Monday, August 29, 2011

Performance Testing

It seems like we've been taking them (tests) forever...doesn't it?  Tests in school, tests to operate a motor vehicle, tests at work, tests to become a coach, and even tests for athletes such as "performance tests". 

But, why do we test?  Testing provides measurement and objectivity to some of the elements of performance.  Those elements of performance (for cycling) being: speed, power, strength, endurance, skills, and even pain.  Yes...PAIN!  Sometimes, the winner of a particular race is determined by who says, "OUCH" last.  Testing provides feedback on training. i.e. is your training plan working?  Does your training plan need to be tweaked/optimized?  Testing provides a baseline. i.e. what is your power at the beginning of the season compared to the end of the season?  How does it compare from year to year?  How does it compare to other riders in your racing category?  Testing identifies strengths and weaknesses.  You train your weaknesses and race your strengths.  Testing identifies your capabilities..present and future.  i.e. if testing identifies you as "sprinter" you're probably NOT going to win any hill climbs now or in the future.  Sure, you can become a better "hill climber" but you'll never compete with the best of the hill climbers regardless of your training.  Why?  Because it's NOT in your physical makeup/genes.  Hey, don't blame me..blame your parents.  It's the same for you endurance guys that always come up to me and tell me that you want to be a "sprinter".  Sorry guys/gals, aint gonna happen.  Sure, training will make you better at sprinting, but you will NEVER be a "sprinter". Again, don't blame me (which I've had athletes do in the past)..blame your parents.

There are different forms of testing.  Laboratory testing- where the test is performed in a controlled (laboratory) environment with lab quality equipment under the watchful eye of a scientist/physiologist/doctor, Field testing- where the test is performed outside in the environment on the road/track (in the case of cycling) in the presence of a coach/physiologist and Competition testing- where the test is performed under race conditions at the race venue with other athletes.  Each of these forms of testing has their advantages/disadvantages.  Of the three, I prefer laboratory testing for one reason only (no not because I'm an engineer/scientist) and that is "repeatability".  In a laboratory setting you can control all of the environmental factors that normally affect performance outdoors such as the weather, road conditions, etc.  It's this "repeatability" that is so important when gauging or measuring performance..especially if you want to determine whether you're getting stronger/faster.  The only true disadvantage of laboratory testing, in my opinion, is 'competition' conditions.  i.e. the fans/support, your adrenaline rush, the will to push on when your mind/body tells you to give up, other riders, etc.  That's why it's important to have someone (a coach, a friend, a tester, etc.) cheer you on when you're performing a laboratory test.  You need to re-create that race day excitement/adrenaline rush.

Ok, now that I've identified a need to test lets discuss where you should test, what to test and when to test.   I already told you where you should test..and that's in a laboratory.  Additionally, you want to ensure that the lab (or test facility) has "laboratory quality" equipment.  Laboratory quality equipment will ensure that "repeatability" is maintained from test-to-test.  I only use Computrainer Lab quality ergometers/trainers when performing tests.  In the past, I've performed tests in my "finished" basement.  It's not the best place..but then again, it's better than some commercial facilities I've seen.  It has good lighting, a commercial-grade fan (which is VERY important), awesome stereo, awesome computer and software for data collection, excellent video projection system, clean/dry, etc.  What to test?  There are three tests that pretty much give me all the rider/athlete information I need as a coach: 1) a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test, 2) a 5 minute test and 3) a 1 minute test.    The FTP test will give me a good idea of the athltetes Lactate Threshold power.  The 5 minute test will give me a good idea of the athletes VO2max and the 1 minute test will give me a good idea of the athletes Anaerobic Capacity.  These are three good physiological benchmarks for gauging/predicting performance for anything from a 1 minute sprint to an hour Time Trial.  I like to test FTP one day and the 1 and 5 minute test another day...usually the end of the same week.  When to test?  For cyclists, including myself, I like to test 4x/year...every quarter (3 mos.).  I like to test the beginning of November (at the start of the annual training plan), the beginning of February (mid training season), the beginning of May (road race season) and mid-August (end of road race season).

