Zone confusion and other things

Discussion in 'Cycling Training' started by bradg, Apr 16, 2013.

  1. bradg

    bradg New Member

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    I've been riding seriously for close to a year; started on the track (we have a "velodrome" that's not a total disaster but isn't anything great) last April, and then started riding a legit road bike--as opposed to cruising around on my track frame--back in June. Got a power meter from a guy a couple months ago for cheap and regularly upload my files to Training Peaks and attempt to analyze the data. Before all this, I was a competitive rower and was thus used to using watts for training, as well as testing blood lactate levels and all that. Fun stuff.

    In my time as an oarsman, I got fixated on winning and thus made an effort to learn as much about physiology as I could understand, on top of honing technical skills. Despite the temptation to get out on the water and just hammer away, I learned from successful coaches that slowing down would get you faster, leading me to spend upwards of 90% of my time basically piddling around at a heart rate of about 155 / blood lactate @ ~1.5mmol/L, or the rough equivalent of L2 power on a bike, and then busting my guts out the other 10% of the time. This helped me get a lot of medals and turn in some great times on the benchmark tests on the erg (which are approximately 6.5 minutes).

    I've read various studies, from that one by Seiler to another one about a German 4K pursuit team, to some rowing-specific stuff, each arguing that endurance athletes benefit most from this sort of highly polarized training, spending most of your time going pretty easy, then going really hard for a small percentage, and rarely working "in the middle," or what I would guess is L4.

    Thing is, it seems that a lot of cyclists have plenty of success doing tons of riding at or just below those L4 numbers--SST, so to speak. Hate to say that contradicts all the science stuff I've read, but it appears that the reality for many differs from what certain papers claim. Given the choice, I'd much rather go out for a couple hours and ride pretty hard with my friends, do as many fast group rides as possible with the shop team I joined, and go on a few 3-5 hour rides over the weekend on top of a few slower/recovery rides when I can fit them in. I'm aware that's hardly structured. At the end of the month, I'll be able to join in the Tuesday Night World's series, and we'll start track races every Thursday night around then (I half-jokingly said I'd do a kilo every week, assuming the races weren't too long).

    Admittedly, it's been a few months since I last tested 20min and FTP. 30sec power is 768, for whatever that's worth, which I'm guessing is not much. I started racing again in February and used that as an excuse not to test the longer durations. In September my FTP was 237, and in December it was 258 (aside from one CX race, I was just doing 120-160 miles per week at a fairly relaxed pace). I have no idea what it is now. I feel great and I've really been enjoying myself as a moderately competent cat 5 guy who's three finishes away from 4. I'd like to continue improving and maybe win a few crits, then get into CX season and not get lapped or perhaps get on the podium.

    So I guess the question is...am I f-ing up progress with this fairly unstructured "training" approach, should I make more time for L2 riding, or can I keep the focus on getting as much time at L4 as possible? Do I need to do more of those L5 / L6 intervals? I'd rather not at this point go absurdly OCD on the power numbers; I had a lousy experience recently with a coach who'd jump all over me if I missed a session due to my sometimes unpredictable work schedule and he'd get really annoyed if I wanted to do a road race or group ride.
     
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  2. daveryanwyoming

    daveryanwyoming Well-Known Member

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    Lot's of ways to skin this cat and lot's of ways to vary things throughout the year.

    Personally I like a lot of SST/L4 work during the off season and polarize training more during the season. I would say there's plenty of studies that support high volumes of work near or slightly below LT which is the heart of SST training. But yeah there are plenty of studies that support more polarized approaches as well. Be sure to read all those studies that support or challenge your viewpoints with an eye to when in the annual training cycle it might apply. IOW, what you do from November to March is likely quite different than what you might do as racing approaches or once racing begins. A lot of decomposition that happens in structured studies glosses over these seasonal differences and there is no one size fits all, 'best' training.

    The other thing to consider is your lifestyle and available time both to train and to recover outside of stressful or active jobs. IOW, if you can ride 20+ hours a week on a regular basis you'll likely train a lot differently than someone with 10 to 12 hours per week to train and perhaps differently again than someone with limited hours and a very stressful job and family life. So figure out a training blend you can stick with long enough to see results and that fits your overall lifestyle as well as the needs of your target events. It may be steadier during certain portions of the year and less polarized (or not depending on your available time to train) or may be very polarized with high end days and much easier days in your schedule.

