Now that things have started to lift on sports a little bit regarding the Covid pandemic, there's been a sort of mad panic to get back at it. To make up for lost time. To create certainty during the continued uncertainty, through the structured training athletes do to get race ready. Because what is more certain and structured than the training plan to prep for a race?
Endurance athletes, especially Masters athletes, train too hard. I’ll define “endurance” as any event lasting an hour or more. So, this encompasses a broad range of athletes, from cyclists to half-marathoners and marathoners, to every triathlete on this planet (not to mention all the other endurance sports out there, like cross-country skiing). We have been done a disservice on multiple fronts, not the least of which is by the vast majority of coaches out there who espouse repeated bouts of interval training per week or prescribe a large volume of interval training on their athletes’ hard days. The premise is that we get faster by training harder. This is true – to a very finite point. In order to better understand how we can extract more from our training and how to best balance aerobic with anaerobic efforts, it’s first important to understand how the body works.
At a high-level, there are 3 energy systems from which the body draws during any exercise of any duration and any intensity – phosphate, lactate and aerobic. Phosphate is mainly leveraged in all out efforts lasting up to 30sec but typically falling in the 3-10sec range. Lactate gets produced in greater quantities the closer we get to our LT (Lactate Threshold) and when we exercise above it. Lactate is a fuel source, a byproduct of our effort that our body processes more quickly than it is produced until such time as we hit and cross our LT. The aerobic energy system is when carbohydrate burning is slowed (but not stopped) and we recruit some stored fat as fuel because we are training or racing at an effort that is well below our LT.
Even 5k runners use predominantly the aerobic energy system -- as high as 93%. We really don’t elicit a high anaerobic utilization until we dip below 2min in effort, and leveraging a higher percentage of lactate for fuel instead of aerobic energy does not even occur until a 400m all out effort – something that lasts well under a minute. O2 is the fuel of muscles, and it takes about 30sec for the O2 we breathe in to be put to use. People think the O2 is used immediately because when they hold their breath for a long time and the lungs start burning, they take another breath and feel instant relief. But that relief actually comes from expelling CO2, not inhaling O2. A build-up of CO2 -- because we can't inhale enough O2 to replace it -- is what becomes the limiter with higher intensity performance. When CO2 production outpaces our ability to intake fresh O2, there’s a cascading effect with higher lactate production and other internal triggers that tip us further into an anaerobic state (if you wonder why athletes blood boost, look no further than this explanation. More blood equals more O2 being carried to the working muscles, which in turn equals more capacity).
So, on the one hand, it is imperative we become aerobically efficient. We do this by tuning our aerobic system so we have a turbo engine rather than a lawnmower engine. By focusing on fat utilization, aerobic training, we can push out metabolic triggers that start tipping us toward anaerobic system/fuel utilization (lactate, phosphate). When these triggers are ultimately pulled, carb utilization speeds up and we burn through muscle glycogen faster. Hence, the more aerobically efficient we are, the longer our muscle glycogen lasts. Also, the less our muscles fatigue, the longer our muscle neurons fire properly and spare us from potential cramping (IMHO, cramping isn't dehydration or salt loss; it stems from fatigue that keeps the muscles from firing properly).
Here's the rub. Part of our ability to become more aerobically efficient (more O2 to the working muscles) gets stimulated by bouts of high intensity training, especially VO2max efforts (lasting up to a handful of minutes). Higher intensity training forces the body to create more plasma and red blood cells, which in turn saturates the blood with a higher amount of O2. Think of a VO2max training block when the first workout of 3min intervals leaves you heaving and out of sorts. After a few weeks, the 4-5min intervals are hard and very taxing, yet there is also a sense that the body is settling in to them. This is due to the adaptation just mentioned.
