Thursday, December 27, 2012

Offseason Training, Don't Waste Your Base (1 of 2)

By: John Hobbs, MEd. Senior Consultant            

The off-season doesn't exist to many racers on structured training plans.  It’s a period to race cyclo-cross and/or recover for a short bit before prepping for the next season’s races.  This period can also be tremendously beneficial in gaining fitness.  However, the elements are against most racers with cold weather, snow and ice, and jobs and families to get back to.  Couple this with flawed anecdotal training, and valuable saddle time is wasted.
Staying fit in the off-season with CX is becoming more popular
            As stated in previous articles, and likely your coach, a primary goal of this period is to ensure athletes are recovered.  This means from injuries, training, as well as psychologically.  In the same way this early training can help build an athlete, it can also contribute to failure if these recovery demands are not met.

            The term “base training” is usually applied to this early season work.  Professional cyclists usually throw this around as the emphasis of early saddle time. The concept often encompasses long rides of low intensity.  But, there are several faults with this thought process, especially when applied to amateur athletes with regular jobs and life demands.

            Principals of training include intensity, frequency, and duration of training.  This combination must  involve some form of overload  in order to see adaptations leading to improvement.  In the stereotypical base training, the athlete achieves this overload through a high amount of volume with low intensity.  This can be effective if the athlete is able to train sufficiently.  But the reality is that most athletes are not able to make the commitment to this quantity of saddle time and end up riding slow and short rather than the slow and long that is required to provide sufficient volume.  And as an athlete, the maximum must be gained for the time available for training.  So, an overload must be provided by altering some other aspect of training—intensity.
Most athletes make a daily transformation from  suits...
At first glance, several legitimate question arise regarding this principal.  These regard specificity of training to the competitive events and the periodization format that drives structured training.   Under the periodization structure, training starts with a higher volume and lower intensity and adjusts with more intensity and lower volume as competition nears.  Additionally, most cycling races involve hours of saddle time come race day.  So, it would seem natural that a block of high volume, low intensity training would fit the bill.  But, the amount of time required to provide an overload is not practical for most individuals.  The value of longer rides and adaptations that can occur with high mileage  can not be negated, especially when you’re looking at a three or four hour race.  As a result, these adaptations need to be sought in a more practical means.
From suits to kits on a daily basis. 
            Its been documented in several studies that many of the adaptations that occur at low-intensity exercises occur more rapidly at higher intensities with less training time.  With this in mind, athletes could justify swinging to the other side of the spectrum and do hard, short workouts.  And, that’s exactly what some do in the winter driving home VO2 max type workouts on the indoor trainer.  But, this approach isn’t necessarily effective either.  While increased intensity can provide an overload in less time, all training adaptations are not the same.  With the present emphasis on HIIT (high intensity interval training), this concept is lost when gross generalizations on performance are made similar to a political candidate saying “Americans will have lower taxes.”     

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sports’ secret weapon: sleep. By: Michael J. Breus, PhD

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crank length, What’s Your Size?

Zack Allison, BS
Source Endurance, Senior Coach

What length is your road crank? If you are less than 5 feet tall you are likely running 165mm cranks. If your height is 5’5” – 6 feet you are likely spinning 172.5mm cranks. Over 6 feet and the length “standards start to vary.” 175mm? 180? Custom length specially made? What actually makes these the right lengths for peak power and efficiency?

Just for fun I took a look at some of the “greats” of cycling and what lengths they ran during the hour record.  Some of these could be bogus but it’s interesting to think about before we go into the science of crank lengths.

Here is a chart of hour record holders over the years. Notice the crank lengths.

Indurain ran 190mm cranks. Huge for a track but there aren’t really any needs to accelerate fast. I couldn’t find any information on the rationale of such an outlier of crank length for his record. Boardman ran 170’s and is not a small man stretching to 6 feet 2 inches tall. The track hour record is relevant to this discussion as there are people of all different sizes holding the record for periods of time all running different length cranks not correlating to their height. Now that it seems like history has told us that crank length has very little if any correlation let’s dig deeper.

