Last weekend I was at the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance for a two day a foundation workshop run by the UK Strength & Conditioning Association aimed at people looking to become accredited as an S&C coach or those, like me, wishing to add best practice to their existing sport specific coaching.
The English Institute of Sport define Strength & Conditioning broadly as ‘the physical and physiological development of athletes for elite sport performance’. In practice, for a sports specific coach like me, this means using a none cycling environment to improve the performance of a rider on the bike.
The conditioning part is relatively straight forward, this is preparation of an athlete to perform to their best ability. That’s what I do on a day to day basis with cyclists by prescribing a training plan that tells you how hard, how long and how often you should ride to achieve your cycling goals.
Aligning the strength bit to make it cycling specific is a little more challenging although pretty much any athlete is going to benefit from being stronger. In theory, stronger muscles mean more power, better recovery and less susceptibility to injury but in practice does lifting heavy weights in a gym correlate well to knocking out a personal best for a 10 mile time trial or completing a 100 mile sportive in one piece?
A few years ago, cyclists of any flavour wouldn’t be found dead near a gym, more recently, cyclists who specialise in track sprinting wont be found anywhere else. They now spend more time back squatting, dead lifting and SLDLing huge weights in small repetitions than they do on the track. The worlds best sprint cyclists can’t be wrong and the case for well-structured gym time is now made and evidenced by the number of gold medals won by the GB sprinters over the last few Olympics.
For endurance cyclists (in practical terms, anybody who isn’t involved in BMX or track sprinting) the case is less clear cut. Speaking to the tutors on the course, they said they have struggled to convince elite endurance cyclists that getting off the bike and in the gym is time well spent. Further, and understandably given their discipline, they tend to be obsessed with ‘volume’ as their route to success. Your guess is as good as mine as to how much of this is psychological but certainly the case for gym based physiological adaption to help endurance riders go faster or further is less well developed.
From my own practice, from the riders I have coached and from the knowledge I gained from the weekend, I feel there is a good case to be made that in real world non-professional cycling an element of thoughtfully prescribed S&C training in your program is going to make you faster. Here’s why I think it makes sense to get in the gym.
If you think some Strength & Conditioning training might be for you, please don’t read this and fire off to the gym to do 12 million bicep curls, the amount of bad practice in gyms is scary; at best it’s wasting effort and at worst it’s an injury waiting to happen. Just like a training prescription for cycling sessions, you really do need to know what exercises to do when, how to perform them correctly and how they fit in to the rest of your training before launching in to it.
I’d be really interested to hear people’s views and experiences and if I can help you, please let me know.
Two reasons for this brief blog, first, a couple of thoughts on the value of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and secondly, a confession…
If you are involved in any of the ‘professions’ you’ll be familiar with the term Continuing Professional Development, it’s often a requirement of membership of a professional body regulating the activity of its members (lawyers, accountants, surveyors etc) that they carry out several hours of development study every year. Often they need to provide evidence of this structured learning to prove their skills remain sharp and they are up to date with current legal, professional and ethical practice. I’m kind of hoping doctors must do this too. All sounds very serious, doesn’t it?
British Cycling encourages its coaches to undertake further learning post qualification but it’s not compulsory – there is an argument to say that it should be and that this principle should be extended to those coaching any sport – particularly if those under the age of 18 or vulnerable adults are involved.
‘Top blathering, but what has this got to do with cycling’ I hear you ask? Good question: que spurious link…
I’ve been using rollers as part of my training for a few years although it fair to say I’m a later convert. A couple of weeks ago I did the British Cycling online CPD ‘Using rollers in your Coaching’ course and whilst sitting there half expecting to be told what I already knew, I discovered a whole load of useful things I’d either forgotten or didn't knew in the first place. See, you never, ever stop learning.
