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  1. Two weeks ago we discussed the concept of periodisation, and compared the traditional and block periodisation models. If you missed that article, please click here. Block periodisation recommends the inclusion of short specialised mesocycles (blocks), repeated continually throughout a training year. We recommend that athletes begin a 16 week macrocycle with the ‘General Preparation’ block or phase. The main objective of this mesocycle is to prepare the musculoskeletal system for the subsequent phases where volume and intensity are increased. The main goals of this training phase are increases in functional strength and muscular endurance. As previously discussed, each block should consist of key training sessions which target similar adaptations. During the ‘General Preparation’ phase, the key training sessions should consist of strength or torque intervals. Torque is the rotational force applied to the pedals during each pedal stroke. It is calculated by multiplying the force applied to the pedals, by the crank length (lever arm). Crank length will be constant, so torque is really an indicator of the force applied to the pedal. Torque is an important variable for cyclists to consider, because power is the product of torque and angular velocity (cadence). Should a cyclist improve the amount of torque they are able to produce at the same cadence, they should by definition, improve the power they are able to produce. Strength or Torque intervals, also often referred to as over- or big-gear intervals, are simply performed through sustaining a high power output at a low cadence. We will now show explain how to perform a set of torque intervals, and demonstrate how to analyse one of these workouts. Figure 1: Torque (Nm) is the product of the force (N) applied to the pedal, multiplied by the distance of the lever arm (m), which in this case is the crank length. 6 x 4 minutes of torque work A key session to perform during the ‘General Preparation’ block is 6 x 4 minute torque or strength intervals. We will now break down how to perform this session.Calibration If you are using a power meter, we would strongly recommend that you perform a manual calibration before the start of your warm up, and possibly before the start of your first interval. The calibrations will increase the reliability of your measurements. Warm up Each training session should begin with a good warm up, and 30 minutes should be sufficient. If you are performing the session outdoors and it is particularly cold, you may want to increase the length of the warm up. Conversely, if you are performing the session indoors, a shorter warm up may be sufficient. Intervals These intervals are best performed on a steady, steep gradient (8-12%) where you can use a gear you are just able to turn over at a cadence of between 40 - 50 rpm. Focus should be on the complete pedal stroke, keeping your shoulders and hands relaxed during climbs while focusing on a stable pelvis. Push the lap button at the start and end of each interval in order to mark the intervals. This will help you analyse your session once it is completed. Cool down Once you have completed the final interval, cool down in order to improve your recovery for subsequent sessions that may follow later in the week. Once again, a 30 minute cool down should be sufficient. We recommend that you try and use the same hill/gradient for each interval, because this will provide you with consistent data to analyse. Figure 2 is an example of a torque session performed by one of our athletes. Each interval of the session was performed on the same climb which made the intervals a lot more consistent and analysing the session a lot easier. Figure 2: An example of an 8 x 4 minute torque session The outcome of this workout should be the amount of torque (Nm) produced in each interval, and not power output (W). Lowering the cadence (selecting a harder gear), increases the force that is applied to the pedals which will increase the torque (Nm) produced (Figure 3). The relationship between torque and power output will be different during these intervals compared to your usual high-cadence efforts. This is also illustrated in the warm up and cool down periods in Figure 3. Figure 3: The relationship between torque and power output. During periods of high cadence (warm up and cool down), where easier gears are used, torque is low compared to the low cadence (hard gear) intervals. A great way to track your progression during the ‘General Preparation’ block is to analyse these sessions, and plot the torque values for each of the 4 minute intervals, add them all together and divide by the total number of intervals (6 or 8 depending on the session). This will provide you with the average for the set of intervals. The graph below shows how we plot an athlete’s progression during their block. The first two sessions went well, but the third session shows a decrease in the amount of torque produced. The drop in torque was most likely due to some acute fatigue, so we allowed for a slightly longer rest before the next session and they were able to produce their best numbers in the two subsequent sessions. If you do not have the software to be able to calculate Torque, you may calculate crank torque by using the following equation: Figure 4: Torque progression of an athlete If you do not have a power meter, focus on the cadence and gear selection. You will be able to track your improvements by being able to push a bigger gear at the same cadence for the same session. As a reference, elite male cyclists are producing around 1.5 Nm/kg of body mass during a 4 minute torque interval session.
  2. Cycling is a fairly unique sport due to the ability to be able to get a direct measure of workload. Power meters have been around for a few decades already and are able to measure your power output in real time during training and racing. Immediately after the power meters were first released to the consumer market, they were extremely expensive and heavy, use was limited to certain professional cycling teams and others that could afford them. Recent advances in technology have seen power meters become cheaper and as a result their popularity has increased among cyclists of all levels. In this article, we will provide some insight into how we use power meters with our athletes. Click here to view the article
  3. There are really two ways in which your power meter can be used. Setting the training intensity during interval training. Most cyclists who are introduced to power meters fall under the mistaken impression that the most effective use for their power meter is in setting the intensity. However, this might not always be beneficial (which we will highlight below). Collecting data for analysis after your training. Cyclists love data and if we can measure it, we probably will. However, data is only really valuable if it is correctly interpreted. Power output helps cyclists and their coaches monitor training load and, most importantly, progression. Using the power meter to collect data for later analysis is the more effective strategy. Using the power meter to set training intensity: Before the advent of power meters, most elite cyclists used heart rate as a measure of training intensity. Heart rate in a laboratory setting is almost always linearly related to power. i.e. as power output increases, so does heart rate and the rate of increase stays consistent. It was therefore a useful way to set specific training zones based on a laboratory test done at the beginning of the season in a performance laboratory. However, out in the field (on the road or trail) there are many factors that affect the relationship between heart rate and power. These include dehydration, temperature, altitude, fatigue, caffeine intake, stress and body position. Together these factors can change heart rate by up to 25 beats per minute for the same power output. Power meters measure the amount of work done while cycling. Power output, measured in watts, is the product of force and angular velocity. Power is not influenced by environmental conditions, fatigue or any other factors, which makes it a less variable measure of intensity than heart rate or rating of perceived exertion. Does that mean you should only use power to prescribe training intensity? Although power is a very objective and reliable measure of intensity, doing intervals based on power may not be the most effective strategy. A study conducted by Dr Jeroen Swart at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa examined improvements when training by power or heart rate. They took 21 elite male cyclists and trained them using either power or heart rate prescribed interval sessions. Before and after a 4 week training period, the athletes completed a VO2 max and peak power output test as well as a 40km time trial. To ensure that they had all performed exercise at the same intensity, the average training power outputs and heart rates from all the training session for each group were compared. They were identical. When the performance tests were compared, the peak power output tests showed that the heart rate group had improved by over 5% while the power group had improved by only 3.7%. Analysis determined that the heart rate based intervals were 60% more likely to result in improvement than the power based intervals.If both groups trained at the same average intensity, how can that be? Well, another often cited deficiency of heart rate monitors is the lag between the increase in intensity of the exercise and the increase in heart rate. This can often be as long as 30 seconds. As a result, the heart rate group had performed intervals where the initial power outputs were very high in an attempt to get the heart rate up to the target. Later in each interval, the power outputs dropped off significantly, ending up much lower than that of the power group. The power group, as expected, churned along at an even intensity for each interval. The hypothesis is that this initial surge in the heart rate group could have been responsible for the extra training effect of using heart rate. That said, using power to prescribe training intensity can allow the athlete or coach to progressively increase the target intensity and when this is done appropriately, it can force greater improvements in performance. A power meter can keep you honest during your training and prevent you from soft pedalling during your intervals. If you see your power output starting to drop towards the end of your interval, you are more likely to try and put in a little more effort to keep it at the target wattage. At Science to Sport we use both heart rate and power to prescribe training, depending on the specific session. Setting the right intensity requires analysis of the training data to ensure progression and avoid excessive fatigue. Analysis of your training data: Power meters turn your bike into your own mobile testing laboratory The reliability of power output data you record during a training session makes it a great variable to be able to accurately measure and monitor improvements in training status. If you are able to produce more power over the same time interval, then you are responding favourably to your current training load. While speed up your local climb can be a used as a more crude measure of progression, it will be influenced by wind, temperature or trail conditions if you are on a mountain bike. Power meters turn your bike into your own mobile testing laboratory and allows you to perform your very own performance tests every time you repeat a standardised training session.Power meters are great for race analysis too. If you are working with a coach or perform all your analysis yourself, race data may allow you to determine what went wrong during your race. Did you go too hard too early? Did you make too many surges early on in the race that you paid for later? How did you pace yourself during the race? In addition, knowledge of the amount of work done (in kilojoules) during your training can allow you to fine tune your nutrition to ensure that your energy intake is matching your energy expenditure. How do you monitor training load with a power meter? Once you are recording all your training sessions with a power meter, you are able to plot an accurate Performance Management Chart (PMC). There are a number of different applications that enable you to plot a PMC; such as TrainingPeaks, Golden Cheetah and others. The variables plotted on a PMC include your chronic training load (CTL), acute training load (ATL) and training stress balance (TSB). These are defined in the glossary below.The PMC will give you a snapshot of your fitness (CTL) and how fatigued you are likely to be (TSB). How high a CTL to aim for is dependent on many factors such as your training history, age, work related stress and others. A top professional road rider might aim for a CTL of 100-130 while your mid 40’s exec / weekend warrior will be best off with a lower value such as 65 or 70. How can I ensure that my training load is sufficient? Analysing individual session data will be able to assist you in establishing if your current training load is sufficient to produce optimal gains. Analysing training data will allow you to assess progression. Are you managing to produce a higher average power output for the same interval session? If not, why not? Are you training too hard and not recovering? Do you need to train harder? That’s where an expert coach will come in. They have years of experience and often first hand knowledge through their own racing experiences to guide your training appropriately.As coaches we use a number of metrics to monitor external training load (the stress applied to the body), but also use other measures of stress to ensure that we don’t miss anything. An example is the Lambert and Lamberts Submaximal Cycling Test (LSCT). This and other tests allow us to measure the internal load (i.e. how you are responding to the load). In the meantime, avoid becoming obsessed with the numbers and remember to enjoy your riding as well. Glossary: Acute Training Load (ATL) is a 7 day rolling average of your TSS scores. The ATL can be loosely regarded as a measure of fatigue.Chronic Training Load (CTL) is a 42 day rolling average of your TSS scores and provides an objective measure of fitness. Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is the maximal average power output that you can sustain for an hour. This is the value that the PMC uses to judge the intensity and load of any training session. We at Science to Sport establish your FTP from physiological testing we perform in our laboratory, alternatively, a common method of measuring FTP is to do a 20min maximal effort and to multiply the average power of this effort by 0.95. Training Stress Balance (TSB) is the difference between CTL and ATL and provides an indication of ‘freshness’. Negative TSB values indicate that some acute fatigue may be present. Training Stress Score (TSS) is a score assigned to each training session to quantify the stress of the session. Riding at your FTP for one hour will produce a TSS of 100 points. The algorithms built into the PMC will assign an exponentially higher TSS for efforts that are above your FTP. About the author: Science to SportScience to Sport bridges the gap between scientific research and sports men and women in the field.Utilising scientific tools and experience gained through research and practical involvement at the highest professional and scientific level, the experts at science to sport are able to provide athletes with scientifically validated methods and products which they can use to their advantage during training and competition.
