What approach to take to Winter Training?

 

Around this time of year the favourite topic of discussion for many cyclists is winter training. What to do, how much to do, and when to do it, everyone seems to have their own opinion on the topic. Some swear by the old methods of never leaving zone 2 until the New Year, others have embraced the turbo, and are advocates of high intensity training, branding any session conducted below zone 6 as “junk miles”.

Structure

 And then there is the debate of structured vs unstructured. Many believe that having excessive structure during the winter training period can be counter-productive, leading to mental burn-out, and can ruin your enjoyment of the sport. Others see structure as an essential element of a winter program, giving them focus, and helping them to reach their goals for the coming season. Different approaches work best for different people, depending on their life circumstances and personality.

Volume vs Intensity

On the intensity vs volume front, the scientific literature seems to have a definitive answer to this question. For riders with 15-20+ hours to train, the high volume low intensity approach seems to be effective (to an extent) but for the rest of us we need to maintain some intensity in the winter to ensure we continue improving, and don’t  lose too much fitness we gained during the summer. Does this mean that time crunched riders need to spend every hour of their available training time frothing at the mouth doing high intensity intervals? Thankfully not! Even for riders training around 8 hours a week, a mix of easy low intensity rides, combined with 1-2 high intensity sessions per week has been shown to be one of the most effective methods of training. This approach can be ideal for riders struggling to know what to do this winter, they can get the best of both worlds, the structure of high intensity sessions during the week, and then use the weekends for enjoyable low intensity rides, free of structure, just enjoying the bike.

Excessive use of structure and intensity will lead to burnout for even the most motivated of riders. Keeping some rides easy and unstructured is a key component of a successful winter training program, both for the body and the mind. Work with your coach to make sure your winter program is both enjoyable and effective, and lay down the foundations for your best season yet!

winter-nutrition

Optimal Winter Nutrition For Cycling Performance?

 

Winter Nutrition For Training 2017 (Part 4 Of 4) – Aaron Buggle

Today’s blog is part 4 of a 4-part series on winter training in 2017 from ex-pro turned strength & conditioning expert Aaron Buggle. To read the other blogs in this series, click here for the links. 

Part 3: Strength Training To Maximize Your Winter Training

Part 2: Making Optimal Gains With Training This Winter

Part 1: How To Plan Your Winter Cycling Training

We often look at training on the bike as being the only method of making improvements year in year out. But have you looked at the stones left untouched?

Change Your Approach?

The winter months provide the ideal opportunity to experiment with changes in your approach to training, nutrition etc. Experimenting with a new approach to a certain aspect of cycling during the season may come at a cost,  e.g trying a new brand of gels during a race that end up giving you stomach cramps. A few weeks spent trying out a new approach during the winter months will not come at the same cost i.e ruining a part of your season or a particular race.

The stone untouched

Nutrition is one of those aspects that is often overlooked when we try to improve your performance in cycling. In cycling there are two main factors we have control over; power and weight. Power primarily correlates to the training you do and the quality of it i.e intervals over junk miles. Weight is obviously controlled mostly by our diet.

A well thought out nutrition plan has the ability to allow you to easily control your weight, improve your health, but also to improve your performance on the bike. Imagine your body as an engine, the quality of the fuel you put into it determines its performance. Therefore, second to training, an improved nutrition plan will allow you to improve your performance in seasons to come.

Eat Loads Of Carbs?

We have all seen studies for the best way to improve training, aerodynamics etc. However, nutrition is one of those things that haven’t changed much over the years. The mentality of ‘eat loads of carbohydrates in the days before your event’ is simply a tradition without much scientific backing that has been passed down throughout the years. Quite similar to warming down after a race, which was once laughed at but now is adopted by all professional riders.

It’s clear that nutrition is a crucial part of the sport. Our resident nutritionist Barry Murray has taken the time to research a nutrition plan that is custom built for an endurance sport like cycling. Adopted by riders such as Steve Cummings and teams such as BMC, this nutrition plan is known to work.

Carb Loading?

As cycling is an endurance-based sport for the most part, riders requiring a steady stream of energy for the duration of the exercise, which may be up to 6 hours. Traditionally carbohydrates have been the favored source of energy. We’ve all heard the term ‘carb-loading’ thrown around in the lead up to an event. A far more appropriate nutrition plan for cycling is to use fat, which we can get virtually limitless energy from, as a primary source of energy.

This does not mean carbohydrates are not used or consumed using this approach. However, ‘nutrient timing’ is optimised in order to teach the body to use certain fuel sources during different levels of exercise intensity.

