What's Cool In Road Cycling

Be Your Own Coach: FAQ’s Part I

While every athlete is truly an individual with their own background, strengths, limiters, and goals, the basic concepts of training and fitness are universal enough that there’s a lot of common ground. We take a two-part look at some of the most commonly asked questions of coaches by their athletes…

For those of you who have been following this “Be Your Own Coach” series for the last few months, there is still a lot we need to talk about concerning writing your own training schedule and designing your training year to fit your goals and your abilities. But with the racing season winding down in most parts of the country, and riders thinking about taking a break from the bike rather than designing a training schedule, I thought I’d skip ahead to what was originally intended to be the last part of the series. What follows below are some of the most commonly asked questions I’ve gotten over the last 6 years as a full time cycling coach.

Top 10 questions (in no particular order) asked to (I’m guessing) just about any cycling coach (#1-5 this week, #6-10 upcoming).

1) I’m feeling tired, should I do my intervals today?
2) I couldn’t get my heart rate into the proper zone on my training ride today. What should I do?
3) I’m feeling a little under the weather. Should I ride or take the day off?
4) I missed the last week of riding due to travel. How should I make up the missed workouts?
5) I’m doing a crit this weekend. What should my strategy be?
6) I have a hard week of training in front of me but I hope to race and do well on the weekend. How should I alter my schedule?
7) I’m looking to upgrade my ride. What is the best place to spend my money?
8) It’s been a long year and I’m having trouble staying motivated. Any suggestions.
9) I’ve been trying desperately to lose weight, but it’s hard to diet and keep my energy levels up for training. What should I do?
10) What is the best software for keeping track of my power data?

OK, here we go!

Q #1. I’m feeling tired. Should I do my intervals today?

A. For me, this was always the biggest question I had to face every day as a young cyclist, especially when I was working 60 hours a week and trying to race as a Cat 2. Do I go back to bed and get some much need recovery or do I drag myself out of the house on a cold dark winter morning and flog myself?

What this person is really asking, whether they realize it or not is ‘Am I over trained or am I over reaching?’ It is perfectly natural for you to feel tired before certain training rides and even races. This is called over reaching. It is part of the adaptation process and a certain level of physical exhaustion followed by proper recovery is necessary to see improvement in you fitness. The question is how are you to know when this tired feeling is due to normal training stress or if there is something more.

The first thing to do is check that old standby, the resting heart rate (RHR). Although taking your resting heart rate every morning can seem like a real chore it’s actually pretty easy once you get into the habit of doing it and it can be an invaluable training tool. The important thing is to always look at the number in the context of your past data and never compare it to anyone expect yourself. The benchmark for resting heart rate in the past has always been anything above a 10% increase from your usual RHR means take a recovery day while anything below that means you can still ride. However, as I always say, instead of relying on pure data, try to put it in context with “The Big Picture”.

If the high resting heart rate is an aberration, it may be due to other factors such as stress or anxiety or even poor sleep. If you think this may be the case, get out of bed and take a shot at the intervals. If your power is off or you are struggling to get into the proper heart rate zone, back off and ride easy for the remainder of your ride. Or, if this is the last day of a hard 3 or 4 week block of training, I would expect a steady increase in RHR. In this case, I would usually suggest getting on the bike and doing your best to complete those intervals. Since you’ve got a week of recovery coming up, you should be OK even if you over do it a little.

Finally, the best tool any rider has to judge whether or not they should attempt to finish a workout is the power meter. It’s a completely objective judge of your strength on a given day. Go out and do your first interval. If you feel like crap and your heart rate is sitting in the basement, but your power is where it needs to be, then you are cleared for take off. Grab a big cup of coffee and finish that ride. However, if your power is way off what you know you can do, go home and get back into bed.

Q #2. I couldn’t get my heart rate into the proper zone on my training ride today. What does this mean?