  4. It is important to note that training load may be monitored using rating of perceived exertion (RPE), Heart rate or power. RPE and heart rate are internal load metrics, whereas power, and it’s derivatives, are considered external load metrics. Although power based load metrics have become widely popular. There is no peer-reviewed evidence to suggest that power based longitudinal load monitoring is any more effective than either HR or RPE based methods. However, in this article, we will limit our discussions to the use of power based longitudinal load monitoring. Within our short course material, we include a monitoring template to be able to conduct monitoring, as discussed here, but by simply using RPE. 1. Session training load. Normalised power (NP), Intensity factor (IF) and The Training Stress Score (TSS) are all registered trademarks of Peaksware training systems, and terms originally developed by Dr. Andy Coggan and Hunter Allan (Allan and Coggan, 2010).Your normalised power (NP) is a weighted average power which was developed to represent the physiological cost equal to the particular session or effort. Therefore if your NP was 300 Watts for a training session or effort, it implies that the session or effort was equivalent to maintaining the same constant power (300 watts) for the same duration. When riding at varied power, as is typical during a mountain bike or road ride on hilly terrain, your average power would be much lower than your normalised power, and therefore using normalised power when power is extremely stochastic, is a better gauge of effort. Your intensity factor (IF) is simply your NP divided by your FTP. As previously discussed, your FTP is your functional threshold power and roughly equal to a power you are able to sustain for a prolonged period of time (30 – 90 minutes). As highlighted in previous modules, your FTP is best determined through physiological testing. Your training stress score (TSS) is a measure of individual session training load. It is calculated using the individual’s relative intensity, and duration of training session. It may represent the training load of any endurance sport and may be calculated from power, heart rate or rate of perceived exertion (RPE). However, it most commonly used to describe the training load of a training session performed with a power meter. By definition, 100 TSS is the hardest you could possibly ride for 1 hour. You should only be able to achieve more than 100 TSS points if you ride for more than 1 hour. To calculate your TSS from your power meter data you need to first know your NP, and thereby your IF for the ride. You can calculate TSS by the following equation: TSS= (NP/FTP)2 x Duration (Hours) 2. Monitoring longitudinal training load Again the primary variables discussed in this section; Acute training load (ATL), Chronic training load (CTL) and training stress balance (TSB) are registered trademarks of Peaksware (TrainingPeaks) training systems.The ATL is your short term training load, normally during the last 7 days, whereas your CTL is your longer term training load, normally the last 42 days. TSB is simply the difference between your CTL and your ATL. Crudely, we like referring to your ATL as your current fatigue state, your CTL as your current level of fitness, and your TSB as your current level of freshness. Although TrainingPeaks (Peaksware) do not reveal how they calculate CTL and ATL, our personal experience, and that of recent research studies (Murray et al 2017), has shown that an exponentially weighted moving average (EWMA) of either acute or chronic load seems to track both performance and risk of illness and injury extremely well. An EWMA of training load can be calculated as follows: ATL = (ATLyesterday)(e(-1/k))+ (TSStoday)(1-e(-1/k)) CTL = (CTLyesterday)(e(-1/k))+ (TSStoday)(1-e(-1/k)) TSB = CTL - ATL K= Time constant (7 for ATL and 42 for CTL) 3. Interpretation of the performance management chart A performance management chart is a longitudinal graph showing CTL, ATL and TSB over a selected period of time. As shown in the figure below, the blue line (CTL) may be visualised as your fitness. The pink line as you fatigue, and the yellow line (TSB) your freshness or readiness to perform.Athletes and coaches often make the mistake of over-interpreting this model as direct measures of the simplified terms they are defined as; fitness, fatigue and freshness. In reality, performance is extremely complex and there is currently no model, which may account for all possible factors contributing to human variance. There is no doubt that athletes with relatively low cardiovascular fitness levels will improve their performance as CTL is increased. The problem lies in that there is no direct means of determining the correct CTL for an athlete without prior training history and training data. Optimal CTL values may vary from 70 TSS/day, for some competitive age group athletes, to as high as 140 CTL for pro tour riders. The best way to establish your optimal load is simply by continued performance monitoring. As you increase your CTL, ensure that performance continues to increase. If your performance is stagnating, or even decreasing, this may be a sign that you have surpassed your optimal CTL range. Similarly to you CTL, optimal TSB is also highly variable. A certain athlete may perform better with a TSB in the range of +10 to +20, whereas some simply feel better at a TSB of -5 to +5. Again, correlating previous excellent performances with TSB on that particular day is one of the most effective ways in which to ensure the correct TSB for peak performance. 4. Practical aspects of the performance management chart It is critically important that you monitor adherence to your periodised training plan. Here is an example of an athlete preparing for the ABSA Cape Epic. Throughout the process, training load was very closely monitored to ensure that the intended training load was correctly applied, and importantly, that the objective of each rest week was achieved. When evaluating your periodisation plan, ensure that each block or phase of training results in adequate stress. This can be seen as the ATL being greater CTL. This can be seen as the periods where the pink line is above the blue line. Very importantly, between your blocks of training is when the athlete becomes “fresh”. Ensure that their training stress balance, or TSB, which is the yellow line spikes into positive values. 5. Conclusion To conclude, training load monitoring is extremely important, but it is important that its value is understood. Training should never be prescribed with the sole purpose of achieving load goals. Correct basic physiology principles should always be followed to ensure that the correct systems are being stressed to ensure the required physiological adaptation. Once the most correct physiological principles are followed, there is certainly value in monitoring your load metrics, which may assist the athlete to achieve optimal performance gains from their training and ensure optimal tapering strategies. References: Allen, H. Coggan A. Training and Racing With A Powermeter. 2nd Edition. Velopress. 2010.Murray, NB. Gabbett, TJ. Townshend, AD. Blanch P. Calculating acute:chronic workload ratios using exponentially weighted moving averages provides a more sensitive indicator of injury likelihood than rolling averages. BR J Sports Med. 2017. 51(9): 749-754.
  5. Bike fitting, or cycling biomechanics when referring to the scientific research and methods, is a rapidly evolving field with ever increasing numbers of tools at the fitters disposal. Despite this proliferation of technology, less than 15% of the tools available are validated scientifically for their accuracy and efficacy (whether they do what they say they do). As such it is important to highlight a number of concepts and dispel some misconceptions regarding bike fitting in general. Pre-fit assessment Any good bike fitting will start with an evaluation of the cyclist. How in depth this evaluation becomes depends on the level of the bike fitting being requested (more in-depth assessments take longer and naturally cost more) as well as the expertise of the fitter. In many cases, this may be a clinically trained individual such as a physiotherapist, biokineticist or sports medicine specialist. The clinician is the appropriate choice if the cyclist is wanting to prevent injuries or gain insight into possible causes of an existing injury. This is important as some problems may not be related to the bike at all and rather be a manifestation of “intrinsic factors” in the cyclist. During this assessment various measurements will also be taken. These will include stature, leg length, arm length and other measurements such as hamstring and spine flexibility tests. These are all necessary measurements as they provide the fitter with insight regarding the final position that the cyclist is likely to be able to adopt. Predictive Fitting and objective measurement of bike parameters Before asking the cyclist to climb onto the bike there are two important steps to bike fitting that should not be overlooked.The first is a prediction of the optimal fitting. The importance of this is not immediately obvious to most people seeking a bike fit. An important starting point is that the fitting should be conducted on the correct frame size. This is harder to achieve than it seems. Most bicycle manufacturers simply refer to a range in stature (height) and recommend specific frame sizes based on this. However, this ignores two very important aspects. One is the ratio of leg length, torso length and arm length. The second is flexibility. Take two individuals with exactly the same stature. One may have very long legs and a very short torso. The other may have the opposite i.e. a very long torso and short legs and arms. These two individuals may require frames that are up to two sizes apart. The individual with long legs and short torso will likely require a smaller frame size as the distance to the handlebar (which is based on frame size and stem length) needs to be shorter. The opposite applies to the individual with short legs and a long torso. They will require a larger frame size. The next important factor is flexibility. Once again consider two individuals but this time with identical arm and leg lengths. However, one may be exceptionally flexible and the other may be exceptionally stiff. The individual who is stiff may have reduced hamstring flexibility and reduced spine flexibility. This would require a lower saddle height and a shorter frame and handlebar reach. These sorts of requirements are not evident from a simple stature measurement and could result in someone purchasing the incorrect frame size. Without a predetermined set of parameters, it is not possible to determine the correct frame size to a high degree of accuracy. An incorrect frame size can be manipulated to create the impression that the bike fits, but there will be consequences such as compromised handling or sub-optimal muscle recruitment patterns. For example, a frame that is too large can be adjusted to fit a rider by shortening the stem or reducing the saddle setback. However, this will result in reduced centre of mass over the front wheel, resulting in under-steer and the possibility that the front wheel will slide out in sharp turns or in wet conditions. If adjusted by altering setback this may result in over recruitment of the quadriceps, placing them at risk of premature fatigue. Either way, establishing the correct ratio between frame size, stem length and saddle setback prior to the fitting will allow the fitter to achieve these macro adjustments speedily and once again save time so that this can be used on more nuanced aspects to fully optimise the fitting. From the pre-fit evaluation the fitter will also have a set of information that will be useful in determining the correct position of the saddle height, saddle setback, handlebar reach and drop. With a very high level of experience a good fitter may be able to make a reasonably accurate estimate of the correct frame size and these parameters before checking the fit. However, it is possible to achieve a reasonably comfortable position with the incorrect ratios of these measurements and the cyclist would not be aware of this. An example is setting the saddle higher than optimal but with less saddle setback. The saddle would be in the same effective saddle height and knee flexion angles would be similar. However, the more forward position would result in over-recruitment of the quadriceps and a position with the centre of mass too far forward. Similarly, using too much handlebar drop and not enough reach would provide a similar torso position, but with too much lumbar flexion, resulting in a risk of lower back pain. An example of this type of position is seen below. Position with excessive handlebar drop due to poor ratios of reach to drop. Because there are numerous factors that influence this decision making process (as per some of the examples above) a computerised prediction of the optimal fitting makes this process dramatically easier, more accurate and faster.The second important step before asking the cyclist to climb on the bike is to accurately measure the initial position of the bike. This allows the fitter to record the initial position so that any changes can be recorded for reference once the fitting has been concluded. Sometimes it may be necessary to reverse a specific change and without recording the initial position this becomes impossible. It is also very important to measure the bike parameters accurately. Many bike fittings are performed without objective measurements. Performing objective measurements requires a universal reference point. The simplest reference point is the crank axle or bottom bracket. All measurements should therefore refer to their position relative to the crank axle. An example of a measurement which is not objective is measuring the distance from the tip of the saddle to the handlebar. Two ways of performing objective measurements are highlighted in the diagrams below. The first uses a set of traditional measurements related to a line along the bike seat-tube. However, due to the advent of the 29er mountain-bikes, aero-bikes and other advances, many manufacturers are no longer creating bikes with seat-tubes set at 73-74 degrees. This makes it impossible to perform traditional measurements without the use of a mechanical jig or a laser reference line. As such, we are advocating for a move to a very simple X-Y reference for all bike parameters. Some manufacturers such as Open bikes have already started referencing frame size in this way as opposed to the traditional measurement of horizontal top tube length. Over time we hope that all bike fitters will move to this more objective and accurate measurement system which can be achieved by using a simple self-levelling cross hair laser available at most building supply stores. Traditional measurements Simplified X-Y measurements Simplified X-Y measurements demonstrating absence of traditional seat-tube position. Assessment of the rider position Only now is it time to ask the rider to mount the bike and to assess whether the fitting is optimal.There are many ways and tools that are available to assess optimal fit. All of these have advantages and limitations and the fitter should ideally use a variety of assessments and also determine whether these are in agreement before making any alterations to the bike fitting. There is a misnomer that the simple process of using a goniometer or digital inclinometer to evaluate the position of the cyclist while they standing still and not pedalling (static kinematics) is somehow inferior to more expensive and difficult techniques such as dynamic 3D kinematics or 2D kinematics (the use of infrared markers or a camera to track movement while pedalling). However, recent research has shown that all of these methods have similar levels of accuracy, reliability and validity (they measure what they are supposed to measure)1. Additionally, dynamic measurements (assessment while pedalling) differ depending on the cyclist’s power output and therefore need to be assessed at a specific percentage of maximal heart rate or power output2. This may make these assessments less reliable if the fitter does not control for the power output during analysis. Of all the dynamic assessments, saddle pressure mapping provides the most practically relevant and meaningful data. This may seem counterintuitive, but measuring saddle pressure provides a wealth of information about the centre of pressure of the rider as well as stability3. Measuring this data is quick, easy and readily interpretable. These variables provide feedback that guides saddle height, saddle setback and handlebar reach in an indirect, but repeatable fashion. Unfortunately, there is currently limited research to help guide the interpretation of dynamic whole body measurements such as 2D video kinematics or 3D kinematics. Going forward these techniques have a lot of promise, especially newer systems which use enough markers to detect hip and shoulder position optimally and which are able to provide analyses without excessive time processing the data. Bike fitters should be aware of the limitations of dynamic systems which do not measure hip and shoulder angle accurately due to the limited number of markers. An example is demonstrated in the diagram below. Without markers on the spine it is not possible to measure the hip angle, lumbar flexion, thoracic flexion or shoulder angle accurately. An example of a dynamic measuring system that neglects optimal hip, shoulder and spine assessment. After optimising and fine tuning the fitting, the consultant should re-measure the bike to accurately document the final position. Every bike fitting should be accompanied by a report that clearly provides the cyclist with feedback about the changes that have been implemented and documents the bike position in an accurate and objective fashion. In summary, there are numerous systems and tools available to guide bike fitting. The fitter should use multiple independent tools as each tool or system has limitations. The process of bike fitting should flow from pre-fit through prediction of optimal fit, accurate measurement of the bike before implementing changes, use of multiple tools to adjust and optimise the fit and a final measurement of the optimised position. References:Holliday, W., J. Fisher, R. Theo and J. Swart (2017). "Static versus dynamic kinematics in cyclists: A comparison of goniometer, inclinometer and 3D motion capture." Eur J Sport Sci 17(9): 1129-1142. Holliday, W., J. Fisher, R. Theo and J. Swart (2018). " Cycling: Joint kinematics and muscle activity during differing intensities " In review. Holliday, W., J. Fisher, J. Salzwedel, R. McDonald and J. Swart (2018). " The effects of relative cycling intensity on saddle pressure indexes " In review.
