A Structured, Multifaceted, Intensive Winter Training Program (2017-2018) to Increase Threshold Power and VO2 max.
Summary: Inspired by advice from a friend and pro racer, David Krimstock, and the book Training and Racing with a Power Meter, I set-out in early December 2017 to elevate my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) from where I was at the conclusion of racing in 2017, 270-280 watts, to 300 watts. I trained three components of my cardiovascular and physiological systems, endurance, sweet spot, and VO2 max, alongside an aggressive gym program involving weights, core, balance, and flexibility exercises. After nine weeks of structured, multifaceted, and intensive training I achieved or came very close to my ambitious goal, an FTP in the range of 295-300 watts. Since leaving Deutschland and entering the amatuer racing circuit in Colorado, I've had three top-of-the-podium finishes in my very competitive 40-49 age category, a first place finish overall at the Salida 720 racing as part of a pro-expert duo team, a solo fifth overall at the Bailey Hundo, and most recently a solo 7th place overall at the Breck 100. These performances were the result of planning and hard work over the winter and the kindness of others that were willing to share their experiences and knowledge of the sport of cycling.
Part 1: Background, Schedule, and Dose.
Despite common sense, intuition, and logic, hard work does not guarantee improvement in sport especially as an athlete accumulates years of experience. As that experience approaches about 7-10 years, a hard working / training / recovering athlete transitions to marginal gains for the same effort that delivered much larger gains in the past. Sadly, these marginal gains may not even keep pace with losses, due to aging, illness, poor nutrition, etc, during the same period. Six years into my cycling and racing history (2013-present), at 47 y.o., aging is a significant factor nipping away, each year, at my physiological capacities. Aware of this process and how it might affect my long-term competitive goals, in December I initiated my most ambitious interval training program to date in December 2017 in prep for racing in 2018.
My decision to plan and execute an ambitious winter training program in-prep for the 2018 race season began with serendipity when I shared a meal with Shimano-Pivot Cycles sponsored, professional mountain bike racer, David Krimstock, following the 2017 edition of the Fat Tire 40, part of Crested Butte Bike Week. Although I'd considered many times before, especially since I started self-coaching in 2017, integrating a more robust interval training program into my usual endurance training so far I'd failed to make that happen. For some reason, my encounter with David, a super-fast, super-friendly, and studied athlete, finally pushed-me over-the-top of whatever obstruction was holding me back from implementing a full-on, pain cave, interval program.
After the Fat Tire 40, I rode-on, eventually finished my 2017 racing season with a 1st place, age 40-49 finish at the Breck 100 on 29 July and then flew to Europe where I pedaled from Hamburg to Scotland on my Niner Bikes RLT 9 Steel. From Scotland, I flew back to the United States to accommodate a month-long cycling tour of New England and adjacent states (USA) to visit friends and family. By the middle of October I was back in Europe and settled-into my winter home (at that time) in Hamburg, Germany for some much needed rest and recovery. I spent the remainder of October casually pursuing, on the nice days, my 10,000 mile year goal which I completed on October 26th. Otherwise, I spent October and November refining ideas about how I might use the winter to interval train, improve my daily nutrition, and add strength to my cycling muscles through weight lifting.
By the middle of November, static, Darwinian, armchair, reflection transitioned to physical testing on the bike and in the gym where I further refined my ideas and also measured my base fitness level including Functional Threshold Power (FTP). By the end of November my confidence was high, I knew when, how much (schedule and intensity), how long, and what I hoped to gain. My structured, multifaceted, and intensive winter training program would begin on 4 December 2017, almost a month earlier than any other season to date.
By the end of March 2018, I was hoping to push my FTP to 300 watts, my primary objective, through a combination of interval training on the bike, weight lifting (squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses), core, balance and flexibility training, and improvements in daily nutrition including weight loss. As December approached, I performed one 20-minute FTP test in late November, the result was 248 watts. I performed the test on the road, invariably on varying terrain, on a day I felt I wasn't rested and following a few weeks of otherwise light activity on the bike. My guess was then and remains that with fresh legs rolling on an ideal surface, no dips in the road, stop signs, etc, I could have output closer to 260 watts which is the number I used as my FTP, rather than 248, when I started training on 4 December.
Before I get into the details of what transpired on and off the bike, it might be helpful to just cover the daily schedule, repeated each week, of my training program. Below, as an example, I've inserted my first week of training for the 2018 season, 4-10 December 2017, from my Training Peaks calendar. Assuming I felt rested enough on Friday to perform 2 x 60 minute endurance intervals, then my schedule would be M-W-F, all other days would be allocated to active recovery or days off. If I wasn't rested on Friday then I rested and instead trained hard on Saturday.
