Indoor Base Training Part II

•February 19, 2011 • 4 Comments

No time to ride, even less to blog.  I know I am overdue for a blog post.  Despite what you may think, the last few weeks have been very good training-wise.  My rapid weight gain that saw me pack on twenty pounds in little over two months is back in check.  The training has been even better.  In a little over seven weeks, I have seen an increase of approximately 12% in my functional threshold wattage.

 So what I have been doing for the last seven weeks?  Well, in truth, I haven’t been doing anything special or extraordinary.  When you are starting from square one, you have a lot of room for initial improvement.  It will be interesting to see what the next four to eight weeks produce.

The workouts that I have been doing are best described as foundation/preparation in the context of The Time-Crunched Cyclist.  As mentioned in a prior post, The Time-Crunched Cyclist doesn’t really describe or provide a program for this period.  It is purposefully unstructured training period with occasional intervals at intensities of 60-85% of the CTS field test power. 

Since I was starting back at square one due to lengthy lay off from riding (my prior field test results made that quite apparent), I figured I needed to give my preparation a bit of structure.  On Tuesdays, I would do the workout I featured in this post.  On Wednesdays, I would do speed work with three sets of 4×2 minute fast pedal exercises witha two-minute recovery between the intervals and five minutes between the sets.  These workouts, while certainly not the most intense, were very challenging due to the fact that I am riding Power Cranks which adds another dimension to training.  On Thursdays, I did my strength workout previously discussed in this post

Saturdays and Sundays were my long days on the bike.  Time permitting, I did anywhere from two to three hours on both days.  These were endurance rides and, for the most part, I stayed in Zone 2 for the duration of the ride.   On Saturdays, I’d add a bit of intensity with 4×15 minute tempo efforts (80-85% of my CTS field test wattage).

Over the course of the last seven weeks, the workouts were becoming easier as I adapted to training and to using Power Cranks (again).  This week was a much-needed recovery week.  On Thursday, I performed another CTS field test followed by a rest day and, on Saturday, I did a functional threshold power test as described in Training and Racing with a Power Meter (2nd Edition) by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan, PhD.  The results of the field tests are as follows:

CTS Field Test #1

Duration: 08:00

Average Wattage: 297 watts

Average Heart Rate: 179 bpm

Average Cadence: 76 rpm

CTS Field Test #2

Duration: 08:00

Average Wattage: 281 watts

Average Heart Rate: 177 bpm

Average Cadence: 69 rpm

First effort was better than the second.

20 Minute Functional Threshold Field Test

Duration: 20:00

Average Wattage: 263 watts

Average Heart Rate: 178 bpm

Average Cadence: 66 rpm

20 minute function threshold field test.

In sum, my CTS field test wattage (the average of the two field tests) improved almost 10% over my prior field test.  My functional threshold power (95% of my 20 minute average wattage) improved over 12% from my prior field test of seven weeks ago!  Not a bad improvement over the last seven weeks.  I hope the next eight will be equally effective.

Indoor Base Training

•January 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Most riders in New England put in their fair share of time on the indoor trainer when winter forces even the most hardened of riders to train indoors. For such riders, an indoor trainer is a necessary evil that is quickly put away as soon as the weather permits.  For me, however, the indoor trainer is a year-round necessity due to work and family constraints.

My riding partner this month

I typically put in my weekday rides after the little ones are asleep which, after the typical bed-time delay tactics, is usually around 8:30 p.m.  On weekends, weather permitting, I get to ride outdoors.  That hasn’t happened much as of lately due to what seems like almost weekly snow storms that have dumped a minimum of at least a foot of snow per storm on New England.

So far this month I have logged 30 hours of riding and, compared to the last few months, is darn good for my limited schedule.  All of my riding has been, however, indoors.  It really isn’t that bad.  I have been able to watch some good programs (thanks to my TiVo box), including Travis Pastrana setting the automobile record on the Mt. Washington auto road on The World of Adventure Sports on Universal Sports.

So what have I been doing for workouts?  Lots of speed work (i.e., 2 minute efforts with cadence of over 100 rpms) and muscle endurance efforts (50-55 rpms while in the 53×11).  To make sure I don’t lose too much of my threshold wattage as I attempt to build a base on limited saddle time, I try to work in an hour and a half of riding at or just below threshold wattage throughout the week.  We’ll see if that is successful when I do my next field test in about two weeks. 

