How to Manage intensity


When I did my Sports Science degree back in the 90’s there was a lot of emphasis on improving endurance performance by finding and training at ‘lactate threshold’ (LT). In fact, my undergrad dissertation was on developing a ramp test protocol for determining LT in rowers.

As a masters athlete, my learning journey started in a fresh direction. The increase in popularity and quality of podcasts was a big part of it. I was training increasingly on the turbo trainer because of time restrictions and music didn’t do it for me after a while. That’s when I started listening to podcasts.

After a couple of years using Trainer Road I was stuck in a pattern of training, burning out, getting ill and repeat!! Very frustrating and led me to stagnate in my racing.

Of course, a new direction was needed. Thankfully, I made the best decision ever and started working with Joe Beer. Joe is an incredible coach who guided me through a winter of training and onto my best season ever.

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So what changed?

The change came from the intensity distribution. Trainer Road used a huge amount of sweet spot and threshold training. My change to a polarised model wasn’t necessarily easy, but learning from Joe, his support and committing to the process the results soon started to build.

I think the learning was a crucial part of the process for me. Helped me to commit to the process. Reading and listening to Stephen Seiler was a big part of it.

People are so afraid to go easy, but the research is very clear, it works!! My intensity distribution ranged from 90-95% EASY training each week. Which works out to be about 8-9 hours easy with about 40-50 minutes on high-intensity intervals.

How do you set your intensity zones


 

The easiest way to get started is with Stephen Seilers 3 zone model. All you need to know is your maximum heart rate (MHR):

 

  • Zone 1 = up to 78% of your MHR
  • Zone 2 = Between 78-86% of MHR
  • Zone 3 = Over 86% of MHR

Start by going out easy and monitoring your HR. If it’s an easy day you should stay in Zone 1 the whole time (a few seconds above here and there won’t matter…but don’t con yourself…stay in Z1).

On hard days do your intervals targeting the competition you are doing or the metabolic system you are trying to improve.

It’s actually very easy…the hard bit is staying disciplined. If it’s a Z1 day, don’t go for a KOM!! Don’t chase down that rider who just overtook you…BE DISCIPLINED!!! Remember you have bigger fish to fry, race days are for racing…save it for then.

 

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Summary

Endurance performance comes primarily from frequent, consistent training. Frequent consistent training is best achieved with good control of your intensity distribution.

Get control of your intensity and good things will happen.

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The key to improving your endurance performance

 

There are so many things to look at in training. I find it all extremely interesting and spend a huge amount of time listening to podcasts, reading and attending seminars on training, physiology and anything I think will help my athletes.

When you listen to all the ideas, tips and tricks you have to remember, ‘how does this affect today’s training, this weeks training, this months training etc’.

As I’ve learned more and more, the one word that all the advice points back to is ‘patience’.

It began to crystalise as the root of almost all of the advice as I was on a lovely Z1 ride in the Jura Mountains.

It’s the most important thing, yet is almost absurdly simple you could miss it. I’ve read cycling magazines for years and even though occasionally there are articles that allude to this; it is massively overwhelmed by the ‘get fit in 4 weeks’ programmes and the ‘boost your FTP in less than 4 hours a week’ high-intensity training articles.

I do understand it; it’s not sexy to say you. need to be patient, you need to get on your bike regularly, keep intensity under control and make sure you occasionally go hard and occasionally have a day off.

There’s clearly a lot more to it in fairness, but all the high-intensity stuff is really not the key. 

The Key to endurnace performance: Patience!

I also think there are many layers to patience. You need to be patient on a micro level, meso level and macro level.

Have patience in the ride you are on; what is its purpose? If it is an easy Z1 ride (3 Zone model), then use your gears, keep it easy and don’t go chasing that rider that just overtook you.

If it’s a hard ride with quality intervals, be patient and work through the intervals as prescribed…don’t go out all guns blazing and blow up before the end.

That brings me on to another area where patience is key; be kind to yourself when you make mistakes! If you did blow up before the end of your interval session, don’t beat yourself up. Learn from it and try and do better next time. If you keep making the same mistake all the time, that’s a problem. If you make mistakes and learn, you are getting better.

