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!

A Cyclist's Non-Cycling Wish List

It’s the holiday season, which means it’s also the gift-giving season.  Finding the perfect gift can be one of the most stressful parts about the season.  Well, this blog post is here to help.  

At Catalyst Coaching, we’re all about whole body health.  Keeping the body healthy takes a lot more than just the latest cycling gear.  Instead of listing our favorite cycling gear, we’ve created a non-cycling wish-list that’s got our top 5 favorite things we use to stay healthy.  So, without further ado, here it is:

  1. Food Processor/Blender. There’s nothing quite like a post-ride recovery smoothie in the summer (or winter!).  But, you can do a lot more than make smoothies.  Homemade pesto is one of my favorite things to make (a future blog will cover my favorite recipes) and helps me get a bunch of healthy greens in my diet. A blender is better for smoothies while a food processor is better for pestos and other fancy kitchen prep.  If you had to choose one, a quality blender would be your best bet.

  2. Slow Cooker. I love coming home and having dinner ready for me.  I can get everything put in the slow cooker before I head to the office or out for a ride, and it’ll be ready when I get home.  Great for making hearty soups or stews.  I’ve also made pastas with relative ease!

  3. Rice Cooker. The time-saving appliances strike again!  I love rice and cooking it is easy.  However, I’m easily distracted and a rice cooker allows me to make perfect rice without paying attention.  It’s hard to imagine life without it.  As a side note, there are appliances which combine a slow cooker, rice cooker, and pressure cooker all into one.  That’s hard to beat…

  4. Massage Gift Certificates. Massage is an amazing recovery tool.  Yes, foam rollers can help but they’re not as good as the real thing.  A lot of massage therapists offer gift certificates this time of year. It’s a great way to treat yourself and keep your body happy.

  5. Yoga Pass. Another in the gift card basket.  Yoga helps strengthen and stretch the muscles to help you stay healthy.  Get a pass for a yoga class.  Or at least get a yoga mat for home so you can do your own “practice” – there are a number of videos on YouTube.

  6. Resistance Bands. We’re giving you one extra gift idea because we’re in the gift giving mood… Resistance bands are great for working muscles that are often neglected in cycling. And the best thing about them is that they’re easy to take with you when you travel!

Use this list to create your own wish-list.  Use this list to help you buy something for your health-conscious friend/partner/family member.  Or, print this list out and leave it somewhere for your secret santa to find…

No matter what, we hope this list helps take some of the stress away from the holiday season.  Now, get out there and enjoy the holidays!  Thanks for reading!

Kegga G's OFRR

What is your favorite ride? That is the question we posed to Keegan Swirbul. I think everyone’s got that special ride, where they just feel like it’s their road, a route that they could ride day after day. It may be an ever moving target - but it’s a really cool, special, connection in an era of wattages and intervals, where sometimes we miss what the surroundings actually look like. We wanted to check in with some of our athletes and see what their favorite ride is and what makes it so special. Hopefully we won’t ruin anyone’s ride by giving away their secret spot!

Kegga G has placed his “tag” all over the state of Colorado, jumping from one Strava KOM to the next , and we thought he’d be the perfect athlete to start with. Here’s what he had to say:

For the new age, gravel/adventure crazed cyclist, nothing can top a long, twisty, narrow gravel road that snakes and switchback's its way up through one of the most picturesque national parks America has to offer. Rocky Mountain National Park's Old Fall River Road is America's best hope for matching some the European giants we all drool over while watching the grand tours on TV. The famous Giro d'Italia climb, the Colle delle Finestre is the closest relative to Old Fall River Road (OFRR). While the Finestre might be a touch longer or even a bit steeper, my favorite Colorado climb boasts one thing far more grand than its Italian cousin. MEGA, mega altitude! Toping out at almost 12,000 feet above sea level, OFRR is, lets just say, wayyyy up there. But don’t let the fact that you will feel like you are breathing through the smallest of straws deter you from hitting this classic ride. It is no doubt one of the coolest rides in the country! 

