What's Cool In Road Cycling

ErgVideo: Filming Hunter Allen’s Key Training Sessions

PEZ-Fans know ERGVideo as one of the premiere training video series, and the originators of power-based training videos using real rides & loads that scale to the user’s own level. Just released for this season is their collaboration with training guru Hunter Allen, shot on the fine training roads around the Peaks Coaching Group’ headquarters in Virginia.

– Words and pictures by Paul Smeulders of ErgVideo –

It should come as no shock that the activities at ErgVideo are cyclical. (Don’t miss the puns, okay?) September through January are occupied with sales, marketing initiatives, and customer support, since that’s when people are buying and using these training videos most frequently. Technology and content development occupy me from January to August, and this includes planning shoots, scheduling riders, hotels and itineraries, as well as video post-production. Throughout the year, I have to keep my eye on each ball that’s in the air, because they all land in September, the start of the sales season. They’ll land scattered all over the ground if I’m not ready, so I prefer to create a plan so I can catch them all.

Here is a sample clip from “Power MicroBursts and Tempo HD”, showing some smooth tempo paceline work in sunny Virginia.

But unexpected opportunities still come calling, and sometimes they’re good enough to make me shift the schedule. Like when the President of the Peaks Coaching Group, Tim Cusick pitched me on a project where I’d get to film none other than one of the world’s leading experts in power-based training, Hunter Allen himself, in a series of his favorite training sessions. These sessions would incorporate aspects of new training science being developed with pro teams and the biggest brains at Peaks Coaching Group, who were working on release 4.0 of WKO+, the world’s leading desktop power analysis toolkit.

Hunter Allen in race action. Many of the PCG coaches are active in competition.

This was like some secret sauce was being offered to share with my customers. Tim went on to complete the near-term vision: “Not only that, but we’d like to integrate these sessions into multi-week progressive training plans to maximize their effectiveness in making every rider to whom you sell, much, much faster”.

“Whoa, the secret sauce AND the whole burger. I’m in”, I thought, but I let Tim move to the key phase in any good pitch, the “butter-up the target” phase. It’s often my favorite. It went roughly like this:

“We’re starting to prescribe these workouts more and more to PCG clients. The first ones are really geared toward basic threshold development and are perfect for indoor winter training. I’ve been using ErgVideo, as you know, from the first year you released, and we think it’s the right platform on which to deploy this initiative. It’s the product that has all the key features we like: Ergometer mode FTP power-based regulation with the CompuTrainer, data acquisition, ease of use, and high quality video to keep the athletes interested and engaged in training. I really like that part and it keeps me on the bike way longer than I ever could without it. So you have all the working tech, as well as the sales, distribution and support infrastructure, including what’s needed for training plans already up and running smoothly as mature product, so we can see this rolling out quickly and in time for WKO+ 4.0 or sooner.”

“Got that right”, I thought. Sufficiently buttered, I said “Okay, let’s just execute. Start now.”

(If you are unfamiliar with ErgVideo, what it does and why Tim and Peaks are excited about it, this little video explains it all).

ErgVideo: the simple story.

To me, “execute” meant a drive down to Virginia and a week-long shoot with enough riders willing to hammer every day and tolerate the technological interruptions (batteries, memory sticks, camera aiming) and sometimes “scene transfers” to quiet, dry roads when necessary. Tim said “Meet at Hunter’s HQ in Bedford. It’s hilly, with some long climbs, and there’s this well-known Parkway nearby. It rhymes with Shoe Bridge.”

I’d visited Hunter before in 2005, and I’d forgotten how much I’d liked Bedford. It was late May and I’d left a still-miserable and wet Ottawa to find a green and blooming Virginia showing every sign of spring, everywhere. Bedford is in view of the mountain range on which the famous Blue Ridge Parkway is built. It’s also home to the National D-day Memorial, chosen for having lost the most citizens per capita than any other place in the US. It’s a small town by most standards, with plenty of older heritage buildings still standing and well-maintained in the historic old downtown. Its people are refreshingly friendly and you’ll always get a sincere “good morning” wherever you go.

From Bedford, you can ride the rolling open terrain, or head for the hills with plenty of shade trees and little car traffic.

Hunter’s HQ is in an annex to an old factory located with other similar buildings right alongside a railway. It’s a picture right out of my childhood days building model railroads. I told Hunter that if I worked there, I’d have to drop everything to watch the trains whenever they rolled through; it just never gets old. I’m the guy who rides up to the front of the bunch if we’re waiting at a level crossing, because I need a good view of every car. I watch the rail-bed heave up and down as they pass, and I like to feel the rumbling through my feet and bike. I like the noise. I never complain about being delayed by a train; it’s an event, a treat, and not an inconvenience. Hunter’s digs are almost heaven to me. Nevertheless, there was a shoot to do, and trains just weren’t part of it. Focus, Paul. Pun alert.

Hunter in the Peaks Coaching Group Headquarters that accommodates everything from office space, workshop, technology development, and even group workouts.

