The Great Cadence Debate

Over the years I’ve had countless dialogs and debates about cycling cadence and performance. I’ve read copious amounts of research and literature advocating for high cadence easy effort to “save the legs,” “easy stroke,” “light on the pedals,” etc.  

In my view, if an athlete has not had competitive cycling experience, the ability to learn how to ‘feel’ the pedal stroke, which enables a rider to spin effectively, is lost to all but an exceptional few. Not only that, but there is an aerobic cost that gets lost in the process as well.

Indeed, many professional cyclists who train between 750km to 1200 km a week never acquire the ability to use the high-cadence technique effectively. So if professional riders spending six days a week training a minimum of four to five hours a day are not able to find it, then what hope does someone with no cycling background putting in a maximum of 200km have of mastering the ‘Lance Armstrong high cadence’ model? In my experience, very little.

Yes, there are exceptions, but how many do you think? I tend to train not for the exception, but instead make adjustments when they come along every generation or so.

Many field and lab tests have attempted to show that high cadence spinning is more efficient to the newcomer than just stomping the big gear. Yet the results in nearly all cases only serve to prove that the exact opposite is true. In fact most tests show that tri-athletes produce more torque/power between 78-84 rpm without sacrificing aerobic cost putting them in a stronger state for the run to follow. Any higher and the efficiency is lost. I’ve seen studies from USA, Australia, England and even France that all come to similar conclusions.

A common theme across all studies is that the heart rate began to climb at the various cadence levels and that once the riding novices were asked to hold 100 cadences, not only did their performance diminish, but also their heart rate rose to levels approaching 15 % below maximum for the entire test. The data on this is pretty clear cut and I would hope to any reasonable person, it’s not a debatable point.

So how does this knowledge inform my opinion on using low cadence work?

In triathlon we have to train not one, but three disciplines and our actual bike hours are limited for training compared to cyclists.

Most, if not all triathletes are not ex-professional cyclists with an innate feel of the pedals. Thus the style of spinning may be detrimental to them riding to the best of their ability.

In triathlon, the race is not over once the bike leg is finished. Riding with an elevated heart rate close to one’s anaerobic threshold is not advisable if one wants to jump off and run at an optimal pace. Hence the reason I advocate using low gear, moderate cadence training. Over the years, experience and results have proven this effective as all age-group athletes I have worked with have gone on to make rapid and sustainable gains on the bike.

Tri-Active Endurance is more concerned with function than form. What works for the individual is what’s right. Watching a 100kg athlete spinning down the road at 100 cadence makes me want to cry, as does watching certified level coaches teaching 50kg, 5’2 females how to swim like Michael Phelps for their upcoming tri races. It is not right. Phelps is 6’6 and has the wingspan of a small jet. What works for the top 1% of athletes at the top 1% of their sports is not the model that is going to improve your triathlon.

Construct a plan for the athlete, don’t put an athlete in a plan.

The Value of Motivation

Motivation (the “M” word) comes in many different forms and is, oftentimes, disguised as a deep-seeded fear, insecurity or desire that we may or may not be aware of. Conversely, it may be nothing more than an innate drive to be the best you can be at a given sport, skill or discipline.

Over the years, I’ve learned that when people are not clear about their motivations to carry out a specific task the risk of mediocracy runs high. Especially if the task is daunting or seems somewhat out of reach, as can be the case with many endurance or ultra-endurance related goals. Further, when the dog days of training/work come around, some will be more likely to bow out of tough or long sessions because the motivation just isn’t there.

This is also where the idea of success comes into play. Too often in racing, success is correlated with a top spot on the podium or winning. While I would be remiss to say “winning” a race, event, or prize, is not success, I fear most athletes don’t take other successes into account when engaged in self-assessment. Therefore, I train each athlete as an individual. Learning what techniques and strategies best suit an individual will solicit much better results that are sustainable over time.

While many want to “just train,” the mechanism by which they do so will be different for most athletes. Training an individual athlete to meet their own goals within their own mentality, skill, and ability supersedes training an individual to a group. Sure, my squad does a lot of group work, but within that are the individual objectives that are the motivators for each, not a group norm. Working with athletes to stay inside themselves, stay married to the process and recognizing what their successes are and what they entail is not always easy for them or me. But, it gets the best results.

