The Workout: 5x5 Varied

It’s February! Super bowl is done. For a lot of our road racers it is starting to feel like racing season is just around the corner. As far as training goes, that means that maybe the base is starting to get pretty robust, athletes are getting strong, but now it’s the time we have been waiting for - time to start getting into a bit of that higher intensity and really add some FAST to that strong. Now, one could go on for quite awhile as to debating the ideologies behind how much intensity should be incorporated, what form the intensity should take, how it should change for different races, and on and on. I am certainly a proponent of doing intensity that is specific to certain races, but before doing workouts that are nitty gritty in the specifics of a course I believe athletes need to start building up their “racing tool box” by getting some of the general higher intensity preparation workouts under their belt.

If all an athlete’s been doing is zone two and zone three, and hopefully some sprint work, this workout is going to be a shock to the system. But it’s a great workout because it’s a tight block of VO2 work, but with a twist of doing efforts that are constant power and “broken efforts” where the power is on and off. I like that because you get time across a few different power bands. Basically, it’s both a building workout, but also a system shocker. But it’s a workout athletes can come back to a few times and see the numbers continue to improve as they get towards racing. As I have athletes first do this workout, it’s usually going to hit them a bit hard and knock them down a bit - but it’s just a real shock to the system, and helps jumpstart the legs before jumping into more intensity. I think it’s important to focus on “getting through” this workout. Meaning to shoot for numbers that are doable and finish the workout strong means getting more work done than trying to smash the first effort but falling apart after.

So here’s the workout:

Warm up with easy Z1/Z2 riding, and eventually build into a 10min Z3 effort @ 95+ rpm (a bit of technique work, and loosen up the legs for the main efforts). Then, get into the efforts:

  • 5min in the top of Z4 (105% FTP)

  • 5x40 sec hard / 20 sec easy (don’t think about power, just focus on going hard but even across the set - important to build sense of what athlete can do, without the # prescribed)

  • 5min in mid Z5 (this one should be hard, but not max, numbers can be around 110-120% FTP)

  • 5x40 sec hard / 20 sec easy (don’t think about power, just focus on going hard but even across the set - important to build sense of what athlete can do, without the # prescribed)

  • 5min at max effort - this one is about emptying the tank on tired legs, and building the ability to nail a negative split.

It is 5x5min efforts with a twist; recover for 6min in between efforts if doing as a set.

Another twist on this ride, especially as the season builds and athletes are training for longer races is to do this set of efforts spaced through a 4 hour ride, doing the last effort in the final hour. Try it out, let us know how it goes. Good luck this racing season, and thanks for reading!

What Does 2019 Hold for Oliver Flautt?

It's 2019 officially, we've been talking about it, thinking about it, dreaming of it - now we're here. What's on tap for you with cycling in 2019?

2019 is gonna be a big change in direction for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have raced the national scene in the US for the past four years. This year I’ll be taking my talents to….Germany! I’m very excited to be racing for Team Dauner Akkon in 2019. It’s a pretty young team with some big talent. I have yet to meet my teammates as I’ll see them at team camp in February. The current team schedule has me foaming at the mouth with excitement. I’ve always loved a good boxing match in the European gutter so time to lace up!!!

How has winter training been going? How are you feeling, what have you been working on?

My winter training has been bar none so far. I’m in a great place for January and looking forward to more hard work. One thing I’ve been working on is that late race sniper move. The one that really puts the nail in the coffin for other riders. In addition to on the bike power I’m constantly trying to improve core strength and flexibility. I think anyone can ride tempo all day but it matters where you can go after doing that, especially against the best in Europe.   

Do you have a workout that is your favorite - either because you just love it, or you love it where it takes you?

I’ll take a bite of anything Nate comes up with for training. It’s hard to pick a single workout as he’s great at keeping it interesting and pushing the limits on what I feel like my potential is. If I had to pick I’d actually say the recovery day spin. Anyone can do the hard days and grit their way through a hard session but actually taking it easy and letting your body recover is sometimes over looked. The best recovery days are spent with friends on the bike and just enjoying the capability to ride a bike. Sometimes you just need some wind in the hair no matter how fast or slow you’re going.  

You've been chipping away at this cycling thing for awhile. It's been a lot of fun to follow your progress. Personally, seeing you put the hands up for a win at Intelligentsia last year was an awesome feeling. I think you've had a lot of strong rides that haven't always resulted in the result you wanted put across the line, but that you day you saw it through to completion. Can you tell us a little bit about how that day worked out, what it meant to you, and maybe what you learned from it?

