Monday, January 21, 2008

FTP update

I finally did a 60-min FTP effort -- below is the updated FTP chart. As it turns out, the best way for me to predict my FTP without actually doing a 60-min TT effort is with 60-min NP. I guess that's close to proof that Coggan's normalized power formula works extremely well (for me at least). I can also use 45-min computrainer x 1.13.

The crappy part is that I had to go back to December 11th and update my FTP in WKO. That knocked my CTL down about 3 points.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Le Plateau

My graph has hit a flat spot. The numbers climbed steadily for the first 6 weeks of base training, then leveled off.

I feel good and pretty fresh - definitely not overtrained. And since I've included more intense work into my training lately, my 60-min Normalized Power continues to rise (280w 60-min NP was the highest I hit in all of 2007). But my max wattage for 45-min on the Computrainer has plateaued.

Maybe the L5 intervals I'm doing now will bump up my VO2 max a little, 'raise my FTP ceiling,' and provide me with another FTP bump in a month or two -- we'll see. I think I remember the same thing happening last year, but there's not much data to verify it. I may do a 60-min road FTP session next week to see where the gold standard test puts me.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Variations in Pro TT Positions

All these guys are world-class time trialists (except Jordan, he's a Fred.)

Their positions are very different in some respects. Armstrong and Ullrich forego aggressive positions and rely on their power for speed. (Armstrong's saddle is 22cm behind the BB/Ullrich's is 18). Vino wasn't a great time trialist in 2006. Their trunk angles are in the 13-degree range, as was mine in Rome in September. Someone told me they thought Armstrong looked like a piece of plywood rolling down the road.

Cancellara, Zabriski, and Vinokurov-2007 all have very aggressive positions (7-10cm from saddle to BB). They're trunk angles are all 6-7 degrees from the horizontal, very aggressive and effective in making you faster if you can generate power in that position. Vino worked on his TT position between 2006 and 2007 and it showed in his TT results (although he might have had more help than just a more agressive position). If you look closely in my picture, you can see that I have my forearms resting directly on the bar, not on the arm pads. If I want to achieve this position, a-la Zabriski, I'll need to go bar shopping. I have no idea how much power I could put out in that position or how it would change my CdA, but I can and will test both.

Then you have Leipheimer and Landis. Their trunk angles are 8-11 degrees (semi-agressive), but their upper arm angles are in the 78-80 degree range, unlike the 88-93 degree range of most others. Maybe that gives them leverage to generate more power?

But one thing common among them all - the angles formed by their bottom brackets, their hip joints, and their trunks are all very near 90 degrees. So if you want to lower your bars, you have to move your seat forward to compensate.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Alex Simmons' Coggan Levels graphic

You might have already run across this at Google Wattage, but I thought I'd post it here because it's such a great graphic representation of the Coggan Power Levels and their physiological responses. The graphic was created by Alex Simmons from down under. His blog can be found at Alex's Cycle Blog.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Double Plays and "Flipping the Switch"

Ok, forgive me for a few minutes while I try to sound authoritative on a subject where I'm not. (I could have shortened this post and made my point quickly, but I've decided on a longer version, so bear with me.)

I used to play baseball. From age 5 to age 13 or 14 (when I discovered golf), baseball was a big deal. I was pretty good at fielding ground balls, but didn't have a strong arm - that meant I played 2nd base instead of shortstop, where I wanted to be... but I digress.

In baseball practice, we would often work on a very specific single task for a while, like fielding ground balls, or "taking grounders". Then after a while, we'd move on to work on another task, like "throwing it around," which involved moving the ball around the infield in a circle as quickly as possible. Later in practice, we'd put it all together and practice fielding ground balls, then 'turning two' for a double play. You had to successfully combine the two skills to get the job done.

