Tuesday, May 22, 2012

“A Clean Bike Is A Fast Bike” - Olympic Silver Medalist, Brian Walton  

A few years ago, I decided to get my bike tuned at Cadency Cycling and Multisport.  Pushing my stuttering, mud-caked Specialized through the door--and past all the new, pristine, and well oiled machines--I saw the mechanic’s eyes bulge. “Jon, have you been off roading with that thing?” asked the mechanic, “road bikes are made for the road.” Laughing in shame, I glance the other way only to see the larger than life, Brian Walton, descending the stairs. Walton’s impressive resume as a 3 time Olympian has always made him seem tall to me—although, standing on level ground, his head barely reaches my shoulder.  Smiling, he cracked a joke about my bike which didn't register in my star-struck mind. Then Walton states: “Jon, you want to race fast? You’ve got to have a fast bike. A clean bike is a fast bike.” This may be the most influential advice that the Olympian ever divulged to me. As athletes, we always want to perform to the best of our ability. We wish to achieve our absolute potential in that fleeting moment. With that said, we never want to be limited by our equipment. We never want to find ourselves distracted in a race because of a weird sound, malfunctioning gears, and the like. Any such distraction takes our focus off of racing, finishing, and achieving absolute potential.   

Now, the phrase “a clean bike is a fast bike” is slightly misleading because it suggests that a clean bike is a well maintained bike. Of course, this may not be the case. But in the act of cleaning, a rider explores the bike. It provides time to look for loose screws, a worn down break/cable/ chain, irregular sounds, ect. Cleaning one’s bike weekly—and in special detail the week before a race—allows time for the rider to replace components and/or make an appointment at the local bike shop if more extensive work is required. It also allows time to understand how the machine works. The goal is not only to prevent the chance of a break down or loss of power transfer, but to also gain a working knowledge of the machine so you are  prepared to fix it in a race-emergency situation.

So how might you go about cleaning your bike?

1.) Hose the bike down with water, washing off any loose dirt. Be careful on the water pressure, especially around any electronic containers like a bike computer or power meter.

2.) Wipe the bike down with a towel.

3.) Spray the bike with a watered down degreaser such as Simple Green. Wipe off the grease with a towel. I usually begin with the least dirty parts of the bike (the seat and frame) and move toward the components. Any dark grease spot should be cleaned off, even on the crank, derailleur, derailleur pulleys, break leavers, and chain. Allow that metal to shine.  

4.) Take off the wheels and be sure to get the grease off of the sides, spokes, hub, breaks and fork. Flip the bike over and clean the bottom of the bike, including the cables.

5.) To clean the rear cassette, spray degreaser on the edge of a towel. Next, place that edge between each of the cogs and wipe away the grease.

6.) For other hard to get areas, a toothbrush may help.

7.) Put back on the wheels and tighten the screws and bolts with a bike tool. It’s best not to mess with the derailleur screws, leave those up to the mechanic at your local bike shop.

8.) Reapply grease on the chain. Then wipe all excess grease off.

9.) Pick up your bike and run it through the gears to make sure the cables are working well.

10.) Pick up your bike about an inch from the ground and drop it on the wheels—hold on, of course! Address any rattling you hear.

11.) Examine all other gear including your helmet, cleats, shoes, race wheels, and tires for deterioration. Replace anything needed. Be sure to sure to try anything new before racing—especially if you adjust your bike cleats.

Now, take your bike for a test ride. Your clean, screw tightened, well oiled machine should feel like adding another smooth, frictionless joint to the body. This connection provides a sense of assurance; the confidence that you are getting the best power transfer, and that your bike won’t break down and cause a crash. DO NOT question whether your bike will hold up throughout training or racing. Clean it, maintain it, and know that you have done everything possible to ensure that it does not limit you from achieving your potential.   

Let me know of any questions

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cycling and Triathlon Specific Workouts:

In light of yesterday’s discussion on brick workouts (below), I received some e-mails asking for an brick workout example and how one might go about executing it.  Thus, I will provide two workouts. First, you will find a brick workout for triathletes/duathletes. Second, I will provide a bike specific workout for those who focus on cycling races.    

Triathlon Workout

Brick Workout: 2 hours in duration @ the track

Warm up for 30 minutes biking: Ride slowly and do some fast cadence drills; work to increase your heart rate.

Warm up for 15 minutes running: start running at a slow to moderate pace; do some drills like skipping and side stepping, shift into some 75-100 meter pickups.

Main set: 3x(10 minute bike + 5 minute run) (10 min) @ race pace. That is, 3 sets of 10 minutes biking at race pace effort (cadence 90-100) transitioning—as if in a race—to a 5 minute run at race pace on the track. Take 10 minutes of easy rest (jogging or biking) before doing the next set.

This workout is designed to help athletes maintain fitness built over the winter. Workouts can be executed in an infinite number of ways. Although one way to approach this brick is to go all out, another way to complete it is to work on race pace precision. The athlete who takes the latter approach looks for the opportunity to feel race pace. When transitioning to the run, he/she puts in just the right amount of effort to run on pace. As every 400 passes by, he/she is right on pace or only a second off. During this time, the athlete is changing his/her form to make the effort as easy as possible. The athlete carries this form through to the end of each effort and recovers as quickly as possible.