Fat As An Energy Source

The reason for adopting fat as an energy source is quite simple. Fat (9kcal/g) contains more energy compared to carbohydrates and protein (4kcal/g). Stores of fat are also much larger (blood, muscle and adipose tissue). For example a 70kg athlete with a body fat of 10% has approximately 7kg of stored fat, which has the potential to supply 69,000kcal of energy. In comparison, carbohydrate stores (glycogen stores) in the body can only store 300-400g equating to 1,200-1,600kcal of energy or 3-4hrs of medium intensity exercise. This limited amount of carbohydrate is not ideal to supply energy for a long endurance sport such as cycling.

Carbohydrates are much more effective at providing energy for high intensity periods of exercise e.g above threshold. Therefore, if we can make our bodies ‘fat adapted’ to use fat as a source of energy for sub-threshold intensities we can reserve the carbohydrate stores for the intense periods of a race e.g a sprint finish.

Fat & Carbohydrates?

To achieve this is quite simple. By consuming fat and carbohydrates at certain periods before/during training we can determine which the body uses as a fuel source at that time. Put simply this nutrition plan is built around timing the consumption of your macronutrients in relation to the exercise or training you are doing at the time. Not restricting any macronutrients.

Along with the performance benefits of this nutrition plan, it can also aid weight loss and improve health.This way of eating helps to promote oxidation during metabolism i.e burn fat while also improving protein synthesis (i.e. muscle repair/growth). As a result your body composition improves as fat is reduced and muscle is maintained or increases.

Decreased Diabetes Risk

Most importantly, this way of eating may improve your health. A high fat diet can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as decreasing inflammation, which improves recovery and allows you to train for longer periods, therefore improving your health.

If you’ve tried everything under the sun to improve you performance, nutrition is one of those areas where improvements can easily be made. Make the change this winter and lay the foundations for a successful season. It’s cheap and easy to do and most importantly it’s easier than doing more intervals!

A. Buggle

Strength Training To Maximize Your Winter Training  

Winter Training 2017 (Part 3 Of 4) – Aaron Buggle

People have questioned the use of strength training to improve cycling performance for decades.

So does strength training in the gym improve performance on the bike and should I use the gym this winter?

It’s a question that in my opinion has never clearly been clearly or correctly answered, and the information reaching the general public is extremely muddled at the best of times.

As a Sports Scientist and Coach, I will emphatically tell you that my advice, which is backed by evidence, is to strength train. It will improve your cycling performance when combined with winter training.

The style of training I am advocating is known as ‘concurrent training.

Simply put, if you don’t have a strength-training component in your winter programme, you are not optimising your full potential as a rider.

My recommendation is to add two strength workouts per week, and it will, without question, increase your performance potential out on the road.

It is finally time for cyclists of all levels to embrace strength training, without the resounding question of “Is this actually helping me?” ringing in their ears.

“I tried it before and it didn’t work!”

The latest research is not the same old “high repetition, low weight” onslaught that has been recommended for years.

Bike riders who search for continuous improvement all too often follow the predominant training style that they see displayed around them by their peers.

Sports science is taking huge leaps forward, and I will stand by my belief that the scientific evidence is there for you to see, and it’s compelling. Don’t feel pressured to follow outdated precedents.

Riders also like to say: “I don’t have time to strength train in the gym – I’ll just do it on the bike.” In fact, it is far more time efficient to train strength in the gym.

The increase in force in the gym brings the adaptations around much faster, so essentially, training the strength component of your programme in the gym will save you time in the long run. For the amateur cyclist with limited training hours, this time effective training is ideal, especially during the winter months, when daylight is limited, and every minute of training time needs to be optimised.

How can heavy weights improve my endurance?

Sounds counter-intuitive, right?

Performance in most cycling events is determined by the maximal sustained power output for a given distance, and the energy cost of maintaining that output – known as cycling economy.

Studies show a marked increase in cycling economy through various different physiological mechanisms. This is particularly true for athletes 35 and older, who have been shown to exhibit the largest gains from strength training.

Now for the science bit…

Muscle fibre types

We all possess type I, type IIA, IIB and IIX muscle fibres, all of which exhibit very distinct functions.

Being endurance athletes, we rely heavily on our highly fatigue-resistant slow twitch muscle fibres, which are also known as oxidative fibres.

Research shows that adding the strength component to your endurance training (concurrent training) will make these fibres stronger and more resistant to fatigue.

This means that you can save your highly effective fast twitch fibres for later in your event when you really need them.

The same research also found an increase in type IIA fast-twitch muscle fibres relative to more easily exhausted type IIX muscle fibres.

This is a crucial adaptation; as type IIA are more fatigue-resistant than type-IIX, yet they are still very capable of producing large amounts of force and subsequent power – yielding double bang for your buck!

What about my sprinting?

As a result of maximal strength training, you will be able to utilise your existing muscle more efficiently and effectively.