On Mondays, typically mid-morning after putting-out any fires as far as clients / work, I'd climb onto the trainer in my office between 9 and 11 am. I warmed-up for 15 minutes then rode for 5 minutes at my functional threshold power, 260 watts, before initiating 6 x 3 minute VO2 max intervals at 105% to 120% of my FTP. If you know your FTP, then your VO2 max adaptation window is approximately 1.05 x FTP to 1.20 x FTP. For me, on 4 December, that window was 299-312 watts. By training in this adaptation window I was training and hopefully increasing the power associated with the VO2 max component of my physiological spectrum. For more details about human physiological systems and adaptation, I highly recommend Training and Racing with a Power Meter from Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan. Outside of suggestions from David Krimstock, this book was my primary resource for planning the cycling-component of my winter training blocks.
At the conclusion of the intervals, I'd climb off the bike, eat a recovery snack, towel off, change clothes, and head to the gym. The first 60-90 minutes were allocated to weight lifting, followed by core and balance exercises, then flexibility. I often concluded each trip to the gym with a 15-minute session in the sauna, or a double-dose separated by 5-10 minutes waist deep in cold water, followed by a short period of relaxation before showering and heading straight for food! It wasn't unusual for me to cash food in my locker which I visited as needed throughout the gym session.
Weight lifting consisted of the squat, deadlift, and overhead press. Core and balance comprised six exercises (not always the same) done twice each, 15-50 reps. For example, I performed two push-up sets of 10-25 reps each while balanced on two yoga balls, palms-down hands on one, toes on the other. Sometimes I was tired and managed only 2 sets x 10 reps. Sometime I was more rested and crushed 2 sets x 25 reps. Flexibility involved my cycling muscles, mostly, but not exclusively. Stretching the hams, quads, glutes, and hip flexors were a priority to avoid low-back pain while walking or standing, possibly due to adaptive shortening.
Although the sauna and relaxation are simple in concept I believe they are powerful in practice. Of course, there is no need to describe how to sit in the sauna and chill afterwards, but don't let the absence of details disway you. I believe heat and relaxation were important components of my winter training.
Wednesday and Friday (or Saturday) were the same as Monday except for the cycling part. Wednesdays were allocated to sweet spot intervals, intervals performed at 85-95% of my FTP. The 'sweet spot' is the the part of the physiological spectrum that marathon-style mountain bike racers settle-into after their fast start and before they pick-up the pace for the last push to the finish. The sweet spot includes the well known / often discussed physiological zones known as tempo and about half of the sub-threshold zone between tempo and FTP. If you know your FTP, then your sweet spot is 0.85 x FTP to 0.95 x FTP. At the beginning of December, 2017, my sweet spot range was 221-247 watts based on an FTP of 260.
My training plan allocated VO2 max to my most rested day, Monday, the day following an easy weekend. Next in difficulty and slightly less rested, I integrated sweet spot intervals on Wednesday. Lastly, on Friday or Saturday, exclusively in a fatigued state by this time, sometimes wasted, I did my best to perform two sets of 60 minute endurance intervals. The endurance zone is roughly 69-75% of FTP. At the beginning of December, I estimated my endurance zone as 180-195 watts. However, based on a lot of endurance days on the bike, and testing in November, I decided to increase this range to 200-210 watts to start. On my first endurance interval session on 8 December my goal was to maintain 205-210 watts and I was successful, some evidence, certainly not conclusive, that my intuition was correct.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays I worked as many hours as possible before an easy active recovery ride on the trainer and then a shortened flexibility session followed by sauna / relaxation. I varied my active recovery rides, sometimes I maintained a cadence of 90-95 for 1-1.5 hrs. Sometimes I started and finished with 10 minutes at 90-95 rpm with 40 minutes of 105-110 rpm between. Although I don't go into the value of cadence anywhere in this blog entry, it's definitely a topic any cyclist will want to read about. I believe that training cadence is one of the primary ingredients in the recipe of any successful cyclist. The minority of successful grinders withstanding, including former pro-roadie Jan Ullrich.
Saturday and Sunday, ideally, I completed an active recovery ride followed by flexibility and relaxation in the gym. Given my busy M-W-F schedule, I sometimes had to work as well, which I tried to do in the mornings.
In early December, I was still planning two trips to Spain to add climbing / elevation adaptation blocks to my winter training program. I traveled to Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, from 16 Jan to 1 Feb; and later, to Mallorca from 20 Feb to 12 March. When in Spain my priority was climb, climb, climb, no gym, occasionally stretching, always eating. I took days off to work and recover. I did perform some interval sessions, including VO2 max, and FTP testing in Mallorca but those were exceptions. The rule was 'get on your bike and climb until you hate yourself'. That might sound awful but both trips provided many memorable adventures, each full of surprises with many reasons to smile and reflect.
