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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Metabolic testing


Having a Sports Science background makes me interested in all things physiology and testing. I’m sure we are all familiar with various tests, FTP tests, lactate testing, VO2max tests, etc. But it was some interviews I listened to with Sebastian Weber of InScyd that got me really interested in metabolic testing.

What previously would have required a trip to a lab, was now accessible to those with a power meter…with all the testing done at home. Though I went through their demonstrations and some of their education, I decided it was a bit expensive for me and my clients.

However, I was listening to the brilliant Endurance Innovations Podcast a while back, they were interviewing the guys behind the website AeroTune. I’d not heard of them previously, but I really liked what they were saying.

There were two episodes, the first one I heard was about their aero-testing platform…and actually, that was what made me download the podcast. However, during that interview, they started talking about their metabolic testing platform and that was much closer to the price range I was looking for.

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Easy to do a home or on the road, following their very clear instructions.

Find out your:

  • VO2max
  • VLamax
  • Fatmax
  • Critical Power

Why metabolic testing?

The reasons for getting metabolic testing are actually something I hadn’t considered a huge amount before, mainly because of expense and the fact you’d have to travel to a lab to get it done. This new type of modelling allows you to test at home with the power meter on your bike. This makes it both far more convenient and far more affordable.

These two factors combined have the added benefit that you will not only be able to get tested, but you will also be able to re-test at appropriate times to check on progress and correct course if necessary.

Metabolic testing goes beyond simply finding out a simple measure like FTP…WAY BEYOND!

With accurate metabolic testing, you find out the ‘how’ behind the threshold measure. What metabolic pathways are you using to achieve your FTP.

As a time trialist, I was particularly interested in my VLamax. I was keen to see if I could take advantage of lowering this in the pursuit of a higher sustained power. Without this knowledge, training is less targeted, exciting times!


I was also interested to find out where my ‘FATmax zone’ was too. Definitely keen to take advantage of knowing that and seeing if I can improve it.

That’s key with the test and re-test…you can find out if what you doing is having the expected results!

 

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interpreting the results


Aerotune also gives you some great feedback in your results form that has some information about your results and some suggestions on how you might direct your training.

Beyond that, the information is just such a great starting point and can give your training some real focus.

As with any training, it starts with your goals. What do you want to achieve? The goals you set are the ‘end point’ if you like (or more likely a waypoint), but what’s key here is that with metabolic testing you have a starting point. A much more accurate starting point.

I think metabolic testing is the missing piece of the puzzle. You can certainly make very educated guesses at your starting point and there are other ways of establishing your starting point and therefore the focus of training. However, I believe this is a more accurate way of finding the starting point.

 

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Models of possible changes

Your test on the day is the starting point, the programme models the potential benefits of changes to your VO2max (above) and VLamax (below). This allows you start planning your training too make the changes you want. No more guess work!

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Obviously, you still have to put in the hard work!! But there is a comfort and confidence that this testing brings to your training that is very motivating. Also, because this is a very convenient and affordable platform you can re-test and check your progress.

The day to day planning and the month to month progression of your workouts is still of vital importance. You can’t get away from that, but with a look into your metabolic profile, you can make all the hard work pay off to the maximum.

Any questions

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

coach@summitcyclecoaching.co.uk

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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:

coach@summitcyclecoaching.co.uk

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“Cycling in Switzerland is a joy! The air is fresh, the views are amazing, the roads are smooth, there are no gel wrappers, old tubes, etc on the side of the road and the terrain is ideal!”

Cycling in Switzerland

Pretty big news!! The move came about quite suddenly, with an opportunity for our family to move to Switzerland. We jumped at the chance as it’s an adventure we were really keen to take advantage of.

Though any move is stressful (we moved in July) things are finally settling down a bit now. My bikes. finally arrived from the UK last week and I’ve finally managed to get out for a few rides.

FIrst Ride


The first ride was more eventful than you’d hope for! About 20. minutes in my seat clamp decided to give up, forcing me to return home, standing all the way!!

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Determined not to give. up, I got. my TT bike out…sensibly swapped off the 60 tooth 1x chainring!! Headed out the door with what turned out to be 1 gear (34×23) in the small chainring and a handful of gears in the big ring…all fun and games

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As you would expect in Switzerland the scenery is spectacular!! 

Also, there is no shortage of hills for what was a serious ‘Over Geared Effort’ session today!! But I was out on my bike and very happy!!

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I’ve also managed a couple of rides on the mountain bike with the boys this week. There are incredible trails through the forest right on our doorstep!

Back to Training

Having missed more training in the last month than I have in the last few years, I’m not exactly in peak condition…but the base is there and I’ll get it all back.

There’s so much awesome cycling on my doorstep in the Jura Mountains and within reach are the Rhone-Alps across the lake, climbs like the Col de Madelaine about 2 hours away and the Stelvio about 4-5 hours away…I’m really going to enjoy a couple of epic rides!!

