Sunday, December 10, 2017

Let it Snow!

I know there's a lot of people that live near me in PA that don't like the cold or the snow.  They bitch and moan about it.  I never understood that.  If you don't like something, why do you put up with it- year after year after year?  It's not going to get any better.  Winter is still going to come and dump some snow on you if you live in the Northern latitudes.  Just move to Florida or wherever if you don't like it.  For some, that's not possible..they just can't afford to pack up and move.  Or, maybe they have older parents in the area to care for, etc.  I'm guessing the REAL reason why they bitch and moan is because they don't know how to enjoy the snow.  That is, they don't sled, ski, hike, snowmobile, walk, or bike in the snow which is a shame.  Some of the most beautiful nature photos I've taken over the years have been snow scenes where I was outside skiing, biking, walking, etc.  Plus, who doesn't like the fresh clean air after a recent snow and the warm sun on your face?

I bike in the snow with my mountain bike.  As long as the snow is 2" or less it's fine.  When it gets above 3" it can be a little tricky unless it's one of those powdery snows (which we don't get very many of here in the Northeast).  I just deflate my tires from 50psi down to 30psi for more/better traction.  Fat bike tires can run as low as 10psi of air in the tires.

The next thing I recommend is to change your pedals from the clip-in type to flat pedals.  Because you're going to put your foot down sooner than later and when you do, your cleats will fill up with snow and make it hard to clip back in.  Plus, your reaction time is much faster getting your foot on the ground for stability with flat pedals vs. clip-in pedals.  And, you're not going to have to worry about your foot coming off the pedal when you're climbing because you shouldn't be climbing in the snow anyway.  You also want to stay seated while you ride.  No need to stand up on the pedals.  The bike is going to wash out a little from side-to-side.  It will feel weird/unsafe at first but you'll get used to it.  Just spin at a good high rate (80-90 rpm) and don't mash the pedals.  Also, get used to the fact that you're not going to be riding at your customary speeds. If you normally ride at 15 mph on dry trails, don't expect to go faster than 8 mph in the snow.  And, you're going to use much more power to go 8 mph in the snow than you would 15 mph in dry conditions.  If the trail becomes slippery you can always put on some studded tires.  I've never done that yet, but there's always a first time.  If I do, I'll report it here.

As far as clothing, I dress for Winter bike riding the same way I do for skiing..except I don't wear the baggy pants that I do when skiing.  I wear long winter stretch riding/cycling pants.  They're comfortable and warm.  I also wear the lobster gloves where the thumb and index finger have their own sleeve, and the last three fingers of your hand share another sleeve.  If your hands still get cold you can always pop a hand-warmer inside your gloves.  I'll wear sunglasses or ski goggles depending on conditions.  Always wear goggles or glasses of some type with UV protection from the sun.  Don't forget your sunscreen too.  For shoes/boots, I love my specialized winter riding boots.  Except for the snow, I change to flat pedals and hiking boots.  If your feet get cold, pop in toe warmers- they work.  Lastly, don't forget to hydrate.  Riding in the snow is a workout.  It's tough riding and you're going to work up a sweat just like X-Country skiing..regardless of whether it's in the 20s.  I wear my Camelbak hydration pack on my back.

So, get out and ride and enjoy the snow... LET IT SNOW!  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Train Hard...recover Harder!

You don't get stronger by training harder, you get stronger by recovering harder.  When you cycle train hard, you're essentially tearing down the muscle fibers of the quadraceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves- in your legs.  Those small muscle membranes are torn-up/damaged.  That's the muscle soreness you experience 8-12 hrs. after a hard ride that can last 24 hrs.  When you recover, those muscle fibers in your leg are re-building stronger and acclimating to the stress they've been seeing lately..and readying themselves for the next hard effort.  Yet, most cyclists don't spend much planning on the recovery phase of training, just the workout/training phase. 

