Archive for December, 2018

How to Prescribe Better Workouts on the Trainer

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The trainer is an incredibly valuable tool when it’s properly used to leverage its advantages.

While many riders jump on the trainer and try to mimic their outdoor riding schedule, I like to take a good, hard look at it from the perspective of an exercise physiologist. As a result, many of my riders at Human Vortex Training use trainer rides year-round and his has led to some incredible improvements.

The following tips have helped riders who used to hate the trainer learn to appreciate it (in its proper role), allowed athletes to “train smarter, not harder”, and helped athletes crush their opposition from spring to fall.

Here’s how I’ve implemented the trainer over the last 11 years, and how you too can maximize your athletes’ time for better results.

1) Reduce total ride time for “long” rides by 20 percent.

This tip has the potential to be misunderstood, but it is very important. If we take a look at a four-hour endurance ride outside, we’d see that somewhere between 15 to 25 percent of total ride time is actually spent coasting or at a standstill. Think about all of the variations in terrain, wind, road conditions, traffic, and time at stop lights.

On the trainer, we are consistently pedaling in order to keep the power up. This leads to greater stress on the neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems, and is part of the reason why some athletes tend to overshoot their ability.

2) Aim for rides under two hours.

It’s not the quantity of the work, it’s the quality of the work.

This is one of the biggest sources of improvement for athletes I have coached coached over the last decade. I have only prescribed consistent rides longer than two hours to a select few, and those few have been professionals. Most riders I work with have mid-week workouts on the trainer that are 65 to 95 minutes long, and range from new cyclists to those chasing podiums.

The trainer, regardless of what mode it is in, offers a completely controlled environment (minus your toddler, cat, or dog wanting to join in). From a physiological standpoint, riders can can achieve exactly the work prescribed in exactly the cadence and power needed. That allows trainer rides to be far more potent than t the open road.

3) Get some airflow.

For those riding in cold climates, this is extremely important. If your athletes train in a cold environment, the chances are high that their outdoor rides will also be cold until the spring. To promote specific adaptations to imposed demands (in this case, the ability to train and ride in the colder air), coaches should prescribe athletes to keep cool to improve performance on those cold, winter rides.

I recommend a two-fan setup, (one in front of you, and another at your hip) because of the potential for cardiac drift. This occurs when there is not enough air movement to remove the hot, moist air next to our body produced by sweat. For those training with heart rate instead of power, this is especially important. Stagnant air could artificially raise heart rate, and will lead decreased effort when your athlete needs to push.

4) Don’t get some airflow.

Yes, I’m contradicting myself here.

There are times where we do not want much more than a small fan. In particular, I recommend this approach for athletes on the trainer in the summer or who race in a hotter temperatures. Riding with a smaller fan allows the body adapt to higher temperatures by increasing blood plasma levels.

Coaches should consider the time of year and where athletes are in their training season. If athletes are in a climate that is typically cooler year-round, warmer rides may be nice to prescribe every three to four weeks for two to three rides to add an extra punch in their training. Overdoing it is probably not the best idea, as riding outside will feel different than their trainer.

5) Include “group races” with tools like Zwift.

Those I coach are always surprised when I add a workout titled “Crush Legs on Zwift/Trainer” every two to four weeks in their training plan because, in contrast, during the summer I remind them to hold back on group rides nearing peak races.

But, during the winter? I love prescribing some practice to “pin a number on” and push hard. How else can athletes get the right amount of training stress and see their own improvement?

Riding on Zwift, CVR, or any similar online platform can be a lot of fun, and should be part of any well-designed training plan. At the same time, remember to keep yourself in check and prescribe a structured program.

6) Use “extra time” for strength training with kettlebells.

The “extra time” earned from shorter trainer rides is a perfect opportunity to incorporate some strength training into your athletes’ plan. Kettlebells are my favorite tool for at-home strength training. They’re incredibly versatile, can be used for everything from endurance-focused strength to power and speed-strength development, and don’t take up a lot of space.

A single kettlebell around 15 or 25 pounds is usually enough for beginners, and, matched with a yoga mat or something to kneel and lay down on, provides many opportunities for bodyweight and weighted exercises.

Using the trainer intelligently as a part of a year-round training approach can and will significantly boost your athletes’ fitness and riding ability. Just remember to spend between one and two hours a week dedicated to working on your bike handling skills once spring arrives. Bike handling drills should be a staple in your riding schedule year-round, but should get special attention coming off of a winter on the trainer.

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2018 Coaches’ Choice Awards

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As 2018 nears its end, it’s a great time to look back at your personal goals, your athletes’ goals, and, of course, the most popular and influential coaching content from the year. Here’s to another successful year of reaching your goals and learning from TrainingPeaks’ expert coach contributors.