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This ride is pretty simple to hit and there are hardly any places where you could make an incorrect turn. Park your bus in Estes Park and jump on your bike. The park charges a 12 dollar day pass fee in order to enter, but do not fear...you will get your money's worth. Even if it means doing an extra lap up the 3,200 foot ascent ;) Jump on the paved Highway 34 which is also known as Fall River Road. Stay on 34 for 8 or 9 kilometers before taking a 90 degree right turn on to OLD Fall River road where the fun promptly begins. Fun, that is, if you enjoy suffering while grinding up a climb for the next 9 miles! It boasts a relatively steady gradient throughout its entirety and has a total of 15 sharp switchback turns to give it that classic Tour de France-style-climb feel that we rarely experience in America. If you are really fast, you will be able to enter the elusive 'sub hour club' joining professional riders such as Robert Gesink, Ted King, Alex Howes, Sepp Kuss, and Gavin Mannion who all clocked up times in the mid 50's. Somehow, my time up the climb still triumphs all coming in at 50:13! Hopefully Sepp Kuss doesnt go out for one of his legendary KOM assults on this climb for a few more months so I can continue to enjoy my pride and joy KOM for a bit longer ;) 

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You will be able to tell you are getting close to the summit of this beast when you are getting to the top of the ridge line. You will be greeted by a very welcomed water bottle fill up option in the restaurant which is open all summer and most of fall until the snow flies. After a quick regrouping stop, hop on and enjoy the fruits of that 12 dollars you paid to enter the park a few hours ago. Trail Ridge road is an absolute BEAUTY and the pavement matches its illustriousness. You will enjoy glass smooth and pothole-less tarmac for miles and miles as you barrel down this screaming fast and relatively untechnical decent. During peak season, watch out if you are going too fast as there are quite a few tourists who are not the most cyclist-aware drivers on earth. Other than that, let er rip!!! This road will take you right back in to Estes park for a total of 41 miles and a perfect looking loop to upload to Strava for those Strava obsessed people like myself ;) Enjoy this beauty of a day on the bike!!

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The Spooky Time of Year

Happy Halloween! In honor of one of my favorite holidays, today’s blog post covers one of the scariest topics in sport: goal setting.  Now I know, I know, there are better ways to incorporate Halloween into a blog post (like how slow and steady can win the race). Instead, goal setting is the focus as it’s that time of year when athletes and coaches start to think about next season. 

For many athletes, goal setting can be scary – the idea of setting a goal and not achieving it can be a terrifying thought.  However, a proper goal should be a little scary because it pushes your limits. For example, a goal could be to get to 75 houses for trick-or-treating.  It’s been a while since I last went trick-or-treating (a year to be exact…), but 75 houses means covering a lot of ground and if I fail, I could end up exhausted and stranded over by that poltergeist house

It’s important that your goals are difficult yet potentially achievable.  The goal of getting to 75 houses for trick-or-treating may sound like a lot, but last year I got to 60 houses.  While adding on an extra 15 houses isn’t exactly easy, it’s still feasible based on how many I got to last year.  Aiming for 100 houses on the other hand, would certainly push my limits and isn’t something that would be possible since last year’s 60 houses left me pretty worn out.  Setting myself up for failure isn’t going to be fun for anyone. 

The important thing is to find the right balance between pushing your limits and making a goal too easy.  An ambitious yet achievable goal will keep you motivated to improve as an athlete.  Making it to 75 houses this year will require not only improved stamina and speed, but also the strength to carry that much loot.  With that ambitious goal in mind then, the motivation will come easy. 

Another important point is to create goals that get you excited.  You want to create goals that get your heart racing when you think about achieving them.  This aspect can be extremely variable between people and is why there are so many different possible goals.  For me, it’s the stomach ache from 75 houses worth of candy that gets me excited.  Whatever the case is for you, the important thing is that you’re dreaming about the day you get to achieve your goal.

One last thing about goals.  Goals are not meant to be kept a secret.  Goals should be shared with friends, family, mummies, ghosts, etc. so that they can be there to support you.  A strong support system is needed whenever you are trying to achieve your goals (just ask any NASCAR driver).  Once you’ve decided on your goals, let those around you know. 

Through this post, I’ve told the world my Halloween goal.  It’s ambitious but it’s kept me motivated to train all summer.  And there’s a chance I may not achieve it, but as they say, it’s the journey, not the destination that matters.  Or, as the great Warren Miller said, “if you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do!” Hopefully you’ve learned something and can create your own fun and ambitious goals for next year.  Now, to get my costume all set for the big night.  Hopefully all 75 houses get it… Thanks for reading!