When an athlete becomes driven by a group mentality they begin to work outside themselves and will undoubtedly end up reaching too far toward an unattainable goal, or underachieving. Either way, they won’t get the best result and maximize their time and effort.

Triathlon/endurance sport is hard. Sprint distance, Ironman distance, 5k or 26.2 miles. Whatever the distance, it doesn’t matter. If you do it correctly, it hurts and takes work. However, if it were easy, the payoff would not be as impactful as it is. Triathlon is not three different sports. It is one sport consisting of many disciplines and should be treated and trained for as such.

As a coach, it’s my job to understand that each athlete has a different set of variables with which to work; whether physical gifts or limitations, life circumstances, job and family obligations, etc. The point is, there is no level playing field. Some are at a disadvantage; therefore, training must take these things into consideration to be effective and successful.

As you measure yourself, think objectively in terms of what qualifies as successful (or not). Consider some of the following: Does training/racing help alleviate stress in other areas of your life? Is the goal to become physically fit? Has the sport helped do this? Are you helping to set a positive example for your kids? Are you better today than you were yesterday?

I would argue that if you can answer yes to any of these, you are becoming quite successful. Perhaps, it is also worth noting just how successful you can become may depend upon the source of your motivation.

 

 

 

Getting/Staying in Tune: The 15 Minute Rule

As a student in college I remember living by what we used to call, “the fifteen minute rule.” The rule applied whenever a professor was 15 minutes late to the listed start time of class. When fifteen minutes had past and the professor had not yet shown to begin class, students would invoke the rule and leave. Uncertain of any actual credibility, the rule was heralded as unwritten law and nearly every student lived by it.  I like to apply such a rule to my athletes training when it comes to understanding in their body. Below is the beginning of when and when not to consider the fifteen minute rule in your training/workout sessions.

Experienced athletes know that there are going to be days that we call on our body to deliver a certain intensity and/or effort, and it simply won’t respond at a level that we know (or believe) it’s capable of. In fact, there times that it may not respond at all, raising the questions: 1) What the heck is going on today? 2) What do I do now?

The key to being able to answer these questions lies within the ability to differentiate between a mental shut down and a physiological response (or lack thereof) in the body. The mind is a powerful thing; it can will the body to do amazing things, but it can also will the body to not do amazing things—or even ordinary things. It can also trick us into thinking “I’m not strong, I’m not fit”, etc. Enter the fifteen minute rule.

As you begin any kind of exercise session, begin with a good warm up routine as I know everyone does (sarcasm). This should consist of some dynamic stretching, mobilizing and easy aerobic work dictated by perceived effort; add a few short eclectic bursts as a means of activating all energy systems and muscle fibers. Total warm up time should be a total of 10-15 minutes.

If, after your warm up you’ve gotten 15 minutes into the “main set” or focus of your workout session and you’re finding it nearly impossible, it is important to do a quick self- assessment. I like to begin with questions like: How was I feeling before I started my warm up? How did I feel when the day started? What have I eaten today? What activity did I do yesterday and or the day before that? This allows me to peel the onion that hides the answers to the two questions above. Further, I might ask: How was the work day? What’s up at home? What other stressors do I have? These are all valid considerations.

The idea is simple in concept, but not always in application. Depending on how you answer these questions, you will get a clearer picture telling you if it’s your mind or body rebelling. As a rule of thumb, if you are mentally tired, go ahead and work through the session. Chances are you will find as the session progresses, so do you and you will be back to your athletic self by the end of the session. These can even lead to “breakthrough sessions” that we never knew were in us.

On the other hand, if you conclude that your body that is waving a flag in surrender, it is usually best to call it and live to fight another day. Ignoring signs and symptoms from the body has taken down way too many athletes, sometimes for long periods of time.

Learning to differentiate between a rare mental or physical hiccup is an art that requires a quick, honest self-evaluation in that moment. Often times, it is the difference between progress and injury. Stay tuned for more on getting the most out of yourself and staying injury free.

