Five ways to go faster – the long game

Five ways to go faster – the long game

So, you still have a need for speed on your bike?

In the first part of this series looking at five ways to go faster, we looked at the ‘short game’ – something I cover in more depth in my most recent webinar

You have been working on aspects of your training and have now increased your speed on the take-off for the attack and the short hill climb and once you have attacked, you can sustain a high level of effort for several minutes.

Now we want to focus on the long game – how can you do all that we talked about but keep going for hours? It’s a golden question, but there is no solution to this that does not involve time.

Some people, particularly in these interesting and challenging times, have become very fast at short distance indoor events, but are going to be found somewhat wanting when they get back out on the roads again.

There are two problems about building up speed without building up endurance.

The first is maybe not intuitive. If you have a health or injury problem and you do not carry endurance fitness into it, you basically have to start again. You could have multiple setbacks when endurance fit and return back to your top very quickly even several times in a season, but not if you only have ‘speed fitness’.

The second problem is that the world is filled with riders who can ride fast for a short distance, but not make the distance of the event – for most of those you need endurance fitness.

Five ways to go faster – the long game 1

What we will cover in part two of the Five Ways to go Faster webinar are some examples of how to do endurance training and riding, how to handle multi-day events, and also how back-to-back days of long riding make you stronger. The incredible irony of true endurance training is that when you do it slow, you actually get faster. We will explore that.

The last of our five tips will be focused on rest, which I will combine with testing. But in simple terms, proper rest is the pump that primes your improvement. Remember, most sub-elite riders do not improve. This session explains the two main reasons why that is a fact.

To join the Five Ways to go Faster – the Long Game webinar with Verve Cycling CEO, Bryan Taylor, on Thursday 29th April 2021, click here to view the available sessions and register.

The first webinar in this series – Five Ways to go Faster – the Short Game – will take place on Thursday 22nd April 2021. Click here to view the available sessions and sign-up. 

Boris Clark: Week in Numbers

Boris Clark: Week in Numbers

Boris Clark rides for Veris Racing in Perth, Australia. He’s been reflecting on one of his stand-out blocks of training from this year – a week in April during lockdown. Boris also shares some of his key stats from the week, with impressive numbers to show for his hard work.

Week in Numbers

  • Total hours on the bike: 24 hours 37 minutes
  • Total kilometres: 700 kilometres
  • Max power output: 671 watts (no sprints that week!). Best effort – 453 watts (6.5w/kg) for 9 minutes 51 seconds
  • Total metres ascended: 11,557 metres (including virtual metres!)

 “This was a week I did during our lockdown in New Zealand. We were able to train outside, but had to keep close to home, so a lot of this was done with many laps of the same roads! I ride for the Veris Racing team in Australia and was preparing for what at the time was looking like it would be a delayed national road series. The main aims were longer efforts and building load with these, but the week also includes a virtual everesting and a Strava King of the Mountain (KOM).

“Things kicked off on Monday with a virtual everesting I had arranged with a mate. I ended up a little bit ahead of him and kept riding to support him to finish, so I ended up with 10 hours 5 minutes on the trainer, 226 virtual kilometres, 9302 metres of virtual climbing, average power of 203 watts (3w/kg), and 7590kJ of work completed!

“After that, I had two days of super easy rides before getting stuck into training again. The next ‘proper’ session was on the Thursday and was 2 hours 45 minutes with 4×10 minute efforts separated by 8 minute recovery. I was still pretty tired from the everesting so my heart rate was down and perceived exertion up. I did the efforts at 395 watts, 385 watts, 391 watts, and 391 watts respectively, with the second and fourth efforts being done at low cadence (65rpm approx).

“The next day I backed this up with a four hour ride with 2×45 minute efforts at 302 watts and 304 watts, before finishing with a 1 hour effort at 304 watts. I averaged 265 watts for the four hours and average heart rate for the ride was 145bpm.

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“I then did a two hour easy ride on the Saturday, and Sunday I went to get the Strava KOM back on the local climb. The climb is 4.24km long at 5.6% average. To get the KOM back, the effort was 9 minutes 51 seconds at 453 watts (6.5w/kg), which was and remains a PB over the 10 minute (approx) time-frame. I then rode endurance pace for the rest of the ride, averaging 210 watts for a total of 4 hours.

