Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Baby it's cold outside...indoor vs. outdoor training workouts.


There are many pros/cons of training indoors vs. training outdoors (and vice versa) in the Winter.  Which one is better?  I'll note the obvious pros starting with training indoors:
a. Quicker to just jump on the trainer and go.
b. Easier to jump on a trainer that's already set up ready to go.
c. Safer riding on a trainer indoors than riding outdoors on the sloppy roads.
d. No getting dressed (no gloves, hats, etc.) to train indoors.
e. Can watch TV/listen to music while training indoors.
f.  Can join online virtual reality races like Zwift.
g. Can train at any time indoors...day or night.
h. No worries about flats or other mechanicals you normally experience outdoors.
i. Don't have to worry about the weather..snow, sleet, rain, etc.
j. Don't have to worry about bike getting all slopped up with salt, mud, dirt, etc.
k. Rest rooms, water, food, shower, etc. are only seconds away.
l.  Can regulate temperature with a fan.

Ok, now the benefits of training/riding outdoors in the Winter:
a. There is no substitute for the feeling/balance/control/handling/etc. required to ride outdoors.
b. Hills! Hills! and more Hills!  A trainer can't replicate hills like the real thing unless you have a trainer that inclines and allows the bike to sway from side-to-side like it normally does when you climb hills outdoors.
c. Logistics- when riding outdoors you learn to become self-sufficient and learn what to wear, carry and not carry...including clothes, food, water, tire repair tools, etc.  You also get used to the weight of all your winter clothing, water bottles, food, etc. that you carry.
d. No substitution for learning to ride in the wind/cold/rain.
e. You can ride with a group- safety in numbers and more social than riding alone indoors.
f. You can coast on the road, you can't coast on a trainer- it stops when you stop (pedaling).
g. Specificity of Training

If I kept going, and I had to count the number of pros for each (Indoors vs. Outdoors), I'm sure I could find twice as many pros or reasons to train indoors vs. outdoors.  So, why not just train indoors all Winter?  The #1 advantage (or pro) in my mind for training outdoors is "Specificity of Training".  In fact, Specificity of Training trumps all the other pros of training indoors.  Specificity of Training states: "if you want to get better at something, you have to practice or train that specifically.  If you want to be a better bike racer, you better spend a good amount of time riding your bike- not trainer."  It's no different than training outdoors for an upcoming Time Trial vs. a Road Race.  If you want to get better at Time Trialing, you better ride/practice a lot on your Time Trial Bike vs. your road bike..and vice versa.  That's why I used to tell all of my athletes that I coached (that raced), "there is no substitute for riding on the roads outside in all kinds of weather- which includes the rain".  Those athletes that did train and ride in the cold and rain were the ones that did well come race season when it was cold and it rained during a race.  Why?  Because they were ready for it..physically and mentally..and they were confident in their bike handling skills unlike those that never rode or raced in the cold or the rain. 

So get out there and ride this Winter..as much as you may not like it.  It will pay dividends this upcoming race season.  Trust me.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Did you get your flu shot this year?


Did you get your flu shot this year?  I just did.  Better late than never huh?  Unless you've had your head in the sand the last couple weeks you may have heard that this is the worst flu season nationally in quite some time.  Numerous people have died in California alone since November.  And, it's not just the young and old that's affected..it's any age.  Just this weekend a healthy 21 yr. old aspiring personal trainer from Western Pennsylvania died.  He was coughing and running a fever..that's it.  He had some mild chest pain.  He thought he could just rest and ride it out..instead he died.

You'll read reports that this years flu vaccine is only 10% effective.  That's not entirely true.  Each year vaccine manufacturers travel to the Far East and Australia to sample thousands of people to predict which viruses are likely to spread to the USA.  Their vaccines target the best guesses.  Each vaccine targets 3 or 4 types of the Flu.  This year, 2 of the 3 most common strains vaccinated against were accurate guesses.  People who were vaccinated are 70% immune from those 2. One strained missed, and you're only 10% immune to that one.  So, you're definitely better off getting the flu shot than not.

I read an interesting article/study the other day that said if you exercise for 90 minutes after receiving your flu shot, it will improve the efficacy/potency of the shot.  That is, it will make your immune system even stronger.  They said it has to be 90 minutes, not 30 minutes or 60 minutes.  Google it.

