Riding a Criterium

If you are like many other people, you have hunkered down most of the winter. Hopefully you did your gym workouts and your base miles through the winter. But now that the time has changed and Spring is here, you are itching to get out and either A) do a training crit or B) enter your first crit race.

Congratulations! This is a big step, whether you are an experienced racer, or a novice rider, jumping into a big ride – the first crit of the year is always an exciting and nerve racking experience. You will be around many other lycra clad cyclists all riding on tires that are about the width of your thumb – now let’s add TURNS!

Here are some tips to help you and your fellow riders remain upright for the whole ride.

Hold your line. Everyone tells you to go Outside, Inside, Outside of the turn. This is true, if you are off the front, or off the back of the pack, but not when you are IN the Pack! You see the pack will generally take that line, but you must keep in mind how the other riders around you are also going through the turn, and what lines they are taking.

Imagine you are riding in the car with a race car driver, he will take the optimal line through the turn, and the whole time the driver and the passenger are equal distance from each other. The same thing goes for the pack, you go with the pack as a whole keeping the same distance between each rider equal through the turn.

Be predictable – no fast twitching movements.
Other than the actual corners, The bike should always being moving forward. Then if needed you may move forward and slightly left or slightly right… not swinging left or right. Although the rider behind you is responsible for their actions, you can help keep them safe, just as you rely on the rider ahead of you.
Unfortunately, I saw a crash happen that the front rider caused because he swung to the left. The rider behind him had too much momentum and they just happened to be overlapping wheels at that moment, and the 2nd rider went down. Maybe the 2nd rider should not have been overlapping wheels, but the 1st rider should have been more predictable and steady with his movements.

There should be a minimal input into the handlebars. Your steering will come more from your body.
1) Head – the human head weighs 8 pounds (just ask Jerry McGuire) – this is why it is so easy to veer when you turn your head. Just tilt your head slightly in the direction you want to go.
2) Hips – this will involve the whole trunk of the body. You can use your hips and thighs to move the saddle.
3) Knees – the most common way of adjusting your center of gravity. moving a knee out from the top tube will move your center of gravity slightly usually causing the bike to follow.

– Watch where you are going and Look where you want to go.
Generally if you stare at something you don’t want to hit, you will hit it (Jerry McGuire effect). Look where you want to go.

The very first Historic Roswell crit race we organized, I worked on setting up the last turn, which was a tighter than 90 degree turn. Just after we finished they sent off the beginner’s category. I watched as the first racers navigated out of the turn. Just as I had thought that everyone had gone by, a lone rider came into the turn looking at the wall of hay bales, and never looked away. His bike took him directly where he was looking, into those hay bales!

Once the front wheel stopped, the rear wheel kicked-up – causing the man did a face plant into the hay. Strangely he then came right back down on his feet! Bewildered, he then attempted to get clipped back-in. Luckily the referee was right there and gave him a free lap to check to make sure everything was ok. Luckily he was just fine, but learn from his lesson :)

Relax – the more tense that you are the more energy that is not going to the pedals, and the sooner you will feel fatigued. The more you start to relax the more you will be able to bend like a reed in the wind. A more relaxed body will allow you to meander around people and obstacles.

– Once you are getting fatigued, and your power output is drained, it is OK, to slowly move off the back, cool down, then stop for the day. Most accidents with beginners happen when they are pushing their bodies so hard that they loose focus, and make a mistake. This can be avoided if you recognize that you are pushing too far into fatigue. When training using power, once an athlete can not hold a set wattage for each interval they stop the workout because they know they will no longer get any benefit from the workout.

So, at the next training criterium you go too, work on these tips to be safer and enjoy the ride even more!

How to deal with being sick

After thinking that I was not going to get sick this winter, I did end up coming down with something. I try to be very careful about washing my hands. But as careful as I try to be, I still came down with a virus.

This virus was a little different for me. During the day, I actually felt decent enough that I almost thought I was getting better. Then later that evening, the symptoms would come around again.

A 70 degree day and a bike ride in the Mountains is hard to pass up, but it is necessary. Even though you may feel decent and think that you are good enough to start training again, it is best to take it easy. It is important NOT to tax the body while it is attempting to fight off a Virus or infection. The body can only fight 1 battle at a time and getting well should be your first priority – because it is first priority for your body!