“I feel very privileged to have the InfoCrank as my power meter. I’ve used others in the past, and none were as easy to set-up or maintain as the InfoCrank is. I’ve also had days in the past where I’ve felt good yet my numbers are poor, which makes it hard to know if it’s actually your legs struggling or perhaps some drift in the power meter. Luckily with the InfoCrank I know that is not a possibility.

“We are provided with an InfoCrank as a member of the team, but I’ll likely buy a power meter personally for my Time Trial bike soon, and I really wouldn’t consider any other option after my experience with InfoCrank compared to the other power meters I’ve used.”

Join Matthew Keenan’s Tour Training Challenge

Join Matthew Keenan’s Tour Training Challenge

Matthew Keenan’s Tour Training Challenge is well underway – with coaching from Graeme Brown and data from his InfoCrank power meter, Matt is trying to improve his fitness during the three weeks he is commentating on the Tour De France.

Matt is now inviting fellow cyclists to join him for the challenge…

In response to a post about my Tour de France Training Challenge, I was asked why am I doing it, what event I’m preparing for.

Well, there is no event. And the challenge isn’t to beat anyone else.

I’m doing it to challenge myself. I simply want to push myself and see how much I can improve with some structure around my training on limited time.

And so far, almost one week in, I’m loving it.

It’s giving me something really positive to focus on in a year of disruption. I’m making the most of not being able to go to the Tour since I started commentating on the race in 2007.

So why don’t you join me.

Do the same pre-training tests that I did to measure your max power, 1min and 5min power, and your FTP.

At the end of it we’ll do the same tests again and see if we’ve improved.

Every day, on my Instagram account (@mwkeenan), I’m going to post an overview of the training that’s been mapped out for me by dual Olympic gold medallist, Graeme Brown, and you can use that as guide for the sort of sessions you can do.

You can start the challenge whenever it’s convenient. It’s not a competition with anyone. It’s about setting yourself the challenge.

The good and the bad news for me is there’s no dodging Graeme’s eye. He sent me a pair of InfoCranks so he can accurately measure my workouts. I got a text message during one interval session to keep going. He’s in Perth and I’m in Melbourne. Big Brownie is watching.

If you’re up for the challenge please let me know what you think of some of the training session. It’s always nice to share the suffering.

To get involved in the challenge, complete your pre-training tests and follow Matt’s training on Instagram. You can also join the Zwift rides by getting in touch with Graeme – graeme@gbcoaching.com.au. Share your progress on social media using #TourTrainingChallenge and tag InfoCrank.

We’ll be posting updates on Matt’s progress across InfoCrank social media, and you can also join the conversation on Matthew Keenan and Graeme Brown’s Instagram and Facebook pages. 

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How to structure your training – the 80/20 rule

How to structure your training – the 80/20 rule

Training on a bike can be as simple or as complex as you wish to make it, but there is wisdom in keeping it simple as such an approach can pay greater rewards.  You should aim to structure your training using the 80/20 rule, incorporating three different types of training. 

Here are the three types of training to be aware of:

  1. Endurance training – you need this for any cycling event in the real world or in e-sports. Without a strong endurance engine, you cannot get to the end of the event or tour. This is all about fitness and staying the course.
  2. High Intensity Training – you need this to change from a slow person who can just ride a bike into one that has the power to get up hills, sprint into finishes and stay with the other riders. This is about pushing yourself into moments and bursts of exertion that ordinarily you might avoid.
  3. Strength Training – this goes beyond the high intensity work and is designed to make your muscles stronger, not just faster.

How to structure your training - the 80/20 rule 2

  1. Endurance Training

You should aim to follow the 80/20 rule when structuring your training. Endurance training should be at least 80% of your training measured by time and in fact it delivers more than 80% of the results. In other words, just by riding at a talking pace you will get fitter and stronger over time.

If you decide to ride faster for that 80%, it does not necessarily mean that you will get faster or even much fitter. To understand why is a complex issue, but suffice to say training must be strategic and have a purpose. Goals must be set and worked towards – pushing yourself 80% of the time in an unstructured way risks physical burnout, mental depletion and self-limiting progress.

In cycling, there is a term sometimes called FTP or Functional Threshold Power, which is a power measurement. Your FTP is the maximum sustainable power at which you can ride for an hour and it is useful to have an idea what it is when you start. Your InfoCrank can help you to monitor this and here’s how to figure out what it is.

Your FTP can be used to determine the pace at which you ride when endurance training, however for now, we will refer to your Aerobic Threshold (AT).  This is the level at which you can still breathe steadily even if laboured and ride for the hour.