Lastly, and most importantly, you need to have someone who knows what they're doing "analyze" the test data and make sense of it for you.  It sounds easy enough to go out and purcahse a trainer and do your own testing in your garage/basement and draw your own conclusions..but trust me, it's not that easy.  It's because there are so many variables.  Like what?  Like the time of year, the day you test, the time you test, the test conditions (heat/humidity), your stress levels, your weight, your nutrition, your bike setup, your test equipment, your hydration level, your conditioning, your attitude, your motivation level, your fitness level, your fatigue level, your warm-up, etc.  Any one of these variables can affect your test results.  Even if I'm not performing your test, make sure the person that does is a USA Cycling Power Based Coach.  They are the only ones that are smart enough, in my opinion, to make some sense of your (power) test data and give you advice for putting together a solid annual training plan that will improve your weaknesses and make you a faster/stronger rider.  BTW, good luck with that, the last time I checked I was the only USA Cycling Power Based Cycling Coach in Pennsylvania.  There is one in New Jersey though..she attended the same Power Based Coaching clinic in Atlanta, GA that I did...years ago.  She draws blood though..and charges more.

If you're interested in being tested, and you live near me (Doylestown, PA), stay tuned to this blog because I'm looking at finding a "better" space/place (than my finished basement) to perform Performance Testing.  I've already got a good lead.  When I say "better" I'm talking more accessible to the rider/athlete with a locker room.   Pricing will remain the same as previous years, $75 for non-coached athletes and $50 for coached athletes.  I've been talking to a couple local fitness center owners and I'm sure one of them will allow me use of their facility a couple weekends out of the year in: November, February, May and August.

One last thing, although I call inside testing "laboratory testing" I don't draw blood and use a blood lactate analyzer for determining Lacate Threshold nor do I use any fancy/expensive oxygen breathing machines for VO2max testing.  It's not that I don't have the $$ to purchase these devices..I just don't believe they are necessary for acquiring accurate test data and for repeatability.  Besides, I like to keep it simple and keep the test costs passed on to the athlete to a minimum.

Power ON!  Coach Rob

Saturday, August 20, 2011

No Pain...No Gain...the Myth

I'm sure you've heard it.  Or, perhaps you may have seen/read an article or two written about it over the years.  This exercise motto/proverb asserts that if you don't feel any pain while working out/exercising then you are probably wasting your time.  That is, you won't see any fitness/performance gains.  Is this a myth?  It probably isn't too far from the truth.  Actually, I'd rather see my athletes train at or near their pain threshold than the other extreme/direction.  Why is that?  Because there are more physiological adaptations taking place in your body (that lead to performance increases) when you train at or near your "pain threshold".

I call the Lactate Threshold Level (L4) my "Pain" Threshold.  Why?  Because anything above that Level is "painful"- at least for me it is.  So, if the next level (which by the way is VO2 max Level L5) is "painful", what is L4?  I call the L4 Threshold Level "uncomfortable". 

I know that many of you are transitioning from Road to Cyclo-Cross racing.  I also know that many of you are hanging up the racing shoes for the year.  For those of you that are hanging up the road racing shoes, my advice is to get at least one Lactate Threshold (L4) ride in a week throughout the Fall..whether you get it on your road bike, mtn. bike or basement trainer.  Just 60 minutes at or near Threshold will help prevent any major fitness loss.  (If I can't get a 60 minute Threshold session in, I'll do two 30-minute sessions two days apart during the week).  Theoretically (and Physically) you should be able to ride at Threshold for an hour.  In fact, that's how we define Functional Threshold Power (FTP)'s your maximum sustained average power over a one hour period.  Or, put simply, your "hour power".  You can combine the Threshold ride with your 3 hr. weekend ride..or, you can do it on a spin bike in the gym or in your home during the week.

