How does doping start? It's cultural
Everyone wants to go faster, either in sprints, or boost their thresholds for those long, tedious bits before a sprint finish in an endurance race. One way to do this is to cheat, doping works. It's a fact. It works.
Culturally, how do we try and prevent it? For starters, we don't do what the Peaks coaching group have just done, they're now loudly flogging some magic concentrated beet juice as a miracle performance enhancer, but it's ok because it's natural or something. It's a supplement and it's not banned (yet, who knows if, like caffeine, it'll be a threshold thing, too much NO and you're busted), that's true, but it's the wrong thing to be doing (hey, I guess they want to make a buck, and they are the exclusive US distributor of one particular blend, all's fair, right?). No. Wrong. Wrong message.
"The nitrates in Beet It beet concentrate offer the athlete a competitive advantage, some studies showing up to 16% improvement in endurance! I noticed the difference with Beet It shots after my first use! It's a subtle ability to push harder for longer. Who doesn't want this!?!"
This is right when the fuss about Lance and doping is front page news. Seriously?!
Ranting on food, again
No significant differences were detected between VLCKD and WD in all strength tests. Significant differences were found in body weight and body composition: after VLCKD there was a decrease in body weight (from 69.6 ± 7.3 Kg to 68.0 ± 7.5 Kg) and fat mass (from 5.3 ± 1.3 Kg to 3.4 ± 0.8 Kg p < 0.001) with a non-significant increase in muscle mass.
Despite concerns of coaches and doctors about the possible detrimental effects of low carbohydrate diets on athletic performance and the well known importance of carbohydrates there are no data about VLCKD and strength performance. The undeniable and sudden effect of VLCKD on fat loss may be useful for those athletes who compete in sports based on weight class. We have demonstrated that using VLCKD for a relatively short time period (i.e. 30 days) can decrease body weight and body fat without negative effects on strength performance in high level athletes.
How strong is strong enough?
There's a lot of contention about just how strong you need to be to be a successful track sprinter. Numbers are thrown around by various institutes, talking about twice bodyweight for squats (presumably meaning power-lifting legal, raw) as an example.
Here's my take on it.
You can't be too strong, which is to say, you can't be strong enough, but you can do too much strength training. What does this mean?
If it's taking too much time to recover from a gym strength session, which it will once you start pushing seriously heavy weights, such that it has a negative impact on your on the bike training, you're doing too much strength training in the gym. You're probably as strong as you can be without starting to specialize in strength sports like powerlifting or strongman competitions etc. For many of us, this happens at around two to two and a half times bodyweight for squats, or anything up to about a 250kg squat 1RM for men, for women, around 150kg.
Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, in Science and Practice of Strength Training, 2nd ed, talk about the notion of time available for force development, and use the term Explosive Strength Deficit (ESD). This is essentially referring to how much force you can apply in a limited time. For example, they state that a shot put athlete who can benchpress around 220kg (~110kg/arm), can only apply around 60kg of force to their throw because it happens too quickly for them to use all their available strength, and that increasing bench press past a threshold doesn't significantly increase the force able to be applied. This is a different beast to our track sprint cycling though. We have the luxury of being able to control, to an extent, the time we have available to apply force. A shot put athlete, as they try to throw further, has to throw faster, reducing the time they have available.
We can put on a bigger gear, if we're strong enough to push it, to go faster and keep the time available constant, or even increase it, for a given speed. This is why you'll see riders like Shane Perkins and Anna Meares pushing big gears, while "weaker" riders like Vicky Pendleton, Theo Boss and the like will push smaller gears, faster. We can optimise our cadence with gear selection to take advantage of our strength, if we have it, by pushing big gears, or our explosive strength, by pushing smaller gears.
The seductive argument that practice alone makes champions is wrong
Ok, many of you have heard the story by now, train/practice for 10,000 hours and you will be the best in the world, a champion, an outlier etc. It's the stuff of dreams, you can be the best if you just work hard enough. That's an idea that sells a lot of books.
Unfortunately, it's wrong. Or to be generous, it's incomplete.