About 70 to 80% effort of that Aerobic Threshold is another important level. This is the pace at which you could theoretically ride ‘all day’. More technically, it is the pace at which your body replaces what you are using more or less at the same rate as you use it. This is Endurance Pace. We often call it ‘Talking Pace’, because it is as fast as you can ride and still talk in proper sentences.

Another level below your endurance pace is what we call Recovery Pace.  This is the pace at which the body actually replenishes while you are riding. The Recovery Pace is great because it drives fresh blood into the muscles, without creating any further damage, and as the name implies actually speeds up your recovery. It is simply one of the best ways to recover from a grueling session. It’s important to have days like this every so often as recovery is enhanced and muscular soreness reduced.

So now we have a box that looks like this for your Endurance Training. In any given week of training, 80% of the time should be below Aerobic Threshold with nearly all of it at an effort that is between Recovery Pace and Endurance Pace.

How to structure your training - the 80/20 rule 3

         2. High Intensity Training (HIT)

Now we come to HIT, which should be around 20% of your time training. If the endurance training builds the house, the HIT is the roof. The best way to understand HIT is to use the analogy of a rechargeable battery when it is in use and connected to the charger.

We are just like that – the system is being used and then regenerating. The shorter the maximal effort in a training session, the more the anaerobic portion of your system is being used (anaerobic exercise is short, fast, high-intensity exercise that doesn’t require the body to utilize oxygen as its energy source). 

So, a five second High Intensity maximal effort can put out a lot of energy, but in a 10-minute maximal effort, the rate at which the output is delivered (the battery discharge in our analogy) needs to be slower. Interestingly, discharging regularly actually makes your endurance capacity grow and also makes you more efficient at the High Intensity activity. So, you get a double bang for your buck. You get faster and can also ride faster longer.

The rule with HIT is that it is ‘all out’.  But remember that this is ‘all out’ across the entire set of all intervals, if you truly go all out over the first couple of intervals you may not complete the set. 

Judging these efforts takes a little practice, but it’s no more difficult than going to the gym and figuring out how much you can bench press for 5 sets of 10 repetitions – the practice is identical. And as with the bench press in the gym, you are aiming to get through each set in perfect form but exhaust all your energy in doing so.

Remember that this is how you train for 20% of your time including the recovery between efforts. For those at the top of their game, such as Olympic champion cyclists, spending as low as 4-5% of their time in the actual HIT is sufficient.

  • 20% of your time at maximum
  • Always ‘all out’
  • Never on back to back days
  • Done as intervals

How to structure your training - the 80/20 rule 4

        3. STRENGTH

So now we’ve used 100% of the training time and seem to have forgotten the third section. The reason for this bad mathematical construct is that the actual time taken for strength is really very short, but still very important. Cycling is a non-load bearing exercise to a large extent. Humans are active creatures and naturally designed to take load, so we need to do some load bearing exercises.

This is why astronauts work-out in space, because the low levels of gravity cause muscle mass to atrophy (reduce) as everything is effectively lighter. In our case, we don’t need to use weights because on earth, body weight is sufficient. One of the best weights is the human body.

There are many different strength exercises you could do and isometric exercises in particular are easy to fit into your training (exercises where the muscles are tensioned but not contracting). 

A favourite of ours is an isometric exercise done when your bike is fixed on a trainer:

  • Lock the bike down safely so the cranks can’t move.
  • Position your cranks at around 30 degrees and then apply all the pressure you can till you lose form.
  • Stop, perform the same exercise on the other leg, then rest and repeat.
  • Build up both time and pressure.

You can measure the instantaneous torque with your InfoCrank (via the VINC app available from the Google Play store) and then strive for new records every week. It’s likely you can probably only hold the max torque for 15 seconds, so doing a couple of sets is not a real time issue – but the payback is huge.

How to structure your training - the 80/20 rule 5

So, in summary, what have we got?

Most of your training should be at talking pace – often called endurance pace – which is about 70 to 80% of your threshold.

And then 15 to 20% of your training needs to be High Intensity. It can be part of the Endurance Ride or separate – your choice. This might be 10 x 1 minute, it might be 3 x 5 minutes.

And then starting once a week, do some strength work. Increase it in time and pressure. You could carry weights for the glute exercises or do more of them or both. For the isometrics, you also increase the time and the torque. Both of these can get fun and competitive – because you can be beating records every week.