The key is to stimulate thru high intensity enough, but not too much. Too much high intensity disrupts your ability to make that internal metabolic shift to being more aerobically efficient. Bike racers can dig deep and throw down attack after attack at the end of a 5+ hour race not because they do a lot of anaerobic training but rather because they are so aerobically efficient that when it's "go time", they have the muscle glycogen reserves to support those efforts and their muscle neurons are not too fatigued so cramping typically isn't an issue either. Next time you watch a bike race or mountain stage of the Tour, instead of focusing on the strongest rider, instead focus on those in the front group who inevitably start to fall away. Watch the change in their body language as steam and smoke start to inevitably pour out from under their hoods like a car overheating on the side of a desert road.
The aerobic focus -- and strict adherence to the parameters of those workouts (L2 watts, HR maxed at 70-78%) is what allows you to compete in a multi-hour race at a very consistent effort and pace. That's aerobic efficiency. It is the complement of the high intensity work -- a little but not too much -- which allows your finish time to be considerably faster than they would otherwise be. The body is a potpourri of response to stimuli. This training stuff would be so much simpler if it weren't, if instead it was more the case of pulling one lever or another to elicit the precise response we want. But, then, I'd be out of a coaching job.
So, when you think about your own training or the training program your coach has you doing, what percentage of time is spent doing intervals at SST or greater intensity? If it is consistently more than 10% per week, it’s too much. When we look at our lactate production curve, the biggest limiter to performance is how fast we can go before the curve starts to steepen up and to the right – meaning, when lactate production starts trending toward a greater amount being produced than can be processed causing the body to pretty quickly shut down. The longer the “tail” of our lactate curve, the more aerobically efficient we become and, thus, the faster we also become.
It should be pretty obvious that a return to national or international racing here in 2020 almost assuredly will not be happening. Here are just two examples to consider: the Boston Marathon and the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Boston's opening up has been pushed back to September 7th -- coincidentally, a week before the already-rescheduled race. To the public and racing community, the race director is very bullish on the race happening the following week. However, ask him off-the-record what he really thinks and you'll probably get an answer akin to "Chances are slim to none, and Slim just left town." For Ironman, Hawaii already has a trend of zero new Covid-19 cases. The island state is one of the safest places on the planet. Yet, extreme nativism is digging in and taking root. There's a faction that does not want to open the state back up to other USA citizens, let alone the rest of the world. If nothing else, weeding through this will slow down the dominoes falling in a return to normalcy.
But, larger scale, here's why big races won't be occurring in 2020. Opening things back up at a local level -- forget about larger scale -- will happen iteratively. Using Boston as the example, let's say the city does materially open back up by September 7th. Raise your hand if you believe a week later that 40,000 runners from around the world and about one million spectators will be allowed to congregate. What we are seeing and hearing is a lot of trying to think out-of-the-box to find a way that an event could happen. I commend the effort, but the execution of the ideas presented just isn't tenable.
So, it's time to relax. Stop focusing on trying to remain race-ready for the magical day the world opens back up. Instead, turn your attention back to the basics and be disciplined enough to shore them up. Challenge yourself to let go of what will almost assuredly be the empty promise of a return to racing national and international events in 2020.
As endurance athletes, we’ve largely lost our way, being fooled by very compelling – and expensive – marketing tactics and strategies. We’ve been tricked into believing that by focusing on the shortcuts we will reach new heights previously deemed unattainable. That we must focus on sharpening the tip of the spear. And, if we don’t, then we will fail at our own peril. Think of building a house. The structure itself can be constructed of all the latest-and-greatest materials and have all the modern efficiencies possible. But, if that house is built without a foundation, then it will fall apart like a house of cards at the first strong wind or storm. For example, if you’re not sleeping enough (foundational), then no superfood or magical supplement is going to provide you with more energy or better performances.
