6 Simple and Effective Core Exercises for Cyclists and Triathletes

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Having a strong core is essential to going faster on the bike.  You can make your legs as strong as you like, but if you can’t maintain stability in your torso and apply all that force and power you are generating to the pedals, are you really maximizing your return on time invested and going as fast as you can?  Heck no!  I have seen the difference having a strong and stable core can make in an athlete (including myself) and the following exercises are some of my favorites and the movements I recommend to my athletes.

The Rules:

  • Core work should ideally be done 1-3 times per week.  I like to have my athletes do a lot more during the preparation phase and gradually reduce to 1 time a week by their build phase for maintenance sake.  Some athletes need more core work though, so always do what works best for you!
  • WARNING: These exercises can make you REALLY sore the first time you do them.  I would not increase the number of reps and / or time holding a position until you can perform them without soreness.
  • Try and do these in front of a mirror the first few times so you can spot any breakdown in form / weakness in a certain muscle group.  Always try to maintain good form throughout the exercises and if you do notice a breakdown, stop.

#1 Planks:

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Make it easier – Bend your knees:

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Make it harder – Tripod – Lift one leg up:

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  • Start on your stomach.  Keep your feet hip width apart, on your toes or knees, and elbows directly under your shoulders.  When ready, lift your butt until there is a straight line from your shoulders down to your ankles or knees and hold.
  • The most common breakdown in form is dropping of the hips towards the ground, once you see this, stop.
  • A good goal for planks is to be able to hold one for 3 minutes, after this, progress to the tripod position.

#2 Side Planks:

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Make it easier – Bend your knees:

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Make it harder – Extend the elbow:

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  • Start on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder.  When ready, lift your hip off the ground until you form a straight line from your shoulders down to your ankles and hold.  Repeat on both sides.
  • The most common breakdown in form is dropping of the hips towards the ground, once you see this, stop.
  • A good goal for planks is to be able to hold one for 3 minutes, after this, progress to the elbow extended position.

#3 Bird Dogs:

  • Start on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.  When ready, lift and extend the right arm and left leg, hold steady for a few seconds, and repeat on same side.
  • Make sure you don’t rotate from your hips or shoulders here!
  • A good goal is to be able to perform 2 sets of 30 repetitions total.

#4 Superman:

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Make it easier – Hands by sides, legs on ground:

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  • Start on your stomach, when ready lift up both arms and both legs off the ground and hold.
  • Once your shoulders / legs start to fall towards the ground, stop.
  • I like to start by doing repetitions of these first.  Once I can do 30 repetitions straight through, then I will start doing static holds with a goal of 3 minutes.

#5 Dead Bugs

  • From the position on the left, slowly lower and extend your left leg and right arm to the floor, repeat on same side.
  • Your focus here should be on keeping your lower back in contact with the ground throughout the movement and maintaining a neutral pelvis.
  • A good goal is to be able to perform 2 sets of 30 repetitions total.

Make it harder – Both arms and legs

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  • Same as above, but this time lower and extend both arms and legs at the same time.

Make it easier – Lumbar spine press (90/90 position)

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  • Lift your legs to a 90/90 position (hips flexed to 90 degrees and knees bent to 90 degrees).  Press your back into the floor, draw your belly button in towards your spine, and hold.
  • A good goal is to be able to hold this position for 3 minutes before progressing to the Dead Bugs.

#6 Bridges

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Make it harder – Single leg bridge

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  • Start on your back, feet flat and hip width apart, arms extended with palms resting on floor.  When ready, squeeze your butt and lift your hips up until a straight line is formed from your knees to your shoulders, hold for a few seconds and slowly lower back to ground again, repeat.
  • A good goal is to be able to perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions.

Enjoy your washboard abs!

 

7 Stretches you Should do After Riding the Trainer

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Riding the trainer keeps your body in a fixed position even more so than riding outdoors.  This can wreak havoc on the neck, middle back, hip, and lower extremity muscles causing them to become shortened, painful, and lose their ability to produce power.  This, of course, is unacceptable and the exact opposite effect we want after spending time in the pain cave.  So, do yourself a favor and spend a few minutes stretching your legs out after you beat them up, your body will thank you.

The Rules

  • Ideal best time to stretch statically is POST WORKOUT.
  • Stretches should be held for 30 seconds minimum.  Physiologically, it takes your muscle fibers ~30 seconds to relax enough to make static stretching beneficial and allow the muscle fibers to lengthen.  If you have the time to hold them for longer, go for it!
  • Stretches should be performed in a comfortable range of motion, so no crying because it hurts so much, but you also want to feel like you are doing something too.
  • Alternate each side with each consecutive stretch, so as 1 side is resting, the other side is being stretched.
  • Perform the stretches 2-3 times each.