    Probably the most important thing is to ride frequently and stay consistent with your training for very long time periods as there are no (good) quick fixes and consistency and training frequency probably trumps all else. If you've got those two points dialed you can then explore ways to get more quality and better target your specific needs but if you don't get that first part right, the rest won't matter much.

    Good luck,
    -Dave
     
  3. bradg

    bradg New Member

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    Right on, thanks again Dave!

    I make a practice of seeking out stuff that challenges or outright contradicts any beliefs I may hold. And I'm still amused by the dogmatic attachment some folks have to various training philosophies; this seemed to crop up around the time CrossFit hit the scene, though it persists elsewhere and I'm not sure why. There's still a vocal contingent who argues against doing base miles, for instance. As you and others have stated, there's no quick fix. Nor should there be.

    At this point, I make a point of riding my bike outside unless there's a really good reason to do the trainer (which, I realize, has plenty of benefits but nobody won a race by staying in the same place), enjoying the hell out of every ride, and doing it at least six times per week. On Saturday I did 46 miles, then woke up the next morning feeling a little fatigued, but it was lovely outside so I started riding and didn't stop for another 64 miles. Felt great the entire time. Then, of course, I fell asleep rather early in the evening. But had I just gone by how I "felt," I'd have stayed in and missed out on a fantastic ride.

    I'm not sure how some riders get really fast and why others stagnate. I don't know if it's genetics--to a degree, it must be, but I've long been under the impression that aerobic capacity and even aerobic power are pretty trainable, whereas alactic capabilities and anaerobic capacity are "less" trainable--or if it's a matter of consistency & frequency, or if some riders put greater effort into recovery practices.
     
  4. daveryanwyoming

    daveryanwyoming Well-Known Member

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    Great thoughts, sounds like you've got a good perspective on this stuff.

    Yeah, genetics and training history, particularly the age at which folks started doing consistent sustainable aerobic work (not necessarily on the bike) seems to be the big factors in terms of how rapidly some folks can gain cycling fitness and fly through the ranks. But IME that's just the rapid training and instant gratification aspect. Sure plenty of research to show that genetics also establishes the top end potential and most of us will never approach the top of the sport. But IME, many folks that don't explode onto the scene or instantly rise through the ranks still go quite far but they have to stick it out and keep doing the work through those lean times when the rewards aren't coming as fast as they'd like.

    From that perspective it's worth acknowledging genetics but best not to get too worried about it. The question is how far you can take your own abilities and whether you're a fast riser or need to take more time to max out the gifts you're given you still need to do the work and stay on track for the long haul. From your posts I suspect you've got a very healthy perspective on this already. I've also seen a bunch of those superstar first year phenoms over the years move on within a couple of seasons or plateau when it came time to do the hard work that might have moved them past their early successes. So even after picking really good parents they still hit the point where hard consistent work over the long haul is essential and some of those folks that won their Cat 5 and 4 races without actually training much lose interest when an upgrade to the 2's is going to require a lot of work and may take a long time before they see the results of that work. It's not unusual to see the slower starters creep by those guys in a few seasons as they're willing to do the work and can stay on task without the glory of early career wins.

    -Dave
     
  5. bradg

    bradg New Member

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    From a purely theoretical vantage, I wonder if there's some correlation between an event's duration and the genetic leverage required to excel. All the proper training, sprinting, resting & recovering won't bring even the most dedicated but genetically-not-predisposed person down to a sub-10sec 100m dash, for instance, but it'd be interesting to see just how fast the average person is capable of actually going. Phosphagen stores seem to be relatively fixed, and to the degree that contributes to speed, rate-of-force-development, or whatever, it must be a limiting factor. Though on the other hand, I can't remember the name of the guy, but a scientist in the early 1900s measured the "spontaneous" long jump of a mental patient and noted that it compared favorably to the existing world record--read enough about rate coding, and it's easy to see why guys like Noakes et al argue that we have some sort of "governor" dictating what our neurons and muscles will ultimately doing. Compelling stuff, but borderline masturbatory after awhile I'd wager.

    Anything dominated by aerobic metabolism seems considerably more flexible than short efforts. It's been awhile since I last saw a heated debate about the importance of VO2max and how much it can or cannot be trained; there's a common perception that it's genetically set, but how in the hell would someone be "born" with a max around 75? Bjorn Dailey was ostensibly measured at 96 (and some say 100), which is effectively super-human. Maybe he was born with the ability to uptake 80ml/kg and all that skiing just took him to that next level. Who knows. Of course, what's most fun about this tired old debate is when power at threshold enters the discussion, and we then decide that any VO2max over 68 (or whatever) is sufficient for TdF performance and/or dominance, so long as you can operate at some percentage for some stretch of time.