 

The Power of Strength Training

As an endurance coach and athlete, I was skeptical about the value of lifting heavy as it pertains to endurance performance. After all, what good is toting around six plus pounds in upper body mass over the course of the 140.6 miles of an Ironman triathlon? I mean, I worked my butt off to drop those (and any other) extra pounds to improve my power to weight ratio, right? This is just one of the many misnomers I have found that exist in the perceptions that many endurance athletes have about strength training. Specifically, what I call, “lifting heavy.” Granted, this is a relative term, but the reality is, many endurance athletes don’t do enough strength training. Period.

Triathletes, in particular, are often characterized by their lean, slight frames with little to no extra physical “baggage” along with a Type A personality—both of which are counter-intuitive to the culture of the large, “bunchy muscled Lifters” who are often much more laid back. Let me explain.

Triathletes and most endurance athletes (with the exception of ultra-runners who are a different breed altogether) opt for the latest technology that can tell them how many watts, how many strokes or strides are being delivered at what heart rate and level of exertion, right down to vertical oscillation, and contact time everytime their foot hits the ground, while their “heavy lifting counter-parts (especially in CrossFit) opt for a back to basics “box” containing copious amounts of very heavy weights, tires, steel rigs, and little else. Diets and nutritional strategies could not be more polar opposite: One group opting for animal proteins, fats, and plants. While the other live and die by the nemesis of the muscle builders and Crossfitters; grains and sugars wrapped up in a million different favors, energy gels, drinks, and chewables. The two are deft by comparison.

Yet, there exists a physiologically synergistic (though often mentally volatile) relationship between these two disciplines that too often is not explored, exploited, or capitalized on nearly enough by either camp. True, on the surface it appears a clash of the cultures. However, when explored at a deeper level, the benefits for “Lifters” and CrossFitters to train like endurance athletes, and visa versa, are undeniable. The value in accessing and exploiting both the anaerobic and aerobic systems is hugely beneficial for those looking to become better, well rounded athletes, if/when prescribed properly. Additionally, since when is building balanced, functional strength not an asset to any athlete? I have had extraordinary success with my athletes by including strength training of all types as part of their endurance programming, regularly during the race season and using it as a primary exercise medium during the off season.

The natural relationship between the development of slow twitch muscle fiber, also known as Slow Oxidative (SO) and aerobic fitness is where the endurance athletes make their living. Conversely, development of fast twitch muscle fibers:  type IIa, also known as Fast Oxidative-Glycolytic (FOG) and type IIb, Fast-Glycolytic (FG) is the bread and butter of the “Lifters” who rely upon developing this group for maximum strength gains that can be used at the high intensity required by CrossFit and many heavy lifting programs. It is important to note that muscles are made up of all these fibers and distribution of these fibers is dependent on training, genetics, and the function of the muscle it serves. Without getting into what could a be a painfully tedious biology diatribe, suffice it to say that since muscles contain all of the above mentioned fibers, in order to achieve optimal athletic performance it is imperative for endurance athletes to develop both the FOG and FG muscle fibers in addition to SO fibers to help maximize the potential to access all sources of energy within the muscles. On the other hand, more “Lifters” would be well served to develop the SO (resists fatigue) muscle fibers to help build the capacity of sustainable energy release for longer periods of time to help offset the rapid rate of fatigue that occurs in the FG fibers (easily fatigued) and to a lesser extent the FOG (some fatigue resistance) group.

Oh, and let’s not forget the undeniable value of developing more aerobic capacity which is a health benefit for anyone! Bottom line, strength helps to build speed, prevent injuries, and helps create a well-balanced musculature and skeletal system.

If you’re looking for personal training, body composition change, strength training specifically for triathletes & endurance athletes, metabolic efficiency training, or triathlon/endurance coaching contact me at rob@triactiveendurance.com

 

Sticking to Your Fitness Goals

January, a glorious month filled with resolutions, renewed commitments, a million different diets, and good intentions pertaining to health and wellness. It is also the time when the triathlon and endurance community begins to set its sights on the 2017 race season ahead.

