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The effects of Medium Altitude in Canmore

Posted by fenner on June 19, 2008

Well then it’s been an interesting couple of weeks in Canada, with the initial poor weather playing havoc with my training then what I consider to be the effects of medium altitude on various physiological systems. The initial bad weather was actually a very good thing that allowed recovery from the long flight and subsequent jet lag. I had planned it to be a recovery week as I had anticipated some down time from the aforementioned travel. After a week I travelled up to Canmore eager to get out and do some riding and it is in this analysis of training rides that interesting findings have been uncovered. It has been a long time since I studied the effects of altitude on various physiological systems such as,

  • 1. Athletic performance (Training and racing)
  • 2. Recovery
  • 3. Sleep

Canmore sits at around 4500ft or 1500m and should be considered medium altitude. It is easy to dismiss this as not a significant altitude to have an effect on performance, however the SRM tells a different story. Up until day 12 I was around 30 watts down on sustainable FTP at any given duration. Efforts at or around current sea level FTP (360 watts) felt more like VO2 max efforts. My long ride average powers were around 200 watts down from 230 – 250 watts that I was averaging for 4 -5 hours at sea level. Average speeds, however, were up from again around 32 -33km/h for a 5 hour ride to 35km/h on a far lower average power, the air is thinner and therefore I am faster.

Recovery and sleep have also been a lot more difficult, getting into a regular sleeping pattern has been harder than I remembered from my snowboarding seasons and the legs have not been as fresh and quick to recover.

All in all after 2 weeks I am finally feeling as though I am getting near to normal. My FTP is creeping back up to normal although I still think it’s around 10 – 15 watts down on sea level, I am recovering better and am beginning to step up the training for the next 4 weeks before I taper for the worlds.

I have included a screenshot of my PMC Chart from Training Peaks pmc-chart-17th-june-20082  It shows my season to date and this last volume phase of training is starting off a CTL of 115TSS/day. I am looking at beginning my taper with a CTL of 140+ and can then afford to lose 10 – 15 points and come into the champs super fresh and raring to go +30 TSB. This also means that after 12 hours of racing my TSB will only be at -30 and I have produced some big numbers at -30 so that’s still in the ballpark for good legs.

I would like to thank Dr Wade Knez from the James Cook University in Cairns for his knowledge and help with my prep for the worlds his regular skypes and detailed discussions and feedback on Nutrition and Altitude has been invaluable. Thanks mate I look forward to working with you in the future:o)




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The countdown to the Nationals

Posted by fenner on March 12, 2008

Well I am finally into my taper before the national championships over the Easter weekend. Monday and Tuesday were the last big days with a 4 hour Tempo/SST road ride on the Monday morning. This ride was at a normalised power of 270 watts and was the fastest I have ever completed on rolling terrain. I managed to average over 34.5km/h and it felt real purposeful. I made sure I hydrated and fed well during and after the ride to make sure I was ready for the evening session (awesome HIGH5 products). This next session was to be a 2.5-3 hour MTB night ride to sharpen up the skills when tired and was completed on courses similar to the nationals. My mate Paul joined me and we completed 2 laps of Coondoo Rd a lap of Butterfly and a lap of the Superbowl with the riding to and fro along Forest Rd. Again we were not hanging around and I was feeling good. In total the TSS for the day was over 400 so it was a tough day at the office.The next morning I was up early and back out for a 4 hour endurance ride over the mountains with 3 x 20 minute SST intervals at around 300 watts included. I was a little tired but handled the session well and as these were my last big sessions I was over the moon. At the end of these sessions my CTL was up at 118 points, this allows me a nice taper without losing too much of my hard earned fitness.

The next 10 days taper will see my overall time/duration come down as last week I was up at 16 hours my biggest week this season. I will reduce the volume but maintain some intensity aiming to complete about 8 hours with several SST/FTP sessions. I plan to reduce my daily TSS to around 60 – 80 points with shorter harder sessions; this gives me a very quick positive rebound on my TSB. I use a spreadsheet to forward predict a TSB of 0 – +10 and structure my taper to deliver me at this point for my peak events.