And, here’s another dose of reality. For the vast majority of endurance athletes, focusing on the final 1-2% at any time is immaterial. They don’t matter at all. Unless you are already at the top of the athletic pyramid where 0.5-1% is all that stands between winning and finishing off the podium, then obsessing over the minutia does us little to no good. Rather than spend $1,000 or more on the fastest, most cutting edge wetsuit to shave time off your triathlon swim, choose to work on your stroke technique to gain efficiency and log more time in the pool to increase your endurance. Because then the $300 wetsuit will serve you just fine (really, it will). For the same type of analysis on the bike, you can read another article I wrote on the Cost v Benefit of Aero Equipment.
Now is the perfect time for endurance athletes to shift their focus to the structural foundation of what they do – to the 98-99%. In fact, in our lifetimes there has never been a more perfect time to do so. The more solid your foundation, the more you will be able to build upon it.
The biggest challenge is that we exist in a world of immediate gratification. The gadgets and the hacks and the super secrets of the pros are very attractive because they provide us with the promise of shortcuts. Why train multiple sessions a day and put in many hours of dedicated work every week if instead we are promised the same results in less than half the time? Where the argument of the quick fix falls down is that it assumes or even portends that innovation and creativity occur in the absence of a basic foundation, when in fact it is precisely that foundation which unlocks the power of the innovation. The foundation is prior or existing knowledge; the innovation is a potential iteration of that foundational knowledge. See what I mean?
If your diet is terrible, then the best supplement in the world will only start to make up for the holes in your diet plan. It sure won’t boost your performance. If you heel strike and hunch over like Quasimodo when you run, better to work on your form before you invest in expensive shoes. If you ride an ill-fitting bike, then you must first address your position before you slap on a set of $2,000 race wheels. Yet, we are programmed to do the complete opposite. We look for improvements in all the wrong places. Because the investment of money is so much easier to rationalize than the investment of time.
To be clear, nearly all endurance athletes are not at a point in their progression where worrying about the 1-2% makes any sense. You must first master your craft before you focus on becoming the best-of-the-best. It is in that pursuit of ultimate excellence when focusing on the minutia will yield measurable return. Understand the basics and why they are important. Nail them. Come back to them frequently.
This path is very simple to both find and follow – sleep more; eat whole, real food; train consistently and tick all the energy system boxes. The problem is that the best advice isn’t sexy. It’s not sleek and shiny and full of buzzwords. So, it doesn’t sell.
Which is unfortunate.
I don’t mean physically tired, but rather mentally. Not in a futility sort of way, but rather an “I can’t believe some people can be in such foolish denial” sort of way. Specifically, around our sporting heroes, favorite teams and favorite sports.
There’s a broad spectrum when it comes to belief. On one end, you have a group that is supremely cynical and which might say something like, “Every elite athlete cheats. They’re all on PEDs.” On the other end of the spectrum, you have a group that is so starry-eyed and naïve that it might say something like, “(My favorite team/athlete) is achieving success through so much hard work and wanting it more than the competition. Their system is better.”
Both ends of the spectrum are incorrect. On the spectrum of cheating, from 0% to 100% of athletes being cheaters, the only statistical percentage we know for a fact is not possible is 0%. That said, it is very, very highly improbable that all elite athletes are cheating; we just can’t prove that all are not cheating.
So, why am I mentally tired? Because people are more apt to believe in fairy tales than they are to apply scrutiny. We are inclined to apply a filter of nationalism or tribalism to any scrutiny we do apply to athletes or teams or sports. Rather than taking a step back and looking at a situation objectively, most people apply whichever filters they choose that will result in the narrative which provides them comfort, which allows them to put the performances in question into a neat, tidy box to be filed away and forgotten.
Well, this isn’t how sports works. If we strip away the filters and the biases, and really strive to look at elite sports with an objective eye, the problem is that we won’t like what we see.