Yeah! That day was pretty sweet. My year really didn’t start out as expected with getting food poisoning the night before Joe Martin Stage Race and not getting my legs back under me until the final stages of Redlands so I didn’t really have any, “runs on the board". This day in particular was super cool as I’d been asked by one of my best friends to be his best man in his upcoming wedding. First thought was, “it’d be cool if I could win this bike race thing today”. Super smooth race track outside of Chicago was the location of the race. Long story short, I made it into the break with my teammates Winston David and Ricky Randall as well as about 8ish other riders. Our lead started to get pretty large until the field simply let us go and we ended up lapping up on the final lap. The legs were pretty good that entire week so I just needed chaos to break loose to shed some other riders. My teammates worked selflessly in the break all day so I needed to, "bag one for da boyz”.  3/4 of the final lap done and some bombs were being dropped. I knew my old teammate Matthieu Jeannès was gonna hit it before the cross wind section and bam there he went. I counted 3 seconds in my head until I ripped it past the other guys in the break to make the bridge to Matt. Caught Matt, recovered then had the snap to come around him with 300 meters to go. Got a sweet photo of the post up and got a bag of Intelligentsia coffee!      

Top 3 favorite things Georgia?

Southern Food, Creature Comforts Athena, and holding doors open for others. 

Favorite place you've ridden and/or ride you've ever done?

I’ve ridden in some pretty sweet places but one place I always enjoyed because of growing up there is Decatur, GA. Not the most flash place to ride/train but if it was all about training we’d all ride on trainers! 

Top 3 favorite songs at the moment?

1)Pure Water- Skepta

2)Everything Apart- Fox Warren

3)In My City- Killer Mike, T.I. 

Favorite race you've ever done and your favorite teammate - not necessarily from that race?

Sunset loop of Redlands when it inevitably rains maybe hails. I’ve had amazing teammates and I’m too nice to just pick one. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how to be a great teammate from them. I always try to be the best teammate I can be and it’s a tip of the hat to the great teammates I’ve had.  

Favorite sport other than cycling? What would you want to be doing if you weren't cycling?

I was a soccer NUT growing up before I got into cycling. I don’t keep track of the standings as much but I’m always up for a game of FIFA or kicking a ball around. 

You've just finished a big day of training, you can go wherever you want to eat - but it can't be Chipotle - where are you going?

I don’t know if there are many people know the hype around Publix chicken tenders sandwiches but it’s real and they’re amazing. For sure a 12 inch sub with some chocolate milk. Spicy chicken tenders if I’m feeling well, spicy. 

Open forum shout out to the homies - GO:

There are so many people to shoutout! I can’t say enough about how the crew behind Catalyst Coaching! Nate took me under his wing when I was in a transition period in my racing career. He’s kept me humble and always chomping at the bit. I distinctly remember being dropped like a bag of bricks when I first met Nate back in his racing days. It’s great to have some one in your court who’s got the knowledge and experience required to thrive in this rat race we call bike racing. The combo of Nate and Jim Peterman is killer. Jim is a Georgia boy so we connect over all things south. Jim’s got a plethora of physiological nuggets and I always tried to pick his brain about all things physiology. 

January is for Grinders.

I love telling athletes, “consistency is king”. It’s one of those easy to spout off, straight to the point, memorable, silencers. That said, I have a love/hate relationship with these one-liners. I think they package a great sentiment, and it can be hugely helpful to have a concise idea to fall back on when the going gets tough. That said, it is a sentiment – and what we’re after is action. Sentiment can leave a big gap to action, and I think some of that is on the athlete to choose what they do with it.

I am really thinking of this now as this is an interesting time of year. Race season is going to come up fast, so we’re all switching into the mind set that it’s time to get our asses in gear and go from just being active to actually training. OK, so we’re pumped, we’re going to crush it. But simultaneously it’s colder, it’s darker, and we still want to spend time with our families because once race season starts there are going to be a lot of travel weekends. So we’re trying to be more serious, but it’s also harder to do so.

I always find it a bit ironic, the way we’ve set ourselves up as cyclists – September and October are two of the nicest months all year for riding, but they’re also kind of our “off season”. Then we decide it’s time to work hard in January, when riding kind of sucks. All of that can really combine to crush the morale.

I think a lot of athletes let this become a major obstacle. They want to be doing amazing things on the bike in January to build confidence and enthusiasm for the race that feels like it is just around the corner. But then that translates to not riding at all on Sunday, because weather and time didn’t allow for them to ride for 4 hours. It’s easy to do nothing, rather than to do less, because less feels like it’s not enough. The truth though is that less is a lot, it’s a lot more than nothing. And less can be consistent – so can nothing, but consistent nothing does not progress make.

This is where “consistency is king” comes into play. January isn’t about being fast, it’s not about being cool, it’s not about doing confidence boosting workouts – it’s about being calloused, and being consistent. January is for the grinders. My advice – to myself and my athletes – is don’t focus on the outcome each day, focus on getting out each day. People don’t all realize how far a small amount of time on the bike, done every day can go – compared to nothing.