Coaching “Race Weight” Intelligently: A Case Study by Chrissie Wellington and Andy Kirkland

Considering athlete weight in relation to performance is important when planning and executing training. But, where is the line between an increase in performance and encouraging an athlete to adopt unhealthy behaviors? Chrissie Wellington and Andy Kirkland take a look at one specific situation which crossed the line.

New Study Widens HRV Evidence for More Athletes by Simon Wegerif

Heart rate variability is a simple way to measure stress on the body, and Simon Wegerif, a noted expert on the subject, explores new research that widens the evidence supporting its effectiveness. Learn more about why you might want to consider adding HRV into the metrics you track as a coach.

9 Reasons Why Pool Speed May Not Translate to Openwater by Dan Bullock

It’s tough to transition to open water swimming after months of training in the pool. Coach Dan Bullock explains some of the typical reasons why athletes may not see their pool speed transition to the open water, and explores some methods that might help athletes with the change.

CoachCast: Intelligent Intensity with Stephen Seiler

On this year’s most popular episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, Dave Schell and Cody Stephenson sat down with renowned sports scientist Stephen Seiler to discuss his research, how he applies his findings in his own training, and why you might be overcomplicating periodization.

How to Coach the Overly Busy Athlete by Mackenzie Madison

There is no doubt that endurance athletes are a busy bunch. Coach Mackenzie Madison shares her battle-tested tips for coaches  to better help manage their athletes’ lofty goals and limited time.

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CoachCast: Secret Goals with Carrie Cheadle

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How do you approach goal setting with your athletes? Are you actually helping your athlete develop healthy, attainable goals? And, are your athletes’ goals really what they’re striving for, or do they have unstated, “secret” goals that they are ultimately judging themselves by?

Dave sat down with Mental Skills Coach Carrie Cheadle to learn more about the goal setting strategies she recommends coaches work on with their athletes.

Listen to the full episode here.



On Top of Your Game: mental Skills to Maximize Your Athletic Performance – Carrie Cheadle
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Get Your Goals: Effective Goal Setting Strategies course (use coupon code CoachCastGoal20 for 20 percent off)

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All-Out Miracle Intervals to Improve Your Average Power

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One December a road racer I had coached for more than 10 years collided with a dog. The rider’s name is Bob. The dog charged him during a group ride and ended up under Bob’s bike while he was going full speed. Bob launched into the air and eventually had a hard meeting with earth. The dog, unharmed, took off running after a few body rolls on the pavement.

When the dust settled and an evaluation was made, Bob ended up with a broken clavicle—or what is commonly called the collarbone.

A broken collarbone eliminates many training options for a cyclist: no leg presses, squats or outdoor riding for six weeks, and only the absolute minimal pressure on the hands, arms and upper body. This prescription doesn’t leave many options for staying in form for someone wanting to do a four-hour race in February and therefore demanded some coaching creativity on my part.

Before the crash, Bob was just beginning to work on lactate-threshold power. After the crash, lactate-threshold intervals were out of the question—they caused too much pain. Long rides had to be done indoors and for a maximum of 2 hours. The accumulated time above aerobic training zones was very minimal.

He continued to do strength-training exercises that did not cause him pain, though there were few that did. To help him keep some leg strength and power, I had him do short, powerful intervals with generous rest on the indoor trainer. The goal was to produce as much wattage as possible for each interval. I didn’t care if power faded through the workout, I wanted him to “go for it” each time. These once-per-week interval sessions were his key workouts for six weeks.


Ten weeks after his collision, Bob raced. We were both pleasantly surprised with the results. Even though he had only three lactate-threshold workouts in the 10 weeks prior to the event and his long rides were between 1.5 and 2.25 hours long, he was within 5 minutes of his best time. His average power production for several time samples actually increased compared to the previous year when we did more traditional endurance training:

12 seconds: Decreased 1.7 percent (I expected this to be the one to improve most, but it didn’t.)
One minute: Improved by 20.5 percent
Six minutes: Improved by 4.5 percent
12 minutes: Improved by 5.7 percent
30 minutes: Improved by 10.4 percent
60 minutes: Improved by 8.0 percent
90 minutes: Improved by 7.9 percent
180 minutes: Improved by 7.1 percent

We were both convinced it was the short Miracle Intervals that made the difference.

The Science

Although I was pleasantly surprised at the results, I pondered the explanation of why it happened. Could I reproduce this result again? Ten years ago, this type of training for an experienced cyclist was new to me, nor had I seen any other coach recommend such a non-traditional approach.

I did find research that supported my experiment. The study investigated the effects of short-term, high-intensity sprint training on 17 trained cyclists. The cyclists had a minimum of two years of training and had been involved in previous training programs.

For the experiment, sprint training workouts occurred twice per week for four weeks. The first workout included four, 30-second sprints followed by four minutes of active recovery. The total sprint work equaled 28 minutes accumulated over the four weeks. The remainder of the training for the sprint group was endurance training.