All has been planned and so we will see how it goes come Easter weekend :o)

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“Rome was not built in a day”

Posted by fenner on March 2, 2008

“Rome was not built in a day”

Quote from the new 2008 Australian road based champion, Matt Lloyd.

“Something I’ve both learned and been taught a great deal over the years are not to force and push progression.  You see loads of riders, at every level, going out and trying to create miracles overnight, and it just does not work, or at least it’s not sustainable.  Progression and building is a long game, and the foundations need to be solid-just like the proverbial pyramid syndrome; build it and force it too high too fast then it all crumbles at the slightest tremor and it’s pretty tough to rebuild without that strong foundation to start from.

At times the temptation can be to go out and dramatically increase your training loads and intensity in the belief that you will suddenly make big improvements, but it’s tough mentally, and is really not good for your body and development; and all too often the physical and mental stress just blows the whole thing, so I really believe strongly in the steady and sure building and development process”

We have looked at two different training philosophies and examined briefly the pros and cons of each method, but how using these methods do we increase our fitness over time?  In this respect every training program has the same basic structure and again, these basic principles are often overlooked.

The basic principles of training are that we create a continually increasing physiological load overtime, interspersed with recovery, to allow for optimal physiological adaptation.  This physiological load should be specific to the demands of the event or the activity performed.  Eg to get good at riding a bike – you ride your bike.  This means the basic principles are specificity of exercise, progressive overload and recovery.  Create a plan with these simple principles in place with the correct dosage and the athlete should get fitter, stronger and faster.  

Unfortunately , by its simple definition progressive overload is open to misinterpretation and what may be progressive overload for one person may constitute overreaching for another and when carried out over a number of months may lead to overtraining.  As Matt Lloyd alludes to in a quote from Cycling Australia, it is fundamentally important to build slow and strong and trying to dig too big a hole for oneself in terms of diving straight into 4-5 hour rides at the beginning of a training program, allows no head room and progression throughout the program, and can often lead to burnout (both physical and mental), illness or injury and in worse cases glandular fever, shingles and immune problems.

As a coach the biggest problem I face is educating riders on the benefits of the long haul and the simple analogy that “Rome was not built in a day”.  Magazine articles and pro riders’ diaries paint a picture of long and hard training days and massive power outputs. The fact is professional riders have been riding for many years and when they started they were not cranking out massive Km’s. Even those who have made it into the pro ranks are held back and looked after by the best managers, so as not to push the rider too hard too soon. The Tour is often the last of the major races for an aspiring pro to race; again this is just an example of progressive overload.

The use of power meters and the fantastic analysis tool of Training Peaks, has allowed us to quantify training load relative to an individual’s Chronic Training Load (CTL) which is the accumulated load over months of training (This has a default setting of 42 days). This CTL is built up/made up of the riders Acute Training Load (ATL) which is the riders’ most recent rides (This has a default setting of 7 days). Now it’s quite obvious to most people that if you ride hard for 7 days straight then you will be fatigued, do this continually for months on end and you are likely to be overtrained. When designing a training program I look to increase CTL by around 4 – 7 points/week, this sort of increase I have found to be manageable by most riders and doesn’t lead to burnout and illness. My upper limit is about 10 points/week and I have found that I can only sustain this for about 3 weeks followed by a recover week.

The next thing to consider is then the different workouts to structure into a program to elicit a 4 – 7 point/week increase. It can be done with lots of volume or smaller amounts of intensity. It can be built with big weekend rides and maintenance through the week, or consistent workouts throughout the week one method digs bigger holes and needs more recovery built in and one method is more consistent and builds without the need for as much recovery built into the program.

The big question is how do we put at all together and what method is best for what riders?????? Next month we will investigate putting it all together and creating a program for a sample/generic rider.

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The Power Keeps Going Up :o)

Posted by fenner on February 29, 2008

The Power just keeps on going up!