Using rollers provides some great variety (and sometimes sheer terror) in to what can be a boring period of indoor winter training and, with a bit of imagination, you can incorporate all sorts of useful core work it’s difficult to get anywhere else. For many, it’s a new challenge and keeping your training progressive and interesting is vital for motivation. For the beginner, just balancing on the things is difficult enough but with a bit of perseverance and guidance, you can add a whole new dimension to your training and warm up routines. Anything that provides an alternative to the turbo trainer has to be a good thing, right?
The confession? I’d never ridden no handed on rollers before, I have now. Why would I want to well? Well, it’s the starting point for some great core exercise sessions (it certainly tighten my butt muscles on the first few attempts) and, last but not least, you get that ‘weeeeeeeeee’ feeling you did when you first learn to ride a bike!
Some of my riders will be looking forward to getting that feeling really soon…
Cheers for now!
I've been going to Mallorca to ride in the spring time since 2009. It’s something I really look forward to after a winter of battering myself in the garage on the turbo or rollers and riding in the generally nasty conditions a British winter benevolently bestows upon us Brits.
It tends to be leisurely, sunny miles to familiar and beautiful places with a good thrash up a mountain for good measure so it feels like training rather than a complete jolly. Which of course, it isn’t, right?
This time I hooked up with Mallorca Cycling Shuttles and my cycling buddy and GBTx team mate, Ottilie Quince who has based her sports therapy business out there, to take on a ride with a different start from the normal leisurely 10 o’clock(ish) roll out from Puerto Pollensa. This time we loaded our bikes in a trailer and loaded ourselves on to a coach for a journey to Andratx, some 115ks away on the other side of the island and, more relevantly, at the other end of the Tramuntana (still tarantula to me…) mountain range. Shockingly, we did this at 8 o’clock in the morning!
An hour or so later we were dropped off in a sunny but cool Andratx to start the ride home to Puerto Pollensa via some of the most glorious mountain roads you could ever hope to set a wheel on. You can take a number of routes back (check out the funky maps on the Mallorca Cycle Shuttle Facebook page or website) but we chose to follow the ‘vanilla’ direct mountain route. When I say vanilla, the Tramantana mountain range is a World Heritage site and rightly so: it’s a stunning place to ride a bike. What I really mean is we passed on the option of dipping down to the various pretty ports from the MA10 mountain road. Should 115ks not be enough, you can extend this to 162ks by riding down to Port des Canonge, Port Valldemossa and the famous Sa Calobra before getting back to Puerto Pollensa - a serious challenge.
Unless you decide to come back ‘flat’, all routes go over Puig Major, the biggest mountain in Mallorca at 1445m although the highest you can climb on a road bike is about 850m (it’s enough, trust me). You go through the top of the mountain via a tunnel before you descend – not a bad idea to take a red flashing rear light with you if you have one to hand – the tunnel is quite long. Also, the descent of ‘The Pig’ can get cold at certain times so taking a jacket or a gillet is a good idea.
We opted to stop at Fornalutx a few hundred metres up Puig Major. It’s a beautiful tiny village based on an old Roman forge settlement and you can see the colour of the iron ore in the brown and orange escarpments around you while you have a coffee and a cake. Or two. Stop there if you want, but don’t tell anybody else, it’s a hidden secret…
The ride is tough one, even for those familiar with the route, but the guys at Mallorca Cycle Shuttle have removed the need to cover over 200k in the day and ride flat via Bunyola for 3 plus hours to get to the start of the mountain range. For most of us mortals 5-6 hours on the bike is manageable whereas 9 hours plus becomes a chore. A great idea, well executed. At €24.50 the trip represents good value in my view and you can watch your bike being safely packed in an enclosed trailer towed behind the bus so you never lose sight of your valuable transport home.
Maximum kudos to the guy in trainers, board shorts and a T shirt who completed the ride. He claimed the rhythmic squeaking of his hire bike reminded him of his girlfriend and he was only going to worry about it if it stopped.
