By Brian Walton
The Algorithm Behind the Plan
As I prepare a season-long training program for Dr. Stephen Cheung and the PEZ Real Rider series I want people to understand the goal of this series. Not only do I want Stephen to have a killer year on the bike, but I also want to assist the reader with understanding how the coaching staff at Cadence Performance Cycling goes about planning and creating individualized training catered to the specific needs and goals of the rider.
To that end, I’m going to discuss the thought process (the algorithm as Stephen eloquently put it to me) I go through when creating coaching plans; specifically, how I take an abstract, general concept and tailor it to the individual. This is where the art of training really converge with the science, and it is often this part of the process that most riders have difficulty grasping! Please keep in mind that in last month’s article Stephen and I agreed (as coach/athlete) on Stephen’s 2006 goals. So go ahead and lean over my shoulder and take a look at the process!
Where do you Want to Go?
It is never too early, or indeed too late, to begin planning. The point is to have a systematic plan that will lead towards your goals. This is true whether it’s your career or your finances. Unless you truly believe in lotteries as your retirement plan, it literally pays to have a financial plan in place now.
Keeping with the career/financial planning analogy, the goals and needs of an athlete changes throughout their career. A junior rider, or one who is brand-new to the sport, has different priorities than someone who has been riding a long-time, or who may have had a huge amount of cross-adaptation through coming from another endurance sport.
In Stephen’s case, this will be his 20th year of cycling, and his overall amount of training volume remains about the same as the past few years at approximately 300-350 h total. Therefore, the concern this season will not be bumping up his overall endurance, but rather to focus on race-specific issues, given that he has been out of competition for the past three seasons.
Start with your goal date(s) and work backwards. Mark the athlete’s goal date on the calendar and count the months to prepare. Don’t let an athlete’s “A” event sneak up on you. Planning should begin months in advance and might even begin years for Olympians and professionals.
For Stephen, the racing scene is broken up into a block of races in May/June, then another block later in the summer from August-October. With two weeks of work-related travel beginning the last weekend of May, we’ve decided to make his first priority the May races. Therefore, we are now firmly in the middle of the base-training phase.
Have a general annual or semi-annual training plan. I now sketch an initial plan based upon my interviews with the rider. Stephen’s training program has been set for the month of January with his ride training varying between 5 and 6 hours per week. For some this does not seem like much volume, but we have to keep in mind that Stephen is coming back from a serious crash in August (and lives in Eastern Canada) and his first race will not be until May.
Stephen’s Semi Annual Plan
January (5-6 hours per week): technique, endurance and cross training (core and stability ball training)
February (6-8 hours per week): technique, sub-LT, LT, strength with hills (Note: As part of the on-going Real Rider Series I will discuss specific exercises as they pertain to each month’s training.)
March (8-10 hours per week): LT, strength with hills, super-LT + TT exercises with limited gearing, over-gear exercises (and other muscular strength drills)
April (10-12 hours per week): group rides, hill jams, attack intervals, power exercises like sprints
May (8-12 hours per week): sprints for power, fine tuning, and taper
June (goals reassessment): first break and active rest
Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses
This is an important step where the knowledge and experience of a good coach will make the puzzle’s solution that much easier to find. Some of this can be done through a detailed interview on past racing experiences, individual perceptions, etc. It is also incredibly valuable to obtain actual test data and also to observe the athlete in action.
1) Pedaling Efficiency
3) Muscular Strength—Namely, Stephen’s ability to push big gears at high RPM’s, as one would in a time trial, and his ability to turn low RPM’s on long hills.
4) Aerobic Strength-The kind of strength required for long sustained efforts like TTs and hill climbs
5) Power for the Short Climbs—Specifically, the kind of explosive efforts and accelerations needed for 45 seconds to 2 minutes
One of the things I noticed observing Stephen is that he tends to ride a relatively low cadence (<90 rpm) during his field and lab tests. One of the other things he has self-reported is that he has difficulty quickly upping his cadence to keep with surges in a fast moving pack. Some of this is historic, but his use of the PowerCranks, while increasing his pedaling efficiency, may have reinforced this trait towards lower cadences.
Therefore, the primary focus for the month will include foundation exercises to improve leg speed. At the same time, we will have workouts emphasizing muscular strength and technique exercises to improve efficiency, endurance, strength and power.
Set baselines number and establish testing dates
This needs to be done so the coach and athlete can quantify progress and to see how the athlete is adapting to the training program. I also like to add group rides and intermediate and training races (namely, “B” and “C” events) at this stage of the training. In Stephen’s case we derived baseline numbers back in October in Cadence’s physiology lab and will continue to use these until next month when we re-test (see numbers below).
