How to decipher Body Signals

Tip: Listen to your body, pay attention to the signs/signals. Sometimes these signals come from different places.

The other day, I cycled out to meet up with the in-town Atlanta Tuesday night hammer group. As I was riding over, each hill seemed taller and steeper than necessary. I was looking for more gears than the bike has available…. and I started to realiz this was not going to be a hammer night for me. Maybe I’m just not warmed up yet – it has happened before – I feel rough for 10-20 miles, then suddenly the muscles warm-up and are ready to go to work.

As I rode up another climb, I attempted to shift to an easier gear – I was in the easiest…. I peeked at the Heart Rate (HR) monitor and sure enough I was about 15 beats lower for the effort that my body felt like it was at. This was a sign that my HR was not responding to the effort that my body was attempting to put out. Was my central nervous system suppressing the Heart? Or is it that the heart muscle was too fatigued to move the amount of blood that my body normally needs for this effort. Either way, it wasn’t there.

I spun easy for a few more miles and started up another rolling hill – still my HR was reaching the normal numbers, and my legs were grumpy about the strain I was putting them through. So, instead of meeting up with the group, I made the turn to go along the same route ahead of them, and spin much easier.

Your body sends you signals about what is going on, it is your brains job to interpret what those signals mean. For me, I did trail work on Saturday, I did a 5 hour ride on Sunday, Monday was off. My HR wasn’t getting to the upper range (zone 4) like it should have for the effort I was putting out.

The night before I happened to check my HR as I was ‘trying’ to fall asleep and it was about 5-7 beats high.

All of these added up means that I needed another day of rest, and since I was already on the bike, I did an easy, active recovery spin. There is no gain in stressing your body when what it needs to get stronger is recovery.

When you pay attention to the signals that your body is giving you, it becomes much easier to put them together to realize what they all mean.

VO2Max test reading results

Read what it was like for me to go through the TEST

Before I even get off the bike Tony is going over some of the results.
He (again) stated something that I was surprised about – you have a fantastic base – you would be a type of person that would waste their time doing base work. Because of the graph, he could see that I was able to stay very aerobic throughout a lot of the test.

SO, then he says – I bet you hate time trialing, don’t you? Yes. Tony says ‘well guess what you most need to do to see improvements…. tempo work just above your threshold’.

Tony explains to me that the results show that the strength and the aerobic base is there, but my blood system can not keep up with delivering the oxygen and flushing the lactic acid as fast as my muscles are creating it. So, on the trend plot you can see that my Heart Rate stayed above my VO2 for nearly the whole test…. not ideal. My body needs to get used to flushing the lactic acid more efficiently & for that to happen, the body has to be creating it also….. so that means, I have to ride at a high Heart Rate for a duration of time, ala Time-Trialing, or what I like better extended climbs.

Now, we are talking about how/why of genetics, strengths and weakness that I have, how that reflects what the graph shows & and how that will effect the events that I can do well in and the one’s that I will have more trouble with and may just get discouraged with trying to attempt. Which is funny, a good friend once said to me, I’m not built for climbing – once I stopped trying to race all the little climbers and focused on the races that suited my body, I became a much happier bike racer. She ended up placing in US National Crit championships that year.

Train your weakness, race your strength!


Results and REVIEW of MY VO2 Max test is:
So, you can see from the graph that my anaerobic threshold is 166.
My VO2 maxed out at 55. Not bad, not great – and room for Improvement with the proper workouts!

PRO: Very Good aerobic base – again, I’m shocked. But the numbers don’t lie.

Good power at Lactate threshold – over 400 watts.

Needs Improvement: Pulmonary system can not keep up with the effort that the muscles are doing.

Needs Improvement: RECOVERY. look at the 2nd chart, the drop off of Heart Rate is too slow. For competitive cycling, you want your recovery rate to be much quicker so that you can attack, recover and attack – repeatedly. My HR took a little too long nearly 2 minutes to get back down from 180 to 120. Although this will easily change with intown group rides and interval training.

The GOAL: More efforts at Threshold. Or I can do more long Hill Repeats, mountain climbs.
It almost like cheating, but not really. I can do the same workout if I go to the North GA mountains where I can do long climbs of 10-20 minutes at my target heart rate.