Post-Trainer Stretching Exercises

1. Calf + Cat

Come up to a standing position with your hands rested comfortably on the hoods.  Keep your weight equal on hands/feet.  Drop your head, roll your mid-back/shoulders, and lengthen your lower back.  Then, drop your heels down to stretch out your calves too.  I suggest switching your feet after each rep.img_0679

2. Calf + Camel

Same as above, but this time lift your head up, arch your mid back and try to bring your hips up to mobilize the joints of your spine.  Keep your heels down to keep stretching out those calves.  I suggest switching your feet after each rep.

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3. Hip Flexor

Hop off the bike.  Hold onto your bars with 1 hand for balance.  Take a big step forward, keep your back leg straight, bend your front knee, and move your body forward until you feel a stretch at the front of the hip on the back leg.  For a little more stretch, raise your arm up on the same side and lean back.

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4. Quads

Hold onto your bars for balance.  Grab your foot and pull your heel towards your bum until a stretch is felt in front of the thigh.  For more of a stretch, pull and extend your leg backwards.

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5. Hamstrings

Hold onto your bars for balance.  Extend a leg out in front of you, keep your knee straight, flex your heel up, and run your hand down your leg until a stretch is felt at the back of the thigh.

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6. Glutes

Pick a comfortable surface to lay flat on.  Bring your leg up, bend your knee, and pull your knee towards your chest until a stretch is felt in the glutes.

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7. Piriformis

Same position as above, but this time put your ankle on your opposite knee.  Reach between your legs for your thigh, and pull your knee towards your chest until a stretch is felt deep in the glutes.

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Get Faster on Flat Roads! Watts/CdA

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We always hear a lot about watts per kilogram when it comes to cycling, but what if I told you that isn’t the most important thing sometimes, dare I say even most of the time.  You see, watts per kilogram is crucial for the ultra mountainous events since the lighter and stronger a rider is, the faster they can scurry up a climb, but for the majority of cycling events, how much power you can produce in relation to how aerodynamic you can get is what really matters, aka Watts/CdA.  The weight of the rider is important here too of course as more muscle usually = more power, but more fat never = more speed! Before we delve into the sciencey stuff though, how can we define Watts/CdA?

Watts = Power being produced by a rider.  Cd = The coefficient of drag (wind).  A = How much frontal area a rider projects.  Watts/CdA = Power being produced by a rider divided by the coefficient of drag multiplied by the frontal area of said rider.  In essence, how good you are at turning your hard work into forward speed!  The lower the CdA the better.

Measuring CdA

You have really 2 options of measuring CdA: 1) Purchase time at a wind tunnel 2) Use software like Golden Cheetah, or an online calculator like this one from Cycling Power Lab’s website.  You will need a power meter for the most accurate CdA value.  You can also check out this great article from our friend, Dean Phillips of FitWerx, on field testing and figuring out CdA using the “Chung Method”.

Decreasing and Optimizing CdA

So now that you understand how to find out what your CdA is, how can you lower it?  Well, the greatest return on your investment is achieving a more aerodynamic position on your bike while being able to maintain your wattage output.  The latter half is crucial because you can get as aerodynamic and reduce your frontal area all you like, but if you can’t produce the power necessary to have it be advantageous, why do it?  This is why frequent field testing is important.  Figure out what worked well, what didn’t do much, and learn to optimize your position accordingly.  Then once you have that figured out you can play around with other aspects of your cycling garb like your helmet, shoes, kit, etc.  Just don’t be THAT guy at your next event that shows up on a $10,000 bike and can’t stay in his aero tuck for more than 2 minutes 😉

To give you a little better idea of where to spend your hard earned dough:

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Credit: Lindsey Underwood
Capture
Credit: Lindsey Underwood

Typical CdA Values

By Position:

  • Riding on tops = >.4 CdA
  • Riding on hoods = .32 CdA
  • Riding on drops = .30 CdA
  • Riding on aero bars (clip on) = .29 CdA
  • Riding on aero bars (optimized) = .26 CdA

By Gear:

  • Road Bike, Road Helmet, Drops = .30 CdA
  • TT Bike, Road helmet, Aerobars = .24 CdA
  • Road Bike, TT Helmet, Aerobars = .25 CdA
  • TT Bike, TT Helmet, Aerobars = .23 CdA

Ridiculous Values for the Hour Record:

  • Merckx = .26 CdA @380w
  • Moser = .25 CdA @400w
  • Obree = .17 CdA @359w
  • Indurain = .24 CdA @510w (holy cow!)
  • Rominger = .19 CdA @456w
  • Boardman = .18 CdA @462w

Imagine if Big Mig could get just a little more aero?  He would probably still have the record with that monster wattage!

So, what are watts/CdA?  A measure of how effective you are at transferring the power you create into forward motion.  You can decrease this value by optimizing your position and purchasing more aero kit, but be sure to perform frequent field testing to ensure you aren’t sacrificing overall speed for drag reduction.

Further Reading:

What is Aero?

