Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why did Saturday's Bike Session feel so hard? Some tips about why we train the way we do!

Dear All
Saturday's bike session down the Freeway and back (~100km) was found by most to be quite a tough session - but why so? Many of those who participated have now been training consistently for a good 3 months or so (especially those doing the Busselton Ironman in December) and whilst we haven't yet begun the main "specific phase", one might think that most of these guys would simply sniff at the thought of a 100km ride on the flat, especially given that their nutrition plans were well executed too.
Whether or not you rode, you may be keen to hear the 3 explanations for this and how these explanations may help you understand where we're at, how and why we structure our training the way we do (often against the "norm") and how this will help you understand what we are aiming for in future training sessions for yourself whatever your discipline.
  • Hills .vs. Flat - which is "harder": Possibly the simplest explanation is that for the last 3 months these guys have been doing predominantly hilly bike rides, and whilst you may think that a hilly ride would be harder than a flat one, think again! A flat bike ride offers relentless pedalling which starts to become very fatiguing after about 2+ hours on the legs and lower back due to being sat in the same position for a long period of time. On the hills, you get chance to cruise, recover and stretch on a regular basis, so whilst each hill might feel quite hard, overall a flat ride can be quite a bit harder than a hilly one, especially with the headwind we experienced on Saturday! Many think that hilly rides are scheduled to build "strength" but in reality, cycling is NOT a strength-limited sport and as such, the hilly rides (in this case) are (as explained below) a chance to build some "general base" in a nice, engaging surrounding.
The flat riding (as boring as it might be) is the start of us getting a little more "specific" about what we're doing. As this was our first major flat ride, it was always going to be deceptively tough.
  • The Workout - Recovery Cycle: Every program that you do should have periods of high volume and / or intensity followed by adequate periods of rest and recovery in order to allow your body chance to adapt to the hard work you are subjecting it to. Seth Hosmer of the velocoach.com wrote and excellent article about how and why this is entirely necessary (see http://www.freewebs.com/velodynamics2/workoutrecovery.pdf for the full article). Essentially, it is absolutely imperative that when an easy or recovery session (or even rest day) is scheduled, that it is performed (or taken) as planned. All too often people make the "dangerous" mistake of thinking "I don't need to go easy today - 'easy' is for 'wimps'" but in reality this is putting your whole program in jeopardy...make the easy sessions too hard and in the short-term the "hard" sessions aren't hard enough (due to residual fatigue) and in the long-term you end up breaking-down, possibly with injury. As explained in the article, your body needs to be subjected to periods of "over-load" or "training stimulus" in order for it to get better, and right now, those who are training for Singapore 70.3 and the Busselton Ironman in December are right at the peak of one of these over-load periods, meaning that some sessions are going to feel quite tough and tempers can often become "frayed"!! This is to be expected and is entirely normal.
Managing this with the next fortnight of easy recovery work and then a full week off (for these athletes) will be essential to making sure that we don't get into the dreaded "over-training" zone. As such, Saturday's ride would have felt quite tough, as too could this Saturday!
  • Correct Periodisation: Most will have heard what it means to "periodise" your training, and in a nutshell this simply means that as you progress through any program, you should go from being very "general" in your approach to being very "specific". Many people make the mistake (for distance events in particular) that this means doing a LOT of slow endurance work at the start of a program to "build you up" and then (suddenly) transition to a LOT of speed work to "sharpen you up". This is entirely INCORRECT: correct periodisation for endurance events is all about developing form, speed and power at the start of the program (i.e. true "general" base-work) and then working to lengthen the duration of your sessions and reduce some of the intensity in order to "specifically" prepare for the job at hand. Many worry that leaving the long stuff till the "last minute" won't have you adequately prepared, when in reality there is no such "sudden" transition, but moreso a blend from one to the other ensuring the whole spectrum of your training preparation is taken care of. If you do not develop your form and power in particular at the start of a program, you have no hope of then lifting it at the end. As a result your racing performance will always be limited to where it can go. The other thing that people fail to realise is that a 2hr "power" session, also provides 2hrs worth of endurance for the "bank", whereas a 2hr "steady" session provides just endurance benefits but no development of your power! The following article is quite entertaining reading on this front: http://www.triathloncoach.com/pdf/rideless.pdf with the summary being "if you want to ride faster, so too you should!"
As such, with where we're currently at in the program, a long endurance ride last Saturday would have felt tough as this was our first true transition to our more specific endurance phase...when done consistently over the next few weeks the developing endurance plus the power that we have developed at the start, will ensure that not only are we riding long distances, but we're riding them much faster too!
I would strongly suggest that if you want to make the most of this program or of any future program, that you have a read through of the following article http://www.theteamcore.com/coreperiodisation.html which gives you the full "nitty gritty" of how and why we do things the way we do. Oftentimes my biggest battle in coaching is educating people on the most current methods in training and racing performance and how they WILL help you improve. However, this is often an uphill struggle due to much of what is now concurrent is quite different to the "old school" or even what you perceive to be "correct".
The other thing to remember is that all of what we have just discussed is the "science" behind coaching, whereas good coaching requires a blend of science and "art" - the art being the intuition to know how and when to modify the program on a needs-basis in response to how each individual athlete is developing. Training with the squad on a daily basis or communicating online daily with your coach as to how you are performing is absolutely imperative...this is YOUR commitment to the coach-athlete relationship, so please get good at it!
Hope that all makes sense and adds a bit more understanding as to why we do things the way we do, even if this differs from what your other triathlon buddies are doing!

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