Before I flew to Gran Canaria, I completed seven VO2 max interval sessions. Because I flew on a Tuesday I completed one less sweet spot and endurance session before the first winter climbing block. Between Gran Canaria and Mallorca, back in Germany, I completed two more weeks of training on the bike and in the gym. After Mallorca, sadly by this point experiencing relationship stress that would conclude my German experiment, I added two final weeks of intensive interval training / gym sessions before flying back to Colorado on 28 March. All told, twelve VO2 max training sessions and eleven sweet spot and endurance interval sets. Weight lifting sessions were three-times per week when I was in Hamburg, so about 30 sessions involving a barbell, same number applies to core and balance. When I returned to Colorado I replaced gym and core work with many forms of hot yoga (Midline Yoga) and indoor soccer (Arena Sports) as I increased my cycling hours and waited for my body to adapt to elevation in prep for racing.
All cycling was performed on my 2015 Giant TCR Advanced road bike attached to my Omnium Trainer from Feedback Sports, an exceptional, travel-friendly, unit. Thanks to a friend, I have a Quarq power meter attached to my road bike. Weight-lifting, core, and flexibility exercises were completed in the Kaifu Lodge, a short walk from my office and winter home (at that time) in Hamburg, Germany.
What I just wrote covers schedule, structure, and logistics, now I'll describe the dose that I chose for cycling and weights and my overall goal / objective for my winter training program. On the bike my plan was to increase intensity by five watts each session (dose) relative to the one before. So if my VO2 max goal was 300-305 during a given week then the goal a week later, assuming I was successful, for VO2 max would be 305-310. I applied a similar strategy to my weight lifting schedule / plan, add five pounds each day (dose) to all of my sets and reps. So if I performed 3 sets of squats by 5 reps at 220 lbs on Monday, and was successful, then on Wednesday I repeated 3 sets by 5 reps (3 x 5) with 225 lbs.
My hope was that by increasing power and weight incrementally over many weeks I could gradually and successfully increase my FTP to 300 watts, this was my overall goal. My decision to simultaneously (same week) train three components of my physiological system was motivated by two conclusions: 1) I'd spend less time on the trainer versus training long endurance hours for weeks, then sweet spot, then VO2 max; and 2) adaptation within each system (more power) might, sensibly I thought, cause a shift overall in my power through simultaneous adaptation. I would, I hoped, pull myself up into a stronger, faster, higher performing self by executing a winter training program that simultaneously integrated four structured training components, each imposing adaptations on different part of my body, three motivated by the bike and one by a barbell. To these physical challenges I added plenty of healthy food, active recovery, heat adaptation in the sauna, and relaxation to help motivate adaptation on the off days. This final component, a multifaceted recovery strategy, was motivated by the following reality: adaptation occurs during recovery not training.
Part 2: Details Training on the Bike
Day one, 4 December 2017, 6 sets x 3 minute VO2 max intervals (3-minute recovery between), followed by weights and core exercise in the gym, then stretching, then thirty minutes for sauna and relaxation. My average normalized power (NP) goal for this first set of VO2 max intervals was 300 watts, slightly above the middle of the target range suggested by David and the book by Allen and Coggan: 260 x 1.05 to 260 x 1.20 = 273-312 watts. Apparently I was showing myself no mercy on day one of my winter training program and I wasn't disappointed, I was able to maintain, despite the high-level of mental and physical suffering I experienced during all of my VO2 max intervals, an average of 303 watts (avg NP) over the six intervals: 296; 303; 306; 307; 304; 303. I went a little under my goal on the first interval, the next five were a smidge above 300 watts.
Here's what I wrote in the comments section of this workout shortly after climbing off the trainer: "I'm very close to being able to sustain 310-315 for these 6x3 min intervals, closer to 300-305 at the moment but that's a big leap relative to power when I climbed onto the omnium [trainer] about two weeks ago. My body is adapting quickly, road and trainer power are equalizing though not yet equal. I'm very satisfied with today's result and looking forward to the next 6x3 session so that I can assess how much closer I am to road power." Regarding "equalizing", recall I was testing ideas in November. During this time I was also spending time on the trainer so that my road and trainer FTP would be more, rather than less, aligned, simplifying the arithmetic especially when I flew to the Canary Islands in a few weeks, then later Mallorca, where I would train almost exclusively outdoors and at intensities dictated by my functional threshold power. It's not unusual for a riders trainer FTP to be 10-30 watts lower than their road FTP but the difference tends to get smaller, or even go away, following many hours of adaptation on the trainer.
Here's the complete set of average normalized power numbers for each interval from the month of December,
Weeks 1-4: December 4-25, 2018
(1) 296; 303; 306; 307; 304; 303; avg 303.
(2) 317; 319; 315; 310; 308; 300; avg 311.5.
(3) 316; 320; 321; 320; 315; 315; avg 317.8.
(4) 326; 328; 326; 327; 323; 320; avg 325.