Knowing where your baseline numbers are is a Huge benefit for cycling. A VO2Max test will show you where your strengths and weakness are, and from that you can find out the workouts that will best benefit your riding and racing! This is the way to train more effectively and more efficiently in less time.

Up Next: My workouts to change my VO2 Max!

What is VO2 Max

VO2 max is the maximal oxygen uptake or the maximum volume of oxygen that can be utilized in one minute during maximal or exhaustive exercise. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight.

VO2 max or maximal oxygen uptake is one factor that can determine an athlete’s capacity to perform sustained exercise and is linked to aerobic endurance. It is generally considered the best indicator of cardio-respiratory endurance and aerobic fitness.

Elite endurance athletes typically have a high VO2 max. And some studies indicate that it is largely due to genetics, although training has been shown to increase VO2 max in untrained athletes up to 15-20 percent, but well-trained athletes are unlikely to realize an increase in VO2max of greater than 3-5 percent. A major goal of most endurance training programs is to increase this number.

Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) is the maximum amount of oxygen that can be used by the body for maximal sustained power output (exercise). Since the body uses oxygen to convert food into energy (ATP), the more oxygen you can consume, the more energy, power, or speed you can produce. VO2max defines an endurance athlete’s performance ceiling, or the size of his or her “engine.” Research has shown that VO2max significantly determines performance in endurance-based events such as cycling, triathlon, running, and Nordic skiing.

Track Elite National Points Champion Daniel Holt getting his VO2 Max Test:
VO2 testing

How is VO2 Max measured?
Many endurance athletes already have some idea of what a VO2max test entails: an incremental increase in exercise effort until the participant is unable to continue increasing his or her workload. The athlete can perform the test using any number of exercises: running, cycling, rowing, and even swimming.
Read what I thought of this experience Here

Because VO2max will vary between sports for various individuals, athletes will generally perform the test in his or her preferred sport. Regardless of the testing modality used, all the tests do the same thing. They take a happy-go-lucky individual and turn him or her into a grimacing, suffering, and most importantly, gasping test subject. As exercise intensity increases, a machine calculates oxygen consumption (VO2) by collecting and analyzing the test subject’s inspired and expired air. With each incremental increase in power output by the athlete, more muscle mass is employed and more oxygen consumed. VO2 will thus increase linearly with exercise intensity until the body reaches its maximum ability to consume oxygen. At this point, oxygen consumption will level off, or plateau, when the subject reaches his or her VO2max.

The VO2 max test will nearly pinpoint your lactic threshold, which is the heart rate you will be able to sustain during a timetrial.
A test will also show you exactly where your Heart Rate Zones efforts are for training – this takes the guess work out of estimating your zones!

VO2 Mask

A great thing about a VO2 Max test is that it gives you a gauge of specifically where your body is at and where your efforts will give you the best results. For instance, some people go anaerobic quickly and thus, need to do more base (Long Slow Distance) miles.
Or maybe you have a good base and need more hill repeats, or maybe you need more high intensity intervals.
Some people have good lung capacity, but not enough leg strength while others have great leg strength, but not enough lung capacity to supply the necessary oxygen to those legs and need to do Time-trial efforts.

The VO2 max results will give you a graph of evidence where you are doing well and where you could improve with the proper intervals.

Just send an email via the contact page to get an appointment!

12 Hours of Yargo, Mt bike race report

Although we were a Murray down, we persevered….. You see last year the 3 Murray brothers and myself raced the 12 hours of Yargo. We went to have fun, hang out & ride hard. We were battling it out for what we thought was first place, but because of a timing mis-hap (an unrecorded lap) we actually battled it out for 2nd place. This year, unfortunately 1 of the Murray’s needed to skip this year race, so David came on board. Even though they weren’t racing, Ryan and RT still came out on course to cheer us on!! What a great crowd that shows up to these events!

The Dirty Spokes 12 hours of Yargo is a Mountain bike race on a 11.7 mile mainly single-track trail in Winder, GA. This course has open sections where you can get a lot of speed, some sections where you pick up momentum down a hill only to do a hairpin turn and go back up that hill. Many climbs are steep, but short however, 2 of climbs that are steady and longer. A couple of the downhills have some whoops and the race included 1 of the horse show drop-ins. If you have enough speed you can jump out of the horse-shoe, but you have to do it at an angle b/c once you are out of the horse-shoe, the trail turns left almost immediately. Lots of technical sections where you need to throw the bike around turns to avoid the trees and in a couple cases are bouncing off of them. Most lap times for the course were low 50 to 60+ minutes.

