Category Archives: Cycle Coaching

Top 5 lessons from the Symposium on Cycling Optimisation

1.  Aerodynamic drag versus Gravity drag

You’ve probably heard that the power required to increase your speed goes up disproportionately with the increase in speed.  Here is how the power required to push you and your bike through the air is calculated.

  • Power = ½ρV² x CdA
    • ρ = air density
    • V = Velocity
    • Cd = Coefficient of friction
    • A = Frontal area

Energy model for ITTKnowledge is power, and Sebastian Weber, Sports Scientist at Cannondale-Garmin, explained how they model aerodynamic drag and gravity drag on a parcours to determine their equipment and race strategy. For example, based on the amount of climbing to be done and the expected wind conditions, they decide whether to use their lightest wheels or those that are most aerodynamic.

In fact, they run the model for each rider on each parcours, as their riders’ power/weight and power/CdA differ greatly.  They use this modelling to determine which riders they will use in a one day race and the role each rider will play each day on a multi-day stage race.

For non-professionals, we can select the races or sportives we ride based on analysing our own power/weight and power/CdA.  We can also figure out pretty quickly that pushing hard on a downhill to go from 30 mph to 31 mph is a VERY poor way to use our energy.  We will be MUCH better served by using our energy to go from 10 mph to 11 mph when climbing!

2.  Don’t waste money on an aero road bike  

(We can gain you 1 – 3 mph without a wind tunnel)

The number 1 thing we can do to make you faster on the vast majority of courses is reduce your profile and resistance in the wind.  If you look at the variables we can control in the equation above, there isn’t much we can do about air density, and we want to go as fast as our power will take us, so the things we can control are our frontal area and the drag created by our clothing.

cervelo-S5-review-front-rear-streamline-view02What percentage of the frontal area on the rider to the right is the rider, and what percentage is the bike? (over 80% of aerodynamic drag is from the rider, and, of the remaining 20%, half the drag is from the wheels) Now, how much money should you be spending on buying a bike with more aerodynamic tubes versus improving your own aerodynamic position on the bike?

Dr Andy Fronchini, who consults with British Cycling and many professional teams on aerodynamics, put together a list of the top 100 things you can do to go faster through the air.  Number 1 is improve your position on the bike, and number 100 is buy an aero road bike.  In other words, aerodynamic tubes, the positioning of your brakes, and other bike tweaks are the most marginal of marginal gains.  Of the aero losses due to your bike, 50% comes from the wheels, so if you’re going to spend money on faster equipment, spend it on the wheels.

Tommy's aero position comparisonThe bottom line is you should spend your money on improving your aerodynamic position.  If you do time trials, then TT bikes are optimised to get you as aero as possible.  How you are set up on your TT bike, however has to be optimised for the type of time trial you are riding.  You must be able to sustain your position for the duration of your race to benefit, so you can be much more aggressive in your position for a 10 mile TT (25 minutes) than you can for an Ironman triathlon (6 hours).

On road bikes, use your drops and get your head down.  We use an iPad app that allows us to accurately measure the area uncovered in the photo.  In top image it was 0.163 square meters, and in the bottom image it was 0.129 square meters.  This is only the rider’s head, arms and torso, so, conservatively, we improved the total area including his legs and the bike by 10%.

In this case, we are working to improve his speed in the sprint at the end of a race, so he is already travelling over 50 kph (30 mph).  With every thing else fixed, a 10% decrease in frontal area means he needs 10% less power to reach the same speed.  So, using the formula above, keeping the same power will increase his speed by 2.8 kph (1.7 mph).  That can easily be the difference between winning and coming fifth.

For you, we can improve your frontal profile and quantify the benefit it will deliver.  At Sportive speeds, you’ll gain up to 5 kph (3 mph).  We have added this service to our business, and at £75 it’s the most effective money you will ever spend on going faster.  So, rather than buy that aero bike you were thinking about, get a proper aero fitting and invest in some fitness testing and structured training!

3.  Periodising Nutrition can train fat burning

Your aerobic system is what powers over 90% of your cycling effort, and it burns a mix of fats and carbohydrates. However, your fat burning system will atrophy if you continuously fuel the aerobic system with carbs.

Feedzone-BooksWe have all been influenced by the sports nutrition companies into believing we must fuel our cycling with products we buy from them.  It turns out that simply isn’t true, and by continuously feeding our bodies carbohydrates, we can actually harm our long term development as athletes.

Team Sky and Cannondale-Garmin have both publicly acknowledged they periodise their nutrition strategy to optimise fat burning.  In the off-season, they use fasted and bonking rides to force the riders’ bodies to burn fat.  This stops once racing begins,  but even then they prepare “real food” and supplement that with gels and powders, rather than the other way around.  The books pictured are co-authored by a chef who works for professional teams, and they are filled with recipes for real food to fuel your riding.

