Archive for June, 2017

Amber Neben Doubles Down at 2017 USA Cycling Pro Nationals

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Amber Neben had one heck of a weekend at the 2017 USA Cycling Pro National Championships. The 42-year-old reigning world time trial champion not only won the Stars and Stripes for the time trial on Saturday but also doubled down on Sunday to win the road national title as well, joining Allison Power to be the only female athletes to ever accomplish this feat.

“One of the highlights [of my career],” Neben said of the weekend. “Winning worlds, you can’t top that, but back-to-back national championships is really totally unexpected, and I am beyond words right now.”

So how did she do it? Let’s take a look. All data was recorded with a Quarq DZero (calibrated before the race) and a Garmin 520 head unit.

Time Trial

The time trial course featured three laps winding through downtown Knoxville, with an out-and-back segment along the river. The course was challenging because it featured “a little bit of everything.” To win on this course, a rider would need not only flat-out speed, but also technical skills, power, and, most importantly, patience.

We knew Amber was fast; we’d spent time in the San Diego Wind Tunnel and with ERO Sports and Alphamantis’ Track Aero System, testing her new Cervelo P5, Enve SES bars, and Marcello Bergamo skin suit. We also knew she had the power; her form coming into the event was rising and on target. And patience? We’d done a course review before the race and quickly identified the early power climbs and undulations that could lure a rider into starting too hard on the first lap and fading late. Amber’s strategy was to ride strong but controlled in the first lap, without forcing the early two climbs right after the start, then run flat or negative splits in laps two and three.

The Numbers

Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Total

Time
10:18
10:03
10:06
30:27

Avg Power
282 watts
281 watts
276 watts
280 watts

W/kg
5.64 w/kg
5.62 w/kg
5.52 w/kg
5.60 w/kg

NP
288 watts
287 watts
285 watts
287 watts

Avg Speed
27.8 mph
28.2 mph
28.1 mph
28.0 mph

Avg Cadence
89 rpm
87 rpm
86 rpm
87 rpm

As we’ve noted in previous reviews of Amber’s power file reviews, she has excellent power pacing. One advanced analytic we track and work on to continue to hone this power pacing ability is time in quadrants. Utilizing the WKO4 Quadrant Analysis, we can review Amber’s power pacing by tracking her Average Effective Pedal Force (AEPF) and her Circumferential Pedal Speed (CPV), which in basic terms are how hard she pedals compared with how fast she pedals. This is important because analyzing her cadence alone does not supply much insight into how she made power; we need a more comprehensive view of the neuromuscular output and a measurement of both the force and speed of her muscular contractions. Why is this important? Remember, a watt is how hard you pedal multiplied by how fast you pedal. You can increase watts by either pedaling harder, pedaling faster, or both.

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The Quadrant Analysis above divides the race into laps, demonstrating how Amber makes power over time. Let’s break out some of the numbers and review:

Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3

% of Time Pedaling
High Force/High Cadence
44.1%
36.0%
26.2%

% of Time Pedaling
High Force/Low Cadence
13.1%
32.0%
41.4%

At first glance, it might seem that Amber is simply fatiguing and grinding bigger gears, particularly when you review her cadence data in the chart above. In reality, however, this is her incredible discipline in pacing time trials. In lap one, she knew she needed to conserve her muscular force, so she created power with a high-cadence/high-force format, shifting some of the strain off of her muscular system and onto her massive cardiovascular system, and accumulating less muscular fatigue. As she continued into laps two and three, she shifted more and more of the effort into high-force/low-cadence mode, tapping into her muscular capability to create power and speed as the finish line came closer.

The Road Race

Amber’s strategy for the road race was simple. With no team and a course deemed by most people to be optimal for sprinters, our best hope was for a hard race and the opportunity to pick one favorable moment to create a solo or small break. We knew Amber had form and was capable of winning, but the challenge of reading the race and selecting the moment was in her hands alone. She’s been racing a long time, and though she doesn’t always get credit for her race smarts—very few people read a race as well as she does.

Our strategy was challenged right off the bat as an early break formed with all the major teams represented, which dropped the pace of the peloton and made the race “not hard enough” for Amber to succeed; it was better suited for a sprint finish. Once most of the break was finally caught (there was a solo rider up the road), with about 2.5 laps to go, there were some fireworks with a few riders taking turns attacking and the bigger teams shutting them down quickly. After a series of these breakaway attempts, the peloton sort of sat up to recover from the harder break-and-chase efforts, as it often does.

It was at this moment that Amber saw her opportunity and immediately attacked the field. She quickly established 5-10 seconds on the field, committed fully to the solo break, and charged after the lone leader. Her patience and pacing took over, and she slipped into time trial mode and steadily reeled in the leader, reaching her with roughly a lap left to go. The two rode together for a short period, but the pace was dropping, and Amber knew that if she allowed the pace to drop, they would soon be caught, so she made the decision to press on alone. The effort paid off; Amber soloed to victory 11 seconds ahead of the charging field.