Mainly, this is just a bloody good day out on the bike, a real achievement to complete with spectacular roads and views. However, if there is a coaching analogy, tenuous though it might be, cutting out the ‘junk’ to get to the good stuff is it. I’d sooner ride hard over the mountains than try to conserve energy spinning out on the flat for hours early in the morning, but that’s just me.
If you're lucky enough to be over in Mallorca, check out the Mallorca Cycle Shuttle website or Facebook page and treat yourself to a different day out on the bike.
I wrote a piece on what it feels like to be on the receiving end of physiological cycling coaching a little while ago in response to a ‘how does it work in practice then? question. If you want a refresher it's here.
As a counterpart to this, I persuaded one of my more vocal riders, Ottilie Quince to jot down her thoughts on why it works for her. Otts is a sports scientist and therapist by background which makes things easier in many ways and harder in others! She's s an ‘educated client’ in so much that she is interested in the physiological effect of the training and the physical systems used to make her ride faster. She wants to know why she is doing something, not just that she has to do it – it keeps me on my toes.
Everybody is different and one size does not fit all. Training has to be tailored to the individual. Ottilie lives in Mallorca so picking up the phone for a chat is not always so easy but as she points out, Training Peaks and technology compensates well for the distance between coach and rider. Coaching ‘remotely’ is a realistic option: it’s not necessary to live in the same patch for the process to work.
I’ll let Otts take over, her words are below
Cycling, coaching, training & technology
It's now even easier to be hounded...I mean updated and motivated by your Coach on what you need to do in each training session due to innovative apps, technology and the correct qualifications.
Having a coach helps you stay focused on specific sessions each week, that enable you to reach the aims and objectives of your periodised season that both you and your coach have discussed in the closed season.
My Coach Rich Smith has all the qualifications by British Cycling to prescribe detailed training sessions for a range of disciplines within cycling.
I've tried a fair few races and events in my short time in cycling so far including; national track omniums, crit races, road races, time trials and national/international races too so it's good to know whatever my training sessions are they all have SMART targets (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) each session applies to my upcoming events.
Rich uses Training Peaks as the main coach-rider programme. What's great about this is that I don't even have to open my laptop since I downloaded the app on my smart phone (iPhone). I get an email each evening reminding me of what the next session will involve with attached word files when necessary. I also use the Training Peaks app on my phone to track my progress and see all the geeky stuff after training/racing e.g. heart rate (minimum, average & maximum), speed (minimum, average, maximum), cadence, distance, maps as well as power if you have a power meter on your bike (I don't have this at the moment).
What makes the process even easier is my new Garmin. I recently bought a Garmin 520 at £250rrp it's a superb piece of kit that comes with a heart rate monitor strap and has some great new features.
Firstly, the Bluetooth facility, as soon as I finish a ride and I am in a Wi-Fi zone the Garmin uploads my data directly to my Training Peaks account (and Garmin Connect) so Coach can see what I have done, so there's no slacking! Secondly the Garmin tells you any PB's you have gained i.e. fastest 40km or furthest ride etc, as a competitive person I really like this feature to see how I'm doing compared to previous sessions.
Third and finally you can quickly give any feedback to the session via the app' so anything that happened in the session can be mentioned here. This means you don't have to do a huge feedback session at the end of the week and coach can tweak any future sessions accordingly.
Let's face it everyone can be motivated to train if you put your mind to it, but when you have to put serious hours into something that you want to succeed at it's always good to have someone help motivate you. Someone who's highly qualified, won races, who can empathise with your situation, who's also training and racing themselves, someone you trust and someone whom you respect helps even more.
When you want to complete each session to the best of your ability, progress and notice a real change... RideFast.
I was recently asked ‘if I employ you as my coach, what do I actually get for my money?’ And further, ‘Can you explain to me what it’s like for a rider to have a coach, do you just shout at me at races or what?’
A fair question and quite possibly one others may want some answers to.
A cycling coach does many things but, at its core, the service I provide tells you how hard, how long and how often you need to train to reach your goals. After understanding your goals and the time you have available for training, I will prescribe you sessions via a software package adopted by British Cycling and Team Sky (amongst others) called Training Peaks.