So, what can you do to decrease your chances of getting the Flu?  First, get the Flu vaccine.  It's not too late.  I read another interesting article the other day that said that people who get routine annual Flu shots are less susceptible of getting the Flu than those that get a Flu shot every blue moon.  Secondly, stay away from anyone sneezing or hacking up hair/flem balls.  If they're at work, tell them to go home before they infect the entire office.  Thirdly, wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your face.  Fourthly, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of sleep.  Fifth, continue to exercise at a moderate  intensity.  If you do workout, workout at home.  Gyms are a petri dish of germs during the Flu season especially if you're a member of the YMCA that has kids.  Flu season is not the time for intense workouts that may weaken your immune system.  If you do get sick, monitor your temperature.  Take Tylenol or Ibuprofen.  If you're coughing, have aches and pains and have a fever for more than a day..go to the doctors.

Stay healthy my friends.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Overtraining and Heart Rate Variability (HRV)- Part III


Ok, you took your first and second HRV test and your reading says 6 (see above).  BTW, that's what mine said this morning.  What the hell does that mean?  If you remember, in Part I, your autonomic nervous system is made up of a sympathetic branch and a parasympathetic branch.  And, that these two branches of your nervous system were/are in constant competition. Thus the variability in your Heart Rate.  You can see the needle on the gauge is bordering on the yellow/green areas of the gauge.  That's telling me my sympathetic nervous system is winning the battle and I'm stressed.  But, how can I be stressed when my last workout was 2 days ago and it wasn't a hard workout?  It was a sweetspot workout (L3/L4) that only lasted 45 minutes.  Well, chronic stress can be caused by a lot of things in addition to a training workout.  Stress can be caused by pressure at work, inflammatory foods, relationships, sleep, financial matters, personal matters, etc. or a combination of all of them.  For me, it's been a really stressful last couple of days.  I was busy at work, I didn't sleep particularly well, and my wife and I had to take our dog to the Vet to have emergency surgery to remove a squeeky toy she ate/digested.  That alone was enough to over-stress me.  Not to mention the $7,000 bill from the Vet.

So, what now?  There's no doubt I'm suffering from Chronic Stress..so it's really not a good time to be torturing my body with a hard workout.  In fact, if I did decide to do a hard workout today..on a stressed body..it could compromise my immune system and I'd end up getting sick with a cold.  Instead, it's probably better to rest than exercise.  I would, except I get a little antsy if I go more than 3 days without working out.  So, this is a great time to do an active recovery workout.  With an active recovery workout, you're really not "building" or gaining any fitness, you're just "maintaining" it.  And, that's fine for me right now.  So, instead of my customary L3/L4 "sweetspot" workout, I'll opt for an L2/L3 workout which is an Endurance/Tempo Zone workout for active recovery.  And, because it's lower power output I can go a little longer.  Instead of a 45 minute trainer ride, I'll opt for a 1 hr. ride.  You really shouldn't go any longer than 20 minutes for an active recovery ride but I'm trying to lose a couple lbs from all the overeating and drinking over the holidays.  The key with an active recovery ride is to keep the power output low.

What's next?  Obviously, the goal is to get my HRV gauge in the middle (green section).  You do that be resting and recovering.  In addition to curtailing your normal exercise regime, it's a good time to be eating quality foods and getting plenty of sleep and drinking fluids.  If you can, it's also a good time to do some guided breathing/meditation as this will help balance the nervous system and relieve tension and make you more relaxed...moving the gauge towards the parasympathetic side.  It will be interesting to see if the needle on my gauge moves to the right in the next couple days.  I'll let you know in a future blog.  Speaking of meditation, that will be the topic/title of my next blog.  Stay tuned.  Until then, Power ON!  Coach Rob

Friday, January 5, 2018

Overtraining and Heart Rate Variability (HRV)- Part II

As promised, I'm back to talk to you more about HRV and how to measure it.  In my last blog, I explained what HRV was all about and how effective it is at helping to predict or diagnose overtraining.  Now, I'm going to tell you what you need to buy/get in order to measure HRV.  The first thing you need is a good Heart Rate Monitor (HRM).  There are dozens on the market and they include finger monitors, optical arm bands, wrist watches, chest monitors, etc.  Obviously, the most accurate would be a wired monitor.  However, you'll only see them in a lab setting and most are cost prohibitive.  So, I'm not going to even talk about those.  Of the wireless HRMs, I believe the best are made by Polar.  Why?  Because they're the pioneers in athletic HRMs, and an industry leader with over 30 yrs. experience, and they seem to be one of the most accurate over the years..especially their wireless chest monitors.  I bought all kinds of Polar HRMs over the years, coded, non-coded, ANT+, Bluetooth, etc. and the best one for monitoring HRV is the H7 pictured below:

The Polar H7 HRM is Bluetooth compatible with smart phones and one recommended by the software App I use called EliteHRV.  You can buy it online for $50.  It's not Polar's top of the line HRM, the H10 is, but it does the job.  The H10 is firmware upgradeable, has twice the battery life as the H7, new measuring algorithm, and has internal memory for storing up to 8 hrs of activity. But it's nearly double the price of the H7.  If you have the $$$, I'd spring for the H10.  If you're on a budget or don't care about the enhancements, go for the H7.