    I think what annoys me is when you show up to a group ride or hit up a local criterium and see one guy or a few guys perform spectacularly, and then hear the cries from everyone around that they're "gifted" and "they were just born that way," as if they hadn't put in thousands of hours and trained diligently. No, I'm not discounting the genetics but were I one of those guys, I'd find it bothersome to say that it was just because I won some lottery by virtue of my parents.

    The point about consistency and frequency is extremely important and so easily overlooked. The difference for me in rowing was doing a clinic with a great sculling coach, who really emphasized above all a deep and abiding love for the sport. He simply argued that if you liked what you were doing, and could find some sense of beauty and raw enjoyment in the motions, that you'd wind up performing better. Previously I'd carried around this needlessly hardcore "I don't row because I like it, I row to win gold medals" attitude and my performance simply wasn't matching up to the bravado. Then I got back in touch with the fact that I truly enjoyed it, had way more productive workouts, way more frequently and regular workouts, and raced infinitely better.

    Sometimes we get better without really knowing how or why. Like I said, I have the power meter and use it every ride, and I understand the IF and TSS indicators, but the answer doesn't lie solely within any of that. I think it's far more nebulous. Though it is pretty cool to geek out on the data.
     
  6. maxroadrash

    maxroadrash New Member

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    This entire post was very interesting but this particular thought is something I've been pondering for a while now. It seems to me the key to unlocking a great deal of power.
     
  7. bradg

    bradg New Member

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    Like anyone else with competitive aspirations, I'm interested in the psychology and "mental" aspect of a chosen endeavor. The way you put it--unlocking a great deal of power--is poignant, because all signs point to people not necessarily being able to turn everything on. You might have the kinesthetic sensation that you're giving it 100%, but ATP levels as I understand it never drop below 50-60%. Of course, if they get that low, you likely feel pretty close to death, but you're not actually going to die. So looking at the physiological reality and realizing that just because something feels horrible doesn't mean that it necessarily has a horrible effect, and thus perhaps you can psyche yourself into doing more than your muscle fibers and mitochondria say you should be able to. It's an interesting construct.

    I used to be a big follower of a gym/training center that achieved some "fame" a few years ago, and the guys there talk a lot about the mental side of performance; I went out there a couple times, did a seminar, assisted with teaching one, and so on. They make a really big deal out of the primacy of the mind but as I got further along with them, it just struck me that they were far more attracted to the hardcore/punk image one can project by talking about so-called mental toughness and working hard on your intervals than actually figuring out how to bridge physical gaps. Specifically: if you give someone a training or testing objective, and they fall short, you can abdicate responsibility for not understanding how to coach that person to the intended output by saying that they had a mental block and need to work on their mental strength. Sure, the mind is a powerful thing but as Noakes himself says, the body still holds veto power. For better or worse though, making huge progress requires a lot of training, which is frequently monotonous.

    For me, focusing on the joy of rowing and now riding makes it a lot easier to wake up early and get my miles in before heading to the office. It helps to ensure that consistency and frequency that Dave refers to, and that I'm sure many others champion as well. If you like something, you'll do more of it, get more out of it, and not over-think it. My theory is that ultimately, you can't psyche yourself into superlative performance, but you can definitely psyche yourself out of it. If that makes sense.

    South Africa won a gold medal in the men's lightweight 4-boat in London; they have a video on youtube discussing their principles, one of which I loved: "Crush the body. It will adapt."
     
  8. Felt_Rider

    Felt_Rider Active Member

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    Coming from the gym world myself and training in gym with world class powerlifters and Olympic lifters there was a lot of that. I guess that is a common theme among hard core gyms. I wrote this as one of my first blog posts in 2008. http://thecyclingaddiction.blogspot.com/2008/04/seeing-and-achieving-visualization.html

    It is kind of simplistic, but a view of how many in the strength world attempt to remove mental barriers in order to convince the body not to veto. Of course there are other ways as well and it is interesting to be in a world class gym and to see some of the strongest guys and gals in the world go through a pre lift ritual. Just watching it can get a spectator's heart rate up.