We all met up and camped at Fort Yargo the night before the race. ‘Jet-Pak’ Ed was out of the camp site early and got us a pop-up next to Fresh Bike service, on the front row of all the action! As always the start was a little hectic with so many 6 and 12 hour solo riders, and multiple teams, the line for the parade lap before heading into the trail wrapped around the parking area and the 4 wheeler pace vehicle had to slow for the last of the riders.

Our team clicked off the early laps, and waited anxiously to see where we were at against the other competition. A difference that we lacked this year was that we didn’t pay as much attention to when the last person was leaving – although this didn’t actually hurt the team, it didn’t make things easier. Usually we keep an eye on when a person leaves for their lap, and gauge when they will be coming back to the transition area. This year everyone seemed to get ready as soon as their relay person was heading out. This gave us about 55 minutes to get things together, get dressed, get warmed-up.

At the campsite I stayed hydrated with NUUN and tried to keep steadily eating food to keep the energy levels up. Two turkey subs from Firehouse were devoured, and I even tried some of the fine pickles offered by Addictive Cycles, anything to avoid cramping.

As the day went along, each time check came in showing that we were in the lead, and then each lap the pressure built – stay consistent – don’t cramp – don’t get a flat & worst of all – don’t Crash! The consistent part requires speed, especially for me, since I was not the fastest rider on the team. I get bogged down on some of the uphills, but I have to conserve the Heart Rate and pedal over them. The sections of fast, twisty single track is where I need to stay moving, and this requires full concentration. Whipping the bike left, right, right, left gets crazy with the tress directly in the edge of the trail. Too much speed and a missed-timed turn means sudden handlebar stoppage and rider ejection!

Lady luck was in our camp this day and as the laps ticked by we seemed to consistently put time into our opponents and at the end of the day team Sprocket Rockets relayed for 140.4 miles in 12 hours. We finished a lap ahead of our competitors and Won First Place! I was fortunate to have a great team, and once again, I had an out standing birthday weekend camping and racing at Fort Yargo!!

Unfortunately, due to finishing the race at 11pm, we didn’t get any pictures of our finishing podium. Full results are linked from the Dirty Spokes site here .

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.

Polar heart rate monitor support fail

I’ve had several heart rate (HR) monitors since I started racing over a decade ago. And I’ve liked features of some and didn’t like features on several of them.

The worst problem that I had with other HR monitors was that the chest strap would not pick up under power lines. And since 1 of the sections that I used to like doing intervals on had a brief climb, then a long gradual uphill, I would do intervals on that section of road that was also slightly busy. After a year of being disappointed by the chest strap not picking up my HR it seemed that the best brand was Polar. I thought man, if I had a Polar HR monitor, I would always have a read out.

So, finally I dropped over 100 bones and got a Polar F6. Life was good. The chest strap picked up everywhere. Although the features are a bit more than I needed, it was just a short learning curve to figure out how to use the features that I wanted, and I didn’t have to mess with any extra’s.

I’ve checked out better HR monitors that have cool features, but I only want to know what my HR is, how long the timer has been going (intervals) and how long I’ve been on the bike (time). Although the numbers were slightly smaller on the HR feature – because when you are pushing LT +5 it gets hard to see straight!

After about a season of riding/racing the F6 HR monitor stopped working. I searched around to see what could have happened. I adjusted the strap & it would work some, then nothing. It became aggravating, but I realized that it must be the battery on the chest strap that has gotten weak, and was no longer working.

I asked several places about what to do and found out that Polar only has 4 service centers in the USA….. so, I hustled down to the postal non-service and shipped my chest strap and watch to Michigan.
It’s been about a week. And when I checked the mailbox, I didn’t expect the box to be from Michigan. In fact it took me a couple minutes to figure out what I would have coming from Michigan, then it dawned on me, the HR monitor had already gotten back to me! Sweet!!!!