I still try to get out, but my goals change. I keep the Heart Rate at a much lower level than I usually would otherwise. I try to keep my HR under 130 and keep the duration under an hour. That way I can still be moving, but I don’t tax my body, but rather get the blood flowing and re-circulating. Another option that I will do is to just got for a walk. It helps to get yourself out of the house and breathe some fresh air.

Just like an injury an illness can be dragged out for an extended length of time if you do not allow the body to fight the virus. It is very hard for competitive athletes to not do what they most want to do, but if you listen to your body, you will usually make the correct decision about your training.

Once you do start to feel better, then take a week to slowly build back up to the mileage AND intensity.
1. reason for this is that it will allow the body more time to fully get over the sickness.
2. It allows your body to re-adapt to the training regimen instead of being thrown right back into the mix.

~To good Health!

First Group Ride of Spring

Every spring you may go to the main group ride wondering if you will get dropped – have I done enough homework during the winter? Did everyone get faster than me?

I would usually disappear from October-March, but once the time changed, I would be right back into the mix of a couple group rides… several people have asked me how I was able to suddenly just cruise along at the front of these rides when I hadn’t been doing them all winter. I would just laugh at the question. What they didn’t know was that yes, obviously I was riding. I just wasn’t riding in the same groups through the winter that they were. From their perspective, I wasn’t riding all winter because I wasn’t on the rides that they were doing. Like an iceberg, all they were seeing was where I am today, not what I have been doing all winter.

There are several reasons for this, time change, location of the rides, not being able to ride to a ride, etc. But the number 1 reason they didn’t see me all winter was that they thought they would ‘loose’ fitness if they didn’t ride hard all winter. Some cyclists think that if you are not used to going at the speed of the group year around, then you will get to a point where you will no longer be able to hang on. Although if your goal is to just ride with groups all year, then yes, this maybe true. However, I had races as my goals each year, thus I had different ways of training to attain those goals.

I had learned that it was good to give my body a break after the US 100K race each fall (September). I would actually have to try to take time off the bike and do other things – this was often hard. After awhile I learned to back off and enjoy the changes of the seasons. Not only did I learn that I could do this, but in fact it made me a stronger cyclist – both physically and especially mentally!

I found that I really enjoyed those LSD (Long Slow Distance) rides for aerobic base building. It was a non-competitive rides where you could share some work at the front and chat with friends all while having a relaxed ride. During this time I would either ride alone, or ride with a group that had the same ideas/goals on winter training that I did.

After 2 months of base building, I didn’t just jump back onto a group ride and expect to keep-up with everyone. I worked out in the gym using a structured training plan, then started doing hill repeats and intervals with enough recovery mixed in so that I didn’t over-reach my goals. Another aspect of the training plan, was that I didn’t come into top form in March when the group rides started – they were used for testing, and to add a little speed to my legs. Even though I was out on the group rides, my riding was often reserved. I would stay out of the wind, rarely would I push the pace. Usually the speed of traveling with the group was enough of an adaption to have a successful training day.

When group rides are utilized correctly, they can be great tools for the cyclist training for an event. When they are used as training races, often cyclists will push themselves to the point that they are either A) overtrained. or B) pushing so much that their CNS (Central Nervous System) will suppress their ability and only allow them to ride at a ‘medium’ pace. In order to have great highs, you must also have very Easy days!

However, if a racing cyclist only does group rides, then they are truly missing out on some untapped ability. That is where the over-view of a good training plan can assist the cyclist in specific preparation for the Spring and Summer races.

The how and why of plyometrics

This month is plyometric re-introduction for my clients. I say re-introduction b/c my regular clients have done them before, however they have not done them for some time now. The reason for this is in the overall picture of the training plan, plyometrics are like the tip of the pyramid. My clients have been doing isometric and strength training all through the winter, and now that we are getting into the Spring events it is the perfect time for the plyometric workouts that will create the needed power for these events.

But, before we get into plyometrics let me explain some things.

For a strength training plan for a cyclist – just like Long Slow Distance is the base, isometric and strength building exercises are at the foundation of the pyramid. These are the base upon which strength is built. Then finally topped off with plyometrics. Caution should be used because rips can possibly occur when overworked or worked too soon. A solid base of 4-8 weeks of Isometric and strength training should be done before attempting any plyometrics. Learn the moves carefully. Plyometric moves range from simple side-to-side ankle hops to more advanced depth jumps.

