zone 5 intervals.

Come the third build cycle you will be focused on intensity! You will be 4 weeks from the race and it is time to lower the duration a bit and ramp up the intensity. It is the time you want to be making hard race like efforts. You will be doing Vo2 Max and Zone 6 anaerobic intervals. These are going to help prepare you for the race surges and many short steep hills you will find on course including Steve’s Secret and on the Vasa Trail. These are the efforts you will be making though out the race from the start to the last hills on the Vasa Trail.

Coach Jake racing to a 7th place PRO finish in the 2009 IceMan

You can mix your riding on and off road. Just make sure that you are getting in the skills day. Even though the course is mostly two track there are sections you will to be ready for so you don’t lose valuable time or energy. Also every 4th week is a rest week! Make sure to take it easy and let your muscles regenerate from the accumulative training stress. This is when you get stronger and ready for the coming up training block!

How to ride in the sweet spot

Sweet spot is a training term and intensity you will frequently see in this training calendar. To ride in your sweet spot, adjust your pace between medium and maximal, in a zone you’d call “medium hard.” By power or heart rate, sweet spot is between 83 and 97 percent of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). If you have a power meter, you can use it to pace yourself between 91 and 105 percent of your FTP, or even more if your form is good.

Video: More on sweet spot training
Setting your FTP

You will want to have a properly set FTP to help set up your training zones. You may already have one set from a long year of racing. You can use your peak 1 hour norm power or 95% of your peak 20 minute average power. Look to race files for possible peaks. Or you could conduct your own field test.

Video: More about conducting a field test

This is a 13 week training plan. You will be doing 3 build cycles with each raising the intensity and overall Training Stress. Make sure you have a recovery drink and food ready at the completion of each workout. Also be sure to staying hydrated and fueled during your workouts. Not only will it help you that day, but it also keeps you from falling in a deficit, especially as the workload increases.

Work, family, and other commitments can make completing every workout a challenge. Even if you can only ride for one hour, perform the intervals and try to balance your time so that you can consistently ride each training day. It’s better to ride for one hour each training day rather than three hours one day a week. Set a personal goal for your own Iceman because improving as a cyclist is all about setting goals and working toward them.

Copyright 2016 , FasCat Coaching

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Jake is an Associate Coach with FasCat Coaching.  You can buy his 13 Week Iceman Training Plan HERE.  He is a full time professional USA cycling and TrainingPeaks certified coach and finished 7th overall in the 2009 IceMan.  To talk with Jake about racing the IceMan, and building power on the bike, please call 720.406.7444, or fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation.

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Enduro Training for Cross Country

July 2015

Enduro racing is on the rise worldwide and more and more DH stars are choosing to race the new format. But XC racing is still king, and you can embrace a little enduro to help you get faster going both up and downhill.  There are 3 areas of focus from enduro style training that you can use to improve and to make you a faster XC rider:

1. Off the bike workouts

2. Skills

3. Confidence

Off the Bike Workouts

In enduro and DH racing, you are essentially in a wrestling match with your handlebars.  They want to rip out of your hands with every bump and drop, while you certainly don’t want to let them go. How do most of those guys seem to hang on, when us mere mortals struggle and crash?  It all comes down to core work, and strength/mobility off the bike.  That handlebar moving around and a much heavier bike underneath is a tough beast to tame.  An improved core can make bike handling much easier for you, but also allow you to not burn precious energy and effort when you are going all out.

Foundations: Do this simple 12 minute workout  2 or more times a week. This will vastly improve the entire body, but also keep your back happy and open up your hips.  What mountain biker doesn’t have a bad back!

Push-ups/Dips: Easy to do, can do at home without any equipment.  These can really help you take control of that handlebar!  Start easy (5-10) and work up to multiple sets.  Focus on form rather than speed.

Core:  There are a million core workouts to do, and I won’t go fully in-depth, but pick a few favorites that you like and work on them.  When that handlebar is moving around, it doesn’t move in a perfect vertical plane.  You need to have a strong core to move the bike around and win that fight.

Bicycle Kicks, planks & Superman are all simple core exercises that you can do quickly and easily at home every day without the need for a gym

Skills

Skills pay the bills for sure in Enduro – Richie Rude is a lot faster than JHK, even though JHK is much fitter and would crush him on a climb.  Think about if you could descend a 5 minute hill 5 seconds or even 30 seconds faster, for not nearly as much effort as required to go the same amount faster on a 5 minute climb.  3 laps around the course and you just closed the gap to and dropped the race leader!