The study concluded that four weeks of high-intensity sprint training combined with endurance training in a trained cycling population increased motor unit activation, exercising plasma levels and total work output with a relatively low volume of sprint exercise compared to endurance training alone.

Subsequent research has found that these short intervals may also improve insulin sensitivity, key for people dealing with insulin resistance. I’ll leave that for another column.

The Workouts

Below are three examples of Bob’s key power workouts:

Workout #1

Warm up for 20 minutes at an aerobic effort
3 x 20 seconds all-out power production, 4:40 easy Zone 1 spinning
3 x 10 seconds all-out power production, 4:50 easy Zone 1 spinning
Cool down with easy spinning

Try this workout now using our Structured Workout Export.

Workout #2

Warm up for 20 minutes at an aerobic effort
3 x 30 seconds all-out power production, 4:30 easy Zone 1 spinning
3 x 20 seconds all-out power production, 4:40 easy Zone 1 spinning
3 x 10 seconds all-out power production, 4:50 easy Zone 1 spinning
Cool down with easy spinning

Workout #3

Warm up for 20 minutes at an aerobic effort
5-7 x 30 seconds all-out power production, 4:30 easy Zone 1 spinning
Cool down with easy spinning

I have designed several progressions of Miracle Intervals and used them in my training plans. I’m certain they can work for you too.

4 Tips on How You Can Use Miracle Intervals

If you are just developing fitness, take the time to do sessions where power builds throughout the short intervals. Work your way up to all-out sprints.
If you are fit and experienced, these short sprints may help you improve your fitness. Do them once or twice per week. The key is all-out power production from the first one and  full recovery between sprints.
These sprints can be done outdoors, on an indoor trainer or in a spin class. In the spin class, be certain you recover between each interval. This is not a leg-searing, feel-like-toast-at-the-end-of-the-spin-class sort of workout. You need to control the intensity of the workout for yourself during the class.
Even though the research paper only utilized four weeks for the experiment, you may need more time. Bob had his biggest power production results for the sprints during weeks 15 and 18, post-crash. Don’t be afraid to give the workouts time to have a training effect.

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Where Endurance Strength Training Programs Often Go Wrong

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Over the last five years, we’ve seen the mainstream endurance world do a complete 180-degree turn related to the use of strength training for performance. This is a huge step in the right direction, and as we, a sporting culture, are beginning to better discern the bad information from the quality information, we should expect large strides in unlocking a whole new level of performance for the average cyclist and triathlete.

Recently, I had the pleasure and privilege to present at the USA Cycling Coaching Summit. It was a fantastic opportunity to help coaches and athletes get started on the right foot in the realm of strength training.

I also realized in my time at the conference, that there is a big focus in the cycling world on “specificity of movements” such as those we already use tens-of-thousands of times every ride. While the intention is to employ the S.A.I.D. Principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands), we might actually be missing the target high and wide.

So what should we be concentrating on instead?

When it comes to the general population, there is a focus on building bigger, stronger muscles, and much of the schooling for new personal trainers is geared towards this group. But, when it comes to training endurance athletes, we should actually have different intentions: performance and longevity.

To reach those outcomes, we can break things down into three primary goals:

Keeping the body in balance
Injury prevention
Increase performance

The order of these goals is incredibly important as focusing on keeping the body in balance will help us prevent injury and increase performance. Shuffle these around and you can quickly find yourself fighting unplanned battles that you simply don’t have the time or energy to win.

Taking these rules into consideration, we can begin to see how a limited strength training plan, which concentrates only on exercises like squats, lunges, hamstring curls, leg presses, and front planks, puts these goals at risk. Eventually, such a plan may lead to massive muscle imbalances and overuse of specifics muscles and joints resulting in a subsequent decrease in performance.

But, these exercises still have a place in strength training for cyclists. There is just far more that must be included in a well-rounded plan, especially for the upper body.

Incorporating the “Fundamental 5+1” movements

In order to see the most positive results, we have to think about working the body in ways that will help keep the joints in balanced positions. Doing so will will help the muscles function properly; this is quite literally “functional training”.

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That’s where the “Fundamental 5+1” movements come in. Every well-balanced strength training program should include all of the movements in order to build a better, more injury-resistant athlete:

Rotary Stability

Notice anything? Only two of these movements are lower body dominant, and a third requires the upper and lower body to work together. That’s why a training plan that only concentrates on the lower body can ultimately be detrimental to an endurance athlete in the long term.

There are hundreds of exercises you can choose from for your athlete, and the most challenging part is to figure out which tool is best for that athlete at that time. My challenge to you is to build more well-rounded strength programs and make sure every exercise is leading to a more balanced athlete.

How are you planning to incorporate balanced exercises into your strength plans this year?

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