Recall that each week I increased my average NP wattage goal by 5 watts. Week one my goal was 300-305. I actually added 10 watts, not 5, to this range the second week to arrive at 310-315 based on what I felt I could do and the less-than-ideal conditions of my last FTP test. Weeks three and four I increased my wattage goals to 315-320 and 320-325, respectively.
A fine detail but one worth stating here, for my trainer profile on my Garmin 520 I integrated lap normalized power as a prominent part of the display. I used this as a "carrot" as suggested by Allen and Coggan, to push myself to maintain, reach for, the planned / targeted wattage range on each interval. I can't understate the value of using this "carrot" trick to reach your goals on the trainer, especially those that involve a lot of physical and mental stress. The same trick is useful on the road and trail. Each week in December I successfully achieved my VO2 max goals, increasing by five watts per week.
After a New Year celebration and before I flew to the Canary Islands for my first winter block of climbing I performed three more VO2 max interval sessions in January,
Weeks 5-7: January 1-15, 2018
(5) 332; 331; 333; 330; 327; 325; 329.7 avg.
(6) 337; 337; 337; 336; 335; 330; avg 335.3.
(7) 340; 341; 337; DNF.
As you can see, the VO2 max trainer session during week seven concluded with my first DNF, I was unable to finish interval four within the estimated adaptation range, 105-120%. After the session I wrote, "Wasn't rested, should have listened to my inner voice and not started."
Maybe I wasn't rested, recall everything else, physical, I was performing each week including difficult sweet spot intervals (85-95% of FTP) each Wednesday. Of course, it's always important to listen to your inner voice, that's the 80-90% of your brain that sends brief messages to your conscious 10-20% but otherwise silently works on crunching numbers, reflecting, and much more. However, what I failed to realize on 15 January, when I blew-up during interval four, was that I hadn't failed. Instead, I'd ridden myself, incrementally, week after week, into a direct collision with my trained-state FTP, likely something very close to where I was before I stopped training in 2017.
Looking back to week six, I was successful, I finished all of my intervals in the prescribed zone. If I take the average of the six intervals from that week, 335, then a rough estimate of my FTP during that session is 1.2/335 = 279 watts. Based on my 2017 power data (all files), my FTP was likely about 270-280 watts at the end of racing in 2017. The FTP estimate from session six, 279, is in that range. It seems logical that during week six I'd trained myself back to my trained-state FTP at the conclusion of 2017 racing.
Any cyclist that is interested in FTP and other thresholds has not doubt complained that FTP "is just a number", or something similar, a useful reference but not "real" in the strict sense of a threshold. Before this winter I would have quickly agreed, but now I totally disagree. There is definitely something very real about the physiological threshold known as FTP. Whether yours or mine is 290 or 291 or 289 certainly isn't important. But the "line" is a real boundary, that moves around depending on our level of fitness and fatigue. Weeks later when I realized what truly happened during week seven of my VO2 max interval training it was a moment of clarity that I doubt I'll ever forget. The realization, the moment I figured it out, will always be special and it's definitely added significantly to my experience as an athlete. By incrementing by five watts per week I incrementally approached a critical component of the human physiological system and all of the processes and chemistry that this system is composed of, our Functional Threshold Power.
From January 16th to February 3rd, I moved my base-camp to Gran Canaria, the largest of the Canary Islands. This was a nice break from chilly, grey, wet Hamburg. When I returned to Hamburg, I resumed my interval and gym sessions for two more weeks,
Weeks 8-9: February 5-12, 2018
(8) 345; 345; 346; 342; 334; DNF. (Goal 345)
(9) 345; 345; 345; 341; 328; 319; avg 337. (Goal 345)
By week seven, in January, my goal was 340-345 watts per interval. Recall that I did not finish (DNFed) the fourth interval of that training session because I couldn't maintain wattage in the adaptation window for training the VO2 max part of my physiological spectrum. Subsequently, the next day in fact, I flew to Gran Canaria where I climbed a total of 58,963 feet over 459 miles on the road bike. I was sick, unable to ride, on three days, airport gunk. I took a few additional days off to rest. Total days on the bike were eight.
Surviving so much climbing in such a short time gave me confidence, once back in Hamburg, to up my VO2 max wattage goal for week eight to 345-350 despite the DNF at 340-345 a few weeks before. As you can see from the numbers (above), I had some success, holding 345 watts on the first three intervals, both weeks, and completing the set of six during week nine. I was getting stronger, the ninth week compared to weeks 1-8 were proof of that accomplishment.
For what remained of my structured interval training, a few sessions in Mallorca and about two weeks in March before returning to Colorado, I was never able to repeat the numbers, on the trainer, that I put out during session nine. Part of the reason was so much travel during which time my body became less adapted to the trainer. Another part was relationship stress. Nonetheless, as you'll see at the conclusion of this blog and in the next paragraph, all of the VO2 max work that I'd done up to / including my success during week nine was making me stronger.