The biggest misconception is that athletes are innocent until proven guilty. The problem is that sports is not subject to the same justice system as typical societal crimes. A failed drug test results in a ban for a period of time and sometimes a fine. There are more cases of athletes not failing drug tests yet being doped to the gills than can be counted. There is a growing number of retroactive positives in frozen samples when athletes’ A samples showed up negative, indicating at the time the popped athletes were doping in an at-the-time undetectable manner. There are well-known periods of “glowing” – the window of time during which athletes would test positive because the drugs are still in their system – that athletes and their doctors have mapped out so the athletes’ systems are clean come the time for competition. The actual anti-doping tests are woefully inept at being current and all-encompassing to catch cheats in the first place. Athletes and teams are gaming the anti-doping and TUE systems, exploiting loopholes through which you could drive a semi truck. Even in the case of professional cycling, when athletes release their power data or physiological test results, we see a snapshot in time or a sloppily-performed test protocol that renders the data itself completely and utterly useless. And on and on.
We should put zero credence in passing doping tests. Multiple studies are showing that a far greater percentage of elite level athletes are doping than what people are willing to admit. On the low end, around 45-50% is accepted; on the high end, 65-70%. So, half to two-thirds of elite level athletes in a given sport are very likely cheating. So, tell me how or why we should care about negative drug test results. We should not.
“But where’s your proof? If you don’t have proof, then shut the hell up and crawl back in your hole!” Yep, I’ve been told variations of this many a time. I’ve even been personally disparaged when I suggested Masters athletics is no less dirty than elite level sports. I’ve been told I suck as an athlete and am a whiner because anyone who beats me must be a doper. Nothing could be farther from the truth and this sort of personal attacking also speaks directly to the ignorance of those taking issue with my skepticism. These folks know nothing of my own sporting history or palmares, and they tend to sit on the far end of the “belief spectrum” where unicorns prance and leprechauns shower the rainbow-splashed hills with gold. And that’s OK. Believe what you will. But to personally attack me – aside from me not caring – only weakens a person’s argument. To think that Masters athletes are as clean as the driven snow or that “less than 1% of us cheat” (as one critic fired back at me), demonstrates the tribal lens through which my critics are viewing all this. To be clear, I’m all for healthy debate and open dialogue. The more this type of stuff is discussed – with open minds – the better. But this requires that we take off our tinted lenses and open up our eyes.
The burden of proof lies with the athletes and teams. Full stop. We should not believe athletes who say we should trust them. We should not believe athletes who say they have not failed a drug test or will never fail a drug test. We should not believe athletes who say they have done nothing wrong. If anything, these types of statements require us to apply even more scrutiny and skepticism. We should absolutely look at “alien-like” performances and “once in a lifetime” athletes with a raised eyebrow and shake of the head. Because if it is too good to believe, then we should not believe what we’re seeing.
Why? Because we’ve heard and seen it all before. What many people don’t seem to comprehend is that patterns are proof. History repeats itself and, in the case of cheating in sports, over and over and over again. Cover ups for positive doping tests happen quite literally all the time. Athletes have forever not failed drug tests while absolutely doping. TUE submissions have skyrocketed; it is as if elite-level sports is now the stomping ground of medical invalids. In cycling, the team trains annihilating all comers on mountain stages of the Tour de France during the EPO era have eerily returned. Mountain climbers being able to time trial as well as time trialists, and time trialists being able to hold their own on the climbs is another EPO era redux.
In any sport, we have been told to believe that “clean can beat doped” and that the best in the world are even faster than known dopers who served bans and returned to competition – as if doped athletes rely solely on the PEDs to propel them to victory. One has to look no further than a “Top 10 Times of All-Time” to see how many red lines can be drawn through known cheats. And, when those athletes are stripped out, there are still more who need to be, but we leave them in the “clean results” because they’ve never failed a drug test. We see power numbers in cycling creeping ever closer and even up to the EPO era values. We see NBA players looking like NFL linebackers. We see elite level mid-packers transform into world best performers at an age when their lot in life had already been cast. We see athletes who served multi-year doping bans return to competition, supposedly clean now, and they are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before – yet without the drugs this time. Apparently.
