Recently, I was called “Mr. Sweet Spot” on the Consummate Athlete Podcast. It was a compliment for sure but we went on to talk about the many other things I believed in. As I listen again the podcast was a brief discussion of the coaching philosophy I’ve developed over the past 15 years. So I thought it would be nice to expand on what I touched on in the podcast, share some good stories and tell you what I believe in: my coaching philosophy.
Twelve Ways I Make Athletes Faster:
Invented in 2004 from a graph Dr. Andy Coggan made and shared with the internet in 2005, sweet spot is my primary method for helping athletes develop aerobic endurance. The bigger their aerobic engine the more power they can make. Thus I prescribe quite a bit of sweet spot training. Furthermore, I quantify that sweet spot with training stress score and chronic training load weekly and in the performance manager chart.
And to end the whole made up debate about sweet spot versus polarized training, I believe in a sweet spot polarized approach :: build your base first then switch over (base to race) and begin race specific full gas intervals. More on full gas and intervals below.
The Performance Manager Chart
In 2003 I was part of a group of coaches and sport scientists that helped Andy Coggan develop this impulse-response performance model. At first, it was called EWTSS (Hunter Allen) and then I dubbed it TSTWKT (The Shit That Will Kill Them) from Lance Armstrong’s name he called all his high tech aerodynamic equipment.
I use sweet spot training and now called Performance Manager Chart (PMC) to raise an athlete’s training load, develop their aerobic engine an increased their functional threshold power. The PMC in TrainingPeaks allows to me measure and project training loads so I know when to have athletes do more sweet spot training or switch over to race-specific interval work. Ultimately the PMC chart allows me to prescribe and plan out overload, tapers, and peaks for athletes to truly smash their A race.
I think for a long time while I was doing various podcasts on sweet spot training the hosts thought I was only about was sweet spot. This couldn’t be further from the truth in that I am a huge advocate of intervals (and everything else written here and on our website). Not just any intervals, but the ones that are specific to the power demands that the athlete is training for. Anaerobic for criteriums, road race, cyclocross and mountain biking, threshold for time trials, stage races and hill climbs, VO2’s for just about everybody. And of course the diabolical Tabatas – all athlete benefit from Tabatas and I prescribed them conservatively leading athletes into peak form.
Tabatas are the most difficult workout I prescribe: 3 sets of 8 reps of 20 sec ON 10 sec OFF @ 170% FTP is extremely difficult. But I have coached athletes of all abilities successfully thru 170% and the rewards are rich. If you’ve been coached by me, you’ve probably done a boatload of sweet spot and Tabatas as we were trying to reach your peak. And you’ve heard me say, “Cry in the DoJo to Laugh on the Battlefield”.
We’ve logged 50,000 miles of motorpacing over the past 15 years on two scooters used exclusively for motorpacing. That is a ton of time sitting on your butt concentrating on adjusting the throttle just right. TJ van Garderen, Greg Henderson, Alison Powers, Tom Zirbel Ian Boswell, Joe Dombrowski, Jeremy Powers to name a few – we’ve motorpaced them all. So many good stories that could fill up a podcast of its own, like the time Frank Pipp pulled up beside the scooter at 35mph and said, ‘doesn’t this thing go any faster’. Or the time TJ called us up one spring and booked 5 days at 5 hours each – we had to rotate thru drivers to survive that block of training! it paid off tho, he won the Best Young Rider in the Tour de France that year! Lastly, the time when to be national time trial champion (Jessica Philips, now TJ’s wife) told me to gradually increase the speed until she got dropped (she didn’t at 37mph before we were done). Motorpacing is hands down the workout I’d do with athletes if we were in heaven, day after day. There is no more intimate and productive coach-athlete interaction that seeing how hard an athlete will turn themselves inside out to stay on the wheel of which you control the speed.
Now that I’ve embraced the fact that I’m a masters cyclist it’s easy to understand the age-related decline in performance because oh man, I feel it. Plus, I have power data from my peak years as a Cat 1 to compare to now: it ain’t sexy. Additionally, the amount of time it takes to recover from a race or intervals has increased too. I/we knew that before but until you feel and experience that + see the power data it’s hard to relate to your athletes. I think a lot of younger coaches and pro athletes that coach does not fully grasp the recovery time athletes over 40 need.
Aside from being patient with more rest and easy days on the training plan, all the ‘marginal gains’ you read about from the Tour de France matter more for masters than they do for Pros. When you are young you can get away with so much and still crush souls the next day and the next week on the bike. But get a poor night’s sleep as a master or eat a crappy meal and you pay the price the next day. So I preach all the lifestyle ‘stuff’: proper nutrition, 8 hours of sleep each night, managing stress, yoga, and proper training plan design to name a few recovery techniques.
