Friday, January 25, 2008

Training - Setbacks and Adaptations

One of the problems with training a lot is that your body ends up working really hard to recover, leaving precious little energy for other things. A likely and undesirable scenario is one where the rider's body weakens elsewhere and ends up sick.

Over the years I've had terrible colds or fevers or flus or something when I trained hard. One year I hovered for a week at 103.9 degrees F or so. With a standard temp of 97 F or lower, that was a very high temp. As a negative bonus, it seemed that every time I went out west to train I'd get sick.

This year it seems that I didn't have to go out west to get sick. My intense (not hard but very steady) schedule led to my body weakening just a bit. Top it off with two visits to the dentist (the second involving the numbing stuff and some drilling etc) and I ended up feeling pretty tired.

As a "zen" type of racer and trainer, I usually do what I feel needs to be done. If I feel my legs are lacking a bit of power, I work on power. If I feel that my leg speed has dropped to dangerous levels, I work on leg speed. Reactive, I know, but for the training I do, it appears to work.

For the last few days I've been exhausted and, appropriately, I've taken some time off, or, on the days I felt a little better, I'd do a shorter ride. Yesterday, after the morning visit to the high tech and very friendly dentist, I ate a little and promptly fell asleep for the bulk of the afternoon. As a non-napper, this was pretty serious. It seems that whatever my body needed at that time, it got during that nap. I'm feeling a bit better now and am looking forward to a more productive day.

I didn't totally give up on the bike. Au contraire, I rode two days ago, but the ride was a pathetic joke. I had finally brought one of the CTS videos downstairs and they mention doing two 8 minute time trials to get a base power and heartrate level. I decided I could motivate for 16 minutes.


Two minutes into the first one, without even thinking, my legs simply stopped. It was about as automatic as breathing - think about it and it becomes unnatural, but focus on something else and it seems to happen on its own. My legs stopped, almost before I realized they were stopping.

The sad part was that I had been struggling to hold 200 watts. Unsuccessfully, if you must know.

I decided that I had to HTFU a bit so I soft pedaled a bit, gritted my teeth, and tried again.

At least the second time I knew I was stopping. I told my legs to give up less than 60 seconds into the effort. No strength, no power, no speed. My legs were totally flat.

So, instead of doing any sort of "hard" riding, I worked on power, my back, completing my pedal stroke, and experimenting with pedaling from different spots on the saddle.

My Power workouts are pretty straightforward, and according to a pezcyclingnews interview, it seems that the pros have the same coaches as the ex-pro who told me about his workout. Essentially a play on the workout described in my 1983 RacerMate2 handbook, you pedal a big gear slowly, at about 60 rpms. On the CycleOps Fluidtrainer, this means a 53x14 when I'm feeling weak, a 53x11 when I feel better. I focus on pulling up, pulling across the top, and the downstroke of course. To psych myself up I place a full length mirror so I can see my muscles working.

As a side note - you always look stronger from a 3/4 rear view, in case you didn't know. Looking down at your legs minimizes your legs and makes you look skinny. If that's your goal, great, but since I'm built more like Salvatore Commeso, I want my legs to look like his.

My Back is a bit different. As I'm about the least flexible person on the planet, holding an aero position is tough on my back. I need 20 or more hours on the bike before I'm okay with holding an aero position while craning my head up to see where I'm going. I found that my first group rides each year typically led to very stiff necks. This was because I'd work on the aero position without looking up, since, on the trainer, you can look down all the time. So I've been working on pedaling in the drops while looking more forward than my crankset.

Completing The Pedal Stroke is my way of describing pedaling a powerful circle. I'm not very good at the bottom of the pedal stroke. I think my legs are a little too extended, but I like that so I'm willing to sacrifice the bottom of the pedal stroke. Plus I found that when I lowered my saddle I'd start having knee problems. So the saddle stays perhaps 5 mm higher than most would recommend.

Instead of the "wipe stuff off your shoe" motion, I focus on the pulling up and across the top of the stroke. Usually I do this with the Power workout but I'll also do one legged versions or play around with very jerky motions to try and feel the muscles responsible for each part of the pedal stroke.

I find that when I'm on form I emphasize the "pulling over the top" bit during sprints. I know I'm flying when I am pulling up and over really, really hard (this while I'm standing). When sitting, I can make short but massive efforts while seated, perhaps up to 30 or 45 seconds long, where I can sustain speeds in the mid 30s. This is useful for bridging across to a break or when I feel like I need to put some hurt on the field.

The latter hasn't happened in a while but you never know, maybe 2008 is the next time I do this.

I also work on pedaling from different points on the saddle. A forward position leads to more speed but is uncomfortable to hold for any length of time, especially when it concerns me. I happen to sit almost in front of the saddle - it feels like I'm sitting "half in front of" the tip of the saddle. This is my optimal "pursuit" position but I don't feel comfortable for more than a minute or two pedaling from here for obvious reasons.