  6. Cyclists will incorporate a variety of strategies to assist them in achieving peak performance, but the biggest change in performance will come from their training. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an important part of an endurance athlete’s training programme. HIIT is characterised by bouts of high-intensity work separated by periods of low-intensity work or rest. The proposed benefit of HIIT is the ability to perform more work at a high-intensity compared to a one long sustained high-intensity effort (tempo session). Recreational level cyclists are often hesitant to include HIIT, due to the increased levels of physical discomfort, fatigue and high perception of effort. However, 2 – 4 weeks of HIIT can result in large improvements in performance compared to a similar amount of low-intensity training. Photo alterations by Schmorglebot. See comments below. Physiological responses to HIIT The cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems are where the majority of the adaptations to HIIT occur. Performing regular HIIT sessions as part of a well-structured training programme has been shown to improve performance measures, such as VO2max and peak power output, by 2 – 4 %. Some examples of changes in the cardiovascular system include; increases in the size of the left ventricle as well as increased muscle wall thickness, increased compliance of the left ventricle as well as increases in blood and plasma volume (increased oxygen carrying capacity). There is also an increase in the vasodilation of the blood vessels that deliver oxygen to the working muscles.In addition to the adaptations to the cardiovascular system, it has been suggested that there are also adaptations to HIIT in the muscle cells. Increased recruitment of Type II muscle fibres during HIIT sessions. Type II fibres are recruited at intensities above 90 % of VO2max. Type II fibres are larger and more powerful, but less oxidative and more glycolytic than Type I fibres. Exercising at intensities above threshold causes Type II fibres to adapt and become more oxidative and more fatigue resistance. Optimising interval training The intensity of the HIIT training sessions is an important consideration when designing a programme. It is recommended that athletes try and accumulate as much time as possible at intensities close to their VO2max. Type II muscle fibres appear to be recruited at intensities above 90% of VO2max and the intensity of the session should produce a high cardiac output in order to promote the cardiovascular changes mentioned above.The intensity (power output) associated with VO2max is determined during a progressive incremental exercise test (VO2max test). Once the intensity that elicits VO2max has been determined, it is important to know how long this intensity can be sustained (Tmax or time at VO2max). VO2max is typically reached after 60% of Tmax. In other words, if an athlete’s Tmax is 5 minutes, then they will reach their VO2max after 3 minutes. Tmax should be determined a day or two after the initial maximal test to ensure the athlete is fresh. The athlete should warm up and then try and sustain the target intensity as long as possible. Let’s use an example of a cyclist who reached his VO2max at 400 Watts. Two days later he cycled at 400 Watts for 5 minutes (Tmax). Therefore, the ideal interval duration for a 400 Watt session should be 3 minutes long with either equal (3 minutes) or double rest (6 minutes) periods. This is an effective method for designing HIIT sessions and athletes should aim to increase the time that they can sustain that exercise intensity. HIIT intervals do not need to always be of a long duration. Supramaximal sprint intervals can also results in significant increases in endurance performance. Intervals as short as 30 seconds at 175 % of PPO have been shown to be effective in improving endurance performance. These intervals require longer rest periods (4.5 minutes) to allow the athletes to recover and ensure that they can reach the target intensity during the next interval. The adaptations that result from low volume, sprint training appear to occur on the cellular level with increases in mitochondria and enzyme activity, rather than in the cardiovascular system. Manipulating the duration and intensity of the work to rest ratios will determine the effectiveness of the HIIT training programme. Longer intervals of between 3 – 5 minutes appear to be most appropriate for endurance athletes, as these intervals promote both cardiovascular and muscle adaptations. Sprint interval training can still be prescribed to well-trained endurance athletes, after they have done a few weeks of longer duration intervals. Rest intervals are another important consideration when designing HIIT programmes. The goal of a HIIT session is to accumulate a larger amount of work at a high intensity compared to one long high-intensity effort. It is critical that the rest intervals are sufficient to allow the cyclist to repeatedly hit their target intensity. If the intensity of the recovery period is too high, or the duration is too short, it will result in fatigue, which will prevent the cyclist from adequately performing in the subsequent intervals. Typical work to rest ratios (work:rest) are 2:1, 1:1, or 1:2. The intensity and duration of the intervals will influence the amount of rest required, but the session should be designed to allow the athlete to reach the target intensity in all the intervals. When designing a high-intensity interval training session, the following factors should be considered: The intensity of each interval The duration of each interval The intensity of each rest period The duration of each rest period Total work completed (number of intervals x duration of intervals) Cyclists should exercise caution when adding HIIT sessions to their training, because more is not always better. Increasing the number of HIIT sessions won’t always benefit endurance performance and cyclists should aim to include 2 - 3 HIIT sessions per week into their training during their ‘Transition’ and ‘Peak’ phases.
  7. Endurance athletes and coaches are typically cautious when it comes to including strength training into their programmes. Their apprehension is largely based on concerns of increased lean body mass or the reduced quality of subsequent on the bike training sessions. Earlier, poorly designed studies on concurrent (endurance and strength) training showed no improvements in endurance performance following the addition of strength training to already high training loads. However, recent research shows that including strength training may be of benefit for endurance athletes. Studies conducted on runners, cyclists and triathletes have all shown positive additive effects of strength training on endurance performance. Success in endurance sport requires athletes to sustain the highest possible speed or power output at the lowest energy cost. In certain situations, athletes will be required to accelerate to break away from the pack or sprint to the line to take the win. In these situations, glycolytic capacity and maximal speed become important determinants of success. In a previous article, we mentioned the four main physiological determinants of endurance performance; VO2max Cycling economy Threshold intensity Muscular power If you missed that article, it is available here. Let us take a closer look at how strength training will affect these four main physiological determinants. VO2max A recent review on optimising strength training for running and cycling performance, concluded that, despite resulting in improvements in exercise economy and time trial performance, strength training was not an appropriate method for increasing VO2max in trained endurance athletes. While it is not disputed that high VO2max values are associated with endurance capacity, the highest VO2max value does not always result in the best endurance performance and there can be large differences in performance between athletes with similar VO2max values. Therefore, improvements in endurance performance following strength training, are most likely the result of changes in other variables. Cycling economy We define cycling economy as the metabolic or energetic cost of maintaining a certain speed or power output. A good exercise economy is crucial for success in endurance sport and there can be large differences between individuals’ economy, despite similar VO2max values. The addition of strength training to an endurance athlete’s training programme, may result in greater improvements in exercise economy when compared to endurance training alone. Cyclists and triathletes are reported to show improvements in economy following maximal strength training. Maximal strength training refers to high load, low velocity movements (1 – 15 RM), where the goal is to increase the maximal force generating capacity of the muscles. Typical exercises in a maximal strength programme would be squats and deadlifts. The current literature supports the use of maximal strength training for improving economy. Threshold intensity A cyclist’s threshold refers to the highest intensity that can be sustained for a prolonged period of time (40 – 60 minutes). One of the main goals of endurance training is to increase the intensity at threshold, allowing the athlete to sustain a higher power output for a longer period of time. A recent study on young male cyclists showed the addition of strength training resulted in an 8% improvement in 45 minute time trial performance compared to endurance training alone. Peak power output Peak power output (PPO) is able to differentiate endurance performance between cyclists. VO2max and economy will both influence PPO, but glycolytic capacity and neuromuscular factors will also play a role. Maximal strength training, prescribed in combination with endurance training has been shown to improve PPO.Endurance athletes may also be required to produce a high power output at the start of mass-start events (XCO), to close a gap, break away or sprint to the line. Maximal strength training in cyclists has both been shown to increase the force producing capacity of the muscles. How does strength training improve endurance performance? One of the proposed mechanisms for improved endurance performance following strength training is increases in the maximum strength of the type I fibres. Type I muscle fibres are more fatigue resistant than type II fibres and increasing the strength of type I fibres may increase their time to fatigue and thus delay the recruitment of the less economical type II fibres. In addition, type II muscles fibres may change their characteristics from type IIX to the more fatigue resistant and powerful type IIA fibres.Endurance athletes can improve their performance by the correct application of strength training. Strength training has been shown to improve a variety of factors associated with endurance performance in novice to well-trained endurance athletes. Strength training sessions should be tailored to the athlete’s needs based on their experience and current strength level. Strength training should be viewed by endurance athletes as an additional tool in their goal to improve performance.
