Training Tuesdays Start your countdown to Clif Bar CrossVegas with training tips from coach Grant Holicky. Every Tuesday between now and race day on September 20, we’ll present fresh ideas, work out and tips to get you ready.
Week 10 - Training in the Season
We spoke a bit last week about training during the season. It's a challenge to find the time to train while racing each weekend. The real challenge however is to not get overtired, overreached or fatigued. Here's some quick tips.
On of the most important things is to recognize what you've been putting your body through. Have you just been through a double weekend or a single. Were the races hard or easy? And maybe most importantly, what is your week like off the bike? Work and family and friends are at times the biggest strain on our lives and to ignore that is to ones own peril.
As we noted last week, the relationship between intensity and duration is key. As the season begins, racing contains a large amount of intensity. More training with intensity is likely not needed. Especially efforts in the high power ranges as we hit those often racing. Look to work in specific technique rides on Tuesdays and leave the Interval style training to Wednesdays. Some high end work will get done Tuesday while working the technical aspects of cx but for the most part keep it mellow.
Turn to less intense but focused efforts on Wednesday. Shorter (90 sec to 2 min) builds or small sets of 40/20's will be great to open the legs for the weekend. If you have a down weekend of racing (off or non priority) look to longer LT or tempo efforts on Wednesday. This is a place that is often not gone during the cx season and is good to touch on.
Another option is to find time for longer but less intense rides. Big fitness rides during the CX season aren't as crucial due to the short duration of races but finding time for a long ride is still good for the body. Wednesdays are a great option but be sure to keep the intensity down. Another great option is on Sunday after a Saturday race. In both cases, no higher effort than base (60-75% of LT power) is needed. In fact higher efforts will just tire out the body.
As a last note, many towns have a mid week group ride like Wednesday Worlds in Boulder. Be wary of these rides. Heading to the group and going full gas is tantamount to adding a third race day to the week. It can be too much. Instead approach that group ride with a specific training focus. Maybe exit gearing or starts or technical riding. Take the work off of the legs and put it on the mind to achieve those gains.
Week 9 - Season Planning
Let's talk about planning the cyclocross season. The season for most of us is from
September through December or January. Standing alone that's not a long season, but for many athletes it comes on the heels of a road or MTB season and cx feels like it can go on forever.
Don't fear the break. So many athletes get very nervous taking breaks or mini breaks at the start cross or in the middle of the season. The recovery and gained strength of a break wildly outweighs the lost fitness that occurs. Almost all of APEX's 'cross athletes will take a mini break during the season. When there is an off weekend coming up or even during the thanksgiving holiday, we often give them a couple days off to mentally and physically recoup. It works wonders.
For our athletes that have had a busy summer, they look for a break before the season begins in earnest. A week or 4-5 days unstructured is a great way to have a little time to prep for the upcoming season. For most of us amateur racers, the early part of the season does not contain the main races and therefore a break won't hurt you. In fact it may be the best way to come into the season excited and explosive.
For training during the season, listening to your body is key. While training is good and important during the season, be smart to be sure it doesn't put you over the edge into fatigue. Racing every weekend, especially if there are two races, can be exhausting. Remember that training stress is a combo of intensity and duration. Put simply, look for one or the other and not always both in the week between race weekends. Try alternating your training during the season between weeks of intensity and weeks of volume.
Planning for the whole season and targeting races that are high priority will allow you to be fresh and excited when Nationals or State championships come around. Remember to balance your training and racing to reload yourself. Finally, don't fear the break. A few days off the bike can truly work wonders for the body and the mind.
Week 8 - Threshold Training
As cyclists we hear so much talk about LT or FTP. Other cyclists asking what yours is, talking about raising theirs or focusing in on it. While knowing your LT and using it effectively in training is important, for cross, other things are more crucial.
At APEX we are more concerned with the full power profile. In other words, where are our athletes strong, and where are they weak. Some are anaerobic animals and others are the kings of tempo. We choose to focus on the key aspects of our athlete's discipline and then go after the areas that have the room for growth.
Cyclocross is about the punch, but not just one punch. A Tyson like uppercut won't take you to a 'cross win but being able to repeat that punch will. In other words, top end is key, but the repeatability is even more important. The highest LT in the world may not serve the average cross racer. Short bursts and the ability to do them over and over again are more crucial. LT and general fitness are important for that repeatability, but without the high end, you'll be left behind.
