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From The Archive: Teamwork

This is from the PezCyclingNews Toolbox archive circa 2016, but it continues to stay relevant year over year – and serves as a springboard to deeper thinking about the role of a rider within a team plan. I’ll tackle that more in a future post. For now read on and I hope you enjoy…

Last week at the Tour of Qatar, Team Katusha offered viewers a day to day primer on the value of a solid team plan executed to perfection, netting 3 stage wins in the process. Read on to learn how you and your teammates can begin to emulate the sort of selfless racing on display by the big dogs.

The pros live and breathe by the fact that cycling is a team sport, with each rider doing what is best to accomplish the goals of the team. Unfortunately, in the amateur realm this sort of effective execution is at best hit or miss, and more often than not completely missing.

You may recall a few weeks ago that I wrote about the value of having a team training camp. A training camp offers you and your mates the chance to get better acquainted, set some goals for the coming season, and enjoy long hours of our favorite activity! So what’s the next obvious project for you to tackle? How about building some effective team tactics? Trust me, it involves far more than a last minute discussion on the starting line about “doing a leadout!”

Who’s the Man/Woman?
This may seem completely rudimentary, but having a thorough race plan is the first step to success. Far too often riders arrive at the start line with no idea of who is the team leader and what sort of help is needed, much less an idea of what “help” really means.

Here is an interesting caveat to the above statement – it is surprisingly common for everyone on the squad to default to a helper/domestique role! This may seem counter to the common (mis)conception that most riders are really in it for themselves and don’t want to work for others, but in my experience it usually works the other way. Offering your services to the team is selfless and frankly, it is far easier to offload the pressure and responsibility of being “the guy (or gal)” and instead accept some largely undefined role as a domestique for the day.

In contrast, I challenge each of my team riders (and you) to take on the mantle of responsibility at least once each season, especially in the lower categories. It is an essential part of learning to be a complete racer and forces the rider to step up their game and deal with the stress of responsibility.

Role Playing
Once you have an idea of who the leader is, you can start sorting out what they will need to be successful. Are they good at positioning themselves near the front? If not, who can best help them do that? Who is going to carry an extra water bottle or rice cake so the leader doesn’t have to?

I like to assign at least one, often two riders to act as sole support for the team leader. These riders should all be very familiar with one another and able to instantly identify a need, meet that need and move the team plan forward.

To that I add a road captain – someone on the squad who has shown themselves astute at reading a race and more importantly moving around the field to marshal assets to the task at hand. From there we assign roles to the remaining riders based on their abilities and fitness. Here is where the meat and potatoes work of planning comes into play.

Really Riding for the Team
Often an amateur domestique will indeed think of themselves over the team needs. Not so much for their individual result or a win, but rather in their willingness to sacrifice themselves completely to the altar of team success versus a desire to not get dropped from the raging peloton. Ego is funny that way. So one key element is to carefully create and assign roles to riders so that they feel a sense of responsibility AND a sense of accomplishment at completing their assigned task.

If one of my riders is asked to ride tempo on the front for the first two laps of a 10 km course hard enough to dissuade attacks, I expect them to arrive at the 20 km mark largely destroyed and unable to further contribute to the teams plan. That leadout guy who’s supposed to drop the sprinter off at 200m – his finish line is at 200 m and he should ride as such. Doing a hard leadout at 28 mph is not doing your job – you need to take it to 32 mph or more to create the kind of pressure that stretches the field and allows the rider safely attached to your rear wheel to thrive in a diminishing field of challengers.

Buying In
So what is the key to creating this kind of buy in? Early planning and a consistent post-mortem on the race are two key aspects that are often overlooked or under-utilized. To meet this goal I use both a pre-race planning sheet and a post-race report that is standardized and assigns tasks and grades to each rider.

Don’t let the post race meeting turn into a complaint session where everyone takes shots at each other for not doing “their job” – no, this is a team effort and each rider must put ego on the shelf and be open to the critique and criticisms on offer from those in the fray, and accountable for their contributions and missed opportunities. One of the teams I coach has gone so far as to make these forms available online well ahead of the race so we have a living document of ideas that simply need a final version, as well as an instant database of each seasons racing. It’s very handy!

Begin With The Past
A good first step in creating a viable plan is to look at how the race played out in the past, and how your team in particular performed. Has the race been run on the same course for the last 10 years and always come down to a field sprint? Building a plan where your guy solos off the front from half distance is probably a losing proposition. Has there been a break-away each of the last few years? Why and where did it go? These snapshots of previous events can help form the template of what might work for you and your team.

Subsequent to that, look at the course itself. What is the defining characteristic of the race or the course itself? What obstacles are presented? Once you have a course and event profile, take it a step deeper. Where is the wind on the finish? Is there a particular landmark or course component that gives rise to an attack, or a nefarious corner that has seen mayhem time and again? How can you use this recon to your advantage?

If possible, I like to have my riders pre-ride particularly important race courses to see what changes the road may have undergone. Perhaps your favorite corner has been repaved and is now far less intimidating. Maybe what was a killer climb last year is now a mere bump because you and your team are fitter and more prepared. What gives you the advantage? Find it and build around it.

Summary
Team tactics in amateur racing are too often all talk and no action. Riders meet up before the start and hatch together an on-the-fly plan that has no background or thought put into it save the classic “who feels strong today?” Why don’t you help take your team to the next level by creating a comprehensive race plan for your next outing? There are some fundamentals to that task; namely knowing who you have available for the race, what their capabilities are, what the course profile is and where the opportunities lie for your team. To that you should add an almost obsessive amount of detail about who is to do what and when so as to create buy in from the other riders that their contribution to the greater good is worth not making the final selection.