Pro Active Recovery
Continuing on from the above, I believe the masters cyclists that want to have next level performances (and they can) must be proactive in their recovery. This includes excellent nutrition (gluten & dairy free) as well as getting 8 hours of sleep or more. I’ve seen many a talented master cyclist who short changed themselves from consistently only getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Yoga and meditation can also be harnessed to recover better. How do I know and am not getting all Boulder hippy on ya? I use a Whoop to measure my three important elements for recovery:
- HRV (heart rate variability).
Using whoop’s technology, I receive a “Recovery Score” every morning and I’ve found (along with my athletes) that Yoga does indeed improve my Whoop scores. From talking with the HRV experts the breathing that one does in yoga and meditation calms down the parasympathetic nervous system thus enhancing recovery.
Last but not least is a sensory deprivation float tank. Pretty woo-woo but they work. They are popping up around the country and are terrific for unwinding and de-stressing. Basically, you float in complete silence and darkness in a pod floating in salt water at body temperature. Its meditative and you feel great after. Whoop recovery scores skyrocket.
Winning in the Kitchen
This is an expression I borrowed from my cyclocross mechanic friends who win in the garage by dialing in a bike that performs flawlessly without failing in muddy cyclocross races. For nutrition, athletes must own what they put in their mouth, no excuses. The athletes that have the most success cook and prepare their own food. They also need to do their own grocery shopping because you gotta ‘win in the grocery store’ too. What comes home goes in your mouth and more importantly, what doesn’t come home can’t go in your mouth. Eighty percent of weight loss and optimal race weight is achieved from proper nutrition while only 20% from riding more. That’s why nearly everything can lose the first 5 lbs but it is the final 15 that comes from ‘winning in the kitchen’. I educate athletes on what that looks like and have even been known to take trips to the grocery store to consult on go fast food choices and go slow food choices.
I first heard this expression when I was working in Italy at the SRM headquarters in Lucca. “Full Gas” the euros would say describing how hard they went up a climb while memeing their hand turning the throttle of a motorcycle. I started using that expression anytime I wanted an athlete to go as hard as they could. “Full Gas” or FG!! on the training plans. I coach athletes what exactly full gas is thru their power data. When they’ve gone too hard (such a thing) , too easy or just right, like Goldilocks.
The professional athletes that I’ve been blessed to work with get raced too much and masters cyclists tend to race too often. I spend a great deal of time setting up an athlete’s entire season’s race schedule (before the season starts) to identify opportunities to rest, to train and most importantly overload taper and peak. Some pros never have the opportunity like my work with Phil Gaimon. Some think that’s what being a pro is and while true most pro teams could do a better job of organizing their roster to afford their riders time off to recover and race better.
Masters have an ‘if you build they will come’ field of dreams mentality for race series and races every weekend. A lot of times the first thing I do with a master athlete is set up their season and strategically work on non-competitive weekends to chill and train mid-season and post-season breaks. This is especially true for a 3 ½ month long cyclocross season. Overall I’m a big fan of 3-6 week racing blocks followed by rest and periods of uninterrupted high-quality training. Then another race block. For masters this can simply be a week or two off from racing to train and make an improvement.
When I got to college I thought I wanted to be a counselor so I studied psychology. I was drawn to the science and gravitated towards biology and physiology courses. For a while, I was going to be a psychiatrist but I spent a week interning in a psych ward to find out that’s not what I wanted to do. So I decided I wanted to be a doctor. But then I got a mountain bike while in graduate school and long story short, I’m helping people with science and counseling them as their coach. Full circle back to counseling but in a way more fun subject.
I bring this up because coaches wear a lot of hats and a lot of times I wear the sports psych hat: motivating, listening, having empathy, understand, recognizing limiters that athletes can work on. Its a huge part of my coaching to read an athlete and understand them as a person an what motivates them. If I could do my college and graduate school career all over again, I’d study sports psychology. Until I’m reincarnated (haha) I refer athletes to my network of sports psychologist when I recognize that I’m getting in over my head.
Training Plan Design
K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, we as cyclists tend to make training more complicated than it has to be. It’s like Einstein said, “if you can’t explain it simply….’ or if you aren’t designing an easy to follow training plan that achieves precise physiological adaptations then you are failing the athlete. There is no need for uber complicated workouts that require a sheet of paper out on the bike — or rather these days an export onto your bike computer. Details are necessary but make the workout and plan easy to follow >> support that plan with great communication.
I use a fatigue dependent training plan design that all athletes respond well to and understand. They train, get tired (their power goes down), they recover (their power goes up) and get faster (they get results). Simple
And there you go: fifteen years and twelve ways I make athletes faster. FasCat Coaching turns 15 this Memorial Day. Fifteen! I said it then because it’s still true to this day, “its a dream come true to work with athletes every day in a sport I love”. I would like to thank all the athletes and coaches that have made this journey possible and to say, we’re just getting started!
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Frank Overton started FasCat Coaching 15 years ago this Memorial Day! Over the past 15 years he developed the coaching philosophy above and then some. To talk with Frank or a FasCat Coach fill out our New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation or browse over 70 training plans using the same coaching methodology and training plan design as the philosophy above!