My featured workout this week is another one of my weekday workouts.  The meat of the workout are muscle endurance efforts that I alluded to above.  This week’s workout included 5×4 minute efforts with four minutes of recovered between intervals.  During the intervals I try to keep my cadence around 50 to 55 rpms.  As I progress, the intervals will get longer.  A lot of athletes who train with PowerCranks complain that they lose some of their pedaling force when switching back to regular cranks for races.  This workout is designed to minimize any apparent decrease in strength.

Muscle Endurance Efforts

Return to Mt. Washington

•January 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Welcome to Mt. Washington

I have now logged more hours on the bike during the month of January than October, November and December combined.  This is not bragging nor is it impressive due to the fact that I barely touched my bicycle since September.  I will not bother going into the specifics.  Needless to say, anyone who enjoys riding is well aware of the inverse proportional relationship between work and play.

So when outside pressures began to relax over the last few weeks, I started to think about what events I want to do in 2011.  Better yet, I started to ride my bike again.  I did a couple of field tests, both of which confirmed that my fitness had significantly declined since last summer.  On top of that, I gained twenty pounds further adding to my inefficiency on the bike.  I got a lot of work to do, especially if I plan to do the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb this summer.

The Pain Cave

I have had the opportunity to ride my bike up the Mt. Washington Auto Road on four occasions but have never logged an official time.  Before someone cries foul, I registered for both races in 2007 which were cancelled due to inclement weather.  I still had the opportunity to do one of the practice rides and the two informal rides that were held for the registered racers following the cancellations.  I registered for the race again in 2008 and was able to do the practice ride.  I had to bow out of the race as we were expecting our second child and it would not bode well if I was three and half hours away while my wife went into labor.  So after a two year hiatus, I am planning on returning to the “rockpile” in 2011 to see if I can best my personal record of 1:22:46 and perhaps even do a sub-80 minute ride.

Just One Long Interval

I am not sure if a sub-80 minute ride is attainable with the limited amount of time I have to train.  I think the key to success is consistency.  Picking up where I left off in October, I have started a time-crunched base program of sorts.  Most of the rides are Zone 2 endurance rides punctuated with some on the bike strength training (typically pushing a 53×11 with a cadence of 50-55 rpms).  Alternatively, I also have been doing some high cadence work to improve my pedaling economy.  The high cadence work also helps speed up the learning curve when beginning to ride PowerCranks (again).  At least once a week I am spending about one half hour at or just below my threshold.

My featured workout from this week was an hour and a half indoor workout that included three (3x) ten-minute efforts at threshold wattage with five minutes of recovery in between efforts.  Just for fun, I did two all-out efforts that lasted eight seconds each with a five minute recovery in between efforts.  Here is a screenshot of what the workout looked like. 

This week's featured workout.

You will see that my heart rate is ridiculously high for the threshold efforts (average heart rate was 174 bpm).  This is largely due to the increased muscle recruitment necessary for PowerCranks and the fact that my hip flexors have not fully adapted to their new aerobic role.  As I said above, I have a long way to go.

The Horn, 4000 feet

The next few weeks should be interesting as I get back into the swing of things.  Since one hundred percent of my training is now performed indoors, I’d love to hear from you as to how you pass the time while riding indoors.  Zone 2 endurance rides can be mind-numbing.  They are even worse when done indoors.  Movie suggestions and song playlists are always welcome.  I’d love to hear from you.  Thanks for reading.

Time-Crunched Cyclist, Take Two

•October 21, 2010 • 1 Comment

A little over two months ago I started one of the time-crunched training programs in Chris Carmichael’s The Time-Crunched Cyclist (Velo Press 2009). I had hoped to document my progress and quantify any improvement in my fitness through the use of a PowerTap power meter. Two weeks into the program my plan was laid to waste due other constraints on my limited time. Now with some degree of balance returning to my work and family life, I once again have some time to ride my bike again.

With my next targeted event almost eight months away, there is no reason for me to try again with the time-crunched training program at this time. I don’t need to peak for indoor trainer season here in New England. Rather, the focus for the next few weeks is rebuild some fitness over the next few months and prevent any further detraining.

