Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Keeping the Early Season Productive

Faced with abnormally high snow falls, shorter days, or wicked cold temps, keeping motivation to train is a mixture of art, motivation, and the ability to fool yourself in to thinking that you’re having fun.   So, how is this facilitated by the coach?  A bulk of this comes down to the athlete and their goals.  Individuals who peak for cross season are going to have different goals and structure than an individual who is looking to be flying in March and April.  Athletes with goals later in the year have the luxury of incorporating more cross training into their schedule.  Keeping in mind the training principal of specificity, activities that benefit cycling can be incorporated and still allow a change of pace.  Aerobic exercises such as cross country skiing are a great supplement to the schedule and allow athletes to still get to train outdoors.  Depending on the schedule we can start weaning from cross training to more bike oriented time in the spring.  Or, if there’s enough snow and the athlete wants another rig hanging in the garage, the snow bike is also an option.  This is similar to a mountain bike, but modified with extremely fat tires.  They provide great training opportunities if you can find an open area to ride.  Public places that allow cross country skiing in large open areas, such as local golf courses or a farm that turns in to a winter Nordic center, can offer a trail system for you to follow.  
But what if you don’t live in areas with snow or only want to ride?  The health club can have the answer. While some athletes may laugh at the thought of spin classes, they can be a great training tool. They don’t provide a great deal of overload and add a little “slop” to the periodization model since they are all over the place with intensity.  But, they prevent fitness loss due to detraining, and can provide stimulation for some positive physiological changes.  Plus, based on each athlete’s motivation and schedule, we have to consider what is the lesser of two evils —having greater control over the training and adding an increased risk to mental fatigue and burnout from strict trainer time and rides in bad weather, or sacrifice some of the workout quality a couple days of the week with possible increased focus on goal workouts.

Then, there are those who really need true saddle time on their own bike.  This could be due to daily schedules that are more conducive to solo training, personal preference, or the fact that the athlete’s goals for the season have key workouts during these winter and spring months. Often these individuals are relegated to “pretend riding” in the basement or garage.  The key to these training sessions is providing enough stimulation to avoid boredom.  Some individuals may not have a problem with this as a set of headphones and a power meter are something they enjoy.  The act of putting up the assigned wattage and the drive to see certain numbers provides enough stimulation.  Videos and other tricks are always good fallbacks.  But as a coach, the overall layout of the workout can have an effect.  If a peak is near, the athlete is doing hard and short intervals as part of a typical build.  These efforts are great for the trainer since it is a very controlled environment compared to the road, and the frequent changes in intensity provide variety.  With the short nature of intense workouts, athletes who aren’t close to a peak may also get these intervals.  But wait, doesn’t that go against periodization?  Yes, it does.  Often these intervals are not implemented during certain phases of an athlete’s build.  But, with the benefit of initial rapid progress, extra recovery needed between workouts, and a decrease in overall volume during these training phases, a period of high intensity can help break up the trainer suffer-fests.

Even with the all the benefits a hard VO2 type block can provide on the trainer, in many cases it’s not ideal. Care must be taken to ensure that the intense workouts are challenging and within the realm of reason.  In the winter athletes usually can’t put up the same numbers compared to when the workouts were assigned in-season.  Often these early spring months require higher volumes at a lower intensity.  So, the goal is to find other ways to add variety.  As a result, lower intensity intervals will cycle through work and rest periods much more rapidly than during the summer months.  Rather than 10 minute intervals with 3 minutes rest, trainer sessions may have 3 or 4 minute efforts with 1 minute rest.  Or over/under sets are also prescribed.  They provide short periods at varying intensities.  With a brief decrease in intensity, large amounts of work  

In the end, each workout needs to have a particular goal. Often athletes peaking in the spring and early summer are in critical stages of their build where workouts that are not stressing a particular system are essentially a waste of time.  For others, however, the focus of a period may be keeping most of the fitness and making it to the warmer months.  Short term and long term goals as well the variety of resources can make for a wide variety of training programs.
- John Hobbs, Senior Consultant