Sunday, May 31, 2009

Slow Hill Climber?

I just read a cycling book with an article entitled "Slow Hill Climber?". I thought it was particularly relevant to me since I just got done racing a hilly race in Lancaster County PA and riding in Lake Placid NY with TWiley Sports. I think everyone is aware that if you want to ride fast in the hills or climb well it's imperative you have a high Power to Weight Ratio (w/kg). You can achieve a high w/kg in one of two ways, either: a. increase the watts or power (numerator) or b. decrease your weight kg (denominator). Ideally, you'd want to do both. But, barring going out and buying a ridiculously light carbon bike weighting 15 lbs. (that is also ridiculously expensive), I think MORE people would see better (long term) results if they shed some of that excess baggage off their OWN hips/butt/legs/stomach. I have, and I've seen the results. In 2003 I weighed 223 lbs..and I had a hard time climbing my driveway (my driveway is almost flat). Since then, I've dropped 50 lbs. and I can tell you without reservation that it made all of the difference in my climbing. I'm still NOT a great climber but I can hold my own. Ok, if you've done the math, you know that I'm down to 173 lbs. now. Do you know how much BETTER a climber I'd be at 168 lbs.? MUCH better I assure you..and to prove it to you..I'm going to get down to 168 lbs. (by July 4th) and I'll do a before and after hill climb test for you to prove it to you. Just like the power to overcome aerodynamic drag increases exponentially with speed..I honestly believe that your hill climbing will improve exponentially once you get down to your target weight.

The important thing to remember when dropping/losing weight is NOT to lose it any faster than 1-2 pounds per week. If you do that, you'll end up losing muscle mass along with the fat. That's the muscle mass you worked so hard to build-up over the winter months in the gym. Therefore, the best way to do it (lose weight) is to increase your activity level each day by burning 500 calories over and beyond your normal caloric intake/burn rate. If you burn 500 calories per day times 7 days a week (over and beyond what you normally do), that's 3500 calories which equals 1 pound. You do that for 5 weeks and you'll lose 5 lbs. Trust works! Remember, I lost 50 lbs. but what I didn't tell you is how I lost it. I lost it the hard way (over a year's time), through exercise and eating healthy. Anybody can lose just stop eating. Don't believe me, stop eating for a week and get on the scale. I GUARANTEE you will lose weight. It aint rocket science. You don't eat, you lose weight. So, before you think about going on a hunger strike..I don't recommend NOT eating. What I do recommend is burning calories through exercise. I recommend burning these calories the first thing in the a.m. on an empty stomach...BEFORE breakfast. Just pick a pace on the bike, or elliptical trainer, treadmill (or whatever) where you're burning 500 calories per hour. It's a pretty spirited pace by the way...but you can do it. BTW, don't go over 1 hour in the a.m. on an empty stomach or your body just might want to switch from burning fat to protein (muscle mass).

If anyone wants to try this with me..send me an email and let me know how you're doing with it. It's not as easy as it sounds. After all, you're going to have to get up an hour early in the a.m. to get this workout in. Plus, your body isn't's going to see that you're burning more calories than normal and will probably make you hungrier during the day. Don't be tempted to eat any more than normal. Resist! Just eat what you normally eat during the day...and don't skip your normal workouts either...because you're tired. That's the other thing your body will want to do to you..when it knows it's burning more than normal...shut you down so you conserve fuel/energy/ resist..drink some caffeine..stay awake!

You can do it with me...try it!
Oh, btw, who is that "slow climber" behind Rick Fesler in the photo? Is that my friend Todd Wiley in the distance? (haha Just kidding.) For the record, Rick Fesler is THE BEST hill climber I have ever seen, and he's a Triathlete. That means if he were a cyclist only, he'd probably be even stronger. The man is just an incredible machine who never seems to tire. I'd love to see him in either the Whiteface Mtn or Mt. Washington annual hill climb race. I'd bet a top 10 finish. Speaking of top 10 finishes. Rick was the top amateur athlete in the recent Columbia Triathlon in May...with a top 10 finish...beating some Professionals. Kudos to Rick!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Strength Training..not just for the Off-Season

Like many cyclists/triathletes I LOVE the outdoors. If the weather is nice...I'm outside riding my bike. That is why in the Spring, Summer and Fall months you won't find me in a gym weight/strength training. Besides, with my outdoor training and racing schedule...I don't have any time for no stinkin' gym workouts. BIG MISTAKE! And, I think I just learned that the hard way with a bad aching that has me doubled over in pain at times lately...and seeing a Chiropractor 2x/week. Why is that a mistake? Because strength training should be a year-round activity for cyclists not just over the Winter months. When we cycle we really don't develop our back muscles, glutes (and legs) as effectively as we can from strength training. During the Winter months I worked my core at least 2-3x/week, now, I don't at all. Well, that's until now. From now on, I'm going to strengthen the core (back and abs) at least 2x/week with exercises. (email me if you want a list of core strength exercises for cyclists) I'm also going to add some weight training exercises that specifically work the cycling muscles of the legs. If you do the same, just be sure to use a relatively easy/light weight that you can do 3 x 10 reps of. In fact, most of the weight training exercises can be done with dumbbells and a Swiss Ball. And, it doesn't have to take much time either...instead of hourly Winter gym weight training only need to spend a 1/2 hr. in the gym during the summer months...because you're riding. Heck, you REALLY don't even need to go to the I said, you can train with dumbbells and a Swiss ball- in your home.