One topic that is somewhat ignored in The Time-Crunched Cyclist is the foundation period between the training programs. As described in an earlier post, The Time-Crunched Cyclist includes four different training programs that last approximately 8 to 11 weeks in length. Following the completion of a training program, the athlete is advised to do at least a four to six week foundation/preparation period.

The period of reduced intensity is necessary because the limited time to ride does not permit the athlete to build a sufficient base to support extended periods of training at intensity. If you try to maintain the high intensity, low volume lifestyle for too long, you are highly likely to suffer burn out. As I alluded to above, there is not much discussion, let along any examples, of appropriate workouts during the foundation/preparation period. The only guidance offered is that the athlete should focus on steady intensities at 65 to 85 percent of the average wattage sustained during the athlete’s field test (i.e., tempo in Carmichael’s parlance).

Performing extended tempo intervals can be rather boring. I find it rather difficult to maintain my focus, especially on an indoor trainer, for forty minutes or more while trying to sustain my wattage output at about my threshold. Workouts during the foundation/preparation period need not be limited, however solely to tempo efforts. The foundation period has less structure and is a great time to incorporate other types of workouts such as low cadence, high force intervals and leg speed workouts. On of the training devices that I rely heavily on during the foundation period to keep things interesting are PowerCranks. There are a number of different exercises that you can perform which will help to you smooth out your pedal stroke, improve efficiency and speed up your cadence.

Over the next few weeks I plan to experiment with a number of these workout and share them with you. Be sure to subscribe to this blog so you can receive my upcoming posts as soon as they become available. Thanks for reading and see you back here real soon, promise.

Piriformis Pain in the . . . .

•October 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It is hard to believe that one could develop muscle imbalances with only six (or less) hours a week to ride. Several months ago I began experiencing a deep discomfort square in the middle of my left buttock and radiating pain down the back of my left leg. At first, it was only a minor annoyance. As the pain intensified and traveled further down my leg, I realized something needed to be done.

I did some on-line research and it didn’t take long for me to self diagnose myself with piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome occurs when the piriformis muscle irritates or compresses the sciatic nerve. The typical symptoms include pain, numbness or tingling in the buttocks and can be felt along the back of leg of the affected side as well.

I was surprised to learn that piriformis syndrome is common overuse injury affecting cyclists and runners. Athletes that engage in forward-moving activities are more susceptible as a result muscle imbalances involving weak hip abductors and tight adductors. Is it really possible to develop an overuse injury on six hours of training? The answer is yes but there is another reason: apparently one is even more likely to develop piriformis syndrome if you do not stretch or perform lateral strengthening exercises. That’s what did me in. Add to it the 8 to 10 hours a day I sit at my desk and you can certainly develop piriformis syndrome on 6 hours of saddle time a week.

So I had my self-diagnosis. Now what do I do about? Surprisingly there is no mention of piriformis syndrome in Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists (Andy, if you are reading this, you need to add a paragraph or two for the next edition). I searched around online for some products that could potentially help and came across Trigger Point Performance Therapy website. Among the symptoms targeted by their hip and lower back kit are piriformis syndrome and sciatica.

I called around to a number of local retailers who were open on a Sunday and had the Trigger Point Hip and Lower Back Kit in stock. I was about to shell out the $160 for this product when my wife suggested I call one of her friends who had recently completed physical therapy for similar symptoms. Well, it turns out that our good friend had similarly suffered from piriformis syndrome and was able to overcome it with the help physical therapy and yoga. Best of all, the yoga sequence recommended by her physical therapist is available on line and is free.

I figured I would give it a week, its free after all. If my condition didn’t improve, I would either see my primary care physician or bite the bullet and buy the Trigger Point product. I downloaded the video to my iPod and after only three sessions, my symptoms had largely disappeared and were completely gone after two weeks.

The video is called Jason Crandell’s Deep Hip Openers Video and is available on Yoga Journal’s website and iTunes. As the name implies, the yoga poses focus primarily on the hips and legs. The poses are not difficult with only one or two posses having opt-out or less strenuous options. With the exception of pigeon pose, the poses do not torque or put any pressure on your knees or joints. If your knees are an issue, I would stay away from the pigeon pose or, at least, take it very easy. In addition to being free, it takes less than thirty minutes to complete and is perfect for post ride stretching or a rest day activity in your training week. You have thirty minutes, right?

