#1 pitfall in self coaching

About a week and a half ago I had a little mishap at the gym. I was about to finish my 4th set of squats when I felt this small sting in my groin. It turned out to be a slightly pulled adductor. This whole thing did not come out of the blue. I had already been given an early warnings few days before (small cramp in the same area) and a red flag (tightness in the adductor) after the 3rd set that very same day. Why did I fail to listen to those early warning signals?

IMG_1908The other day I read an article about Do’s and Dont’s of coaching. The punchline “the training session begins the second the athlete walks in the door” caught my attention. The accompanying text discussed about coaches’ need to probe the athlete’s readiness – physical and mental – to define the best training session for the athlete today. I couldn’t help feeling a little sting when thinking about discussions I’ve had with myself at the gym door. The topic has rarely been about should I do the planned session or not. If I have one,  it is to give myself a swift kick in the butt in order to reach the desired state of mind.

Why is it so hard to listen to yourself? And even harder to adjust, or totally alter the plan? For a self coached athlete the time for discussions and plan changes has long passed when you’re at the doorstep of the training facility, all pumped up and ready to go. In general, to me any discomfort related to plan adjustments are related to what the plan stands for. It is the path to an achieved goal – to win something or someone, usually myself. Doing anything less would mean you’re not up to the task. Recognising this personal attribute hopefully helps me in further increasing the built in wiggle room in my own planning. The other side of the coin, equally important one is the nature of the sport. Being a stressed out wreck makes a killer cocktail when combined with heavy sprints or barbel training. I learned this the hard way.

What about those red flags during a training session then? This late mild groin injury of mine is a perfect example of why those red flags are meant to be taken seriously. In a worst case scenario I’d be working my way through a significant adductor tear. The initial recovery and rehab period would probably be two weeks or so. I’d be on the second week now. supercompensationThen I’d face a period, maybe from few weeks to couple of months, trying to get back to the point where I was before the mishap.
Instead of missing a set at the gym and perhaps a tiny bit of super-compensation, I’d be looking at missing several weeks to few months of steady progress. How about that for a trade off.

So heres a mental note to self: In the case of mid session red flag the answer to the question “Should I try to finish the session as planned?” is always “NO!“. End of discussion.




How aging affects race cadence

About a week or so ago I had an interesting discussion about training with a friend of mine, also a master category rider. We went through his training plan and I want really caught my attention was first of all the huge volume, at least in my view, and second the +160rpm rolling 500m efforts in his training plan. As I have not been able to find logic behind high cadence (and small gear) efforts I decided maybe it is time to revisit the subject of my old post about Leg Speed.

Can’t remember if it was Charlie Francis or someone else who presented the general continuum in sprint training as

Strength – Power – Acceleration – Top speed – Speed Endurance

This has been the foundation for my own programming. Being a master athlete I have tried to understand the impact of my own age and ageing on my physique, ability train and performance. The study written by Marko T. Korhonen I talked about before (link to full text article provided in the end of this post) seemed to fit well in the overall picture I have of this all. So I wanted to see what the outcome would be if I applied those ideas to track cycling. The below chart tries to illustrate what happens to the race cadence over time. I have assumed the 5% performance decline per decade Korhonen found on sprint runners is valid also in track cycling. The race cadence in this case is the one of F200m. Please note that the purpose of the below chart is not to give you precise values or even cadence range to apply in your training. Rather to challenge you to think about the leg speed, and its meaning.

In this chart I have used the 25 year old rider as my base line. The base line figures are approximations for F200m performance of today’s elite riders. The purpose of having 3 different rider types is simply to establish a range of RPMs rather than one single point and that way take into account the different types of sprinters (spinners vs. grinders).  With that I have calculated various cadence points for aging athlete and also backwards for the 20 year old junior. A quick sanity check with my own self and Jose would seem to support the logic. The blue shade in the graph tries to illustrate the development of maximal absolute strength, e.g. the 1RM squat. This is just an approximation but generalizing a little, max strength peaks after 25, plateaus through 35+ and then starts to decline.

Development of race cadence with age 2

So getting back to that troublesome observation about my master friend doing lots of +160rpm efforts: Are those any good? For a guy in his 40s, no. Young bloke in his 20s, different story. This has nothing to do with whether you can do them or not, of course you can. Should you, that’s the question. For a guy in his 20s this 160rpm is probably just regular overspeed work.

I firmly believe cadence is one of the least trainable aspects of track cycling sprint. I have accepted the fact that my cadence will not improve over time. This realisation has liberated me to search performance improvements elsewhere.

Marko T. Korhonen’s study “Effects of Aging and Training on Sprint Performance, Muscle Structure and Contractile Function in Athletes” can be found here.

Importance of the GPP

My last comp for the season 2014 was Master’s Worlds in early October. I had planned to take several weeks off before starting the new training season, but I was told about an opportunity to ride officially timed F200m already in January (I will explain why the F200m time is of such great interest at later date). So all of the sudden my off-season, and vacation from training, got shortened to a single week!

200m lineSo there I was, ramping up my training with a 2 week GPP period. I had not been lifting since early July, but had no doubt about being able to get back to my June loads in this short time. Those two weeks flew by and indeed I was back where I had left it. Unfortunately the short ramp up carried a toll. I was starting my second week of SPP feeling trashed. Like that wasn’t enough I was diagnosed with upper respiratory infection requiring antibiotics. I’m pretty sure it was the cold rather than my training that did me in. Well, whatever the cause, I ended up taking 10 days off. Due to this set back and uncertainties related to that January race I decided to drop the meet off my schedule and start fresh.

After the mandatory break I started with a new 2 week block of GPP. I reduced the weights a bit and instead of the 5 rep scheme I’m usually following I move to 3×7 with an increasing amount of general conditioning. This did the trick. I’m almost through the first 3 week SPP cycle and everything has gone well. This episode really proved the key points of the GPP:

  • The length of the GPP depends on what you have done before (e.g. few weeks of rest vs. a short off-load between cycles)
  • In the program I follow myself the two most important items to ramp up during the GPP are the weights (training volume and loads) and the general conditioning (volume).
  • The length of the GPP should reflect the length of absence of either of the two components. The above story serves as an example. If weights are dropped from the program during the competitive season the GPP must take this into account. In such case a minimum of 4 weeks is more than appropriate to ramp up the loads before you move to SPP. If you need to work on your strength base (muscle mass) then even longer period is appropriate.
  • Base fitness will also erode pretty fast. After 2 week of idleness you’ve lost quite a bit already. The importance of the general conditioning comes in the form of recovery between intervals. When fit you recover faster between short efforts (like short sprints of 7-8 sec). If the aerobic condition is poor you’ll probably have a good 2nd effort and start fading after that. Hammering through the planned program with poor base fitness widens the gulf between aerobic and anaerobic condition and can lead to OTS.  Therefore the higher the performance level, the more important it is to build/restore the base fitness before moving to sprint training in any meaningful volume.