On hand we had Hunter Allen and Tim Cusick, as well as Kevin Williams, chief software developer of WKO+. We’ll also have one of Hunter’s pro athletes Aldo Ilesic whenever his schedule permits. Hunter is well-known as a leading world-authority on training with power, and his team at Peaks Coaching group is the largest, most experienced group of coaches using power technologies in the world. Hunter co-authored with Dr. Andrew Coggan “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”, the go-to book on power training, now in its second edition. He is a key faculty member at USA Cycling in its power-training certification program and works with top elite and pro riders who trust his plan design and power analysis to maximize their results. He is a co-developer of the world-leading WKO+ software, and his expertise is shared among his team of 50 PCG coaches. I suspect you can count on one hand the number of people walking this planet who have as much experience with power training as Hunter.

The team, clockwise from top-center: Tim, Brandi, Kevin, Aldo, Hunter and your author.

Our target for the week is get enough footage for 6 new ErgVideos, shot in various places well-known to Hunter and Tim. While all of our training ErgVideos are structured to be modified or “re-sequenced” so that you can customize the number intervals, sets, and intensity, in many cases we do like to make the ErgVideo ride-able “as is” out of the box from start to finish. What PCG have been prescribing are sessions with two specifically different phases in a single session, and the two phases are sufficiently different in energy-zone that it’s actually possible to combine them without undue fatigue or “impossibility factor”. For example, combine a session of progressive cadence tempo zone work with a set of anaerobic short intervals. Or, after some work in over-under intervals, spend some time on low-power fast-pedaling drills. Ride some big-gear strength building low-cadence drills after some threshold work. As you will see, they also have some extra-special ways to enhance your threshold building sessions beyond simple long intervals, by combining work in more than one energy zone.

After some lengthy discussion at Peaks HQ, we set out to the parkway and its environs to shoot a most unique session for building threshold power. How that’s normally done is to ride long intervals in the functional threshold power zone. The twist here is to precede the 15 minute interval with 3 short, very intense (250% FTP) 20-second bursts with only 20 seconds rest in between. These feel like sprints, and they feel like they come at you far too quickly. They are not unlike what’s required in a hilly race with long climbs: establish a gap with violent attacks, make sure nobody can sit on your wheel, and then grind it out to the top. After a short rest the boys laid down some low-cadence, high-power strength-building intervals. The ErgVideo that resulted is called “Explosive Power Sweet Spot HD” and its power profile is reproduced below. This ErgVideo is pre-configured to include 10 ride variations, changing the intervals and intensity.

Power Profiles and zone distribution for Explosive Power Sweet Spot HD

With day 1 in the bag, the rider’s eyes were opened to the difficulty and complexity of shooting good ErgVideo sessions, with its multitude of cameras (and their maintenance) as well as keeping tight with one another for good visuals throughout. You really have to be sensitive to the rider who’s feeling worst on the day. They said they were ready for more, so we all hoped that the nice weather would hold.

Our return to the offices always made me chuckle. It can be described as immediate explosive dispersion of each to their own pressing business. Kevin jumped straight onto his workstation to do more coding, Brandi (admin and support vehicle driver) was sent to pick up post-ride food, Tim usually had a conference call and Hunter was walking around, headset clamped to his head, speaking to athletes by phone. Me, I’m all about downloading and backing up the day’s video and deciding whether we need to reshoot any particular scenes again. That’s a long process, followed by ensuring batteries are all recharged for the next day’s shoot. Then I’d beat the detailed logistics for the next day out of Tim whenever he’d get a moment to share. PCG is a hive of constant activity.

Day two was sunny and bright, with the rest of the week’s forecast looking overcast and possibly rainy. The riders set out to film what we’ve called “The Tempo Grind HD” that involves a 45 minute tempo-powered session. In this one, Hunter recommends the first 15 minutes are done at low cadence, the middle 15 at “normal” or middle cadence, and the final 15 at high cadence. Polish that off with 5 one-minute anaerobic intervals with two minutes rest.

Bright sunshine all day, everywhere on day 2.

Because the weather was so perfect, we had to take advantage and film some more, in case we’re rained-out of action later in the week. The danger, of course, is that the riders get over-fatigued and can’t perform again even if the weather is perfect. Everyone took a rest and agreed to film some of the hardest intervals of the week: 20 and 30 second microburst intervals: After all, found ourselves in the perfect place to do them. There were plenty of uninterrupted, very low grade uphill stretches in every direction, it seemed.

Oh man, these are hard! Micro-burst intervals, short intense efforts with equally short rests, are getting a lot of attention these days. Some people find them more interesting than steady efforts, and it is remarkable how quickly you can recover between hard efforts. This workout should help increase your ability in that regard, while still raising your threshold power. You do 10 minute sets of each, one with 30 second bursts, and two with 20 second bursts.