We at APEX approach threshold training a little differently. For our CX racers we use sets that include above and below FTP efforts but hit an average near threshold
40/20's are a favorite workout of ours.
The 40 sec "on" is at 120% of threshold with the 20 sec recovery at easy. Try doing 2-3 sets of 8-10. At the end of the set, you will have an average power right near your threshold, but you got there by working above and below.
Threshold training is key for cross, but look for efforts that work above and below FTP looking for an average at your threshold. This mimics cross and makes sure that the high end power and pop remain.
Week 7 - The Heat
There are a lot of obstacles when it comes to racing CrossVegas. The course is hard, the competition is harder, but one of the biggest challenges in Las Vegas is the heat. The unrelenting, constant, scorching heat. For the pros, at least the sun is down, but that doesn't stop the fact that is is close to 85 degrees. Racing in the heat presents some distinct challenges. Keeping the core temperature of the body in check is a key to success in Vegas and generally in cyclocross during the early fall in the states. There a couple things we do with our athletes to prep for this. Being prepared and planning ahead is critical.
As we race or are exposed to high heat for periods of time a couple of things happen. Humans sweat in order to keep their internal temperature down, but at a certain point, we cannot keep up. It is normal for our core temps will rise during hard training and racing, but if it gets too high we start to see decreased performance. A key to success in the heat is trying to keep that body temperature down.
Be sure to warmup in a shaded area or use other means to stay cool during warmup. An ice vest or ice bags on the back of the neck can help keep you cool as you get ready to go. Retreat to the shade after warmup and keep the ice on your body as you approach the start of the race. Also, be sure that your pre-race bottles are cold too. Another thought is to fill a sock or pantyhose with ice to put in the jersey at the start. The ice is cooling as is the drip of water onto to the back as it melts. If ice isn't an option, simply soak your jersey or the top of your skin suit. The evaporation of that water will cool the body. Finally, consider a bottle on the bike. Most of the barriers or stairs in Vegas are best using the suitcase method and shouldering isn't required, so the bottle is out of the way. A couple sips of cold water will help a great bit when the race is hot.
Lots of athletes turn to heat training or sauna treatments to prepare for warm weather races. Many studies show the huge benefit of sauna training leading into a warm event. Evidence shows that sauna exposure post training can raise the plasma blood volume in athletes and help combat racing in the heat. It is critical to consult with a physiologist or physician before starting any heat/sauna training, however. If done incorrectly, dehydration is possible and it should not be done without personalized direction and supervision.
Racing in the heat can be a challenge, but some thought out preparation makes a big difference. Start planning no for ways to beat the heat, and your rivals, this September at CrossVegas.
Week 6 - Vo2 Max Training
Cyclocross is about going deep, real deep. Over and over again, for an hour. No where is this more true than CrossVegas. Over the past 10 years the course has evolved and become an unique test for a cross racer and its all about the hills. The Desert Breeze Soccer Complex is in a bowl and the course uses every inch of that bowl. No fewer than 8 times a lap are you up it and that doesn't include the fly overs. In other words, you're going to be in the red, over and over again.
This is true of most good cyclocross courses. It's not about who can ride at threshold the longest, it's who can sprint at Vo2 max many times in a row with limited recovery. To race with this kind of intensity, you must train for it. In earlier Training Tuesdays we have talked about top end power and strength. Those two elements are a huge part of Vo2 max efforts. Without the strength and top end speed, the ability to get into this zone is limited. Now that we have some top end, let's create repeat-ability.
There several sessions that we at APEX use for our cyclocross athletes to train this energy system. These sessions involve big power for between 30 seconds and 3 min with at least equal rest. Without the rest, the power cannot be sustained, and the power is the key to the sessions. Here are a couple examples.
1 min at 120%/1 min recovery
Look for 1 minute power to be at 120% of threshold power. Then 1 min recovery. If this is a workout that is new to you, do 2-3 sets of 4-6 x 1 min efforts. Aim for equal power on each effort and take 5 minutes or so between sets. Great cyclocross racers will happily do 10-15 repeats in this range and hold the same power throughout.
Another favorite session is 1 min, 45, 30 ,15
Start with 1 min sustained at 120% of Lt power
45 second recovery
45 sec at a higher wattage or effort
30 second recovery
30 sec at higher effort/power
15 second recovery
15 seconds full gas
5-10 min easy
repeat 2-4 times.