Plyometric movements, are movements in which a muscle is loaded and then contracted in rapid sequence. Plyometrics are used to increase the speed or force of muscular contractions, providing explosiveness for a variety of sport-specific activities.

Plyometrics occur anytime that the body is landing, stopping, and immediately taking off again. However, just like an airplane, the landing is the most important part of the movement. Many people do not land properly when doing box jumps and plyometrics. Injuries that may occur with landing to hard are: jammed knees, torn ACL’s, and muscle tears.

Plyometric exercises involve an increased risk of injury due to the large forces generated during training and performance, and should only be performed by well-conditioned individuals who are under supervision. Good levels of physical strength, proprioception (the bodies awareness of where it is) should be achieved before commencement of plyometric training. Proprioception aids the important components of balance, coordination and agility.

The landings should ideally be soft, but the shock of the landing should be absorbed through several joints of the body. So, with jumps, the leg muscles that control the ankle, knee, and hips all act as shock absorbers for the body to smooth out and soften the landing.

Plyometric exercises use explosive movements to develop muscular power. The ability to convert strength to speed in a very short time allows for athletic movements beyond what raw strength will allow. If the muscle is lengthened while loaded just prior to the contraction, it will produce greater force through the storage of elastic energy. This effect requires that the transition time between eccentric contraction and concentric contraction be very short.

Caution should be used because rips can possibly occur when overworked or worked too soon. A solid base of 4-8 weeks of strength training should be done before attempting plyometrics. Basic plyometrics should be introduced about a month before a competitive season, and continued for 4 weeks, along with strength training maintenance. After a good warm-up, clients will do 3 rounds of varied plyometric exercises, then 3 rounds of strength training exercises. So we do plyometrics while the client is still fresh, then work on strength and stability after.

However, when done properly the effects of plyometrics are great explosive power! Tim has been doing plyometrics for about a month now and just won the Pro1,2 Perry-Roubaix GA cup Road Race (a course that goes over packed dirt as well as pavement) March 2010 – Awesome job Tim!!!

What mistake do you notice in this exercise?

Untitled from Stephen Carhart

This was Tim’s first attempt in ‘lunge jumps’, so take it easy on him pls! :)

Strength – a $24.95 value
To Climb Stronger there is something that is really important: your strength foundation must come first if you want to climb Stronger! You must first become a stronger cyclist and this program is set up so that you build that strength! This program is set-up to create legs like pistons!

The program starts with core and stabilization exercises. They may sound easy or remedial, but they can be very challenging, in fact most of my clients dis-like doing stabilization the least because it is challenging.

Strength exercises that are going to give your legs the basic strength. Then we are going to single leg exercises that are going to make sure each leg is equally as strong.

Plyometrics. I have included a lot of detailed information about doing plyometrics because you have to be careful of proper execution and not burning out from them. Trust me, if 2x National Champ & Pro cyclist Daniel Holt can feel burned out after 2 months, so can you.

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Train slow, move slow, Train Fast and Move with Power

Train slow, move slow – train fast, and move with Power!
This doesn’t just mean that if you train fast you will have power……

I went out for a spin on a Friday before some Gold Sprints at Peachtree Bikes – but I realized I would waste my time attempting to sprint that night. My legs didn’t have the turn-over required to spin a gear that fast to do well in the sprints. I was having to put too much effort into attempting to spin much above 100 rpm’s…. but it is to be expected, especially when you consider where I am in the training plan.

Although this is disappointing, it is not unexpected, I have been doing a full cold, wet, snow/ice winter of gym workouts this year. Not a lot of heavy lifting, but more true strength building exercises, including weighted lunges & single leg squats. To complement the work in the gym, I have been doing hill repeats at least once a week. When I’m doing the hill climbing my RPM’s are around 70, and the focus is on leg strength – not cadence or Heart Rate. So currently my legs are more used to slowly grinding their way uphill, not turning over the pedals for the county line sprints. So, to suddenly ask my legs to turn over 150 RPM’s for 60 seconds is not suddenly going to be possible!

The good thing about a training plan is things are in phases and I know that the leg turnover comes around much faster than the strength building. Although it has taken most of the winter to build the strength of doing 1 leg squats, it will only be a matter of several weeks to get the legs to increase their turnover again.

As the strength from climbing is combined with the efficient pedal turnover the end result will be power to the pedals. And now that we are into the plyometric phase of the training regime, this is already taking place.