  8. 1.Introduction Periodisation may be defined as the systematic planning of short- and long-term training programmes through implementing variation in intensity, volume and frequency. Although the underlying philosophies of periodisation have been questioned, the preponderance of scientific research studies have shown that periodised training regimes are more effective than non-periodised training regimes (Kiely, 2012). Although periodised structures, specifically within cycling, have not been empirically validated, there is no doubt that variation in programme design is critical.In support of the benefit of variation, there is also evidence of the negative consequences of a lack of variation, or monotony. Increased monotony may lead to increased risk of over training, poor performance and illness (Foster, 1998). Contrary, a training programme which is too varied may also dilute specific targeted improvements. For example, if a specific target is not sufficiently stressed, adaptation may not be optimal. We may therefore infer that a cyclist does require a certain amount of repetitive stress, but that the repetitive stress is varied, and the athlete is not exposed the same stress for a prolonged period. 2. Models of periodisation Russian physiologist Leonid Matveyev, is recognised as the father of periodisation. In the 1960’s he proposed the classical or traditional model, whereby he described how training should be planned (Matveyev, 1964)). The model proposes that one has 3 main periods (mesocycles) (Preparatory phase, Competition and Transition phase) in a training cycle (macrocycle). The plan uses an approach of progressing from high to low volume, and low to high intensity. This traditional model of periodisation has been augmented in more recent scientific literature, to include additional mesocycles, and different nomenclature for the mesocyle names. A common criticism of this traditional model of periodisation is that it was originally designed to only include a single peak a year (Issurin, 2010). Today’s demanding race and competition schedule often requires cyclists to be racing year round, with several key events throughout the year.Further criticism of the traditional model is that a specific mesocyle, such as the preparatory mesocycle, may include concurrent development of several abilities (basic aerobic, threshold improvements, anaerobic capacity etc.). For these reasons, and other principles which are dealt with in greater detail within our short course, a more targeted approach may be more beneficial to the athlete. In the early 1980’s, high performance coaches started using “training blocks” within their training programs. These blocks were typically highly concentrated periods of training of specialised workouts. Meaning that the block would include similar targeted abilities. This practice eventually led to the appearance of block periodisation. This system of periodisation is made up of three short specialised mesocycles (blocks), repeated continually throughout a training year. 3. Traditional vs. Block Periodisation Block periodisation became increasingly popular within cycling after the research study by Ronnestad et al (2014). This study investigated an extremely aggressive form of the periodiation model, where research participants were divided into either a “block periodisation”(BP) group of a “traditional” (TRAD) group. The BP group performed five high intensity training (HIT) sessions in a week, followed by 3 weeks of only 1 HIT session per week. All other training during the 4 week period was low intensity training (LIT). The TRAD group performed 2 HIT sessions per week throughout the 4 week period, resulting in a similar amount of HIT and LIT intensity distribution between the BP and TRAD group.The study demonstrated that the block periodisation led to several superior effects, with a significant improvement in VO2max for the block periodisation approach. The study also measured effect sizes and all measured parameters, including a 40 km time trial, maximal power output and hemoglobin mass showed a moderate effect of block periodisation vs. a traditional periodisation. Although further research may be required to further validate these findings, the results indicate that block periodisation may further enhance training adaptations. 4. A practical model Although the approach shown in the Ronnestad et al. (2012) study seems like a simple approach, long term development of all training abilities requires a more integrated approach to ensure a cumulative training effect from macrocycle to macrocycle, ensuring that all abilities are improved. The aggressive study design of the block in the Ronnestad et al. (2012) study, may also increase the risk of injury or illness within athletes not accustomed to this form of training. The approach that we have found to be tried and trusted, which has resulted in the best results across a range of cyclists abilities, includes the following:Each training cycle should consist of approximately 16 weeks, this cycle may be called the macrocycle and should conclude with a key target race.Due to the shortened macrocycle length, and lasting residual effects from cumulative training, this approach will result in the ability to target several races, year round. [*]This macrocycle should be further divided into approximately 4 blocks (your mesocycles) of between 2-4 weeks with a week of rest in order to recover before starting the next block. Mesocycles should be kept short to ensure that training is not too monotonous and to ensure an optimal residual effect. [*]Each block should include a high concentration of training sessions targeting similar training adaptations. Approximately 2-3 high intensity training sessions should be performed per week. There should still be optimal (2-3 days) recovery between high intensity sessions to ensure the risk of over training, illness and injury are reduced. A more concentrated block may be implemented under close monitoring, within more advanced athletes. Each block should consist of key training sessions which target similar adaptations; ie. Improvements in functional threshold or improvements in glycolytic energy system. 5. Conclusion We have learnt that variation is the key to programme design. It is critically important that a periodised plan, implementing the correct amount of variation, should be employed. However it is critically important to note that biological adaptation to future training is not predictable and does not follow a determinable pattern (Kiely, 2012). Training adaptation to a training stress is highly reliant on individual genetics, stress history and resilience, prior training and injury history and current level of fitness, and current stress status, to name a few (Kiely, 2017). Individuals will respond differently to the same training plan and training session, and group based patterns, as often compared in research studies, may be misleading when applied to individual athletes. This implies that the success of a periodised training programme requires the constant monitoring of both internal and external load metrics. These metrics, with athlete coach interaction should result in a dynamic plan. Such a dynamically changing plan is critically important to ensure optimal adaptation and performance. Although it is recommended to follow the basic biological principles we have discussed here, it is reasonable to assume that there is no optimal training plan across a range of athletes. A skilled coach should apply basic biological principles, all while constantly monitoring the individual athletes’ response to training. Working closely with an athlete and gathering this data should guide the subsequent periodised plan and approach. If you would like more information on periodisation, or would like to use our annual plan templates, please follow this link to our short course. References FOSTER, C. Monitoring training in athletes with reference to overtraining syndrome. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998, 30:1164–1168. 
KIELY, J. Periodisation Paradigms in the 21st Century: Evidence-Led or Tradition-Driven? Int J Sports Physiol Perf. 2012, 7: 242-250. KIELY, J. Periodisation Theory: Confronting and INconveneint truth. Sports Med, 2017, 48(4): 753-764. MATVEYEV, LP. Problem of periodisation in sport training. [in Russian]. Moscow: FIs Publisher, 1964. RONNESTAD, BR. ELLEFSEN, S. NYGAARD, H. et al. Effects of 12 weeks of block periodisation on performance and performance indices in well-trained cyclists. Scand J Med Sci Sport, 2014. 24(2): 327-335.
  9. Performance testing is often implemented to assess adaptation to a training programme. We have previously written a more detailed article on laboratory-based performance tests, which you can find here. Laboratory-based assessments require the use of expensive equipment, are time-consuming and can be disruptive to a cyclist’s training programme. The increased affordability of power meters has resulted in an increase in the collection and analysis of field test data. However, when field test data is being collected and analysed, the following points should be considered; 1. Is the testing protocol valid? A test is valid if it correctly measures what it claims to. In other words, a performance test for a cyclist should produce data that can accurately predict cycling performance. For example, a one repetition maximum bench press will have little value for predicting cycling performance. There is some debate as to whether laboratory-based assessments are valid measures of endurance cycling performance, but the strong association between the variables; VO2max, threshold, cycling economy and peak power out, and cycling performance is hard to argue against. 2. Is the testing protocol reliable? Reliability refers to how repeatable the results are. In other words, if we repeated the same testing protocol, on the same athlete, with the same equipment, under the same conditions, we would expect the same results. Every test will have a certain amount of measurement error, and for a test to be considered reliable, the error or measurement must be low. Field testing is less reliable than laboratory-based assessments due to exposure to factors that could affect the outcome of the test (environmental temperature, road surface etc.). 3. Is the test sensitive to change? If the cyclist’s performance has improved, the data collected from the test should reflect that.Field tests can take numerous forms, but the most commonly used field tests are hill climbs, time-trial (TT) efforts of varying duration or distance, and standardised training sessions. The 20 minute time trial is commonly used to determine a cyclist’s functional threshold power (FTP). There is a strong association between the average power output during a 20 minute TT and a cyclist’s threshold. If you are interested in reading more about this link, we recommend you read this article. Performing a TT effort requires a quiet stretch of road, or a track that will ensure that your effort is not interrupted. The effort in the figure below was performed on Franschhoek Pass by a young road cyclist. Following a sufficient warm up, the cyclist hit the lap button and held a relatively constant power output until the timer reached 20 minutes. Figure 1: 20-minute time-trial effort up Franschhoek Pass Cadence (Blue), Power output (Purple), Heart rate (Red). Pacing during these longer TT efforts is an important consideration and can have a large effect on the result of the test. The importance of pacing is probably best illustrated in the two figures below. Figure 2 shows a well-executed time-trial with a relatively constant power output (green line), compared to Figure 3 where the power output is highly variable. Cyclists should be familiarised with these type of efforts in order to assist them in improving their pacing strategy and ultimately performance. Figure 2: A well-executed time-trial. Figure 3: A poorly executed time-trial. Field tests can also be disguised as standardised training sessions, such as a set of 3 x 10 minute intervals. An increase in average power during these intervals could be valid measures of improvements in cycling performance. These field tests can track changes in performance and supplement the laboratory data which is collected less often. The data in the set of graphs below was collected during a training block aimed at improving this cyclist’s sustainable power output, and each session involved a set of 10 minute intervals. Each date represents a single training session, each dot represents a single interval and the green dashed-line represents the average for that particular session. The cyclist was able to increase their 10 minute power output (session average) as they progressed through this training block. A simple training session that is repeated at regular intervals during a training block can serve the role of a field test and provide an indication of the cyclist’s training progression. Tracking the variables of cadence and heart rate provides further insight into how the session was executed and the fatigue levels of the cyclist. Figure 4: Data from a standardised training session that can be used as a field test to track progression. For further information on the “Cycling Science: The essentials of cycling physiology and coaching” short course, click here. To read last week's article on measuring endurance performance, click here.
  10. VO2max The most common variable associated with cardiorespiratory fitness is VO2max. This is the maximal rate at which oxygen can be absorbed and used by the body during exercise. There is a strong association with endurance performance and VO2max, with high values (> 70 ml/min/kg) seen in elite endurance athletes. In order for our muscles to use oxygen to generate force, the oxygen must first be delivered to and extracted by the working muscle. There are numerous processes involved in the delivery of oxygen to the working muscles, and each of these steps is potentially a limiting factor of an athlete’s VO2max. 1. Pulmonary diffusion capacity Pulmonary diffusion is the process of moving oxygen from our lungs, which receive it from the external environment, and moving into the blood where it is then transported to the muscle. At sea level, the movement of oxygen from the lungs (external environment) to the blood, is not a limiting factor to oxygen consumption in healthy individuals. 2. Cardiac output Cardiac output is a measure of the amount of blood leaving the heart per minute. Increases in exercise intensity will result in more muscle being recruited and this will, in turn, result in an increase in cardiac output to meet the demands. The heart is essentially a slave to the working muscles.We typically see large differences in the VO2max values between trained and untrained athletes. The differences in maximal cardiac output between these two populations has been suggested as one of the main differences in VO2max. Endurance training results in an increase in plasma volume, the volume of the heart and the force of the heart’s contraction. All three of these will result in an increase in cardiac output. 3. Muscle’s capacity to extract oxygen Increased cardiac output results in an increased blood flow within the body and as a result, an increase in oxygen delivery to the muscles. In order to make use of the increased oxygen delivery, the muscles must increase their capacity to extract the oxygen. Once the oxygen is extracted from the blood by the muscle, it is used in the mitochondria of the muscles to produce energy.Endurance training results in an increase in the number of mitochondria in the muscles. The increase in mitochondria, means we have more power stations that can consume the oxygen and ultimately produce energy for the muscular work. 4. The blood’s capacity to transport oxygen Increasing the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood is a target of both legal and illegal practices. Spending a prolonged period of time (~ 3 weeks) at a moderate altitude (2 000 – 2 500 m above sea level), is likely to result in an increased number of red blood cells. Increases in the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood will result in improved delivery of oxygen to the working muscles, and ultimately an improved performance.If endurance performance was solely determined by VO2max, we would not need races to determine who the best cyclist in the World was. We could simply measure the VO2max of all the competitors and award the trophy to the cyclist with the highest value. Therefore, endurance performance is determined by more than just VO2max. Learn more: In Module 1 of our Cycling Science course we discuss, in detail, all of the factors associated with endurance performance. If you are interested in enrolling, you can find out more HERE.