In action this idea of just prioritizing being consistent over being fast and flash and doing good numbers should translate to being pretty fluid with the planned training. Maybe a buddy comes in to town and wants to go Nordic skiing, but you’ve got a ride – well it’s simple, go Nordic skiing. It’s fun, it’s awesome aerobic load, and you’re getting a strength workout in tow. Most important of all, you got out the door. Just keep getting out the door.

Athletes that are consistent in January, may not have any great workouts in January – the numbers may suck. But if they commit to detaching from the judgement and wondering if they’re getting faster, and focus on just doing the work, I promise (well maybe, promises are dangerous!) that they’ll poke their head up in 6 weeks and be a lot faster. Once they’ve focused on consistency then they can worry about getting fast. So it’s cliché and oft repeated, but don’t put the cart before the horse.

Close it the way you open it – “consistency is king”. Thanks for reading.

Time Trial Predictors

What’s it take to win a time trial?  A high threshold?  A high VO2max?  Small frontal area?  A paper I published a couple years ago was designed to answer exactly that.  Turns out, your overall aerodynamic profile is the single most important factor for determining time trial performance. 

The aerodynamic characteristics of a cyclist are influenced by both frontal area as well as the coefficient of drag (“Cd”).   Frontal area is simple enough to understand – it’s just the head-on shot of what the wind sees.  In terms of aerodynamics, intuitively, we would think that a smaller frontal area would result in a more aerodynamic profile.  However, this is not always the case and the reason for that is the coefficient of drag. 

The coefficient of drag is a measure of how well air flows around the cyclist and bike.  Frontal area is not directionally proportional to this coefficient.  Instead, this coefficient is influenced by a number of things such as clothing and textures.  This is why companies spend so much time researching where to add seams to skinsuits and why some companies add dimples to their products.  It’s all in the name of improving airflow around the rider and bike. 

As we found in our study, the aerodynamic profile, which takes into account both the frontal area and the coefficient of drag, is able to explain ~70% of the difference in level time trial performance.  Knowing the aerodynamic profile then allows for a better prediction of performance compared to traditional measures like VO2max and threshold power. 

Of course, threshold power and VO­­2max are important.  I may be able to get to a similar (or better!) aerodynamic profile as a World Tour rider, but I’ll never be able to beat them because I don’t have the threshold power needed.  And so while aerodynamics is the single best predictor of performance, normalizing power at VO2max or threshold by the aerodynamic profile, provides the most accurate prediction of level time trial performance (whereas normalizing power by weight would be more accurate at predicting uphill time trial performance).     

Hopefully at this point you’ve enjoyed the Kool-Aid and understand the importance of improving your aerodynamics.  Now, let’s talk about ways to improve your aerodynamic profile.  The paper discusses a simple way to measure your aerodynamic profile without going to a wind tunnel.  All you need is a power meter, flat road, little/no wind, and some motivation to ride the same stretch of road multiple (multiple!) times. 

To improve your aerodynamic profile, don’t focus on only improving your frontal surface area.  You could get in a very narrow and short position, but it may result in you hunching your back which will worsen the airflow around the body and actually increase your aerodynamic drag.  The current catchy phrase is “tall and narrow is aero” and is a good place to help you start.  Another simple way to improve your aerodynamic profile is pinning your race number smoothly against the body so it doesn’t catch the wind. 

Remember what I said above though, your ability to produce power while in the aerodynamic position is also important.  This means that you need to make sure you’re able to apply some power to the pedals while riding in your aerodynamic position.  Being as narrow as possible may be great aerodynamically, but if you can’t control the bike and you crash, you’re not going to be performing well in any race.  Once you’ve gotten your position dialed, make sure you’re riding and training on the bike so you can race at your best.

This time of year is great for tinkering with your position.  You can test out some different positions to find out what’s the most aerodynamic and comfortable.  And because the big races are still at least a couple of months away, you’ve got time to adjust to your new position and get comfortable riding in that aerodynamic position.  It’s just one small way to get towards your best season yet!  Thanks for reading!

The Workout: Winter Sprint Work

What kind of cyclists do I think should do sprint work in the winter? Trick question, I think all cyclists should sprint work in the winter. Yeah, pretty good joke one could say. On to the meat of the matter, I think sometimes we get hung up on nomenclature and let that dictate training more than it should. The word sprint may conjure up the image of a mad dash to the finish line of a race, totally maximal, road bikes, speed, etc, etc. Immediately a bunch of cyclists are saying, “that’s not something I do, so I shouldn’t do sprint work, that’s not for me”. On a simple level when I think of a “sprint”, all I think of is a short, hard, burst – it doesn’t have anything to do with charging for a finish line, it doesn’t need to be specific – except for perhaps in duration. So to add one more parameter, let’s call it less than 20 seconds. Definitely there’s some folks out there that don’t like 20 seconds and want to say a sprint is below 12 seconds – as the basic physiology lessons are that we start to cross over into a different energy system after 12 seconds of maximal effort at the latest – and it may be shorter depending on the CP stores on hand in the specific context. Whew, good run on sentence. For the specific workout I want to talk about today, I like doing twenty second efforts, and I think (anecdotally if nothing else) there is benefit in doing these 20 second efforts, as they make it that bit longer than most people really feel good sprinting – probably largely in part due to that switch over of energy systems in the back half.