I first read about this 10,000 hour thing in Dan Coyle's "The Talent Code". A good book, with lots of things to learn from from a coaching perspective. I've adopted a lot of what Coyle wrote about in my coaching practice, it's good stuff, but it's missing something fundamental. It's also the fundamental argument made by Mathew Syed in "Bounce". Notably, Syed is a table tennis player, perhaps not the most physical of sports. In the recently published "The Secret Olympian" (anon, but it's a British rower, a bit of googling will tell you who wrote it), "anon" writes :
Syed's argument in Bounce - train enough and you'll be excellent at whatever you choose - is seductive. It's probably true for table tennis. But in general, it's wrong. As Bas van de Goor neatly states, 'You can learn to play volleyball; you can't learn to be tall. Genetics count'.
These guys are not going to be successful volleyballers, not if they spend 20,000 hours of practice in the best hotbed in the world. Genetics matter. You can't be an elite athlete in most sports without winning the genetic lottery at birth. Sure, if you train you will improve, but how good can you get? Can you be the best at the world at whatever you choose to? Only if you've got the right genes. If you want to sprint, and you don't have working ACTN3, forget being elite. It just won't happen.
ACTN3 is just one of many factors influencing athletic performance
At the highest levels of performance ACTN3 genotype certainly make a big difference: among Olympic-level sprinters the frequency of individuals carrying two disrupted ACTN3 copies is vanishingly low (less than 3%, compared to ~18% in the general population). However, this large effect is due to the exceptionally strong selection that occurs during the slow climb to the Olympic level. The vast majority of athletes who start that climb will never make it to the top; those who do will be the tiny minority who have nearly everything in their favour, including the right genes.
So super-elite athletes need to have the right ACTN3 combination, but they also have to have a whole host of other factors working in their favour – this one gene is just a minor ingredient in a large and complex recipe. In fact, most studies performed so far suggest that ACTN3 explains just 2-3% of the variation in muscle function in the general population. The rest of the variation is determined by a wide range of genetic and environmental factors, most of which (particularly the genetic factors) are very poorly understood.
So what does that mean?
You can train your backside off, but unless you're gifted with the right genes, you're not going to be an Olympian. You will improve, but your upper limits are genetic. Having the right genes is not enough, not by a long shot, the world is littered with people with the genes to be superb who for whatever reason ended up couch potatoes, but it is a very important part of mix if you want to be an elite athlete.
Well worth the 20 minutes it will take to watch :
Is it possible to be too strong?
Is it possible to spend so much time training for strength that it impedes your ability to train on the bike? Ie: can you over-do strength to the detriment of your sprint cycling?
Is the balance a tricky thing to find?
Not 60's psychadelia ...
Pictures vs words again ...
LSD is "Long, Slow Distance", or long rides at moderate to high (aerobic, E3) intensity, not high intensity short intervals (like Tabatas).
As sprinters, we need strength (and power) in spades, and some high intensity endurance, but not much (arguably not any) LSD work. Hopefully that chart (borrowed from FIT, by Dr Lon Kilgore et al) helps explain that a little.
Is not what you think
When we think of endurance, we usually think of long things, long rides, long efforts on the track, long runs (urgh!) etc. That's part of it, sure. In the context of sprint training, endurance is two things - the ability to produce power over the duration of our races (short times, not a lot of endurance required and it's very specific) AND, importantly, repeatability.
It's not enough to be able to ride a flying 200, you have to be able to repeat the effort, over and over.
So how do we train for that? In the gym? Yes, you can, we do multiple sets, anyone who'se trained with me in the 'Haus, knows we do 3x3 and 5x5 etc rep ranges, why? The intensity comes from the first couple of sets, the last set is strength endurance, in a useful context.
On the track? Repeating efforts, not making them longer.
Rant ends here!
I'll be all over the place!
July 2011, it's going to be busy. I'm going to Adelaide with the NTID and VIS kids on the 22nd for a sprint race meeting for J17's and J19's and then staying on for a week to assist/learn/get in the way with the pre Junior Worlds camp. The camp is three weeks long and takes the kids going to Moscow from the race meeting on the 23rd and 24th through 'til their departure to Moscow. I've been given the opportunity to stay with them for the first week and assist Sean Eadie. Along the way hopefully I'll get a lot of learning done. I'm looking forward to it, but I will be away from home for a week and will miss a couple of our winter DISC sessions.