It's a web based calendar system that looks like this when you open it up
The basic information is immediately there (duration and intensity) but I usually attach a Word file with each session to give more specifics and an explanation if the session is a complicated one. The Word file is downloadable by clicking the little paper clip in the corner if you want to print it off for as an aide memoire for an indoor turbo or roller session.
Click on the entry for a day and you’ll get the detail for that session as shown below. It appears grey here because it is yet to be completed
Once you have completed the session, you upload the data from your Garmin or cycling computer. The session in the example below has gone green because it has been completed in line with parameters set. You will see in the first picture; one session is also amber (close but no cigar) or red (missed session or a long way out of the parameters set)
You can also put some post activity comments in to support the data. Feedback is vital to modifying and tailoring your training program to make it work for you.
Now I get to look at your telemetry in detail! Power, heart rate, cadence, speed, distance, TSS (more on that another time) and get to apply some analytics to your data to see how your training is progressing and what adjustments need to be made. Training Peaks is really powerful software and a variety of reporting 'dashboards' can be generated. A plain vanilla one is shown below.
So there you go, a very brief synopsis of what is at the core of the physiological side of cycling coaching. Clearly I've not touched on anything technical, tactical or psychological here, just the bear bones of how fast, how long and how often.
I hope this helps answer a few questions: it might, of course, lead to many more!
With due deference to those many people unfortunate enough to suffer from a real diagnosable mental illness, we all, me very much included, go through periods of what psychologists call ‘low mood’. We have to, I'm told by those who know: it’ part of the normal ebb and flow of the mind and it’s not natural, or possible, to be in a constantly steady mental state.
As a coach I’m interested in the psychological make up of my riders – it means I can better tailor a sustainable training plan to their needs and make the hard work satisfying and enjoyable (to a point…!) As an individual I am interested in my own mental health and recently whilst chatting to a friend of mine who happens to be a psychologist, I was pointed in the direction of Mindfulness. You may well have heard of it, it’s the ‘latest thing’ in mental health I guess.
Mindfulness is defined as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.’ Importantly, not dealing or trying to resolve difficulties or thoughts, just being aware of them. It’s basically achieved by meditation (have a look at Headspace – it’s a free downloadable App if you’re interested). I gave it a go. Fascinating experience and very enjoyable for me although I've not quite worked out why yet!
All very good but what has this got to do with cycling I hear you ask? Good question. I’ll try and get to that.
The meditation involves getting comfortable, being aware of your surroundings, deep breathing and then internally scanning or monitoring how your body is feeling – not trying to alter it, just becoming aware of it. This is followed by rhythmically counting your breaths from 1 to 10 then starting again at 1. Pretty quickly I lose focus but the geezer on the App reminds you to start counting again.
After a while you let your mind wander for a short time before App Geezer reminds you to re-focus on your immediate surroundings a little more. It’s a cathartic and cleansing 10 minutes and nobody has even lit a joss stick man.
On reflection, I've lost count of the number of times I've wholly unintentionally achieved this kind of mental state whilst riding. The rhythmic nature of the pedalling and breathing, the awareness of my surroundings coupled with a peaceful mental state where my mind is free to wonder. Every now and again something brings me back to focus on the immediate - a traffic junction, a bleep from the Garmin, a beautiful bit of scenery, some asshole in a tractor trying to kill me - but pretty soon I’m back to that peaceful mental state.
Regularly I’ll get home after a couple of hours riding but be unable to tell you what I’d thought about during that period. Dirty on the outside and cleansed mentally perhaps? I wonder if that's why some of us are drawn to cycling? I dunno, but an interesting connection for me and it might go some way to explain the hashtag #therapy I seen on some cycling related tweets.
I’d be fascinated to hear your views or thoughts.
Thanks for listening. And oommmmmhhhhh….. ting!
We miss this sometimes: or at least, speaking for myself, I do.