“The break had been away, and it was really quiet in the back, and I thought I didn’t know if anyone was going to chase this back, and then it started,” stated Neben. “Then we caught the majority of the break except for the one rider, and as soon as it sat up, I knew for me I wasn’t going to be able to stay with those girls if they attacked on that short little climb, so I had to go early, and I just went for it.”

The Numbers

Total
Breakaway

Time
2:49:34 (official)
52:36:00

Distance
62.8 miles
21.5 miles

Average Power
189 watts
261 watts

Watts / Kg
3.78 w/kg
5.22 w/kg

Normalized Power
238 watts
271 watts

Avg Speed
22.2 mph
24.2 mph

These numbers tell the story. Once Amber made her move, it was the Stars and Stripes or die trying. “I was just hammer down,” Amber said. “Once you go out there, you commit. When I looked at my watts, I thought, Wow, I’m going hard. But if you go, you just go. It was first or 20th.”

2017 Nationals Concluded

Nationals was the conclusion of the first part of Amber’s season and the first step in her defense of the world championship time trial crown. As her coach, I can tell you that Amber’s focus and commitment to excellence is unparalleled. She works hard to achieve her success. And her reward this week? A short rest and then back to training and preparing for Worlds.

Want to harness the power of WKO4 to reach your own goals? Download a free 14-day trial here.

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The Team Agar Kona Project: A Best Bike Split Case Study

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Triathletes across the country get together every year to watch the NBC IRONMAN World Championship broadcast. For many, it was this broadcast that first got them excited about the sport of triathlon.The stories told are compelling, inspiring, and at times even heartbreaking. In the 2016 edition one such story featured the Agar family. Johnny Agar was born with Cerebral Palsy, however, the very nature of his drive and determination meant that he would not be confined or limited in his athletic endeavors. With the help of his dad Jeff, Johnny’s athletic goals have continued to grow in both difficulty and inspirational impact.

Last year their collective efforts culminated at the 2016 IRONMAN World Championship where Team Agar attempted to complete the course under the 17-hour time limit. The race had all of the aspects of a great Kona broadcast story; it was incredibly compelling and inspiring, while also heartbreaking as their day ended when Team Agar got pulled off course after failing to make the bike cut off time.

Like most truly great athletes, when met with adversity, Johnny grew from this experience and drew motivation to once again attempt to toe the line at Kona. Though this time Team Agar is completely committed to preparing for the challenge. They knew that it wasn’t just one area that held them back; it was a combination of flawed race preparation, lack of focus—and most importantly a lack of deliberate planning toward their specific goal of completing the race in under 17 hours.

To help facilitate this renewed drive Team Agar brought on a coach and guitarist for the band Sugarland, Thad Beaty and his coaching partner Nicole Serraioicco. Beaty and Serraiocco not only have the right game plan, but were so moved by their mission that they enlisted a group of experts to help make sure this team crosses the finish line on October 15, 2017. Together they set out to gather industry leaders and as they put it “great minds of triathlon” to help wherever possible with the Team Agar Kona journey. Their partners include Wahoo, TrainerRoad, Zipp, Roka, Under Armour, Brooks Running, Adaptive Star, Advanced Elements, TrainingPeaks and Best Bike Split just to name a few. I was honored to be on these guys list and when they told me about their plans, I immediately offered any assistance that I could to help them reach their goal.

As the co-Founder and self-proclaimed “math nerd” behind Best Bike Split, I like to start with the numbers, and in Team Agar’s case there are a lot of numbers to consider. That being said, their ultimate goal is relatively straightforward. Jeff and Johnny need to make the bike cutoff time and do so with enough energy in the tank to run the 26.2 miles and cross the line before the fire dancers close out the night at 12 a.m. and the course is closed. Actually achieving that goal is anything but straightforward and I looked at it from a couple of angles. First I had to ask myself if it was humanly possible, and if so I had to discover what it would actually take to make it happen. To answer those questions I had to dig into the numbers.

I’ve found that to move forward it’s often beneficial to look back on past endeavors, assess strengths and weaknesses and determine where to focus future efforts. When we dissect the shortcomings of Team Agar’s 2016 Kona performance, the areas of focus become quite clear.

During their 2.6-mile swim, Jeff was pulling Johnny in a standard inflatable raft they weigh around 50 lbs. While he made the swim cut off time, the effort was much more strenuous than it should have been due not just to the vessel’s weight, but also to the raft being at the mercy of waves and the wind countering Jeff’s forward progress. The boats instability and lack a consistent forward glide path proved to be extremely metabolically expensive.

This year the Team has moved to a lighter (around 30 lbs lighter), more streamlined, hydrodynamic kayak design with a small keel allowing the boat to maintain a straight path less susceptible to forces outside of Jeff’s forward momentum.