I seriously think if I had continued my Winter Strength Training Program (including core excercise work) into the Spring/Summer I wouldn't be having the back problems I'm having now. Even if I toned it down some...cutting the workout time in half. I really think the back problems are a result of going too hard lately on the bike..with relatively weak muscles..without adequate rest in-between. So make sure if you're going hard to get your rest too. Your muscles only get stronger during the rest periods.

Get in the gym and keep those muscles strong! NOW!

General Adaptation Syndrome

Many times I have an athlete tell me, "I had a great workout and pushed real hard on my ride except I couldn't get my Heart Rate up". My first thought is...that's an oxymoron if I ever heard one. After all, how can you push your body/heart real hard and not get your heart rate up? Besides, define "real hard"? Real hard for you...or real hard for the masses? And, what does, "couldn't get my HR up" mean? Up to what? Up past your Tempo zone (L3)? Up past your Lactate Threshold zone (L4) or up to your HRmax?

It's not that I'm doubting these athletes workout...after all, I get to see most of their power files when they're finished so I know they're pushing BIG watts. So, what's up? It turns out that your body is a VERY efficient adaptive learning machine. If you do the same "tough" workout, day-in day-out, or from week-to-week, your body learns to adapt. It's called the "General Adaptation Syndrome". Over time your body actually learns how to ride that favorite hour long route of yours MORE efficiently..without getting stronger. Instead of building stronger muscles you're actually building better neural pathways to allow you to do the same work with less muscle.

So, what's the solution? Stress your body differently, rest it, then stress it again. By altering your workout/ride, your forcing your muscles to grow in new ways. If you have a power meter, look at a previous ride/file and see where you can possibly go harder on a given section. Or, instead of hitting the hill at 70 rpm in a high gear, gear down and spin up the hill at 80 rpm. Just change it up. You can still ride hard/fast...just do it differently at different sections of the ride. Instead of coasting on the downhills and recovering...go HARD downhill and recover on the flats instead. You'll be surprised how much your HR will deviate from previous rides. Your HR will go up...I'll betcha a beer on it. And, I'll bet you that both your cardiovascular system (and pulmonary system) along with your muscles will build up stronger.

Change it up...vary the workout...and get stronger!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bike Derailleur Adjustments Made Easy

Many of us are dependent on our Local Bike Shop (LBS) for bike maintenance and repairs. There is nothing wrong with that. However, I believe you should know how to adjust your bikes derailleurs in EMERGENCIES. Who knows if during transport of your bike to a race something doesn't get knocked out of place and upon arrival/setup your bike either doesn't shift correctly or worse..the chain drops when you try to shift from the large chainring to the small...or vice versa. Trust me, this is the LAST thing you want happening BEFORE a big race. And yes, I understand that there are bike mechanics on-duty standing by (at most races) to help athletes in such EMERGENCIES...but NOT ALWAYS! Or, if they're there, there's a line that's 30 minutes long.

Adjustments to your bikes derailleurs takes about 2 minutes with just one tool: either a phillips-head (star) screwdriver for Shimano derailleurs or an allen head key/wrench for SRAM derailleurs. That's it! Your front and rear derailleurs have two screws on them (actually the rear has three, but I'm only going to address two)- a HIGH limit screw and a LOW limit screw. They are normally marked with an H or L. If not, generally, the top screw is the HIGH limit screw and the bottom one is the LOW limit screw. Makes sense to me.

Ok, so what does each screw do? Lets start with the rear derailleur. Specifically, let's start with the H limit screw. The H limit screw prevents the chain from either going past the smallest cog/sprocket (which is the highest gear...again makes sense) or onto the smallest cog/sprocket. A clockwise rotation of the H limit screw will prevent the chain from going past the smallest cog (or dropping off the cassette) and a counter-clockwise rotation just the opposite. Now, the L limit screw. The L limit screw prevents the chain from dropping into the spokes (from the large cog/sprocket which is the lowest gear- again makes sense) or from going onto the largest cog. A clockwise rotation of the L limit screw will prevent the chain from dropping into the spokes and a counter-clockwise rotation just the opposite. Pretty easy huh? In summary, clockwise rotation of a limit screw will prevent the chain from dropping off the cassette. Clockwise rotation of the H limit screw will prevent it from dropping off the High Gear (or small cog) and clockwise rotation of the L limit screw will prevent it from dropping off the Low Gear (or large cog).