In actual fact, I'm probably going to miss almost all the DISC sessions through July, on the 16th and 17th I'm (assuming it goes ahead) doing a whitewater rescue course. So I will probably miss that weekend also, and this coming Sunday I can't make it either. I've written a program that the guys can do without needing much guidance. Nathan's going to run this Sunday, I'll work something out for the others that I can't make. Ergo anyone?! Nah ... I didn't think so! Anyway, it's going to be hectic, this July.
I do have heaps of reading to do. I believe that any good coach needs to read widely and understand a lot of "stuff", so one of my current reads is a textbook on exercise physiology. Things are going well in the 'Haus, I lifted an equal PB deadlift yesterday (and can feel it today .. stairs .. urgh!), power's been down a bit on the bike for the last couple of sessions, but I think that'll come good soon. the other sprint squad people and assorted ring ins are all lifting well and their numbers are getting better on the track too. It's all good!
$20 and you can have one too!
Less pedal strokes = faster races
Back in the old days of sprinting, everyone rode tiny gears and span like the clappers. It's reported that Gary Neiwand rode 92" at the Sydney Olympics (old days? That's only 11 years ago!). Rev rev rev, that's what the coaches of the time drummed into everyone who was sprinting. But now, everyone's (the ones who are winning, anyway) pushing bigger gears. MUCH bigger gears. I've personally seen 10.1 flying 200's ridden on gears in excess of 106" by riders far from peaking for their best performances. I've seen the 50 metre splits for their efforts. The guys recording the fastest times are not necessarly the ones with the quickest individual splits (although they can be!) - but their drop off in the last 50 metres is less. This is partially a pacing strategy - watch a modern flying 200 and you'll see the jump happening later than you'd expect, and partially a result of using bigger gears.
Big gears mean more strength is required to get going in the first place, but also, less fatigue per meter ridden. The flying 200, for example, is a speed-endurance event that has a maximal exertion time of around 14-16 seconds from the kick to the finish line. According to a recent study fatigue is brought about by the number of maximal contractions, not so much the speed of them. If you can use less pedal strokes to cover a set distance by making the gear bigger, you will fatigue less PER METER and thus, probably have a greater average speed over the distance. You need the torque to accelerate that big gear though, which is why riders like Shane Perkins, Chris Hoy and Anna Meares have huge legs and backsides and like to lift heavy things in the gym. This applies to sprinters, not enduros. Lance was superb at 120rpm spinning away up hills winning the Tour, but we're talking about short term sprint efforts where, literraly, every fraction of a second counts and we're not running aerobically. Different animals ...
So, mash big gears with pride, but make sure you're strong enough to get them going in the first place!
I wrote more on this in the book :
 Fatigue during Maximal Sprint Cycling: Unique Role of Cumulative Contraction Cycles, ALEKSANDAR TOMAS, EMMA Z. ROSS, and JAMES C. MARTIN, MEDICINE & SCIENCE IN SPORTS & EXERCISE 2009
We default to 5's when we start
High bar, but no-one's perfect!
Here's Sir Chris Hoy, talking about his favorite gym lift, the squat. He's doing high bar, where we do low-bar in the 'Haus, but we'll let him get away with it this time .. If youtube is being consistent, the girl he's talking to is picking her nose in the sample shot below, heh!
Here's a diagram showing the different squat variants, stolen from Starting Strength, Basic Barbell Training, 2nd Ed.
Long warmups never sit well with me
For a long time I've been uneasy about the warmup generally recommended for sprint events. Tradition states that the shorter the race, the longer the warmup. I've seen some VERY silly long warmups, one particular one at the Oceanias last year, this one bloke must have done a 4 hour warmup for a kilo, every time I walked by, he was on the rollers, or doing efforts on the track or an ergo etc ... by the time he started, he was knackered ... but OCD sillyness aside, the warmup for a sprint event is one that I think we can optimise and there's much room for variation and experimentation. Some recent research from the University of Calgary cropped up this week that is of interest.
I don't have access to the published paper yet, so can't comment on the method or the quality of the research, so take this as unqualified conjecture from a reading of the abstract :
Shorter, less intense warmups seem to be producing better performances in sprint events.