And then you will start to reap the rewards of getting your training spot on.

Pair your training routine with an InfoCrank power meter and it will support you to ensure you are riding at exactly the right level. Find out more here.

Pedalling a bike; the importance of true measurement

Pedalling a bike; the importance of true measurement

Pedalling a bike; the importance of true measurement 6

Many years ago, the only measurement that really mattered for the bike racer or the aspiring kid on their tricycle was the finishing post. A line across the road or a lamp post, it didn’t matter – first one there WON!

Racing a bike is still the same. Gran Fondo, Zwift race, Olympics or Tour de France stage – all the same – it is about getting across the line.

What is different now is that we are able to measure things. We can measure the speed, our heart rates, our position relative to the finish or the terrain, our power. Here, the importance lies in ensuring that the measurements are true, as even just a very small percentage of inaccuracy can make an exercise wholly redundant.

Let’s take what appears to be a very simple concept – pedalling a bike. Our example today is as simple as we can make it with true measurement. It aims to demonstrate why the truth is so important and how it has made a significant difference to this rider’s approach to pedalling.

The test was completed on a Standard Road InfoCrank using an air-braked trainer. The data was logged by a custom Verve Cycling data logger and analysed using the VINC Pro software.

The first graph below depicts the entire left and right pedal strokes of a rider doing a 16 minute test ride – altogether about 2m data points. There are many metrics available, but we will just start with one of them; 53/47 left/right balance. This outcome over the full ride is pretty normal for this cyclist who goes through life with the view that his left leg is stronger than his right.

His physios tell him that both legs are quite different. He is a little confused, because after a hard event (or during) his left leg always cramps prior to the right – ‘why would the strong cramp first?’ – but all in all satisfied with the ‘diagnosis’ of all concerned that he is stronger in the left than the right.

Now we will look more closely at the pedal action during the second 8 second effort from the test.   

Surprisingly, the right(green) leg produces higher peaks over the exercise – in fact about 8% higher. We also can observe that the right leg has lower troughs on every pedal stroke than the right.

The overall pedal stroke of the right leg is inferior to the left.  We have also calculated that the right leg is ‘tiring’ twice as fast as the left.

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The effect is easier to see on the Verve Maximum Sustained Output Analysis. Here the same effort is seen simultaneously as Torque per rotation and Power over time.

What is obvious here is that the Peak Torque – the top red/green/grey lines – show that the right peak is always higher than the left by a significant margin. But the torque applied through the entire pedal stroke tells a different story – both lines (lower red/green) are very close, but the left leg is slightly more powerful. The end result on the last rotation measured was only 0.5nm different.

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We have added in the power Maximum Sustained output (now in the lower left corner) which is more marked, the left leg is consistently more powerful than the right. (Power and Torque are a little different, because torque doesn’t take into account speed of rotation – basically torque reduces as speed increases – power takes into account both force and speed).

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So what was the aim of this simple exercise in reality?

  1. The general prognosis that this rider’s left leg is stronger than his right may be correct but it is not totally correct.
  2. The right leg is able to exert considerably more force on the cranks than the left leg when called upon to do so.
  3. The therapy that has been applied (for the past seven years on this cyclist) has involved increasing the strength of some muscles in the right side of the body and leg.
  4. But the true measurement suggests that there is a problem rotating the right leg that may not be a strength issue, because we have evidence that the right leg is stronger to push down than the left. However, at the ‘bottom’ of the pedal stroke there is a problem that causes the leg to tire faster and reduces the effectiveness of the entire stroke.
  5. The question now for the experts is, ‘where and what is the hindrance?’
  6. Once found and worked on, can we then strengthen the LEFT leg to the point of the right and therefore gain 8-10% more power overall?

The true power measurement has given the rider an insight into what is really happening when he is pedalling, providing him with a real opportunity to truly achieve that gain in power overall.

Getting the point with Accuracy

Getting the point with Accuracy

In the world of competitive cycling and coaching many things are said about the accuracy of power meters. What is acknowledged by all is that knowing and training the power of the athlete is the single most important determinant for success.  The energy (watts) expended by the cyclist in driving the bicycle forward determines everything else.

But confusion runs rampant and logic is totally lost due to the misinterpretation of the simple word – accuracy.

Most athletes and their coaches try to explain accuracy in terms of consistency.  They say that the only thing that matters is that the results from their power meter are somewhat consistent.

