You know you’re a spinner if…

You know you’re a high cadence spinner vs. a low cadence masher, when you go out to do some high cadence training and end up setting a personal best time hahaa. It was during a training ride at the end of summer last year that where I was doing high cadence drills that I discovered or re-discovered that endurance and pedaling efficiency is the bulk of what I need to focus on. I set out on my 2hr 50 mile ride and my entire focus on the entire ride was not speed or power, but just keeping a +100RPM cadence the whole way even on the hills if possible. When I reached the halfway point I looked at my computer’s stats and was shocked to see my average speed and watts where at a new personal best for the route, my average speed was about 2mph faster then my previous fastest time. I’ve even done the same route doing low cadence drills the whole way and my average ends up being the same as my typical average, so it’s not like mashing helped me go faster, it just made it a lot harder for me to go the same speed as I do when I self select my cadence to what feels right to go as fast as possible.

After having spent the last off-season doing a lot of strength and power work which lead to a lot of improvement on the bike, my thinking was that since endurance always came naturally to me and after seeing how much stronger others where on the bike that strength and power should be my main training goal. To a point I was right, and I did see dramatic improvement, but I took it too far to the point that I didn’t maximize my strength which is my endurance. I didn’t realize that since I was just getting back into shape, or into a new higher level of shape for the first time cycling that both endurance and strength would need to be improved, I thought it was must strength holding me back from keeping up with the fast riders. Since I saw rapid improvement with strength work, I thought more is better so I spent a lot of the summer trying to reach higher levels of strength and power, but it turned out that I had hit my peak in strength and power in the off-season, so by the end of the summer and fall my focus was on building a base and working on efficiency, and prioritize my training properly. I learned why they call a cardio base a “base”, as it’s the meat and potatoes of what you have to work on, strength and power come fast, but also go fast, but cardio fitness takes months and years to build up. Ideally you work on the 80/20 rule, where most of your training and riding focuses on the cardio base and the rest on strength, power, skills, equipment, mental training etc.

I learned a lot that day, I also learned a valuable lesson about how doing something in an easier way can give you a better outcome in the end even if the immediate short term feedback you’re getting is telling you different that it’s too easy. When I did my spin drills that day, I swore my average speed would be slower, or at best the same as when I ride “all out” at what I think feels like the fastest gear and cadence I can hold for the route. I think one reason is that by spinning I’m storing up and saving more energy for the hills, and by spinning on the flats I’m not going much slower then if I would go a lower cadence. Also spinning keeps local muscular fatigue from setting in as fast. I think if you crush the gears it beats your legs up and you can only keep that up for so long, you might go fast for a few minutes but overall your average speed will be much slower was you fry your legs.

So my goals for the off-season are weight loss, cardio, and efficiency, and a little bit of maintenance work to keep strength and power up, I’m building a proper base, and I probably will spend all next season continuing to build a base, then for the next years I’m going to continue with base, but throw in a 3x month strength program in the winter and race more. Ideally I should have been focusing on base training the last two years 90% of the time, instead of trying to keep up with the faster riders then doing nothing but strength and power work last year, I did make a jump in improvement but I believe most of that was because I lost a lot of weight and some help from the strength work. And it showed when I would race, I would do real well for 15-20 minutes, I’d feel strong and be in the game, but my endurance would quickly fade and I’d be struggling to hand on, hopefully this year, I’ll be able to hang on longer to when the real race starts in the final laps.

Winter, the “scale-a-holic’s” nightmare

That’s it, I’ve put my foot down and I refuse to look at the scale anymore this winter, it’s too upsetting to see the weight I worked so hard to lose come back on in the winter. Unless I starve myself and train like a man possessed I don’t lose weight and esp. in the winter when I think everything is working against me to lose or maintain a lower weight. I think it’s normal to put a little back on in the winter, most people do, esp in places like North East Pennsylvania with it’s long, cold, gloomy winters and culture of drinking the winter months away.