Metabolic Testing – Now Available!

The evolution of training is such a fast moving topic the last few years its fun to watch. Smarter software analysis tools keep arriving to help coaches and athletes see a more comprehensive view of their training and, increasingly, individualized physiology. One of the smarter and more interesting, to me at least, programs comes from INSCYD. They have a testing protocol and some serious computational back end heft to support in depth analysis via models for things like lactate clearing curves, optimal recovery power, as well as physiological profiles expected from power based training.

Among their development partners has been Bora Hansgroh, home of World Champion Peter Sagan, and a few others.
Their goal was to create an accurate map of the physiological systems based on a couple of notable variations in the data collection protocol and a proprietary algorithm that they say tests above 95% for accuracy vs lab testing and invasive protocols. This is really inventive stuff in that it allows for a complex and comprehensive profile of you as an athlete via non-invasive, power based testing!

I’m pretty happy to be working with these guys as I think they bring a new approach that fits nicely with the research. To that end I’m doing a start up special on the testing package for $150.00. Normally it’s $225.00.

There are 10 spots a day available at this rate thru Feb 4th. I’d be so pleased if you shared this information with those you think might find it worth doing.

SIGN UP HERE!

or share the link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/personal-metabolic-testing-special-launch-pricing-tickets-42650139716)

Here is a partial sample of the data sets:

And some insight from the report:

“All graphs above visualize important endurance metrics, in steady state condition, in relation to the intensity (power or speed).The upper left graph shows the metabolic demand and oxygen uptake (in steady state). The oxygen demand (also named VO2tot – dark blue curve) increases with the intensity (speed or power). The oxygen demand is similar to the energy demand needed at a certain intensity. However it is converted into ml/min/kg of oxygen instead of using kJ or a similar unit of energy. Therefore the increment of oxygen demand in relation to the intensity shows the efficiency. The light blue curve shows the actual oxygen uptake (VO2) in steady state conditions. The unit is ml/min/kg – oxygen normalized to the body weight. As can be seen, at lower intensities, the actual oxygen uptake almost matches the oxygen demand, thus the needed amount of energy is almost completely covered by aerobic metabolism.At higher intensities however, a gap is opening up and the oxygen uptake cannot match the demand. This gap is shown as the light blue area, and shows the amount of energy (or more precisely oxygen) which needs to be covered by glycolytic metabolism. The lower left graph shows: Gross lactate clearance rate (blue), the lactate production rate (red) and the lactate concentration (yellow).During exercise lactate is be cleared from the muscle cell by aerobic metabolism (oxidation). Simplified, lactate gets burned and acts as a fuel in the aerobic metabolism. Therefore, the rate at which lactate can be cleared is directly related to the actual oxygen uptake. You will notice that the shape of the blue lactate clearance curve looks similar to the oxygen uptake curve above.The red curve shows the actual lactate production. As lactate clearance, the unit here is mmol/l/min. Look for the crossing point of the lactate production (red) and the lactate combustion (blue) – this is intensity of anaerobic threshold. At any intensity below, it can be seen the possible combustion of lactate is higher then the actual production. At any intensity above this crossing point, the lactate production rate is higher then the possible combustion rate, which results in an accumulation of lactate.The yellow line shows the lactate concentration in steady state conditions – this is a result of the production and clearance rates described above. Steady state means that time is infinite, and therefore shows the concentration that lactate concentration (in mmol/l) would reach. At anaerobic threshold – also known as maximum lactate steady state, the curve increase to infinite as no steady state can be reached anymore. The top right graph shows the lack of pyruvate (or lactate, grey line) and the actual lactate accumulation (purple). If you look back to the lactate production and lactate combustion, you can identify the gap between both at intensities below anaerobic threshold (below the crossing point of both). The gap between gross production and gross clearance is the lack of pyruvate. Or in other words: the amount of lactate that could be cleared additionally to the gross production. Lack of pyruvate curve is shown in mmol/l/min of lactate clearance. It shows the ability to recover from lactate accumulation in relation to the intensity (speed or power). At anaerobic threshold it runs to zero – the aerobic metabolism is saturated with lactate and no additional lactate can be combusted.The purple curve shows the rate of lactate accumulation. This occurs at intensities higher than anaerobic threshold. The steeper the curve, faster lactate accumulation at any given intensity.”

Thanks!

Matt


Busy

Having a plate full of things to do is invigorating and terrifying!

District CX is tomorrow and I still have to get the set-up set up, glue a tire, charge the battery, and I’m sure a dozen other small things that I’ll forget til the last minute.
Early Birds start on Sunday morning; Always a full day of fun in Fremont, you should come out!

National CX is next Thursday in the midst of a run of mayhem that is typical for a January, albeit a bit different this year…

Monday night team meeting – really important, lots to cover – better get started on that.
Tuesday head to Reno for Nationals (presuming I manage to dodge jury duty), set up tents, prep bikes, hang with teammates, pre ride, eat, rest and recover
Wednesday – Nationals race support, pre riding again, etc
Thursday race like the dickens, party like a rock start Thursday night
Friday rally down to Santa Maria for VeloSport Junior camp.
Saturday / Sunday Work junior camp Saturday and Sunday, rail home for..
Monday Team Ride
Tuesday – finally reset into the training year with my personal training clients

I love my job!