    You know when you step up to a squat rack and attempt a set of triples or max squat and all the mind wants to do is dwell on, "this is going to crush me" you are on a one way trip to the floor. No matter if it is lifting, cycling or whatever it is that has some discomfort if the mind shuts down the body is more than willing to follow suit.

    Like you I have always had a great interest in the mental aspect. Keep on sharing. It is refreshing for me to read a point of view I have not seen since my days back in the gym.
     
  9. bradg

    bradg New Member

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    I've known a small number of competitive weightlifters, including one guy who finished 9th in the Olympics once. It's sublime, talking to a guy who weighs less than 200lbs but is capable of putting 437lbs over his head--any movement starts with neural impulses, so yeah, the mind technically is primary but I imagine the pre-lifting process is highly personal, as you seem to describe. I've known a few people who value meditation, mostly because it enables them to approach the bar with a blank mind. Nothing to get in the way. There's a who theatrical aspect to this that's very interesting, but maybe "theatrical" is the wrong descriptor because for these guys, it's actually quite functional.

    There's another effect of having a lifting background, at least for me: false sense of capability. I figured that because I could deadlift 400-something pounds and squat this much and clean that much, that I would therefore be super fast on the bike. I've seen it with guys in these "hardcore" gyms, making the assumption that their feats in the squat rack make them silent monsters in other sports with which they have no familiarity. The term "gym rat" isn't accidental. Being in the gym and doing gym stuff is pretty rewarding, whereas racing comes with all sorts of uncontrollable variables and unpleasant realities.

    The curious thing about certain forms of visualization is that the mental image can provide enough satisfaction to prevent you from pursuing the goal in reality. Ever notice how it's usually the most insecure people who do the most trash-talking? They basically get a little dopamine reward for talking about how awesome they are. I think that's why I try to empty my mind as much as possible and just exist moment to moment--far easier said than done.

    Bottom line, there is no way to avoid doing the work.
     
  10. joroshiba

    joroshiba New Member

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    This is breaking off but a lot of this reminds me of a class my girlfriend keeps talking about that she is taking right now. It is a motivation class with a professor at the forefront of a lot of the research. What it boils down to is fairly basic and easy to understand: when you are externally motivated (motivated by results) you are less likely to succeed than when you are intrinsically motivated. Those who wake up every morning and want to ride the bike because they enjoy it, and push themselves because they want to improve themselves and enjoy that are more likely to succeed than those who wakeup and slog it out because if they don't they won't win. Everyone has some of each of these types of days for sure.

    In related news, I'm considering moving somewhere were you actually see the sun and can ride outside during the winter.
     
  11. bradg

    bradg New Member

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    Absolutely! Now, why do you think that might be the case?

    And I'm sure Rochester has plenty of charm, but wow, the weather. Must be a good spot for 'cross though, yeah?
     
  12. joroshiba

    joroshiba New Member

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    From a personal experience perspective, when I am motivated only by the results it brings I am more likely to give in when it gets hard, to say "I will be able to go harder tomorrow if I don't do this today." Which while perhaps true, ultimately leads to not pushing the boundries. This happens to me more frequently on those cloudy, sometimes rainy, or perhaps snowy days when just getting onto the bike was a small victory. All of my best rides occur when it is sunny, when there is no place I would rather be than one my bike and I'm excited to go out go hard and shoot for a personal best. Simply put, external factors can only push us so far, perhaps some of us farther than others, but still only so far.

    As for Rochester, I can't pretend to be its biggest fan. I came here from Austin, TX where the racing community was about 5x the size of that here, plenty of sunshine and great riding. I'd say I was a bit spoiled, I didn't expect the same but I didn't realize quite how dismal Rochester was (think cloudier than Seattle, colder and with a constant slow falling snow all winter). I hear the cross here is great, but I don't have and can't afford a cross bike :-/
     
  13. bradg

    bradg New Member

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    I was looking for info on the Austin racing scene recently, because I have a few friends down there and getting a race in on top of seeing people would be a great bonus. Wasn't sure where to look. There's a local crit series obviously, but wasn't sure if there are any bigger race weekends. Would love to hear any insight! I rowed on Lady Bird Lake over the past few years and always had a blast.