Both sessions will help prepare you for the repeated Vo2 Max efforts of a cross race. Your body's ability to repeatedly go into the red will help determine whether you are hunting at the end of a race, or being hunted.
Week 5 - Starts
It's getting real folks. Registration opens today for CrossVegas 2017! No more time left to dilly dally. With that in mind, this week we are talking starts. Cyclocross starts. The Hole Shot.
A great 'cross start begins far before we actually toe the line. There are so many pieces that need to work well for success, that practice is the key. Too many a first lap has been ruined by a missed pedal or a poor gear selection. As we talked about last week with mounts and dismounts, repetition is key here. Practicing your start and learning to be comfortable and confident with it will serve you well.
Remember to set up sessions where you can train this. We at APEX do start sprint sessions with some regularity. A favorite is to alternate between starts in a large gear to work strength and starts in the correct gear to work explosiveness. If all else fails, remember that every green light is a cyclocross start. Reaction time, torque, power and shifting all play a huge role in winning the hole shot.
I advise my athletes to learn to start their races in a smaller gear and shift through the sprint. This is much like the approach of a race car. The smaller gear allows for more torque and thus faster acceleration off the line. Then shift through the gears keeping the cadence ticking over. Electronic shifting makes this easy, but if you are on mechanical, practice will help you time the shifts in the pedal stroke so as to not lose momentum.
Another debate is whether to be in the saddle or out for the start. i personally am much more comfortable starting on the saddle. It provides a base and some leverage for my first pedal stroke. Then focus on bringing your second foot onto the pedal as that pedal stroke begins down. Don't get caught trying to place the foot in the cleat at the top of the pedal stroke. Drive the foot onto the pedal and drive the pedal down. That way if you are not in immediately, you have still created momentum that will carry you through clipping in.
My last though is this. Remember that starts aren't just the initial burst off the line. That is key, but most courses have a secondary sprint. The place after the first 10-20 sec where there is another chance to move up. If you are ready for it, you can make up a lot of spots.
Week 4 - On/Off
Most cyclocross courses include at least one dismount section. At least that's true for us mere mortals. Bunny hopping the large barriers or riding up sets of stairs is at least beyond my level of ability. That means that the smoother, more efficient and faster our dismounts and mounts are, the faster we are. With the fact that there are no fewer than 4 and for some of us 5 dismounts on the CrossVegas course, now seems like a good time to talk about this crucial element of cross.
The dismount in cross is all about momentum. How much of your entry speed can you maintain as you come off the bike and clear whatever obstacle that is in your path. There are a couple keys. First off come out of the first pedal and be in a position to hit the ground running as you come out of the second. Quick, short steps are the key to keep that speed as you come off the bike and into the run. As for the step through, this one time commandment of cyclocross has lost a little of its allure. Now a days, speed is king. Whatever you can do faster, do.
Practice your dismounts at slow speed first and move through each step methodically and then gradually speed up the process. Many of our pros will go through early season days of 100's of repetitions in a single session to dial in the movement at speed. A nice way to stay on top of this is to always dismount your bike in this style. Whether arriving at the coffee shop or rolling into the garage, dismount at speed and in the manner you will in a race.
Then mount the bike as you would in a race as well. The mount is a place that time is gained or lost in cross races. Step 1 is to come into the mount with speed. Increase your leg speed as you approach the end of stair and run up features so as to hit the bike at speed and thus decrease acceleration time once in the saddle. The mount also has to become a thoughtless, autonomic motion. Most riders of all levels will tell you, the second your brain comes on, that's when you stutter step. That extra hop, bleeds speed and increases subsequent acceleration time. So, repetition is needed to make this motion smooth and automatic. As you dial in the mount motion, move toward decreasing steps after the barriers or stairs before the mount. Time with feet on the ground is time not pedaling and not pedaling means slower speeds.
Now is the time to practice the mounts and dismounts. Getting on and off the bike correctly every time adds up and brings speed to the process. Also, consider bringing mounts and dismounts to a weekly workout. Practice spending as little time on the ground as possible between the two motions. Once your an expert, the obstacles become a place to attack. Especially at CrossVegas
Week 4 - A Power Analysis for Cyclocross
I spent spent some time this week looking at power files from races over this season.I've had a couple athletes ask me how to read the data from a cyclocross race. This is not the easiest endeavor for acouple of reasons.