Another archive article today, stepping all the way back to October 2014 for this look at Anaerobic Power and W’

This past weekend the Cyclo-cross World Cup kicked off in Valkenburg with a commanding win by Lars Van der Haar, after a typically audacious start for the young gun. The ability to sprint for the hole shot by LVdH and other young stars like Mathieu Van der Poel are impressive and, surely, taxing, but how taxing are they?

One of the critical aspects of success in cyclocross is the ability to repeatedly hit the gas in short and crisp efforts. Ranging from the charge off the line to the myriad of 5 and 10 pedal stroke punches out of corners, and on out to those 10-60 second efforts that define cross racing, you are tapping your anaerobic capacity, or W’ (pronounced W prime) from the start of the race, so let’s learn a little bit more about it.

What Is W’
Over the past decade or so, lactate threshold, and the mechanisms therein, has risen to be the de facto gold standard of performance coaching and analysis. It is often discussed in both lay and scientific literature, and has been written about time and again by myself and others in the Toolbox family. Consider that a high lactate threshold power (or functional threshold power (FTP), maximal lactate steady state (MLSS), or critical power (CP)) really sets the entry point for success in racing, if yours isn’t sufficiently high, you probably won’t be in the pack to make the final selection.

Conversely, anaerobic efforts – those short and demanding 20-90 s efforts – while often discussed as to their importance, have been a bit of a black box. Thankfully, it is coming more and more to the front of the discussion of what drives performance. This makes sense, really, when you think about racing. After all, rare is the breakaway where you ride everyone off your wheel while doing a steady threshold effort. Whether on the road or in CX, eventually you need to make one or more supra-threshold effort to free yourself from the pack for that winning break or sprint.

The “Match”
Watching the first 5 minutes of a pro cyclocross race, it’s easy to believe that they sprint the entire time. And while their pace is likely a sprint to you and I, the reality is that an individual’s true capacity for those supra-threshold efforts is fairly limited. Often referred to as Anaerobic Work Capacity or more currently W’ (W prime), it is a short term energy source that uses non-aerobic (non oxygen) pathways that fills the gap when you hit the gas.

Essentially, anaerobic glycolysis is a 10 step process that very quickly produces energy to meet the demands of exercising muscles at a rate that aerobic metabolism simply cannot match. We typically speak of efforts in the 20 s – 2 minute range as being primarily ‘anaerobic’.

Indeed, in the nomenclature of power based training we often have an “anaerobic” zone that is generally greater than 120% of your threshold power, and this zone of training is used to try and raise both the absolute size of this reserve, and your ability to recover from those efforts. It’s a very useful system, unfortunately, the trade off is that there isn’t very much of it. You’ve likely heard this in recent coaching parlance as your “box of matches” in terms of saving those matches during races and increasing the number and burn power of those matches during training.

How Many Matches?
In 2012 Skiba et al, sought to model W’ use during bouts above Critical Power (roughly equivalent to the functional threshold power you likely have heard about – the power you can sustain for about an hour*), followed by recovery at different workloads. Each effort involved a 60 s hard interval followed by a 30 s recovery interval, with each recovery phase at a different intensity ranging from easy (20 Watts) to moderate, then hard, then severe.

They established a few notable observations:

• The absolute size of W’ in their subjects ranged between 14 and 28 Kilojoules, with a mean of 21 Kj. Recall that a Kilojoule is simply a thousand joules, and a joule is equal to watts x seconds (J= W x s). So when you are doing 333W for 3 seconds you’ve used 999 joules, or roughly 1 Kj! That’s not a very big basket, about a minute all-out!

• They affirmed that W’ began to be immediately depleted once power rose above Critical Power and that reconstitution of W’ did not start until subject power was under CP.

• The time of reconstitution (Tw) was impacted by the intensity of the recovery. Indeed at the 20W recovery level, reconstitution ranged between 370-380 seconds, while it was 452 seconds for the “medium” recovery effort and averaged 580 seconds for the “hard” recovery interval. The “severe” recovery constant averaged over 7000 s, indicating no W’ reconstitution within the 30 s recovery phase of the trial.

Building Your Matchbox
So how can you use this information in your daily training and racing? First, recognize that your stores of anaerobic energy are likely smaller than you thought they were. This again highlights the critical strategy of conserving your energy as much as possible while racing. Easier said than done, but that should always be your overriding goal until you make your decisive move.

When you, or your coach, are designing “AWC/W’” workouts, maximize your recovery! If your workout goal is to truly emphasize your W’ stimulus, then it makes no sense to start your next interval until you are recovered from the previous one. Recall that, even at the 20 watt recovery level, it still took roughly 6 minutes for your W’ system to reset itself. On the other side of the coin, when you are doing W’ work, the key is to go hard enough to tax the system, and mix the durations – remember it’s a range of effort.

Finally, focus on threshold! Skiba et al demonstrated that those with a higher VO2max had significantly faster reconstitution than those with lower aerobic capacities. They surmised that this was due to the larger “gap” between their critical power and recovery power, essentially they had a bigger tank to draw from for their recovery. So work to get your threshold up as high as possible.

A final observation from the studies was the idea that fiber type and creatine phosphate levels may have a significant role in recovery, possibly indicating a different recovery mechanism between the two fiber types. That is a compelling tidbit and I hope to see more research on that.

Summary
Anaerobic level efforts, those twenty to one hundred and twenty second efforts that hurt so much, can be viewed as the crucible in which results are derived. While functional threshold power gets you to the party, ability to deliver supra-threshold efforts during crunch time keeps you in for the win.