I’m sure if you work hard at it you can keep it to a minimum, and if you’re lucky even lose weight, but at what price? Maybe you’ll be burnt out in the regular season because you pushed to hard in the off-season, or you’ll feel wasted all the time in the winter, since you’re making your body do something it doens’t want to do, I find it hard to push myself as hard in the winter as the summer, and I bet there’s actual biological reasons for this, probably with the shorter daylight hours it effects your body’s hormones and ability to train at the same level or something. All I know is it feels wrong to ride 100% effort VO2Max when it’s 20F out. And all the pro level coaches advocate base miles and strength training, not going out there and riding at your limit in the cold and dark of winter.

The worst thing I think would be to get discouraged from training because you’re putting weight back on and think it’s a losing battle and give up your winter training routine. Just think you could probably burn off 10lbs in a month or two of riding once the weather is nice out, but you can’t build a base in a month which normally takes the whole winter. So that’s why I refuse to look at the scale right now, it was just making me crazy. I think it’s better to just focus on building a quality base and check the scales later when the weather is better and I’ve been putting in the miles outside. Avoid eating too much sugars and refined starches and alchol and stay consistent with your training, and don’t’ fret over putting on a few pounds.

And who knows it might even be desirable to have a little bit extra weight in the winter, at least that’s the clue nature gives us. I know for strength training etc. the worst thing you could do is not eat enough to fuel the workouts and protein and fat to help rebuild your muscles to be even stronger. I think the trick in winter is to reduce the number of carbs, unless you’re actually training at the same level as the summer.

How much weight have you put on or lost so far this winter?

The sound of a smooth pedal stroke

The last two weeks have put a deep freeze on North East PA, so needless to say I haven’t been going outside to ride much, my limit is around 20F, anything colder it’s strictly MTB riding weather.

It’s interesting the things you notice as I put miles in the bank as I ride the stationary trainer indoors. With nothing to really look at and no cars to dodge, I’m left only with being entertained by the sounds of the bike and trainer, and a heighten awareness of my position and pedal stroke. Listening to the sounds of the trainner and bike, I’ve been starting to pick up on certain sounds that give clue as to how smooth or choppy my pedal stroke is and noticing differences in sounds comparing the left stroke vs. the right stroke. The two main sounds I’ve picked up on are

  • The sounds of my cycling shoe cleats lifting up and clacking around in the little bit of play they have within the pedals. I notice that my left foot does this much more then my right. I think the cause was because my left pedal stroke isn’t as smooth or strong as my right, I wasn’t scrapping my left foot back and following through with the left’s backstroke and also if I did remember to lift my left back stroke I would lift too far and my cleat would lift up inside the pedal. My right foot doesn’t do this at all, and when I became more aware of this and really focused I could feel that I wasn’t pedaling the same with my left as my right. I’ve been working on it and after a couple weeks now I can “hear” and feel that my left is getting a lot smoother and my left leg isn’t as sore as when I first started working on it.
  • The sounds the bike’s drive train makes when you really crush the gears on the down part of the stroke, a certain kind of rumble comes out of the chain and chain ring, I think this happens as the chain ring becomes off axis at the same time the chain is under full tension on the down stroke and the chain and chainring aren’t meshing together perfectly. I noticed also that this sound only really was happening on my dominate right leg downstroke. To get the left pedal stroke to sound just like the right down stroke I have had to apply more force with my left leg and give it more of snap, so faster and with more speed on the left downstroke, that has made the sound the same, and made me realize after focusing on it that I was not apply the same amount of force with my left leg as my right and this was also probably causing my right leg’s corresponding backstroke to work harder then it should. I rather my left quads get stronger and contribute like the should as oppose to my right hams being overworked.

I  notice other things as well on the indoor trainer like position, over all pedaling motion, if I’m bouncing or not etc. etc. I’ll probably talk about these in future posts.  Have you noticed any sounds or other feedback you normally don’t notice like this that give you clues about your pedaling form etc. let me know I’d be interested to hear about it.

Cycling base training

I’m having a really great season this year cycling, I’ve made a lot of progress since last year and most of that I attribute to having trained like a machine all winter and spring, I never took off more then a week in the last year and half. Granted I have plenty of scheduled rest days and recovery weeks so I avoid getting fried like I did this spring when I got a little too carried away ahaha.

