Category Archives: Cycling

High RPMs During Rest Intervals

Last year, my coach M2 gave me a set of cycling workouts which changed subtly; knowing that I had progressed many years with him, he knew he could increase their difficulty. The rest intervals now had a small but important change: they would be performed at 100RPM.
Now anyone who has tried to spin at 100 RPMs, even at low wattages, knows that it can be a heart rate raising experience. However, I had trained specifically for this. I had spent weekly sessions for years working on improving my ability to cycle at high RPMs. Given Lance Armstrong’s success at pedaling at high RPMs, I was determined to do the same. For recovery workouts, I use M2’s Pedaling Efficiency workout which is alternating one legged pedaling at 100 RPMs. It became a regular event every week and over a period of months, I could pedal at 100 RPMs through that workout with barely a rise in heart rate, certainly not approaching my lactate threshold heart rate at all.
Throwing 100 RPMs into the rest interval of 30 seconds to 1 minute in between high wattage intervals was scary, but I found that my neural muscular training with that Pedaling Efficiency workout really adapted my nervous system to perform even though the system was tiring. It also meant that in cases where I would raise my effort (ie. sprinting, or passing) that I would not collapse completely after that effort and my RPMs would drop after each of those effort. I could maintain RPMs, shift downward, and maintain my previous speed AND recover energy into my muscles. Before this, I would make the effort and then have to lower RPMs to recover or else my system would just keep rising in effort until I would flame out because I could not recover without the low RPMs. During a race this is really important.
Likewise, I started experimenting with high leg cycle rates in running. I would train weekly on the treadmill and do sessions of super high speed for short intervals. This trained my neuromuscular system to be used to high RPMs and to not easily collapse in the face of heavy or long efforts.
This has manifested itself mainly in hills. You hit the bottom of the hill and attempt to maintain speed up the hill. If the hill is long enough, you may find that by the time you get to the top of the hill you are so tired that you need to slow down your legs’ cycle rate in order to gain some rest. This is bad for your speed! As you crest the hill, you have nothing left to surge and accelerate again.
These days I practice relaxing completely BUT maintaining or increasing the cycle rate of my legs. I try to relax the muscles and rest them from the effort of the hill climb and then rest as I tell my legs to spin faster. It’s amazing that one can train for this; it really helps in not slowing down or collapsing entirely as you crest a hill and then move to the downhill on the other side where you want to keep higher RPMs to keep yourself moving down the hill. Thus, the rest interval happens during the crest and on the downhill.
I attribute this ability to high RPM training on the treadmill, using neuromuscular training intervals to train my nervous system to operate even in conditions of high effort. I also practice this when I’m out during a run through rolling hills; at every crest of a hill, I relax completely to rest but keep my legs’ cycle rate high, or try to even cycle them faster. I don’t want the nerves to stop firing when fatigued; I want to them to keep going even though my muscles are tired.
Again, the value of neuromuscular training is revealed. Whether on the bike or on the run, training your body to rest while maintaining high RPMs is a valuable tactic to being fast.