And this is just barely scratching the surface of it all!
There are no new super secret ways to train; there really aren’t. Sports science has not progressed by leaps and bounds. Technological disparities between athletes and teams are non-existent. One athlete’s coach or one team’s R&D and access to doctors is no better than another’s. At the tip of the spear, we look at a fraction of a percentage of difference in physical ability across the top athletes in a given event or position or sport. A coach may direct one athlete to be the world best. Maybe even two. When that coach is directing a cadre of athletes or an entire team to the pinnacle of an event or sport, that is such a huge red flag. Yet, few apply the skepticism. Instead, we label these coaches as “transformative” or “masterminds”. Look at the coaches who are linked to a list of world best athletes and you will be looking at a dodgy system. This is not to say a team cannot be greater than the sum of its parts. However, if the majority of team members are punching above their weight, that’s a surefire red flag.
All of this and much more has occurred over the past multiple decades, so what is the basis for believing all of this is not occurring today? Because omerta is strong and the pundits tell us so? Because athletes tell us their particular sports are cleaner now than ever before? Why? Seriously – WHY? There are ZERO rational answers.
And we haven’t even gotten to the inherent spiderweb of corruption infiltrating top-level sport – from the IOC to the world governing bodies to the national governing bodies to the who-is-connected-to-whom-and-what-protection-does-that-connection-offer, and more.
So, do we just roll over and accept that this is the way of the world? We should not. Blatant cynicism cannot overcome our desire to aspire to clean sport. And, blatant naivete cannot overrule our ability to ask hard questions, pull back the rug and see what’s been swept beneath it. With the media largely acting as coddled, spoiled infants, indeed, it is society’s greater responsibility to apply the proper scrutiny to sport if the desire is for the status quo to change. Because until this occurs, rampant cheating will be the status quo.
The impact of Covid-19 on the world is both interesting and weird. In some respects, it's a universal response; in others, regional variances make it even more challenging to determine when we will start to see light at the end of the tunnel. Athletes are panicking in their training, continuing with race-specific work in a time of complete uncertainty. The return to racing is unknown, as is exactly how it will be ramped back in. Now is the time to take a step back, relax the reins a little bit, and find as much enjoyment as we can.
With the vast majority of working out now being conducted indoors, I’ve been getting quite a few questions about riding indoors vs outdoors, and how to adjust power zones in order to more accurately track the effectiveness of the given workout. Should you adjust your indoor power up, or down, or not at all? This is a great question! Hopefully I will be able to shed some light on this for you so that you have more confidence in the workouts you are completing indoors and carry that confidence back outside to both training and racing when we are able to do so with gusto.
Depending on the type of trainer you ride – dumb vs smart, wheel off vs wheel on, as well as which brand of any trainer type – you will find that either your wattage is higher or lower indoors vs outdoors (there isn’t even a “rule” one way or the other). And in the case of smart trainers, you will probably even find a discrepancy between how it calculates wattage output vs your power meter. With myriad variables, it is not only be confusing, but downright frustrating.
The punchline here is that your power training zones, regardless of how you create them, are almost assuredly different when riding indoors. For example, when I first got my Wahoo KICKR smart trainer, I was using a crank-based power meter. The power meter was registering 20-25w lower than my KICKR in Erg mode. And, when riding in Zwift, the discrepancy oscillated between 10-30w difference. And, there is even a difference between Zwift, Kinomap and FulGaz, at least in my experience. Couple this with the fact that the resistance of riding indoors also seems greater. It’s as if the inherent forward momentum created when riding outside is nearly (or completely) non-existent indoors.
Here's a few pointers for you to help with all this.
Rear Wheel On Trainers
This is the most common type of trainer. It is also the most challenging to dial in compared to outdoor riding. Riding on the road, you apply force to the pedals generally from about noon to 5 o’clock. The bottom and back of the pedal stroke, the legs don’t create any meaningful force because of how the body is oriented to the cranks (look no further than BMX racers who can apply as much power to the pedals as the best World Tour pros, yet they're not clipped in to the pedals). So, there’s a little built in rest for the legs with every pedal stroke. Not so, indoors.