Now, the front derailleur. Again, two screws: a H limit screw and a L limit screw. Can you guess how these work if they're consistent with how the back ones work? Well, they're similar (thank God). If you rotate the H limit screw clockwise it will prevent the chain from dropping off the big chainring (which is the High gear). Similarly, if you rotate the L limit screw clockwise it will prevent the chain from dropping off the small chainring. Turning these screws counter-clockwise will allow the chain to move more easily up/down from big to small (or small to big) chainrings.

An easy way to remember this is: if your chain is falling off your bike you need to turn one of the limit screws clockwise. If it's falling off the front...go to the front derailleur limit screws. If it's falling off the back...go to the rear derailleur limit screws. The H screw in the back makes adjustments for the High gear (little cog)...the H screw in the front makes adjustments for the High gear (big ring).

Makes sense huh? I think so. The only other thing I didn't mention is that when you're making adjustments to the rear derailleur's limit screws you do it with the proper cable tension. You make cable tension adjustments with the barrel adjuster.

Here's a link for more information (with photos) of rear derailleur adjustments: and here's one for the front derailleur:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gearing for the Hills!

I just got back from my TWiley Sports Training Camp weekend in Lake Placid, NY. After observing many of the athletes "climbing the hills", over the holiday weekend, I realized that MANY of the athletes were climbing in gear combinations that were MUCH too hard for them. In other words, the athletes were mashing up the hills at low cadence rather than spinning up the hills at higher cadence. With the exception of probably Jan Ullrich, former Team T-Mobile, Tour de France fame...(and Lance Armstrong adversary)...there are NOT too many people that can mash their pedals up a hill effectively/efficiently. Simply put, many triathletes ride MUCH too hard up the hills and wonder why they either bonk on the bike, or die on the run....or worse...BOTH! But what I found more interesting is that some athletes simply had no choice on which gear combinations to choose...they were by default in the easiest gear combination (albeit too difficult to push/pedal for them) while climbing- the little ring up front (ring=chaing ring), and the big ring in the back.

Before I continue, I'd like to define a few terms like: big ring, little ring, cassette, crank arm, cog, compact crank, etc. so we're all on the same page. Your bike has gears up front (where your pedals are) and gears in the back (on the wheel). The gears up front are composed of two chain rings (simply called rings): the big ring and the small ring. The big ring normally has 53 teeth and the little ring (right next to the big ring) has 39 teeth. (The number of teeth is usually stamped on the ring..if you can't find it, count the teeth). If you have what is called a "Compact Crank", the big ring will have 50 teeth and the small ring will have 34 teeth. In the rear you have ten rings (10 speed bike) that we call "cogs" or nine cogs (9-speed bike). These cogs make-up what is called a "cassette". The smallest cog (in the back) is normally comprised of 11 or 12 teeth. The big cog (in the back), is normally comprised of 23, 25 or 27 teeth. So, if I have a 10 speed cassette in the rear and it has a 12 tooth small cog and a 25 tooth big cog, we call that a 12-25 cassette...pretty simple huh? In-between you have 8 other cogs. For a 12-25 cassette, your cogs may include: 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25. The only other thing I want to mention is the crank arm. The crank arm is the bar that runs from the center of the big ring in the front of the bike to your pedal. Most standard crank arm lengths are 172.5mm. For taller athletes they are 175mm in length and for some shorter women, they are 170mm.

Ok, now the important stuff. We already know when we climb a steep hill we want to be in an easier gear combination. Remember we said, small ring up front, big cog in the back is the easiest gear? Well, what if you're already riding in the 39-25 gear combination and it just isn't easy enough to push. Or, you want something a tad easier. What are your choices? You have three: a) select a smaller chain ring combination up front. Instead of a 53-39, you can go to a 50-34 (Compact Crank) combination. Or, maybe you don't want to change to a Compact Crank (most are expensive in addition to labor). You have choice b) you can change the cassette in the back from a 12-25 to say a 12-27. Or perhaps, you'd like to chose option c) reduce your crank arm length or even add a "granny" gear (which is a third smaller ring up front). Reducing your crank arm length will increase your cadence and put less stress on the knees. Or maybe you want to do all three (little drastic I'd say).