Form Training with the 4 S’s

In the last few months, I’ve been really into Total Immersion and their teaching method. Swimming is one of those activities which require mastery of so many little details that trying to learn swimming all at once is very very difficult. So they do a great job of breaking down technique with drills, and enforcing focus on only one thing at a time so that you can master that without getting confused by other things you’re trying to learn. Thus, I’ve spent the last many months, and plan on for the better part of this year, in breaking down exactly what is wrong with my stroke and working on each individual part one at a time.
This has led me to believe that its teaching concepts in the area of form training can be applied to any other physical activity, especially in the case of cycling and running for me. In thinking about this, I thought I could encapsulate it in the 4 S’s of form training:
1. SYSTEM: You must have a system for identifying problems, removing bad habits and imprinting new and correct habits. With TI, they’ve done all that for you. Running has some great methods now (ie. ChiRunning, Pose Method) that strive to break down running so that you can focus on parts of your form. I have not found that to be true yet of cycling and would love to be pointed to some that discuss cycling form.
Without a system, you will inevitably try to do too much at once and see little or no improvement as old habits remain ingrained, and you can’t imprint new correct ones. It also means that you are hampering your brain/body’s ability to imprint new habits; someone once told me that you have to do something about 45 days or so to imprint a new habit. This means that you have to perform the new habit in the new way that many times exactly!
2. SENSITIVITY: You need to develop and have a sensitivity to what you’re doing wrong and also what you’re doing right. When habits become ingrained, they become commonplace and we don’t even notice when we’re doing something. This is both good and bad. Correct habits ingrained means we’re unconsciously performing optimally and not exerting excess energy and brain power to maintain activity. But if we’ve ingrained a bad habit, we may actually not know we’re doing something wrong because we’ve been doing it that way for so long. So we need to develop the body awareness to know how are bodies are moving both when we’re moving slow and especially when we’re moving fast. Slow is much easier, but when we’re cycling our arms and legs fast this may become too much to easily discern how and where are body parts are moving. Once we can know when we’re doing something wrong, then we can take steps to fix that.
3. SUSTAINABILITY: Once we ingrain new habits, we must be able to sustain them over the course of training and during the long hours of a race. Thus, we must be constantly wary of falling into old bad habits especially when we get tired and/or we lose our mental focus. Training only good habits and extending them over time will ingrain good form that is sustainable over a long time, ensuring an efficient race (and probably also injury free).
4. SYMMETRY: One thing that gets sometimes overlooked is the importance of symmetry of habits on each side of your body. We humans are built with two halves, both mirror images of each other. But unfortunately, we often perform the same activity differently on each side of our body due to old habits, favoring our strong side, muscle inbalances, etc. So while our form may be great on one side, we may find that the other side is challenged. Therefore, training to make sure that we even out both sides to equal form is important or else bad form on one side can actually affect performance on the other side.
Going back to the first S which is SYSTEM, it may be hard to find a system for your activity. TI does a great job for swimming and there are some running ones, but for cycling it may be hard. But finding a great SYSTEM will enable SUSTAINABILITY and SYMMETRY more, and help you train your brain to be more SENSITIVE.

Measurability and Repeatability in Training

In recent months, I’ve come to realize how much I love the tempo trainer for swimming. It also sparked the realization that I have finally found a method for to ensure measurability and repeatability for swimming.
What’s so important about measurability and repeatability?
Repeatability is the ability to come back day after day and train with a certain level of effort, intensity, etc. and ensure that you’re creating the same conditions as you had the last time you trained. Measurability allows you to measure those conditions to ensure repeatability.
For example, weight training has both easy measurability and repeatability. That 30 lbs. dumbbell is still going to weigh 30 lbs. the next time you pick it up. Thus, you’ll know if you are getting stronger or weaker, depending on how many reps you can curl that dumbbell.
The problem with us triathletes is that it’s not so easy to have measurability and repeatability with our three sports. Of the three running is probably the most measurable and repeatable. With cycling and swimming it’s not so easy.
If you don’t have an accurate way to measure effort and the ability to create conditions to ensure repeatability, you won’t know for sure if you’re improving over time. For example, you may have increasing effort, but you may be actually performing worse if you’re overtraining.
So it’s important to be able to measure your training conditions and to recreate them so that you know with some level of certainty that you’re improving, or how your body is performing so that you know when to back off or increase effort.
I thought I’d list my favorite training tools to maximize measurability and repeatability:
Treadmill – The treadmill allows you to recreate running conditions with great accuracy, in both speed, duration, and grade. Its relentless nature doesn’t allow you to fall behind; if you do, you either fly off the back of the treadmill or have to keep up. Thus, I can generally know if I’m either improving over time or not, or if I’m just a bit tired and can’t repeat a workout on a particular day.
Track or measured distance running – Running a measured distance and recording the time allows you to know if you’re improving over that distance and path.
Power meter – Riding outside with my Powertap allows me to see what my instantaneous power is, as well as for the entire ride. I can compare that over a given path, or even just against other rides, and see how my power output compares to previous rides. With power measurement, I don’t necessarily need to ride the same path; I can compare power outputs and see if I was able to increase overall power output or not.
Computrainer – The Computrainer is the best way to repeat workout conditions. After the calibration step, it will give you the same workout conditions as you had last time.
Tempo Trainer + Counting Strokes – You would think that swimming intervals was good enough for repeatability. However, swimming is a complex activity that is dependent not only on raw endurance and strength, but also on your technique. If your goal is not simply to just work harder (which I would argue it shouldn’t be because you can only go so much faster by more effort and you can do much better by refining and reinforcing technique), then you need to not only measure your interval time but also how well you swam the interval. If you think about it, you can go faster by increasing your stroke rate. But if your technique gets messy, you might swim an interval at the same time as if you had swam it before with better technique but lower stroke rate. Thus, the tempo trainer ensures you are not changing your stroke rate, and counting strokes gives you a measure of how good your technique is.
With these training tools and methods, I can ensure measurability and repeatability of training conditions, giving me a nice picture of how I’m improving (or not!).