His swim training has also taken a major leap forward. It wasn’t until Jeff started working with his new coaching team that for the first time he started to tools to build his swim specific muscular endurance such as  swim paddles, parachutes, banded ankles, and extensive dry land band work.

He also completed a 12 week neuromuscular re-patterning plan to develop and control the core musculature required to address his body position while harnessed to the watercraft. Thought the firing of swim specific core muscles such as the TVA and pelvic floor, Jeff has been able to reposition his body’s fulcrum point in the water, reducing his drag exposure significantly enough to shift his 100-yard base time from around 2:20 last year to 1:50 this year. This is around a 20 percent savings for the same effort.

Once out of the water, Jeff mounts his Giant road bike setup in a triathlon configuration while Johnny rides in a special Chariot attached like a bike trailer to the back. This is not an aerodynamic setup and it is most certainly not light or efficient, with a total weight of about 65 pounds for the bike plus the Chariot. When you add to that Jeff at 190 lbs and Johnny at 110 lbs, this means a total of 365 lbs must travel 112 miles with over 5,500 ft of elevation gain during the race! To put it in perspective a typical IRONMAN athlete plus their equipment will typically be well under 200 pounds total.

In our first meeting, Thad and Nicole asked me what would Jeff need to produce in terms of FTP (Functional Threshold Power) to make the Kona bike cut-off time at 5:30 pm, while still being fresh enough to finish the run before midnight. In 2016, Jeff’s estimated pre-Kona FTP at around 160 watts. Using the general rule of thumb that  67 to 70 percent of FTP (a bit under 125 watts in Jeff’s case) would be a comfortable IRONMAN power level, this would put his estimated bike leg finish time at well over nine hours. This is both well outside the bike time limit and doesn’t even account for any stops or issues on course.

To come up with the required FTP, I wanted to model out a worst case scenario in terms of a longer swim time, rough weather conditions, poor aerodynamic drag and accounting for multiple stops if needed. The target time number we came up with was seven hours and 40 minutes of ride time. Using Best Bike Split we were able to model out what type of power he would need to accomplish this, again using the general rule of thumb for IRONMAN power output to identify his target FTP goal.

Click on the image below to see this model in Best Bike Split:

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As you can see in the image, to achieve a sub 7:40 ride time given worst case conditions meant Jeff would need to ride at around 175 Normalized Power which equates to an FTP of 260 watts at a .67 IF. With this information, Beaty and Serraiocco developed a plan in TrainingPeaks with a heavy dose of TrainerRoad indoor training to start increasing Jeff’s FTP as well as his endurance base. As of this article Jeff’s most recent FTP test has him at a solid 270 watts. While this gets his power into the right zone, to gain even more confidence the team will continue to push training to increase FTP.  This will give Jeff stronger legs heading into the run by reducing his TSS (Training Stress Score) on the bike leg without having to change the bike power plan average wattage.

The next step in the plan was to address Jeff and Johnny’s bike setup. If we model for the worst case scenario we want to make sure on race day a worst-case bike setup isn’t one of their obstacles. Johnny’s Chariot is getting an overhaul to make it lighter and more aerodynamic. The plan is to have it act as a cockpit of sorts, where he can watch his dad’s data and power numbers via a Wahoo Elemnt and relay instructions out on course using the integrated BBS race plans.

To reduce friction and aid in aerodynamics, Zipp has offered to help design new wheels. The team is also replacing their wheelchair-based technology with bike-based hubs. In addition, Jeff and Johnny have been training to keep their weight at optimal levels, saving those precious watts to make it to the run. Using the Time Analysis Tool on BBS we can show that every five pounds of saving on the setup well result in a time savings of three minutes on the Kona course.

The first test of the the team’s partially modified equipment and strategy was an overwhelming success. Following their BBS power plan, Team Agar cruised to a sub-four hour bike split and 7:40:13 at IRONMAN 70.3 Florida. Finishing under their goal time there was still a lot to learn from the race. The initial target was for a 170 watt average on the bike with a sub 180 watt Normalized Power target.

Because of the accelerations and decelerations associated with the pull of the Chariot, a Normalized Power of 170 resulted in an average power of of around 156 watts. Going into future races and training this effect (which will be amplified in the hills) will be taking into account for the modeling so we can adjust the planned targets accordingly. Given Jeff’s FTP progress the additional 10 to 15 watt stress should be absorbed well.

The other aspect we will be looking into more as Kona approaches is how the Team adapts to heat and humidity so we can build in the appropriate model impacts. We have been truly honored to help and continue supporting Team Agar throughout their amazing journey. We plan on being there as they easily make the bike cut off time, head out on the run (their strongest discipline), and as the cross they cherished line and hear the words, “Johnny and Jeff Agar you are an IRONMAN!”

To read more on Team Agar follow Johnny on twitter @agar_john  and check out their site Team Agar.

Try the free BBS demo here to find out how the Time Analysis Tool can help you dial in your aerodynamics and race-day speed.