*We've been advised that Indurain actually ran 180mm cranks made by Campy, who have never made 190mm cranks.  Thanks for the correction Kris. 

Scientifically, “what is best and why” is a loaded question. When looking at crank length vs. power you take into account leverage. There are three forms of simple levers with a bicycle crank, and a wheel barrow being second class levers.  Check out this class two lever diagram to the right.

If you consider your crank/bottom bracket system as a second class lever, the length of the crank arm is the effort arm. The fulcrum is at the bottom bracket on the crank arm and the effort force of you pushing or pulling on the pedals is at the other end of the crank arm. Since this is a simple second class lever, the longer the effort arm, or crank arm, the larger the mechanical advantage, or more leverage. In the above picture the effort arm is from the line labeled effort to the fulcrum. The longer the effort arm is the easier it is to move the load, yet the further you have to move it.

MA= Fb/Fa= a/b

The law above is the “law of the lever.”  It shows that if the distance a from the fulcrum to where the input force is applied is greater than the distance b (from fulcrum to where the output force is applied), then the lever amplifies the input force. In our case the input force can be considered the power you apply to the pedals. If you simplify this and apply it to a bike, the longer your crank, the more your force is “amplified” to the cassette and forward movement. Just like if you are trying to take your bottom bracket out after 8 years. Its stuck, your normal 150mm bottom bracket tool isn’t working to you use a “cheater bar” to make the tool longer, increasing the effort arm, increasing the force, yet you are exerting the same force you had on the tool before the cheater bar.

Lets apply this to crank length on a larger scale. Let’s say you have 300mm cranks. This is overly long but for the sake of argument the same principles will apply for 160mm vs 175mm cranks. You have now extended your effort arm by almost 100% if you started with 170mm cranks. You could feasibly, on a climb for example, stick it in your big ring and power up 20% grades with half the force that you were applying with your 170mm cranks. Mathematically this works out in the equation above.
So why do we not all run 180mm cranks? There’s more to your pedal stroke than just force. There is the distance your foot has to travel and the force length curve of your muscles. Every muscle has the same force length curve. It looks like this. If you double your crank length, you also double the distance and speed your feet has to move to turn the crank, and your muscles experience a further stretch and contraction than with shorter cranks.

What this is showing is that as your muscle stretches its amount of force changes. Each single muscle fiber can produce a certain amount of force. The amount of force it can produce never changes; to produce more force your body recruits more fibers. As you see in the diagram your muscle, at its most lengthened position can produce no force. Your muscle at its most shortened position can produce no force. Think about if you are stretching your quadriceps while standing with your hand and you try to straighten your leg. You can give some force, but it’s not nearly as much force as your quad can produce when it’s only slightly bent. Same as if you are in a low squat, it is much harder to begin the lift, than to finish it out.

We can apply this to the crank length argument. If you run a crank length that is too long you will be brining your muscles though a range of motion that is not optimal for the muscle force length curve. As you are at the top of your pedal stroke with a crank that is too long you will be shortening your hamstrings, and stretching your quads so much that they are well out of their optimal length to produce force.

When deciding on crank length, if you are not willing to accept, “you get what comes on the bike” you have to consider all of these variables and how you fit on the bike. Too long of a crank and you are not efficient in your muscle contractions or the distance your foot has to travel each pedal stroke. Too short of a crank length and the amount of force you have to exert on the pedals out weights the smaller range of motion.
This is where we get into how to pick your specific crank length. There are a few variables. 1. Crank application. Are you climbing, sprinting, cross riding, all of the above? 2. How long are your femurs?
Track bikes will not have the same crank length as mountain bikes as the force’s produced are vastly different each different discipline. In track riding you have one gear, you need to be able to accelerate that gear but also spin the gear very fast to maintain top speeds. In mountain you need more torque to power over obstinacies and up steep climbs. You will run a longer crank, usually up 1 standard size for mountain than for road and usually two sized from track to mountain crank lengths. If you need more torque and force like in mountain you need a longer effort arm in your lever, a longer crank arm. You would not be able to spin this longer crank arm on the track. Road you need both qualities so you run the in-between based on your femur size.