Training and the body’s adaptation to the stress can be complex and frustrating at times. Increasing my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is a great example of this. For 3 – 4 months my 20 minute FTP hovered around 330 watts topping out at about 342 watts just before Xmas. This FTP was based off of a program of reduced volume and repeated Sweet Spot Training (SST) and FTP intervals in rides of no more than 3.5 hours and most rides shorter at around 1.5 hours. Most rides consisted of 3 x 20 minute hill repeats on and around my local area in Gerringong NSW. Most weeks my total time on the bike would be no more than 10 hours, which is way below my usual volume but with considerably higher intensity. The lead up to the bay crits saw me focus on more specific micro interval type efforts, with the subsequent drop in my CTL. This was then followed with a short build and taper before the MTB Nationals at the end of January.

I was going well at the Nationals and had a great race but the more specific crit based simulations had dented my CTL and a fresh build was in order. This was especially the case as the next target races are all long Enduro’s with an 8 Hour and then the 24 Hour Nationals over the Easter weekend. The plan has been to revisit some serious SST work and attempt to increase my CTL back up to around 120 TSS/Day by completing longer 30 – 40 minute SST intervals in rides of up to 5 – 6 hours. I look to increase my CTL by around 5 -7 TSS/Week, greater than this and I risk getting sick as I did last year with an 8 – 12 TSS/Week increase.

After 4 weeks of the SST revisit and my CTL is hovering around 106 TSS/Day and I am flying along. I recorded my best ever 20 minute FTP hill effort (365 watts) and am weighing in at a cracking 67.5kg at the moment, this combination slashed over a minute off my best time up the back side of Bury Mountain to 18 minutes 30 seconds.

MON Aerobic/SST Session300 minutes @ 190 – 250 Watts with SST intervals aim to complete 120 mins at SST 280 – 300 watts as 3 x 40 min efforts. Afternoon sleep if possible (1 -3 hours) after a good quality carbohydrate meal & fluid replacement.Evening massage & stretching / yoga session
TUE Aerobic/Tempo/SST Session240 minutes @ 190 – 250 Watts with Tempo/SST intervals aim to complete 120 mins at SST 250 – 290 watts as 3 x 40 min efforts. Afternoon sleep if possible (1 -3 hours) after a good quality carbohydrate meal & fluid replacement.Evening massage & stretching / yoga session
WED 90 minute FTP Threshold Sessions @ 330 – 370 watts.Aim to complete 40 mins at threshold; poss 2 x 20 min climb repeats. Ride back from work
THUR  100 minute endurance ride to work with SST @ 290 – 310 watts.Aim to complete 20 mins at SST, poss 1 x 20 min climb. Ride to work Run/Ride MTB race 15 – 45 minutes easy ride take it easy and have fun.
FRI 90 minute FTP Threshold Sessions @ 310 – 340 watts.Aim to complete 40 mins at threshold; poss 2 x 20 min climb repeats. Ride back from work
SAT 100 minute endurance ride to work with SST @ 290 – 310 watts.Aim to complete 20 mins at SST, poss 1 x 20 min climb. Ride to work Stretching and flexibility exercises
SUN Rest Day Massage

This is a look at a generic week off of my schedule at the moment, I back up 2 hard rides on the Monday – Tuesday with the rest of the week looking at maintaining an average TSS/day around 105 – 120 TSS/day, made up of 20 minute SST/FTP intervals on the way to and from work.

Yesterday 28th February saw me smash out my last test before the Nationals after 4 easier recovery days. I managed a maximal aerobic power test (MAP) of 452 watts. This was achieved with a starting power of 200 watts and a 20 watts/minute ramp rate. This is a test that I have done many times over the years and this result is my best ever!!! Nearly 40 watts up on a test I completed in 1995 so the progression is there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Although a little slow.

Note to self at this rate by the time I am 50 I may be able to hang in there in the tour!

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So How Should We Train?

Posted by fenner on February 13, 2008

With cycling steeped in history many different training philosophies have come and gone. There was a time when it was considered good practice to not let the riders drink any water during training to teach the body to do without and, therefore, supposedly, help them cope with being dehydrated?  Laughable but true!  There was also a time when it was common practice to have the “Belgium Mix” (amphetamine and brandy) before important stages and criteriums. How times change? Ok, perhaps the sophistication of doping methods have gone way above the Belgium Mix, and EPO and steroids are now the blight of the peloton, but science has proven that being dehydrated can lead to major drops in performance.