As disappointing as this is b/c I’m not racing in a great event, I know that as I add more speed to my training that the form and turnover of my legs will be a greater reward for the small sacrifice. This is truly where having a plan for the season allows small things like this much more understandable when you are able to look at the big picture and remember the seasons goals, not just what sounds fun this week.

When you are training for a big goal or event sometimes the mind and body respond in funny ways. Some weeks are very challenging physically and sometimes they become challenging mentally. I always let my clients know ahead of time that this is part of the process of becoming stronger. I can even tell them which week in their training plan it will happen & why it will be better the following week.

I find that 1 of the best things about accepting these thoughts as part of the process is although they still pop-up, you don’t dwell on them. Although this does not prevent these self-defeating thoughts from entering the mind, it does help you accept them and push them aside, understanding that it is expected and only temporary. And that just around the corner from this is growth and Strength!

How to take a bike through a doorway

I see it all the time at many different places – many people are challenged by how to get a bike through a door-way and/or up an elevator. I used to see how awkwardly people would wheel their bikes in and out of the bike shop. Then I saw it at the races that we would go to – in and out of hotels, up and down elevators. The first thing many people think of just after a crash is how is their bike, so why would you want to have it get scraped just going through a hydraulic door? Do you push the bike through, then push the door a 2nd time? There is a better way, and I will show you how to do it with just 1 hand.

The surprising thing is just how easy it actually is to get you and your bike through a doorway – even a hydraulic door. I used to have the same difficulty of wheeling a bike in and out of hotel doorways with bags or luggage – when it finally clicked was when I had to get me, a duffel bag, & my bike through a door and into an elevator, allowing room for other team mates and guests as well.

What I have found has got to be the easiest way to get through a doorway with 1 hand. Just stand on the left side of the bicycle (which is the non-drive train side) and grab the bicycle by the stem with the right hand. Now raise up the front wheel so that the bicycle is vertically up and down. It may take you a couple times to get used to balancing the bike and keeping it upright, but it gets easy. Now that you have control with just the right hand, you will be able to walk up to the door and get the front wheel against the left hand side of the door, now give the door a gentle, but firm push. Now that the door has swung open, get you and the bike quickly through before it closes, which should be much easier because the bike is going through the door as you are – upright.

Here is a quick video which shows you how I do it. As always, Apollo is right on my heels when a bike is involved!

Bike through Door from Stephen Carhart on Vimeo.

Why people with the same effort have different heart rates

A question that I have been asked many times before is why 2 people with the same body type and weight may have varying heart rates with the same amount of exertion.

The body is an amazing thing, and it adapts in so many ways. Our hearts for example have to pump the same amount of blood volume through the body based on the exertion that is required. Along with many other things, the blood carries into the bodies the necessary nutrients and oxygen, and carries out the by-products of muscle contractions including the lactic acid.

So, how can a trained athlete have such a lower heart rate than an untrained athlete given that they are doing nearly the same thing at the same level of exertion and the body having to pump the same amount of blood? The answer lies deep in the heart muscle itself.

As a untrained person starts to do consistent exercise the heart muscle begins to adapt to the demands that are being placed upon it. Just like any muscle in the body, with regular exercise the heart starts to adapt to the stress placed upon it. The heart becomes more adapt to handle the challenges placed upon it and becomes more efficient.

What physically happens is that the interior of the heart chambers start to expand and enlarge. The overall size of the heart stays the same, but each of the 4 chambers actually expand to accommodate more blood. As the heart pumps, with each contraction the amount of blood that is pulled into the heart and is pumped out is increased. So, suddenly with each heart beat the volume of blood being moved through the heart is increased with each beat. Therefore, if an equivalent amount of blood needs to be moved throughout the body, then the number of beats required for a trained athlete is less to pump the same amount of blood as a untrained athlete who has a heart that isn’t pumping as much blood per beat.

How long does this take to change the effects and the amount of blood pumped through the heart depends on the time spent, but generally it is said that an initial adaption period is 8-12 weeks of consistent 120-140 beats per minute training 8-12 hours a week. Of course, for some it will be less and for others it will be more. To get the most out of the time necessary to train and adapt to this much time on the bike, it is best that the cyclist do this during the winter base period.

If you would like more info on Stronger Cycling or cycling coaching be sure to check out Coaching section.