On a meso level, you need to be patient to let the sessions build. Be patient in the week, if it’s an easy ride, ride easy, don’t chase a Strava KOM that day or your planned hard session the next day will be of less quality and not create the desired adaptation.

 

Also, be patient on a macro level. Don’t take shortcuts to try and get fit quick…it doesn’t work in the long term. We’re in an aerobic sport, training the aerobic system is what gets you the gains. Being consistent over time, managing your intensity and building a powerful engine all comes back to being patient. So simple,  but ultimately the key to endurance performance.

Given that we are close to the end of the summer season and many will be planning a bit of time off the bike before setting about their winter training. So first on the list of being patient Is giving yourself a suitable amount of time off the bike or at least off hard training.

Don’t get sucked into the rubbish about losing all your fitness and getting behind on your training!! It really is rubbish, have confidence and patience in your process, if you aren’t racing until next April…why would you want to be fit in November/December anyway?

I’ve heard some physiologists and coaches talk about how the body may not necessarily need a break if training is well designed. However, the mind definitely needs a break. It will be different for everyone, some will have a few weeks of no bike and no training. Some will choose to get a few easy rides, but. much. lower frequency, volume and intensity.  Some. may choose a different activity to stay active,  but not train as such. A great time to spend with family and give back if you’ve been away for a lot of racing.

It’s important you get this reset. The biggest you can make is train too hard now.  The great shame of this is that it’s a mistake that can be made so easily. That’s mainly because your body can cope…at least for a while. 

The tragedy is that you will cope for long enough that by the time you realise your mistake and start burning out the season will actually be in sight…but your motivation will be rapidly running out. I can speak to this from personal experience!

Be patient, focus on the appropriate intensities. Spend time with your family and friends. Spend time fixing any niggles you might have with some good off-bike training (More in for on that here).

It’s a good time to focus on things like getting a bike fit, which means you can make any changes needed and have plenty of time to adapt to them before you have to start pushing hard on the pedals again.

Here’s an example of a case study that involved a masters rider having the patience to control intensity, completely changing their riding over an offseason and getting the rewards in their results.

Case study

A Masters rider who used to train for cycling with a lot of Z2/3 riding (in a 3 Zone Model). A typical week of training consisted of 2-3 sweet spot rides on my turbo trainer, 1 threshold ride/race and 1 long ride.

 

 
This resulted in a pattern of regular colds, particularly after a ‘peak’. Nothing too bad, but it would always knock them back a couple of weeks.

Progress was good for a few years but in the 3rd and 4th seasons stagnation and burnout. Towards the end of this period, I started seeing this pattern of frequent illness and stagnation.

Changing to a polarised training approach in late 2018 delivered a more consistent winter and build into the 2019 season. You can see the difference in intensity in the graph on the right.

The biggest difference was a feeling of freshness almost all of the time and when the racing came so did the PB’s. FTP had been about 305 for 2 years and now it was 323.

Here’s a summary of the time trial PB’s:

  • 19:57 for 10 miles (down from 20:56)
  • 50:46 for 25 miles (down from 54:55)
  • 1:49.45 for 50 miles (down from 1:56.42)

There were no episodes of illness, allowing training to be more consistent and more PB’s would surely have happened if there had been racing in 2020!

 

 

 

 

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Stay Healthy

Meaning both not getting injured and not getting ill.

If your training is too hard or too frequently intense you will get little illnesses and injuries that break your consistency.

Keep your easy sessions easy, for most athletes, this means around 80-90% of your training is below 78% of your max heart rate.

Be Consistent

Once you are disciplined with your intensity, you will stay healthier and consistency will come.

Getting on your bike as much as you can, in balance with the rest of your busy life, will be the thing that impacts your fitness the most.

Sustainable rhythm

All this put together means that you can put together long stretches of sustained endurance training stimulus that creates greater adaptation and performance gains.

It’s important to remember to keep life in balance, fit the training in around everything else and don’t dig too deep into your energy or your partner or families ‘good will’. Find a balance.

 

 

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3 Ways to Solve Knee Injuries in Cycling – Part 3

Introduction

Knee pain is one of the most common injuries in cycling, accounting for between 30-60% of all injuries, depending on what you read. In my experience, it is certainly the most common complaint I see and deal with.

