#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.

Maximising strength

I started my first heavy week at the gym on May 5th. The basis structure was as follows:

  • Squatting three times a week 2014 training plan
  • Progressive training stress, either by reps or load
  • Three hard weeks, followed by one off-loading week.

So what changed? First and foremost, the form of the lift itself. During the GPP I started experimenting with the ATG style squats. Due to the larger range of motion I through ATG would help me in keeping the loads under control. Also, I’d been thinking the role of squats in building general strength most applicable / transferable on bike.  I’m not an advocate of extreme specificity. What I do believe in is you should build strength at least for the same joint range, prefereably larger/longer than what is used in the main sport. In this light and considering sprinter’s posture on the bike, knee and hip angles of the ATG made a lot of sense. As a side note, I was on my 3rd heavy week when I saw a video from Försti doing ATGs with a ridiculous weight…

The second major alteration was the implementation of the rule of 10 that I applied to most lits in my program: A maximum of 10 heavy but solid reps per session (rep schemes 5+5, 5+4… 3×3). My gym program during late fall had been pretty intense, but for the plan above it would have been too much considering all other elements in the overall plan. Now the strength piece was just a side kick: I wanted to use the available time the best I could, regain as much of the lost strength as possible, create enough training stress yet leave enough work capacity for the actual sprinting. Or better said, use the capacity left from sprinting.

Being used to a little different style of squatting, this ATG plan had an obvious downside (partly explained here), but I was confident I’d either reach my goal or stop before things got out of hand. In the beginning third week I reached my goal AND had the first symptoms of tendonitis in the top end of my right quad (rectus femoris). As the unloading week was just about to start I decided to give my leg some rest. It felt a bit better when starting the first heavy week of my second miniperiod, but obviously one easy week had not been enough to fix the problem. In addition, my back had started to troubling me a great deal. It was stiffer than it had ever been (Iliocostalis Lumborum). So instead of slightly nagging thigh, I now had two problems to solve. Deadlifts seemed like a perfect solution, but that is another story.

So, what did I get out of this experiment? Does it matter which “style” of squats you do? No, not really. What really matters is you have a way of making the WHOLE system stronger, and what ever you decide to do make sure you do it in good form. Because of the sheer amout of weight I’m able to move and 3x per week program, finding the weak link does not take that long. Knowing those weak links helps in trying to avoid major injuries, but avoidance is not a solution. Smart programming IS. I’m sure a little variety and putting strength training to a supporting role is smart programming for an old gym rat!