Neuromuscular Training and Hill Climbing

A lot of focus on hill climbing in either running or cycling is on building leg strength, and aerobic capacity to support a strong push up the hill. Hill climbing for me has been a real challenge; I have been training constantly to increase my leg strength. However, I did discover another piece of training that is also important to hill climbing on both running and cycling. This is neuromuscular training.
Ever go sprinting up a hill and you’re going anaerobic? Your breath is heaving and your legs are burning. You’re using up all that strength and energy to accelerate up that hill and once you get over it, your legs collapse in energy output, just happy to not be exerting any more. You find that as you crest the hill, you have no more left and you just let the back side of the hill accelerate as you coast down the hill. Or worse for running, you find that you can’t even move your legs because you wasted them and your aerobic capacity going up the hill and now you can’t take advantage of the down hill to speed up because your legs are wiped out.
In the last few months as my leg strength has increased, I have found that neuromuscular training has played a nice role in maintaining and increasing speed as I blast up the hill and crest it. How is this so? It mainly comes from training the legs to continue their movement even while you have used up some anaerobic/aerobic capacity going up the hill. Most of the time, after we crest the hill and after a hard effort, our legs are so wasted that they can’t even move any more. But this is bad. They need to keep moving so that we don’t lose speed and we can accelerate on the downhill.
Neuromuscular speed training helps us to relax and become accustomed to mvoing our legs very quickly. It becomes second nature to move our legs very fast and we learn how to do it with minimal energy expenditure.
Thus, as we crest the hill, I have found that I can relax the legs to rest after the hard effort up the hill, but keep my neurons firing to cycle the legs and either keep revolutions going on the bike, or keep my legs moving and running downhill. When I relax my legs, they recover from the hard effort and it also lets my aerobic system recover as well. I don’t slow down, which is the key thing. I can maintain speed or accelerate but also recover.
It has reinforced the need for neuromuscular training for both the bike and running. Fast one legged sets at 100+ RPM, and super fast short running sets on the treadmill – both of these really brought me some unseen benefits in hill climbing.