In parts 1 and 2 we covered load management and strength/mobility. It’s certainly reasonable to try a few things before rushing off for advice. However, I would caution against ignoring injury for too long. It’s all too easy to stay in denial for months and dig. yourself a big hole.

So when should you seek advice? and where from?

3 – Seeking Professional Advice from Therapist or Bike Fitter

I’d probably split this down into 2 broad categories:

 

  1. Influencing the body
  2. Influencing the bike

 

Clearly, there’s a big overlap between these two, but to try and keep it simple, lets go with it.

Influencing the body can be anything from manual work on muscles, joints, neural mobility, balance, strength, coordination and many more. Again, you will see the overlap with our second strategy (Strength and Mobility)…a strong, skilful body with help you.

A lot of these gains are possible with exercise and the strategies outlined in part 2. However, sometimes more help is required and manual work from a physiotherapist can save a lot of time allowing you to progress the on bike and off bike exercises more quickly.

For example, we’ve all seen cyclists where one or both of their knees flare out at the top of the pedal stroke. This is most commonly due to stiffness in the hips, where hip flexion and/or hip internal rotation are limited meaning that to get the foot over the top of the pedal stroke the hip ‘buys’ some range using external rotation. This is what makes the knee flare out.

Now as we’ve said, this may not be optimal for the knee, but the knee can’t change it, it’s forced into this pattern by the hips. Manual therapy and exercise can really help increase hip range and change this pattern for the knee to a pattern of movement that no longer causes undue stress on the knee.

This is just one example, but similar could be seen all over the body. A little targeted help from a physio can allow self-help/maintenance to be far more rapid and sustained.

 

Influencing the bike is simply a way of influencing the body through the bike, but is no less effective. Changing the position on the bike is something we are all familiar with. I tinkered with my position for years, before I finally got a bike fit. I was totally blown away by how much more effective a bike fit was than my endless changes.

Since then of course I have extensively studied bike fitting and completed my qualifications to help my patients and clients directly. As well as the formal qualifications I have studied informally through Steve Hogg’s ebooks and blogs (which are incredibly detailed) and also I have spent a large amount of time researching bike fitting through my Clinical  Biomechanics MSc.

In the example above we looked at the knees flaring out due to stiff hips. If the pattern persists even after you have achieved as much range as you can from the hips/body, you need to look elsewhere for help. Here is where bike fitting can be so important. You can set the bike up so less hip flexion is required by making sure the saddle is at the right height, bar reach/height, altering the crank lengths, looking at pedal stack, pedal spacers and I’m sure many other options. This solution is never a generic 1+1=2 scenario. Everyone is an individual and comes with their own bike set up, their own movement patterns, their own injury history, their own set of beliefs. Everyone is an individual and the best results come from always treating my patients and clients with the highest level of individual attention.

The other advantage of influencing the bike is that the changes to the bike can be done instantly. Though this won’t necessarily solve all your pain instantly, you can buy some ROM so you can keep training while you work on the body. The bike fit can then evolve as the body improves, making for a quicker outcome that allows training to continue.

In Summary

Preventing injuries is the best-case scenario and having a good quality bike fit and a good movement regime off the bike are the best ways to achieve this.

If injuries do occur, don’t stay too long in denial! Look at the issue and its possible causes and try to address them. If it is beyond your knowledge or skill set then it is time to seek the advice from those who can help.

I’d caution against asking the internet…I see these posts all the time. You get a million answers all saying different things, each from an individual with a biased perspect. For example ‘raise your saddle 5-10mm, takes pressure off the knee…I’ve had no pain since I did it’ (I see that one a lot!). That’s great for that individual, but who. knows why they had knee pain? It may be for completely different reasons to you…your saddle may be the perfect height.

That is where the value of a trusted physio/bike fitter can really pay off.  If they are good, they minimise the bias, have an objective view and can look at you as an individual. This gives you a much better chance of understanding why you have knee pain and how you can solve it.

 

I really hope these posts are helpful, but if you have any questions at all leave them in the comments below or you can email me directly.

coach@summitcyclecoaching.co.uk

 

Neil Poulton

BSc. Physiotherapy

BSc. Sports Science

MSc. Clinical Biomechanics (ongoing)

ABCC Level 3 Cycling Coach

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If you have any questions or comments you can ask them in the comments section below or email:

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Returning from a break in training


What caused you to have a gap?