The online coaching. doesn’t change, it’s all set up to be remote, so my current clients are able to carry on with no change and anyone interested in joining can do so at any time.

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How to perfect your pedalling


 

If you ride a bike, pedalling is something you can just ‘do’. It’s easy, you’ve been able to do it since you first jumped on a bike as a kid. However, does that mean you are good at it? Could it be improved?

As an avid cycling fan it’s hard not to notice how good some pro’s are at pedalling. Vincenzo Nibali springs to mind as someone who pedals beautifully. So can we mere mortals improve our pedalling and will it make us a better cyclist?

Understanding the basics

For this article we will be thinking of the right leg, so when we talk about a clock face the numbers are relative to the right leg and the crank with the chainrings on.

Pedalling is a skill, so it can be learned and improved. Essentially, it is the muscular coordination of moving the pedal around its’ fixed circle diameter.

From a joint perspective we have the hips, knees and ankles to think about. Then from a muscular point of view we have a lot, more than it’s beneficial to worry about. So grouping things together to make things easier and picking out some of the key ones:

 

  • Hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings)
    • Big powerful muscles well capable of producing a lot of force to push the pedal during the power phase.
    • Hamstrings also engage as you pull the bottom of the pedal stroke (see below).
  • Quads
    • Muscles that are able to straighten the knee and very active during the power phase of the pedal stroke.
  • Calf
    • Though there is a little more to it, they are mainly for transferring the force produced in the hips and quads down through the ankle to the pedal.
  • Hip flexors
    • Muscles on the front of the hip that are able to pull up during the back of pedal stroke. Whether this is a good thing to do is a matter of some debate. I used to think you really needed to ‘pull up’ during the recovery phase…not so sure now.

The skill of pedalling is coordinating these muscles to get the bike moving as fast as possible. The goal is not to produce the same amount of power throughout the pedal stroke. The goal is to be efficient and economical (not the same thing!), which may be different for different people. So next we will look at the things we CAN do to improve our pedalling.

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what you should think about?

Things to think about:

  • Think about starting the power phase as early as possible. Visualise pushing forwards and down at 12 O’clock.
  • Once you have completed the early ‘push’ over the top change your thought to pulling backwards. This should start at about 5 O’clock on the right crank. Visualise trying to pull the cleat of your shoe out of the back of the pedal. This

Things not to think about:

  • Don’t worry too much about the main part of the power phase (3-4 O’Clock), that is automatic, so let that happen.
  • Don’t think about pulling up. This has often been recommended in the past, but I think is ultimately counter productive as it disrupts the pedal stroke as a whole.
  • Don’t ‘pull’ over the top of the pedal stroke. This engages the wrong muscles and ultimately delays the all important power phase.
  • Don’t scrape mud off your shoe. I remember reading this in a book by Lance Armstrong/Chris Carmichael when I first started cycling. Though you do want to pull back, the scraping action encourages you to force your heel down, which is counterproductive, you want your foot to stay relatively flat.

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What drills should you do?

Here are 3 great ways to start working on your perfect pedal stroke:

  1. Dead Leg Drills:
    • I used to do one leg drills until I heard Colbie Pearce talk about these on his podcast. I knew straight away these would work far more effectively.
    • Instead of taking the foot out of the pedal, leave it in and just don’t use it. It takes a little practise, but it keeps you far more balanced on the bike and really able to work on the pedal stroke of the ‘working’ leg.
    • Try a minute at a time to start with and build up your time, focussing on the key elements of good pedalling technique.
  2. Cadence Ladders:
    • You are trying to build skill and timing is a big part of skill. So training at different cadences is a great way to build the skill of pedalling.
    • Start a little below your normal cadence (eg 80 rpm) and then every minute add 10rpm to the target. Keep doing that until you reach a cadence where you can’t maintain good technique and are ‘bouncing’ on the saddle.
    • Then come back down 10rpm each minute back to the start.
    • Over time you will go further up the ladder. Though you can also increase the time spent on different levels to add to the challenge.
  3. Riding the Rollers:
    • As I said at the start, pedalling is a skill. Expanding on this, skill is the ability to execute an action successfully and I would argue that as skill increases there is an ability to execute under different conditions and timing, rollers creates a perfect environment to improve this skill.
    • Make sure you are safe, doorways are a good place to start. To start with, just get yourself going.
    • Then refine the skill. Make sure you are looking forwards and not down all the time. As you improve start incorporating the other drills into your roller riding. Even simple things like practising taking a bottle in and out left hand then right hand can be a challenge, so practise, make it smooth…build your skills.

Time to start perfecting that pedalling

WHat to do next?

There’s a lot of information here. Don’t be overwhelmed, pick an element to work on next time you are on the bike. Work at it consistently each time you ride and then when you are ready, pick another drill or skill to work on.

 


“Consistency is Key”

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