If you do that, one threshold ride per week, it will hold you over through September/October and have you in relatively good shape to start your Annual Training Plan in November/December.  That's assuming you don't hibernate to the couch watching football all weekend, drinking beer, eating and getting fat.  When the Winter Training Session starts, I normally drop the one hour Threshold rides (initially) only because I'm traininig/riding at least 3-4 days per week at L3/L4 Sweetspot instead of riding just 1-2 days at L4.  My Winter L3/L4 Sweetspot Level almost becomes my L4 Threshold Level of the Fall.  That's because my Power increases relatively quickly when I first start my Annual Training does most athletes.

The important thing to remember is to get at least one hi-intensity ride in per week this Fall.  Also, if you train with a Power Meter, I recommend you do an FTP test on yourself.  Or, better yet, email me and I'll tell you about the Performance Testing I'll be running at Fusion Fitness, with my friend Fernando Peredes, this Fall.  (That's the game plan anyway..need to hammer out details with Fernando)  You MUST know what your current FTP is to be in the proper training zone.  You'll be surprised how quickly your FTP drops when the racing season is over.  You Cyclo-Cross guys are just putting off the inevitable..i.e, a decreasing FTP.  That's not a bad thing..your body's (of all cyclists) need some serious R&R after a full Road and Cyclo Cross season.  If you don't train with a Power Meter, just make sure the one hi-intensity ride per week is "uncomfortable".  You don't have to train in pain..but then again, you're not too far away either...or shouldn't be.

Power ON!  Coach Rob

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fun/Charity Rides

I enjoy fun/charity rides almost as much as I do racing...possibly even more.  What's not to enjoy?  Here are the advantages:
a. No pressure to perform.
b. You can ride at your own pace.
c. You meet new/exciting people and make new friends.
d. You get to stop and have something to eat at the Food Stops...REAL food...along the route.
e. You get to eat REAL food after the ride.
f. You don't have to worry about being dropped.
g. You don't have to worry about crashing...normally...(ha, see more below)
h. You can go as hard/fast as you want...or as easy.
i. You can make it your own race..provided you stop at all the stop signs and traffic lights.
j. Your money goes to charity instead of some race promotors/directors pocket.
k. You're helping a good cause.
l. You can always sign-up on race day..if you think the weather will be too severe for you.
m. The riders are nicer/more friendly than racers...probably because they're not trying to prove anything...and probably because they're just happy to be able to ride.
n. You've got sag wagon support along the route if you need it.
o. You get to ride for 5+ hrs. if you do a century ride.
p. You get a chance to win prizes after the race.
q. You at least get to drive home after the race with a T-shirt or something for the effort and entry fee.
r. Some rides you get a chance to ride with a REAL Pro.  In the Univest GP Cyclosportif ride, two years ago, you could have ridden with Bobby Julich.
s. Etc.

Anyway, you get the point.  Yesterday, I attended the 2011 Gran Fondo Colnago Philadelphia Bike Ride.  No, I didn't get a chance to ride in a torrential downpour for 5+ hours (been there done that) I got to stand outside in it and take photographs.  Actually, I got to drive my car along the route and take pics so I didn't have to stand outside.  And, at the end of the event I got to take pictures under a huge tent/ life was good.  I was going to take my Moto to shoot photographs but the roads were already flooded when I headed out at 5 a.m. from my house in Doylestown.  Boy am I glad I didn't take it..I would have dumped it on the flooded streets I drove on getting to/from Philly. 

Despite the torrential downpours all of the 1000+ riders (yes that many even in the rain) that started made it to the finish line with a smile...albeit some were banged-up and bleeding from falling on the rain-slick roads.  In fact, on one particular steep descent I was following one guy that I thought was going a little too fast downhill.  Just as that thought crossed my mind, the guy locked up his rear wheel and skidded off the roads into the woods- head over heels. I  stopped to see if he was ok..and luckily he was.  He lucked out that he fell into the grassy bank just nearly missing a BIG tree.

