Thursday, December 24, 2009

What Kind of Indoor-Cycling Classes to You Attend?

What kind of class do you go to? Or if you're an instructor, what kind of class do you teach? I feel pretty good after reading this article. My classes fall in the structured workout category but I believe that that type class benefits non-cyclists as well. For those of you that don't know him, Chris Carmichael is Lance's long time coach and founder of CTS, Carmichael Training Systems. He has quiet the wealth of knowledge. I read this article in Bicycling Magazine and then saw that another instructor had posted it on her Blog. It is good stuff. Enjoy!

Q: Will an indoor-cycling class at my local gym help me in the winter?
By Chris Carmichael

This is a perennial question, and for good reason: Every gym or health club has some form of indoor cycling class, and in the dead of winter it's tempting to jump in rather than face the elements or slave away on a trainer alone in your basement. There's nothing inherently wrong with these classes, but it's important to find one that will actually improve your performance on the bike. I encourage athletes to evaluate classes based on how well they address the core principles of training: overload and recovery, specificity, individuality and progression. I address each of these below.

Overload and Recovery Classes generally fall into two categories: sufferfests and structured workouts. Both have their merits, and I understand the psychology of the sufferfest fan's desire to reach the end of a class exhausted, but as a coach I prefer the latter approach. Though a sufferfest might feel excruciatingly difficult, your actual power output may be too low to improve your fitness due to inadequate recovery periods. Check in with the instructor: If the primary feature of the workout is that it's ridiculously intense, but he or she can't identify what you'll get out of it, find a different class.

Specificity The fact that you're pedaling is a step in the right direction, but some classes have very little to do with actual cycling performance. And that's okay— I'm all for classes that burn calories and get people sweating. But if you're looking to improve your performance on the road or trail, you need workouts that target the energy systems and power demands of actual cycling. These classes can be harder to find because effective interval sets are often not the most entertaining, crowd-pleasing kind. The intensities are consistent and repetitive instead of all over the map, and while you may do some pedaling out of the saddle, no cycling-specific class will have you doing push-ups on the handlebar.

Individuality This is where technology comes into play. The absolute best indoor cycling classes use power meters, whether that's in the form of CompuTrainers, power- equipped stationary bikes or personal bikes with power meters. And the best ones also set individual power-training ranges for each athlete. The next-best scenario is a class that uses heart-rate monitors and individual training intensities. The self-selected "turn the knob to the right" method is fine, but not optimal.

Progression Progressive classes are pretty rare, and to find one you'll most likely need to go to a cycling performance center. To address the progression principle, a class needs to be designed with the idea that the same people will be coming back week after week, and that the workload will thus take into account the developing fitness of these participants. In the standard gym model, in which classes are accessible to anyone anytime, the programming tends to be static. (This is also partly why these classes often are sufferfests.) In a progressive class, some of the workouts may well be more moderate in intensity, and while that's good from a long-term training perspective, it's not as appealing to the intermittent class user.

Then Again... Incorporating indoor classes into your winter training need not be an all-or-nothing proposition. There's nothing wrong with an occasional—even weekly—sufferfest. Even cyclists following well-structured, scientifically based, progression-driven indoor programs sometimes should forget the numbers and just open the throttle.

But if all you do all winter is pummel yourself, your progress will be blunted. The best option: Follow a scientifically based program, but incorporate some "hard for the sake of being hard" classes, just for fun.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Different Kind of Race

The Spinning program has a specific workout called a Race Day profile. I've only done a couple in the 4 years I've been teaching because I never really believed I could pull it off. I mean, come on, how do you race when the bikes don't go anywhere?

Here's how I did it. I set up the ride as if we were racing around a designated route. In racing, that's considered a circuit race so that's what I called it. I thought about doing a criterium but crits in my experience are shorter in nature and usually don't involve any significant climbing. The circuit I designed had some rolling hills about half way into loop. The beginning and the end of the circuit were flat.

So how did I pull this off. I took the opportunity during warm-up to set the stage for the race. I shared with them what the course looked like so they could try to visualized what kind of terrain they were riding on. I also told them that we were racing and to imagine that we were all in a big group together. Because of the fact that this was a race, I told them it was important to keep up and not get dropped of the back of the pack. What I intended there was to encourage them to keep pushing even if they wanted to quit or slack off a little. In cycling, especially racing, it's important to push yourself a little harder at certain periods of time to ensure you don't get dropped. Or it's worth expending a little bit of extra energy to bridge a gap so that you can draft and recover. These periods of time might just be a few seconds, but those few seconds could be the difference in a win, a pack finish, or finishing dead last. The good news is that no one would get dropped because the bikes don't go anywhere :) I warned them that the ride would be hard at times. The pace would be high and would require, at times, an intense effort to keep up.