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An Introduction to TrainingPeaks Metrics

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Completing an event is ultimately a race against yourself. Seeing if you can go a little bit faster, a little bit longer or a little harder each time. Training for an event is about incremental improvements—numerous small and consistent changes that yield positive results over time.

Train Smart

At TrainingPeaks we have found that the best way to train is to choose a specific goal (i.e. a race), then get expert instruction and focused training (i.e. through a coach, a training plan or a personalized Annual Training Plan) with regular feedback in order to reach your goal. This type of deliberate practice has worked for world champions and committed endurance athletes of all levels. A key component of this methodology is the feedback you receive. Whether it involves a coach analyzing your workout files, or you managing your own TrainingPeaks dashboard and fitness metrics, getting immediate feedback allows you to plan and track your training in the most optimal way.

Getting Started With TrainingPeaks

But knowing exactly what to measure and how to do it most efficiently can be overwhelming—but only at first. There are a wide range of available devices in which to record everything from distance and duration to heart rate, power, cadence and more. If you are an athlete just starting out and not quite ready to make the investment in a GPS device, then there are several smartphone apps that can record your workouts. Once you have decided on how you are going to record your workouts, the next step is uploading them to your TrainingPeaks account.

Once your workout is in your in your account you can click on the completed workout, which will open a quick view summary of information such as how long the workout was and how far you ran or rode. But you may also notice some three letter acronyms listed as well such as TSS and IF—but what the heck do they mean and how can you use them? These abbreviations represent some of the metrics that you will find in TrainingPeaks and they are the key to measuring improvement and reaching your potential!

TrainingPeaks Metrics Primer
Functional Threshold (FTP)

Most of the metrics in TrainingPeaks are based on a Functional Threshold (Power, Pace, or Heart Rate) so it is important that you have this right before jumping ahead to some of the other metrics. Functional Threshold represents the maximal effort you can maintain for around an hour without fatiguing. For some athletes this will be less than an hour and for others it might be slightly longer, but the important thing is that it provides a useful benchmark by which to measure your training.

To get the most accurate number you will need to perform an hour long test and then use the average power, pace or heart rate from that test as your threshold. However, going all out for an hour is HARD and requires a lot of focus and motivation, not to mention that it could be very disruptive to your other training. So instead of performing an hour long test, consider using one of these other methods which are shorter but will still provide a good estimate of your functional threshold.

You can learn more about getting started training with power here.

Setting Zones

Once you have determined your functional threshold you will want to use that number to establish your training zones under your account settings. Click your name in the upper right and then select “settings.”  Next click “Zones” on the left hand side. Here you can choose from Heart Rate, Power, or Speed/Pace. The zones you choose will depend on what sport you are setting the threshold for (i.e. cycling, running and swimming) and it should be noted that you can have multiple types of zones for a single sport.

For example, if you are a runner and have a GPS device and a heart rate monitor, you would want to set both a pace threshold and a heart rate threshold. Select the type of threshold you want to set from the left and then scroll down past “Default” and select “Add Activity.” You can then select the sport type from the drop down menu. Next enter your threshold in the box then under “Auto Calculation” choose “Threshold” and under “Method” select which methodology you want to use such as Joe Friel or Andy Coggan. Finally select “Calculate” and you will be provided with zones which represent the paces, heart rate or power you would want to target for different workouts based on what you are working on that day. For instance, if you are out for a general endurance run you would probably want to spend most of your time in Zone 2.

Normalized Power (NP) or Normalized Graded Pace (NGP)

In cycling, Normalized Power provides an estimate of the metabolic cost if the ride would have been paced steadily and places an emphasis on the surges during the ride.

Think of riding your bike like driving a car. You are going to use less gas while driving on the highway at a steady speed than you would driving in the city and constantly having to come to a stop and then hit the gas again to get back up to speed. Normalized Power provides a picture of how hard a ride felt and while the Average Power may be relatively low, the Normalized Power could be high due to surges in speed throughout the ride duration.

In running, Normalized Graded Pace takes the hills into account, and estimates what your pace would have been if you were running on a flat course.

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Intensity Factor (IF)

Now that we know how hard we can go for around an hour (FTP) and we have a way to estimate how metabolically taxing a workout was (NP/NGP) we can now measure how intense that workout was relative to our threshold through the Intensity Factor (IF).

Intensity Factor is simply how intense a workout was relative to our threshold and can be read as sort of a percentage of 1 with 1.0 being your threshold. If the Intensity Factor for your workout was .80 then we could say that you performed that workout at 80 percent of your threshold.

General endurance work falls in the 60 to 70 percent range, while a harder tempo workout would be closer to 80 to 90 percent. Additionally, depending on the duration of your race you may see an IF of up to 105 percent or 1.05. Intensity Factor is calculated by dividing your NP or NGP by your functional threshold. So if your FTP is 250 watts and you did a workout with a Normalized Power of 200 watts then you would end up with an intensity factor of .8 or 80 percent of your threshold. In addition to providing information on the relative intensity of your workout you can also use this number to get an idea of the relative intensity of different race durations.