Much of crank length choice is “standardized” to bike size. If you are running a 52-58 you are likely on 172.5mm Anything more and you are on 175’s anything less than a 54 and you are on 170’s. A better measurement of what your crank length should be is based on Femur length. Femur length will dictate most of which crank length will keep you in your force length curve during your entire pedal stoke. In most cases your height/ stand over height will dictate how long your femurs are, and therefore you are receiving the right size cranks on your bike automatically. Before you settle for this technique measure your femur length and decide for yourself. If you have a longer femur length for a 5 foot 2inch person you may want to move up to 172.5mm cranks over the 170s that came on your 50centimeter frame.

In the study “Influence of crank length on cycle ergometry performance of well-trained female cross-country mountain bike athletes” Trained female mountain bikers were tested at different intensities for efficiency of pedal stroke based on different crank lengths. The results fall in line with what we have discussed. Crank lengths do change the properties of power output and should be specialized for each discipline but in any one discipline for example road, there is not an advantage to running long cranks or short cranks rather cranks that optimize efficiency for your femur length will be the best.  Stay tuned as I discuss how to incorporate femur length into crank arm length choice.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pedaling Efficiency at Low vs High intensity

By: Zack Allison, BS. 

Source Endurance Senior Coach

Many things go into a pedal stroke. Consider that the daily commuter just pushes down on his flat pedals, making one dimension of force. As this commuter pedals harder to make the red light, his RPMs increase and he starts to bounce on the saddle and inefficiently gain speed to make the light. On the other hand, as the elite-level racer picks up the pace to follow an attack from the field, he shifts up and smoothly increases power at close to the same cadence and,  ideally, the same trained efficient pedal stroke. 

Last week I sat in on a little experiment with Category 1 racer Whitney Schultz. We had Whitney ride the Computrainer and used its extensive programming capabilities to break down her pedal stroke in all directions - left and right and up and down. We originally thought that Whitney’s stroke was imbalanced; it looked like she was favoring her right leg. When she was on the Computrainer it showed that she was never favoring one leg over 2%. This is good but we need to do more experiments. She may be recruiting other muscles to make up the difference that a back injury created. With more fatigue she may start to favor one leg - we’ll see.  
This is Whitney Schultz on the Computrainer. The screen shows her left leg contributing 49% , while her right does 51% of the workload, all at 200 watts.  The blue bars show her down-stroke and the purple/red/yellow bars show the up- and back-strokes. Whitney, being an accomplished racer, would not see these bars move very much between her current 200 watts and a hill at 350 watts. This pedal consistency shows efficiency. If your stroke changes at higher watts, you are recruiting muscles not normally used in a pedal stroke and you will fatigue faster.

Based on the principle of muscle recruitment, your body recruits motor units at different efforts. One “motor unit” is one muscle fiber and its motor neuron that activates that muscle. If you are pedaling at 100 watts, your body will recruit as few slow twitch fibers as necessary to do that action. As you pick up the pace to 200 watts, your body will recruit just the number of motor units necessary to complete this activity. If you take this principle all the way up to a 1300 watt maximal sprint, your body has recruited all of the fast and slow twitch muscles it has to perform this max effort. This principle will affect your stroke.  