For both endurance athletes and fitness minded (or intended) individuals, January marks a new year of promise.

At your local gym/health club, you will experience the usual January debacles of limited parking, waiting for your favorite machines, and a lack of proper “gym etiquette.” I won’t get into locker room faux pas. Newcomers and “resolutioners” will jam up parking lots, locker rooms, gym floors and partake in a wide array of “what are they doing now” moments as they show off their fitness prowess in an attempt to prove to their counterparts they belong. The unfortunate truth is that statistically, nearly 80% of these folks will be nowhere to be seen in March as their resolutions and fitness dreams are dashed by any number of reasons.

The above is a picture by which we can set our watch (or calendars) by every year. The road of good intentions. Kudos to these folks. They mean well and often the inability to maintain their path on the fitness trail is quite valid, indeed. Viruses, accidents, illness, family matters, that pesky job thing, and more all come into play—often in a manner we just can’t plan for. Welcome to “real” life. Such is the same for my triathletes. Or, any age group endurance athlete, for that matter.

This is another reason why working 1:1 with a coach or trainer can be invaluable. It’s flexibility—not in a biomechanical sense. The ability to meet you on the terms that your life dictates and designing a plan that is not only flexible, but one you can take with you and doesn’t expire.

Triathletes, ultra-runners, cyclists, swimmers, and the like, understand the value of having a coach for these same reasons. They form a relationship with their coach. One that extends beyond the gym floor. It’s an invaluable one, really.  Someone who will be honest; push them when they need to pushed and pull them up if they stumble. Someone who will hold them accountable, be objectionable, and supporting. One who understands the demands of “real” life, and how training and/or fitness goals and plans need to be tailored to be effective and sustainable.

As a coach, my role is to provide such a plan. As a psychologist…my role is to motivate by reducing mental/psychological barriers and keep you on track to help ensure you will still be on your fitness quest in March, April, May and beyond.

Tri-Active Endurance is currently offering special introductory pricing on coaching, personal training, and group class memberships through January, 2017. Contact us for a cost-free assessment and introductory first group class.

The Big Three: Forgotten Disciplines of Endurance Training

Over years of coaching/training (endurance) athletes of all types, I have seen a few common denominators consistently decrease performance amongst age group athletes of all abilities.

The mindset that “more is always better” can be the undoing of an athlete of any ability level. It has cut more than one season short for many athletes. Certainly, there has to be an emphasis on volume during the right time of the season, in the correct context of an overall training plan, and in a manner that fits into the athlete’s life. However, a consistent emphasis on more volume or higher intensity, can easily be the undoing of what could have been a fantastic season before it even gets started. In its truest form, successful training is about the right dose, at the right time, for the right person.

Keeping this in mind, the value of properly timed recovery enters the conversation. Exercise is stress to the body—trauma, if you will. Therefore, in order to maximize the benefit from any exercise, the body needs an adequate and properly prescribed recovery period following exercise-induced stress. Recovery takes many forms and meanings, and rarely includes sitting on a couch eating Bon Bons. However, there may be a time and a place for such a thing, believe it or not. Well, maybe not the Bon Bons… One thing is certain: without allowing adequate timing for adaptation (the body’s response to training load) to take hold, the body will eventually rebel in a manner that may present itself in one of a thousand different ways including: injury, acute and/or chronic fatigue, metabolic syndrome, or other symptoms that are detrimental.

Second on this list brings us strength training. This is a proposition at which many endurance athletes will balk. However, considering the dialog from above regarding recovery, training/exercise is stress/trauma to the body. If the body’s skeleture, musculature, and energy systems are not strong, something will give. Rarely, does a seasoned tri-athlete or ultra-distance runner need to swim, bike, and/or run more. Instead, a regular, strategically placed 20-40 minute strength session will prevent injury, increase mobility, muscle function and help maximize endurance focused training sessions. Speed is built on strength, not the other way around. Again: Successful training is about the right dose, at the right time, for the right person.