Lay out the weekly training programs
It may appear that it’s taken forever to get to the nitty-gritty of a training plan for Stephen, but outlining workouts is worthless without taking care of the preceding steps first!
Stephen’s availability for weekly scheduling and workout planning is excellent and we have everything neatly in place. Stephen is organized with training tools at home (magnetic trainer and rollers) and at work (CompuTrainer, rollers, weight room). If only everyone could be so lucky!
Now it’s time to set up a training program to fit into his family and work lifestyle. Here’s what it’s all going to look like:
Monday: Off the bike, rest day. Relax and get the necessary evils completed today. Make sure you are not burning the candles at both ends and you are getting enough sleep. There’s a big difference between a professional and non-professional cyclist’s recovery day, but still look after yourself! These recovery days must be closely tracked over the long term to avoid putting you in a state of being over trained. This is a good day for a core workout and really to emphasize stretching and flexibility
Tuesday: 1 h ride (in endurance zone unless otherwise noted); 4 x 5 min OG (over gear) with 5 min recovery between intervals. The purpose of this workout is to increase muscular strength at low to moderate heart rate zones. This is a good time to use the PowerCranks to really emphasize muscular strength and pedaling technique throughout the entire pedal stroke
Wednesday: 30 min rollers. Today’s and Thursday’s workouts are designed to help Stephen with his leg speed, one of his relative weaknesses found during testing.
Thursday: 1 h ride (in endurance zone unless otherwise noted); 3 x 3 min FC (fast cadence) with 3 min recovery between intervals. This is also a good day for a core workout.
Friday: 1 h w/OLD (one-legged drills) 4 x 30 seconds each leg, then 39 x 16 5 minute easy spin; 4 x 1 minute each leg, then 39 x 15 5 min recovery; 4 x 30 seconds each leg, then 39×16 5 minuet easy spin. This is another workout that can be done with the PCs.
Saturday: Off the bike, rest and family activity day.
Sunday: 2 h on the CompuTrainer. Endurance miles today but since you will be indoors make it as much fun as possible with a course on the CompuTrainer to simulate riding outside.
1 additional hour of cross-training (squash). The reason for adding the extra fun workout is to add to the endurance hours, as well as to help strengthen complimentary supporting muscles and to not get into tracking problems. This may or may not be possible depending on Stephen’s shoulder mobility and strength, but it might be a chance to learn playing with his left hand!
Explanation of Cadence Workouts
Over Gear (OG): Ride a long, moderate grade (4-6%) or the indoor trainer with the front wheel elevated (~6 inches). Wattage/gear should be high, but cadence should be low (50-60 rpm). If HR begins to climb above LT, lower the wattage or intensity. Focus on proper pedaling form and keeping the upper body relaxed. Do not use your arms to pull up on the bars (also called “rowing the bike”).
Fast Cadence (FC): Fast Cadence workouts will improve one’s pedaling mechanics through high RPMs. This will help develop your pedal stroke, making it smoother and more efficient. For Fast Cadence exercises, the gearing should be light (e.g. 39 x 17) with low resistance or low wattage. Focus on good pedaling technique as well as keeping your hips steady with no rocking or bouncing. Concentrate on the transitions, pulling through the bottom of the pedal stroke at “bottom dead center” and pushing over and through “top dead center”. Your heart rate will naturally be high during Fast Cadence exercises because of the high rpm, but don’t use your heart rate to determine the intensity of the interval.
One Legged Drills (OLD): Pedal with one leg at a time in a light gear for intervals of 30 seconds to 1 minute, switching from leg to leg. Try to maintain at least 80 rpm unless otherwise specified. Best done on an indoor trainer or on flat roads. While doing these drills, try to visualize scraping the mud or gum off the bottom of your shoes by pulling your toes through the bottom of the pedal stroke. At the top of the pedal stroke, begin to push your pedals (or toes) forward just before they reach top dead center of the pedal stroke. It’s important to incorporate both quad and hamstring muscles for an efficient pedal stroke. By incorporating more muscles into one’s pedal stroke an athlete is spreading out the muscular workload to more muscle tissue thereby smoothing out the “dead” spots. This will help increase endurance, strength and power.
I hope you have enjoyed looking over my shoulder, be sure to come back next month and see what I have in store for Stephen.
About Stephen and Brian:
Brian Walton has a uniquely well-rounded perspective on training and coaching. He was one of the top Canadian riders of the 80s and 90s, riding as a pro with 7-Eleven, Motorola, and Saturn, and winning the 1989 Milk Race and silver in the 1996 Olympic Points Race. He then became the DS and coach for Team Snow Valley, turning it into the top Elite Men’s team in the USA. He is currently the Director of Performance for Cadence Cycling in Philadelphia, and can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. Stephen’s company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments at email@example.com.