  11. “Transition phase” is a term that is frequently misunderstood and often not known about. This is traditionally a phase of active rest and recuperation and commonly prescribed after the season has finished. Some feel that it is a time to be taken off completely, while others think of it as an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming season. This can create confusion as to what to do when and how. Transition phase comprises of both the elements mentioned above; a period where you are not racing or having to focus on the elements and variables around racing and performance, and also an opportunity to build towards your approaching season, which is critically important due to the increasingly congested race calendars. In this article, we shed some light on what a well-planned off-season should consist of in order for you to have a successful season ahead. There are three main components of the transition phase: Physical rest Mental rest Injury treatment and prevention Physical rest: Directly after the commencement of the off-season, a complete break from cycling is usually prescribed. This is usually a period of approximately 2 to 4 weeks. Some coaches have prescribed longer periods, but there is mounting evidence suggesting that prolonged rest erodes many of the training adaptations that have been built up during the season. As a result, athletes should start physical activity after a 10 to 14 day rest period, but avoid longer periods of inactivity. A key point is that these physical activities do not need to involve cycling. Hiking, swimming, surfing and all manner of other sports allow continued physical conditioning while providing a break from cycling. This will help an athlete to not suffer burn out. “Burnout” is defined as “a syndrome caused by continuous exposure to an a environment and which is associated with underperformance and increased risk of injury and or illness” In this case, it would be cycling. Mental fatigue: The prolonged, congested competitive seasons experienced by most modern-day professional athletes leads to significant mental fatigue at the end of a season. Motivation can progressively decrease as this fatigue sets in and can manifest in a variety of ways, including; incomplete training sessions, under-performance in races, reduced communication with the coach and many other subtle tells. Central nervous system fatigue can take significantly longer to recover from compared to the physical fatigue of training and racing. After a major stage race, an athlete may feel normal again with respect to stiffness and other physical symptoms, but it could very well take up to three weeks or more for their mind to freshen up completely. The off-season is therefore focused, to a large extent, on allowing the athlete to recover mentally. There should be limited structure in the off-season and athletes should be encouraged to participate in exercise, which is fun and novel. There are numerous alternative activities such hiking, running and swimming which can provide an excellent physical stimulus with a fun element. Athletes often develop anxiety about taking time off due to detraining. A limited amount of deconditioning is actually desired as the reduced stress allows physical recovery and can result in greater gains in the coming season. The athlete should, therefore, see this as a positive process that will result in net gains. Another concern for many athletes is weight gain. Athletes often gain weight during this period, but this is completely normal and healthy. The body cannot sustain the optimal race weight all year as it predisposes to illness and injury. Once focused training is recommenced this weight will be lost fairly quickly and during the early phases of the new season of training a gain of a few kilograms is acceptable. Injury management and prevention: During this off the bike time, it is also the perfect opportunity to address any injuries. This may be as trivial as a chronic muscle strain, but in some cases, there may be a need for off-season surgery. In cycling, evaluating biomechanics and optimizing bike fit are best done in the off-season to allow the muscle tendon units and joints to adapt to alteration when the load is gradually increased in the new season. A sudden change mid-season when loads are highest can result in injury, discomfort or temporary loss of performance.Addressing strength deficits in key muscle groups and stabilizers should also be done towards the end of the off-season and before proper loading is introduced. Review your previous season in order to plan the season ahead: It is always a good idea to review the season, which has just been completed, whether you are a mid-pack fun rider or a professional heading to the World Championships. When reviewing your season you need to be honest with yourself about factors that affected performance. The best way to do this is to go through your training data with your coach to assess where things were done well and where mistakes were made. You need to highlight weaknesses as well as areas where gains were made. Once that is done, you need to evaluate how to eliminate mistakes and translate those areas into success for the following year. Once this is addressed correctly, you can then start planning your new and upcoming season with the correct training periodization and annual planning. About the author: Science to SportScience to Sport bridges the gap between scientific research and sports men and women in the field.Utilising scientific tools and experience gained through research and practical involvement at the highest professional and scientific level, the experts at science to sport are able to provide athletes with scientifically validated methods and products which they can use to their advantage during training and competition.
  12. Photo credit: Greg Beadle http://www.beadlephoto.com. What is a performance test? Performance testing can provide valuable information on the physiological characteristics that are associated with cycling performance. Testing can take place in a laboratory under controlled conditions, or in the field where the cyclist may be exposed to factors that could affect the outcome of the test (environmental temperature, road surface etc.). The testing procedure should provide the cyclist and/or their coach with useful feedback that can be used to plan subsequent training.It is critical that the testing protocol is both valid and reliable. A test is valid if it correctly measures what it claims to. In other words, a performance test for a cyclist should produce data that can accurately predict cycling performance. For example, a one repetition maximum bench press will have little value for predicting cycling performance. Reliability refers to how repeatable the results are. In other words, if we repeated the same testing protocol, on the same athlete, with the same equipment, under the same conditions, we would expect the same results. If a test is not valid or reliable, it will have little value for the cyclist. Laboratory-based testing is more reliable than field testing, simply because of the standardised protocol, equipment (accurate and calibrated), and constant environmental conditions. However, this does not mean that field testing should be abandoned. Standardised training sessions, such as an 8 x 4 minute high-intensity session, can be considered to be field tests. An increase in average power during these intervals could be valid measures of improvements in cycling performance. These field tests can track changes in performance and supplement the laboratory data which is collected less often. We use performance tests for the following: Profiling – Testing provides us with an objective measure of an athlete’s physiological profile. Monitoring – Testing at regular intervals allows us to assess the effectiveness of our training prescription. Training prescription – The training zones identified during the performance test are used to prescribe target intensities for training sessions. Determinants of endurance performance A laboratory based performance test will usually measure the variables below, due to the association of these variables and cycling performance. VO2max: The maximal oxygen uptake represents the highest amount of oxygen that an individual can consume during exercise. There is a strong association between VO2max and endurance performance. Lactate or functional threshold: The maximal intensity (power output or heart rate) that can be maintained for a prolonged period of time (~60 minutes). Peak Power Output: The peak power output is the average power output during the final minute of a VO2max test. Profiling Every amateur cyclist wants to know how they compare to the professionals and their local club mates. Performance testing allows us to provide each athlete with an objective measure of performance, which allows for accurate comparison between individuals.Unfortunately, not everyone can win the Tour de France, but performance testing can provide you with an accurate measure of your current performance level. This allows for objective ranking of cyclists, and can also indicate the gap to the next performance level. Data from a performance test also allows you to set realistic targets for yourself. As coaches, we know what is required of athletes to complete specific events. Once you have an objective measure of your current training status you and your coach can then sit down and determine what is needed to achieve the goal. Lastly, profiling can reveal the unique characteristics of an individual and may give insight into their relative strengths and weaknesses. This may help them target training to reduce their weaknesses or provide insight into which racing disciplines will suit that athlete. Monitoring Tracking performance improvements over a specific time period is another use of performance testing. The laboratory setting allows the sports scientist or coach administering the test to control the majority of the variables (temperature, external cooling with a fan etc.) that could have an influence on the results of the test. Regular performance testing allows coaches to monitor performance improvements made over the course of a single season or several seasons. This is one of the most valuable uses of testing and one of the many reasons testing needs to be done in a controlled manner under similar conditions.Regular testing should be completed using the same testing protocol, the same equipment, under the same conditions, so you can accurately track performance improvements brought about by training. This is always a good way to determine if the training is working or if you need to make a change in your training to introduce a new stimulus. Training Prescription This is often cited as the most important reason for anyone to undergo any form of performance testing. We know that each individual cyclist is unique and therefore training intensity prescription should also be unique. For example, Chris Froome has a maximum heart rate of around 174 beats per minute while Simon Yates has a maximum of around 199 beats per minute. The age-old formula of 220 – age to determine maximum heart rate, is not relevant to either of these individuals. A revised equation of 206.9 – (0.7 x age) improved the accuracy of the maximal heart rate prediction, but the most accurate determinant of maximal heart rate is still performance testing.These days many devices provide you with a predicted maximum heart rate, and training zones based on this predicted maximum. Once again, these training zones may provide you with a guideline for training intensity, but they can be greatly improved upon via performance testing. Researchers at Western State Colorado University recently investigated whether training according to percentages of heart rate reserve (HRR) was as effective as training according to the individualised training zones determined from performance test data. The group who trained according to individualised training zones showed greater and more uniform improvements in VO2max compared to the group which trained based on percentages of HRR. If you are interested in reading more, the full article can be found here. Performance testing, and specifically VO2max or lactate testing will allow you to determine individualised training zones based on the results of your test. You will then be able to train with more specificity according to your individualized zones. While other forms of testing can also provide training zones, VO2max testing is considered the gold standard when it comes to determining training zones. So now that you know why you should do performance testing, which test should you do? The most common types of performance tests done by cyclists include:Max test/ PPO test/ VO2max test Time Trial (20km or 40km) or FTP testing Lactate Threshold testing VO2max or PPO test As stated earlier, the VO2max or PPO test is considered the gold standard when it comes to performance testing. Data from this test provides you with individualised training zones which will improve your training through more accurate monitoring of your intensity. Photo credit: Greg Beadle http://www.beadlephoto.com. The VO2max test is conducted in a laboratory, which means that it is highly repeatable, giving it a major advantage over field tests performed outside of the lab. VO2max testing is often accompanied with body fat percentage measurements which allow you to track your body composition at regular intervals. These tests can be repeated at set time-intervals allowing one to accurately track performance improvements and the effectiveness of your training. A VO2max test should provide you with your peak power output, which is the average power output for the final stage of the test. If you train with a power meter this will give you and/or your coach a good indication of what sort of power output you should be aiming for during your high-intensity interval training. The VO2max test will also determine your lactate threshold. Your LT as a percentage of your PPO is an important determinant of endurance performance, and cyclists should aim to have an LT at ~80% of their PPO. Time trials or FTP testing Another common form of performance testing is fixed duration (20 minute) or distance (20 or 40 km) time trials. The data from these efforts can be used to derive training zones, especially for those cyclists who train with power meters. The 20 minute all-out effort is a common method used to determine functional threshold power (FTP). Simply multiplying the average power output from the 20 minute effort by 0.95 will provide you with your FTP.While evidence suggests that the 40km time trial may be a better indicator of training programme effectiveness than VO2max itself, the test is physically taxing and requires a high-level of motivation to maintain a high effort for the duration of the test. As with the 40km time trial, a FTP test is a good indicator of performance and is a relatively easy test to administer. However, there are some important factors to consider before going this route. Most importantly the setting in which the FTP test is performed. The FTP test is often performed on the road where it is extremely hard to replicate similar conditions from test to test. Differences in heat and humidity between tests reduces the repeatability of protocol. These variables need to be considered when comparing test results. Completing the test indoors, in a controlled environment will help improve the repeatability of the test. Pacing in a FTP test is critical too. Starting too conservatively or too aggressively will not be a true reflection of your ability. A few familiarisation efforts could help with refining a more even pacing strategy. Lactate threshold testing Lactate threshold testing involves taking blood samples from the ear lobe or a finger during a test that has several stages of increasing intensity. VO2 data if often collected simultaneously during the test.While lactate threshold testing can provide you with accurate training zones and a good indication of your training status, it also has several draw backs. One of the issues with lactate testing is the invasive nature of the test which requires blood samples at regular intervals. The analysis of the blood samples increases the cost of the assessment. There is also the argument of how long it takes for the blood to flow from the working muscles to the point at which it is being drawn. However, research has shown that ventilatory data (VO2 and VCO2) collected during VO2max testing, are able to identify the same metabolic thresholds as lactate testing without additional blood analysis. This provides another argument for using a VO2max instead of lactate threshold testing to avoid the invasive nature of the testing. The majority of South African universities and sports science institutes will offer a variety of performance testing options. If you are interested, contact them for more information. About the author: Science to SportScience to Sport bridges the gap between scientific research and sports men and women in the field.Utilising scientific tools and experience gained through research and practical involvement at the highest professional and scientific level, the experts at science to sport are able to provide athletes with scientifically validated methods and products which they can use to their advantage during training and competition. Get your questions answered by the Science to Sport team Ask any cycling training, racing or nutrition related questions to be answered in the Q&A with the Coaches podcast.
