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.


Colin Griffiths said...

I have adopted a training plan very similar to yours. I also purchased one of Hunter Allen's plans so that I could see things from another angle too. His plans show workouts that do exactly what you are describing, a whole mix of ideas. For example, a 3hr ride with threshold efforts and finishing with short and very short max hill efforts.

Rich W said...

Check out the "hour of power" stuff on the wattage list by Bill Black (search for "hop") There's a wko file there in the files section. It sounds like it would address what you're after...I'm gonna try some of those workouts soon as a pre-VO2 transition.

Rich W said...

also I've got an excel based training log that's pretty cool...send me an email and i'll send it to you...richwachtel at gmail

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