Unfortunately, each of us possess a relatively small amount of W’ and the reconstitution of it takes a very long time. On average, in the Skiba study, participants had less than 25 Kilojoules of available anaerobic capacity, and a 30 second all out sprint took an average of 333 seconds to recover from even when power was exceptionally low (20 watts). Higher recovery power took even longer.

The practical applications of this are notable when you begin to look at your performance in events like cyclocross, with a high anaerobic demand profile. Train the systems you need in a manner that will maximize your return, and don’t neglect your threshold power.

References
Gastin, PB. Energy system interaction and relative contribution during maximal exercise” Sports Medicine, 2001: 31(10): 725-41

Noordhoof et al. “Determining Anaerobic Capacity in Sporting Activities” Intl Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2013, 8, 475-482

Skiba,et al. Modeling the Expenditure and Reconstitution of Work Capacity Above Critical Power” Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise, 2012; 1526 – 1534

*It is important to note that although each method results in a similar estimation of W’ capacity, they go about it from very different approaches and shouldn’t necessarily be used interchangeably as the protocols are unique.


On belt buckles and archives

When I was in ninth grade I lived in a little tiny town in Southern Colorado.

La Veta was all of 600 people, zero stoplights and only a couple of paved streets. It sits at the base of the Wahatoya, two 13,000 foot peaks just south of town.

We played 8-man football against teams like Simla, Sierra Grande, and Aguilar. Most everyone played both ways. I was the 105 pound freshman running back and defensive end who was mostly used as fodder for the varsity on practice days.

Wrestling was a better fit and my coach was also my history teacher. I spent the last couple of months of school that spring living with Mr Denton, his wife and two kids, a few miles outside of town where the wind seemed nearly always on. My mom and step-dad had moved to Colorado Springs for a new job, but didn’t want to take me out of school. I remember having elk steak, going to the Southern Baptist church on Sundays and helping with finish work on Rodeo belt buckles. I learned to rope hay bales in anticipation of roping calfs sometime and I burned the crap out of my index finger and thumb grabbing a hot muffler off of a lawn mower or splitter.

Mr Denton had a side business making custom order belt buckles. He was actually quite an artist, quintessential cowboy painter. His buckles were sought after far and wide, which meant lots of finish work on buckles. In total I probably did less than 8 hours in those weeks, but it was memorable in that I saw real craftsmanship on display, and man I wanted a buckle! Thing is, you gotta earn a buckle. His kids had a slew of buckles for barrel riding, roping, etc, I’m sure. He didn’t offer and passed before I could order one as an adult. I still want a buckle.

Cowboy Legend Jim Shoulders Championship buckle is amazing. Don’t know the artist, but Mr Denton was on par I know.

I have written a bunch of stuff over the last 10 years or so, this is an archive post – a combination of two articles from PezCyclingNews (1, 2) a few years back. Interesting to see some of the current iterations of training metrics and analysis options coming on line. Analysis stuff like INSCYD and WKO4, Best Bike Split, etc…then mix in the rise of aerodynamics/biomechanics on the fly and more telemetry to boot!
This looks at some of the science behind the terminology and factors influencing “fatigue”.

Part 1 –

Lactate and Lactic Acid production are routinely offered as the seemingly natural cause and effect parameters that cause fatigue and decrease in performance, but are they really the source of the problem?

By Matt McNamara

If you’ve read anything about training in the last ten years you’ve probably come across the idea of Lactate Threshold and a discussion of how lactic acid production limits performance. The argument often goes something like this:

“As exercise intensity increases lactic acid production rises at a rate that, eventually, overwhelms the bodies ability to buffer this build-up and a decrease in performance naturally follows.”

Heck, I’ve repeated the mantra myself time and again over the years, despite KNOWING that it was an incomplete explanation of what actually happens. The truth is it provides a simple, though not wholly inaccurate, way to explain the well-documented trends of decreasing performance with increasing lactate concentrations. The idea of cause and effect just sort of fit well. So rather than perpetuate mediocre understanding, let’s jump in and learn a bit more:

A Brief, Albeit Incomplete, History
Lactic Acid was first isolated by Swedish researcher Carl Wilhelm Scheel from a batch of sour milk in 1780 (hence the commonly used term “lactic” instead of the far sexier formal name of 2-hydroxypropanoic acid, but I digress). Otto Meyerhoff and Archibald Hill, Nobel Prize winners in 1922, demonstrated that Lactic Acid was actually produced as a side reaction of Glycolysis, a primary metabolic pathway that converts carbohydrate/glucose into pyruvate, in the process converting energy into ATP through a 10-step set of reactions. In the absence of oxygen this conversion is sustained with Lactic Acid. This anaerobic process releases a proton (H+).

This was a key finding as it seemed to offer a cause and effect relationship between lactate production (lactate is, essentially, the salt or base of Lactic Acid) and the extended concept of Lactic Acidosis, or a decrease in pH that results from the release of protons in the system (cell or bloodstream).

This cause and effect relationship was taken as fact by researchers throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. However, in reviewing past and current research, Robergs et al (2004) have shown that there was no actual empirical evidence to support the cause/effect relationship; rather it was largely based on statistical correlation and the reputation of the Nobel Laureates Meyerhoff and Hill (which was richly deserved, I might add).

So, if the cause and effect nature of lactate production and acidosis is not an accurate portrayal of the role of Lactate in the onset of acidosis, and therefore performance, what is?

Debunking Lactic Acidosis
In 2004 Roberg, et al wrote an extensive review of the literature that sought to debunk the long-standing cause and effect relationship between lactate production and metabolic acidosis. Their sixteen page review takes an exhaustive, and somewhat intimidating, look at the true biochemistry of metabolic acidosis.