On a rear wheel on trainer, the only momentum of the rear wheel is that which is created while you are pedaling. When you stop pedaling, the rear wheel comes to a stop pretty quickly. Because this type of resistance is applied to the entire pedal stroke, your legs are tasked all the more with every pedal stroke. Thus, your cardiovascular system is tasked more greatly when riding indoors than outside. Your HR climbs more quickly and your legs crater more quickly – during intervals and during complete workouts. This greatly impacts your ability not only to produce watts but also ride for a long time. 90-120min indoors can be both a soul- and leg-crushing experience.
The ”good news” is that the more you ride indoors, the more your body will adapt and a large discrepancy in wattage will reduce over time, even if it never completely levels out.
Wheel Off Direct Drive
Wheel off trainers like the Wahoo KICKR overcome the dynamic resistance issues of the wheel on trainers. By taking the rear wheel off, and increasing both the size and weight of the flywheel, wheel off (or direct drive) trainers better simulate the type of momentum you gain when riding outside. And, wheel off trainers also create a smoother, more realistic “road feel”.
Now, how the direct drive trainer interprets force and measures watts is still not perfect. Like my own example above, where my power meter actually reported lower output, some athletes I train talk about the discrepancy going in the other direction, where the KICKR records lower wattage than their own power meters. It would appear that how and where the power meter measures your wattage – crank arm, crank, pedals, rear wheel – as well as the specific brand, will impact the indoor vs outdoor relativity as well.
Various spin bikes will calculate power. Stages has come out with a spin bike that uses the same technology on the crank arm of the spin bike just like on a road bike. Arguably, this could produce a very similar power output when comparing a Stages spin bike to riding a Stages-equipped road bike outside. However, spin bikes increase resistance by applying a brake to the flywheel. This creates the similar challenge as with wheel on trainers in that resistance is applied during the entire pedal stroke rather than just when you’re able to apply force between noon and 5 o’clock. Yes, the spin bike’s larger fly wheel does create more momentum than the small flywheel on the back of your trainer, but this only mitigates the issue of constant force to a degree, not fully.
You hear about how important it is to calibrate your indoor trainer at the beginning of every single ride. In my experience, this is a bit of an exaggeration. The logic follows that the flywheels heat up and, thus, calibrating 20 minutes into a ride can alter the calculation of watts and could result in more accurate output. However, I have found that whether or not I calibrate my KICKR after completing a full warm-up, the discrepancy to outdoor riding and my power meter is still really big and really isn’t that different in any case. So, whether or not I calibrate my KICKR, the output will never come into line with my power meter and rarely changes more than a couple watts; calibrating it creates a negligible difference compared to non-calibration. So, I don’t bother with calibration one ride to the next.
Now, if I decide to test and re-test my training zones indoors rather than outside, I would calibrate the unit after warming up and do so before every test in order to ensure as consistent of results as possible one test to the next.
Other Variables to Consider
1. A Fixed Position
Being fixed into one position without the ability to move the bicycle or move your body as much as you might outside causes you to use more isolated muscles and create fatigue all the more quickly. When riding outdoors, we are constantly shifting our body on the bicycle which allows us to recruit some of our upper body to help the core and legs to produce power. This also gives some muscles a rest, helping them to recover and produce more power. Losing the ability to effectively wobble the bike back and forth reduces the ability to produce peak power. When athletes I coach are sprinting indoors, I tell them to ignore wattages as they just aren’t representative of what can be done outdoors. If the effort is there, call it good.
When riding at tempo to VO2max, more strain is applied to the working muscles, especially some that are rarely leveraged outdoors, such as those of the inner thigh (adductors). It is not uncommon for the adductors, quads or hamstrings – or all of them – to crater and even cramp up toward the end of a challenging workout. Be careful!