Another position is the rearward position, sitting pretty far back on the saddle. If you're bent over, it recruits your glutes and hamstrings more, increasing available power. I can't spin from this spot though so it's more of a grinding effort, not a sprinting one. Good for stretching the legs while still holding some speed.

Of course there are the mid positions, all along the length of the saddle. There's always a sweet spot but moving forwards or backwards will recruit different muscles, changing the feel and the workload slightly. By comparing and contrasting the different "sit points", I can sort of map my effort ranges for each bit of seat. And when I talk about moving forwards or backwards, I'm talking 5 or 10 mm at a time, not a quarter of the saddle.

My weight set up has allowed me to do some consistent workouts with heavier weights than I can do if I have no spotter. I do all around weight lifting, focusing on upper body (to protect my torso). My benches started at, and have stayed at, about 160 pounds of weights, plus the weight of the thing they sit on (40 pounds?), and my lat pull downs have started at, and stayed at, about 120 pounds (no extra weight for the gizmo since it's a balanced pivoting thing). I do about 18 or 20 total reps on the bench, 36 to 48 on the pull downs.

The gizmo I bought happens to allow me to do squats so I've been doing that too. I use very light weights - 90 pounds plus the 30 or 40 pounds for the thing on which the weights hang - for Mister Fragile Knees here. I limit myself to very few reps, like 30 per session, to try and preserve my knees. The leg extension bit gets 40 pounds, the actual pivoting arm weighing a few more, and I try and do a number of reps, maybe 50 or so per session. So far my knees have been okay with it, and I feel additional power on the "pull across" motion. As a bonus I have some new muscles that I don't remember having. I proudly showed the missus said muscle of course.

Finally, I try and work on pedal speed. This scares me as I get pretty sore when I do it, but I feel I have to if I'm going to California with any sort of speed in my legs. Mentally it's not that tough but physically it wrecks my legs. With all the recovery I've had in the last few days, I figure now's the time for the speed work. This involves the dreaded spin machine, the DX900. I think with the 170 cranks (versus the 175s I've been running for 5 years or so), I can bump my max rpm over 250 again. I won't try it today but after a few spin type workouts I think it'll be possible to attack the 250 point without killing myself. My record is 286 rpms with 170s but I don't know if I'll be able to replicate that - I hit that mark in the mid 1990s.


suitcaseofcourage said...

250rpms?! Are you KIDDING me?! I don't care what you think about your form - if you're anywhere NEAR that, you're an animal.

I missed my first workout of the year this week - so must've been a bad week all around. I was *this* close to skipping last night's workout too, having gotten home from work late and VERY stressed. But I did it, kicking and screaming, and felt MUCH better afterwards (and it's so much healthier than some other ways of dealing with stress!).

Glad you're feeling better. I've been trying hard to remember that sleep = recovery and recover is an essential part of any good training plan.

Ed said...

Have a great trip!!!

Aki said...

Throat is still a bit tickly so it's hit or miss right now. Did a couple hours but tried to stay warm (indoors) by wearing more than normal. We'll see tomorrow.

Kro said...

Hey - great blog! I'm wondering about your cadence claim though...are you sure? Some track guys i know, 1s and 2s, can hit 200 or so...250? 286!!? Really? I'm sure that's impossible...

Aki said...

On cadence, yes. Scott Berryman, on a similar machine, would do 30 rpms at 300 rpms as part of his workout (according to an article I read). I tried to emulate him on a fixed gear exercise bike. 286 was the highest I could hit in a controlled fashion, i.e. I spin down with the pedals. Low resistance, low seat, not for power but purely for speed. I can hit 240+ with 175s (I have a 29" inseam or so) with about the proper seat height. Lowering the seat would gain 10-20 rpms. With shorter cranks I should be able to hit perhaps 270.

On a trainer, on my bike, about 200-210 rpms is about my max.

And thanks for the kind comment on the blog :)

Kro said...

Hey Aki,

Ok, I see. I thought I was missing something and I was - I was thinking you were on your bike, in a trainer or on the road. Makes much more sense.

You like your Caad9? I'm still on my caad4, but going to swap for a caad9 this year, likely with chorus and some chi-chi euro stuff on it. I like the al cause Im a bigger guy too - 6 foot, 200 right now. I'll likely ride down to 190 in summer, anything less would be great.

i'm doing a training camp in Maui in April, but your trip to Cali sounds cool. I'll be on my own over there.

Aki said...

I really like my bike. Technically a SystemSix (front end is one piece carbon, but then you probably know that), the bike feels much more stable than my 1-2 generation old Giant TCR. I don't remember ever riding such a well tracking bike that didn't beat me up.

And though I've been training more consistently for the last month than I have in 10 years, I think that it's not all me - the bike definitely responds quicker out of the saddle than the Giant.

I think training on your own is good if you're trying to get in base miles or have a specific goal/agenda in mind. I am at such a place so riding on my own is beneficial. Sometimes I wish for company for the long rides (gets boring) but I prefer this to being semi-forced to do a schedule or feeling pressure to do well, etc. Plus a real camp costs a lot of money.