Lindsey Underwood’s thesis regarding Aerodynamics of Track Cycling

Scientific approach to the 1-h cycling world record: a case study

References:
(1) High Performance Cycling (Jeukendrup, 2002)
(2) Scientific approach to the 1-h cycling world record: a case study (Padilla et al, 2000)
(3) “How Aero Is Aero” (2008)

 

 

101: Indoor Bicycle Trainers

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Over the past few years, indoor bicycle trainers have really evolved and come into their own.  Even more importantly, riding a bike indoors has become almost fun and enjoyable (notice how I said almost) with the creation of the smart trainer and accompanying applications like Zwift.  However, with all of this evolution comes even more confusion for the uninitiated who just want to ride their bikes over the Winter.  This article will serve to help those looking to buy their first trainer by providing a brief description, giving some opinions, and pros/cons of each type.

Wind Trainer: $

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Image Credit: Kurt Kinetic

The wind trainer is the bottom of the barrel here.  The resistance comes from a fan with the resistance increasing as the fan spins faster, and vice-versa.  If you are looking for a lightweight and cheap option to bring with you to warmup at races, this will work out well, otherwise keep saving your money and invest in a more quality trainer.

Pros – Cheap, portable, resilient, cheap.

Cons – Cheap, loud, no-resistance adjustment.

Magnetic Trainer: $$

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Image Credit: Kurt Kinetic

The magnetic trainer (mag) uses, you guessed it!, magnets to create resistance.  As the magnet gets closer to the spinning drum the resistance will increase, and vice-versa.  A mag trainer is a great option for your first trainer, but if you have a few seasons under your belt or you are looking for a “real” road feel, mag trainers will leave you wanting more.

Pros – Quieter than wind, they offer variable resistance (but usually the resistance levels are far between), still portable yet heavier than wind, still relatively cheap.

Cons – Resistance is adjustable but the levels are usually far between.

Fluid Trainer: $$$

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Image Credit: Kurt Kinetic

The fluid trainer creates its resistance similar to the wind trainer whereby an internal impeller spins in fluid that becomes harder to pedal as the speed of the impeller increases.  The fluid trainer is the best of the original 3 and has been used by cyclists for years with little to no complaints.  However, they do not offer “smart” adjustability.

Pros – Road-like feel, accurate spin-ups and spin-downs similar to being on the road, resistance increases along a predictable curve.

Cons – We are getting expensive now, tend to be heavy, sometimes the fluid can leak from the barrel (but is VERY rare).

Smart Trainer: $$$$

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Image Credit: CycleOps

Smart trainers are the new kid on the block, but are responsible for transforming the indoor experience from monotonous to somewhat enjoyable.  Smart trainers are the best of the best right now and are geared towards those looking to use integrative applications, who need to spend a lot of time riding indoors, or for anyone who becomes bored rather easily indoors.

Pros – The most amount of resistance variance, ability to use Zwift and other integrated applications, and just really cool!

Cons – Very expensive, can be confusing to use initially.

Other Options: Rollers and Indoor Bikes

R0llers: Varied $

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Image Credit: Kurt Kinetic

Rollers are great for those looking to improve their pedal stroke, maintaining a straight line, keeping balanced, and improve their cadence to name a few.  The rear wheel sits between the back 2 drums, the front wheel just behind the front drum.  As the rear wheel spins, a piece of plastic tubing (connected to both front and rear drums) turns the front wheel simultaneously.

Pros – Ability to really hone-in on pedal stroke, balance, and overall on-bike stability.  Portable.  You look like you know what you are doing when you learn to use them 😉

Cons – Little to no resistance variance on the less expensive models, super steep learning curve, not good for high intensity rest intervals since you always need to keep spinning to stay upright.

Indoor Bike: $$$$

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Image Credit: CycleOps

Indoor bikes have been around for decades and are a favorite among those in health-clubs.  Indoor bikes are cool if you have expendable income, or are looking to just ride a bike for a workout, but purchasing an actual trainer and using the bike and geometry you are used to is far more beneficial.

Other Other Options:

Direct Drive Trainer

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Image Credit: CycleOps

Direct drive refers to the bike being mounted directly to the trainer versus the rear wheel.  This is great for sprint intervals or other high intensity work as there is no wheel slippage.

Rim Drive Trainer

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Image Credit: Minoura

Rim drive trainers are best for mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, or other bikes that have treaded tires since the resistance is placed on the rim of the wheel versus the tire.

Hybrid Trainer

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These are a favorite for track riders and/or fixed gear racers.  They are lightweight and ultra-portable.

So, what trainer is right for you?  This depends on what your budget is, what you plan on using it for, will you travel with it, and if you need all the extra bells and whistles to keep your focus on training over a long winter.  Most of the athletes I work with use a fluid trainer, an ANT+ powermeter, and Zwift to get their indoor workouts done.  However, as smart trainers are becoming more affordable, I have seen them being used far more.

Whatever you decide on, JUST RIDE YOUR BIKE!