Winter in the UK can be a tough time for cyclists, particularly those who get their kicks from racing in the summer months. We all know if you want to be competitive you have to train consistently and with structure despite the shit nasty weather and dark nights.
Speaking for my own meagre performance levels as a rider, I know I need to train pretty hard just to be rubbish.
We do this because our fun, satisfaction, enjoyment, call it what you will, comes from applying effort and pushing ourselves a bit. As racing cyclists we thrive on the satisfaction that comes from working hard, sometimes against the elements. We know it’s going to pay off in the summer too.
But it’s easy to overdo it. We can lose sight of the fun element which is so often the reason we started riding a bike in the first place. Maybe we don’t ride unless we are strapped up with performance measuring gizmos and our session has a specific training goal.
Three things to remember perhaps
Stay sane and remember to have fun…!
A few recent experiences have prompted me to reflect on the importance of the use of language in coaching. Particularly the influence a coach can have when dealing with youngsters and therefore the position of responsibility he or she is in.
The example I’d like to give happened some years ago but is appalling and hilarious in equal measure. I witnessed it at first hand as it was a football match my 12 year old daughter was playing in for a local team. I should also emphasize that, as a lifelong Derby County fan, I know nothing, repeat nothing, about football. I like watching it and playing it, but wouldn't know where to start coaching it. It's testament only to my ability to keep my mouth shut and let qualified football coaches advise her that she now plays for Aston Villa and England u17s.
Ignoring the advice hurled from the touchline by parents during the match (anybody who watches their kids play sport this will know there’s a book waiting to be written on this topic alone) there was some instruction from the coach. Together with gesticulation and arm waving, this consisted of single words. Pressure! Closer! Tackle! Run! I didn’t understand it and neither did the players – it was non-specific, seemingly directed at the match in general rather than at a player or passage of play, unhelpful, confusing and for some of the players, upsetting. Whilst being all of these things, the one thing it wasn’t was unusual. The coach had form for this.
Soon enough, a ball was lofted high over the midfield and came down from some height directly towards to the left-back. She had time to look at the ball, glance at the coach and then look back at the ball as it continued its downward path. She was caught in two or possibly three minds about what to do and simply took a flying swipe at the ball with her left foot. To give her credit, despite having her eyes closed, she made contact with the ball, volleying it out to the touch line. Okay, perhaps it wasn’t the most graceful passage of play and maybe Ashley Cole would have dealt with it differently, but remember this was a 12 year old grass roots football player.
After a short pause, unable to control himself any longer, the coach shouted ‘WILL YOU EVER LEARN TO TAKE A FUCKING TOUCH!?’ (I’m not sure about the question mark as I think it may have been rhetorical). As you can imagine, silence fell then inevitably the tears and recriminations started.
Aside from the obvious, what had he, as a coach, done wrong? I guess for a start, he hadn’t taught his left-back how to deal with the high ball. Or maybe he had but she didn’t have the experience, skill or confidence to put the technique in to practice. Of course, that’s entirely secondary: techniques can be taught, skill levels developed with purposeful practice and, even then, mistakes can still be made.
For me, his most serious crime was use of ‘bad’ language. Not the profanity – that was unhelpful and inappropriate for the environment - but he failed, by the misuse of one of the most powerful tools at his disposal, to get the right message over in at least two fundamental ways.
Firstly, Touch, Closer, Pressure and the like are just words. They don’t mean anything out of context. If you want somebody to do something it needs to be explained, demonstrated, practiced and improved by clear feedback. In the match environment, he would not have been able to give that feedback but he should have taken it back to the training pitch and used it there.
I presume ‘take a fucking touch’ roughly translates to ‘bring the ball under control before dealing with it’. Something along those lines may have been more helpful?
Secondly and more importantly, the player was scared of her coach, scared of making mistakes, scared of being shouted at in front of her team mates. So were the rest of the players on the team. That’s not an environment you can learn in. Furthermore it undermines rather than supports confidence which in turn has a negative effect on performance and just makes the whole process unenjoyable. You’re unlikely to become a creative and daring athlete if the response from your coach to you trying something new is going to be ‘what the fuck do you think you’re playing at?’