1. Power output in cross is big spikes over very very short periods of time. Dependent upon the power meter and the actual head unit, some of this data may not be recorded and maybe lost.
2.Power data does not take into account the run or barrier sections.
3. Heart rate data is also misleading because of the limited nature of recovery and therefore little or no drop in HR occurs during a race.
I intend to go through several of these over the course of the next couple of months and see if I can shed some light and enhance the uses for power data in cross.
The nature of cyclocross is that we will have sections in every course where we are at 0 for a power number. Whether that be in turns, at the start, on down hills and on run sections, we find our power andcadence at 0. A key to racing is how quickly and how efficiently we can get the power back up and be accelerating out of these 0 power sections.
There are a couple keys here.
1. Gear selection. Be sure to enter the corner in the appropriate gear to be able to accelerate out of it. Smaller gears with high cadence allow for more torque and subsequently a quicker acceleration to top speed.
2. How long a rider pedals entering into a corner or technical sections and how soonthey are on the pedals coming out of it.
3. How aggressively a rider attacks the exit of a feature to get up to speed quickly.
On this first go through I have decided to focus on how to use the data to show riders where there is room for improvement.
Here are two power files from the Feedback Cup here in Colorado last season. A little background on Feedback Cup. The course isvery twisty, turny and features short drops followed by intense short hill efforts. In many ways it resembles a Short track MTB course in its technical natureand punchy style. It was a 65 degree day and it had been very very dry in Colorado.
The two power files are from athletes I coach. The first is from a rider in the male pro field. A very good technical rider with a background in MTB. The second file is from afemale rider in the pro field. Sh is a strong power rider without a strong technicalbackground. He finished 3rd on the day and she won the race.
While the power numbers themselves are interesting and a good deal can be derived from the files in terms
of fitness and overall strength, we are going to focus on a more specific feature of 'cross and onethat is applicable to all courses, Especially CrossVegas. Acceleration.
Taking a look at the two files a couple things jump out. You can click on the pictures for larger images. Take a look at the power spikes in the top file.
These spikes are out of the ordinary when it comes to the rest of the race.The rider is jumping hard on the pedals out of features in order to get up to speed very quickly and the power spikes are representative of that. In the second file, there are spikes in power out of features but they are less pronounced and more in line with the rest of the race.
Another interesting thing is at the bottom of the power range. In the top file the 0 power periods are short with a sharp rise in power out of them. This creates a V shape at the 0 power places. The rider is quickly on the gas out of features and their power is rising abruptly. Looking at thebottom file, the 0 power sections form a U shape instead of a Vshape. This rider is spending more time at 0 power and is taking longer to raise thepower out of these features.
Take a look at your own power files from races and focus in on the 0 power sections. Isthe file showing that V shape or the U shape. If you see lots of U's, focus on gearselection entering the corners so thatyou can accelerate with high cadence out of thefeatures and leave your competition in the dust.
Week 3 - Getting the Power
Inherently we all know that Cyclocross is about power. The explosiveness of the hole shot, slogging through the thick mud, attacking up short, intense climbs and the velcro like grass of CrossVegas. Where the confusing part comes in is where that power comes from and how to create it. We at APEX look to develop power early and all through the season. As we talked about a few weeks ago, Nueromuscular economy helps facilitate power and once we've started working on the pedal stroke, we layer the top end on it.
How do we develop power. One of the simplest ways is to sprint. True, full gas, tongue wagging sprints all throughout the season are a great way to drive the top end wattage higher and higher. A quick note before we get into defining those workouts though. Remember wattage is a combination of Power and Cadence. High cadence on the sprints will produce higher watts and higher torque. Both of which will create higher speed and explosiveness.
How do we do it? I suggest adding a sprint day and a Nueromuscular day to your week. The sprint day works well as the day before your hard intervals. Always move from higher intensity to lower intensity in your multi day blocked sessions, so sprint works well the day before LT or tempo work. We progress through several types of sprint work during the weeks of a training block. Here is an example of a three week progression
Week 1: Big Gear and start sprints.
Do 6-8 sprints.
The odd numbered sprints will be starting from a stop or a very slow roll. On a flat choose the big ring in the front and the 12-14 in the back. The goal is to start the sprint with a great deal of resistance. Work the bike like a track rider out of the start and crank the cadence up at full effort until you are over the gear and at a cadence of 90-100. On the even numbered ones, self select the gear and perform a CX start. Take big rest in between.
Week 2: Sprint in LT hold.