What is Cyclocross and how can I beat my friends at the next race?

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Cyclocross, or ‘cross if you are initiated, is the fastest growing aspect of cycling.  Cross races usually take place in the Autumn and Winter with the racecourse featuring mixed terrain and surfaces (pavement, grass, sand, dirt, mud), technical challenges that vary in difficulty from course to course and are weather dependent (slippery tree roots versus dry tree roots), barriers that require the rider to either bunny-hop or carry their bike over, and the most intense race start you will ever see!  Cross is gaining in popularity, I think, due to spectator access to all course areas and race view-ability which fosters a welcoming atmosphere for everyone, the potential to see and cheer for the best professional/elite racers in the world as well as see and compare them to the amateur racers (which is always awesome!), potentially heckle (in a nice way, please!) your friends and favorite racers, and the number 1 reason is increased safety and decreased injury risk compared to other cycling disciplines.  So, how the heck can you beat your friends to the line next time?  I am glad you asked…

Cross = Bike Handling

If road racing and mountain bike racing went on a date and had a few glasses of wine over dinner, got a little too intoxicated and perhaps went home together, 9 months later cyclocross racing would be born!  Strange analogy, I know, but you get the idea that cyclocross takes some aspects of road racing as well as mountain bike racing and puts them together.  Since cross racing is held on varying surfaces that can change over the course of the race itself, it is crucial to possess good technical skills and bike handling abilities.  If you can get around a corner 1 second quicker than someone else, and there are >60 corners in a cross race, guess what?  You just gained >1 minute per lap, essentially for free!

Improve your bike-handling skills:

Cornering Drill

  • After you are thoroughly warmed-up…
  • Ride to a safe place where you can practice taking a corner (hitting the apex) and accelerating out of it.
  • Enter the corner at a high speed (but a speed that you feel safe at!), practice hitting the apex (inside) and accelerate out of it HARD!  Repeat this going both left and right picking up the entry speed as you feel more confident in your ability.
  • Pick varying surfaces and be sure to practice when it is both wet and dry.

Bike Driving Drill

  • Ride around a mock cyclocross course 1-handed taking both right and left turns and switching hands each lap.
    • Doing this will train you to guide and drive the bike with your hips versus actually turning the handlebars.  This will result in faster cornering and greater traction.

Cross = Finding Your Pedals

Some of the more distinctive aspects of cyclocross is the mass start, “run-up” (1st image), and “barriers” (2nd image) feature…

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Credit: Steve-z.com
Powers opted to always stay on his bike, while Trebon ran the barriers and stairs. © Amy Dykema
Credit: cxmagazine.com

Obviously, every time you unclip from the pedals you need to clip back into them again.  This is a huge area that most new to the sport miss out on which costs them A TON of time and is also responsible for poor starts.  Just like anything else though, if you practice, practice, practice, you will improve upon it and be beating your friends off the start line and over the barriers!

Improve Your Clipping-in:

Race Start Drill

  • Ride to a grassy area that gives you at least 500 feet of distance to safely ride.
  • Start in your “sprint gear” and have your dominant foot on the ground with both pedals being horizontal to the ground.
  • Imagine being surrounded by people to your side and behind you (i.e. sprint in a straight line!).
  • When you are ready, EXPLODE off the line and quickly clip your opposite foot back in again.  Ride ALL OUT until the end of your imaginary start tunnel and then easy spin back again.

Barrier Drill

  • Start with imaginary barriers at first and just practice rolling up to the barrier, unclipping, lifting the bike up by the top tube and over both barriers, then clipping in again.
  • Once you get that down, then place some planks in front of you and practice the same as above, but this time jumping over the barriers.
  • Do this again and again working on unclipping and lifting the bike as close to the barriers as possible, taking as few steps between the barriers, and remounting/clipping in again as quick as possible.

Shouldering Drill

  • Sometimes the run-up is very long or there is a portion of the course that is just un-rideable.  This means you are pushing forward on foot!
  • Follow the same steps as the barrier drills, but this time you are going to grab the bike by the down tube, shoulder the top tube, then reach through and around to grab the opposite handlebar.  This will give you the most stability as well as allow you to run unimpeded.
  • Confused?  Check out the below image of Rider 1…
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Credit: Velonews.com

Cross = Accelerating (ALOT!)

Similar to criterium racing, cross racing features many accelerations, but this time over various and usually slippery/loose terrain.  So, when you do these drills, be sure to STAY SEATED and perhaps drop the cadence a bit to maintain traction.  Be prepared to really feel your glutes and hamstrings work too.

Improve your acceleration ability: Microbursts

  • After you are thoroughly warmed-up…
  • Perform 4-10 minutes (depending on fitness level) of 15 seconds FULL GAS, 15 seconds recovery.
  • When I say FULL GAS, I mean it.  You should be grabbing the bars, and exploding up to speed!  Be sure to STAY SEATED.
  • Rest for 5-10 minutes between and perform 2-4 sets.