Third on my list is the “N” word. Yup, nutrition. Clearly, there is not enough room on this page to adequately address this one. However, a few of the common mistakes amongst age groupers, elites, professionals, experienced, and those coming off the couch embarking on their maiden voyage alike, commonly include: Not eating enough. Yup. You read that correctly. More than one athlete got started in the craziness of our sport as a means to lose weight therefore believing they should exercise more and eat less. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way. Actually, you should be eating more. However, more probably does not include the “Bon Bons” referenced above. It does, however, include eating more of the right foods at the right time to support the work you are doing and adequately fuel the energy system. And that brings me to the next nutritional error: Fueling the wrong energy system. I see this day in and day out with athletes of all abilities. This goes hand in hand with destabilizing blood sugar or creating a metabolically inefficient environment that plays a major role in limiting athletic performance.  If you’re performing poorly or even performing well and guessing at your nutrition, ask yourself how well you could perform if you were fueling your body correctly?

Hire a Coach for Endurance Sport Training

At Tri-Active Endurance, I work with athletes of all levels, from Elite-level Ironman athletes, middle of the pack “age-groupers”, ultra runners, and those just coming off the couch in pursuit of their first 5k. Unique in their own right and each presenting a different set of strengths as well as challenges, they share a common bond: to be a little bit better today than they were yesterday.

GALWAY - SEPTEMBER 4: Unidentified athlets compete at first Edition of Galway Iron Man Triathlon on September 4, 2011 in Galway, IrelandAs a coach, my priority for my athletes and personal training clients is to help them not only meet, but exceed their goals in a manner that encourages them to take another bite of the apple while still maintaining their life’s primary obligations such as family and work. Oftentimes, age group athletes struggle with time management in this regard.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it is important to design a program that fits into an athlete’s lifestyle, versus falling into the trap of making their lifestyle fit into a training schedule. For serious “type A” personalities, this is often a struggle as priorities can become blurred when performance begins to increase. I have two absolute rules when it comes to training athletes. The first is: Family first. Period. This is non-negotiable. The second rule is: Give your best effort for that day at any given session.

I am also adamant that athletes know their “why.” When an athlete approaches me about coaching, I invite them to interview me and I, in turn, ask many questions, the most important of which is, “What’s your why?” If a person is not clear about why they have chosen to engage in the endurance and/or fitness world, they are more prone to struggle and perhaps will even give up on themselves during key and/or difficult sessions, leaving them to question their ability. I firmly believe we all have it inside, we just need to be clear about what our motivating factor is and make that work for us.

At Tri-Active Endurance, my philosophy is simple, and because of my background as a therapist/practitioner, I’ve found that I am able to help athletes be clear about their “why,” and keep the fire lit when necessary.

Performance means many things to different people. At the end of the day, it comes down to two things: It has to make sense to the individual (fit into the lifestyle), and it has to fit under the umbrella of overall health and wellness. I don’t think that sacrificing this for a single performance goal is sustainable, and for most, pursuit of endurance sports is much more than a one-off adventure, it a lifestyle that can give you more in return than you could have imagined.

Rob Reinhard welcomes you for a free consultation to discuss your triathlon, run, cycle, swim, endurance, or general fitness goals.

Tri-Active Endurance has a State-of-the-Art indoor cycling studio offering fully coached Computrainer sessions (using Perf Pro, Trainer Road, Zwift, & KICKr), coached group run workouts, 1:1 run video analysis ,Trueform running, individualized swim stroke video analysis and group swim sessions, TRX ,VIPr training, and more. Rob is USA Triathlon Certified, Ironman University Certified, eNRG Performance Institute Advisory Board Member, Metabolic Efficiency Testing Specialist, Level I (METS I), a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)and has an M.Ed Psychology. You can reach Rob at rob@triactiveendurance.com. Mention ALIVE Magazine and receive a free drop-in class.

 

 

 

 

Robert Reinhard, Owner, Head Coach

USA Triathlon Certified

Tri-Active Endurance, LLC

2221 Commerce Ave, Suite G

Concord, CA 94520

T 925-588-9219

www.triactiveendurance.com

“Reach Your Peak”