Cool Down:  Take the rest of the time to cool down and flush out the lactic acid built up during the workout. Recover as quickly as possible and take in some calories/ protein within 30 minutes post-workout. Hydrate!

Cycling Workout:

Micro Intervals: 2 hours in duration

Warm up: for 10 minutes

Drills: 3x3(2) fast cadence; That is, 3 sets of 3 minutes of fast cadence (110 rpm+) with 2 minutes of rest.

Rest: 5 minutes of easy biking

Main set: 3x10 (10) micro intervals; That is, 3 x 10 minutes of alternating between 15 seconds of bursting power (cadence 100+) to 15 seconds of easy peddling (Cadence 80-100) with little to no resistance.

This workout is designed to help with the surges encountered during a draft legal race.  The goal is to go as hard as possible during the surges. Recover hard and SURGE again… and again… and again. This workout will help maintain the strength you have built over the winter time.

Cool down: Take the rest of the time to cool down. Recover as quickly as possible and take in some calories/protein within 30 minutes after your workout. Hydrate!


For those of you who don’t know about the Transylvania Epic, check it out here:  http://www.tsepic.com/abouttse. This is a weeklong mountain bike stage race (May 27th-June 2nd) in State College, PA. The race is put on by Power On Coach Mike Kuhn! Pro’s, amateurs, and weekend warriors are welcome to race. This is the kind of race where you invest in a mountain bike because the race is JUST THAT EPIC (as you can see from Jeremiah Bishop's face as he  grimaces through the pain... he goes on to win the prologue by an astounding  four minutes last year). For those of you who just want to watch from the sideline, or your computer, I’ll keep you updated with video and other forms of race coverage.  Triathletes and road cyclists can learn a lot, just by watching how the pros handle their bikes! More soon!    

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach

Image Cycling: http://www.sportsmed.net.nz/services/orthopaedics/

Friday, May 11, 2012

Brick Runs

Triathletes engage in three specific movement patterns while racing: swimming, biking, and running. Physiologically speaking, the most interesting moments during the race are the transitions between movement patterns. During these moments, our body shifts from a former repetitive movement to the latter. Perhaps the more uncomfortable of the two shifts is the transition from the bike to the run.  We often call this transition the “brick” because of the heavy feeling we feel in our legs as we move from a hard ride into the first few miles of the run.

What physiological changes occur during the brick and what can athletes do with this information to optimize performance? During the biking length of the race, triathletes engage in a movement pattern and posture requiring sustained hip flexion1. In other words, our hip flexors tighten and shorten to maintain the decreased hip angle demanded by the position assumed on the bike. At the same time, the muscles which do the opposite work of the hip flexors, the hip extenders, relax. The scientific community defines the simultaneous contraction and relaxation of antagonistic muscles as reciprocal inhibition1. For those interested in the specific phenomenon of the relaxation, read up on the inhibitory postsynaptic potential caused by neurotransmitters which hyperpolarize the alpha-motor neurons1. For the purposes of most readers, it’s only important to understand that we contract our hip flexors while relaxing our hip extenders during a bike ride.  

Reciprocal inhibition is vital to the complex movements required to bike and run. If our body allowed both muscles to contract simultaneously, the stronger muscle wins out and results in a tear of the other. The staple example of this is the sprinting football player. While putting in a hard effort, sometimes the player’s body misfires and both his hamstrings and quads contract. The quads are naturally stronger than the hamstrings and the situation results in a pulled hamstring. So, reciprocal inhibition is crucial to optimal performance.

In triathlon reciprocal inhibition becomes problematic at the moment of transition. While we are bent over our bike for 1-6+ hours, our bodies become accustomed to the sustained hip flexion. Consequently our hip extenders seem to shut down. In the shift from bike to run, athletes often find tightness in their lower back and/or hamstrings. Why? As coach Al Lyman of Coach Al Training Services notes, the primary hip extenders are the glutes. The glute chain is vital to efficient running. Not only must the glutes be strong, writes Lyman, “they must also be able to act as the primary extender of the hip.2” In other words, we need the glutes—which relaxed on the bike—to begin working at the start of our run. If the glutes do not work as the primary hip extenders, athletes tend to compensate. They use their hamstrings and lower back, resulting in the tightness found in these areas. The goal, then, is to get the glutes firing ASAP after the ride.

How can athletes apply knowledge of reciprocal inhibition to enhance performance? As both Lyman and Endurance Nation coach Rich Strauss observe, we can practice brick workouts in training. Executing bricks in training has many benefits. First, athletes may lean to decrease the period it takes to engage in normal running form—by “normal,” I mean the running form that an athlete assumes without biking prior. To do this, take time to build body awareness during the first minutes of your brick run. Lyman alludes to the advantages of this awareness, writing: “Make thoughtful yet subtle adjustments in run posture, especially early on in the run, and periodically throughout the run. Lead with the hips, not the torso; shoulders down/elbows back; stand tall and lengthen your spine…” Don’t be afraid to make adjustments like these if you feel tightness. More specifically, consider how your glutes and hip flexors work together to allow for a fluid movement (See my post about strengthening your core to increase running efficiency below). Also, refrain from pushing into any tension/resistance in the lower back and hamstrings. Instead of pushing through, observe the area of tension. Push into your hips slightly and back off to a place where you feel less tension. The goal is to find a form which allows you to feel as comfortable as possible while still maintaining speed. With that said, be prepared for some discomfort as you transition. Running off the bike may never feel like running without biking prior.