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The above image was taken from “The Power Meter Handbook: A User’s Guide for Cyclists and Triathletes,” written by Joe Friel and published by VeloPress.

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Training Stress Score (TSS)

Finally we have Training Stress Score, which is a score given to a workout to tell you how hard it was. Whereas IF told you the relative intensity of a workout relative to your threshold, it is only one side of the equation. If you did a workout at 90 percent of your threshold for two hours it would surely be much more stressful than doing 90 percent of your threshold for 45 minutes.

Training Stress Score takes both intensity and duration into account and provides you with a more complete view of how stressful that workout was in the overall picture of your training. To take this idea a step further, TrainingPeaks uses this daily Training Stress Score to model your Fitness, Form and Fatigue by using a weighted average of a set number of days and modeling them in the Performance Management Chart. All of this provides you with an invaluable way to visualize your training load and plan the perfect peak for your next event.

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Every athlete wants to be as prepared as possible for their next event in order to set a new personal best, get on the podium—or win! By recording your workouts and using TrainingPeaks metrics to plan your training and track your progress over time, you will be headed down the path to optimal performance.

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Master These 7 Tiny Swimming Improvements for Big Performance Gains

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What would give you the most time savings in an IRONMAN 70.3 or IRONMAN-distance swim? Would you say it’s the weeks of structured training and improving your cardiovascular efficiency or effectively performing open water drills and skills (i.e. sighting, pacing and navigation) more efficiently?

What if I told you that small skill improvements would give you more noticeable results? Indeed, by applying the theory of marginal or small one percent improvements to every aspect of your triathlon swimming, you can get the most benefit and time savings. These are in the form of open water swim skills and drills, tips, insights and advice for improving your swim stroke and technique, not numerous hours in the pool or lake.

If you can improve everything you do in the water by one percent, then the net effect is a much greater performance in the water than just cardiovascular efficiency alone.

This article will help you to apply this theory to open water swimming 70.3 and Ironman.

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains in Open Water Swimming

It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis.

Almost every swimming habit that you have — good or bad — is the result of many small decisions over time. It takes lots of perfect practice to ingrain movements into muscle memory, and into actions where our neuromuscular system eventually enable these patterns to become automatic. For every action in water, there is an opposite and equal reaction. This can be unforgiving at times, yet when performed correctly can help propel us forward with greater ease, speed and power through the water.

Meanwhile, improving by just one percent often isn’t notable (and sometimes it isn’t even noticeable). But it can be just as meaningful, especially in the longer swims of an IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3.

And from what I can tell, this pattern works the same way in reverse. (An aggregation of marginal losses, in other words). If you find yourself stuck with bad habits or poor results, it’s usually not because something happened overnight. It’s the sum of many small choices — a one percent decline here and there—that eventually leads to a problem.

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There is power in small wins and slow gains. This is why average speed yields above average results. This is why the system is greater than the goal. This is why mastering your habits is more important than achieving a certain outcome.

So where can you find these tiny percentage improvements in your swimming technique for open water?

1. Sighting and Navigation

Did you know that you can add 20 percent or more to your overall open water swim race distance by not sighting effectively or often enough? We often see GPS swim tracks where swimmers have gone further than they expected. For example, swimming 2700m in a 1900m IRONMAN 70.3 swim due to poor sighting.

Sighting every six to eight strokes and checking on your navigation reference regularly is important to swimming and sighting effectively (and ensuring that you swim in a straight line). It’s best to sight on something higher like a darker tree, building, or spire, than a buoy in the water! Learning to sight efficiently while swimming in open water saves time and energy.

Sight after you breathe, there’s more time for water to clear from your goggles, thus improving visibility, and less drag from pulling your head directly forward out of the water.
Practice sighting off landmarks such as highly visible buildings or other structures on shore. Don’t rely solely on race buoys as they can be harder to see while in the water. In a race choose these landmarks beforehand while you’re warming up or during practice swims.

Practice sighting by turning your head slightly forward either before or after taking a breath. When sighting after a breath, you are more likely to rely on peripheral vision, which will also reduce drag.

2. Pacing for Open Water Swim Racing – Sprinting and Threshold Efforts

Being able to maintain and control your race pace under fatigue, and maintaining your technique becomes even more important in the IRONMAN 70.3 and IRONMAN swim legs.

If for example your goal is to swim 3800m in open water in 64 minutes, the pace you want to hold for each 100 meters is a 1:36 pace. You want to be able to hold this pace throughout your 1,900m or 3800m swim distance.

Build up to this gradually over time, starting at 10×100, working up to 40x100m.