One of the challenges in cycling is to recover after hard efforts while still at high effort. It's not a comfortable feeling. On these efforts we start with an all out 15 sec sprint. Thiscan be from a roll or from a CX style start. After the 15 sec effort, settle in at your Threshold for 60-90 sec. Perform 6-8 efforts.
Week 3: Race winning sprints.
In the final week of the progression we move to race winning sprints. Again 6-8 total efforts with big rest in between. For these, start with 60-90 sec of LT riding and then jump into a full gas 15 second sprint. Keep the gearing low and the cadence high and remember to post up at the end.
It is never too early in the season to work sprinting and top end power. This power with serve all through the Cyclocross season. Especially in the sticky grass and short, steep hills in Las Vegas.
Week 3 - 4th of July and American Cyclocross
Happy 4th of July everyone. We typically talk training in these posts, but for American Independence Day I thought we'd spend a moment chatting about American cyclocross.
For years here in states I've seen Belgian flags flying at cx races as the states has struggled to find its our racing culture. The past few years has brought a change however and the US is creating its own culture of racing and community. Great venues and strong racers have the world paying attention and have our racers taking pride. With a tremendous crop of young talent moving through the U23 and Junior, this is only likely to expand.
CrossVegas has been a centerpiece for showing off American cyclocross and cyclocross racers for years now. It's introduced the world to the loud, raucous and very supportive fans. It's showcased our rising talent as a racing nation and become a can't miss stop for European racers and fans alike..
See you next Tuesday
Week 2 - Nuero-Muscular Training
I often hear coaches and athletes talk about the "years of base" that an athlete has acquired and point to that as the reason for their strength. However, I also listen to them complain about a loss of fitness that has occurred due to a 2 week layoff. I almost always have the same thought, which is it? Do you retain fitness from year to year or do you lose it quickly and if you do lose it, why do more experienced riders seem to get
back to form quicker?
The reality is athletes lose their fitness. A month layoff due to off season, illness or injury will result in a loss of fitness. However, the more efficient an athlete is at pedaling a bike the less that fitness loss will affect them. We call this nuero muscular economy. It refers to how well an athlete is at delivering the power they are producing to the bike and ultimately at creating speed. Economical athletes see better acceleration, highe
r wattage sp
rints, less degradation of power and ultimately, more success.
We at APEX focus specifically on this type of training throughout the cyclocross season and especially early in the season. Taking the time to do thesesessions can lead to big gains late in the season and will allow for quicker recovery and less loss of power during off times.
Nuero-muscular economy can be worked on by focusing on a few types of workouts.
-- High end, high cadence sprints with big rest are a great place to start and also have the added benefit of helping in the cx starts and accelerations. Varying cadence efforts are also a great tool. Try 3 min efforts where your cadence alternates between high (100 rpm) and low (60 rpm) for 1 min increments while retaining constant power.
-- Single leg drills are another way to help increase economy in the pedal stroke. Ride 30 sec with right leg only then into 30 sec with the left leg only keeping the cadence high. Run through this 3-4 times and observe where the pedal stroke gets clunky and try and smooth that out.
Try these workouts with consistency in the early weeks of your season. Increased nuero muscular capacity will translate to less loss of power and better acceleration and top end during your cross races and throughout your season.
Week 1 - #CXNeverLeft
Well hello Summer! The start of June means one thing to a cyclocross coach. Time to get it together. We are a mere 3 months from CrossVegas and the US World Cups and about 2 1/2 months from the start of most local schedules. In other words, it's Training Tuesdays with APEX Coaching time. From now until CrossVegas we will tackle a range of subjects, from skills and drills, to training and workouts. As the big day approaches we will even look at the racers and the course and help you be prepared to crush your USAC or Wheelers & Dealers race. If nothing else, we'll get you the info to impress your buddies with your knowledge while watching the live stream.
My name is Grant Holicky . I am the lead cyclocross coach at APEX Coaching in Boulder, CO and I will be your host on these training Tuesdays as the big day approaches. I have raced the UCI race at CrossVegas on two occasions before surrendering to the Earth's incessant rotations and stepping back to the USAC and Wheelers & Dealers aces in the past few years. I am the coach of a number of professional racers in the US and love everything CrossVegas. It is truly the best Wednesday of my year.
We at APEX are thrilled to be a part of CrossVegas again in 2017. Check in every Tuesday as the big day approaches!