Power profile and Zones distribution for “Power MicroBursts and Tempo HD”

That double session pretty much trashed the PCG team’s legs, and I was partly wishing for rain the next morning to give them some extra recovery. Ultimately, as required by the plan for this ErgVideo edition, we had to film a good 30 minutes of paceline tempo, but left it for another day when we’d have pro rider Aldo Ilesic along to take some of the load off. The resulting power profiles for “Power Micro-Bursts and Tempo HD” and “The Tempo Grind HD” are shown. Each come with 8 different, preconfigured sessions.

Power profile and Zones distribution for “The Tempo Grind HD”

Day 3’s expected rain didn’t materialize, and a fresh, rested Aldo did. So we put him to good work filming a stint of paceline Tempo with Hunter, Kevin and Tim, to round out the “Power Micro Bursts and Tempo HD” described above. Then we captured some fast pedaling drills and left the hardest part of the day for the end: Over-under Sweet Spot intervals. The Sweet spot is somewhere between 88 and 92% FTP, and the Peaks coaches like these done in 20 minute stints. Of course, we’re here to present some new useful twists, and this one packs a punch. Every two minutes of riding in the sweet spot, kick up to 120% for 30 seconds, then return to the sweet spot. Whoa, this is a hard way to get your 2×20’s, but we’re confident you’ll feel and measure the difference in your fitness. In this ErgVideo, you thankfully end the session with fast pedaling drills. You train some neuromuscular factors, and you might find it flushes out the fatigue rather comfortably. This ErgVideo comes with 9 preconfigured variations of intervals and intensity.

After the end-of day review, we all realized we were ahead of schedule and might complete 6 videos in 5 days, if the weather holds. Fingers crossed.

Power profile and Zones distribution for “Over-Under Sweet Spot Intervals HD”

A grayish day greeted us on day 4, so we headed to the area that looked “brightest gray” in the distance. To film another very special Peak’s variation on the threshold building theme, we needed a place with no forced stops, and thought some open rolling terrain would be visually distinct from other the day’s sessions. Hunter calls these “Functional Threshold Power Ramps”. They are 10 minute efforts that start hard, settle-in to the threshold zone, and then over the final two minutes, the power is raised into the 110% range. Yes, that’s right: these get harder at the worst possible time. You’ll learn to dig deep when you really don’t want to. The way ErgVideo forces you to output the target power will be magically motivating, and you’ll feel great to survive these. We managed 2 of the 4 intervals on the highway, and noticed bluer skies now breaking out near the mountain, so we relocated for the final two intervals in the set. That was ultimately handy, because the climb up let us do some downhill, high-speed, high cadence pedaling drills just as the rain hit. This shut us down early for the day, but rest is good. This ErgVideo comes with 10 variations.

Power profile and Zones distribution for “FT Power Ramps HD”

So, at PCG HQ we reviewed and realized the only thing left is an unstructured tempo ride, and the sun was “re-scheduled” to shine again.
The sun complied and so did Aldo, making our group that much bigger and faster. The team rode along according to plan staying mostly in the tempo zone, but definitely mixed it up, throwing off the shackles of a prescribed, rigid session. You’ll be forced irregularly and often above threshold. Bike rides and bike races are unpredictable sometimes, and you have to be able to change it up whether you’re fully recovered each time or not. This ride ventured more into the wide open areas away from the mountains, so sightlines are longer and broader, exposing the rural beauty around Bedford. It’s called “Base-Tempo Virginia HD” and it comes with 8 preconfigured variations.

Power profile and Zones distribution of “Base-Tempo Virginia HD”

With that, we realized this very intense job was done. We had dodged the weather, and wrapped a day earlier than anyone had planned. That happens so infrequently in anyone’s schedule that upon return to PCG headquarters, we all scrambled to reschedule travel plans, get home and take advantage of an unexpected day to cram in more work. Curious that none of us considered taking a day off to ride. Oh that’s right, everyone had had plenty, maybe too much, as part of their “work” that week.

Only Aldo had the legs for more.

Last day team photo. Gettin’ it done in Bedford.

Upon my return to Ottawa I set about feverishly producing the content. All of the “Hunter Allen Power Training” ErgVideos have been released and are available at the ErgVideo website store. The Hunter Allen PCG-designed training plans that go with them are also available. The plans are configurable, and use from 7 to 10 ErgVideos. Go here to configure your plan according to your time available per week, and the tool will load your shopping cart with the correct ErgVideos needed for your plan.

Now with ErgVideo, Peaks Coaching Group, and CompuTrainer, we’ve formed a team that provides you with the very best indoor training solution. We’ve brought together the most accurate and robust hardware platform from RacerMate, the expertise of the best power-based coaches in the biz, and the easy-to-use riding environment of ErgVideo with the biggest high-quality video library available. You’ll find your indoor training time is exciting, entertaining, and above all, effective in reaching your cycling and triathlon performance goals. We call it the Power of 3.

For more info on Ergvideo be sure to check out their website ERGVIDEO.com that includes their ErgVideo store and ErgVideo Training Plans toolkit for Free Hunter Allen Training Plans

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