Without dispassionate and timely feedback in an environment where mistakes are learned from rather than used as a basis for criticism, people will not progress: more likely they will walk away. In any sport, language should be at least supportive rather than harmfully critical. It’s the coach’s job to develop a healthy learning environment where athletes feel comfortable to ask questions and try new things – to make mistakes and learn from them without fear of criticism. This applies to adults just as much as it does to children.
On a final note, I’m not claiming to be a paragon of coaching virtue here – I get this wrong just like everybody else and the heat of competition gets to all of us – it’s just a plea to mind your f*%king language I guess…
Those of a certain age will remember He-Man (of Master of the Universe fame) issuing forth this cry when he metamorphosed from a normal cartoon geezer into to muscle bound man of bronze whilst his slightly crap pet cat changed in to a ridable ferocious battle beast.
‘All good’ I hear you say ‘but what the hell has this got to do with cycling?’ Fair question. Bear with me for a minute and I’ll contrive a link somewhere...
I’ll spare you too much of the history, but I first came across power meters in what is still one of my favourite cycling books, Chris Boardman’s Complete Book of Cycling back in 2000. Back then, an SRM power measurement unit would cost you £2500 and would only be of any use if you could fit, calibrate and maintain it whilst continuing your studies in particle physics to enable you to interpret the data. It worked pretty well for Chris and his influential coach Peter Keen though. He once knocked out a 10 mile TT on the Wrexham by-pass in 17.58 before even the best riders in this country were breaking 20 minutes.
Now, we all produce power when we ride. We push the pedals and, all being well, the bike moves forward but without a system of measurement we don’t know how much power we are generating. If we race, it’s important to understand how much power we produce so we can work on generating more of it to go faster. Power measurement has recently become more accessible to amateur riders although up until even a few years ago it was still very costly. More recently, more manufacturers entered the market and power measurement stopped being hard to access because of cost and became hard to access because it didn’t work. Well not accurately or reliably anyway.
Whilst it’s still not perfect, there are a number of real world workable and affordable power measurement solutions out there now. Stages, Garmin Vectors, SRM, Power Tap, Quark, the list goes on and continues to expand. I took the plunge at the beginning of last season and bought Stages cranks for my time trial and road race bike.
Why did I invest in power? Two reasons. First, as a rider I wanted to be sure I was using my limited time as effectively as possible. It is a (brutally) honest measurement of how strong you are. It removes the guess work from training and regular benchmark tests show if your hard work is paying off and you are getting faster.
Secondly, I needed to learn more using power measurement with the riders I coach. You can read about it (and the physics behind it) until you go blue in the face but personally I need to ‘feel’ it so I know what I’m asking my riders to do. Having said that, I did attend the British Cycling ‘Power: Understanding Cycling Performance’ course back in September. It was useful and gave me good theoretical knowledge to back up the practical application. They even gave me a certificate.
I’ll go in to some detail on the good, the bad and the indifferent on power and power measurement in future blogs (hey, it’s a long winter, right?) but as you put your Christmas lists together (it’s never too early) I would advise you start dropping ‘power meter’ related hints to the other half/parents/grandparents/guardians/Father Christmas/Bike shop as soon as possible.
Fundamentally – and I'm conscious you were promised a tenuous He-Man link – the rider who ‘has the power’ will be faster and training with power measurement is the most effective way to achieve this. Ouch, told you it was tenuous.
If you want to know more about training with power, how to go about getting it, what might suit you and, most importantly, how using it in conjunction with a coach can make you faster, drop me a line.
Thank you and, by the power of Greyskull, until next time, stay safe…
It’s around this time of year that coaches start banging on about the importance of goal setting for next season so I thought a (brief) ‘beginners guide’ might help explain why this is important and how to go about it.