Before I get in to the workout itself, I’ve missed talking about why I think all cyclists should do them. Remember, I think that a sprint is just a short (<20 sec) burst of maximal power, nothing more.  The finish line sprint, that’s low hanging fruit. How about some more contexts? An XC MTBer racing for the hole shot – sprint. A road cyclist getting up to speed out of a corner or following an attack or attacking – sprint. A 100 mile marathon MTBer popping the front wheel up to get over a rock with 2-3 hard pedal strokes – sprint. A triathlete charging out of T1 and trying to get onto the back of the bike pack – sprint. OK, yeah so I think the argument can go on, but the point being I think sprint work is valuable across the board. Further – in the winter when people are really often training on a pretty “general” level and just accumulating load, not necessarily doing too much specific work. Well that’s the perfect time to add in some sprint work. It does not add a ton of total fatigue. It can add a significant tool to the toolbox. Athletes don’t have a ton of other “high priority”, event specific sessions that then they have to stress about squeezing this sprint work in between. And never to be forgotten, it’s fun to go fast. As the Great Mike Sayers says – SPEED KILLS.

The final thing I do want to add is that beyond just improving at sprinting, doing this sprint work is something that can help with performance across all durations on the bike because it helps improve neuromuscular recruitment. This is a point that deserves more than I’m going to write on it. But the simple way I think about it is that when an athlete asks their body to go max for a short period of time, it drives the body to use as much of the muscle it has access to. Often we have more muscle than we’re functionally “switching on”, or another component is the “synchronicity” of this recruitment – i.e. recruiting the muscles we’ve got at the same time to bring more workers to the party. Without droning on, maximal sprint work forces us to do this and drive these improved neuromuscular connections. Bringing more muscle to the party helps all the time. Sprint work stimulates the adaptation, but the adaptation is then applicable across a larger spectrum.

OK – long build up – here’s the workout:

•Warm up for 20-60 min  with easy riding, then get into the efforts.

•10min Z3/Tempo, 105+ rpm – focus more on leg speed than power.

  • We’re doing this effort to add a bit of general aerobic load to the workout, wake up the fast twitch fibers with some high cadence, and generally “open up”.

•2x15 sec seated little ring sprints, done in a light gear, only shifting when you’re truly spinning the gear out.

  • We’re focused on leg speed and form here more than absolute power

•4x20 sec seated sprints, done in a big gear (53x15-16 depending on gradient), from a near stop (<10 kph – this is key!), max seated acceleration up to speed without shifting.

  • Now we’re into the meat of the work. This should be very high torque for the start, we’re building a lot of force production and working on that neuromuscular recruitment. A good gauge on gear selection is to aim to hit 100 rpm just in the last 4-5 sec of the effort. Adjust starting gear to achieve this. A lot of folks do these efforts and have different names for them. I call them stomps – mainly because that’s what my first coach (Sue Hefler) called them, and I what grew up knowing them as.

•4x20 sec standing starts, these are the same idea as the “stomps” but they’re done all out of the saddle. Start again in a big gear (a bit bigger than the stomps, like 53x12-13), from a near stop, and accelerate at max up to speed.

  • It’s easy to get caught up on the max wattage when sprinting. If done correctly, max wattage should not necessarily be a great gauge for this workout. By starting in a way bigger than “ideal for power production” gear, from a near stop, by the time you get on top of the gear to the point where you could produce your best power, the legs are a bit tired from the initial 10 or so pedal strokes. So you can ideally see the max power in these sprints improve over time, but it’s not going to be a good comparison to the numbers you’d see in more “ideal sprinting” conditions.

  • I’d also encourage athletes not to really think about the power numbers on these workouts. Sprinting really shouldn’t be about power production, it should be about SPEED PRODUCTION. Most of the time there’s a decent overlap in the two, but it’s not always the case. I’ve certainly seen athletes putting up big numbers on the meter at the expense of speed because of sloppy form. Don’t do that – focus on going fast first, power only helps as much as it translates to speed.

•Recovery in this workout is really important. Recovery should be long and easy, at least 3 minutes between sprints. This is key so that sprint quality can remain high. We want full recovery between, and not for this to be a workout sprinting from any sort of “aerobic load”. Go really easy between sprints – don’t go out to do this workout also aiming for a “good average power” or anything like that. They’ll just work against each other.

Thanks for reading, and let us know what you think about the workout!