  13. The topics covered in Episode Three:What are the benefits and drawbacks of combining starvation with high-intensity interval training (HIIT)? (at 30 seconds) What's the best training advice someone has ever given you? (at 7 minutes 44 seconds) How should one consume energy drinks and gels in long events? (at 8 minutes 20 seconds) How important is the role of genetics in an athlete's VO2 max? (at 15 minutes 13 seconds) Beating the afternoon slump. Early morning training vs evening training? (at 28 minutes 48 seconds) Previous podcast by the Science2Sport team for Bike Hub: Episode 2: Listen here Is there a desired training stress score (TTS) that you should be looking for? With the correct pedals stroke, will there still be dead spots? How important is base training? Are there more efficient options? For someone with limited training time, is it more beneficial to focus on cycling for fitness or is cross-training worthwhile? I want to start training more seriously, should I buy a power meter for my average aluminium road bike or should I rather use the money towards a good carbon race bike? Episode 1: Listen here Demystifying a rumour that Steve Bowman wheelied from Hout Bay to Camps Bay At what intensity point does your body utilize fat to a greater extent than carbohydrates and protein? What causes cramps and what is the best way to prevent it or relieve it when it happens? I am moving from the half marathon distance to the full marathon distance next year. How should my training change for the increased distance? Is there a way to get better at riding in high temperatures? Would riding with a dropper seat post be beneficial within South African marathon races? Submit your questions: Here's your chance to ask any cycling training, racing or nutrition related questions you have. Please submit your questions via the form below or leave a comment.
  14. The racing calendar in South Africa settles down significantly over this period, typically from the end of May until July which means that normally your first block of racing and training is complete before transitioning into the second part of your season from September to November. This “downtime” during winter offers some different options in order to build into your next season whilst maintaining fitness. In this article, we will help you remove the guesswork from your winter training and help you focus and improve your fitness and overall health leading into the new season of racing. Indoor trainers: As technology has improved, so have indoor trainers. Gone are the days where you just had a bracket and flywheel to train on. Today, the more advanced indoor trainers are referred to as smart trainers, implying that they can be controlled and interact with several software platforms on your computer or smartphones. As technology has improved, so too has the cost per unit, with some units going into the 6-figure price range. However, the added benefits may be worth the expense in the long run.The single biggest benefit of using indoor trainers is time efficiency. We all struggle to find the time to train. An indoor trainer session allows you to fit more quality work into a shorter time. You do not waste time at intersections, traffic lights or freewheeling downhill. When indoors, every second of you training session is spent placing the exact desired force and workload through your pedals. If one was to break down a standard outdoor ride, as much as 40% of the time will be spent not producing any power. There are several other benefits of training on an indoor trainer, which are mentioned below: Pros: Precision: You are able to precisely control your resistance, especially with new smart trainers, which have the ability to perform workouts in “erg” mode (you set the power you would like to ride at and the smart trainer will keep you at that wattage). This is especially beneficial when performing interval workouts, as you are able to control your power and effort easier than when riding outside.Endurance: The constant resistance provided by the indoor trainer could provide a greater stimulus when compared to a similar ride outside. For example, a 90-minute continuous ride indoors will feel much harder compared to a similar 90-minute ride outside. This is due to the constant work performed on the trainer with the absence of freewheeling, stopping or drafting. Entertainment: This refers to some of the beneficial technological advancements. You no longer have to watch TV or stare at a brick wall while training. With the likes of products like Zwift, for example, you are able to link your indoor trainer to your computer, iPad or even your iPhone and ride and train with other cyclists in a virtual environment, alleviating boredom. Zwift has also seen a large growth in Pro Tour riders using this software and what is better than being able to go for a morning coffee ride with Laurens Ten Dam or ex-pro Jens Voigt? Cons: Heat: Firstly, the human body is only between 22 and 25% efficient in converting stored fuel into power. The rest gets lost as heat energy and needs to go somewhere. When training indoors your body is no longer moving through the air, almost eliminating the two biggest heat loss mechanisms; evaporative and convective heat loss. The result is a rapid rise in core temperature and a very hot and sweaty body in a very short space of time.The solution: Buy the biggest fan you can get your hands on, place it directly in front of your stationary trainer and turn it onto full blast during your workouts. If you are working out at the gym, bring a really absorbent towel and be prepared for some heavy sweating. Feel: The second problem also relates to your stationary position. On the road your speed equates to inertia, keeping the rear wheel turning even when you stop pedaling. This momentum allows you to pedal through the top and bottom dead spots with relative ease. On the indoor trainer, only the rear wheel has a little momentum in the form of rotational inertia. The moment you reduce the force on the pedals, there is an almost instantaneous reduction in rear wheel speed, causing the top and bottom dead spots to be accentuated. As a result, after spending some time on the indoor trainer you may notice a burning in your shins and your upper thighs and groin as a result of the small muscles in these areas working harder to overcome the dead spots. The more expensive ergometers and especially the newer devices that mount directly without using a rear wheel have larger flywheels which create enough rotational inertia to make the pedaling action more fluid and feel more like a ride out on the open road. Boredom: Without the option of entertainment (as listed in the con’s above), indoor training may be one of the most mind-numbing activities. However, as discussed above, this excuse is no longer valise with several options available to keep you entertained. Training on an indoor trainer Indoor trainers should not only be used for performing intervals. You are able to perform recovery sessions and even long rides, as discussed above, may provide an excellent endurance stimulus. Ideally, an indoor training program should not be structured any differently from when training outside. This is one of the biggest mistakes athletes make. Just because you are indoors, does not mean that the session has to be hard.You can replicate any session on an indoor trainer that you can do outside, in a shorter time frame. As an example, we allow long endurance rides to be shortened by 25% when performing the session indoors. Therefore, when you are prescribed a two-hour zone two ride (easy long slow distance intensity), and you are forced to perform the session indoors due to poor weather, 90 minutes will suffice. It is however the intensity sessions, which remain the most popular sessions to be performed on the indoor trainer. The difficulty of these sessions forces your mind to remain occupied. Below are two intensity and two strength sessions we recommend you try on the indoor trainer: Training sessions T-Max Intervals: Several research studies have investigated the effects of T-max intervals. The benefits demonstrated by these intervals have resulted in them being referred to as “the ultimate interval”. T-max refers to the maximum time you are able to spend at your peak power output (PPO). Your PPO should be determined from a maximal ramp test. If you have never performed a ramp test protocol, you may use your FTP*125% as an estimate of your PPO. Before you are able to perform a T-max interval session, you must first determine how long you are able to ride at your PPO. Once you have established your T-max you are ready to go. Your workout duration for each interval will be 0.6*T-max. Therefore, if you T-max is 3 minutes, your workout duration will be 108 seconds.Warm up 30 minutes in zone 2 and low zone 3. Perform 8 X 0.6*T-max intervals set at your PPO (or 125% FTP) via erg mode. Rest for twice as long as your work duration. Warm down for 20 minutes in zone 2. Pyramid Intervals: Warm up for 15 minutes in zones 2 and 3. Follow this with intervals of 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, 1 minute in duration. The rest between each interval should be equal to the duration of the previous interval. Warm down for 15 minutes in zone 2. Your heart rate should be high zoning 4 or zone 5 and your power output should be 90% of peak power output (PPO, or 125% of FTP) for each interval. Strength Intervals: Warm up for 15 minutes in zones 2 and 3. Follow with 4 x 10 minutes of seated efforts on a moderate gradient. Use a gear or resistance setting that you can only just turn over. Keep your cadence at 45-55 rpm during the high gear efforts. Every 3 minutes perform an all-out sprint for 20 seconds without changing gears or the resistance and fall back into the low cadence after. Keep your cadence at ~90 rpm during the rest periods. Recover for 8 minutes in zone 2 between efforts. Focus on keeping your shoulders and hands relaxed during the efforts. Warm down for 15 minutes in zone 2. Cross Training Winter is an ideal time to focus on areas that you might have neglected in the summer months when all you want to do is be outdoors riding. One area that can reap rewards in performance is to improve your functional strength (strength in the movement patterns that you use when you are on the bike).Grucox: The grucox bike is an isokinetic ergometer. It may look like a standard gym bike, but its pedals are motorized and move at a pre-programmed cadence. Due to it being isokinetic (pedals moving at a constant rate / cadence), it is excellent for improving strength developments. Most notably, the grucox bike allows you to resist against the pedals. This resistance motion allows you to perform eccentric only cycling. Several research studies have demonstrated that eccentric cycling results in greater strength, power, and muscle mass gains than normal concentric cycling. Eccentric training may also be beneficial to reduce the risk of overuse injuries and help prevent osteoporosis. Photo credit: Sports Science Institute of South Africa. Grucox bikes can be found at several medical and sports centres. The Sports Science Institute of South Africa has recently opened a dedicated endurance studio, which contains, wattbikes and Grucox bikes for members to train on. Running: Running is an effective aerobic workout that may compliment your cycling performance. In addition, cyclists are at increased risk of osteoporosis while running improves bone mineral density in older age-group athletes. Most of all it is a very time effective workout while adding a fun element into your weekly training by running trails that you otherwise would not have come across while riding. Importantly, if not conditioned to running, the impact may result in acute or overuse injuries. You should therefore limit these runs to not more than 30-45 minutes, twice a week if you are not accustomed to running.Strength training: In years past strength training was often looked upon by endurance athletes and coaches as a negative in their training plan due to the perception that it would increase muscle mass and reduce cardiovascular efficiency. Research has subsequently shown that it can enhance power and muscular strength without any increase in mass.Fast-forward to today, where the benefit of social media platforms allows us to see riders from the Pro Peloton and alike doing strength or gym workouts. Nino Schurter’s videos, for example, are really popular and have been brought up in many discussions. Strength training has numerous benefits. Some of which are listed below: Enhances connective tissue strength and resistance to injury Improved cycling economy (lower oxygen cost) Preserved muscle mass – especially important in older age group athletes Increases in bone mineral density Improvements in strength with subsequent increases in overall power on the bike Rønnestad, Hansen and Raastad performed a study in 2010 with two groups of cyclists where comparisons between pre and in-season strength training were made. The comparisons for cycling performance were done on muscle cross-sectional area, oxygen consumption and strength during a 12-week preparation phase and a 13-week in-season maintenance program. Group 1 followed a structured program of endurance and heavy strength training twice per week for the 12 weeks preparation phase while Group 2 only focused on a structured endurance program with no strength training. Once completed, the next 13-weeks were a competition phase where Group 1 carried on with the maintenance strength work once a week while Group 2 carried on with no strength work or maintenance. The end results were significant: Group 1: Mean Power 40km TT test: Increase of 8% after preparation phase and an additional 6% performance increase after the competition phase. Overall leg strength increased by 23% Group 2: This group was limited to a 4% increase in 40km TT power after the preparation phase. They also had no additional improvement after the competition phase. However, don’t rush off to the gym and start lifting every weight you can find. Strength training requires adaptation and you should therefore start with shorter, less frequent sessions using lighter weights. This will prevent injury, and will also prevent excessive muscle damage and stiffness so that you will still be able to walk to ride your bike in subsequent days. The protocol used in the Rønnestad et al. study used only four simple exercises. Their periodised strength-training program is outlined below. Figure from: B. Rønnestad. E. Hansen, and T. Raastad, "In-season strength maintenance training increases well-trained cyclists’ performance," European Journal of Applied Physiology. 110(6): 1269-1282. (2010). RM = Repetition Maximum, The maximum weight you could lift for the given number of repetitions. About the author: Science to SportScience to Sport bridges the gap between scientific research and sports men and women in the field.Utilising scientific tools and experience gained through research and practical involvement at the highest professional and scientific level, the experts at science to sport are able to provide athletes with scientifically validated methods and products which they can use to their advantage during training and competition. Get your questions answered by the Science to Sport team Ask any cycling training, racing or nutrition related questions to be answered in the Q&A with the Coaches podcast. Please submit your questions here.