There are loads of reasons why you might need to or have to take a break from training:

  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Holiday
  • Family pressures
  • Work Pressures
  • Life Stress
  • End of the season
  • After a big goal has been achieved 
    • Just to name a few!!

And within that, the reasons you might take a break vary wildly….changing jobs, moving house, new baby…it could be anything really.

This post has mainly been inspired by my recent absence from training. I’m usually extremely consistent, training between 5 and 8 x per week, every week all year, apart from I usually take 2-3 weeks of an offseason…where I do no cycling!

I’m not a pro rider, so life sometimes gets in the way of what is ideal, but this year, it happened in a big way. The disruption with very limited cycling was in 1 month period, where I didn’t have my bikes for 3 out of 4 weeks! However, the disruption goes a bit deeper than that and will I’d bet be a scenario that is familiar to many riders.

My family and I decided to move to Switzerland. So the disruption started from about May 2021 when the waiting for confirmation of jobs and permits was happening, all the way to the move in July/August training had to take a back seat.

From a training frequency standpoint, looking at my Training Peaks it doesn’t look too bad, the quality wasn’t there.  I was stressed to the absolute limit, I wasn’t sleeping and I was eating all the wrong foods…and for that matter, too much food!

 

Looking at the PMC Chart

As you can see, there are still plenty of red dots, so I was training for most of this period. However, as I say, the quality wasn’t there and I knew if I pushed harder this would have tipped the balance too far and I would have got ill. 

It’s not just the training stress that counts, it’s the total life stress. So I did as much as I felt I could. It’s easy in this scenario to push to hard, ignore the life stress and compound the issue by getting ill.

As you can see there was a week of no training where my bikes were taken by the moving company. I did a few rides on a training bike while on holiday the following week, then there is a two-week wait for my bikes to arrive in Switzerland (in itself extremely stressful!!).

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Turning the corner

When things settled down my fitness felt like it was completely gone (even if it hasn’t really, it still feels poor). Though CTL is not a pure measure of fitness, it had dropped from 85-90 at the end of my build period, I won a National Title and did my second fastest 10TT ever!! It was down to 40 when I did my first ride in Switzerland.

To compound the issue, the rubbish sleep and poor diet contributed to my going from my normal race weight of 75-76kg up to 83kg…REALLY not ideal when you move to such a hilly country!! 

Returning to training

To test or not to test?

Personally, though it’s tempting to see where you are as you know you’ll get a big boost in the second test…and that always feels good. There’s no real need in my opinion. It’s unnecessary stress both physically and psychologically.

Returning to training in my view should consist of frequent, lower stress, lower intensity training. As you can see on the PMC chart, I did about 2 weeks of training roughly 6x per week, but none of it with any intensity. Just get back to the routine, enjoy the riding and keep the intensity low.

After those two weeks, I added a couple of intervals in my rides 1 x per week and when I got the chance I did a longer ride, but kept the intensity low.

The emphasis when returning to training should be on building what is sustainable. Don’t rush in like a bull at a gate and end up ill or burnt out or compromising more important areas of your life.

If you get back to some nice low intensity riding with good frequency and consistency, the fitness will come, BE PATIENT!

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My training peaks PMC from my return to today

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On the descent from the Col de Romme

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From the top of the Col de la Colmbiere

I was lucky whenreturning to training; once the move had happened there was not a huge amount of ongoing stress, so once training started again it wasn’t really interrupted. This may not always be the case. If there are ongoing challenges, it’s important to factor in that stress and not build training stress too quickly…you’ll just get ill!!

I was in the middle of summer at a. weight I feel is 7kg too much for me. It would be easy to try and crash diet and force the weight back down. I would advise caution with this approach, that is another added stress you really don’t need.

I find that as training gets back on track I’m more able to be consistent in other areas, like nutrition. Consistency is key, get back into good habits around your eating, but don’t deprive yourself or consistency and sustainability will suffer. Cutting out the things you know you don’t need and some consistent training and things will start heading back in the right direction.

As of this am, I’ve lost 3kg’s since getting back to training, so a nice improvement in this time frame. Continued consistency will get me the next 3kg’s in time.

