You wake up. Your mind is shouting in the background “Its cold, actually its not cold, its freezing, I am not riding in this”. Then you have to factor in the 30 minuntes it takes to put all the layers of clothing on. It becomes the perfect recipe for not riding at all.
Here's the thing. Winter can actually be used to create a platform that would allow you to go into Spring with great endurance, improved strength and better skill levels.
Figure 1: Basic Abilities and Advanced abilities triangle (Friel, 2018)
The Basic Abilities Triangle
The ability to sit on your bike and pedal. Without a doubt, an often overlooked and neglected aspect of any endurance sport is that the aerobic system is underdeveloped. Developing your aerobic ability improves capillary density that helps slow blood flow through muscle tissue allowing greater profusion of oxygen, fatty acids and glucose. There is an increase in mitochondrial density which are the energy factories of the cell. This is where the production of the master energy molecule ATP is made. More mitochondria, more power. There is also an increase in MCT 1 transporters which are an important part of the lactate transport system (a future post all on its own! Stay tuned).
How a coach can help aerobic endurance?
At www.thethreshold.co.za , we use various metrics to track your progress as to whether your aerobic endurance is becoming more efficient and more powerful.
Figure 2: TrainingPeaks metrics with important aerobic metrics.
Briefly, this male rider was given 4x30mins at 80-85% of their threshold power. How well developed is his system? Pw:Hr (known as aerobic decoupling) was measured at -1,02% for this workout. This means that his power and heart rate tracked each other the entire 2h50min of work, in fact he was actually producing more power than his heart rate compared to the start of his ride. A good range for steady work efforts is <5%. While this is from a cycling power meter. With the advent of running power such as Stryd, the same principles are being applied.
It’s a game changer for serious athletes!
There are two types of strength work for endurance athletes. The first, in the gym pushing, pulling and lifting heavy weights for low reps. The second is on the bike itself. (running and swimming will get future posts on this topic)
Gym work: Getting involved in a strength and conditioning program will improve muscular force production, improve bone density, increase strength It will also improve activities of daily living making them much easier to accomplish. A good approach with gym work is strength periodization.
Table 1: General approach to a winter gym based program
The table above illustrates the progression that an athlete would take in the gym. Starting with high repetitions and lighter weights in a phase called anatomical adaptation (AA). The athlete would spend around 2 to 4 weeks in this phase. Muscle tissue adapts very quickly to additional load, however, tendons and ligaments do need some time to catch up.
Muscle strength phase (MS) is where much heavier weights are used, with much lower reps. The goal being increasing muscular force output. This phase can last 6 to 8 weeks. Remember that neural adaptations seem to plateau around the 6-week mark. So, extending past this point may not make sense for an endurance athlete.
How can a coach help with strength?
An important aspect from a coach perspective is that they believe in strength work and therefore program it into the weekly sessions. And that there is an understanding how to program progression. Otherwise not much benefit will be gained from implementation. A program will be covered in our next winter blog series part 3
Speed skills involve how efficiently you ride your bike. This can be in the form of pedal stroke mechanics to riding technical off-road trails where good bike handling is essential.
Mountain biking has different technical levels of riders and comparing power outputs for a section of trail, less skilled riders end up with higher power outputs for less speed, while highly skilled riders could do the same or much faster for a lot less power output. Over a couple of hours, the less skilled rider will be burning more glucose and potentially have to slow down.
Figure 2: Kurtotic Index
On the metrics and pedal mechanics front, looking at Gross power released (GPR), Gross power absorbed (GPA) and Kurtotic index (KI) gives significant clues into pedal efficiency. In figure 2 above, both GPR and GPA are used to construct the KI. A KI below 4 is considered a smooth pedal action. Above 4, pedal drills and correcting muscle imbalances can be significant in improving power output.
How can a coach help in the speed skills?
A coach can take data from a bike power meter and dissect it to give some valuable feedback on whether pedal drills are needed or a waste of time. Whether there are functional muscle imbalances on the bike that need addressing and if applied, was it successful. MTB skill clinics and private sessions are always invaluable for any mountain biker.
Start your winter with a good foundation of looking at important fundamentals and you will go into spring being able to build a much larger capacity.
“Nail the basics first, detail the details later”...
Train hard and prosper!
MSc (Med) Biokinetics Wits
(Hons) Sports Science UP
Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
Ironman Certified Coach
UCI Level 1