Best Wheels Ever?

•October 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Best wheels ever?

If you could buy only one set of wheels for your road bike, what wheels would you settle on? When I started putting together my Specialized Tarmac SL2, the one area I had skimped on was the wheelset. After selling my Independent Fabrication Crown Jewel, the only componentry I had left over was my PowerTap SL rear hub that was built up on Mavic Open Pro rim. I had a matching front wheel laced up and I was good to go. Nevertheless, I continued to dream of having a pair of carbon hoops to complete the project. Due to the fact that I refused to consider any wheelset that wasn’t already built up on a PowerTap hub (which essential doubled the price of an already expensive proposition), my carbon wheels would have to wait.

Fast forward two years. Feeling duty bound to do my part to help jump start the slumping economy, I started considering carbon wheels. Now many years ago I had a pair of Mavic GL330s as my race wheels. These where perhaps my favorite wheels of all time. They were light yet sturdy (mind you, I only weighed 140 pounds back then) and very comfortable on the rough roads we typically enjoy here in New England. With many fond memories of long days in the saddle with that wheelset, I decided to find the modern day equivalent. My search basically came down to the two industry leaders in this area, Zipp and Reynolds. Since I was looking for a tubular wheelset, the Reynolds wheels were quickly eliminated. The spoke nipples on the Reynolds wheels are hidden and therefore require removal of the tubular tire (which is glued to the rim) to access the nipples for truing. I don’t care how indestructible the company claims their wheels are, I cannot fathom having to remove my tire to true a wheel.

That left Zipp. Zipp has quite a few wheels in its lineup from the wispy light 202s with a 32mm rim depth to the deep dish 808s with 81mm rim depth (the 1080s were never an option because they cannot be build up on a PowerTap hub – yes, I am that addicted to the damn thing). I wanted a light pair of wheels for hillclimb races but also versatile enough for long rides and road races of varying terrain. While the 202s are pure climbing wheels, the 303s are, in my opinion, the most versatile wheels in Zipp’s lineup. The wheels are only 80 grams, read again, 80 grams heavier than the 202s yet boasts an aerodynamic profile similar to the 404s thanks to the new toroidal profile introduced in late 2009. Plus the things are tough enough to survive Paris fricken Roubaix. Done deal.

Remember this guy?

Having never ridden carbon wheels before, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had ofter heard people comment that “they spin up fast” but never knew what they meant by it. It didn’t take me long to figure it out. The lighter rotational weight of the wheels take less effort to get them up to speed. And yes, you can buy speed (but it ain’t cheep). For a wheelset with a PowerTap hub, you can expect to pay northward of $3,000. Is it worth it? I think so. The wheels are stiff yet the tubular set-up yields a more comfortable ride. They may even be as as comfortable as my Mavic GL330s of years past notwithstanding having to compete with nostalgia (and my foggy memory).

Happiness is a PowerTap hub.

How much faster are they than conventional wheels? Zipp claims you will save 60 seconds in a 40 km time trial. From my own personal experience, I shaved 40 seconds off a 20 km time trial under similar conditions notwithstanding the fact that I was actually generating less watts the day I rode my Zipp wheels. If I was able to match the wattage output from my ride on standard wheels, the time savings would have been greater!

So if you could only buy one set of wheels to fulfill all your riding needs what would you buy? Let me answer by posing another question: Are there any wheels that even come close to Zipp 303s?


•September 27, 2010 • 4 Comments

Sorry for the delay in posts. As you may have guessed, things have been a bit hectic and I have had to put my time-crunched training on hiatus. There is time-crunched and then there is positively, absolutely no time to ride.

It has been over two weeks since I have had an opportunity to go for a ride. For me, cycling is a fun diversion, an opportunity to unwind after work and a way to re-connect with old friends. As my wife will attest to, I am certainly a happier person (and more pleasant to be around) when I can get a ride in. So what has it been like the last few weeks? Difficult to say the least.

So I am curious to hear from you.  How do you cope when you have no time to enjoy your favorite activity, hobby or pastime?  Leave a comment and joint the conversation.

Thanks for reading.


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