With strength training, not only can you recruit more muscle fibres, you can also send that neurological signal for them to contract faster, which is good news for your sprinting.

Recall the muscle fibre types; when you sprint, there is an order in which these fibres contract, from slow twitch to fast twitch.

Another result of our program at A1 Coaching, will be faster recruitment of type II fibres when you sprint.

This means that the rate at which you produce force is faster, and to relate this back to the bike, you may only reach the same maximal power in a sprint but you will do so in less time – essentially giving you more snap!

A taste of the programme I’d advocate – 

Components you should include – 

  • Dynamic stretching and corrective movements.
  • Main workout – large muscle recruitment. This comprises two different days – A more anterior focus on day one moving to a more posterior focus on day two.
  • Core finishing sequence.

What are dynamic movement and corrective movements?

Dynamic stretches are active movements of muscle through a full range of motion that elicit a stretch but are not held in the final position.

When you put your body through a series of stretches while in motion, it sends electrical signals from the brain to the muscle fibres and connective tissues in that location to prepare for the work ahead.

Many studies have shown that dynamic stretching can help increase power through activation prior to training or competition.

In contrast, stretching statically for 20- 30 seconds like the old days prior to intense exercise can actually decrease your performance.

Example exercise: Band Pull Aparts

A big issue we face as cyclists, particularly as we age, is poor trunk posture.

We spend such a large volume of time hunched over on the bike that our shoulders begin to rotate anteriorly, and this is heightened again if you work at a desk.

The key with Band Pull Aparts, is to focus on full scapula retraction, so really squeezing your shoulder blades together. This is a great postural exercise, that can also help alleviate pain and pressure that you may experience in that area when on or off the bike.

The main workout

This segment of our programme focuses on how to generate huge force from a large number of muscles at once, rather than one group in isolation.

Example exercise: Heels Elevated Squat

The squat mimics the technique of a pedal stoke extremely well: huge force is produced in the glute and quad muscles concentrically as you drive the bar up with maximal effort.

Heels are elevated for three reasons – to enhance Vastus Medialis stimulation (the teardrop muscle located medially in the thigh that extends the knee) to help proper knee gliding, and it is also a great place to start if you haven’t yet acquired the functional mobility to squat parallel, while avoiding poor technique.

The third benefit is one for the “Theory of Specificity” advocate.! Having your heels elevated forces you to drive through the balls of your feet rather than your heels which closer replicates the technique of a pedal stroke.

The key with this exercise is to optimise the concentric phase of the movement; meaning you explosively push up as hard as you can from the bottom of the squat, giving it everything you’ve got.

Core finishing sequence

Core is often a misunderstood concept, and many of us don’t really understand it to its full meaning and potential.

Firstly, all “big moves” like squats and deadlifts, give your core a great workout.

However, having said that, these “big moves” will still not fully isolate your core on its own to the stage of exhaustion. We need to remember that the core will struggle greatly when and if we are very fatigued on the bike.

It subsequently makes sense then to finish off your strength training sessions with a core specific sequence of exercises while your core muscles are fatigued.

Example exercise: Knee Tucks

I very much favour the exercise ball for core exercises; and this exercise is very cycling-specific. It not only emphasises the core, but also encompasses a hip stability and upper body component.

What you can take home from this article

Strength training works for cyclists. However, like everything exercise related, it needs to be done correctly, and your programme needs to be adapted for your strengths and weaknesses.

All of the movements must be designed to increase your performance on the bike, so here are my “take home” points.

  • Treat your gym sessions with respect – arrive motivated and hit the session hard.
  • Cycling is a concentric movement, (that explosive standing up phase of a squat) so this needs to be a maximal effort.
  • No lifts should result in a failure – heavy yes, but all lifts should be done with control and most importantly, with good technique.
  • Wear a watch to take time between the main exercises; take 3 minutes’ recovery to optimise the benefits of subsequent sets.

Unlock the power you didn’t know you had. It is time for cyclists to embrace weight training as part of their winter training schedules.

See you at the squat rack!

A.Buggle

 

How to Plan Your Winter Training & When To Begin

How to Plan Your Winter Training & When To Begin

 

Winter Training 2017 (Part 1 Of 4) – Aaron Buggle

A successful start to your winter training starts before you finish your current season. Experience from over 10 long and arduous winters has taught me the importance of forward planning, setting goals and organizing my winter before it even begins.

Not doing this and beginning your winter without a plan, is the start of what’s been dubbed as ‘ the headless chicken phenomenon’.

In other words riding around aimlessly and leaving a whole heap of adaptations on the table in the process. There is a process of planning and organization that makes your winter far more beneficial in terms of cost benefit.