Hit up an enduro race, there are races every where across the country now. They can really show you how much faster you can go through the trail and down when you isolate it into short focused segments. There’s nothing like pushing yourself to the limit and managing to keep yourself upright, all while riding as fast as you can! You’ll learn to step up your technical and descending game quickly once you put a number plate on.

 

Take a Skills Clinic!  We have one going on right now with Myles Rockwell who knows a thing or two about skills (he won the World Champ DH race in 2002!)  Skills clinics are great ways to learn the proper way to do techniques in a safe and comfortable environment.  Learning a technique the correct way can save months or years of struggling to get something right.  The top pros in XC all have personal instructors that they work with to help them improve.  No skills clinics around?  Find a local fast guy to help with our check out these Global Mountain Bike Network videos

Pump, pump, pump it up.  By now I’m sure you’ve seen Aaron Gwin’s run without a chain (or Neko Mullaly’s 4th at Worlds).  It’s one of the most impressive pieces of bike riding I’ve ever seen.  How can he beat the best riders in the world without a single pedal stroke!  Learn to pump terrain for speed, you can get faster without even pedaling!  Pumping is a simple but underutilized skill.  TrainingPeaks has an excellent article here on how to ride a pump track.  But pumping can really help you get free speed and learning to ride while just pumping also can help you to learn to carry speed in sections and have you going faster down the trail without nearly any effort.  Dirt Mountain Bike mag, did a set of sessions comparing chained vs chainless and they were even keel with the times or faster chainless!!  The biggest change was in effort as chainless riders utilized significantly less energy over the segments.

Practice!  Practice makes perfect!  Go out and work on skills and techniques, and do it again and again and then one more time.  Basketball players might shoot 8 free throws in a game, but they shoot 100 in practice each day.  Work on segments and sections over and over until you get them right consistently.  Just because you got it right 1x doesn’t mean you will always get it right.  You want to practice until you can’t get it wrong.  Learn to ride those difficult sections that you may encounter in a race.  In the World Cups now they have huge drops, gaps and more.  Things that are extremely difficult and you need to be able do when you are full gas!  So you need to have it right during your practice.

Build Confidence

Your confidence will rise when you work on your skills!  Most mistakes and crashes occur because of hesitation.  This simple holding back, causes you to tense up and be tight, when you should be free and loose.  When you work on your skills and get more confident, you learn to ride a bit looser and more relaxed.  This can help you stay under control when things go wrong and bring it back and prevent that crash.  Confidence can give you that boost to make an attack through a technical section, close a gap or pass a rider on a descent.  Feeling good and being confident late in the races can make the difference between a podium place or watching them spray the champagne!

Workouts to get you faster while incorporating skills work:

Trail Sprints: 4 x 3 min on 3 min OFF

Trail sprints! Do an all out effort on a technical section of trail. It is very functional because it requires you to make power out of turns and ride with good form while fatigued.

Find a short but fun section of trail. Looking for flat-ish/lightly rolling to slightly downhill. Not a full downhill section or even a full climb.

Do 4 x 3 min on 3 min OFF- Don’t worry about ‘power’ here but get that HR pegged up and focus on staying up to speed, going as hard as you can, but also being smooth and fast on the trail.  You can work on increasing the length & number of the efforts as you improve during your training

Trail Threshold: 2 x 20 min on 10 min off

Zone 4 threshold hr/wattages-do these on a trail

Don’t be worried about the true power effort of these, what you really want you to do is get out on the trail and just peg it as hard as you can for the duration of the efforts,  Just focus on going as hard as possible all while staying smooth. Great chance to peg it on a fun loop or even shoot for a Strava KOM on your favorite trails.

Copyright 2015 , FasCat Coaching

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To talk with  a FasCat Coach about improving your skills for xc racing or a mtb skills clinic please call 720.406.7444, email info@fascatcoaching.com for a New Athlete Questionnaire.

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The Difference between Road and Mountain Bike Power Output

The Difference between Road and Mountain Bike Power Output and What Your Training Should Do About it.  

Much is known about the power demands of road racing but little has been written for the lay public about the power demands of mountain bike racing. Below, I will show you the difference between road and mountain bike power. Then I will characterize mountain bike power and discuss how you can optimize your training to meet those demands.

Two 10 Minute Climbs at the same effort show two different power plots

To illustrate the difference between road and mountain bike power, I collected powertap power data on two different ten minute tempo climbs. The first climb was on a powertap equipped road bike up a steady 2-4 % grade hill. The second ten minute effort was on a powertap equipped mountain bike up a 10 minute singletrack climb also @ a 2 – 4 % grade. I rode both efforts at the same rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and had an average heart rate of 159bpm for both climbs.