What I learned this season was I reached my peak strength in about 3x months, after that point anymore squats or weights or power training or intensity wasn’t going to give me much more significant improvement, I tried really hard for the first half of the summer to take my strenght and power on the bike up another level put no matter what I did I couldn’t do more. What I did notice a good improvement on is power endurance I can repeat those short hard race spike efforts over and over where in the winter and spring I could only do that a few times before I’d blow a gasket.

Cycling fast and long requires both strength and endurance. I always thought of myself as having good endurance, and that strength was my limiter. I failed to recognize that yes endurance might come easiest for me, but that doesn’t mean I should only work on strength. Even if it is a strength if you don’t use it you lose it and cycling is 80% endurance and 20% strength unless you’re doing short track efforts. So the 80/20 rule should apply to cycling I think and so do other top coaches I’ve read about. They say 80% of riding should be aerobic sub-threshold training and only 20% or less should be high intensity. Of course depending on your genetics, time of year in your schedule, and target events you may do more of one or the other.

I only started training seriously 1.5 years ago, so I basically really screwed up by going out and hammering on almost every single ride then spending the winter hammer the weights and obsessing over power. Yeah it helped develop my anaerobic system much much better, and improved my VO2max etc. but my endurance was so neglected that it has now become my limiter even though it’s historically always been a strong point for me in running and cycling.

Focusing to much on intensity and not base was a bad mistake also because I don’t have years of cycling and training under my belt, I’m building up from nothing, I could barely ride my bike around the block last spring and I was 80lbs over weight too! Base and aerobic cycling should be the focus esp. the first couple years of cycling or longer as strength and power are built on top of a big aerobic base and synergisticly help your anaerobic system work better.  I was all icing and no cake.

Even though I did mostly group rides last year,  every ride was a race for me as I was riding at my limit to keep up, I was out of shape and over weight, and I suffered the whole summer long, I was exhausted and burnt out by fall and it felt good to ride a bit slower and on my own schedule in the fall. But that lasted about a couple weeks then I was hungry to make a big improvement over the winter. I wanted to lose as much weight as possible and improve strength as I thought that was my limiter. I was only half right though, yes strength was my limiter, but in only 3 months I was much much stronger a rider and my endurance was now dwarfed and now the limiter. But I thought I could keep improving strength more I worked on strength all winter spring and half way through the summer, but never got stronger of faster then where I got after 3x months of focused strength and power training. I should have spent the fall and most of the winter doing lots of aerobic base miles, then did 3x months of strength work in the gym, then more base miles in the spring and early summer while converting gym strength into on bike strength.

I don’t regret what I did, as it was really neat to see my strength make a big jump, and help my riding a ton, as strength was my biggest limiter but not my only. The other limiter was endurance and that you can’t improve dramatically in 3-4 months like you can with strength. Endurance base training is miles in the bank, paying your dues.

I think for a bigger rider like myself having a big aerobic engine is even more important as it’s so easy to go anaerobic on even the smallest hill because of the power to weight ratio is so poor. I think if you’re a lighter rider, you can get away with more as your weight doesn’t trigger you body to go into the red as fast.

So needless to say I’m focusing most of my training now on aerobic training, and throwing in some on bike strength training and racing once a week or so to maintain the anaerobic system. This winter I’ll hit the gym again in January and do that until the start of April, I’m still going to do base miles during these three months but I’ll be cutting down on volume
a bit, but will still do at least one 3-4hr ride a week in to maintain the aerobic system. Then in March I’ll start to do more on bike strength work and start ramping up miles and then in April I’ll be putting the miles on and merging gym strength with bike strength and bike endurance and working on power in the May, then by end of May beginning of June I should be coming into really good form for some A events and I’ll try to carry that form through most of the summer and fall.

But I know now how to build up my anaerobic system and that racing helps build anaerobic endurance, but that the meat and potatoes of my riding in my training schedule for the week, the month and year need to be 80% aerobic and 20% anaerobic.

So what things have you learned from first hand experince in regards to your own base training over the years? Did you skip weight and power training, or cadance and effientcy training and not improve much? Or did you spend your entire winter on the fixie and blow everyone away the nex season. Let me know your thoughts I’m curious.