  15. In our new podcast series Q&A with the Coaches, you can ask the experts from Science2Sport your cycling training and racing related questions. The team at Science2Sport, which includes leading sports scientists, Dr Jeroen Swart, Dr Mike Posthumus, John Wakefield, and Benoit Capostagno, will be addressing the answers to your cycling related queries, along with local mountain bike pioneer Steve Bowman adding his insight. The Q&A with the Coaches podcast series is available on SoundCloud and iTunes. Click here to view the article
  16. The topics covered in Episode Two:Is there a desired training stress score (TTS) that you should be looking for? (at 36 seconds) With the correct pedals stroke, will there still be dead spots? (at 9 minutes 40 seconds) How important is base training? Are there more efficient options? (at 21 minutes 18 seconds) For someone with limited training time, is it more beneficial to focus on cycling for fitness or is cross-training worthwhile? (at 28 minutes 28 seconds) I want to start training more seriously, should I buy a power meter for my average aluminium road bike or should I rather use the money towards a good carbon race bike? (at 34 minutes 37 seconds) Previous articles by the Science2Sport team for Bike Hub: The science of cross country mountain bike: What does it take to succeed in XCO? by Dr Jeroen Swart and Ben Capostagno. Who needs a coach anyway? by John Wakefield and Dr Mike Posthumus. A scientific guide to race day nutrition by Dr Jeroen Swart and Ben Capostagno. Ensuring training progression with power by Dr Mike Posthumus and John Wakefield. Training with a power meter: the ins and outs by Ben Capostagno and Dr Jeroen Swart. Submit your questions: Here's your chance to ask any cycling training, racing or nutrition related questions you have. Please submit your questions via the form below or leave a comment.
  17. In our new podcast series Q&A with the Coaches, you can ask the experts from Science2Sport your cycling training and racing related questions. The team at Science2Sport, which includes leading sports scientists, Dr Jeroen Swart, Dr Mike Posthumus, John Wakefield, and Benoit Capostagno, will be addressing the answers to your cycling related queries, along with local mountain bike pioneer Steve Bowman adding his insight. The Q&A with the Coaches podcast series is available on SoundCloud and iTunes. Click here to view the article
  18. The topics covered in Episode One:Demystifying a rumour that Steve Bowman wheelied from Hout Bay to Camps Bay (at 1 minute 40 seconds) At what intensity point does your body utilize fat to a greater extent than carbohydrates and protein? (at 2 minutes 40 second) What causes cramps and what is the best way to prevent it or relieve it when it happens? (at 11 minutes 42 seconds) I am moving from the half marathon distance to the full marathon distance next year. How should my training change for the increased distance? (at 22 minutes 15 seconds) Is there a way to get better at riding in high temperatures? (35 minutes 35 seconds) Would riding with a dropper seat post be beneficial within South African marathon races? (at 46 minutes 44 seconds) Previous articles by the Science2Sport team for Bike Hub: Who needs a coach anyway? by John Wakefield and Dr Mike Posthumus.A scientific guide to race day nutrition by Dr Jeroen Swart and Ben Capostagno. Ensuring training progression with power by Dr Mike Posthumus and John Wakefield. Training with a power meter: the ins and outs by Ben Capostagno and Dr Jeroen Swart. Submit your questions: Here's your chance to ask any cycling training, racing or nutrition related questions you have. Please submit your questions via the form below or leave a comment.
  19. Cross-country mountain biking or XCO (the acronym given to the Olympic discipline) has increased in popularity in South Africa and globally over the past few years. So much so, that famed South African artist, Jack Parow, even wrote a song about it, Eksie Ou. Poor attempts at humour aside, the growth of this particular cycling discipline can largely be attributed to its inclusion in the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. Click here to view the article
  20. When an Olympic medal is on the line, international sporting federations tend to direct resources to the discipline in an attempt to increase the chances of success. In addition to its inclusion in the Olympic programme, the UCI World Cup series and high-profile World Championships have attracted some big brands as sponsors. The increased financial support has led to international races being beamed across the globe to fans eager to see if a Swiss, French or Czech flag will be raised above the top step. In South Africa, the late Burry Stander’s success forced us to pay attention to XCO racing and paved the way for others such as Philip Buys, James Reid, Alan Hatherly, Candice Lill (nee Neethling) and Mariske Strauss among others. Pietermaritzburg hosted two UCI World Cup events in 2012 and 2014 and the World Championships in 2013, which brought the World’s best to our doorstep. Participation in the National XCO Cup series has also increased, not only within the elite categories, with more age-group athletes taking part in this exciting discipline. An XCO race is a mass start event that typically lasts between 90 and 105 minutes and takes place over numerous laps of a predetermined course. The course usually consists of climbs, technical descents and single-track. The intermittent nature of XCO requires specific physiological characteristics, which may differ from those required for success in other cycling disciplines. In this article, we will unpack what it takes to be a successful XCO racer. On your marks….. A single lap of an XCO circuit will have a large amount of single track, which may make passing slower riders tricky. Riders’ starting position is determined based on the ranking relevant to the specific race. Starting towards the back of the field will result in an immediate disadvantage, compared to riders who start towards the front and can continue to ride at their desired pace. Riders who are less-technically proficient may slow down their more skilled competitors, but more on the importance of skill later. The elite men start sprint at the 2015 Lenzerheide UCI World Cup. Photo credit: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool. Researchers at Massey University in New Zealand, performed a longitudinal analysis of the effect start position had on finishing position in UCI World Cups from 1997 – 2007. Their results showed that finishing position is highly dependent on start position. In addition, the researchers recommended that developing athletes, should explore strategies that could assist them in improving their starting position. One such method is accruing UCI points from lower level UCI races, such as National XCO Cup races and stage races, as opposed to only racing World Cup races. Talented, developing XCO racers should be patient and gradually increase their ranking over the competitive season, rather than expecting an instant increase in ranking position. The physiology of XCO Sports science researchers enjoy bringing athletes into a laboratory in an attempt to find associations between physiological variables and performance. In road, marathon mountain-biking and certain track disciplines, the relationship between these physiological variables and performance can be very strong. However, physiological variables determined during standard laboratory testing fail to predict XCO performance on their own. The main reason for this is the absence of an ‘XCO-specific’ test that can provide better insight into the rider’s ability to cope with the demands of the event. In order to better understand the demands on an XCO race, let’s take a quick look at how we produce energy during exercise.A very brief summary of energy production during exercise Lactate threshold (LT) or functional threshold power (FTP) are terms often used to describe the maximal average power output an athlete can sustain for approximately one hour (learn a bit more about using power for training here). When riding at intensities below your threshold, energy is predominantly supplied through the process of oxidative metabolism (aerobic metabolism), which takes place in the mitochondria, the little power plants within our muscle cells. Oxidative metabolism requires the use oxygen to produce energy from carbohydrates and fat. During longer endurance events, such as road or marathon mountain biking races, this is the primary process involved in energy production. Oxidative metabolism has a large capacity to produce energy, but it is not immediately activated and once activated, produces energy at a slower rate compared to other energy systems. By comparison, glycolysis (anaerobic metabolism), which also involves breaking down glucose, or its stored form, glycogen, does so without the use of oxygen. Although energy production happens at a far greater rate, when compared to oxidative metabolism, the energy yield is far less. Energy required for short intense efforts (< 2 minutes) will predominantly be produced via glycolysis. Glycolysis results in the production of two molecules of pyruvate and two hydrogen ions (H+ or protons) for each glucose molecule metabolised. Pyruvate can then enter the mitochondria of the muscle cells and be metabolised further via oxidative metabolism to produce yet more energy. However, if there are insufficient mitochondria and/or low levels of oxygen in the working muscle (due to a low levels of fitness), glycolysis could slow down or even stop. In order to prevent this, pyruvate is converted to lactate by absorbing the proton. This turns lactate into a type of proton shuttle. Remember that pH is a measure of proton (H+) concentration, so by absorbing the proton, lactate is reducing the acidity of the muscle cell rather than increasing it as previously thought. At high rates of glycolysis, lactate is pumped out of the muscle cells by specialised transporters, which results in an increase in the amount of lactate in your blood. One of the physiological adaptations to high-intensity training is an increase in the number of these ‘lactate transporters’ in our muscle cells, which allows us to clear lactate from the working muscles at a faster rate. Once in our blood, lactate can be transported to other muscles, which are working at a lower intensity, where it can be used to produce energy through oxidative metabolism. In the case of an elite XCO rider, the lactate produced in the legs may be used as a fuel in the muscles of the arms and upper body. Understanding which energy systems are involved in during a particular activity allows coaches to tailor training programmes that will ensure that the relevant energy systems are appropriately stressed. Creating sessions specific to a particular energy system will improve the functioning of that system and allow for greater energy production. Now that we know what the energy systems involved in energy production are, how do we measure/monitor them? Aerobic capacity Endurance or aerobic capacity is often determined by measuring two variables; VO2Max – The athlete’s maximal rate of oxygen uptake and use Peak power output (PPO) – Which is the final workload (power output) reached during a standard incremental test in a laboratory Both VO2max and PPO are usually reported relative to body mass (e.g. W/kg for PPO and ml/min/kg for VO2max), and both have been associated with XCO performance. These two measures provide athletes and coaches with an objective indication of aerobic or endurance capacity. However, despite the somewhat strong association between aerobic capacity and XCO performance, the stochastic (intermittent) nature of XCO racing places a high premium on anaerobic capacity. Anaerobic Capacity Initial research into factors associated with XCO performance were fairly unidimensional and only examined the association between data from standard VO2max testing (VO2max, PPO and LT/FTP) and XCO performance. Researchers quickly discovered that despite the strong correlations between these variables and XCO performance, a big part of the proverbial puzzle was missing. The intermittent nature of XCO racing means that performance will most likely be heavily reliant on an athlete’s ability to repeatedly produce a high power output. A recent study examined the association between intermittent power output, measured by a series of sprints with short rest or recovery periods and XCO performance. The study made use on an intermittent power test, which consisted of 20 intervals of 45 seconds of work and 15 second rest periods. The cyclists in this study also performed a 20 minute time-trial in order to determine their FTP (95% of the average power output for the 20 minute effort). The average power output for the 20 intervals and the FTP value were both divided by the mass of the riders in order to account for differences in body size. The cyclists then all took part in an XCO race and the relationship between relative FTP, IP and race performance was examined. Interestingly, the best predictor of XCO race performance was in fact the intermittent power test. While the association between FTP and race performance was strong, it was not as good a predictor of performance as IP was. The increased popularity and availability of power meters, means that intermittent power output can be determined from a field test or training session. For example, two sets of 6 x 40 second sprints with 20 seconds of recovery (A session commonly referred to as 40:20’s), can provide a useful performance predictor for XCO athletes. For coaches or self-coached athletes, including such stochastic or intermittent power sessions are also an ideal preparation for a XCO race. The coaches at Science to Sport regularly include such stochastic intervals, and measure performance and progression by analysing the normalised power (a weighted average of power designed to better represent the true physiological load) across the whole intervals set. Demands of XCO racing Power meters have also given us coaches the ability to closely analyse the demands of a XCO race. Although each XCO race will differ, typically an athlete will spend approximately 35% of the full duration of their race (approximately 90 minutes for elite categories) at a power output above their threshold. Approximately 30% of the full duration of a race will also be spent not producing any power. This occurs on downhills, or when coasting on flats or around corners. Therefore, sessions specifically designed to mimic these demands may be of great benefit to XCO racers.As a practical example, the 2016 South African National XCO Championships were help at Cascades MTB park. Each lap of this course consisted of two moderate length climbs or sections where approximately 60m of altitude was gained. The figure below represents the power data from one of our elite athletes for the first 15 minutes of the 2016 SA Champs. For watt/kg comparisons, this athlete weighs only 72 kgs. From the gun you can see that the athlete kicked out ~1300 watts and had to maintain 1000 watts for 18 seconds. This was followed by several spikes well over his threshold (demonstrated by the yellow dotted line). By the top of the first peak in the course the athlete had averaged 500 watts for 2:30 minutes. The second climb on the course is also very undulating, which results in several efforts far exceeding his threshold power. 