Many triathletes wonder if they should sprint off the start line of a longer swim race. Be aware if you haven’t conditioned your body for some sprints over a number of weeks that you’ll produce high levels of lactic acid during the initial several hundred yards of the swim, and as such you may not recover for 10 to 15 minutes. That is a lot of lost time  until you can swim at your target race pace again, and it is likely to have diminishing returns in your overall time.

Try this swim session and see how you feel. It will make you as strong as an ox, and as fast as a cheetah using positive split intervals.

Supersets x 5

Swim a good warm-up and cool down with this session as this set is very tough and you need to be prepared to work very hard.)
5 x 150m as 50m front crawl flat out, then straight into 100m at 80-85 percent effort with 60 seconds rest at the end of each 150m.

Great swimmers have a variety of speeds, including warm up, aerobic training speeds, lactate speeds and pure print speeds. Having knowledge and an inherent feel for what these are will help you in swim races, and in particular knowing whether to sprint in mass starts.

By learning what your race pace is (and how to hold onto it), by making minor adjustments to your technique, by drafting and sighting well, you can create valuable savings in the water.

One way to check if your pacing is on target is to see if you can do even splits (+/- 3 seconds) over 15 x 200 meters free at your race pace with 60 seconds rest in between. Work up to this pacing test over a few weeks.

3. Technique for Turning around Buoys Effectively

Do you feel like you lose your way a bit when turning around buoys in open water? Or, when you’re racing, are you filled with dread at the thought of being punched and kicked just as you’re about to breathe?

Try swimming slightly wider around the buoy away from the corner where everyone tends to congregate. Practice turning around the “T” at the end of the lane in the pool first, then progress to open water. You’ll need to sight straight after your turn to re-align with your navigation point ahead quickly.

Depending on the race course, you may end up performing up to four or five turns around a buoy or other non-moving object in the water. You should be practicing to use these pace changes to your advantage.

Choose an object in the water to practice turns.
When approaching the turn, you should transition to one-side-only breathing with every stroke.
The side you breathe on needs to be facing whatever object you are turning around (another sighting drill).
Try to cut the turn as close as possible, which may require you to use short, choppy strokes.
Practice transitioning from a tight, choppy turn back into a long, relaxed glide, as you would do in the race.
Go for eight to 10 turn repeats.

Also practice doing “Crazy Ivan” turnarounds in open water, where you turn a full 360 degrees. Keep your strokes short and in the direction of your turn, keep kicking, and arc you body around the buoy. Over emphasizing the turn like this makes it easier in a race—and it’s fun too!

4. Drafting Techniques that Will Help Save You Time and Effort in a Race

You could save as much as 18 to 25 percent of your energy swimming in open water by drafting efficiently and effectively. This means you could save up to 90 seconds over 1900m, or three minutes over 3.8km!

By swimming in someone’s wake who is slightly faster than you, you’ll save quite a bit of your energy in open water, enabling you to swim faster than you would normally. Practicing swimming in close proximity to others will ensure you get used to this feeling.

There are two methods of drafting, one where you position yourself about 12 inches behind the swimmer’s feet, and the other where you swim close to the lead swimmer’s hip. Make sure you keep sighting in each position. Don’t necessarily trust that the swimmer you’re drafting is navigating perfectly.

However, by drafting effectively, you can significantly reduce your oxygen uptake, heart rate, blood lactate,  and rate of perceived exertion. Additionally, your stroke length is dramatically increased when in an ideal drafting position.

5. Mass Starts Techniques

Does a feeling of panic start to overcome you when you think about open water mass starts? There are several things you can do to manage these fears.

Position yourself in the pack so you breathe toward the group. For example, if you normally breathe in a race to your right, start on the far left hand side. This way you’ll be out of the melee of the main group, and in your own space more.
Float horizontally in the water prior to the start so you can get the best send off when the gun goes. This also gives you more space around you than a deep water “legs down” start position, limiting people swimming on top of your legs.
If you don’t want to be a part of all those flying arms and legs, then plan your escape route before the race starts. Don’t start in the middle of the front. Start at the back, where nobody else will really want your space in the water.

6. Adapting to Wetsuit Swimming

Swimming in a wetsuit can give you between a seven and 10 second improvement over 100m than swimming without one. Also, as you go higher up the product range, the available technology helps you to swim faster and stay more stable and higher in the water.

The overall savings can be as high as two minutes for an IRONMAN swim, (The test group for this study were all tested with Race Zone 3 wetsuits, at the same heart rate, and perceived effort of exertion on the same size loop in a lake).

Practicing drills which make you feel slightly disorientated in the pool are very useful for distraction control and maintaining your rhythm and tempo when swimming in a race. This way you can also be accustomed to getting bumped about by other triathletes swimming in close proximity to you.