In the graph below, I have overlaid the road and mountain bike power data on top of each other to visually see the difference in the two ten minute climbs. As you can see the power fluctuated much more from the mountain bike data compared to the road bike data. Average power for the mtb effort was 220 watts, while on the road it was 246 watts.

The main difference between the two files is the dramatic number of efforts above 300 watts for only a 220 watt average singletrack climb.

The road climb power has much more steady (even though it is variable) power without any forays above 300 watts.

Dissecting Mountain Bike Power Demands

From the power data we can see that this 10 minute singletrack climb contained 6 different sections where it was necessary to produce more than 300 watts.  These short burst like efforts lasted anywhere from 5 to 25 seconds (highlighted in purple below).   Short bursty efforts like these occur repeatedly during mountain biking, close to a hundred times during a 2 hour cross-country race.   I crossed checked a 2 hour mountain bike cross country race file and saw 88 such instances!


Mountain biking’s bursty power is primarily a function of terrain.   Rocks, roots, ruts, short steep climbs, switchbacks, obstacles and more all contribute to the highly variable power demands of mountain biking. It’s essential to mountain bike racing to be able to produce these efforts in order to clear the technical terrain and maintain your speed up, over, and thru the terrain.

Conversely, you’ll also notice that preceding most of these efforts are periods of zero wattage (highlighted in blue). This indicates that the terrain was fairly technical and I had to stop pedaling temporarily to clear a section of trail but then was back on “the gas”. When I started pedaling again I went from 0 to 300 watts to keep the momentum going. It’s these short burst efforts and the subsequent changes in wattage or cadence that truly distinguishes mountain bike racing from road racing.
Cumulatively, these efforts add up to a big ‘ol physiological demand. Once or twice is nothing, but 88 times (like in a race) will absolutely bring you to stop.
If you reach that “capacity” in a race you’ll have no choice but to slow down.  However, if you work on raising your anaerobic capacity in training, you’ll have an extra gear to race faster. Much MUCH faster.

 

How to Raise your Anaerobic Capacity

In summary, mountain bike power is bursty as illustrated by the tempo climb above. Mountain bike power is even more bursty when racing flat out with your heart rate pegged at 180bpm. Therefore an athlete’s ability to perform zone 6 level efforts over and over during a mountain bike race is critical.  Having a huge aerobic engine is important too but having both is a lethal weapon.

At FasCat Coaching, we like to have mountain bike athletes perform Tempo Bursts Intervals. These structured intervals are performed at normal tempo wattage, but every 2-4 minutes, the athlete jumps up out of the saddle for 10-30 seconds at 125% or greater of their threshold power. After the burst, the athlete returns to their tempo pace/wattage until the next burst. Here is an example tempo burst workout:

Tempo Bursts: 3 x 9 minutes ON 9 minutes OFF b/w 224 – 266 watts with 10 seconds > 357 watts @ 3,6, and 9 minutes
As the athlete progresses, tempo can be replaced with Sweet Spot and even FULL GAS  Threshold work/wattages. Another example would be:
Sweet Spot Bursts: 4 x 10 minutes ON 10 minutes OFF b/w 245 – 286 watts w 15 seconds > 357 watts @ 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 minutes
The Sweet Spot Burst workout above is more advanced and much harder than the first tempo burst example. The most advanced workout is to perform bursts during a threshold interval. In other words, going harder when you are already going as hard as you can.
Threshold Bursts: 2 x 20 min On 10 min OFF b/w 268 – 310 watts w 15 seconds > 357 watts @ 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes
As a side note this is an excellent workout for a time trialists racing over a variable and hilly course like the Tour of Missouri or jumping out of corners and accelerating on a course like the USPRO TT in Greenville this past year. At FasCat, we reserve the Threshold Burst Intervals only for the 2 – 3 weeks pre-A race competition. These bursty intervals force the physiological adaptations required for the constant start/stop pedaling and short bursty anaerobic power that are necessary to ride fast over technical mountain bike terrain.
An Example Anaerobic Capacity Interval workoutLastly, to work exclusively on your anaerobic capacity, there’s the old tried and true Zone 6 workout. Here is an example.Zone 6: 2 sets of 4 x 1 min On 1 min OFF, Full Gas > 357 watts; 5 min inb/w setsThis workout contains 8 minutes (2 sets of 4 x 1 minute) of anaerobic capacity work. We adjust the total workload duration for the athlete on an individual basis between 5 and 25 minutes with never more than 7 intervals per set. 1 minute is a good middle of range anaerobic capacity duration but 30 – 90 seconds may also be used. If you want to take your A game up to an A plus game this season on the mountain bike, these mountain bike specific intervals are just the ticket.