Intermediate to Advanced: The Different Types of Training

In my interactions with my coach M2, I have learned that there are 6 types of training. These are:
1. Neuro-muscular – training of the nervous system to do something either differently, better, or to some form which maximizes efficiency and minimizes effort. Example: super short high speed treadmill intervals for 15-30 seconds per interval, form focus workouts for swimming.
2. Speed – training that results in being faster. Examples: swimming speed sets, sprinting track workouts for running.
3. Strength – training that results in you being stronger, and to put out more energy at the same effort. Examples: hill climbing in running, hill climbing or more watts on the computrainer in cycling.
4. Endurance – training for the ability to race or produce energy output for some length of time. Example: gradually lengthening the duration of a long run over a period of weeks.
4b. Stamina – I make this a sub-section to endurance, which is the ability to maintain a level of speed/strength for a long period of time. Example: gradually increasing the time of your intervals and reducing your rest periods while maintaining the same wattages during Computrainer bike interval workouts.
5. Recovery – stimulation of blood flow by raising heart rate and circulation but not raising effort to flush the body of exercise by-products and promote healing. Example: cycling on a computrainer at negligible watts, but high RPMs for about 20-30min.
It is somewhat obvious that whenever you go out to train, you’re most likely training more than one of these areas simultaneously. However, I wanted to point out:
1. You can train to focus on only one of these areas.
2. It’s good to have a mix of all 6 areas as you’re building for a race. The mix depends on where you are in your training schedule.
3. You have to be aware that potentially you could be detracting other areas if you’re not focusing on these areas.
Let’s talk about the first point.
Focusing on one thing is possible and many times desirable. Of the 6 training types, I’ve focused on mostly neuro-muscular, strength, and recovery. It’s all based on what you individually need.
For example, over the winter, I did a lot of treadmill training where I’d warmup with track drills, ie. kick backs, skipping, and then started doing 30 min intervals at super high speed, building from 6 MPH to as much as 11 MPH (where the interval drops to 15-20 seconds due to the fact that the treadmill takes too long to accelerate to that speed). By the way, I have not found a gym treadmill that goes faster than 11 MPH, although I have heard that you can actually get treadmills that go that fast. What this achieved for me, is not necessarily the ability to maintain an 11 MPH/5:27 min/mile pace over a race. It does help train my neuromuscular system to fire my muscles quicker so that I get used to running at a higher turnover rate, at paces I can maintain. This results in me being faster simply because my body is accustomed to moving my legs faster.
For strength training, over the last 2 years I started climbing and doing laps on Old La Honda and Kings Mountain. These laps have built up my leg strength considerably and increased their resilience on hill climbs, where I was defeated utterly at Ironman Austria a few years back.
I am also a big user of recovery workouts. I figure out if, for a given workout, I need to back off. If I do need to back off severely, often I’ll do a recovery workout. An example of this is a pedaling efficiency workout involving a lot of high RPM one-legged pedaling drills at minimal wattage. It doesn’t stress my muscles from a power standpoint, but it raises my heart rate and circulation so that blood is flowing through my muscles and the flushing effect helps my recovery so that the next day I’ll be able to perform a normal workout.
Second point: The mix.
Training all in one type means that you’re not gaining the full benefits or reaching your potential for a race. If all you’re doing is sprinting workouts on the bike, you may not be able to last an entire century. If all you’re doing is running at endurance pace every workout, you may find that you aren’t increasing your speed, or you don’t have enough strength to pass someone when you want to.
You need to mix it up and include all types and improve on them all. You can figure out, as I have, where my deficiencies are, and do some focus on improving some areas. But overall, you need to train all 6 types as you build through your season to the big race.
I tend to focus on neuromuscular workouts during the offseason, as they don’t stress my aerobic system and are great for recovery workouts. Then I move from neuromuscular focus as my training season starts to building speed and strength with a lesser endurance emphasis. This is because endurance is easiest to build, but speed and strength take lot more time. As I hit mid-season, I am adding more endurance and stamina into the mix as I try to extend the speed and strength I’ve built up to longer times.
Third point, watch out for what you’re not focusing on and don’t let it slide.
As you’re focusing on certain aspects of training, you have to watch out that you don’t reduce other aspects. An easy example is that as you build endurance, you may find that your form (neuromuscular aspect) gets really messy as you get tired. This is very bad! The trick is to maintain form even when you’re butt tired, and as you focus on building endurance. Otherwise, you could injure yourself through poor form, as your muscles are tiring and you engage other weaker muscles to compensate.
Another example is when you’re supposed to be doing a recovery workout, but yet you feel energized and so you try to push harder and do something with more energy. But then all of a sudden, half way through the workout, you find that you burn through that initial burst of energy which fails you later because you weren’t fully recovered and you don’t have enough stamina to continue. Recovery when you have to and don’t force yourself to do something your body just isn’t OK for.
Yet another example is not gradually increasing your workout intervals to improve stamina. You mentally don’t feel like doing fast intervals beyond a certain point, and thus your stamina never improves. You hit race day and you find that as you try to maintain speed, you can’t and you’re slowing down as you move through the miles.
While training typically involves the simultaneous training of all 6 types of training, I think that there is a lot of benefit to identifying where your personal needs are, and coupled with where you are in your training season, you can focus on specific areas which need improvement and advance them greatly. Categorizing the different types of training really helps in thinking about training and how to race faster.