Recovery isn't about sitting on the couch with your feet up on the coffee table drinking beer and watching football all day/night long after a hard ride.  When we talk about recovery it should be "active" recovery.   I'll get to active recovery later.  Recovery should start at least 5 minutes before the end of your hard training ride.  It should consist of a nice cool down of high rpm low intensity pedaling.  This will help clear the lactate accumulation in the blood.  As soon as you get off the bike, you should ingest some carbohydrates and protein to fuel the muscles.  According to sports physiologist Joe Friel, in the first few minutes after getting off the bike, there is a potential for a 300% increase in glycogen resynthesis as compared to waiting 2 hrs.  Miss this window after your ride and your recovery may take more than 24 hrs. to get back in the saddle.  A good post-workout recovery drink is chocolate milk.  It's got the right amount of high glycemic carbohydrates and protein.  That combined with a high glycemic carbohydrate and high protein energy/protein bar should do the trick.  Within 2 hrs. after the ride, you want to eat a more substantial meal composed of lower glycemic carbohydrates and quality protein such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, etc.  This meal will keep blood glucose and insulin levels high.  This post ride meal is not a time to be thinking of eating less and losing weight.  It should be a time to be thinking of feeding and repairing your damaged muscles.  And, don't forget to consume plenty of water that was lost sweating during your your hard training ride.  Even if you don't think you sweated very much during your ride (such as in the Winter months), your body loses a lot of fluid.

In addition to eating/drinking properly, many professional riders find that a massage is a highly effective way to restore muscles after a hard ride.  However, for the everyday amateur rider (like you and me) that is not practical nor feasible.  But, what is is stretching and using a foam roller.  Ten to fifteen minutes of stretching and rolling out your leg muscles on a foam roller goes a long way to a speedy recovery.  Don't forget to get plenty of sleep the night after your hard least 7 hrs.

So, what is "active" recovery?  Active recovery is just that- recovering while being active instead of passive.  Active recovery from the bike can be taking a walk, swimming or hiking as long as the intensity is low.  Active recovery can also include getting back on the bike as long as the effort/intensity is ridiculously low and slow.  Pretend you're riding with your grandmother of 80 yrs. in your flip flops.  You want a low intensity ride of no more than 20-30 minutes.  I find that I recover faster with "active" recovery vs. "passive" recovery..again, as long as the intensity is low and doesn't exceed 20-30 minutes.  I think most cyclists would agree with me.

Remember, your recovery is just as important, if not more important than your training ride/workout.
Power ON!  Coach Rob

The Pain Cave

I always have people tell me how much they hate indoor training- so they don't.  That's a shame, because it really doesn't take a lot of effort or cost a lot of money to build your own Pain Cave- as I like to call it- for indoor training.  What are the pain cave essentials?  First, and foremost, you need a a cave.  I finished 1/2 of my basement to make my pain cave.  Carpet, drywall walls, drop ceiling, all basic stuff.  The 2nd, you need a bike.  I use my old (circa 1995) Cannondale Aluminum bike.  It's still a great bike.  The 3rd, is a good "smart" trainer.  What do I mean by "smart"?  It's a trainer that changes resistance automatically as the bike (in your training video) either ascends a mountain/hill or descends.  There are plenty on the market these days.  I have a "Lab Quality" Computrainer that I bought years ago.  It's compatible with all of today's virtual reality software programs like Zwift and ErgVideo.  It's also one of the most accurate trainers on the market.  That is, it reads power output in watts +/- 1%.  Yes, it's pricey ($1500) but I got a great deal from Racermate for being a USA Cycling Power Based Coach.  You don't have to spend that much on a good trainer.  There are a bunch on the market made by Power Tap/Saris, Tacx, Wahoo, Kinetic, etc. that cost half of that.  Fourth, you need a good computer to run the virtual reality software.  I find that a laptop works just fine.  Just make sure the processor speed is fast enough, the video graphics board is fast enough, there's enough memory, and make certain you have a fast (wide bandwidth) internet connection.  Fifth, you need a good monitor/display to project your ride on.  No, a phone doesn't hack it, not an iPad either.  I don't even like laptops since they're still too small for me.  You gotta go big on the monitor.  I either recommend plugging your laptop into a big screen TV or plug it into a projector and project it on to a screen.  I used to project onto a projector screen but now that I have a big screen TV within earshot of my laptop, I connect via an HDMI cable.  Speaking of phones, that is sixth on the list.  If you use Software such as Zwift, you need a smart phone to act as a remote.  Seventh, you need a good fan.  I'm talking near industrial strength/grade to keep you cool during your training ride.  Eighth, you need some tunes..either provided by your phone or by a stereo.  I use my stereo from my college days which still kicks out some amazing sound with good bass.  Ninth is all the other stuff: towel, water bottle, shoes, HR monitor, etc.  You definitely need a HR monitor that is either ANT+ or BLE protocol that talks to your computer and the software on it.  If you use an ANT+ trainer and/or HR monitor you're going to need an ANT+ dongle in your computer so they talk to each other.  My Computrainer plugs-in directly into the laptop so I don't have to worry about dongles or wireless connections.