Science has also provided the training tools to aid the coaches and athletes in gaining insight into the training loads and adaptations required for increased performance. The heart rate monitor has proven to be a standard piece of kit on the bike and more recently the power meter has really enabled athletes and coaches to analyse exactly the physiological demands of specific events.

With this, and the development of analysis software like Training Peaks, it is such an exciting time to be involved in cycling and training, where we are pushing the boundaries of human performance from the club rider to the elite athlete.

Having been involved in racing and training at elite levels in many different sports, I have never before been able to accurately quantify improvement and measure the percentage gain and improvement over time. This is now possible with these new training tools.

This then brings us back to the initial question, So How Should We Train? There are really two distinct camps being pushed at the moment. The first and old school method follows the quantity/volume approach. Very well known coaches such as Carmichael and Friel base their programs on the higher quantity, lower intensity, volume based approach. This theory sits well with the history of training and the approaches of most institutes of sports going back to the eastern block and Russian camps of the 70’s. It also holds up with the pros who often write of 1000km training weeks and 5 -8 hours of training a day, or so we are led to believe!

The next camp goes back to the early exploits of a young American called Greg Lemond, who was one of the first to get onboard the power thing and invested in himself with an SRM. Remember, Greg was at the forefront of cycling technology and demonstrated this with his narrow victory on the last day of the tour in the time trial, using aero bars and helmet. Greg used science to win the tour and he continued to use science to train with the SRM power meter.  He was, and still is, an advocate for less is more, if it is done right. One of the most knowledgeable people in the World today on training with power, and co owner and inventor of training peaks software, is Andrew Coggan. Using science has shown that the greatest development of the physiological adaptations for the development of an athletes Functional Threshold Power (FTP), occurs at between 88 and 105% of the athletes current FTP. These adaptations include Mitochondrial Density, Capillarisation and Oxidative Enzyme concentrations. These adaptations make a rider ride faster and, if this has been proven through science, then this is the area that we should base our training.

Most athletes, especially cyclists, really struggle with the concept of ‘less is more’.  We tend to believe that if other riders are doing 1000km a week and we are only doing 500km, then they are going to be faster, fitter, stronger and, therefore, more successful during racing than us.  This is simply not the case and, just as marathon runners do not need to go out and run a marathon in training to become very good and fast at running marathons, so cyclists do not need to go out and train for 200kms every day to compete at those distances.  Cycling, by its very nature, can be its own worst enemy because it is a non load bearing/non impact activity, which means much greater volumes can be completed without muscular or skeletal damage, as could occur in running, for example.  Again, however, this does not mean simply because you can do more, that you should do more to achieve your fitness goals. 

When analysing a training ride using power it is possible to disseminate the information in a second by second breakdown.  By doing this it is quite clear to see in an unstructured ride lasting four hours, for instance, that the actual time spent within the desired exercise zones (85-105% FTP) for optimal physiological adaptation will often be less than 60 minutes, with a further 120 mins spent either not pedalling or at power intensities not great enough to stimulate or develop physiological adaptation.  With this knowledge it is then possible, in a much shorter time frame, to create the same physiological load to optimise performance than is possible using more traditional methods.  A common query to this is those using heart rate monitors, who often relay feedback to the coach saying that their heart rates were in the required zone throughout the longer training ride.   When analysing performance and training intensity using heart rate monitors, it is not possible to understand the stochastic nature of cycling and the fact that the demands are changing by the second, even when we are riding on relatively flat roads. To really understand the demands one must use a power meter, as the human’s heart naturally smoothes the data and does not accurately portray the second by second physiological demands of cycling.

A good example of this would be an athlete completing a five minute maximal effort using a heart rate monitor.  Heart rate would lag by 60-90 seconds behind the actual physical metabolic exertion. When using a power meter the same athlete would see that initially powers would be far beyond the intensity required for the physiological adaptation of the systems targeted for that particular effort, which would be VO2 max efforts at 112-125% of FTP.  Therefore, average heart rate may very well be within the required zones but the actual physiological metabolic demands would have been very different.  More likely, the first 60-90 seconds would have been an anaerobic effort at around 150% FTP, which would have been targeting anaerobic capacity, with the final 3 – 3.5 minutes, gradually declining in power, finishing struggling to hold 100% of FTP and more likely at Tempo intensity.  Heart rate would simply not show this.  This is just an example of how heart rate is simply not effective in exercise training prescription and how by using power we can simply cut out the chaff and junk miles of yesteryears training programs.