Winter bike training is like that. In November and December, I put in hours on the trainer or the road attempting to target and improve specific energy systems. I do long L2/L3 rides to teach my body to burn glycogen and fat efficiently. I endure 45-minute steady L4 intervals to increase my capillary density, to improve my cardiac output, and to grow more efficient mitochondria. This week (early January), I'll start doing 5-minute VO2max intervals to try and raise my FTP 'ceiling' and teach my muscles cells to buffer lactic acid. Soon I'll be doing 1-minute hard efforts to try and teach my body to better use the pure anaerobic system. For the most part, those goals are targeted in separate workouts on separate days.

But yesterday in the three 15- to 30-minute Attack Zones that were part of our 5-hour group ride, I was reminded how important it is to be able to shift from one energy system to the next and then recover and go back again. Rarely in competition are we able to stay powered by one energy system for an extended time (time trials and sitting in the back of a large peloton are the most obvious exeptions). Racing often requires attacking off the front, bridging to another group, following a surge, or pulling a teammate, followed by sitting in and trying to recharge for another effort. And as I was reminded yesterday, the difference between being able to semi-recover in 10 seconds instead of 15 can sometimes make all the difference.

Each of those mini-efforts could be thown into it's appropriate bin labelled L3, L4, L5, L6, or L7. But put them together in a 30-minute race effort, and the sum of the parts becomes a different thing. It's like turning a double play when you've been taking grounders all winter. There is obviously skill involved in the double play, and likewise, practicing racing has it's obvious benefits, tactical and otherwise. But (here's where I'm going out on a limb) I'm guessing that there are physiological mechanisms of some sort involved in the quick switch from one energy source to another and then back again; and that the transition can be improved by training it.

So here's my thesis: Training each energy system alone isn't enough to maximize your ability. You need to specifically target and train the transition mechanisms also.

You need to prepare for the trip from L3 across your threshold to put in a large L6 effort, then sit on a wheel for 15 seconds at L3/L4 to clear the lactate, then bridge for 2 minutes at L5, then hang on at L3/L4 to rest for 60 seconds, then sit in on a short climb at L5, then hang on at L4 for 90 seconds before sprinting at L7 to follow an attack and then do it all again.

Yesterday's efforts reminded me of a workout that Tony Myers of ATS prescribed for me a couple of years ago. He called it "Flipping the Switch." I wasn't training with power then. The workout consisted of taking my heartrate from my aerobic threshold (115 bpm for me) to 5 beats above my LT, then back to aerobic threshold as quickly as possible. I'd repeat the process as many times as I could in a 30-minute session using repeats on a short hill or a hill-repeat loop on the computrainer. It's a brutal workout physically and psycologically. As Tony told me: "Your body doesn't like to switch energy systems." He's right. I guess switching systems is probably an inefficient use of the body's energy, and evolution has resulted in us not liking it very much.

So after you've trained each system through the winter, make sure to Flip the Switch through practice racing, or interval sessions, to be ready for race conditions.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A One-Trick Pony

I made the decision early last winter to hit the weights as a part of my off-season cycling training. I'd lifted before, primarily upper body stuff, and it had made a big improvement in my swimming ability when I was doing triathlon. I'm not a mesomorph - the kind of guy who can lift a cup of coffee and have his biceps grow two inches. I get stronger very quickly early in a lifting program, but don't gain much mass. So I thought squats, leg extensions, leg curls, step-ups, etc. would benefit my cycling.

I did make lots of cycling improvement last winter, and it seemed that the squats were a good idea at the time; but in retrospect I think almost all of my cycling improvement was aerobic and due primarily to longer winter rides and more riding in general.

This year I've eschewed the weights and used that time to ride hard instead. I've added sprint intervals and some low-cadence work into mid-week workouts to replace the anaerobic work I was doing in the weight room. There is no doubt in my mind that eliminating weights was a good call.

Like Dr. Coggan says, "Specificity, specificity, specificity" and "It's an aerobic sport, damn it!" So if you want to be better at riding your bike, then ride your bike. Ride Lots. Be a one-trick pony.