There are physically more motor units on the anterior (front) side of your upper leg that, including your gluteus muscles, perform “knee extension” or pushing down on the pedals.  The diagram below shows for a full pedal stroke where muscles are engaged and resting. As you can see, your gluteus and quadriceps muscles are big muscle groups and have a larger range of force. This means you can have a smooth pedal stroke but your stroke will not produce even forces all the way around. 
In any normal stroke the goal is to make a circle and have a smooth and efficient stroke. This has many issues. Your quadriceps are stronger than your hamstrings. If you expect your hamstrings to be as powerful as your quadriceps, you will have an uneven stroke when your hamstrings cramp and fatigue. The good thing is that your cranks are attached to each other so your force on the pedals doesn’t have to make uneven speeds in your stroke.
The goal of your pedal stroke is to be consistent. Your quadriceps will be doing more work but they have a larger muscle area, therefore more strength and there is no avoiding that. What you, as a cyclist, should work on is keeping your pedal stroke consistent at every power interval. You will change your stroke based on if you are climbing or descending but increasing watts on a consistent grade should have as little change as possible on your form.

This video shows Eric Marcotte of Elbowz Racing pedaling at 300W

Eric again at 500W.

Notice Eric's stroke is the same in each video. At 500 watts, Eric is well above his lactate threshold (LT) and is recruiting pretty much all of his muscle fibers and has his core engaged more but his basic pedal stroke is the same, even though he is recruiting 85-95% of his motor units as discussed above . This is what any racer should strive for. Despite his high effort, his pedal stroke remains efficient. As he fatigues he may start to have certain motor units’ fatigue. As his hamstrings fatigue he may start to recruit his back muscles to compensate changing his stroke. This is why a strong core is crucial and why lesser trained cyclists have more back fatigue on long rides.
Returning to the example of the commuter on flat pedals, his form changes from efficient to inefficient when he doubles his power to make the light. When you double your power from 200 to 400 watts your pedal stroke should be the same. If it is different, you are becoming inefficient at higher watts, which is the last thing you need. If this seems impossible you may need to check your fit and crank length. Otherwise get out there and do your workouts but be aware of your pedal stroke and the source of some inefficiencies. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ischemic Preconditioning