By early March I was riding outdoors under Mallorca sunshine with no excuses to postpone my first FTP test of 2018. I performed a 60 minute individual time trial on a climb that was a few minutes shy of ideal, a big dip downhill before climbing again with smaller dips before and after. Despite the terrain, I averaged 289 watts NP. At minute forty, I was holding 301 watts, right before the biggest downhill section. I don't know because I didn't do any serious testing last summer but I suspect 289 was a personal record. On March 6th, just two days after the first test, I repeated the test on the same section of road, same dips, etc, but this time held an average 292 watts even carrying the fatigue of the test from two days before.
Back in Hamburg, on 27 March, I performed one more test, a 20-minute time trial. After subtracting 5%, that test suggested my FTP was 294 watts. Not bad, especially given that I had to negotiate one stop sign during the test. This test suggests that when I departed Northern Germany for Colorado I was confidently, given stop signs, etc, capable of 295 watts for 60 minutes, and perhaps even 300 under ideal conditions. Although issues of adaptation had kept me from pushing higher VO2 max wattages on the trainer I'd nonetheless achieved, or nearly so, my FTP goal at least at elevations I encountered in Hamburg and Mallorca through intensive interval training over roughly four months (Dec-Mar).
Success and failure as just described for my VO2 max sessions over nine weeks was essentially replicated, for the same reasons described above, during my sweet spot, 3x20 minute intervals at 85-95% of FTP performed on Wednesdays. Here's the numbers from the first six weeks of my sweet spot training,
Weeks 1-6: Dec 6 2017 to Jan 10 2018
(1) 252; 246; 245; avg 247.7.
(2) 258; 252; 250; avg 253.4.
(3) 261; 252; DNF; avg 255.5.
(4) 260; 259; 256; avg 258.3.
(5) 264; 264; 261; avg 263.
(6) 270; 269; 267 (15 min); avg 268.6.
Week one, 6 December 2018, I set my first goal at 250-255 watts. Recall I increased this by five watts each week, thus my goal for week two was 255-260 watts. By week six, I was hoping to stay within 270-275 watts for each 20-minute interval. Notice on week six I faltered (blew-up) 15 minutes into interval three. As I had with VO2 max intervals, I was running into my very real FTP six weeks into my sweet spot interval training. Here's the two weeks between the Canary Islands and Mallorca (back in Hamburg),
Weeks 7-9: February 7-14, 2018
(7) 270; 269; 270; avg 270.
(8) 275; 270 (17 min; DNF); DNS.
My success during week seven was perhaps my very best on the trainer for the sweet spot up to that time. That day I had reverted to the week six goal, 270-275 watts, giving myself a slight advantage to succeed given I'd been off the trainer for weeks riding outdoors on Gran Canaria. The next week I reached for 275-280 watts and blew-up after 17 minutes during the second interval. I never started the third. It's very likely that I was above 120% of my FTP at 275 watts at least on the trainer at that time.
My experience performing the much less intensive, relative to VO2 max and sweet spot intervals, 2x60 minute endurance intervals also hit a wall, I began to blow up, during week eight. Here's the first eight weeks, all on the trainer, before my endurance interval training was set-aside during my trip Mallorca,
Weeks 1-7: Dec 8 2017 to 12 Jan 2018
(1) 207; 208; avg 207.5.
(2) 219; 221; avg 220.
(3) 226; 226; avg 226.
(4) 231; 232; avg 231.5.
(5) 235; 237; avg 236.
(6) 241; 240 (40 min); avg 240.5.
[Off the Trainer: 16 Jan to 1 Feb, Gran Canaria]
(7) 240; 240; avg 240.
(8) DNF; DNS.
My goal during week one, 8 December 2017, was 200-205 watts for each 60 minute endurance interval. By week six (no trips to Spain just yet) my goal was up to 240-245 watts and I was able to meet that goal, 240.5 watts average over the two intervals. When I returned to Hamburg from Gran Canaria I again, as with my post-Gran Canaria goals for VO2 max and sweet spot, gave myself a slight break by maintaining the goal from week six and was successful, 240 watt average over the two intervals. In contrast to week seven, week eight was a near complete loss. And this was in part because by this time I was single but still living with my former girlfriend in Germany. Relationship stress was very high. Another factor was loss of trainer adaptation. After Mallorca, I never regained the trainer fitness I had during week seven.
Part 3: Details Weight Training in the Gym
For the readers convenience, I'll start this section by repeating some of what I wrote in the introduction including the basic structure of the weight lifting component of my gym exercises, the squat, deadlift, and overhead press. These were entirely new to my athletic sphere when I started planning in November 2017. I've been performing core, balance, and flexibility exercises since April 2011 and many of these exercises as prescribed by my physical therapist, Dr. John Kummrow (Integrative Physiotherapy), instructors teaching at Midline Yoga (previously at Elan Yoga & Fitness), and massage therapists including Katie Hines. As part of my 2017-2018 winter training, I continued to do these though in different reps and sets to accommodate my goals involving weight lifting. For the remainder of this section I'll write almost exclusively about weight lifting. For questions about any part of this blog entry, including core, balance, and flexibility training, I'd be thrilled to hear from you via a comment or email.