So, stop making excuses on why you don't train indoors or why you hate training indoors.  If you don't train indoors (or you hate it) you probably don't have a decent set up.  Yes, I know these things/equipment costs $$$.  So does every other hobby/sport I know of.  If you're serious about cycling you'll find a way to come up with the $$$ to build/create a similar pain cave to mine.  Beg, borrow or steal some $$$.  No, don't steal..just kidding on that one.  And, who said you had to build it all in a day/weekend.  Rome wasn't built in a day, nor was my setup.  Mine took years to build.  So, start building.  I actually look forward to training in my pain cave on inclement weather days.  Is it as much fun as riding outdoors?  In general, "NO"..but it's the next best thing.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Friday, December 8, 2017

Interval Workout

Most cyclists think the only way to do training intervals is inside on their trainer.  That's not so.  You can do intervals outside as long as you find a road/path where you have time/distance to perform a steady-state interval effort.  That is, a road/path void of any stops.  I have just that path/road.  It's a canal/tow path near my home that runs adjacent to the Delaware River.  It's flat, and at night, it's deserted.  The only slow downs are 2-5 second slow downs for road crossings and/or bridge crossings.  In the interval workout last night, I completed two intervals at L3/L4 (sweetspot) zones: the first being 25 minutes long and the 2nd being 45 minutes long.  Each interval was separated by a 5 min. rest.  The rest interval was when I dismounted my bike and walked across a Delaware River bridge (on the walking path).  At the end of the 45 minute interval there was a 10' cooldown period  Here's the workout:

5' Warmup
5' RI (Rest Interval)
10' cooldown

Here's what it looks like graphically:

What I really like about this graph is the W' curve (red line).  It shows how my stress went from positive to negative during the interval workout.  They (experts) say when your W' equals zero that you're nearly out of gas.  That was true last night.  In fact, I was running on fumes at the end of the 1st interval.  The second interval was no different...running on fumes at the end of the interval.  You can see how the 5' Rest Interval (RI) re-charged my batteries but that they were drained shortly thereafter- again.  No doubt a good interval workout that stressed the legs.  My legs were sore when I got home last night.  In fact, they're still a little sore this a.m.  Now, I need to get some rest and recover so the leg muscles can rebuild (stronger) and get ready for the next effort/workout on Sunday.  Until then.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Ok, so I said whenever a cool product hits the market I would review it.  Well, this product isn't necessarily new but it's new to me and it's WAY COOL!  The program (or game) is called Zwift.  What is Zwift?  It's an online (internet) game, it's an interactive cycling software program, it's a training aid, and it's FUN!  See

What you need to set up Zwift is a bike, a cycling trainer with a power meter, a laptop or desktop computer and an internet connection.  You can even run the Zwift program from a phone or iPad.  That power meter can be built into the Hub of your wheel (provided it can communicate via Bluetooth or ANT+ protocol with the computer that the Zwift software is installed on), it can be a HR Monitor/Power Meter strap (such as the PowerCal from Power Tap), it can be a trainer such as Computrainer (by Racermate) or one by Cycleops or Tacx.  The more accurate the power meter, the more realistic the online experience.  The computer should have a good network or Wifi connection with hi-speed internet service.  It should also have a fast graphics card/adapter.  If not, the Zwift software program won't run properly or won't run at all.