A. This is sort of Part B to the previous question, but it is one of the most common things that riders needlessly stress out about. Heart rate is a highly variable parameter and it’s going to change dramatically based on weather, mental stress, sleep, training stress and a host of other things. Those of you who have a power meter can see this very easily by comparing heart rate from one day to the next on a similar interval. For myself, at the beginning of a training cycle, my heart rate at my threshold of 350 watts might be as high as 170, but a week or two later when I am tired, 350 watts could produce a heart rate as low as 155. This is one of the reasons that coaches subscribe heart rate zones with 10 to 20 beat ranges. But remember, even if your heart rate is below the prescribed range, but you feel like you are carrying a proper workload, go ahead and continue the workout.
Always keep in mind that the object of training is to increase your power output, not your heart rate!

The second part of this answer is to keep track of these fluctuations so that you can understand your body better. Keep track of how your heart rate responds to hard training. Just like resting heart rate, try to study your exercise heart rate so that you can track changes and decide whether they indicate a potential problem or just the natural flow of the training.

Q #3. I’m sick. Should I ride or take the day off?

A. The usual answer to this is that if the cold is in your head only, you are OK to ride easy. If it is in your chest, then you should take the day off completely. Anything worse than a cold such as flu also means a day or more completely off the bike. The only addendum I have from my own personal and coaching experience is to always err on the side of caution in these situations. Although at the time it may seem like the end of the world if you miss that all important training ride, in the grand scheme of things, it is a thousand times better to rest up, get better and return to your full training schedule as soon as possible rather than spend weeks wallowing in that training limbo where you are trying to recover while at the same time trying to train. Better to miss a week now than a full month down the road.

Q #4. I missed the last week of riding due to travel. How should I make up the missed workouts?

I always like this question because it has a very simple answer. NEVER try to make up for missed workouts. The only thing my High School wrestling coach ever taught me that I remember to this day is that you can never make up for a missed workout. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and you have to move on from there. That definitely applies to cycling. Usually if I have a client who unexpectedly misses a week of training, I bring them back into the flow of their schedule no matter where we left off. If they have a recovery week coming up, then except for a few small adjustments, we’ll flow right into that recovery week. The most important thing is to keep the cycles flowing as smoothly as possible. When you try to make up for missed workouts, you may be ok for a week or two, but eventually it will catch up to you and you will be tired when you are supposed to be fresh.

The most important thing is to not stress about missed workouts. If you have to miss a day or even a week, there is nothing you can do about it. Enjoy the time off and just assume that you needed it anyway. The last thing you want is to return to the bike more tired than when you left because you’ve been freaking out about all your missed workouts. One last tip is that as far as I’m concerned, a long day of travel whether it is in the car or on the plane counts as a hard training day. Traveling is exhausting so make sure to give yourself a recovery day to get back into the groove after any hard day on the move.

Q #5. I’m doing a race this weekend. What should my strategy be?

A. As a coach, I always want my riders to be as prepared as possible for any competition and fortunately, in the past 16 years I have done most of the larger races in the US and many of the smaller ones as well. However, it is still difficult to dictate strategy without actually being there and knowing the competition and the race conditions.

So the simple answer is, ‘It depends.’ In bicycle racing, you always have to go into a race with a plan, but at the same time, you have to be ready to throw out that plan and improvise at the drop of a hat. So without knowing anything about the race, here are some simple race strategies that apply across the board.

1. Get a good warm up, fuel yourself with water and carbs, get a good night sleep and mentally prepare yourself through affirmations and visualizations.
2. Check your equipment the day before and come to the start line with confidence.
3. Always be aware of what is going on around you. Always be aware of where you are in the group and what you are doing.
4. Know who your competition is and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
5. Conserve energy whenever possible. Never do any work unless you know exactly why you are doing it.

Imagine the race could be stopped at any minute and someone could come out and say to you, “What are you doing right this second to improve your chances of winning this race?” If you don’t have an answer, figure one out and then go do it! Finally, make sure you use your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. If you know you can’t win in a sprint, try to break away. If you know you can win the sprint if you can only get to the line fresh, suck wheel like you’ve never sucked wheel before. I think many riders let the race dictate their actions but as much as possible, try to control the race and make the circumstances work for you.

Stay tuned for “Just the FAQ’s #6-10” upcoming in Toolbox!

About Josh:
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services check out contact [email protected] or check out his website at www.liquidfitness.com

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