Monday, November 1, 2010

Reflections from the 1st Half of CX Season: Case Study in specific training

Recently we discussed cyclo-cross (CX)  in regards to sport specificity and how it is a unique discipline with it's very own set of skills that must be mastered in order to be proficient.  Accompanying that specific skill set of CX, the specific fitness of CX (Click here for that picture: CX= yellow, Crit= Red, TT= Green).  Now that we've seen what a CX race looks like the fun part is getting the athlete to duplicate those efforts, or different aspects of the efforts exerted in a CX race.

For everyone that has raced a hard fought, tooth and nail sort of CX race, there is no doubt that it is a very hard discipline.  Also, as training progresses with each athlete, some constants arise when confronted with CX specific training.  First, there is no desire or motivation to do a full speed "training race" in CX.  The physical and emotional stress is too great to ask one to race Saturday and Sunday, then turn around and do "training" races during the week.  Everyone goes flat and everyone quickly begins a downward spiral.  Talk to Euro CX Camp alumni over the last few years.  Not a single guy speaks of being "fit and flying" at the end of the campaign.  Instead, they answer that they are "beat up and exhausted."

The second constant is that "those specific intervals are HARD!"  Indeed they are, and indeed they should be!  In order to push your limits further, it is necessary to push to that border in training.  Albeit, in a constructive manner that reinforces positive adaptation.  Intervals of the intensity and duration relevant to CX racing must be managed carefully and in conjunction with thorough feedback from the athlete, otherwise it gets overdone and the athlete either 1) stops doing the specific intervals, or 2) does them and digs a big hole which could take a few weeks to climb out of. 

The spoils of getting the intervals right and doing the hard work are rewarding indeed.  Consistent lap times (showing high fatigue resistance) and that ability to ride above and beyond yourself when it really matters are easiest traits to recognize from a performance standpoint.  However the psychological benefit of knowing you are fit and riding fast is equally important. 

I've got some data compiled using some races as a guide, then looking at how the specific training relates to the demands of the races.  Let's take a look:

First we'll take a look at the  pedal forces vs pedal velocity in a Quadrant Analysis view.  In particular, the outer edge of the waxing crescent moon shape represents the extremes of CX racing.  Note how with the training, this athlete has been able to maintain that general shape, especially on the top end...

CX Races we have power data for (above)

CX Specific training (above)

Now, we'll look at another view, and that's cadence vs. power output.  CX is unique in that there is a large amount of accelerating and with that, an equally large amount of  high force/ low cadence efforts to generate high powers (vs. low force/ high cadence found in criteriums). Again, be sure to pay attention to the edges of the point groupings.  That is where races are made and that is where the athlete must improve.

CX racing: cadence vs. power production

CX training: cadence vs. power production
These specific workouts are already paying dividends as this client is seeing his form improve over the weeks of the CX season despite numerous races and limited recovery. This data set, in conjunction with that from other CX racing clients, helps to widen the view in our "library," further allowing for the creation of more effective workouts to better prepare them for disciplines as specific as cyclo-cross.  

To everyone out there wondering, "Am I doing the right thing for CX?"  Know that proper and specific CX training is distinctly possible.  And when it's done the right way, it really is fun!