Different needs depending on why?

Clearly, when returning to training, everyone’s circumstances are individual. And the reason why you had to take a break will influence how you return:

  • If it was due to injury, your training frequency and volume may have to take into account the adaptation of the injured tissue.
  • If it was an illness, a longer, more gradual build-up may be required to avoid a relapse, which no one wants.
  • A particularly long break may also require a more gradual build-up.
  • If there are ongoing life stresses, you may need to prioritise and though you start training, you keep life in balance with lower frequency, volume and intensity…a bit like I did in the build-up to my move to Switzerland.

 

Summary of key points


There are plenty of mistakes to be made when returning to training and plenty of traps to fall in to during this really tricky time for a keen athlete:

  • Not recognising the stresses and pushing too hard, making yourself ill.
  • Trying to jump back into training at the same level you left off!
  • Being too hard on yourself for things like lack of fitness, increased weight, inconsistent training…you have to be kind to yourself here, adding more stress doesn’t lead anywhere good.
  • Make small, short term goals that are achievable.
  • Enjoy being bike to training and be patient.

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Any questions

If you have any questions or comments you can ask them in the comments section below or email:

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3 Ways to Solve Knee Injuries in Cycling – Part 2

Introduction

In part 1 we discussed why knee injuries are so common in cycling and how one of the first steps you need to make is to get out of denial and acknowledge there’s an issue. Then we looked at our first strategy in solving the issue; Load Management.

In part 2 we will look at the next step in solving your knee pain, strength and mobility.

2 – Strength and Mobility

This may not be what you think it is…it’s not ‘strengthen the 

Cycling is a very limited sport when it comes to movement skill and movement competency. Considering the enormous range of movements and skills our bodies are capable of, cycling in no way pushes us in this way. As a result, it’s really important to push your movement when off the bike to maintain a strong, healthy body.

There’s no one simple answer, it’s for the long term and not just the occasional trip to the gym. You need to find something that is both interesting to you and convenient to do regularly enough.

Good options are:

 

  • Yoga
  • A varied gym/home-based strength training routine
  • A varied stretching and mobility routine
  • Other endurance sport like running, cross country skiing or swimming can help
  • Another sport that does challenge your movement boundaries (tennis, badminton, football, rock climbing, etc)

 

These are by no means the only options and you don’t have to choose just one. Mix it up, challenge your body in multiple directions and a variety of ways and you will be rewarded with a body that is more robust and more resistant to injury.

Like any type of training, the benefits will be varied. The main benefits as I see it are:

 

  • strengthening of muscles you don’t stimulate adequately in cycling
  • Maintaining bone density
  • strengthening and stiffening of ligaments and tendons
  • Increased neuromuscular control
  • stimulation of joints through a greater range than achieved through cycling
  • Strength and stability of joints through a greater range of motion

 

Like your cycling training, you don’t do the same thing all year round (If you do get in touch I can make you a lot faster!). So you can vary what you do and how much through the year. No harm in having periods of more cycling focused time and then other periods of more off-bike work.

I think strength training is important for almost everyone. But you could argue it is even more important for females and gets increasingly important with age for everyone. It’s beyond the scope to go into detail about strength and conditioning here, but I would suggest getting help with strength and conditioning as it pays off in avoiding mistakes and injury.

If you have questions, leave a comment or feel free to email – coach@summitcyclecoaching.co.uk

In Summary

Like most things in life and training, there is no one solution. Also like most things in life and training, finding a way to do things that are consistent and sustainable is the best way to achieve success.

Find something that works for you, that pushes your body in a different way to cycling and varies the loads and ranges that are imposed. Find something you enjoy, otherwise, the likelihood of it being maintained is greatly reduced!


HOw does online cycle coaching work?

Communication is key. Our coaching is set up to make sure both coach and athlete can understand each other and communicate easily. The cornerstone of this is establishing  clear goals and your time available. 

Communication will be done in a way that suits the individual, but will primarily be through the coaching calls and through the online training diary with both session plans, session reviews and feedback.

Progress will be monitored through the calls, the diary and scheduled testing sessions that will let us know we are on the right track.

Neil Poulton

Head Coach

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National Para road race champion 2019

 

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national Masters Track champion 2019

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