I told them the first lap would not be that intense. As in many races, the group tries to see the terrain and take the first part of the race to try to size up the competition. However, sometimes, you'll have some riders attack from the starting line. I wanted them to ride hard but look around, see what the terrain looks like, gauge their effort. As I mentioned earlier, the first section of the loop was flat so the pace was high. I divided the class into two groups with the guys on the floor being group one and the guys on the back tier being group two. After a little while I had them take turns pulling. For those of you non-cyclist, pulling is when you are in the front of the group. It's you against the wind setting the pace for the whole group. Pulling or being on the front requires extra effort. Some say that when you are up front, you can expend 10-20% more energy than if you were in the middle or back of the pack. On the flip-side, when you are drafting, you can save that much energy. I shared with them that this is the time to recover a little and get your breath back. I didn't mention that sometimes if the pace is high, and your riding with some of the boys that I ride with, it's even hard to recover when drafting. That's another story though. So that was the first portion of the loop.

The second section consisted of rolling hills. Rolling hills are tricky in cycling because they require some extra effort to get up, especially if some of the lightweight fellows decide to push the pace. So i got them to envision small hills that took anywhere from 30 to 45 seconds to climb. I had them stand up and climb then sit back down as we got to the top of the hills.

The last section of the course was flat as well. We did some pulling but since this is the backside of the loop, the pace was likely to pick up, especially on the last lap.

On the second lap I explained to them what an attack looks like. Basically, whoever decided to attack would add alot of resistance, transition to a standing climb, increase their cadence for about 10 seconds and then sit down and go as hard as they can for about 20-30 more seconds. Often times an attack is an anaerobic effort, or at least part of it is. An attack is really painful. The goal is to separate yourself from the pack and try to put distance or time between you and the group. Normally when one person attacks, you have several others counter to try to form a smaller group in front of the main pack. Attacks are HARD, they are PAINFUL, and I told them if they decide to launch an attack to make it know by yelling, "War Eagle". That went over real well being in Vol country but it was fun. I think I painted a really accurate picture of an attack because no body attacked until the third lap and that was only because I did one myself first. I was not gong to do one because I had been sick that week-end and was trying to take it easy. After I attacked, several people followed. It was fun to watch. I could see in their eyes that it was hard, that they were pushing themselves to their limits. Remember, the pace was already high, we were racng the whole time so the intensity was described to them as being a 7-8 out of ten on a scale of 10 for most of the ride. The ones that were using HR monitors were riding between 90-100% of LT. For those of you who don't know what that means just trust me and believe me when I say "it's not easy". So with that said, pulling, rolling hills, and launching an attack when you are already working hard is, well, hard.

Overall, I feel like they "got it"! As I said earlier, I've only done a couple of these race simulation profiles but this time I think it worked. Even thought the bikes are indoors and they don't physically move, I was able to portray or communicate to them the necessary things they needed to get them to experience a race.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Winter Gear Guidelines

It's a late in the game but not too late to share some tips on riding in the cold. Some may agree and some will disagree but this is what works for me. Depending on how well you tolerate the cold, or not, determines what gear you wear. That's a no brainer. I"m often times asked about bikes and gear so here's what works for me. This is actually a message I sent to a friend that inquired about what to wear.

You can waste a lot of money on gear. I have a couple rules about gear and they are both directly related to temperature. If it's below 40 degrees, it's really cold on a bike and you better wear as much gear as you have in the closet. If the temperature is between 40 and about 55 degrees, it's gonna be cold so there are some non-negotiables. You should still dress in layers in case the temperature changes 5-10 degrees! At these temperatures I wear Pearl Izumi winter gloves, warm under shirt with a wind stopper material, jersey with arm warmers, and a good winter jacket. I always wear shorts with knee warmers vs full length tights as long it's not below 50 degrees. To be honest, I really don't ride that much if its an colder than that. I'm not afraid to get on a trainer or spin bike ;) The knee warmers are an image thing ;). Lastly, full shoe covers and something to keep your head warm. These are mandatory for below 50 degrees. Above 50 degrees I might use under shirt, jersey, arm warmers. Maybe head cover and shoe covers but probably not. It depends on the chance the temperature is going to change or get warmer. Still, shorts with knee warmers. Anytime its below 60 degrees its a good idea to keep your knees covered. I read somewhere that it has to do with cold air and arthritis. For real. The key above 55-60 degrees is layers so you can take off it you get too warm. Rule of thumb is when you start the ride, you should be a little cool. Then you are sure not to get too warm. Most people over dress and then sweat more then risk overheating which could put them at risk for hypothermia because when you get wet, you really get cold. Make sense? You can get this gear online or at the bike shop. Its not cheap but you can always find sales. Hope this helps!