For example they detail the role of the phosphagen, glycolytic and mitochondrial systems in producing ATP and the differences in how each manages any released protons. They also note the difference in the nature of the proton release in glycolysis depending on whether the carbohydrate was derived from blood glucose or muscle glycogen. Glycogen is less acidifying to muscle during intense exercise.

Roberg then goes on to detail the many benefits derived from lactate production including the alkalizing effect of LDH, Lactate Dehydrogenase, or that it then circulates away the lactate to other areas that need it including the kidney, liver, and heart, for use as a substrate.

Finally, they looked at the role of nonmitochondrial ATP production, via research by Gevers in 1977 and 1979. Gevers established that metabolic processes other than LDH might contribute to the removal of protons in the form of the turnover of ATP via glycolysis. In other words that non-mitochondrial ATP production was likely responsible for metabolic acidosis.

But here’s where lactate threshold based training comes in

Training Threshold
Lactate threshold based training is a great tool. More specifically using the combination of a powermeter and a threshold based training approach is a highly effective way to manage your training.

Andy Coggan recently hosted a webinar on Lactate Threshold via USA Cycling. In addition to a comprehensive look at the establishment, definitions, and relationships of training around one’s lactate threshold. Among the cool takeaways

The first is to see terminology like Lactate Threshold, Maximal Lactate Steady State, Onset Blood Lactate Accumulation, etc as talking about roughly the same range of intensity. It’s likely going to be between about 80-90% of your VO2max for sustained periods of time. This will raise your general metabolic fitness. Further specialization is ideal for targeting specific race preparation

Coggan also noted that it has been shown in a wide array of studies that many other factors and processes contribute to fatigue. Things like epinephrine/norepineprine (adrenaline/noradrenalin), plasma potassium, and cortisol level, etc. often show a similar threshold type profile to that of lactate.

Abiss and Laursen did a comprehensive look at fatigue in 2005. Models to Explain Fatigue During Prolonged Endurance Cycling looked at no fewer than 10 different models of fatigue including the cardiovascular/anaerobic model, neuromuscular biomechanical, thermoregulatory models, and several others. Their net conclusion is that any number of systems may contribute to fatigue in a specific way for a specific situation, but in general the limitation of the system is derived from oxygen delivery to the muscles. Since we established above that metabolic acidosis is not derived from lactic acid, but that lactate production is an important contributor to oxygen delivery, it time to embrace those burning quads and get to work improving that lactate tolerance.

References:

1.Abbiss, Chris, Laursen, Paul – Models to Explain Fatigue During Prolonged Endurance Cycling. School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Australia. 2005
2.Coggan, Andy – Explaining Lactate Threshold. Webinar Presentation. 2010
3.Robergs, Robert A., Ghiasvand, Farzenah, Parker, Daryl – Biochemistry of exercise-induced metabolic acidosis. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 287: R502–R516, 2004

Part 2 – Lactic Acid Explained
It is a common misnomer that Lactic Acid is the cause of fatigue and cessation of high intensity exercise, yet training plans built around your individual Lactate Threshold are highly effective despite the debunking of the “Lactic Acidosis” rationale. Let’s learn why…

By Matt McNamara

Last month we looked at the intricacies of Lactic Acid/Lactate production and its role in limiting performance. The short summary of that article is to say that Lactic Acid production is NOT the limiter in high intensity exercise, and the science behind that belief was founded on an inferred cause and effect relationship between lactate production and cessation of exercise that, ultimately, proved to be untrue.

While lactate production may not be a limiter, it is clearly a marker of overload and does play a role in athletic development and performance. Lactate Threshold based training, when paired with use of a powermeter, is seen as the gold standard for endurance based performance improvement. So let’s explore the real meaning and value of Lactate Threshold based training.

What Does Lactate Threshold Really Mean?
First off, Lactate Threshold is commonly defined as “the exercise intensity at which lactate production exceeds lactate removal, and thus begins to accumulate in muscle and hence in the blood.” Unfortunately, the definition of what constitutes “Lactate Threshold” is highly variable.

Many researchers establish threshold as the point when lactate concentration rises 1 mmol above an exercise baseline. Others use a fixed value, for example 2.5 mmol per liter, as the threshold point. Still another approach is to use D-max which takes the mid-point between the baseline and maximal lactate concentrations. In the end the most important consideration isn’t the way threshold was determined, so much as the concept of Lactate Threshold (and associated terms) as illustrating the non-linear relationship between lactate concentration and exercise intensity.

It is also important to acknowledge that terms like Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS), Onset Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA), Ventilatory Threshold (VT), Individual Anaerobic Threshold, Critical Power, etc are talking about roughly the same range of intensity. Each of these, MLSS and OBLA in particular, correlate well with the power training concept of Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is itself defined as your maximal sustained power output for approximately 60 minutes.

Now that we have a clearer idea of what is meant by Lactate Threshold, and we know that Lactic Acid is not the cause of fatigue, let’s look at other factors that might play a role.

Other Causes of Fatigue
In 2005 researchers from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia set out to do just that. Models to Explain Fatigue During Prolonged Endurance Cycling, Chris Abbiss and Paul Laursen’s comprehensive review of fatigue literature, looked at no fewer than ten different explanations of fatigue.