The simplest way to replicate my weight lifting schedule and dose for the squat, deadlift and overhead press is to buy the book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe. In it he advises a five pound weight increase for beginners per session, 2-3 sessions a week, in the gym. I played-around with weights, reps, and sets, and worked on form, throughout November in prep for December. Mark Rippetoe is also featured in many videos that are available on YouTube, such as this one. They're all excellent, informative and entertaining.
Throughout, planning and implementation, I was also coached by my older brother, an accomplished weight lifter and stone mason extraordinaire. I sent him videos and he coached me on form as best he could from a distance. He answered dozens of questions. He was also my inspiration and source of courage to get under the barbell for the first time since I was a teenager. What I discovered, once I went under and over the bar, was I really enjoyed these exercises. Especially the squat.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, overlapping with the trainer component of my winter training program, I went to the gym and performed first weights, then core and balance, then flexibility exercises. After these workouts, which I always performed after cycling, I often collapsed in the sauna to relax and wind down. It wasn't unusual for me to spend four hours in the gym. On days I had to be quick I could shorten to 2.5-3 hours by cutting-out some of the peripheral activities and being all business. I focused on work in the early mornings and on rest days: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday-Sunday.
I was late getting Rip's book shipped to Germany so didn't actually integrate his structure, sets and reps, until 20 December. On that day my heavy set for squat was 65 kilograms plus the 20 kg barbell, 187 pounds. I performed many warm-up sets, as prescribed (exactly) by Rip, then performed 3 sets of 5 reps at 187 pounds. Based on Rip's suggestions, two days later I added five pounds to my heavy sets, 192 pounds.
The hardest barbell exercise I performed was by far the overhead press, I started at a modest 77 lbs, my heavy sets were 3 x 5 reps just like the squat.
I enjoyed the deadlift almost as much as the squat. On 20 December I started my deadlifts with a heavy set of 5 reps at 176 lbs, weights + bar. My heavy set for deadlifts, as prescribed by Rip for beginners, was 1 set of 5 reps.
Rip predicted that my deadlift heavy weight would eventually overtake my squat heavy weight. He was right, and that occured on the 5th of February, 2018, when I successfully squatted 220 lbs (3 sets x 5 reps each) and then subsequently deadlifted 232 lbs (1 set x 5 reps). I lost and gained on all of these barbell exercises as I traveled between Germany and Spain (no gym, only cycling). On my last trip to the Kaifu Lodge, where I performed all of my gym training, I was up to the following weights on my heavy sets: squat 221 lbs, press 94 lbs, deadlift 254 lbs. I ran into marginal gains, no longer five pounds per session, about eight weeks in with both the squat and press. I continued to gain with few exceptions with the deadlift.
My first three month excursion into the weight room in about 30 yrs delivered significant strength gains. For example, my deadlift increased from 176 pounds, a set of 5 reps, to 254 pounds, a difference of 78 very real pounds. I'm already looking forward to getting back into the gym in about December 2018, based in part on how much I enjoyed my time under and over the barbell last winter but also because I know that the weight training contributed significantly to my accomplishments (so far) racing a mountain bike in 2018.
Part 4: Conclusion
Armed with great advice from a friend and pro racer, David Krimstock, and the book Training and Racing with a Power Meter, I set-out in early December 2017 to elevate my FTP from where I was at the conclusion of racing in 2017, 270-280 watts, to 300 watts. I simultaneously trained three components of my cardiovascular and physiological systems, endurance, sweet spot, and VO2 max, alongside an aggressive gym program involving weights, core, balance, and flexibility exercises. After nine weeks of intensive interval training interspersed with two climbing blocks in Spain and the work in the gym, I achieved or came very close to my ambitious goal, at least at sea level, an FTP in the range of 295-300 watts.
Given my limited experience with the sport of cycling, I suspect that what I did on the bike and in the gym was not the very best way to increase my FTP. I'll be thinking about how to make improvements and then implementing those changes in the winter of 2018-2019. But those forecasted improvements aside, it turns out my 2017-2018 plan was effective without requiring excessive hours on the trainer and I learned much more than I anticipated along the way, a nice bonus. Since leaving Deutschland and entering the amatuer racing circuit in Colorado I've had three top-of-the-podium finishes in my very competitive 40-49 age category, a first place finish overall at the Salida 720 racing as part of a pro-expert duo team, a solo fifth overall at the Bailey Hundo, and most recently a solo 7th place overall at the Breck 100. A few weeks ago when I climbed off the bike in Bailey, Colorado I knew I'd accomplished something very special for my modest, endurance-distance, racing palmeres, a breakthrough performance that was made possible by planning and hard work over the winter and the kindness of others that were willing to share their experiences and knowledge of the sport of cycling.