Bike Benchmark with the Computrainer and WKO+ Software 1/5/2009

At the start of the season, I took a bike benchmark test to set a baseline from which training levels would be calculated. We used a Computrainer hooked up to a PC to record the results. The course I used was a flat 10 mile course so that I did not get distracted by hills. WKO+ by Trainingpeaks software pulled up the data to produce the results shown below. The test was:
Warmup for about 15 minutes
10 minutes at highest maintainable, even intensity, knowing that I would have to do another 10 minutes afterwards at comparable intensity
Rest 3 minutes
10 minutes at highest maintainable, even intensity, comparable to the first 10 minute block.
If I did this right, the average watts and effort should be similar to the first 10 minute block. If I overdid it on the first 10 minute interval, I would show a marked drop in watts on the second interval, potentially meaning I should do this test again and with better pacing.
The results of the 10 minute intervals are below:

Larger WKO+ graph screenshot here
Time 0:00-10:00
Average wattage 203
Average HR 173
Baseline HR 168, but then rose to 180 as i neared end of 10 min
Highest HR 189
RPE 8->10
Time 13:00-23:00
Average wattage 192
Average HR 174
Baseline HR 174, but then went to 180 as i redlined
Highest HR 184
RPE 9->10
I used the heart rate ear clip, which got super flaky on me clipped to my ear which got sweaty during the warmup and caused the readings to fluctuate or disappear entirely. On a whim, I clipped it to my finger and that actually worked better, although I found that for best consistent results I had to keep my finger as still as possible. For the future, I ordered a HR wireless strap and adapter which should improve things dramatically. I also need to replace a chip inside the control unit – scary!
I paced myself OK, close enough that I don’t need to re-test. I did go out a bit hard on the first interval which cost me on the second interval. Making to the end of the second interval was really tough and I found myself going up and down in watts as I would lose concentration and energy and need a small recovery.
My lactate threshold HR is probably around 173-174 or so and seemed to have drifted upwards from 172 which was from a benchmark test many years ago. My 100% effort workout wattage is around 195-200, which was what I suspected as I did many of my coach’s workouts computing workout watts from a 100% level of 200. This seemed to work well with me and getting through workouts with effort but not flaming out.
By the end of the season, I hope to do one or both of two things, which is to:
1. Raise my 100% level.
2. Increase my ability to maintain a higher watts over a longer period of time, like a race.

Lance Armstrong and Chris Carmichael on Twitter!

How cool is this: both Lance Armstrong (lancearmstrong) and Chris Carmichael (trainright) are on Twitter and tweeting their training. It’s pretty amusing to follow Lance and check out what he is doing right now. Apparently he’s in Kona hanging out, but also training furiously with Chris. Heard on trainright:
good day of training for lance.. 45min climb after 4hrs in his legs, solid pace, 359avg watts for 46:44, not bad for nearly 40yrs 🙂
Geez 359 watts average for 46:44!!! I can barely get to 160 watts for that amount of time. Think I’ll just keep that tweet to myself (haha)….
Very cool to see both Lance and his coach, Chris, using the latest internet tools to keep in contact with their fans.

Zipp Powertap Disc Wheel Test and Pumping Up

Today the Bay area was sunny, although it was a chilly 45 degrees this morning. After my Computrainer workout, I decided to finally take my fixed Zipp Powertap disc out for a test.
In case you didn’t know, pumping up a disc wheel is kind of a pain. You get this little L shaped adapter to put onto the tube valve, but it doesn’t grab on too well. If you have a friend nearby, it’s not too bad. But if you’re by yourself, it’s tough. At Ironman Florida, Ken Glah taught me his patented method of pumping up a disc wheel. Here it is:
(DISCLAIMER: I reshot these after I pumped up the tire; smart guys with good eyes will note that the lever to lock the pump head onto a valve is in the unlocked position. So follow the steps but lock the lever and you’re good to go!)
First you attach the L shaped adapter to the pump.

Note that the opening of the adapter points upward and the pump head and tube hang directly downward. This is so that the pump head and tube will not torque the valve on the tire’s tube, which makes it easier to hold it on. Otherwise, the pump head and tube will always drag on the adapter and want to pop off during pumping.
I use a Topeak JoeBlow pump which I consider the best damn pump out there. Its head has two holes for each type of valve (presta and schrader) on the same side; pumps with the holes on opposite sides really suck. I had one and it broke on me within a year.
Then I use my right hand to hold the pump head with adapter onto the tube valve, with the tube valve at its highest position and not near the ground:

Now the trick is to pump while holding the adapter onto the tire. I usually pump a little bit with my left hand to get the air started. However, there is no way I can get a decent force on it once the pressure builds. That’s when I shove it into my stomach area and press on it with my weight to get the rest of the air in, up to about 100 lbs.