Abiss and Laursen point out that fatigue is usually defined by the type of research being done. For example, if one is looking into psychological causes then they will tend to classify fatigue as “a sensation of tiredness,” while a biomechanist might look more at changes in force output to qualify fatigue. Fatigue research is also driven by a reductionist approach; those doing the research tend to look for a single ‘answer’ to the question of fatigue.

Among the different paradigms and models explored were the anaerobic/cardiovascular model, the energy supply/depletion model, neuromuscular fatigue, biomechanical, thermoregulatory, and muscle trauma models. In addition the psychological/motivational model, central governor, and complex systems models were also reviewed. A quick summary of characteristics might demonstrate that:

Neuromuscular fatigue tends to be divided into a question of where along the neuromuscular pathway inhibition occurs, while the muscle trauma model seeks to explain fatigue as coming from damage to the muscle itself, or to alterations in the chemical homeostasis.

The biomechanical paradigm seeks to define fatigue as the result of decreased efficiency of motion, where increasing efficiency lowers the production of metabolites (like lactate) and energy consumption, helping attenuate increases in core temperature. This segues nicely into the thermoregulatory model which looks at the role of core temperature and the increased demands on the physiological systems brought about as a result of increased core temperature towards critical points at which exercise capacity is reduced or terminated.

While psychologically no single variable appears to be responsible for motor output alteration due to afferent (outgoing) signals, it is thought that numerous mechanisms are responsible for the subconscious perception of fatigue and alterations in central activation and perceived exertion.

The central governor and complex systems theories seek to explain fatigue as a function of oversight by an as-yet-undefined central mechanism, or through the complex inter-relationship of multiple feedback loops seeking to maintain homeostasis, respectively.

Their net conclusion is that any number of systems may contribute to fatigue in a specific way for a specific situation, but in general the limitation of the system is derived from oxygen delivery to the muscles, especially at high intensity.

To further clarify in the Abiss and Laursen article fatigue was defined as “tiredness and associated decrements in muscular performance and function.” This is an important point as much research has looked at performance to exhaustion. The relevance comes when we look at how to best apply some of the factors above into the creation of a responsible training program. Many of the changes we seek are built around the optimization of oxygen delivery and increasing metabolic efficiency during the training year, so how does Lactate Threshold help?

Threshold As Proxy
An individual’s Lactate Threshold is the single most important physiological determinant of endurance exercise performance. It is trainable, reliable, and a sort of proxy for other important metabolic processes that underlie performance.

For example hormone production, like epinephrine/norepinephrine, shows a similar curvelinear relationship with increasing exercise intensity. Plasma potassium concentration, catecholamine concentration, plasma ammonia concentrations, growth hormone, cortisol and many other elements also demonstrate the same threshold type trends as lactate.

Power at Threshold
Now that we’ve established what Lactate Threshold is, how it is determined, and what processes it parallels, let’s spend a little bit of time on what advantages threshold level training can bring to your performance.

For untrained athletes the Lactate Threshold benefits of training can be seen at a wide range of intensities. Simply getting on the bike regularly will bring about many changes including increased mitochondrial density, blood lactate response, and reductions in lactate concentration at a given intensity.

For the trained athlete however, continuous training at intensities around Lactate Threshold has been shown to be beneficial since the time of the fabled East German sports machine in the twentieth century. The East Germans were famous for doing extended hours of training at OBLA!

In a similar vein, Gorostiaga et al in 1991 compared a continuous training group at circa-threshold intensity to one that did only structured high intensity VO2max type intervals (of the type that are all the rage today) and found some compelling differences. While the VO2max group did show a two fold increase in percentage change in VO2max (16% increase v 8% increase), the continuous training group had a ten fold increase in citrate synthase production compared to the VO2max group (25% increase v 2.5% increase). Citrate synthase is one of the main markers for muscle mitochondrial capacity, and is a good reference for total metabolic efficiency.

Both of these examples (the first decidedly anecdotal) serve to illustrate the value of continuous training at an intensity around Lactate Threshold. This has most recently been termed ‘sweet spot’ training, but the idea has been advocated by Lydiard, Coggan, and others in various forms or years. Typically “sweet spot” is defined as approximately 88-93% of your Lactate Threshold power, however the true measure of intensity should be determined by your ability to repeat them over multiple days in a training block.

These circa-threshold efforts should be at least twenty minutes in length, but can last up to two hours or more for advanced athletes. A key determinant of the duration and intensity is your ability to replicate the workout intensity/duration again the next day. A well prepared, motivated athlete doing 60 minutes at 88-93% of threshold power (FTP), should be able to replicate that workload again the second and third days. If you can’t then you probably went too hard, too long, or don’t have a good estimate of your FTP and need to adjust. My suggestion is to start doing some field testing to establish your FTP and then see what you can do. Have fun and let me know how it goes…

References:

1. Abbiss, Chris, Laursen, Paul – Models to Explain Fatigue During Prolonged Endurance Cycling. School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Australia. 2005
2. Coggan, Andy – Explaining Lactate Threshold. Webinar Presentation. 2010
3. Robergs, Robert A., Ghiasvand, Farzenah, Parker, Daryl – Biochemistry of exercise-induced metabolic acidosis. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 287: R502–R516, 2004


January

Is proving harder and harder to sit down and postulate on.

Too many balls in the air and too few hours to lock em down.

Fun projects from 30,000 feet, occasionally less so in the trenches. Hopefully the outcome gets a smile.

Sorta felt like riding on a hot air balloon over 24/36 months or so. Fortune and dumb luck often colliding in fetes of fun that, thankfully, have pictures. Belgian legends, Irish legends-to-be. Points in between. Sometimes a blur, always always a blast. The future still to book one plows ahead hoping a moments pivotal silence sneaks up again soon.