This makes intuitive sense to me. I don't really buy into the whole "you need a big warmup to prime the aerobic system", yes, you need to get your muscles and joints warm and some activation to turn on your nerves, but how much? I think there's a lot of room here for individual sprinters to experiment with their warmups prior to competition, I don't think one size fits all here, not one bit. Watching elite sprinters warm up, they all do it differently, and many of them do not do very much at all.
How hard do you really have to push
There's an age-old question in track sprint, and it's this : "How strong do you have to be?" or variations on that. Why do we care? Because, unlike our roadie and to a lesser extent track enduro cousins, we have to push very hard indeed for a few pedal strokes to get up to speed, on what may be a pretty large gear.
No commercially available power meters give the full picture. Powertap, SRM etc do not report peak torque in a useful way - they report averages (but measure everything, if you know how to ask them the right questions). Averages for torque are nice to know, but don't really answer the question. Peak torque is how strong you are, and that's a very interesting figure to know.
I've been lucky enough to be involved in assisting a study being done around these parts which is looking deeply into the torque requirements of sprint cycling. It's been very interesting so far and we're lucky to have some very fancy torque measurement equipment available to test some of the squad riders on. I might even get a go on the thing myself if I'm lucky and they want to get some junk data from an old guy who's broken at the moment! But anyway, it's proving to be very interesting indeed. We might even be able to answer the question at the end of it.
Yeah, we got frozen ...
Taubes, again, is asking good questions
As sprinters, we risk getting fat a lot more than our chronically undernourished enduro cousins. I've banged on about this a lot over the last few months and have some success at dropping weight (fat!) over the last 12 months. As I've mentioned, I did it by basically following the logical conclusion of reading Gary Taube's Good Calories Bad Calories (ie: ditch the simple carbs).
Gary's just written a new blog entry that I enjoyed (thankyou Lisa for the heads up!). The vacuously true 'we get fat because we overeat' observation (true, but useless!) gets looked at in the article. Have a read, it's good stuff.
How many revs?
Some simple maths today.
A 500m ITT, on a 6.5m rollout (J17 gearing) is 77 revolutions, or about 39 pedal presses per leg. On a 6m rollout (J15), it's 83 revs, 42 per leg. Not much difference!
If the 500m is ridden in, for example, 39.8 seconds on a J15 gear, the average time per revolution is 0.48s, or 0.24s per each leg stroke. The average cadence is ~118rpm. These averages are nonsense, the rider accelerates from a standing start which totally blows the average cadence calculation.
So, how about the flying 200, where the rider will mostly maintain speed for the distance (with some losses in the last 50m or so). Let's take our J15 rider, and a sample time of 13.455 seconds. 200 metres at a 6m rollout is 33.3 revolutions, or about 17 pedal strokes per leg. In 13.455 seconds that's 0.4s per rev, or 0.2s per pedal stroke. If you consider that the leg only produces useful power in a short range of the pedal stroke, let's say about a 60 degree arc, that's two thirds of the pedal stroke that contributes useful power, so our J15 has about 0.13s to push as hard as they can per leg, 34 times (not including the windup, of course). It's even less time if the rider's going faster, of course. The Australian JW15 record for the F200 is 13.310s (Imogen Jelbart) and for JM15 it's 11.968s (Mitch Docker), Immy was spinning at around 150rpm, Mitch at close to 166rpm. At those cadences each leg has around 0.1s to produce power and about 0.15s to recover before doing it again. That's less than the blink of an eye.
I wonder how close the girls can go to the boys as juniors? If the female talent pool was larger would we see JW's keeping up with JM's, at least in the J15 and J17 groups? At these cadences on little gears it's not a strength game, it's how fast you can fire your triple extension and recover to repeat it.
Got to get 'em spinning when they're young ... The game changes in J19 and above, but we've already discussed that here!
They stop going faster, why?
Way back many months ago at (I think) one of the NTID conferences I've been lucky enough to go to, female sprinters were discussed. One very common thing is that many of the ones that do very well in JW15 and JW17 often simply never go significantly faster once they get to JW19.
Why is this?