You’d think that somebody would have figured out how to create a better way to pump up disc tires by now. Oh well.
Then I put on some warm clothes and go outside to test my Powertap. Supposedly they recalibrated it and I hope they did it right. When they sent it back to me, they sent it back to me in pieces: tire and tube off, cassette unmounted. Kind of lame. I just hope they fixed the Powertap problem of sending overly high wattage numbers.
Thankfully, after a chilling spin around the block, the PT was now reading correctly. No more 995 watt readings – sad but true, my day with Lance Armstrong quality power output were over.

Importance of the Negative Split

If there is one training principle I have come to both love and hate, it’s the negative split. It’s also one of the most important.
In short, it means that you increase effort and, thus (hopefully) speed, on the second half of your workout or race. Workouts can also be gradual in increasing effort, resulting in descending time so it is some times called descending workouts or intervals (ie. in swimming, you can do a set at descend 1-2-3, which means you descend time over the next three intervals). No matter what you start at one pace, but you end up at increased pace/effort.
Our bodies race like we train. When we go all out during a race, we often put out the most effort and have the highest speed during the first part of the race, when we’re fresh. Then when the second half of the race comes, we find ourselves getting more and more tired and often slow down as we hit the finish line.
This is bad! Slowing down as you approach the finish line, often starting from miles out, means:
1. You’re getting tired and depleted. Maintaining speed becomes a grinding experience or impossible. Your heart rate starts leaping higher and higher and you have no choice but to slow down or else you’ll flame out…or pass out.
2. Your better trained opponents are now passing you. That sucks right? You try to pick it up and you can’t!
3. As you get depleted, your muscles get stiffer and stiffer as lactic acid builds up. It just becomes a painful experience as you force your muscles to keep going, and you may be reduced to walking, or weak spinning for cycling, or for swimming your stroke rate just keeps dropping as your arms feel like lead.
4. Mentally, it just makes the race feel like the worst experience ever. You’re glad to hit the finish line and you wonder why in the world did you ever subject your body to that kind of torture.
However, training via negative splits or descending intervals means you condition your body to be able to perform while tired and give more energy during the latter half of the race. You learn to pace yourself and not go all out in the beginning, and your body learns to give that extra kick in second half while your energy levels begin to wane.
In every workout I do, I try to always finish with more effort than I begin. I slowly ramp effort and speed throughout a workout and then by the end of the workout, I am sprinting towards the parking lot where my car is. Or I’m on the way home on my bike and after doing laps on Kings Mountain, I’ll raise my energy level pedaling and get close to sprinting home on the bike.
It’s a tough workout, but over time your body gets used to it. Come race day, you’ll be thankful for training this way. During races you’re always putting out 100%+ effort and you need to be conditioned to give extra effort even while your energy level is dropping.
What a rush to be accelerating and passing other competitors and feel like a million bucks as you accelerate towards the finish line!

Yield to Life

Whoo hoo! Got my Yield to Life bike jersey today, signed by Dave Zabrieskie himself.
I’m proud to be a donor and a part of Yield to Life, whose mission is to promote safe cycling everywhere. The popularity of cycling and triathlon has put an enormous amount of people on the roads on bicycles. Add to that soaring gas prices and now you have even more a reason to go out and bike. The unfortunate consequence of this is that simply because there are more people on bicycles that probability says that there will be more bicycle accidents.
Of course, every bike accident sucks and every death to a cyclist is even more tragic. We must do what we can as drivers and as cyclists to help prevent the collision between bike and auto.
Organizations such as Yield to Life promote safety on the road and the fact that cyclists and drivers must co-exist on the roads. While probability makes more accidents inevitable, we must do what we can to drive the odds in our favor such that preventable accidents be reduced or totally eliminated. Support Yield to Life! Donate enough money and get a cool cycling jersey plus socks!