In this case, half right is totally wrong. It is logically impossible to know (as an athlete or coach) if your power meter is consistent if you do not know if it gives true results.  That is why the actual definition of accuracy is defined as having two parts:

  • Trueness.   – is the closeness of a measurement quantity to that quantity’s true value. In other words, it is the extent to which the measurement is error free.*
  • “Precision” –  is the degree to which two or more repeated measurements show the same results each time. Sometimes precision is referred to as the reliability or consistency of the measurement.*

It is possible if you have extensive testing facilities to determine whether your device shows consistent results, without necessarily ever showing true results.  But for the cyclist on the road and the coach looking at results, it is impossible.

With the advent of the InfoCrank, acknowledged as the power device that is both true and precise the whole time, there is a sea change about to happen.  The InfoCrank has been independently tested for both torque (measured 256 times each second) and for power (watts) which combines the torque and the cadence to a level of accuracy (both parts of the definition) that in simple terms, the number on the screen of the athlete is always the correct wattage number.

For the first time, leading federations and coaches are realising that they now have a tool to help with selection of athletes for teams. Because they have trueness and precision all the time on every bike, they can directly compare each athlete and make selections accordingly.

Many commentators may have assumed that this was happening before, but it was not the case.  Some federations knew that their devices were quite consistent, but not directly comparable bike to bike or rider to rider.  This has now changed.

However, some competitive amateurs also knew it, but not because of expensive measurement tools. Riders who use certain indoor spinning machines with a crank based power device go to extremes to mark their favourite machine. They have learned that their perceived effort differs machine to machine and has no relationship to the number being shown on the head unit.

A break-through is now easily predictable.  Over the next years, say leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, there will be very significant improvements in cycling performance and not because of the chemists and doctors.

With only consistency (at most) to go on, it was quite a random exercise to have anyone other than podium athletes really train at the specified level.  The data was only viewed after the event, so normally only averages were observed. As the cyclist changed bikes from the road to the track or vice versa, the numbers differed greatly as they did in different environments.

The Cyclist did not know as they rode their intervals how closely they were maintaining their workload and so nearly all riders, even with all the technology available, have been training on Perceived Effort with numbers to prove it. This is why well-known professional riders say they do not ride with their power meters. They are very well tuned to Perceived Effort and the power estimator does not add particular value to them.

Have a look at the 50 second excerpt below from a steady ride (on a real climb) where the athlete was attempting to maintain 250 watts.  The InfoCrank showed the right number each pedal stroke as it has been independently tested to do.

Getting the point with Accuracy 7

The other power device (claimed to be accurate to 1.5%) showed numbers that varied second by second in a 100 watt range, both negative and positive.  For the rider who wants to measure his effort, he truly has no idea what power is being ridden.

Many coaches might be satisfied with the uploaded data after the event, because after all the fluctuations, the average result is OK.  The rider, the one who is riding the effort in order to improve, never had any idea what pace he was riding and does not know until later.

No wonder that professional riders when asked what they want from a power meter, say simply, “ I just want the right number”.

The advances in cycling performance will come from a combination of things that follow from having true and precise numbers all the time.

Firstly, the Bio Feedback loop, (what the legs are feeling, what the head unit is showing and what the eyes are seeing) will enable the athlete to control their efforts more closely than just by using Perceived effort and power estimations.

This in turn will enable controlled breakthroughs in thresholds and improvements in maintaining them.  The coaches will be key here as they adapt from averages to true numbers.

The pedal stroke itself will come in for significant improvement as that same feedback loop uses the intra-pedal stroke accuracy to voluntarily improve individual muscle performance and train fine motor skills.   The biomechanics, the bike fitters, the physiologists will all be key here as they ensure that the rider and the machine are optimised for his/her event.

All that will need to have to happen for a quantum leap in cycling performance to occur is to listen to the riders – They want the right (true) number and they are getting the point!

Sources / References:

* Source: Boundless. “Basic Inferential Statistics.” Boundless Psychology. Boundless, 26 May. 2016. Retrieved 14 Sep. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/researching-psychology-2/analyzing-and-interpreting-data-30/basic-inferential-statistics-479-16744/

* Source: Boundless. “Accuracy vs. Precision.” Boundless Psychology. Boundless, 26 May. 2016. Retrieved 14 Sep. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/researching-psychology-2/analyzing-and-interpreting-data-30/accuracy-vs-precision-480-16745/

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