Or so I thought…. I opened up the box and pulled out the contents that had been packed in styro foam. Out came the chest strap and the elastic chest band. Then I pulled out the watch that was packed in bubble wrap. I opened it and realized that the scratches that it had endured were still there – bummer.

Next I pulled out the yellow sheet – the bill. I scanned over it – it got checked out – $13 ok. They determined the chest strap wasn’t working (even though I noted that on the return form) they packed up a new chest strap – $30!??!! shipped it for $7 !?
Grand total – $50. Now granted I allowed them to charge my card to expedite the process, but for sure I didn’t think that it would be HALF the cost of a brand new one.

“Dear Polar, next time I will be more careful which chest strap I purchase so that I don’t grab my ankles attempting to get a new battery!”
….but for not a whole lot more than $50 and I could have gotten a brand new HR monitor – 1 that I haven’t scratched the watch lens yet! Those scratches will be a reminder of my aggravation with Polar’s customer no-service. I will be pedaling in anger due to Polar.

Polar has high marks in the functioning category – their chest straps seem to always pick up in any conditions. Their watches take time to figure out how to scroll through and get to the feature you want, but once you get over the learning curve it either gets easier or you don’t use it.

Although I would get another Polar HR monitor, I would make certain that it had replaceable batteries for the chest strap – batteries cost about $3 and I’ve replaced many of them in all the other brands. Also, I would not get more features than necessary because it seems challenging to scroll through the watch features to get what you want out of it.

Hill Repeats

Hill repeats, how we love to loathe them. If you are lucky, you start off at a steady pace and the Mountain teases you into thinking it is going to be a good day….. then as your heart rate begins to catch up to the effort your putting out, the Mt. truly let’s you know what kind of day it is going to be – on the Mt’s terms, not yours. Sometimes the mountain allows you to climb with less effort than previous, but this time of year, the mountain has it’s advantage and may take this opportunity to show it’s authority as Mother Nature and her companion, mean ole Mr. Gravity.

Yet, you must pedal onward, knowing that the steepness of the Mt that you climb is not just taking to the top, but is taking you to a stronger point in your fitness. Your legs feel the next upward pitch that causes you to grind away on the crank arms ever so slowly. This is the pain that the mountain inflicts in the normal cyclist that wish to over come the grade and bask in the view from the pinnacle.

Good day or bad day, the fact that you are on the Mountain battling and so many others are not can confirm your commitment. If you start off to hard racing to get to the top, then sometimes the Mountain can really take the wind out of your sails. Caution can be the better part of valor as you climb up the first 1000 meters. The mountain will cause you to settle into a more humbling pace if you miss-judge or underestimate her. The cyclists on the descent smile and nod at those still battling the upward slope, for they know, not only the anguish the mountain is putting on your body, but that once down to the bottom, they themselves will turn around and battle against their own machines to take them to the top.

Your legs scream from the lactic acid being built up from each pedal stroke, which is not spin, but a MASH. Seated climbing is usually the par, until the grade rises at such an angle that the mind convinces you that maybe standing will be easier…. but only briefly, then HR stands with the body, and you flop back down giving the legs what seems like only a brief moment of relief. The mountain can be deceiving, for some stretches you can feel a brief relief, then you turn the bend, and the suffering is there again. The body screams to stop, but the mind must overcome! You must continue and remember that your goal is not at the top, but in the grind of the uphill battle against gravity.

Upward you ascend, slowly, but steadily, knowing that in the end, the mountain will win again, but you will come away a stronger person both in cycling and in mental fortitude for being there this day!
Burnt Mountain
Climbing hills and mountains develops sport specific leg strength to cycling, which if a base fitness aerobic level has been developed and the workouts at a gym have been followed, the body will respond with greater performance and wattage output. As this strength is developed it will allow the rider to be able to ride along with other riders at the same weight/speed, requiring a lower effort so therefore a lower heart rate.

Hill Repeats:
To do these efforts, I try to use a steady climb and keep a cadence of around 65-70, and keeping as much pressure on the legs as possible for the whole climb. I have 1 main Mt. climb that is just over a mile long, but takes nearly 10 minutes to get to the top. But speed is not what I am using to gauge my fitness yet, I am using the gearing that I am able to climb the Mt with. By keeping a lower cadence I am using more muscle to climb the Mt than Heart Rate.