What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: The Long Look Back

December is the time of renewal. Many cyclists will start their 2014 preparations this month by setting out some goals and plans, but are you getting the full picture as you plan your cycling training for next season?

Pardon me while I indulge a bit of a meander this week. There are a few things I really want to cover – none of which is a full article on its own, but hopefully each brings you a worthwhile tidbit. This week I want to look at the ubiquitous “annual review”, the realities of “off-season” training, and a word or two about coaching with power-based metrics.

First up we have the annual review. Now I am certain that you can find literally dozens of posts now or in the near future about the value of looking back as a starting point to looking forward, usually under the guise of “planning your season.” They all read pretty much the same – review last years goals, set realistic goals, prioritize your goals, blah blah blah…so let’s offer you a shorter and more succinct version!

It doesn’t matter what discipline you compete in, a good coach can make a world of difference.

In clinical settings they often use SOAP notes to track patients. SOAP stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan. I think it makes a great way to triage your season a little bit too.

Subjective: Subjective might just as easily be expressed as opinion or insight, for it is this measure that reflects your impressions of the year that was. Essential to this review are a solid set of notes from your daily workouts for the year. How did you feel in the days before that personal best threshold test? How long did it take to fully recover from the flu? These insights are a treasure trove of information that really will help you design a better and more realistic new year.

Your challenge this year – do better at tracking your day to day training! The caveat is to try and keep it to a single location. With Strava, online training logs, GPS sites, and your well worn excel spreadsheet it is easy to overwhelm yourself with far too much information across too many platforms. Keep It Simple Silly and commit to one central spot for reflection. I still find it fun to go back to previous years and see what I did and how I felt – all the way back to when my training log was handwritten (now that dates me!).

Objective: Just the numbers, ma’am! When I sit down to write a season review for my athletes I usually start here. How many hours, how many miles, how many races, etc. Of course being power-based I get to add cool stuff like changes in threshold power, VO2 power, or their Chronic Training Load track!

So here is your challenge for this year: Go back over a few years instead of just one, get that 30,000 foot view, forest for the trees and all. You might be surprised at the common threads that parse out when you look at three or four or five years of training.

Assessment: Now you put the two together and offer an unbiased assessment of what you did. The key here is unbiased, which of course is nearly impossible to do on oneself – and yet another reason hiring a coach is a truly worthwhile endeavor. Then again, we all have the ability to self-critique, so take ego out of the equation as much as you can and look at the year.

This is where you line up those goals you wrote with the reality of what you did. Did you want to win a race or get the upgrade? Well, did your training truly follow a realistic arc? Was your lifestyle a contributor to success or a hindrance? Did you exceed your own expectations?

Plan: This is where you lay out the future. This step is typically what all those articles obviate about, but without the look back you are missing 75% of the process. Fortunately, there are lots of folks pining to tell you how to plan, and this SOAP approach is perfect for the day to day of training. a while ago.

Off The Off-Season Training
Another common refrain this time of year is off-season training. Yep, it’s December, which means much of the world is either in the midst of a cold winter spell, or it’s just around the corner! Many of the off-season training articles will tell you to maintain your aerobic fitness with indoor riding, if outside isn’t an option.

My suggestion? Get after something off the bike for awhile, I’m gonna try hockey! Or maybe swimming. No, wait…yoga. Well, it really doesn’t matter what you do, just get after raising your heart rate away from the structure of regular bike training. The window of aerobic development is pretty well set, and you’ll have plenty of time to get back in the swing of cycling before your first races are on tap.

Why, you might wonder, does a cycling coach advocate non-cycling on a cycling website? Easy, I truly advocate a whole life, whole body approach to sports and participation. If you only ride you are likely going to accentuate bone density loss, decrease motor skills in areas not part of the cycling realm, lose joint stability, and accelerate the drop in maximal force generation. If that isn’t enough to get you off the bike for a bit, I don’t know what will.

The New Cool
Like, hundreds of others I sat down recently to get the 411 on WKO+ 4.0, the next iteration of power analysis available soon from Dr. Andy Coggan and the TrainingPeaks crew. While the review of statistics was largely ho-hum, the webinar last Tuesday offered some insights into new ways to evaluate your training.

The new systems looks pretty cool in that it gives a more robust calculation of the power duration curve and offers a way to “see” those supra-threshold efforts that often define racing. I’m looking forward to playing around with it, but it does raise another important consideration if you plan to work with a coach – how do you pick the right one?

Picking a Coach
Choosing which coach to work with should be much more than picking the best business name or the most famous. It should be a conversation about their expertise and how it will help you improve. Too often I hear tales of riders being over trained or pushed too hard by coaches who simply plug in numbers without regard to the underlying physiology. Of course, arguments can be made that a good coach doesn’t need to know the physiology, but I think that is wrong. Knowing the physiology is THE starting point!

Sorry, but there is way more to it than simply regurgitating someone else’s theory or mathematics. A sound basis in physiology, along with real life race experience, a fundamental understanding of the biomechanics, and the nuanced ability to apply each in the correct mix; all while managing the athletes emotional and psychological balance points are the things that make a coach great.

Questions to Ask
Here’s my five cent advice if you are looking for a coach: Ask lots of good questions and evaluate the answers vigorously. So what are the questions to ask?

Ask them about their knowledge of physiology, but start with something you have a working knowledge of yourself, like the difference between or which they use? Maybe ask them about the or the role of . Ask them about adjusting your plan to suit your schedule and ways that you can maximize your available training time.

Ask and then listen. Are their answers plausible and common sense? Do they have a paradigm that they work from or are they more free form? The answers will help you determine if the coach is a good fit. As a final step ask to speak with a current athlete they work with. What is that person’s experience so far? Any obvious red flags?

“The Off Season” has taken on a somewhat formulaic stance in the world of riding, one that includes “planning” for next season and “training indoors” as stepping stones to a better next year. To that I say bollocks…try something different this year! For starters, before you look forward look back – a couple of years at least. See what trends and habits you can identify by using the SOAP approach. Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan are the foundations of clinical assessment, so why not apply that same logic to your review, and while you’re at it to your daily logs as well. It will give you insight and awareness of things you might otherwise miss.

To that cabal add true off the bike training this winter. You can ride, of course, but you should take some substantive time off the bike and work on the other areas of your body that help you to be a whole life athlete. You should take a similarly strident approach to those you choose to work with. Coaches are everywhere these days, so do yourself a favor and ask good questions of anyone you are considering as your coach. You may save yourself hours of wasted effort in the end.

About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. He is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact him directly at [email protected]. You can learn more by visiting his website at www.sterlingwins.com.

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