I have one thought about this, bear with my hypothesis, this is gut feeling not science :
When they're riding JW15 and JW17 the game is all about leg speed because they're restricted to tiny gears. There's a certain amount of strength required (and you see this in the ones that do well out of the starting gate) but it's mainly a game of cadence. This favours the girls who don't necessarily have a lot of strength but can spin like the clappers.
This is pretty obvious; girls aren't boys. From a hormonal perspective, girls have roughly 10% of the testosterone that boys have. Testosterone is the main hormone that drives muscle growth (amongst other things). As such, it's really hard, without cheating, for girls to pack on significant amounts of muscle. They can certainly grow stronger and put on some muscle, but unless they resort to training with the aid of the needle, they never get big and thus, strong enough to push bigger gears at high cadences. The only female sprinters that ever looked like Sean Eadie were cheating (eg Tammy Thomas and Annalisa Cucinotta). Combine this with old-school training methods that has them out riding lots of road miles, which blunts any muscle growth stimulii that they may get from sprint training and you get a kid that can spin, but will really struggle to push bigger gears and thus, go any faster when they're old enough to be able to push bigger gears. We see this with some of the girls I work with, they're amazing as JW15's and JW17's but come JW19 the game changes, and it changes a lot. The stronger girls start to take over and the super-spinners become less dominant.
Why do boys do ok in spite of mixing in lots of road riding? They're awash with anabolic hormones in their late teens and for them it's not too late to undo the damage done to their fast twitch by endurance training. But for the girls, their opportunity, I think, comes a lot earlier and is lost if it's burnt up by too much endurance training.
So, if that's true, or at least on the right track, what do we do to get the girls strong without cheating?
The time when they're growing the most is early to mid puberty. This is when they have the most of the other growth hormone, HGH. This is when they need to be in the gym getting as seriously strong as you can possibly make them, and doing high power and high torque efforts on the bike and NOT DOING ANYTHING CATABOLIC. This means STAY AWAY FROM LONG ROAD RIDES!
Conventional wisdom says keep the kids out of the gym, I say nuts to that and I'm not alone. I'm in favour of getting, in particular, the girls, in the gym as early as possible to get strong so when they're old enough to push big gears, they're strong enough to do it. Keep them doing short, sharp efforts. Anna Meares started as a kid racing BMX. Short and sharp, high power, high cadences and high torque. Shanaze Reade and Willy Kanis are more elite track sprinters who started (and still do) race BMX. You can add the required endurance work later, and that's endurance for dealing with the needs of a track sprinter, which is not the same thing as the endurance needs of an enduro cyclist and should be trained differently. You may pay for this in the short term with them being a bit heavier as JW15's and JW17's because to put on muscle they need an anabolic diet (calorific surplus high in protein and low in the foods enduros live on, ie: simple carbs), but getting the girls strong AND able to push high cadences is, I think, the key to getting them fast in the long term.
We don't do long rides!
is the girl who beat Anna at Beijing for gold in the sprint. She's worth listening to.
We had a lot of presenters ....
One of the over-riding themes of the NTID conference so far has been the "X-factor", which isn't physiological (unless you consider brain/personality physical, which you may well do, and I may agree with ... but anyway ..). I've touched on this myself recently.
I'm still not sure ... The x-factor is best defined as dedication and passion, and much seems to be made of the fact that the most dedicated athletes (and ballet dancers, violinists etc ...) are the ones who reach the elite level. As a result, there's been a bit of a cultural shift in the talent ID process, they're (we're!) trying to focus on x-factor stuff more. I agree that it's important and much is made of how much and how well someone trains leading to their elite-level performance. But is the tail wagging the dog? I suspect to a certain extent it is. The kids that naturally do very well (the talented ones!) get positive feedback, so they enjoy their pursuit, they then practice more and smarter, and get better. But they have to have talent first, I think. The feedback loop seems to be being forgotten or overlooked in the haste to redefine selection criteria. Not always is it the most talented physically (sometimes for them it's too easy, which leads itself to complacency or fear of failure), but I suspect that the current emphasis on the X factor may be taking things too far, and most coaches gut feeling would probably reflect this.
Interesting stuff all the same...