Please check back in to Andre Breton Racing Dot Com for future blogs dedicated to my winter base camps in Gran Canaria and Mallorca among other topics from my 2018 training and racing experiences.
In this blog-entry I recall my experiences since I started self-coaching after the 2016 Leadville Trail 100 (13 August). Details include post-race season tours through Europe and a successful 10,000 mile (16,000 km) distance goal, the second year in a row that I rode over 10,000 miles on a bike. By December 2016, I was adapting to a gym plan that would, in hindsight, lead to significant power improvement on the bike when I re-saddled-up on 4 February, 2017, the day after I arrived to Mallorca for a European-style month of "spring" training. This entry wraps-up with a summary of training from February through April. In my next blog, I'll talk about changes I made to my primary race bike just before the season began in 2017 and begin what I'll complete in a subsequent blog, to lay-out the details of nutritional mistakes and the effects that those had on my performances at the FoCo 102 (6 June) and 12-hrs of Mesa Verde (13 June).
For the first time since I called pro-roadie Alex Hagman in March 2013 and asked him if he'd coach me through my goals to qualify-for and subsequently compete in the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, the beginning of my non-recreational (training and racing) cycling history, I set-out in the fall and winter of 2016-17 to self-coach in the gym and on the bike, Backing-up from present to that first call to Alex, Alex coached me in 2013, 2014, and 2016. In between, 2015, I was coached by a Northern Colorado Grassroots teammate, Pat Nash. This season I've received valuable advice from Clint Knapp, a former top national and world pro mountain and trials bike athlete.
Following the 2016 Leadville Trail 100, I let me my race fitness decline, as I have in the past about this time, and instead focused on riding with friends before I made the "cat jump" back to Hamburg on 13 September. Upon arriving in Hamburg, I settled-in and enjoyed some local, chill, rides. Nearly three weeks slipped passed and then I was departing (5 October) for a journey that unfolded one day at a time until day 16 when I returned to Hamburg on my Niner Bikes RLT 9 Steel gravel grinder. It took me weeks to transfer that story from images and my mind to the digital interface of my blog. However, that effort behind me now, visitors can explore each day of my trip by clicking on links to each day on my home page. But note, in the future I'll remove those links (replace them with others) and users will instead need to click on October 2016 under Archives (top-right on this page) and then scroll through each daily blog entry, look for Europe Tour | Autumn 2016, each day includes many photographs.
Upon arriving back to the Bismarckstrassa in Hamburg on 20 October, I took some time to recover from 1600 miles (2575 km) of cycling in 16 days through seven countries. But then I was back on the bikes that I'd flown over with from the US, Giant TCR Composite 1.0 and the RLT, to conclude the last few hundred miles of my 10,000 mile (16,000 km) cycling goal. Unfortunately for my fingers in particular, I delayed my decision to complete the 10,000 mile goal for a couple of weeks. Then finally, on 22 November, well into the onset of winter in Hamburg, I awoke from my slumber and attacked the remaining 622 miles (1001 km). On a very cold day, 29 November, with snow on both road shoulders and often ice between mixed with wet leaves, I completed my fourth and final hundo distance ride (160+ km) in seven days to complete my goal and just in time given weather predictions at that time.
It's always a relief, and deeply satisfying of course, to complete a difficult goal, such as cycling 10,000 miles (16,000 km) in a year (second year running), and my experience as the sun set on November 29th was no different. Nonetheless, I can't imagine what the same conclusion would have felt like when British cyclist Tommy Godwin completed his epic cycling year in 1940 in the midst of WWII. Tommy cycled over 75,000 miles from January 1939 to January 1940 and then went on, without a break, to set another World record, 100,000 miles on a bike in 500 days. After completing the latter record, which he still holds, Tommy "... dismounted [his bike] and spent weeks learning how to walk [again] before going to war in the RAF". You can read more about Tommy's accomplishments here and at Wikipedia.
Returning to what can only be regarded as a relatively modest accomplishment (10,000 miles in a year) compared to Tommy and other cycling legends, after I completed my last hundo I initiated the first phase of my self-coaching experiment: (1) I hung up my bikes (for two months); and (2), initiated a structured, four times per week, weight training regimen in Kaifu Lodge, a well-equipped, diverse, training and recreational sport facility about five minutes walk from my home in Hamburg. I allowed myself a period of burn-in, a concept that I'm borrowing from another period in my life when I found myself deep down the rabbit hole of Statistics, whereby I allowed my body to undergo the physiological and structural changes that would be beneficial when I upped the weight and intensity for four weeks in January. I also traveled during the first two weeks of December, nonetheless I managed to lay the foundation of what would be my weight training work-out plan for the next eight weeks. By January, I was routinely making my way to the gym, often seven days a week. On the off-weight days I stretched and relaxed in the various saunas offered at Kaifu.