Over the past three seasons, as an elite, ultra-endurance, 24 hr racer, I have personally been collecting valuable data and actual performance measures to back up the less is more approach.  I have often struggled with reducing volume, as simply, 20 years of riding have engrained the old school philosophy into my psyche.  The power meter has revolutionised the way I train and in the process, at 38 yrs old, I am smashing out the best performance figures of my life.  I have over the past year witnessed a 20 minute FTP gain of over 30 watts with a best 15 minute effort of 372 watts and a five minute maximal power gain of over 50 watts up to 420 watts.  These laboratory based test results have proven to be accurate as at this year’s MTB championships at Canberra I finished within 94% of Chris Jongawards wining time in the Elite race, compared to last year where I finished within 90% of his time on pretty much the same course in very similar conditions.  Of course there are many variables within this equation; however, I do truly believe that the best measure of performance is performance itself and Jongaward won last year by a very similar margin over Sid Taberlay as he did this year. 

(Fig 1, below shows Mean Maximal Power (MMP)/duration chart from training peaks software).

Mean Maximal Power Chart 2007 - 2008 Seasons

The bottom line (solid Line) depicts last season’s data following a more traditional lower intensity higher volume regime. 
The top line shows this season to date.  This chart represents peak powers on a sliding time continuum from 1 second to 9 hours and is collated from all the training and racing files.  Simply put, the top line shows that this season, I have improved my power from 1 second through to 2 hours. Also you can see that I just haven’t done any of the longer rides as in the previous season. There are no ifs or butts, the data tells the story.

Having said all of this, there is still a place for the longer ride.  Competing in stage races, multi-day tour events and ultra-endurance events can often be a mind over matter issue.  By simply having ridden for 8 hours in training when contemplating a solo 12 or 24 hour allows the brain and the butt to comprehend the task and challenge ahead.  Professional riders, I believe, can also warrant completing longer easier base training, from time to time in their base phase, because as they complete up to one hundred races a year and their high intensity V02 and anaerobic efforts are more than taken care of within these races.  Remember that the Pro’s use races to gain form and they are not out to win each event, teams have riders target specific races and periods through the year. It is simply not possible to be in peak form all year round. The long, slow distance (LSD) approach can also fit in to their professional lifestyle as they simply have more time for training and recovery.

All in all if the same result can be achieved in less time I know what I will be doing :0)

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The Path to the Worlds

Posted by fenner on February 7, 2008

As the song goes “The road is long with ever a winding trail”!!
Sunrise on our way to winning the Scott 24 Hour National Champs
There is so much to sort out in the build up to the goal races of the year and as the countdown begins things start to become more urgent, more real. The first peak of the year was the Australian National Championships. The build up to the Champs consisted of racing the Bay Crits and VO2 and FTP (Functional Threshold Power) efforts. Most of the emphasis was on top end and I had a gradual decline in my CTL (Chronic Training Load) from a high of 120 TSS/Day (Training Stress Score) to 88 TSS/Day over the course of around 8 weeks.
CTL is often considered a surrogate for fitness, therefore, the higher CTL the fitter you are, or the more training stress you are able to take. There are of course many variables involved and it is not simply a matter of trying to develop the highest CTL possible but the way in which the CTL is developed.  For instance simply riding at a low intensity for 4 – 6 hour a day will develop a big CTL, (The antiquated method used by a lot of Pro’s) however, this is not the most time effective method as we don’t all have all day to train.  Training at or around your FTP will in structured intervals and training blocks develop a very good aerobic base and CTL and also increase your FTP significantly in a very time efficient manner. Remember again that most Pro riders race something like 100 days per year so developing top end is taken care of in their racing.
Bury Mt FTP Interval Session
With all this in mind my mission for the next 6 weeks is to increase my CTL with quality SST (Sweat Spot Training) this represents around 85 – 92 % of my FTP which is around 290 – 312 watts and longer Tempo efforts at around 260 – 290 watts. At this sort of power output the physiological stress is big, however, I can incorporate these into up to 5 hour (the max I tend to ride now) rides by structuring repeated intervals of say 40 minutes on with 5 minutes of recovery then repeat up to 4 times. This type of session keeps you focused and feels fast and purposeful.  I tend to do the hardest sessions of the week after an easy recovery day and then I structure 3 day blocks of gradually decreasing intensity. For example 5 hours Monday with 4 x 40 minute SST intervals the rest of the ride completed at endurance power 220 – 250 watts.  4 Hours Tuesday with 2 x 30 minute SST and 2 x 40 minutes at Tempo.  2 Hours Wednesday with 2 x 40 minutes at Tempo. This would represent one of my biggest weeks and with the other sessions added would add up to a total time of around 15 hours.