Once set up on your computer you can go for a group training ride, sign up for a race, or just ride alone.  The first thing to do, once you sign-on is to determine what your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is.  You can do that by clicking on the FTP test.  You have the option of doing a 1 hr. FTP test or a 20 min. abbreviated FTP test.  I chose the latter.  Once you determine your FTP (mine was 210w when I tested it last night.  My FTP is actually closer to 220w) you divide that number by your weight in kilograms.  To do that, just weigh yourself in lbs. and divide by 2.2.  I weigh 160 lbs. so my weight in kg is 160/2.2= 73kg.  Now, take the FTP (210w) and divide that by the weight (73) and you get a power to weight ratio (w/kg) of 2.9 w/kg.  If you want to race online, you need to know this number so you can ensure you sign up for the correct race.  The races are rated/categorized A thru D.  Here is the Zwift w/kg per race category:

A> 4 w/kg
B= 3.2- 4 w/kg
C= 2.5- 3.2 w/kg
D< 2.5 w/kg

Based on this, my w/kg was smack in the middle of the C-category.  So, I entered a Cat-C race and I got shelled/dropped...ha.  I could clearly see that the people ahead of me were not Cat-C riders, their w/kg was close to 4, some even over 4 w/kg.  By the way, these people are real people from all over the world.  So, just like in real life racing, there are sandbagger racers online.  It's easier to sandbag at an online race than it is a real race.  The easiest way to do it is to enter a weight (into the software program) lower than your actual weight.  The other is to use a Power Meter that is not calibrated properly and reads high.  I know that the PowerCal HR monitor/power meter reads 10% higher than my Computrainer Power Meter.  I know Zwift is trying to police this somehow/some way.  Here is a screen shot of a race:

The Zwift software tells you everything you want to know about the race/ride.  It tells you your power output (watts), your Heart Rate (bpm), your cadence (rpm), your speed (mph), the distance and time into the race and the time remaining.  It also tells you the other racers around you, their names, where they're from, their w/kg, etc.

All of this Fun is not free however.  After your free 7-day trial, you must pay $15/mo. to continue.  But, that's cheap considering one spinning session at your local gym where they play Beyonce music for 45 minutes charges $25.  That's $15/mo. for unlimited riding, races, etc.  Even if you only sign-up for the Winter months (December thru March) it's well worth it in my opinion.  Because there is no better cycling training than racing.

Check it out, I think it's a cool program that's only going to get better.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving Day.  Did you get a ride in today before the big dinner feast?  I did.  Now I won't feel as guilty downing all the food/drink.  Don't forget, the average Joe gains 5-10 lbs. from Thanksgiving to New Years day.  For me, it's a time of year I start watching what I eat because it's too easy to start drinking and eating too much.  Every where you go over the Holiday's there's food- mostly junk food.  So, riders beware!  Don't forget to get a long ride in this weekend.  It's supposed to be mild temps (50F ish).

PowerCal vs. Computrainer Power Output

Let me just say this before I begin, this post was not intended to compare the merits of a $100 power meter/HR monitor made by Power Tap to that of a $1500 power meter made by Racermater aka Computrainer.  There is no comparison.  What it's intended to do is show/highlight the PowerCal for what it is.  That is, it's an inexpensive tool to get you into the "power meter" world without taking a 2nd mortgage out on your home.  Just like you can go to a store and buy a $100 micrometer vs. $1000 micrometer, they both do the same job..measure things.  It's just that one does it with better accuracy/precision than the other.  Naturally, the higher the price the more accurate.  Same applies with power meters.

From the research that I've done, I read/heard the PowerCal power meter/HR monitor has better reliability (closer accuracy) with longer steady-state efforts rather than shorter intervals.  So, I set out to see if this was true, and lo and behold- it is/was.  Granted, this is not a scientific study and the sample size is not large enough to give it any statistical significance.  Nonetheless here it is.  See Chart below:

You can see that as the intensity increases (L1 thru L4) the change in watts (delta) between the Computrainer and PowerCal increased.  I can only assume that's because of the short 5 minute intervals.  So, I decided to do a longer interval at L4 (20 minutes instead of 5 minutes).  You can see that the delta decreased from 30 watts to 10 watts.  That is, the PowerCal was more accurate at longer steady-state intervals.  I tried to maintain the target watts of 225w at L4 but I could only muster 205w.  Just not on my A-game since I rode hard on Tuesday night and it's currently Thursday night.  Yeah, I know, it's 2 days..but I'm almost 60 and I seem to need 3 days rest before hard workouts rather than 2 of yesteryear.