Cross = Having Fun!

Cross can be very competitive for some, but the majority of athletes are there just to enjoy themselves, ring some cowbells, yell and heckle at their friends, and perhaps eat some bad food and imbibe.  So, no matter how many times you miss the barriers, can’t find your pedals, even fall over, don’t fret and just enjoy the experience!  Unfortunately cross season is super short (besides for the pros) and taking it too seriously just ain’t cool man.

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Credit: bppa.net

I mean, in what other sport can you ride a bike dressed as a giraffe?!

Enjoy the mud.

What is the Transition Phase and Why is it so Important?

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It is safe to say road racing season has come to an end and the majority of the athletes I work with have over 6 months before their next event (for those of you gearing up for cyclocross, you can stop reading here, bookmark this post, and come back to it in December 🙂 ).  I would argue the transition phase is the most important phase of periodized training for an athlete’s mental health and motivation.  By the time September rolls around, road-specialist cyclists have been training hard for ~5 months, have put in thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on two wheels, have probably been sun-burnt, dealt with saddle sores, crashed, changed flats, ridden in oppressive heat, humidity, and rain, and have had to balance all this training with work, family, and other commitments.  Guess what?  It is 100% normal and expected to feel unmotivated, generally fatigued, and not have the “itch” to get on the bike and pummel the pedals into submission.  Just like you need rest periods in between intervals to be able to accomplish the workout, you need rest periods in between training seasons to be able to grow and progress as an athlete.  So, how do I define the transition phase of periodized training?

The transition phase allows for full and extensive muscular regeneration and mental recuperation.  It can last from 2-4 weeks, but sometimes needs to be longer if the athlete is experiencing overtraining symptoms.

How to Transition

As stated above, the transition phase is really not about structure or crushing it day in and day out.  It is actually the exact opposite!  So, if you feel like skipping a workout and staying in your pajamas all day, do it!  Literally do anything that makes you happy and do not care about how it will affect your fitness or cycling, you will be getting into your base phases soon after anyways.

For the athletes I work with, I like to include 2 weeks of “Athlete Choice” workouts where it is completely their call if they want to ride or not.  I also include a few days of bodyweight only strengthening exercises to prepare their bodies for the off-bike strength and power training to come.  After these 2 weeks, the athlete is usually feeling mentally refreshed, but this does not mean they are ready to start crushing it again!  Normally, I schedule an additional 2 weeks of minimally structured training and encourage cross-training activities to achieve more time away from the bike, as well as prevent cardiovascular fitness losses.

A WORD OF CAUTION: Even though you are in the transition phase, taking a full month off the bike and not doing jack will lead to a great amount of detraining.  Try and still do something to get the heart rate up a few times week that isn’t cycling!  This can be hiking, running, rowing, elliptical, stair-master, etc.

Typical Transition Week

After the 2 weeks of “Athlete Choice” workouts…

  • M – Bodyweight only strength training (stability and function focused)
  • T – 60-90 minutes of unstructured cycling or cross-training
  • W – Bodyweight only strength training (stability and function focused)
  • R – 60-90 minutes of unstructured cycling or cross-training
  • F – Bodyweight only strength training (stability and function focused)
  • Sa – Group ride that is “fun” focused and not too taxing
  • Su – Group ride (or off)

I also like to include some mental training if the athlete is completely burnt out from a long season.  The mental training I recommend is meditative primarily and focused more on relaxation versus getting fired up.  Check out Headspace online and in the app store if you are interested in this further.

When to Progress to the Base Phase

As stated above, the transition phase is typically 2-4 weeks in duration, but can be longer if needed.  Typically, I like to see my athletes re-engage with structured training after 4 weeks to prevent any additional detraining.  Besides the time stipulation being satisfied, I also like to see the athlete having the “itch” to train again and being excited to swing their leg over the top tube.  Normally I can see this via data analysis (more structured work versus just riding, Strava KOM attempts, etc) as well as communication with the athlete (workout and interval focused post-activity comments versus commenting on the weather, how many turkeys they saw on the ride, who they rode with, etc).  Once you have these few boxes ticked, it is time to get back on it!

So, my fellow roadies, use the next few weeks to chill out and truly embrace your transition phase.  Don’t worry about structure, what your FTP is, your placing on that Strava KOM, and better still, put your Garmin in your back pocket and just look and listen to the world pass you by.  One of my favorite expressions this time of year is “No Garmin No Rules”, do yourself a favor and abide by it for a little bit.

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Image Credit: nogarminnorules.com

How Do I Stay Hydrated In The Heat?

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It is mid-August in the Northern Hemisphere which means the thermostat is cranked up, the humidity is high, and I should invest in Skratch Labs from the amount of Exercise Hydration mix I am consuming!  All joking aside, exercising in the heat is something all of us do, and this blog post will be my attempt to shine a little light on the ins and outs of exercise hydration.  First things first though, what is hydration?