    While I'm definitely biased, I can't say enough good things about the awesomeness of the St. Louis cycling community. We have a "velodrome" that's suddenly gotten huge in the past year, and has attracted a really diverse crowd due to the prevalence of the hipster/fixed-gear community (they're so friendly; I know people complain, but I love these guys & gals). That has in turn bred a growing underground/unsanctioned race scene, which saw its biggest event a couple weeks ago when about 30 of us crashed the STL Marathon Course at 4:15am for a surprisingly fast race on deserted city streets in the predawn hours. Awesome. There's a weekly crit series, two gigantic pro-circuit criterium weekends (one in May, three big races, the other over Labor Day, four big races) on top of several smaller but very well-organized race weekends, a killer cyclocross scene, a reasonable amount of mountain biking with some solid racers, great time trial course on Wednesday night, and numerous shop rides. I guess it's the same anywhere, but the people here are really welcoming and tons of fun to ride with.
     
  14. joroshiba

    joroshiba New Member

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    In reply to your original questions: 1) Are you f-ing up your training by being laid back? 2) What is the optimal approach for training? 3) Why are there lots of studies that support polarized training but the popular methods seem to be lots of LSD or a SST/L3/L4 approach?

    1) Not necessarily, if you purpose for training is to try and get the absolute most out of your body then a more metered approach would likely be better (although you always need to pay attention to how you feel and such and re-adjust!) That said I know multiple guys who have moved from Cat 5 to Cat 2 by getting out on their bike 6 days a week, going on group rides with friends, getting lots of miles going hard at times, not going hard when they don't feel like it. These people could be genetically gifted, but the fact that everyone I know who has worked their way up to and consistantly gotten on the bike 12-15 hours a week, even without structure has been at least a good cat 3 within 1.5 years says something (I think). Riding your bike and doing so consistantly is the most important part.

    2) Loaded question: I may think I have an answer, Dave may think he has an answer and so might Greg Lemond and Tim Kerrison. Fact is while we know a lot more than we used to about this subject, we still don't know jack. Different people find different things work best for them, and when switching between protocols it is really hard to be unbiased. I personally have been doing lots of L2/L3 work, lots of variable paced rides, some L5 intervals introduced in march, just starting L6 work. Doing L4 work all season, but dialing it down a bit over time. Honestly, the approach I've taken though is not the one I would recommend to others, it was something I wanted to test out and see how it worked. I would generally say follow Dave's advice. I would add onto the lots of SST/L4 though, that I think you want at least one good long L2/L3 ride a week (I ride right on the border of L2/L3 for these long rides it never feels easy but I can do it for a long time). And once a month perhaps try and get out for a longer ride.

    3)There are two primary factors here I believe: a) studies can only last so long and thus don't show long term growth b) tradtion. Point b) is pretty self explanatory, but for point a): If you are in need of quick gains, polarized training is very likely the "best" way to go. However, I think there is strong anecdotal evidence that if you want to reach your highest potential you need to have the bulk of your training be good repeatable aerobic training. there is a very interesting article about how the switch from endurance training to polarized and back to endurance training in high school cross country and track programs has/is taking place here: http://running.competitor.com/2012/12/training/a-historical-case-for-aerobic-development_62700/2 I do not doubt that high intensity polarized training has its place in my training schedule, as I get closer to races and want to peak I do this, or if I want to break through to the "next level" I might do this, but the bulk of my training is good ole aerobic work. It isn't glorious, you don't become a champion overnight but overtime you continually progress.
     
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  15. CRITFITxCOACHT

    CRITFITxCOACHT New Member

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    So I've read all of the posts and there are some great answers to your questions. I only have one thing to add. Consistency......add one day of structured intervals to your weekly training regiment. Make it measurable and incrementally increase it and you will see gains. I have coached many athletes who are just looking for a magic pill and the only one I can legally find is consistency. Maybe you can fit in two days of structured intervals. If you can...do it. My point is, what ever you decide to do....be consistent.
     
  16. bradg

    bradg New Member

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    Hey, sounds like great advice to me. The obvious follow question up is...what sort of interval framework makes the most sense? I actually have a pretty good understanding of physiology, and really got into Jan Olbrecht's thinking in The Science of Winning, especially as it pertains to aerobic & anaerobic capacity. All that can get hyper-detailed, of course. I found this link interesting, because it lays out nearly all the studied intervals out there and their accordant effects, but I'm curious about your thoughts on this, if any:

    http://myworldfromabicycle.blogspot.com/2012/04/high-intensity-interval-training.html

    Either way, the idea of being structured and measurable makes tons of sense. And I'm with you about consistency. That's the only "magic" available. Consistency over a long damn time, at that.
     
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