The software App for my iPhone is EliteHRV.  They have a great website and a great .pdf file that you can download telling you everything you need to know about HRV.  Go to www.EliteHRV.com Best of all, the App is FREE!
I've just started using EliteHRV.  In fact, tomorrow is only my second morning HRV reading.  In order to get accurate data you need to perform daily HRV measurements in bed while lying down (when you wake up in the morning).  Yes, that means you have to wear your HRM to bed- no big deal.  I'll let you know what I think in Part III..after I take my 2nd consecutive morning HRV test.  Together with Strava's Form/Fitness/Fatigue Chart..I believe you'll have a better idea if/when you're overtraining.  Overtraining can set you back more than not training at all.  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Overtraining and Heart Rate Variability (HRV)- Part I

I'm pretty sure most of you know what overtraining is?  Maybe you've experienced it.  Maybe not.  If not, here are the symptoms:

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
As an engineer, I wanted a more scientific way of measuring or diagnosing overtraining.  They (the experts) say when you overtrain, your resting heart rate increases (or is elevated).  I'm sure that's true.  The problem with measuring resting heart rate is that there are too many variables that can affect it from day-to-day such as: diet, amount of sleep, stress, time of day, position (sitting, lying, etc) you're in when taking resting heart rate, the monitoring device (heart rate monitor), etc. What I found is a better indicator of overtraining is Heart Rate Variability (HRV).  

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the variation in time between successive heart beats over a given period of time.  The time between beats is called R-R intervals measured in milliseconds.  The time between intervals, unbeknownst to me, is not constant.  That is, if your resting heart rate is 50bpm your heart doesn't beat 50 times in a minute at exactly 1 second intervals each time.  I thought it did. Sometimes it beats less than a second apart and sometimes it beats more than a second apart..just like the diagram above (0.97s between beats and 1.1s between beats).   But, the average over a minute period of time is one second between intervals. Why is that?  It's due to your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  Your ANS controls your nerves, muscles, glands, etc.  The ANS touches every process within your body.  It affects blood sugar, adrenaline, digestion, pupil dialation, heart rate and much more.  The ANS has two systems or branches: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).  The PNS is your "rest and digest" branch and is responsible for muscle repair, decreased heart rate and lowering blood pressure.  The SNS branch is your "fight or flight" branch and is responsible for increased heart rate, increasing blood pressure, dilating pupils, making you sweat, etc.  Obviously, you want your ANS leaning towards the PNS branch..otherwise you'd be like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs- a nervous Nelly.  However, when it's time to perform, you want your SNS branch to kick in and take over and dominate.  So, the two branches are competing to keep you alive.  Thus, the changes in heart rate and Heart Rate Variability (HRV).  These changes are the ones we want to measure to help us determine if we're overtraining or not.

How do we measure HRV?  You can measure it with a good Heart Rate Monitor, such as the Polar H7 or H10 Bluetooth HRM and an App for your smartphone called "Elite HRV" which I highly recommend.  You can get the Polar H7 HRM online for $50 or the H10 for $85.  The Elite HRV App is FREE.

See Part II (coming soon) for a description of the Polar H7 HRM and the Elite HRV App.  Until then, Power ON!  Coach Rob

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year 2018


If you're looking to get in shape for 2018..make sure you set a goal (or have a plan) and that it's measurable. i.e. lose 20 lbs. in 8 weeks.  Increase my FTP by 25 watts by April, etc. Also, make sure you have the discipline, willing to sacrifice, and have the motivation to stick with your goal/plan.  Otherwise, it aint goin' to happen.  Wishin' (or dreaming) you get in shape will never happen on it's own.  You have to want it and you have to do it.  Just do it.  Good Luck!  Power ON!  Coach Rob

Happy New Year everyone.  Looking forward to a healthy & happy 2018.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Pedal Stroke Explained

I don't think most people think about their pedal stroke when they ride their bike and I suppose unless you're racing or logging a lot of miles as a recreational rider- who cares.  I can't tell you how many times I ride behind recreational riders and notice they're bouncing in their seat because the seat is too high or their knees are pointed outwards like they're riding a beach cruiser at the shore wearing flip flops.  I don't even want to mention their pedal stroke..because it's all over the place.  But, if you're racing or you're a recreational rider that logs some pretty long miles you'll not only want to be fitted properly to your bike, you want to ensure you're pedal stroke is as efficient as it can be.  By the way, if/when you buy a bike, you should have the bike fitted to you, not the other way around.