I'm really happy with my PowerCal power meter/HR monitor for $100.  It does what it was intended to do and that is get you in the ballpark of the power meter game.  As I said before, it's not intended to compare with the more expensive power meters on the market, but it will get you in the game/ballpark..and that's what I wanted.  If I want better accuracy I'll use one of my more expensive power meters on a ride- that has better accuracy.

BTW, I own 2 computrainer power meters at $1500 ea. (one is Lab quality), an iBike Pro power meter at $400, 2 Power Tap power meter hubs at $700 ea.  And, now a PowerCal power meter/HR monitor.   That's over $4000 worth of power meters. So, it's not that I don't have any other power meters or I can only afford a $100 power meter.

Power ON!  Coach Rob

Blood Pressure & Pulse

One of the reasons why I ride is to stay healthy.  I don't have to tell you that eating healthy and exercising is the key to good health- that and good genetics.  Actually, it's better to have good genes than anything else.  I've known many people to die early on in life from nasty diseases such as cancer, heart disease, etc. despite being in great physical shape.  We have no control over the hand we were dealt re: genes, so it is what it is and you are what you are.  For the things we do have control of- why not eat healthy and exercise?

As far as your heart goes, it's wise to keep track of your blood pressure and your pulse.  I like looking at pulse as well as heart rate because it gives me a good indication of my current fitness. i.e. normally the lower the pulse the better shape (in younger people).  There is a condition called bradycardia and it usually affects older adults (>65).  Bradycardia is a deterioration of the electrical system of the heart.  Bradycardia lowers the pulse rate in older adults.  There are also many drugs out on the market place that lower pulse rate.  When I'm not in shape, my heart rate/pulse is normally around 65bpm.  When I'm in-shape it's generally in the mid to high 40s.  Currently my resting pulse is 47bpm.  This past May when I was out-of-shape my pulse was 65bpm.  So, in 5 months I was able to lower my pulse (resting heart rate) almost 20 beats per minute due to eating healthy and exercising.

What's a normal heart rate/pulse?  According to the Mayo Clinic anything from 60-100bpm is considered normal.  (Although to me, anything over 80 seems high).  Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. An elite athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40bpm or even in the high 30s.

So, what's a normal blood pressure?  According to the American Heart Association the recommended or normal blood pressure is 120/80, read one twenty over eighty.  The top number is the systolic blood pressure measured in millimeters of mercury (mm-Hg).  Systolic pressure is the pressure that the blood exerts on the artery walls when your heart pumps.  The bottom number is the diastolic pressure measured in mm Hg.  Diastolic pressure is the pressure that the blood exerts on the artery walls when your heart is resting or in-between beats/pumps.  Here's a chart from the AMA:

My current blood pressure and heart rate is: 107/71 mm-Hg with a pulse of 47bpm.  That's with taking no prescription medication.  I take my blood pressure and heart rate at least once per month.  I try to make a habit of checking it once per week.  A lot of the CVS/Rite Aid pharmacies have blood pressure machines/monitors that are calibrated regularly.  I used to use them but I bought one for home instead.  It's made by Omron and is one of the most reliable home blood pressure monitors on the market (according to my research).  It takes 3 readings/tests and gives you the average.  It also stores the information in the unit for future comparison.  I'm not sure of the price but I think it cost $100.  Yes, it's a little pricey but with the higher price you get higher accuracy/reliability.  I don't calibrate the unit but I do compare the readings with the local pharmacy blood pressure monitors to make sure it's comparable/in-line.

Is high blood pressure really a big deal?  I think so.  Here's a pictorial of what high blood pressure can do to your body:

Vision LossHigh blood pressure can strain or damage blood vessels in the eyes.

Heart AttackHigh blood pressure damages arteries that can become blocked and prevent blood from flowing to tissues in the heart muscle.

Kidney DiseaseHigh blood pressure can damage the arteries around the kidneys and interfere with their ability to effectively filter blood.

Sexual DysfunctionThis can be erectile dysfunction in men or lower libido in women. 

Heart Failure-The increased workload from high blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge and fail to supply blood to the body. 

StrokeHigh blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst or clog more easily. 

Next time you're in the pharmacy (or doctors office) get your blood pressure taken and ask what your pulse is.  Or better yet, buy a blood pressure monitor for your home.  I think it's worth it.  Until then, eat healthy and keep riding your bike.

Power ON!  Coach Rob