Here's a good example of an athlete who could probably use a gear change for hill climbing. Just keep in mind that this example is an extreme case where the race is a "hill climb" race. We're going to use our fearless leader from Camp Wiley, Todd Wiley, as an example. Todd did a hill climb on Monday, May 25th from the bottom of Rt. 86 in Wilmington to the top of Whiteface Mtn. I'm not quite sure of the elevation gain but I do know it's an 8 mile trek of nothing but 9% grade (which is steep) hill. Todd was riding in his 39-25 gear combination (that is small ring up front with 39T) and big cog in the back with 25 teeth. Todd was turning his pedals over at 70 rpm (cadence) and producing an average of close to 300w (which is BIGTIME watts) which propelled him at 8.5 mph. (Ask Todd if he was hurting) Now, the question is, would a 39-27 gear combination have allowed him to ride a higher cadence (thus saving his legs- for the bike and run- that's IF he had to run afterwards.) and still produce the same speed at a lower (or same) power output? Absolutely! If Todd was able to increase his cadence to 80 rpm, in an (easier) 39-27 gear (same power output), he would have averaged 9.3 mph- almost 1 mph faster. That's over 5 minutes savings to the top of Whiteface Mountain. How about a compact crank? Again, absolutely. If Todd kept his same 12-25 cassette and changed the crankset to a Compact Crank (50-34) his new gear combination would have been a 34-25. If he were to choose that and ride at 80 rpm, he would have gone almost 1/2 mph faster...or a 2.5 minute time savings to the top.

If you're thinking about changing any of the aforementioned on your me, and I'll compute the time savings for you...based on the cycling gearing charts that I have. Then, I'll tell you what I recommend..and you can go to your favorite local bike store and ask them what it will cost to add a Compact Crank to your bike...or change a specifically for the hills like a 12-27. Don't forget to test ride the cassette in the hills BEFORE you buy it. I'd say if you have a 11-23 or 12-23 on your bike now...change it without reservation. Remember, it's MUCH easier and cheaper to swap a cassette out than it is a Crankset/Chain rings. And, nothing wrong with having a few cassettes to choose from based on the race layout.

Last thing, in case you're wondering. Why doesn't everyone just put a Compact Crank on their bikes? Well, (besides the price tag) just as there's an advantage going uphill, there's a disadvantage on slight descents or downhills. By changing to a compact crank you'll lose 2 mph at 100 rpms on the slight descents/downhills. That might not sound like much..but if it's a long gradual adds up.

So, get out there and hit the hills..experiment with your your legs for the hilly courses...ride faster up the hills...have more fun! Coach Rob

Monday, May 18, 2009

Burning Matches

One of the best ways of analyzing post-race power files, especially determining the number of burned matches, is with Training Peaks "Fast Find" feature. To use this feature, view your power file in the "Stacked Graph" view. Go to the menu and select, Edit- Fast Find. You'll be presented with a box of options such as Leading Edge, Trailing Edge, Range of Interest and Duration.

Lets say I want to see how many matches I burned in the 1 minute time duration during one of my recent races. Since my current FTP is approx 270w, anything over 325w (20% increase) for one minute duration is considered "burning a match".

Therefore, in the Leading Edge box I'm going to enter 200w and in the Trailing Edge box I'm going to enter the same 200w. You have to play around with these numbers to better assist in highlighting your "burned matches". Lastly, you want to enter the duration values of 1 min. as a minimum and 20 minutes as a maximum. You'll rarely need to set the max value higher than 20 minutes for a Crit or Road Race. And, in this particular analysis we're only interested in 1 minute burned matches. You can burn a match in the 5, 10 and 20 minute duration intervals as well.

What is also helpful in identifying Trailing/Leading Edge numbers is to show your FTP line. I didn't show that on my graph, but it is very helpful.

For more information on burning matches and using the Fast Find feature, go to Coggan/Allen's book, "Training and Racing with a Power Meter", pgs. 113-116. Or, do a Google Search.

BTW, I did "blow-up" at Find #2 (on the graph)- 475w average for 1 minute was enough to put me in a world of hurt for the rest of the ride...and that was required to just "hang-on" with the group. I think I ended up being dropped at mile mark 8 of the first lap. Pretty sad. I'm not sure how many matches I have in my matchbook at the 1 minute duration, but in this case I had no choice. It was either burn a match or get dropped. I did both.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Lake Placid Training Camp

Come join Todd Wiley and Me at camp. Lake Placid is probably one of the best/nicest areas in the Northeast to train/ride your bike. Why? Because it's pretty, its got HILLS...good food, decent lodging...and training with lots of other athletes. Not to mention the great instruction. You don't have to be a Triathlete to attend the camp. There will be plenty of bike riding, demos, instruction, etc. For more info.:

Race Saved

Philadelphia's two casino companies reportedly put up the last-minute cash needed to save the city's annual professional bike race.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, quoting unidentified sources, says the SugarHouse and Foxwoods casinos have committed about $100,000 each in funding for the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship.

This will be the 25th year for the 156-mile Manayunk bike race. It's considered the premier one-day pro bike race in the country.