Copyright © 2017 FasCat Coaching – all rights reserved.

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FasCat Coaching is located in Boulder, CO but we have raced and coached mtb’ers all over the US.  Additionally FasCat has been designing training programs to coached athletes for 15 years and have introduced the very same training programs for only $49 in 2017. You can buy FasCat’s six week mountain bike training plans here.

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3 Indoor Cycling Workouts for the Winter

Riding on the trainer during the winter may not be your ideal way to spend an hour or two, but the truth is that training indoors can be highly productive when done properly. At FasCat, we have a couple rules of thumb when prescribing indoor training workouts for our athletes. They are:

  1. Limit the ride time to 60-75 minutes during the week and 90 minutes on the weekend.
  2. Add structure to the workout.
  3. Work on Advanced Aerobic Endurance.
  4. Never “just ride” in zone 2.

In January we like to add advanced aerobic endurance intervals to our athletes’ trainer workouts primarily in the form of Tempo and Sweet Spot workouts. By riding at higher intensities than traditional wintertime “base miles”, the athlete will achieve more physiological adaptations and make better use of his or her time.

Here are three indoor cycling workouts that will make the most of your winter trainer time:

1. Tempo Intervals

Tempo intervals are a great place to get started. Ride at 76-90% of your threshold (FTP or Functional Threshold Power). One example of a tempo workout for a 1-hour trainer ride:

  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes
  • 3 x 8 minutes on at 76-90% of FTP
  • 4-minute recoveries (“off”)
  • Cool-down/ride easy for remainer

2. Sweet Spot Intervals

Once you’ve done a few Tempo workouts, up the ante with Sweet Spot intervals which are slightly harder at 83-97% of one’s FTP. Again, do intervals in the 5 – 20 minute length repeating 2-5 times as appropriate. For example:

  • Warm-up 10-15 minutes
  • 3 x 10 minutes on at 83-97% of FTP
  • 5 minutes off (recoveries) in between each interval
  • Cool-down/ride easy for remainder

The 2:1 work-to-rest ratio (for example, 10 minutes on, 5 minutes off)  is more productive when training indoors.

3. Tempo Bursts

Tempo and Sweet Spot intervals are as hard as we have athletes go on the trainer in the winter. To continue the progression and to help the time pass quicker, we add bursts to the tempo and sweet spot intervals. For example, during workout #1 above we’d add a 5-second burst greater than 450 watts every 2 minutes during the 8 minute tempo interval. Not only is this specific to races that many of our athletes compete in, by having a burst to do every 2 minutes it actually helps the time pass by quicker!

An example Tempo Burst workout:

  • Warm-up 10-15 minutes
  • 3 x 8 minutes on at 76-90% of FTP, with a 5-second burst every 2 minutes that is > 450 watts
  • 4 minute recoveries in between intervals
  • Cool down

Overall the number of intervals and their length can be widely varied. Most athletes should start with a total of 20-30 minutes of tempo work during the workout, and increase the total load as they go along the season. Lastly, even though you are indoors don’t forgot to use a fan and drink plenty.

Enjoy!

Looking for more indoor cycling workouts? Check out FasCat’s cycling training plans on TrainingPeaks.

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Power Based Impulse-Response Performance Model 7.19.05

I hope everyone is enjoying the Tour de France and PEZ’s unique coverage as much as I am. With the Alps and Pyrenees behind us, it is quite evident which riders had form, lost their form, or found their form. Let’s take a closer look at what the commonly used cycling term “form” exactly is.

Daniel Coyle describes “form” in “Lance Armstrong’s War” as “one of the more mysterious elements of bike racing, possessing an otherness that is revealed in its preposition… referring to the elusive moment when all systems are working at optimum efficiency”.

The etymology of “form” goes back to eighteenth century horse racing where sheets would be passed out to the betters detailing the past performances of each horse. Doesn’t that sound familiar to the media speculation from the race results of the Dauphine and Tour de Suisse? I think so.

For the athletes, coaches and directeur sportifs “in the know” Tour de France form is a known quantity and not mysterious at all. In fact, it is a closely guarded secret from the competition and consequently the media. Form is the result of a strategically selected race schedule, and a carefully managed training plan leading into the Tour*.

