November 22, 2014

On the Shortness of Life

"It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.  

Life is long enough, and has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things in life if the whole of it is well invested."

-Lucius Seneca, 49 A.D.


What time wasting activities can you cut out of your life?

November 20, 2014

Bike Seat Height

The way to determine if a fitter is worth his or her salt is how they determine your seat height. 

Most fitters set the seat at a height which puts the lower leg at an angle of 25-30 degrees at full pedal extension. 

The logic behind this protocol seems to be that all cyclists will produce maximum power when the leg is at this angle. 

I don't think it's a stretch for any of us to imagine that people vary widely in their flexibility. While there are other components at play that vary as much or more (e.g., pelvic stability on the seat and neurological efficiency being two examples), flexibility is the factor that's easiest to imagine impeding the pedal stroke. 

So let's see how this plays out. 

If your hamstring flexibility is severely limited compared to your cycling friend, why on earth could it be possible that you would both produce maximum power at the same angle of extension?

The simple answer is...it doesn't.  So there must be a better way to determine seat height. 

And the answer is surprisingly simple. 

Find a moderate grade that might take a minute or two.  Now go ride up it at various seat heights.  

Of course you need to be methodical about it.  I'm a fan of Steve Hogg's method of starting at a height "too low" and increasing seat height 3mm every repeat. 

You should stop on the repeat at which you lose fluency at the bottom of the pedal stroke.  This is an indication that your neurological system cannot work efficiently at that height. 

Because when we ride very hard we tend to tighten up, you should actually set your seat height 3mm lower than the last fluent position.  So if you lost fluency on the 6th repeat, you would actually set the seat height for what you used on the 4th repeat. 

It's important that this test is done on a hill because you need the load to ascertain the difference between fluent and "not quite."

You can actually get a really accurate  assessment of another rider's seat height at a glance.  Seat height is too high when you see a slight acceleration at the bottom of the pedal stroke. This represents the leg in an uncontrolled segment of the stroke.  

Lack of control means lack of efficiency.  Lack of efficiency means lack of power. 

November 18, 2014

The True Value of a Coach

A coach doesn't tell you what to do. You can get a training plan for free in minutes online. 

Our big problem is usually too much, too often, too soon, or too hard.  We are terrible at knowing when it's better to recover than work out. 

A coach tells you what NOT to do.  She saves you from yourself. 

November 17, 2014

Sleep as a Training Indicator

Most everyone has probably heard that an elevated heart rate (HR) can be an indicator of fatigue. 

A depressed HR can indicate the same.   

You can track your HR in two easy ways to asses fatigue levels. 

1) Compare your current or average HR at a given level of exertion during exercise to your "normal" HR at that exertion.  Fatigue can manifest itself as an abnormally high or low HR. 

2) Track your daily waking HR. I prefer  this one because I feel fewer variables can affect it, although it's a bit more of a hassle. This generally becomes elevated.  So if you generally range between 53-56 bpm upon waking and suddenly find yourself in the low 60's, you have a sign. 

The solution in all of these scenarios is more recovery/less stress. This can mean some combination of more sleep, less training, and/or less life stress. 

November 11, 2014

Fatigue

Have you noticed what happens to your form when you get fatigued late in a race?

In running, there is usually an increase in arm range of motion and a decrease in cadence.  We are all fighting the same general issues - increased acidity, muscle fiber fatigue and so on - but we all experience them slightly different.

As you fight through that fatigue, your body compensates to overcome those issues that are reducing your efficiency.  You might have more trouble with maintaining stride length than your training partner so your compensation patterns would vary slightly from theirs.

If we can get objective data on which aspects of your form deteriorate the earliest, it makes sense that we could plan our training appropriately to get a bit more efficiency (i.e., speed) late in the race.

Alex Hutchinson has played around with a shoe accelerometer to look at stride rate, contact time, and some pronation numbers in a fresh vs. fatigued state.  

It seems to me that the newer garmin HR strap units could be used similarly since they give cadence, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation data.  I'd think you'd use these on hard interval days to see how each factor deteriorated.

It's possible that if your ground contact time increased (which is equivalent to a decrease in cadence) late in the race or workout, focused work on keeping cadence high late in workouts could help.  

Or maybe strength work in the gym - plyometrics? - could be valuable to retain muscle "springy-ness" when tired.  

Two ways to attack the same problem.  Here's where the art and science of coaching meet.