We would recommend the following swim drills to help you get the most out of swimming in your wetsuit:

Zips
Turnarounds
Barrel rolls and somersaults
Eyes closed with sighting
High elbow recovery

Zips
Slide your thumb up your side from hip to armpit
Promotes high elbow recovery

Barrel rolls
While doing front crawl, keep kicking and rotate yourself 360 degrees mid stroke holding a lead arm in front for balance
Body roll and power in core /obliques and helps develop muscles used in rotation

Turnarounds
Practice turning around the “T” at the end of the lane in the pool first, then progress to open water. You’ll need to sight straight after your turn to re-align with your navigation point ahead quickly
Teaches you to do buoy turns effectively in open water. Try to make them as tight and fluid as possible

Eyes closed swimming
Practice this in a pool, in the middle 10 to 15 meters of the lane close your eyes to see if you can stay swimming straight (only if no one else is swimming in the lane, or in an organized club session)
This shows you if your stroke pulls you to one side or is uneven, and you’re likely to do this in open water. If you do, sight more often (every 6-8 strokes consistently)

Chicken wings
Touch your hands into your armpits
High elbow recovery

Somersault
Front somersault start in deep water, with 15 yards max effort, 35 yards easy. Repeat  6 times. 60 seconds rest in between each
Good for distraction control and maintaining tempo / rhythm. These can be combined with barrel rolls for a real challenge to maintain our rhythm and tempo

7. Sea Swimming

The sea can present many different challenges to your normal swim stroke. For example, in choppy water, if you keep your fingers just above the surface of the water, then you are quite likely to have an unexpected wave come along and cause your hand to enter the water below your shoulder. In order to allow a reasonable stroke, you need to have a much higher recovery with your hand in open water.

Top Tips for Sea Swimming

Sighting in swell: You would have no doubt seen in the Olympics open water race, it a slightly different technique to sighting in flat water. Due to the size of the swell you’ll either need to lift your head higher, or sight on the crest of the wave. If it’s choppy be prepared to sight more, as the currents can move you around more than normal.
Navigation: Sight on something that’s high if you can, or if swimming parallel to the beach, sight horizontally as well as forward to maintain your position.
Bilateral breathing: It’s recommended to be able to breathe bilaterally while swimming in the sea, for two reasons. One is for making sure you hold your position in a group and to make sure the currents are not moving you around too much. Two, if you’re swimming a rectangular course and the swell is high, then sighting toward the beach going out and back, will stop you from swallowing lots of water— if you’re breathing in toward a wave rather than from away from it.
Drafting in currents: If there is a current pulling you away from the first buoy, try angling yourself into the current more. So if the current pulls you to the right, swim more over to the left about 30 degrees, so you’ll then be drifting in an arc to the right spot to turn next to the buoy.
Wading: Running in the water up to knee height, by flicking your feet out laterally and your knees inward slightly. Doing this will help you to run and keep your feet clear of the sea water and waves. This is much quicker than swimming at this depth.
Dolphining: To get past the breaking waves, it’s best to use a dolphining technique. This involves a mixture of a butterfly swim technique, with launching yourself into a dive, touching the sea bed / sand with your hands and then pushing yourself back up again into a dive. Only do this until the water is about waist deep, after this it’s best to start swimming normally.
Beach starts: You can have a lot of fun with this next exercise as long as you have a safe beach entry for practice. Be sure to check for submerged objects that you might not have otherwise seen when entering for your warm-up. If you’re with friends, divide yourself up into pairs and label yourself one and two while standing on the beach looking out to the water. Upon the command “Go!” attempt a safe beach entry into the open water using wading and porpoising skills. Once you are deep enough, swim 40 strokes away from shore before turning and swimming back fast to the beach, making sure you avoid any head-on collisions with any other swimmers in the process. Run up onto the beach and tag your partner. Let them do the same 40 strokes before you take over again and then each do 30 strokes, then 20 strokes, then 10 strokes.

Conclusion

By applying these small, one-percent gains from every aspect of your swimming technique, they can all add up to something fundamentally larger than the original whole you once knew as your swimming stroke! Let’s see how much we can help you improve your swimming technique and fitness over the next few months, so you can have the best swimming season yet.

Thank you to Race Zone 3 and James Mitchell for the photo in this article.

The post Master These 7 Tiny Swimming Improvements for Big Performance Gains appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

What To Take Into Consideration When Getting a Bike Fit

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In August 2016, when the German powerhouse Tony Martin finished 12th in the Individual Time Trial at the Olympic Games in Rio—3:18 behind the gold medal Fabian Cancellara—many thought that the German rider was already over the hill. Fast forward to the Qatar World Championships held in October 2016: Tony Martin has his revenge and wins not only the team’s TT with his squad, but smashes the individual event and brings home another gold—his fourth in the discipline.

What happened in between? An incredible recovery? A grueling training schedule that was able to get him back into shape?

Martin confessed that ahead of the WC, he trained in his bathroom with the heater on in order to get used to the conditions he would face in Doha. Afterward, he said that the actual race was easier than doing turbo training in the toilet.

At the same time, there was also another (more technical) reason for his success: After the Games, Martin decided to go back to his former TT position. Not one as aerodynamic as what he opted for in Rio, but one that in the past had helped him crank out more watts on his bike.