For you, think about what and when you eat on the bike.  Your body stores enough glycogen in your muscles and liver for around 90 minutes of sub-threshold effort, so you don’t need any food for rides under 2 or 3 hours if you’ve had a meal before you ride. Occasionally, you can ride beyond your glycogen stores (bonking) and force your body to burn fat exclusively.  It’s not the most pleasant experience, but it will improve your fat utilisation for subsequent rides and your racing/sportive season.

4.  How differences in Women’s anatomy affect their bike fit

male and femail pelvisesYes, we all know there are differences between women’s and men’s anatomies, but it the bits you can’t see that make the difference between women’s and men’s bike fitting.  The two primary factors are the differing shapes of their respective pelvises and women having greater joint mobility than men.

While I knew women’s sit bones were further apart than men’s, I wasn’t aware that women’s sit bones are far less pronounced, and their pubic arch comes lower.  As a result, women carry more weight on their pubic bone than men, and, in general, women cannot not get as aerodynamic as men.  To help address this, saddle choice is vital for women, and the nose of the saddle must offer more pressure relief.

women's bar widthWhen it comes to joint mobility,  correct handlebar width is critical with women. Bars that are too wide require more work from the muscles and tendons to hold the rider’s upper body in position.  The measurement to the end of the shoulder blade should be matched by the centre line to centre line measurement of the handlebars.  With the arms reaching straight out from shoulders down to the handlebars, bone structure takes far more of the load, and that will help eliminate the upper back and neck pain many women cyclists experience.

5.  Shorter Cranks is the answer.  What was the question?

Power versus crank lengthAccording to Dr Mark Timmerman, who consults with Trek Bicycles on medical issues associated with cycling, shorter cranks help alleviate or prevent a variety of knee, leg and hip problems.  I’ve quoted him in the heading for this section, “Shorter cranks is the answer. What was the question?”

But don’t longer cranks help you generate more power? Tradition is a difficult habit to break, and traditionally cyclist have used cranks ranging from 170 – 175 mm in length.  A seminal study by Dr Jim Martin at the University of Utah,, concluded that shorter cranks actually offer a benefit in power production.

So, hip flexion and knee angle at the top of the pedal stroke, which are vital for your health and performance, are both are improved with shorter cranks without compromising power. In addition, shorter cranks allow you to get lower over the front of your bike by reducing the amount by which you close your hip angle, so you can be more aerodynamic.

Improved power, better aerodynamics and less likelihood of injury all result from shorter cranks.  I’m riding 165 mm cranks now, and hopefully you’ll soon be using shorter cranks soon as well.

Should you have an “off season”?

cycling training plans, Recovery, If you’re a professional, and you’ve raced more than 40 days in the last 9 months, then yes, 3 weeks or so off the bike makes sense. Your body needs a chance to recover completely before beginning to prepare it for your new season.

If you’re like the rest of us, and you have to plan your training around a full time job and family commitments, then it’s unlikely you’ve raced so many days and trained so hard that you need sustained time off the bike. In fact, taking more than a few days off the bike will required extra effort to recover the fitness you lose.

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Setting cycling goals

You know you want to improve as a cyclist, but how do you go about it?Cycle training plans, Cycle training, cycle coaching

“If you don’t know know where you’re going, any road will get you there”.  That’s hard to argue against, so the first step in any planning is to determine “point B”.  If you want to improve, how do you measure progress, and how do you know if you’ve been successful?

This blog recommends an approach to goal setting that should help you train in a structured and measurable way.  If you’re relatively new to cycling, you may not know what’s realistically achievable. If you’re an experienced cyclist, but you’ve not done structured training before, you may not know how much improvement you can make in a single season.  It would be very, very disappointing to work for months only to fail to achieve your goal. So, goal setting deserves a bit of thought, and here are four simple steps to help you.