Hydration is consuming liquids to maintain fluid homeostasis in the body.

So, think of hydration, or staying hydrated, as keeping the fluids in your body topped up by drinking.  Your body will maintain homeostasis of its fluids by signaling you to drink via thirst, or urinating when it has too much.

How Do I Know If I am Hydrated?

Knowing if you are hydrated is pretty simple, just look in the toilet after you urinate.  The urine should be clear, or a very pale yellow.  Anything darker than that means you should drink up!

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What Should I Do If I Become Dehydrated?

Well, the simple answer to that question is drink something (duh)!  But, what that “something” is can make all the difference.  The ideal oral rehydration solution should be,  according to WHO and UNICEF, 6 teaspoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt per liter of water (1).  BE WARNED, adding more sugar and/or salt to the mixture will change its osmolarity and make it less isotonic.  As the solution becomes less isotonic, your body will actually become MORE dehydrated because it will need to take fluid out of your cells to dilute the solution!  For this reason, I tell my athletes to drink their fluids and eat their calories, i.e. don’t drink your calories.  This is a very important concept to understand, so if that was confusing, check out this excellent video from Dr. Alan Lim explaining this concept a bit further:

How Do I Figure Out How Much To Drink?

Simple answer again, drink when you’re thirsty.  Thirst is an excellent indicator of your body’s fluid homeostasis and is a mechanism human beings have used since the beginning of time with a rather good success rate.  But, since this is a blog about exercise science and becoming a better athlete, optimal fluid intake is something we should discuss.  The easiest way to find out your optimal fluid intake is to perform a sweat-rate test.

Sweat Rate Testing

Performing a sweat rate test is rather easy, all that is required to do is to weigh yourself pre, and then again post-ride.  During the course of the ride, drink as you would normally. Also, be sure to be in your birthday suit for your post-ride weigh in.  Then, to calculate your sweat rate…

  • A = Weight lost during exercise, in ounces.
  • B = Fluid consumed during exercise, in ounces.
  • C = Length of exercise session.
  • Sweat Rate = (A + B) / C

For example: I weigh 140 lbs and decide to ride for 1 hour on a really hot and humid day whilst consuming 1 bottle (24 oz) of fluid.  After my ride, I weigh 139.5 lbs.  So, my sweat rate would be (8 oz +  24 oz) / 60 = 53 oz of fluid per hour.  I recommend doing this test throughout the course of the season and keeping a log to figure out how your sweat rate changes at 70, 75, 80, 85, etc. degree days.  Doing so will ensure you are optimally hydrating throughout your workout.

Hydration Strategies

Staying hydrated is all about drinking throughout the course of the day and especially your workout.  However, some athletes become excited during a race or hard group ride, or become fatigued mentally and forget to drink altogether.  Forgetting to drink spells disaster for your performance as a drop in body weight of 2% will begin to modify your work rate ability, while a drop in only 5% will decrease your work rate by 30% (2).  So, needless to say, keeping topped up on fluids is crucial!  Here are some ideas to make sure you keep drinking over the course of a long and hot ride…

  • Set an alarm on your Garmin to beep every 15 minutes.  Doing so will remind you to drink.
  • Change up the flavor of your drink on your long rides.  Doing this will prevent your tastebuds from getting sick of the same flavor.  Also, try to consume rather light tasting drinks, this will prolong the time before your tastebuds say no.
  • Pre-cool your body.  Doing this will lower your core temperature, draw-out the increase in your sweat rate, and allow your body to maintain its fluids.  This can be done by wearing an ice vest during your warm up pre-race, eating a popsicle or something else frozen, and/or putting an ice pack around your neck to cool your carotid arteries.
  • Keep your body cool during exercise.  Doing this will have the same effect as pre-cooling.  This can be accomplished by consuming cold fluids, wiping sweat away with a towel, and/or spraying cold water on your head and hands (a lot of arteries in those areas).
  • Know how many ounces your water bottles are.  This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised that most athletes do not know how big their bottles are.  Knowing this will allow you to optimally hydrate after figuring out your sweat rate.
  • Make sure you keep drinking after you are done exercising until you reach your pre-exercise body weight.  I recommend drinking 1.5x the amount of fluid weight you lost during exercise.
  • Follow the directions on the drink mix.  Remember, more is not better in this arena.  If you change the osmolarity of the solution you are drinking you will further dehydrate yourself!
  • Eat foods that are high in water throughout the day.  Doing this is an easy way to hydrate if you don’t feel like drinking a ton of fluid.  Think fruits and veggies.
  • Above all else, JUST DRINK!

Maintaining fluid homeostasis and developing an optimal hydration plan during exercise should be a part of evolving and maturing as an athlete due to the huge drawbacks of becoming dehydrated during training and competition.  Make sure you understand how much you need to be consuming by performing sweat rate tests throughout the year as temperature and intensity of the workout will modify it.  Ensure you are consuming a drink that is isotonic to actually rehydrate you.  Please don’t drink your calories.  And above all else, JUST DRINK!