This would constitute the basis of the second build of the year and I tend to use a method of reverse periodisation now, so after 4 weeks of following this type of program I reduce the intensity and up the total volume for two weeks leading up to ultra endurance type events.  This volume based phase would include up to 24 hours in a week of endurance/tempo type sessions.

Leading into ultra events with such a large CTL developed I only need to reduce the volume by 2/3rds and the freshness comes on quickly, my TSB (Training Stress Balance) quickly becomes positive and I structure my program to give me a TSB of +10.  Over time I have monitored my peak performances to coincide with a TSB of 0 to +10.  I like to keep riding to stop becoming blocked a feeling of not being able to get the power down and keeping the legs spinning.  I also find this a better method for my head as I feel better by continuing to ride, that feeling of being at one with the bike.

Over the next few weeks we will look at more power files and the performance manager chart from cycling peaks to analyse what has been happening and how the training is going.

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Power Performance Data Jayco Bay Crits

Posted by fenner on January 21, 2008

Well it’s all well and good going out and racing, getting smashed and just going they were faster, fitter, stronger. With a power meter, however, you can analyse what the demands were and what is needed to do better.

Let’s have a look at a SRM screen shot from the hotdog circuit at Gelong. I have removed cadence, speed data to clean things up a bit.

Hotdog Data

The SRM chart showing a 10 minute micro bursts session on the erg. Note peak powers are a long way short of the race file peak powers

Ergo Session

The SRM chart I believe is clearer than the Cycling Peaks chart to understand and interpret and I have removed the smoothing so that peak powers can be seen. It is very clear that the repetitive nature of the Hot Dog style race needs to be prepared for specifically and can be replicated quite easily with the micro bursts type training session. In the lead up to the Jayco I was hitting 2 of these sessions a week completing 3 x 10 minute blocks of 15 seconds on 15 seconds off. This type of session can be nailed when using power with the on segment at 150% of the athletes current Function Threshold Power (FTP). The off 15 seconds I was backing off to around 50% of current FTP and spinning out. What was very apparent at the Jayco, however, was that the way in which I generated the power on the erg was not the same as in the race. On the erg the power was generated at lower cadences and the static nature of the erg didn’t lend itself to specifically repliate the demands of the race. Quadrant analysis would show that the erg sessions would fall into high power being developed initially a lower rpm’s than during the crit. Also I was not able to generate enough power on the erg. My 15 second on phase was at around 520 watts and on studying the race data this was not hard enough with the power being spread out over the 15 second interval. Race analysis shows that the peak powers were nearer 1200-1300 watts but that this was only for a few seconds then power was held very high for on average 10 – 17 seconds with average powers of 600 – 750 watts, quite different to the 520 watt averages in training and applied in a different manner. So the question is can this be replicated on the erg???? I think with a weighted flywheel on an erg like a Monark or PT300 it may well be able to I will look into it.

Let’s now have a look at a SRM screen shot from the Botanical Gardens Long Course. I have again removed cadence, speed data to clean things up a bit.

Jayco Crit Race 4

It is clear to see that the race was a lot less rhythmic and is a more like a road race. Peak powers are less and the physiological stress much easier to cope with. A larger portion of the bunch stayed together than on all the other races.

Over the course of the next year we can look at the training required to compete at this level and I am working on the training plans for the Total Rush Team for the season ahead, as well as my upcoming National and World 24 Hour MTB Championships.

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