During this time, I also returned to running, mostly on the treadmill. As part of this component of my athletic training, I set a goal to run a 5k in under 19 minutes 30 seconds. I accomplished that goal on 22 January and subsequently, on January 26th, set a personal record for a 5k distance on the treadmill of 19 minutes 4 seconds. The day before I ran the same distance on the treadmill in 19 minutes 6 seconds. My ambition was to repeat the sub-19:30 goal outside but weather and other factors derailed my good intentions. No doubt I'll suffer again into the sub-20 realm in the winter of 2017-18 and perhaps find the window that I need to repeat the sub-19:30 goal outside. Or perhaps I'll up-the-prize and embark on a plan that will bring me to sub-19. Stay tuned!
Back to the gym and January, to the right is a seven-day block of training to give readers an idea of what my 'structured' training looked like as far as daily and weekly doses. Within those doses, I was increasing weight frequently, and gradually. My foci were legs, upper body, and core, enough to keep me in the gym, with running, each day for about 2-3 hours. And as a rule, in addition to weights and running, I typically finished with stretching followed by relaxation in one or more saunas after each workout. I'll highlight just one of those stretches, captured in an image below (scroll down). That stretch demonstrates my commitment to stretching my quads, in part to reduce the tendency for my back to sway with uncomfortable implications (low back pain). It took me weeks of gradual stretching to go as deep as the position I'm holding (all the way to the floor) in that image. Prior to going deep into this particular stretch, all of the cycling hours and miles I was inflicting on my body were resulting in reliable back pain even after short walks. Now that I'm stretching my quads regularly, during the cycling season as well, back pain almost never arises and when it does it's far less uncomfortable than it had been in the past.
My two month block of weight lifting, intensive stretching, and incrementally increasing my 5k pace were all very successful as far as contributions that each made to my physical and mental strength, health, and wellness. Inspired by those successes, I'm now looking and thinking about an even better plan, especially the weight lifting component, to implement during the 2017-18 winter break from cycling. At the moment, 28 June 2017, I'm in discussion with Clint Knapp, my primary adviser in 2017, and I anticipate that I'll fully-integrate his 18 week gym plan starting in October. Given my success after just two months, I'm guessing, anticipating, that Clint's plan will deliver very exciting results when I return to racing in 2018.
At the conclusion of January, 2017, as I was wrapping-up training in the gym, I was already preparing my Giant TCR Comp 1 road bike for a short flight to Mallorca, Spain, an island east of mainland Spain about 320 kilometers as the hoopee fly's. For all of the details from February, a month of cycle training in Mallorca, head-over to this blog entry or scroll down this page. For what remains of this entry, I want to briefly describe my self-coaching dosages and structure during the months of March and April.
My objectives in Mallorca were to reboot my cycling body, with the new strength I'd added to my legs over December and January, and quickly build-up my endurance engine. Both objectives went well, I often felt good on the bike and my power had clearly improved following my commitment to the weight room. By the way, I feel fortunate to have a Quarq Riken R Power Meter bolted to my Giant road bike, and I'm grateful to a friend, Bill Lutes, for gifting me this unit a few years ago. Since then Quarq has warrantied the device twice, so I presently have the state-of-the-art Riken because of Quarq's exceptional customer service policies and Bill's initial generosity. If you're considering a power meter then I'd look no farther than Quarq. In my view, customer service and quality offered by Quarq is the very best in the industry.
I continued to build my endurance base through March and April. After riding 1187 miles (1910 km) with 65,726 feet (20,033 meters) of climbing in February (all in Mallorca), I added 1232 + 1113 miles and 56,053 + 64,824 feet in March and April, respectively. By late March, I was also integrating threshold efforts and shorter efforts intended to exercise and develop my anaerobic zone. My strategy for these efforts was then and continues to be, basically, to ride hard, as if racing, for 2-3 hours and during those efforts to push into my anaerobic zone on short climbs sporadically over the course of the whole ride. As this implies, March and February (and up to present) contained very few structured intervals, so few that they are not worth mentioning here. Yet despite a lack of structure, I came into May, my first month of racing, feeling strong with the numbers to back that up on the Performance Management Chart (PMC) provided with a subscription to Training Peaks.
Similar to how I've been researching better ways to weight train in the 2017-18 winter period, I'm also asking questions and narrowing down a better way to interval train in 2018. Although I made obvious gains in performance with my unstructured method and certainly had some fun keeping it unstructured, there is no doubt that what I've struggled with the most this season was the cost of (unintentionally) dropping structured intervals. I'll pick-up with those details, and many more from my experience racing and training in May and June, in my next blog entry. In the meantime, ride on ... and perhaps I'll see you at Wednesday Night World Championships this evening?