Intensity Factor and Other Training Metrics

Racing season is taxing! Focused rides chasing ultra specific watts and heart rate values and races where you are taxing yourself time and again in pursuit of results. Frankly, the pursuit of excellence can become monotonous. Thankfully, nature gave us the fall! So what is one to do if the idea of one more watts based workout may push you over the edge into madness?

if you are lucky enough to live where fall is a time of brisk mornings and warm, though shorter, days – versus those just entering summer (lucky ducks!!) or worse, those already feeling winters grasp (d’oh!), then you may find yourself aimlessly wandering through your “offseason” rides as the very idea of another watts based interval session sounds about as fun as repeatedly kicking a wall barefoot. Take heart, you have at your disposal the opportunity to reinvent your riding AND save your brain in the process!

Instead of simply following your old habits out of habit, why not try something completely novel this off-season? Indeed, it may well be a necessity to use your technology, but it is possible – and advisable – to use it differently. Here are three ways to freshen up your training by tracking different metrics.

Intensity Factor

I’ve recently challenged myself and my athletes to look at their workouts from different perspectives. For example, I’ve started using Intensity Factor (IF), Kilojoules, and RPE as the metric of choice for a given ride or block of training.

Intensity Factor is a great way to add some diversity to your rides. IF, in cool coach speak, is simply a measure of the difficulty of a particular ride or interval relative to your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Most of us, riders and power-based coaches, use FTP as the common metric of measure for workouts and intervals. We look at average or normalized power for an interval and give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down. IF, on the other hand, offers a different approach to quantifying your ride. According to the Coggan/Allen power terminology that has become defacto, Intensity Factor is of stated as “simply the ratio of normalized power to your threshold power” where, for example, a long effort at your FTP (for example 60 minutes) elicits an IF of 1.0. While this simple explanation covers the basics of what IF is, there is also a range IF efforts that are quantified by the Coggan/Allen system as follows:

IF < 0.75 equals a recovery ride IF 0.75 - 0.85 equals an endurance paced training ride IF 0.85 - 0.95 equals a tempo ride, aerobic/anaerobic interval workouts (where work and rest periods are combined), and longer road races (over 2.5 hours) IF 0.95 - 1.05 equals lactate threshold intervals (work period only), criteriums, circuit races, longer TT’s (eg 40Km) and shorter road races (under 2.5 hours) IF 1.05 - 1.15 equals a shorter TT or a track points race IF >1.15 equals a prologue TT or any of the shorter track events

Great, so how does this alter your training? Well, in substance it doesn’t really change your training. Work is still work, and the process requires work, however, if you find chasing watts mundane, substituting IF for a series of intervals may just fit the bill. Here is a recent workout where I used IF as my overarching reference while using watts for individual intervals.

you see below that there are multiple hard efforts, this workout was targeted MAP (maximal aerobic power) via a series of 1 – 2 minute efforts at my current MAP of about 350W. First off I did a 6 minute block of 30 seconds “ON” and 30 seconds “OFF” where on was above 350 Watts, and off was easy pedaling. Over the course of this initial interval my average power was 257W (roughly 91% of my 280W FTP), but my normalized power was 313W (112% of FTP) which, given the definition above, means my IF was 1.12 as well. You can also see that heart rate gradually sloped up and to the left during the entirety of the effort, as one would expect for an effort 12% over FTP. Average HR was 162 ( about 93% of my Threshold HR of 174bpm) but max HR was only 172bpm thanks to the short duration of the “ON” period.

Recall that my big picture metric was IF on this ride. If we go back and look at the 21:00 minutes up to the start of these on/off efforts my IF was only 0.79 (222Wnorm, 138HRavg), but by the end of the 6 minutes of on/off it had jumped to 0.88 (247Wnorm) but HR had only risen to 142bpm so far. Pretty good IF return for 6 minutes of work!

After that I rested for 4:45 minutes before starting the MAP work. During the rest period my IF was 0.16 (45Wnorm) and average HR was only 114bpm, however even with the downtime my rolling IF for the full ride was still 0.85 (239Wnorm, 139HRavg), cool!

Looking at the rest MAP work we can see that the intervals themselves netted me 45 minutes at an IF of 0.93 (260Wnorm) at an average HR of only 133bpm. While it may not sound that taxing, trust me, I was happy to be done with them! Here’s the fun part, and why using IF for this workout proved particularly useful to me…rolling IF at the end of the MAP intervals was 0.90 (252Wnorm) at an average HR of 135bpm, but my motivation to keep my IF high helped me stay focused on the work at hand even when I was tired, I wanted that high IF score more than I wanted the individual power on an interval late in the workout. Overall, including the casual ride home, I netted an IF of 0.83 in a 2 hour workout with 133TSS – right in line with the chart above for an aerobic/anaerobic workout. Certainly I would have gotten largely the same metrics using just interval power as a reference, but it was refreshing to “chase” something else for awhile!

Kilojoules

Another novel metric may be tracking Kilojoules during a workout. Kilojoules (KJ) represent the actual work done. A kilojoule is defined as 1000 joules or 0.239 calories. A Joule is a “derived unit of energy in the International System of Units” according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary. A joule is equal to the amount of work done on an object when a force of 1 Newton acts to move it one meter (ergo a joule is a Nm), or more specifically for our purposes a joule is the amount of force necessary to produce 1 Watt for 1 second. Scientists and others often use kilojoules as a defect representation of Caloric work done on the presumption that the human body is about 25% efficient (75% is lost as heat), so 1000Kj is roughly 1000kcal or 1000 Calories of energy expenditure. So, long story short, it’s a great way to quantify, roughly, the energy you’ve used.