Before Doha, he told Radsport News that the changes in the aero position he used in Rio “Have been serious. I had my hands very high up and my elbows low down, but that wasn’t for me. Now, I feel much more comfortable again. One has to accept that the aerodynamics are not everything, but the comfort factor plays a very, very important role. If your body does not work well, then the whole aerodynamics thing means nothing.”

That is equally true (if not even more important) in longer time trials, or events like IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3. The balance between aerodynamics and comfort is a tricky one, but one that you must take into consideration when you’re spending a big chunk of your training time on your TT bike.

When Mat Steinmetz, the bike fitter employed by Cervélo to develop the P5X and a TrainingPeaks contributor, presented the bolide to the European press, he also listed his own fitting pillars: comfort, power and aerodynamics — in that order.

There are many bike fitters who will put you on a bike by only looking at numbers, and they will not take into consideration your comfort, or the final wattage output you can perform on your bike (I have been there in the past, as well). And that is a bad practice. It doesn’t matter how aero you are on the bike according to your measurements: if your position is not comfortable and you cannot sustain it for a long period of time, then aerodynamic gains are useless and can be thrown out of the window.

However, not being able to sustain an aero position also could be due to the fact that either your fitness level is not yet used to riding in that position (but you can adapt to it with the time). Or perhaps “the most aero position” is just nonsense for you on that bike.

Tony Martin is a good example of this at a very high level. Martin is one of the best specialists of the TT, so he’s used to riding in a TT position. Yet, the aero fit he had in Rio was just not good for him. A more relaxed one, the one he used again in Qatar and he had also used in the past, was actually ideal and made him perform at his best. He also said he will work on his aerodynamics again this year, but the process of getting faster will be achieved step by step, as he needs to get used to it while not losing power.

But how should you set up your bike according to the event you are participating in? Do you need a different set-up for short TTs, 70.3 and IRONMAN events? And, more importantly, do you need to get a bike fit at all? If yes, how often do you need to get one?

Two-time IRONMAN World Champion Jan Frodeno is convinced that doing a bike fit is probably the best investment you can do if you’re spending a lot of time on your bike. Frodeno says that, theoretically, you just need to do a bike fit once (although he has one bike fit a year) and you can be re-set only when (and if) you change your bike.

“Frodo” also uses the same fit both for IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 races, and this is a great choice. Both events have long bike legs where you wouldn’t really need a different position on the bike, unless you have already experienced a lot of gains by riding the two races on different set-ups.

At the same time, having the same position for 70.3 and IRONMAN will also make all your training much simpler as you won’t have to change the position all the time. Furthermore, the one set-up solution would also give you more time to adapt to the position you prefer. And that is really important: take plenty of time ahead of the your “A” race to adapt to your position.

A good bike fit, in my opinion, is definitely worth it, not only because you will be put on your bike in the correct position, but hopefully in a comfortable one that will boost your performance rather than limiting it. Working with a good fitter (ask your clubmates for advice, but also do research online and don’t just jump into the first shop you find) is crucial. Give him/her plenty of feedback on how you feel on the bike, and not only in situ or indoors, but particularly when you’re riding outdoors.

A bike fit, as Frodeno says, is money well spent — and again, theoretically, you just need to be fitted once. After the fitting session, in fact, you will get access to your bike fitter report (if not, ask for it). Those numbers will be the base for all your future purchases and fits. If you don’t understand all of them it’s okay (most of us don’t have a clue of what they mean), but ask your fitter what they represent so you can become more familiar with them.

Most importantly, though, is to practice in the new position. Take plenty of time before your “A” race to test the position and make sure you do it early in the season. This will give you enough extra time to fix all the niggles. If you’re riding a short TT months ahead of an IRONMAN, it is also okay to change your set-up and do some tests and experiment a bit.

In this case, it’s good to go more aero, meaning more “closed down in the front,” and see if you can sustain that position and for how long — and to see if with time you can get used to it without losing power and speed. But generally, if you have a couple of IRONMAN 70.3s planned as a build-up for your long event, it is wiser to keep the same position on your bike for them that you will ride during your IRONMAN. Finally, go for the position that makes you feel comfortable in the long ride and that allows you to push more power into your cranks, or that you can ride at higher speeds.

I had two bike fits last year ahead of an IRONMAN. The first one was all numbers and totally not comfortable. It was rubbish and I could not even sustain it for 40 km. The second one was dictated by comfort, but allowed me to push hard and go fast anyway.

This season I have another fit planned (after doing more research in the market) and a bit like Tony Martin (yeah, I wish!), I am trying to retain the comfort, but also looking to get a bit more aero than last year.

Try to look at the experimentation process as a fun part of your learning process into the sport, and not only as a pain or unnecessary expense. It can be the difference between a good and a great racing season.

The post What To Take Into Consideration When Getting a Bike Fit appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

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