Want the stuff GC Coaching athletes use and recommend?  Skratch Labs is where is is at!  Check them out here: www.skratchlabs.com

References:
(1) http://www.who.int/cholera/technical/en/
(2) http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/dehydration-and-its-effects-on-performance

What is a criterium and how do I CRUSH my next one?

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A criterium (or crit) is a type of road bicycle race with the biggest differentiators being they are raced in a closed circuit, are usually technical, short in duration, and very fast.  They also feature prizes called primes (pronounced preems) that are awarded to the winner of the prime lap.  Criteriums have become a lot more popular as of late, especially in the United States, so time to educate yo self, fool!

Crits = Cornering skills

Most crits feature 4 corners that can be +/- 90 degrees with the racers usually going clock-wise around the course.  However, some more technical crits can be 6,8, or even 10+ corners that feature both left and right turns, chicane sections (natural or artificial narrowing of the road), sharp climbs, hairpins (really sharp corner that is a full 180 degrees), and varying road surfaces (pavement, cobblestones, etc).  Needless to say, a criterium racer needs to have excellent bike-handling skills to deal with all the various elements of a crit course and sometimes (okay always!) nerves of steel.

Improve your bike-handling skills: Cornering Drill

  • After you are thoroughly warmed-up…
  • Ride to a safe place where you can practice taking a corner (hitting the apex) and accelerating out of it.
  • Enter the corner at a high speed (but a speed that you feel safe at!), practice hitting the apex (inside) and accelerate out of it HARD!  Repeat this going both left and right picking up the entry speed as you feel more confident in your ability.
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Image credit: Altovelo.org

Crits = Accelerating

Since crits feature a lot of corners, there is inherent slowing and accelerating out of said corners.  Most everyone can slow down like the best of them, but it’s the accelerating part that separates the wheat from the chaff (bet you never heard that one before).  The acceleration that is required also becomes more violent and lasts longer the further down the group you are due to the “accordion effect” whereby the racers in the top 10% of the field can take the corner at speed and smoothly pedal through it versus the riders in the bottom 10% who need to slow down fiercely and then accelerate their butts off to hold onto the wheel in front of them.

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Image credit: Criteriumcoaching.com

Improve your acceleration ability: Microbursts

  • After you are thoroughly warmed-up…
  • Perform 4-10 minutes (depending on fitness level) of 15 seconds FULL GAS, 15 seconds recovery.
  • When I say FULL GAS, I mean it.  You should be grabbing the drops, and exploding up to speed!  Either standing or seated is fine.
  • Rest for 5-10 minutes between and perform 2-4 sets.

Crits = Not pedaling

Wait, what?  How can I win a bike race if I don’t pedal, Shayne!?  Not pedaling is the only chance you are going to get to recover in a crit, unless the course features a downhill section.  And, you guessed it, the corners are the best place to not pedal to recover.  The best way to recover in a corner is to let a little bit of a gap open to the rider in front of you before entering the turn (about half a bike-length).  Going through the turn, let the gap close to the rider so you are right back behind them again on the straight-away.  Doing this will prevent gaps from opening after corners and will provide you with the best draft when the rider begins their acceleration again.  This takes a lot of practice, so don’t become frustrated if you mess it up the first thousand times you do it.  To drive this point home further, check out some data from a typical crit…

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In the above diagram, you can see how many accelerations >700w there are (purple line), but also a huge amount of not pedaling when cornering (pink line).

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This diagram makes the first one a little easier to read.  You can see this athlete spent OVER 20 MINUTES not pedaling their bike during the race!  This is over 1/3 of the race which is pretty amazing.  As the saying goes “the athlete who pedals the least usually wins”.

Crits = Sharp elbows and icy veins

Okay, not really, but you need to be able to take a few shoulder bumps, have a touch of wheels, and deal with people trying to undercut your lines going into corners.  This requires you to have extreme confidence in your bike-handling, stability to hold a line, the ability to read a peloton, the faculties to see if a rider is gassed and to advance past them before they open a gap causing people to fly by you on both sides, and the knack to put as many expletives into a sentence as possible (just joshing), plus some ice in the veins doesn’t hurt.  Basically, you need to have experience to keep yourself safe.  For this reason, I would not recommend crit racing to the inexperienced athlete as the chance of screwing up a corner and causing yourself or your fellow riders to bounce of the pavement increases drastically.  Fortunately there are some excellent beginner racer programs out there with some focusing solely on crit racing.  Fire up the Google machine and see where the nearest one to you is!

Improve your confidence: Bump drills and wheel touches.

  • Grab a partner whom you trust and are okay with bouncing into.
  • Head to a field that is nice and flat with minimal divots in the grass.
  • Practice (slowly!) leaning into the other rider with your shoulder.  As you gain confidence, push harder, push more violently, pick up speed, and do it from both left and right sides.
  • Also, make sure you let them push into you so you can get the feeling of it and practice improving your stability.