   John Hobbs, MS         

One interesting aspect of studying exercise physiology is the ability to incorporate a multi-discipline approach to developing new ideas.  The major underlying theme is the body being placed under a form of stress and monitoring the response.  The crossover between exercise science and medical research is well founded as it’s not uncommon to see researchers in Exercise Physiology performing studies regarding heart disease, modalities to simulate bleeding, sub-cellular changes to tissue, to a further variety of topics.    With these relationships in mind, an anesthesiologist brought up the topic of a surgical technique called ischemic preconditioning.    Essentially, the blood flow to a limb is temporarily occluded and then allowed to re-purfuse for a short duration.  Several cycles of this treatment serves to protect the heart during surgery. The concept is intriguing due to its mechanism and questions regarding implementation with the limited research on athletes currently available.
            Specificity is an attribute that is highly stressed to athletes.  If you want to run faster, you have to actually run fast and any other training has to closely mimic the demands placed by running.  The medical background of ischemic preconditioning is similar.  It is well documented that by stressing the heart, various proteins are produced to serve as protective mechanisms, such as heat shock proteins.  The stress required is small and relatively long lasting with single bouts of exercise producing benefits lasting weeks.  The cascade of events leading to this protective mechanism is involved with a variety of variables including gender based hormone production and age.   The end result is increased protection against what is called ischemic-reperfusion injury—essentially the heart cells being starved of oxygen, becoming damaged, and then rupturing once oxygen is re-introduced. 
            The method used preoperatively seems to negate the concept of specificity.  In a pre-operative hospital setting, a protocol occluding a patient’s arm with a blood pressure cuff can be applied resulting in better outcomes in procedures involving the heart.  What is novel about the procedure is that the stress applied to a remote site provides benefits to a distant location.  While systemic messengers in the body are nothing new with basic hormones being taught in high school biology, the signaling with this protocol does not follow the same  principals.  It could be equated to doing bicep curls to increase your 40K time trial.
            Limited research is available on the topic regarding athletic performance.  Two recent publications by Jean-St-Michel et al. (2011) and Groot et al. (2010) evaluate the application of the concept to exercise performance.  While the tendency is to find all the holes in the research and conclusions and question validity, the limited work available on this topic would favor time spent delving deeper in to the mechanisms and  implementation of the practice.
            Both Jean-St-Michel et al. and Patricia et al. implemented  ischemic preconditioning prior immediately prior to exercise testing.  The former utilized the arm as the treatment site in swimmers with the latter performing the treatment on the legs of cyclists.  Both showed benefits due to the treatment.
            In evaluating the swimmers, the researchers found a benefit to maximal intensity exercise illustrated by 100 meter swim times.  The authors noted, the benefit seen was relatively small, being less than a second, but competitively significant as top level events over that distance.  An increase in the stroke count was also noted in the treatment data.  This could be significant as swimming speed relies on the relationship of the distance covered per stroke and the speed of the stroke (Jean-St-Michel et al. 2011).  A question emerges if the alteration of stroke count is a physiological response allowing for a faster stroke rate with decreased fatigue, or an alteration in form due to the preconditioning.  Regardless, the end result in an increase is swim performance.
            The cycling group showed improvement in VO2 max and in the maximal power output achieved during the testing.  The researchers attributed this to improved endothelial function, essentially the diameter of the blood vessels, for a partial cause of the improvement (Groot et al. 2010).  It must be noted that this theory contradicts data and commonly taught limiters to VO2max in athletes.  But, that is the nature of science with constant remodeling and invalidating of theories.  Additionally, the research methods may not have been conducive to the highest level of validity.  The end result of the study, however is the same—increased performance.  Further work will provide reinforcement or dismissal of the theory regarding the mechanism.
            When evaluating the studies presented, an important note is the fact that the benefits were seen only in maximal exercise efforts.  While this could provide a benefit to events specializing in a maximal effort only, such as a 100 meter swim, the benefits have yet to be evaluated across endurance activities.  Based on the various differences in limiters of performance, the protocol may or may not be effective.  Additionally, duration and intensity of exercise prior to the maximal exercise testing has not been evaluated.   This is to say that a cyclist attacking two miles from the finish may have the benefit “washed out” by the previous sixty miles of racing.
            One interesting note is the fact that both of the studies regard exercise as a possible ischemic event whose stress contributes to fatigue.  So, in a more practical application than bringing a blood pressure cuff to competition maybe to utilize high intensity bouts of exercise as the means to illicit ischemic preconditioning.  While neither of the articles directly associates this concept with their findings, this could add to data supporting high intensity intervals in to a warm-up prior to a race.
            A final note on the research procedure is the fact that the ischemic event was utilized in a limb directly implemented in the exercise.  The cycling study utilized both legs which allowed to demonstrate the existence of a benefit, but not isolate it to the legs.  The work by Jean-St-Michel et al. attempted to focus in on the possible cause of the benefits.  By using one arm, they hoped to demonstrate a positive effect at a site other than the occluded arm.  This closely mirrors the ischemic precondition previously presented as being used in surgical procedures.  The researchers went a step further by using the blood from the swimmers before and after conditioning in rat hearts undergoing ischemia.  The results showed that the blood drawn after the ischemic conditioning served to protect the rat heart. 
            These data serve as starting points for evaluating the use of a possible supplement to training.  Athletes must use caution however, before incorporating these practices in to training as extrapolating benefits of medical practices to the athletic arena routinely occurs with no other significant benefit shown other than separating athletes from their dollar.  As with any novel theory or application, further study is required.  While these initial studies show possible promise further work may reveal a cumulative effect that could allow for training with a blood pressure cuff while you lounge on the couch or the fact that a quick bout of push-ups during staging at a race could provide a small benefit.


Jean-St-Michel, E., et al. (2011).  Remote Preconditioning Improves Maximal Performance in Highly Trained Athletes.  Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(7) 1280-1286.

Groot, P., Thijssen, D., Sanchez,M., Ellenkamp, R., Hopman, M. (2010).  Ischemic preconditioning improves maximal performance in humans. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 108(1) 140-146.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Early Season Stages of Grief

Denial-  I'm fit.  I'm just having a bad day.