The best way to explain the most efficient pedal stroke is through this clock diagram (below).  I'll start with 12 o'clock.  At the top of the pedal stroke your foot should be at the same position as it is at 6 & 9 o'clock.  That is, the heel should be slightly elevated from the toe.  Your hip extensors or glutes are ready to kick in and drive the foot forward at the top.  At this position you'll feel the toes hitting the fronts of your shoes.  At 1 o'clock, your knee extensors, or quads, are ready to kick in and supplement the glutes.   The 2 o'clock position is the position of max power applied to the pedal because your glutes and quads (the biggest muscles) are both fully engaged. Your heel will drop down from its elevated position so that your foot is horizontal to the ground.  At the 3 o'clock position your foot will be horizontal and your heel may drop slightly below the toe level depending on the grade and/or how hard you're pedaling.  At the 4 o'clock position your glutes will acquiesce and let the quads takeover.  At 5 o'clock, or bottom of the stroke, your calves kick-in and takeover for the quads.  At 6-7 o'clock, your ankle dorsiflexor or shin muscles kick-in.  At this point you should feel like you're scraping mud from the bottoms of your shoes.  The hamstrings do all the work from 8-9 o'clock.  At this point you're actually pulling up slightly on the pedal (a lot if you're climbing).  You may not feel it but you are.  At 10 o'clock through 12 o'clock it's all hip flexor.  Again, you're pulling up slightly on the pedal.
Notice the foot position on the pedal is just about the same at the 6, 9 and 12 o'clock position.  Also, notice when pedaling correctly you're utilizing ALL of your leg muscles- front and back including the glutes.  You want good balance.  i.e. you don't want strong quads and weak hamstrings or glutes.  You want everything strong.


The Winter months are the months you want to work on pedaling efficiency.  One leg pedaling drills are probably a good idea to inject into your winter training plan/workouts.  You'll know if you have a good pedal stroke if it isn't jerky or erratic.  If it is, work on being smooth throughout the entire clock.

Check out the photo of Bradley Wiggins below.  Notice the foot position at 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock.  i.e. heel slightly elevated.  That's what I'm talking about.



Power ON!  Coach Rob

New Year, New You

It's that time of year again, the New Year, where resolutions are made only to see resolutions being broken/ignored.  Here are the top 5 New Years resolutions:


I agree, everyone could benefit or improve their lives from the Top 5 list.  But it's also a known fact 92% of  all New Years resolutions fail.

Why is that?  Why do 92% of all New Years resolutions fail?  The primary reason why resolutions are broken (or fail) is because either a) the goals were unrealistic or not specific enough to begin with.  i.e. goals need to be measurable, or b) there was no motivation or self-control to keep/maintain the goal or c) both a and b. 

Lets start with a). unrealistic or non-specific goals.  And, we'll use resolution #4 (as an example) which seems to be the number 1 New Years resolution on most peoples list.  Lose weight.  How much weight?  By what date?  How are you going to lose the weight?  Starve?  Exercise?  Eating Healthy?  Combination of eating healthy & exercising?  Ok, so you need to make a measurable goal.  How about losing 1 lb. per week for 20 weeks.  Or, I want to lose 10 lbs. by my wedding.  That's good, that's definable/measurable.  How are you going to do it?  By eating healthy and exercising.  Good.  Now, what's your motivation for meeting that goal?  You want to be healthy?  You want to look good?  Ok, good.  Now, the biggest impediment to meeting that goal is- what's your motivation?  Do you have a wedding?  Do you have a special event?  Is that enough motivation?  Do you have enough self-control throughout the dieting and exercising period to stay on track to meet the goal?  Do you have a support group?  That is why 92% of New Years resolutions fail.  People have the "desire" but they don't have the "motivation" or "self-control".  If you don't have the desire AND the motivation and self-control, it's never going to happen. 

I saw a great movie last night (true story), that I've seen probably a half-dozen times before, with Robert DeNiro and Cuba Gooding Jr. called, "Men of Honor".  In the movie, Cuba Gooding Jr. wants to become the first Black Master Diver in the US Navy.  That's his goal, his desire in life.  Robert DeNiro, who was the Master Chief running the Master Diver program for the US Navy asked Cuba Gooding Jr., "why do you want to be a Master Diver so much Cookie?".  (Cookies are newbie divers.)  Cuba Gooding Jr. responded, "I always wanted to be a Master Diver sir...and because they said I couldn't do it".  So, Cuba Gooding Jr. had the desire and he had the motivation..and guess what?  He became a master diver despite being black and having his leg amputated.  

So, before you make your New Years resolutions for 2018, don't think so much about the resolution goal, think more about how you're going to have enough desire, motivation and self-control to stay the course and meet that goal.

Good Luck in 2018 and Happy New Year.  Power ON!  Coach Rob