Another drill I like to give my newer athletes is the wheel touch drill:

  • Grab a partner whom you trust and are okay with bouncing into.
  • Head to a field that is nice and flat with minimal divots in the grass.
  • Practice (slowly!) coming up from behind and tapping your front wheel to their rear wheel.  Make sure the rider in front maintains a constant speed.
  • When you get better at tapping the wheel, then practice turning into it.
    • When turning into it, keep on turning the wheel until you push yourself away from the other rider.  The biggest mistake people make here is freak out and cross up their front wheel by immediately turning out and away .  It is a little counter-intuitive at first, but with practice it become less scary and second-nature.

So, if you really want to crush your next crit you need to improve 4 major areas that include cornering, accelerating, recovering through corners, and mental fortitude.  With these 4 areas, plus a little luck sometimes, crits can be some of the most fun and enjoyable aspects of cycling.

 

 

101: Exercises for Knee Pain

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Knee pain is something the majority of my athletes have had to deal with at one time or another.  Fortunately, it is relatively easily improved upon if you know the right flexibility and self myofascial release (foam rolling) exercises to do.  This article will go over what muscles can cause knee pain as well as provide pictures of exercises to improve soft tissue mobility and flexibility.

As always, consult your doctor first before embarking on a new exercise program, or if you think you have any structural damage to your knee from a previous trauma or recent injury.

Why Does Knee Pain Occur?

From my experience, the majority of exercise induced knee pain is caused by the quadricep muscle.  This of course is barring any structural damage to the knee itself that can include ligament tears, meniscal tears, arthritic changes, etc.  The quadricep is comprised of 4 muscles which include the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis.  The quad extends (straightens) your knee and flexes your hip.  It is utilized mainly in the downstroke when pedaling, the freestyle kick when swimming, and the forward-swing/preparation/contact phases of running.  

When the quadricep becomes tight due to overworking or general fatigue it can cause quadricep tendonitis, patellar tendonitis, patellar tracking issues, and / or general knee pain due to creating an increased downward force of the patella against the trochlear groove.  The quadricep can also become overworked due to compensation.  In my experience, if an athlete’s glutes, core, and / or hip abductors are weak, then the quadricep will compensate to make up for them.

What can I do to Reduce my Knee Pain?

Fortunately, there are a myriad of things you can do to reduce and eventually eliminate your knee pain if it is being caused by non-structural issues.  These include:

  • Getting a professional bike fit.
  • Foam rolling to improve myofascial mobility.
  • Stretching to improve muscle flexibility.
  • Strengthening your weaker muscle groups which again are typically the glutes, core, and hip abductors to create a balance and decrease quadricep compensation.
  • Icing your knee if it becomes sore after exercise to reduce inflammation.

Stretching Exercises for Knee Pain

  • Ideal best time to stretch statically is POST WORKOUT.  The reason for this is because stretching a muscle statically will decrease its ability to contract which will result in a decreased amount of power produced.  We train too hard trying to increase our power and strength to reduce it right before our event!
  • Stretches should be held for 30 seconds minimum.  Physiologically, it takes your muscle fibers ~30 seconds to relax enough to make static stretching beneficial and allow the muscle fibers to lengthen.
  • Stretches should be performed in a comfortable range of motion, so no crying because it hurts so much, but you also want to feel like you are doing something too.
  • Alternate each side with each consecutive stretch, so as 1 side is resting, the other side is being stretched.
  • Perform the stretches 2-3 times each.
  • Stretch out 2-3 times daily if you are really having an issue with your knee.  For maintenance, or if your knee only hurts after an intense or long event/race, once a day is okay.

Quadricep Stretch

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Hamstring / Calf Stretch

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Hamstring / Calf Stretch (Alternate)

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Hip Flexor Stretch With Opposite Side Rotation

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Foam Rolling Exercises for Knee Pain

  • Find an area where you have some room to breathe, won’t be in the way, and are comfortable moving around in.
  • Use a yoga mat or other forgiving surface underneath your body.
  • Pick a foam roller density that gives you enough pressure, but doesn’t cause your eyes to water from the pain.  Usually the darker the roller the more dense it is.
  • Spend a few minutes rolling each individual muscle group and always start with less time initially.  Once you have some practice rolling, you can spend more time on the muscles that are more of a problem for you and less time on the muscles that aren’t as tight for greater efficiency.
  • When you find those pesky trigger points, work each one individually for 20-30 seconds and move on.  You can either hold direct pressure, or perform quick back and forth and/or rocking motions to release them.
  • Smile at how good you feel and how loose those muscles are afterwards!

Quadriceps

Starting Position

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Ending Position

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Hamstrings

Starting Position

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Ending Position

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IT Band

Starting Position

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Ending Position

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Calves

Starting Position

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Ending Position

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