In addition, brick training helps athletes prepare for the mental challenge of the brick during the race. Acknowledging the mental benefit of executing brick workouts, Strauss writes: “Feel it, taste it, experience it so that your first experience with running off the bike isn’t on race day.” In other words, brick training gives an athlete a chance for an experience similar to the one experienced while racing.  Knowing how your body reacts in uncomfortable situations such as the brick limits the “surprise” factor that jeopardizes motivation during an event.   

At this time, there’s a big debate surrounding the benefits of brick training for the Ironman distance event. No matter what, you will be doing a brick during the race. Why not train for it?  

Let me know if you have any questions.

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach

Special thanks to Coach Jeremy Cornman for leading me to this inquiry by juxtaposing Lyman’s and Strauss’s essay on the Cornman Multisport Coaching facebook page.  

Works Cited:
1 Powers, Scott, Edward T. Howley. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. New Yourk: McGraw-Hill, 2009. (131-132). Print.
2Lyman, Al. “Brick Runs In Triathlon Training: Critical To Success or a Wase of Time?” http://www.xtri.com/features/detail/284-itemId.511713637.html
3Strauss, Rich. “Reathinking the Value of the Brick Run for Long Course Triathlon.” http://www.endurancenation.us/blog/training/rethinking-the-value-of-the-brick-run-for-long-course-triathlon-2/

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Core Work!

Successful athletes continually build their core strength. In sport and life, a strong core properly supports the spine. A supported spine allows for a powerful posture, the protection of your spinal cord, and the flexibility required in complex movements such as running or biking ("Your Body..."). As legendary triathlete Dave Scott observes in his podcast with triathlon.competitor.com, a strong core becomes vital towards the end of the race.  When fatigued, athletes fall into a compensation pattern. For running in particular, the athlete's leg cadence slows as his/her upper body rotation increases. This change in form results in a less efficient,  slower run.  A strong core slows the breakdown in form. 

Scott points out that there are 26 different core muscles. A strong core, then, is more than just the abdominal muscles that athletes focus on while doing crunches. To build strength in all 26 muscles, athletes execute drills that exceed the complexity of traditional core exercises such as the crunch or sit-up. Scott suggests drills such as the pickup and reach, planks with kicks, kettlebell squat to overhead swing, and the four way x-chop. You can find the description and pictures to these drills in the link under "Shaw" below.    

Be careful while executing these drills. Start slow without any weight and build from week to week. With a strong core, you will find an increase in your performance.

Let me know of any questions.

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach

"Your Body: the Role of the Spine." Peak Performance Chiropractic Center.  http://www.peakperformancechiropractic.com/body/spine.html

Shaw, Jene. "Ditch Your Crunches." 27 April 2012. Triathlete Competitor. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On frigged water swimming... 

While the triathlon race season warms up, the water we swim in remains cold. Swimming in frigged water can be challenging, even debilitating. I remember a spring training session in Lake Placid, NY. My brother and I decided to go for a swim in Clear Lake. We both put on our wetsuits and doubled our swim caps. Where Mike swam along without a problem, the cold water shocked me into a panic. I couldn't see or breath. I quickly turned to my back and kicked my way to shore. In light of this event, I'd like to share a few techniques to help you prepare for cold water swimming/racing:   

1.) Warm up with your wetsuit on. Prior to the swim, take a jog down the beach. This should increase heart rate while building up the heat in your suit. 

2.) Take a gallon jug of warm water with you on your practice swim/race. Pour it into your suit right before you get in the water. This prevents cold water from getting into your suit when you first enter the water. The warm water will exit the suit quickly, but it prevents the initial shock that leads to panic.

3.) Practice swimming in cold water 4-5 times before the race. Take some warm dry cloths and a buddy down to the water and get in for 5-10 minutes. Just warm up and see how your body reacts. Practice using any gear you will wear during your race. 

4.) Get into the water the day before race day. Know what your up against and how your body will react. 

5.) On race day, expect that your initial plunge in the water will shock your body. In other words, expect discomfort and know that you have the power to control it. Force yourself to breath slowly: we have a tendency to hyperventilate in could water situations. Keep your head down for 5-10 strokes before sighting. Keeping your head down and allowing other people to sight for you will help you get into a rhythm. Find a rhythm as soon as possible. 

6.) If you panic, there's no need to push through. Pushing through may actually slow you down later on in the race. Instead, lye on your back and breath. It only takes a few seconds to get your mind back on track. Then, return to racing. You have the entire bike and run to catch back up!   

Let me know of any questions you have.

Jon Fecik--USAT Coach