10 Minutes into the race his average power was 354 Watts (this include all the downhills too) and his normalised power was 408 watts. The complete opening lap of the course resulted in a normalised power of 385 watts, which far exceeding his set threshold of 360 watts. In this particular race, this athlete completed the full 90 minutes at a normalised power of 350 watts, which again illustrates the extreme demands of an XCO race. The first 15 minutes of an XCO race. This specific example was taken from an elite athlete racing in the 2016 South African National XCO Championships at Cascades MTB park. The yellow solid line represents the power he is producing at the time. The yellow dotted line represent his functional power threshold. The course profile (altitude) is represented by grey shading. The pink line is a representation of his normalised power at that specific time point. Skills will pay the bills XCO tracks are becoming increasingly technical and this places a high premium on the skill level of XCO racers. Uphill climbing ability will be largely determined by the physiological characteristics mentioned above, while descending requires less propulsive work and places a great influence on rider skill. Riders who are able successfully negotiate technical single track descents without additional pedalling, should recover faster than their less skilled competitors. The improved recovery will allow riders to produce more power on subsequent sections of the lap. All cyclists, but XCO riders in particular, should dedicate time to their training for skill development. Mariske Strauss follows Cherie Redecker into a rock garden during practice ahead of the 2016 SA National MTB XCO Champs in Pietermaritzburg. In addition to the ability to negotiated technical single track, recognising the most appropriate line is also an important skill to master. Decision-making is fast becoming a popular area in sports science. Previewing a track with a more experienced rider who can assist riders with correct and timely line choice. Sometimes it is about the bike The variety of XCO tracks in the National and World Cup XCO circuits, means that one bike may not be appropriate for all courses. Tracks that have a large amount of climbing may be best suited for a hardtail, where improved climbing efficiency may outweigh the benefits gained while descending on a full suspension bike. The more technical courses may best suit a full-suspension bike and there is definitely an increase in technical tracks in modern day races. Suspension systems on mountain bikes are designed to reduce the vibrations experienced by riders while they navigate technical single track descents. Excessive vibrations will have a negative impact on performance, but increasing the ‘cost’ of the exercise. Apart from propelling the rider and their bicycles, the rider’s muscles will have to stabilise the rider and work against the vibrations. Suspension systems that best reduce these vibrations can add a performance benefit. Conclusion In summary, XCO performance will be determined by a host of factors including; an athlete’s aerobic capacity, their ability to repeatedly produce high power outputs, their skill level and to some extent their equipment. The first race of the National XCO Cup series takes place this Saturday. It promises to be an exciting event, with the potential for one or two of the top international racers taking part. If you are in the Western Cape, pop round and watch South Africa’s best battle it out with some of the World’s top XCO racers. About the author: Science to SportScience to Sport bridges the gap between scientific research and sports men and women in the field.Utilising scientific tools and experience gained through research and practical involvement at the highest professional and scientific level, the experts at science to sport are able to provide athletes with scientifically validated methods and products which they can use to their advantage during training and competition. Get your questions answered by the Science to Sport team Ask any cycling training, racing or nutrition related questions to be answered in the Q&A with the Coaches podcast. Please submit your questions here.
  21. The boom in participation has gone hand in hand with a huge influx and growth of technology in cycling. For example, the number of athletes participating in the Kona Ironman World Championships racing with powermeters has increased more than 5 fold in the last 8 years. In 2008, less than 10% of bikes had a powermeter, whereas the most recent statistics show >50% of all bikes are being fitted with powermeters. Similar trends, albeit lower percentages, are now being seen in our local mountain bike stage races. The popularity of powermeters has resulted in an abundance of information available on the internet, social media, in books, podcasts, etc. Everywhere we look, there are so called professionals giving training advice. This abundance of freely available information is great, but often leads to confusion, resulting in athletes often over-training, performing and applying training principles incorrectly, which results in stagnated or decreases in performance. As a result, cyclists have begun seeking the help of professional coaches to help de-clutter the abundance of information available. However, not everyone understands the value of a coach or what to expect from a coaching relationship or experience. This leaves us with the questions; will you benefit from getting a coach, and when is the right time to seek the help of a professional coach? We will discuss and try and debunk some pre-conceived ideas about coaching. What is coaching? What seems to be a very simple question is in actual fact the exact question you need to ask yourself when seeking the help of a coach. In cycling terms it is hard to define, however the definitions provided by parallel fields provide useful insights, the international coaching federation (a federation for life coaches) defines coaching as, “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”, and lifestyle or wellness coaching as “a professionally trained coach who acts as a motivator, educator and accountability partner to support individuals in making lasting lifestyle changes that improve their physical and mental wellbeing”. These definitions illustrate the complexity of a coaching relationship and that coaching is far more engaging than simply producing a training program for a client. What should a good coach do? It goes without saying that a good coach needs to provide a periodised training program, which is individualised to your ability and available time. But, what is too often not mentioned is the additional benefits of a coach and the extent of your relationship with your coach. When choosing a coach, you need to know what you want from the relationship. To us, there are four key roles of coaches. To ensure you are going to get the added benefit from a coach, he needs to be able to deliver the following tasks:1) Translation of Science With the abundance of information available, the role of the coach is to translate the science and to incorporate best practice into your training program. One of the fundamental problems with cycling training today is that traditional cycling training methods have become deeply entrenched in what many today believe are best practice. On several occasions recent scientific studies have debunked more traditional training principles. A properly designed periodised training program therefore needs to implement and translate the most recent scientific literature. 2) Motivation and accountability We feel that these two facets; motivation and accountability, go hand in hand and are critically important. For these to be properly implemented you do however need to ensure that you invest in a more interactive training plan. Coaches normally have a few tiers or packages of coaching and provide anything from monthly interaction with four weeks of individualised training (what we call category 3 coaching) to a very interactive relationship with analysis of session data and monitoring (what we call category 1). The latter category of coaching would be essential if motivation and accountability are required. We all know how hard it is to drag oneself out of bed on a cold winter morning. Knowing that you are going to have to answer to your coach is certainly a very undervalued benefit. Further, we all have times when training and life simply gets tough. Your coach is there for support when times gets tough and may be your outlet, which is often required to get you back on the road and focussed on your training goal. 3) Eliminate uncertainty Our experiences have taught us that a successful athlete is a highly driven athlete. A highly driven athlete always tends to try and do too much, train too hard and always feels as if he has not done enough or trained hard enough. A coach is there to eliminate this uncertainty and help guide the athlete and remind the athlete of the greater goal. In the age where there is an abundance of self-proclaimed experts around trying to impart their wisdom, especially when we see our competitors and friends post their rides on Strava as soon as they are done, it is only natural to start doubting what you are doing and feel as if you are not doing enough. It is when this doubt creeps in that we tend to deviate from our original plan. It is this uncertainty that a coach helps you eliminate. 4) Objective feedback The process of training requires careful monitoring across a season, but also monitoring and analysis of specific key training sessions. The problem when looking at your own training is the large level of subjectivity. Athletes tend to be very harsh with themselves due to being extremely driven. A good session will never be good enough, which will eventually lead to the athlete feeling that they need to do more – resulting in over-training and a decrease in performance. The benefit of a coach is that your coach will objectively analyse key sessions (if included in your package as mentioned above). This again is a huge benefit to eliminate doubt and ensure progression. When should I get the help of a professional coach? Personally, we don’t believe there is a right or wrong time to utilise a coaching service. Coaching is for anyone from the individual who is simply trying to get more active and lose a few kilograms, to the professional cyclist. Personally, we have found that individuals who gain the most are those who have tried self-coaching and have failed or stagnated due to the reasons discussed above. We have some of our greatest successes and improvements from athletes who had stagnated for years despite training very hard (too much). Is getting a coach the right option for me? Important to note that no coach is going to be of any benefit to you if you are not able to listen and trust your coach 100%. You have to respect your coach and trust that she/he knows what is best for you. Any amount of doubt in your coach will nullify any potential benefit. Often athletes who come from self-coached backgrounds are still very stuck in their own ways and not always open-minded to change. Coaching is a two-way relationship and communication and trust are key elements of that relationship. How long before I may start noticing benefits and how much will I improve? You are not necessarily going to see immediate improvements. Any well-developed training program is periodised and includes all facets which contribute to your ability to ride faster. These then come together in a so-called ‘peak’ at the time of the event you are training for. That being said you should see small (<2%) session-to-session improvements when repeating the same training sessions. This should be monitored by coaches to ensure that there is progression, albeit small. However, there is no way to predict your personal ability and potential to improve. Genetically we are all different and therefore our ability to respond to training will be vastly different. We do, however, regularly see improvements of around 5% in peak power output from one year to the next. Which category of coaching is best for me? Over and above your personal budget you have to ask yourself why you have sought the help of a coach. To be able to choose the correct coaching package you have to review the four key roles of coaches highlighted above. Compare what you are expected to receive in each coaching package and compare it against the potential listed benefits. Only a very comprehensive package (what we call category 1) will give you all the potential benefits. Other important factors to consider are how structured your calendar is. For example, if you require your training program to be adjusted regularly to accommodate your ever-changing work commitments, a basic package (category 3) is going to be of little benefit to you. When you meet with you prospective coach for the first time, go with a list of expectations and let him guide you to the correct coaching package. About the author: Science to SportScience to Sport bridges the gap between scientific research and sports men and women in the field.Utilising scientific tools and experience gained through research and practical involvement at the highest professional and scientific level, the experts at science to sport are able to provide athletes with scientifically validated methods and products which they can use to their advantage during training and competition.
  22. The cycling industry as a whole has seen a tremendous boom during the last decade. Cycling has been coined the “new golf” and the industry has seen over 100% growth in both participation and sales during the last 10 years. But our new golfers are not satisfied with only participating, they want to be competitive. Especially in South Africa, which has always been a nation obsessed with ultra endurance sport, our new golfers want to take on the world’s toughest mountain bike stage races and not only finish, but excel and beat their peers. Click here to view the article
  23. The team at Science2Sport which includes leading sports scientists, Dr Jeroen Swart, Dr Mike Posthumus, John Wakefield, and Benoit Capostagno, will be addressing the answers to your cycling related queries. The discussion will be led by local mountain bike pioneer Steve Bowman. Previous articles written by the Science2Sport team for Bike Hub: Who needs a coach anyway? by John Wakefield and Dr Mike Posthumus. A scientific guide to race day nutrition by Dr Jeroen Swart and Ben Capostagno. Ensuring training progression with power by Dr Mike Posthumus and John Wakefield. Training with a power meter: the ins and outs by Ben Capostagno and Dr Jeroen Swart. Submit your questions: Here's your chance to ask any cycling training, racing or nutrition related questions you have. Please submit your questions via the form below or leave a comment.
  24. Bike Hub and the sports scientists from Science2Sport will be doing a series of podcasts to address common cycling training related questions, and we want your input to fuel the discussion. Click here to view the article
  25. Dr Jeroen Swart and Ben Capostagno from Science to Sport look at the science behind race day nutrition. Click here to view the article
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