What is “Form”?
In cycling the word “form” describes a combination of physiological & psychological qualities that enable peak athletic performance(s). Form is power output. Form is “going good” when you want to go good. Form is having a ton of matches to burn in a race. Form is feeling like you can rip the cranks off the bike. For those athletes racing** with their powermeter, form may be measured with an all time high peak power output. Or simply, it may be setting a PR up your favorite climb.

It is important to recognize that cyclists will not always be on form or may even ever have it. Athletes must first “go big” with their training before they have the chance to decrease their volume and elicit form. Scientifically, form is just the right balance between exercise induced physiological adaptations and the time required to optimize those changes. An even geekier definition is a positive impulse-response relationship: a value calculated by the amount of training you’ve done and the recovery you’ve taken.

A Predictive Performance Model
You may be familiar with the heart-rate based (TRIMPS) model developed by Dr. Eric Bannister in the mid 1970’s and popularized by triathletes in the nineties. Bannister’s model uses raw heart rate data to understand how training affects athletic performance. In essence, how much to train and when to rest in order to achieve the ultimate form.

In the 1990’s French physiologists, Thierry Busso and his colleagues took Bannister’s TRIMPS model a step further. They developed an impulse-response algorithm to show the relationship between the positive gains from training adaptations and the negative gains from fatigue. Busso’s lab crudely calculated the training impulse by multiplying the number of intervals performed by their intensity. These training units were entered into the algorithm to calculate the response. To validate the model, laboratory based performance tests were shown to match the response predicted by the model.

Since Busso’s work, the raw data accumulated from downloading daily powermeter files has become the ultimate measure of an athlete’s daily training impulse. Dr. Andy Coggan’s metric, training stress score (TSS), enables us capitalize on Bannister’s and Busso’s original work with a power-based performance model. When it comes to training with power, this separates the men from the boys. As Lance likes to describe his F-One equipment, this is the “Shit That Will Kill Them”***.

Lance, bro, when you are done with number seven, send me your files leading up to the Tour and we’ll model out your performance. Have your people contact my people.

Proof of Concept
In the meantime, here is how my training looks in the model. Over the past 8 months I successfully used the model to predict and plan my peak performances for my top goal events in June. Suffice it to say I was on form and this model helped me prepare, plan, and taper into my events. During this time I got the results I wanted and generated all time high peak power outputs during my events. And, it felt like I could rip the cranks off the bike.

In the figure above, the positive gain from training is defined as Chronic Training Load or CTL. Acute Training Load or ATL reflects short term fatigue. Form, a.k.a. Training Stress Balance a.k.a. the response is calculated in the algorithm from CTL & ATL.

The number one take home point from the graphic above is that the yellow trace (TSB) was at its highest for my goal events. I used the model to manage my training for the greatest TSB and consequently my best race results in the month of June.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousands words and I couldn’t agree more and then some. In my next Toolbox I’ll elaborate on this model further and discuss the principles of training behind it.

Until then, good luck with your form and enjoy the rest of the Tour de France!

References
Banister, E.W.; Calvert, T.W.; Savage, M.V.; and Bach, T.M. “A systems model of training for athletic performance.” Aust. J. Sports Med 7:57-61, 1975

Busso, T.; Benoit, H.; Bonnefoy, R.; Feasson, L.; and Lacour, J.R. “Effects of training frequency on the dynamics of performance response to a single training bout.” J Appl Physiol 92: 572-580, 2002

Busso, T.; Denis D.; Bonnefoy, R.; Geyssant, A.; and Lacour, J.R. “Modeling of adaptations to physical training by using a recursive least squares algorithm.” J Appl Physiol 82: 1685-1693, 1997

* Sprinters will adjust their form to be optimal for the first part of the Tour while the GC contenders will use the initial flat stages to taper down into their peak form for the upcoming mountains

** I distinguish between racing and training because nine times out of ten, athletes see their personal best peak power outputs in races compared to their training. The extra adrenaline and motivation associated with competition bring outs the best data. That’s not to say you won’t generate great evidence of form in your training, you will if you or your coach is tracking your training data.

***from Daniel Coyle’s “Lance Armstrong’s War“, HarperCollins, 2005

Copyright © 2005 FasCat Coaching – all rights reserved.

Frank Overton 7/19/05 Frank is a full time professional USA cycling Expert certified coach, and category 1 road racer. He earns a living eliciting peak form from his athletes around their most important races. He can be reached by email via frank@fascatcoaching.com

 

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