I met a lot of interesting/fun people after the race while they were eating- and actually made a couple business contacts for future photog events.  One guy was telling me he wanted to buy a power meter and start to race. (Music to my ears).  We chatted for a bit and I discovered that this now svelte 150 lb. biker used to weigh 240 lbs.  Can you believe that?  He dropped 90 lbs. and now he wants to race bikes?  I think that's AWESOME!  Cycling obviously saved this 30 yr. old's life.

If you race and haven't done a charity ride one with some friends..or just go solo and meet new friends.  You'll be surprised at how much fun you'll have...even on a nasty rainy day like yesterday.

Power ON!  Coach Rob

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gran Fondo Colnago (GFC) Philadelphia

Get ready, in two weeks, on Sunday August 14, 2011 as the GFC Philly returns to the City of Brotherly Love.  Last years' first annual ride in Philadelphia was a HUGE success.

I'll be there taking action photos from my moto and most likely following the leaders of the 108 mile ride.  There are three rides: 108, 73 or a 33 mile ride/route.  I believe the 108 mile route has close to 7000 ft. of climbing...which is a lot of vertical for 108 miles.  In fact, if you're NOT in cycling shape..I'd avoid the 108 miler for the 73 miler.  Hey, 73 miles is still a long day in the saddle..especially with the hills and the heat.  You're looking at 4 hrs. for the 73 miler and 6 hrs. for the 108 miler if you're a relatively strong rider.  If you're not a strong rider, it's going to be a looooooooong day in the saddle.

There's a King and Queen of the Mountain climb (and awards) on the 108 mile ride/group.
I just want to mention one thing about this is NOT a race.  I repeat it is NOT a race.  If you race this course, and blow stop signs, lights, etc. (like some did last year) you're going to get hurt (or get a ticket) because it's NOT a closed course.  And, although you may have a moto out front (like me) you still MUST stop at all stop signs, lights, etc...just like a car.  The riders that usually try to race the course are usually wanna-be pros that don't normally race a sanctioned USA Cycling event.  To them, this is their day.  That's all well and good..but remember, you must obey the traffic signs/signals...or you're going to pay one way or another.

Also, the KOM and QOM awards don't go to the first person that reaches the top of the hill/mountain from the starting line.  There is a timer at the bottom of the climb thats starts your climb time and one at the top that stops your climb/time.  So, if you want to win the KOM or QOM award, it would be prudent to take your time from the start, sit-in and draft, up until the climb..then GO FOR IT!  Just be sure to check and make sure this is correct before you start.  I don't want you coming after me telling me I blew the KOM or QOM award for you because I fed you bad dope.

The event is first-class.  The 108 mile route is beautiful, challenging, scenic, etc. starting from the steps of the Art Museum in Philly (next to the Rocky statue...GO ROCKY!) and finishes in Fairmount Park.  The food/spread at the finish line is second to none.  It's worth the entry fee alone..if you can stuff that much in your mouth..ha.

Lastly, make sure you hydrate properly and fuel yourself properly BEFORE and DURING the event.  There were quite a few riders that dehydrated and bonked on the 108 mile course last year.  It was hot..and I can't imagine it being cooler in two weeks than it is now.  So, BE PREPARED!  Also, put some sunscreen on.  4-6 hrs. plus is a long time to bake in the sun.  You might want to also put some chamois creme on too..otherwise you're legs/butt will be sore.  It's going to be sore anyway, but you don't want it bleeding.  And yes, there were some bad cases of bleeding saddle soreness from last years race.  One poor gal could hardly walk from the Ambulance after the ride.

Here's the link for more information on GFC it all:  The ride starts at 0700 and it's a mass start.  The mass start photo coming up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is actually my photo that I took last year for GFC Philly.  It's a great shot (if I say so myself) with the flowers in the foreground, riders in the middle, and William Penn looking down from City Hall in the background. 

See you in two weeks.  Power ON! Coach Rob