So why would you use KJ’s as a training metric? It is a great way to quantify your work in another way! Go back and look at your hardest ride or race of the year. How many KJ”s did you burn? When did you use the most KJ’s in a given amount of time, say 5 minutes? One of the key references in performance improvement is the ability to produce really good power numbers after doing a lot of work. A simple comparison might be to look at your mean maximal five minute power after 500KJ, 1000KJ, and 2000KJ, or whatever number you find best represents the demands of a particular event. Were you able to produce 90% of your maximal five minute power after 2000KJ’s? If not, working to improve that may be a great way to improve your race performance! Similarly, what is your maximal KJ’s produced over a given time? Sure, this is largely akin to your max power over that time (more max power = more KJ’s), but recall that we are looking at novel ways to quantify your training. I will often have my riders do 1,500KJ rides with no other prescription. If they choose to try and complete the work in 2 hours, they’re gonna have to ride pretty hard to get 750KJ’s an hour. Then again, maybe they have the time to do it over 3 hours, or 500KJ/hour, which is considerably less difficult. Of course body weight matters so you’ll want to baseline some values before you try and slay yourself to the god of Newton meters!

Perceived Exertion

Finally there is the oft overlooked metric of RPE, or Rating of Perceived Exertion. Typically RPE is based on either the Borg scale or a modified version of the Borg scale. The classic Borg scale lets you self-rate an effort from 4 – 22, while the modified Borg scale is usually from 1-10. Here are a couple of graphical representations and their anticipated intensity:


The Original 20 Point Borg Scale


The Modified 10 Point RPE Scale

To further complicate things, Andy Coggan came up with a different RPE scale that he tied to power and heart rate values. This is his scale:

RPE is a great metric for a whole host of reasons. First, it requires no computer…it is just your assessment of how hard you are going! This is especially valid in the dial down from a long racing season when motivation may ebb and the desire to have a bit of fun often rules the day. Using RPE, one can meet training expectations without having their nose stuck in their GPS device! Then again, given the preponderance powermeters, and the luxury of having access to lots of data, backstopping your RPE against power data can be very useful. For example, I might have a rider go out and do a 20minute test asking them to maintain an RPE of 7 or 8 on a 10 scale. They still have a training “goal” but it is independent of a fixed reference. RPE is also a handy way for an athlete to find new levels and comfort with the inevitable, those hard efforts that require diligence and attention. “Comfort” may not be the right word, perhaps tolerance is a better word. Tolerance of personal discomfort is a mandatory part of improving as a cyclist, taking a somewhat psychological approach, in the end the mind often rules the day, is a great way for a coach or individual to begin resetting their comfort levels and ability to survive those efforts that often make or break performance.

Summary

The end of a racing season is not the end of training. Indeed, the fall is often the time riders can make substantial gains in their overall capacity and fitness. Unfortunately, the task of adhering to the same training metrics throughout a training year can prove unwise in the realm of exercise tolerance, freshness, and avoiding burnout. On offer here are three different metrics that might be of interest to riders seeking a novel approach to their training. Intensity Factor (IF), Perceived Exertion (RPE) and tracking Kilojoules (KJ’s) can be viable alternatives for those looking for something new. IF and KJ’s are both co-measures of power based training, simply looking at it from a slightly different perspective to the traditional watts for time approach. RPE, on the other hand, is a largely self derived measure that can help an athlete to find new thresholds of tolerance, and can be backstopped with power data to further refine training. Wether you choose from these three, or come up with new measures of your own, shaking up your training throughout the training can be an effective way to maintain and improve your performance in the long run.


November First

I always love November 1st! Mostly because it is the month of my birthday, but also because it represents the start of the “real” cyclocross season. September seems far too early to do ‘cross and October is more of a transition month, meteorologically speaking, but November…now that’s the start of some ‘cross racing weather! It is also the time of base rides with friends – and no these two do not have to be divergent in goal, it just depends on what priority you put on either. I’m torn because I like base rides almost as much as I like ‘cross. To be honest, this year I’m a bit more excited about the base rides. We have a team endurance ride this Sunday. I don’t have a route planned yet, but I’m sure it will include many thousands of feet of climbing and a “tempo” pace that will, inevitably, cause much suffering in the last hour. That is comes on the heels of my favorite local ‘cross race is just a bigger bonus!

Coyote Point has been the defacto “end of the season” race here in NorCal for much of the past decade. There are races after it, Districts and Nationals often, but it’s traditional slot on the first weekend of December always felt like the end of the “real” cross season. This year it’s about a month earlier..and ironically, for me it represents the real start of the ‘cross season. Yea, I should have trained more, I know. Anyway…It’s a great cross course, sitting next to the gently lapping waters of San Francisco bay and along the flight path of jets coming into SFO. I love it because it’s almost always cold and often wet…which it’s projected to be this weekend too, and I can’t wait.

November is also the month this site launches. The old SterlingWins has been around since 2004 and I am so appreciative of the hard work and design offered by an old client and web developer…but the time has come to update, or perhaps downgrade is a better word. The new site is “less” than the old one. Fewer pages, less content, but perhaps a bit more relevant to what Sterling actually does; help athletes get better! I look forward to sharing my vision of what that means on this page and on the site. Hope you’ll check back from time to time..

Happy November!

Coach Matt