Anger-  I'm so mad I let myself get so unfit. I'm getting fit now!  These guys are a-holes for showing me I'm unfit.

Bargaining-  If I get through this, I'm going to start training 30 hours a week so I'm never unfit again.

Depression-  I'm so unfit.  I'm going to quit this sport, just as soon as I get home.

Acceptance-  I accept that I'm unfit.  I'm going to get through this and be better because of it!

Friday, January 27, 2012


This post really has nothing to do with fitness, coaching or anything of performance value.  Actually, it reminded me exactly why it is so very difficult to write about things that truly move you.......

Sometimes it takes an event that can described as nothing except sorrowful to give you a bold reminder of your mortality.

Bruce Edwards
Bruce Edwards lost his battle with ALS a couple of days ago and while I managed to keep it to the side of my mind for a little while, eventually, it comes to the forefront and everything hits at once.  I could talk about Bruce and all that he means to so many people; but instead, I'll talk about a gift I received from him which, what I believe, is one of the the most touching gifts anyone can ever give.

Following the Tour of Kansas City last summer, the entire Mercy Cycling Team and a few others were planning on a barbeque at the Edwards' house.  Unbeknownst to me, I was going to arrive very early and leave before the festivities began.  As luck would have it, this would set the stage....

I found myself, on a sweltering summer evening, sitting on Bruce's back porch with him just watching the birds and admiring the view.  I don't even remember what we talked about.  It wasn't even important as I remember this experience.  The thing that really stayed with me is that Bruce gave me something so very precious to all of us; time.

You see, time is the ultimate currency.  Everything we work for, everything we buy, every dollar or euro or whatever is ultimately traded with time.  No matter how much money you have or no matter how many things you own, you will never recoup the time you gave to earn the money to purchase that new shiny bit.  You will never recoup the time it took for you to drive that hour to and from work every day and that extra hour of overtime can never be re-allocated to spend with those you love.  And that time, is very limited.  It's the same for rich and poor, man and woman, black or white. The clock always ticks.





the view from the back porch
And just like all currency, we get to choose how we spend time and who we spend it with.  Depending on our perception of limitation with upcoming deadlines or events, we spend it more or less wisely on what we want or need.  Bruce, more than anyone understood how limited that resource was to him.  Yet, here we were, just me and him.  Sitting on that porch watching the birds and talking about who knows what.  I was worthy of Bruce's time; of a very limited and invaluable resource.  That may be the most meaningful compliment I've ever received from anyone.  It took me a while to understand, but I get it now.  Thank you Bruce.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Join SE: 500k Training Camp with Kristian House p/b Nelo’s Cycles

Camp Flyer HERE 

All Source Endurance clients, ask about your special pricing!

Spend 5 days training with the former British National Champion on the same
roads he uses to prepare for his upcoming race season. These same roads and
routes have led him to great successes in previous seasons, now you can take
advantage of the phenomenal training grounds that South Texas has to offer.
Nelo’s Cycles will provide full mechanical and nutritional support for the entire
camp so all you have to worry about is building the base miles like the Pros do.
Every day of riding will be followed by a short clinics featuring industry experts as
Adam Mills of Source Endurance and Nelo Breda, former Brazilian National Team
Coach and former professional racer.

• Jan 18th – Introductions, 2hr morning
ride, 2hr afternoon ride, 1hr clinic on
fitting, training, season goals.
• Jan 19th – 6hr morning ride,
afternoon rest, evening clinic on off
and on the bike training.
• Jan 20th – 3hr morning ride, 2hr
afternoon TT ride, evening clinic
covering on and off the bike nutrition.
• Jan 21st – 6hr morning ride, afternoon
rest, evening Q&A with Kristian
• Jan 22nd – 6hr morning ride
Five day fully supported camp $350
One day pass available for $80


BASE CAMP AT HOTEL LA QUINTA 4424 South Mopac Expwy Austin, TX 78735
The camp will be held rain or shine unless the minimum required riders is not met.

For additional information or questions
email or call: 512 338 0505