  1. Measurable.  There is a vital difference between vague goals, such as “I want to be faster”, and measurable goals, such as “I want to ride a 10 mile time trial in under 25 minutes”.  Working with vague goals is a bit like the opening quote.  If you don’t know how much you want to improve, then any training will do as long as it’s more than you’ve done before.  So, think about goals you can measure, and that can include fitness goals, such as weight loss or percentage body fat, as well as cycling performance goals.
  2. Specific.  Goals can focus on an outcome, such as winning the club hill climb at the end of the season, a personal improvement, such as losing 10 pounds, or a process, such as training 4 days/week.  What these have in common is they are all specific and measurable.
  3. Achievable.  As mentioned above, you may not have enough experience to know up-front what is realistic. There is nothing wrong with setting an initial goal, starting down the path, and then adjusting the goal once you gain some experience.  One benefit from working with a coach and doing an up-front fitness assessment is we can work with “Point A” data and with power/weight charts to more accurately determine what is possible given a duration of time and an amount of training.  In any case, don’t become a slave to a goal.  Injury, illness or matters outside your control may change your plan, so you should feel free to change your goal without guilt.
  4. Coaching, Cycle TrainingTime-bound.   How long do you have to achieve your goal?  The slope of the lines in these two examples highlight the differences in the training plans required to get from A to B. The time needed to get from A to B needs to be part of your evaluation of what is achievable.  Intermediate milestones along the journey are also important.  These milestones may reinforce you are on-track and no changes are needed, or they may cause you to modify your goal.  It would be very disappointing to training for months toward what is, ultimately, an unrealistic goal and only learning that on the big day.  Intermediate milestones and an objective 3rd party view can help avoid such disappointment.

The final point is “a goal without a plan is just a wish”.  This should be self-evident, and the next blog entry will focus on the steps to building a plan to achieve your goals.

I’m not racing, so why do I need a cycling coach?

coaching 1 croppedDo you want to use your training time effectively, be more comfortable on the bike, be safer by improving your braking and cornering techniques, or learn how to ride in groups or multi-day events? Reasons for investing to coaching vary, and racing strategy and techniques are only two of many.

Here are just 10 reasons people benefit from coaching.  How many of these would help you be a happier cyclist?

  • Motivation
  • Achieving a defined goal
  • Efficient and effective training sessions
  • A structured and customised training plan (based on your current fitness, goals, time available, etc.)
  • Basic techniques, such as using clipless pedals, climbing seated versus standing, optimal gear selection
  • Advanced techniques, such as descending and cornering quick and safe, group riding, pacing
  • Nutrition on and off the bike
  • Bike set-up and comfort versus speed
  • Planning multi-day rides (recovery, bike set-up, training modifications, nutrition, clothing, etc.)
  • Using and analysing data, such as training zones, power and heart rate monitors, Strava/Garmin

In subsequent blog posts, we will look at each of these 10 reasons in more detail.  After all, might improving YOU be a better way to invest in your cycling than spending more money on your bike?

At Velocity, we take a integrated approach by combing Fitness Testing and Bike Fit with Coaching.  This gives you complete package to improve YOU and help you go further, faster and achieve your cycling goals.  There no point following a training program unsuited to your current level of fitness, and it’s vital your position on the bike helps you ride powerfully and comfortably while avoiding repetitive strain injury.

Why are Functional Thresholds (FTP & FTHR) so important?

Cycling is an endurance sport supported by your body’s ability to burn carbohydrates and fats in your muscles and generate energy. There are two primary energy systems, Aerobic and Anaerobic. One of those is sustainable for hours and the other can only be sustained for minutes before the build up of waste products in your muscles forces you to stop. Understanding where YOUR threshold is between these systems and being able to work with it and improve it to increase you power and endurance is the primary goal of training.

Energy system table 2The aerobic systems burns fats and carbohydrates efficiently, and the by-products are energy, water and CO2. You can use this system for hours with only gradual build up of fatigue, but there is a limit on how much power you can generate in a given period of time. The anaerobic system burns only carbohydrates, and it does so very quickly to generate a sharp increase is energy, but it does it inefficiently. It generates lactic acid as a by-product, which builds up in your muscles causing a burning sensation and rapid fatigue, so you can only use it for a very limited period before your body shuts down.

The Functional Threshold is the point at which you body moves from using the aerobic system as the primary source of energy and the anaerobic system takes over.  This happens when the demands of your muscles exceed what your aerobic system can supply, such as when you’re sprinting or climbing hard.  This threshold can be measured by your heart rate (Functional Threshold Heart Rate – FTHR) or power (Functional Threshold Power – FTP).

So, why is know the thresholds so important?  Firstly, you can use these to pace your efforts to go as fast as possible without causing extreme fatigue.  For example, if you’re climbing a long hill and you know your FTHR is 150 beats/minute, you can limit your effort to keep your heart rate at that level.  In that way you go as fast as possible without generating excess lactic acid.  Secondly, if you’re racing, you can decide when you’re going to go “into the red zone” and learn how long you need to drop back down below threshold to recover before making another surge.  Most importantly, by understanding where your threshold is, we can develop training programs to both improve your endurance and raise your threshold, so you generate more power before you reach the threshold and Go Further, Faster.