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You see when you make solid plans you’ve given a rider something to aim for; something to challenge his skills against; something to measure his progress with, and something that gives purpose to his investment of effort, time and money.

All this by making a simple plan.

Before You End Your Season

You need to have your winter break scheduled; yes you need those dates nailed down in my opinion.

Too bad if you’re reading this too late!

I always take two weeks (personal preference) in October that is followed by some cross training for another 2 weeks and normal practice resumes on November 1st.

A mistake a lot riders make is that they start organizing everything after their couple of weeks rest and then it turns into a month or more of faffing about trying to get started when in fact, you’re ready to get going.

Make It A Proper Rest!

Your time off the bike should be physical and psychological down time –at least it shouldn’t have any cycling related stressors. This period off the bike will differ greatly depending on the rider and the season they’ve endured.

But the thing is there’s quite a bit to consider when you kick off your winter training.

Pretty quickly this stuff can get on top of you and it’s easy to get a bit stressed out, that’s why I suggest starting before you take your winter break.

endurance ride mistakes

I’ve my winter bike booked into the shop for its service, I’ll book a performance test for the first month back riding so I have my baseline. There’s also nutrition and strength and conditioning to consider – perhaps they’re the stone unturned for you and you want to try implementing them this year.

Well, the start of the winter is the time to do it.

That’s all before you even start making new goals for next year and most importantly before you start periodising and planning the training you’ll need to do to take you there.

If you get as much of this stuff organized as you can before your break, believe me, you’ll be more relaxed, and as a result  your transition back into training will be all the more smoother.

It also means your time off the bike is a proper physical and psychological rest – the whole idea of the winter break in the first place.

Making a Plan & Setting Targets

What is it that your winter training is aiming to improve?

What events are you aiming for?

What is your bull’s-eye?

When should you peak?

What is the best sequence of training to get you in the best shape of your life for that key event?

spin-or-push-a-gear

The answers to these questions are crucial to answer before you even clip in and start your winter training.

Most riders don’t reap the rewards of a good winter because they don’t know what it is they are trying to improve – this needs to be clearly set out every time you go out on a winter ride.

The dividing up of these periods is referred to as ‘periodisation’.

Starting Point

I’d start this whole process by accessing the season that’s just passed when it’s fresh in your mind.

What worked?

What didn’t?

Did your training methods have the desired effect?

What factors limited your performance in events?

Be specific, was it that you just couldn’t finish well, was it your endurance or perhaps it was those short steep hills?

Get it all down on paper and for god sake if you didn’t improve following last winters efforts don’t do the same thing again – that’s insane.

The next step is to identify your goals for next season.

I’ve made balls of this for many years – picking goals that seemed like the right ones to choose on paper…

It’s super important to pick events that really ignite something within.

That said picking out events from the calendar is only the crust of goal setting.

This is where the real coaching begins. The fitness variables that need to be trained to elicit the adaptations required to take you to your goal need to be systematically planned into your programme – not trained by chance!

This is what’s known within coaching circles as ‘periodization’.

Periodisation

In coaching we sometimes refer to the annual cycle of the year as the ‘macro training cycle’, and the different phases of training within the periodisation plan as ‘meso training cycles’.

These will normally be a preparation phase, a base phase, a build phase, a specific phase, a race phase and a taper phase.

Within each of these phases we adjust the zonal training load to stimulate the different physiological systems in the best combination and sequence.

The structure of the plan will depend on the physiological demands of your particular event and the timing.

For example, the annual periodisation plan would differ greatly between a rider aiming for a January cyclocross championship, a time-triallist aiming for a June 10-mile TT championship, and a sportive rider working towards a top performance at the Etape du Tour in July.

However, the principles will be the same for each and planning should work backwards from your particular goals.

It is not possible for us to maintain optimum shape all year round, so we must aim to hit peak performance levels at pre-determined times.

If you are aiming for performance it is vital to understand that you can’t stay in top shape for very long periods – you have to ‘peak’ to reach your optimum fitness.

However, that peak can only be short lived, and you can only achieve it two or three times per year. The reason for this is that your body just wouldn’t stand up to the training stress which the peaking involves.

It is not an accident that Chris Froome arrives at the Tour de France in the very best shape.

With this in mind you should ideally target two or three ‘A-priority’ goals during the course of the competitive season, separated perhaps by four to six weeks. You can also include ‘B-priority’ events which are important for the athlete but which can serve as strategic importance in your build-up to key events.

Anyway I hope this has put a light under your arse in reference to planning your winter.

It should be the first step in anything you are willing to give so much of your time to!

Otherwise it’s like an archer with no target…  you need to put the right plan and target in place if he’s going to hit the bull’s-eye!

Aaron Buggle