Temperature plays a significant role in the ability to produce wattage when riding indoors, so staying cool is critical. Heat is a byproduct of effort, and without the cooling wind we experience when riding outside, overheating becomes a real challenge. The hotter you get, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the thicker your blood gets and the harder your heart has to work to pump that thickening blood to the working muscles. If you’ve heard the term “cardiac drift”, this is what is occurring. A rising core temperature coupled with exacerbated dehydrating from excessive sweating will do two things: 1) cause your HR to continue to rise; and 2) cause your wattage to drop.
Get a powerful fan blowing on you to provide some cooling. You can also set your trainer up in the garage where the temperature tends to be lower than in the house, or set it up by a window that you can open to allow cooler air to flow over you to complement the blowing fan.
3. Get Mental
The mind is very powerful, so don’t underestimate its ability to impact your workout – positively or negatively. Riding in a cellar staring at a concrete wall is not nearly as stimulating as riding outside with nice scenery. Nor will it ever be. Watching movies or race videos helps keep you stimulated and pass the time. Virtual worlds are also quite a bit of fun. And what I like about them is that if you have a smart trainer, they dynamically alter the resistance of the ride based on the terrain you’re covering, forcing you to constantly shift and alter your cadence and riding style to match the virtual topography. This increases the “outdoor feel” of the ride in a way that you simply cannot replicate on a “dumb” trainer.
Adjust Your Zones?
So, should you adjust your power zones when riding indoors? I don’t think there is a clear cut answer, quite frankly. I think if you say “yes”, then you open yourself up to the slippery slope of interpretation, which gets messy quickly. My suggestion is to understand the correlation between riding outdoors and riding indoors, and then keep both numbers in mind as you complete both your outdoor and indoor workouts. Remember, our goal is to shoot for certain training zones – in other words, there are no absolutes. So, if I have a 20-25w discrepancy between my power meter and my KICKR, then I can allow a delta of 15-30w and know with confidence that my indoor workout is very close to what I would accomplish doing a similar workout outside.
And don’t forget, HR is the ultimate governor. You need to know what your HR zone is for a particular type of workout and that will help you more accurately define your indoor power zones compared to your outdoor zones.
When you look at all these variables, you realize that even if all of them have small impacts on wattage (up or down) that adding just a few of them together magnify the discrepancy you’re experiencing. You can either be aware of the discrepancy and account for it in your head by ensuring your HR is where you need it to be, or you can deliberately create and recalculate indoor power training zones. There’s no right or wrong answer. It all depends on how much hand-wringing this all causes you. I will admit, when I was younger, I would have wrung my hands raw over this sort of thing. Today, not so much. I know what a particular type of workout is meant to feel like and if I complete an indoor ride feeling the way I should, then job well done.
In conclusion, there is a much greater chance that outdoor vs indoor watts will be different than similar. If you train exclusively outdoors (for example, if you live in a perpetually warm part of the world) or always indoors (for example, if you live in the heart of a busy city and, therefore, riding outside is neither safe nor practical), this isn’t a challenge for you. However, most athletes have been forced indoors during this challenging time. We put a lot of time and energy into our training so the last thing we want is to emerge from our pain caves only to realize we are not as fit or prepared as we thought because we were tracking to the wrong numbers for several months.
If you are able to create a mix of outdoor and indoor riding through these months, then cut yourself some slack. Be aware of the differences in power outputs and account for them in your various rides. If it is uber important for your indoor zones to be spot on accurate, then you need to complete a separate indoor-specific test. It is really up to you and your tolerance for “fudge factor”.
Covid-19 has impacted most of the world, some countries, people and families more so than others. What is clear is that what each of us defines as normalcy is being either slowly chipped away at the least, or nearly completely taken away. During these times, athletes are largely forced to move the majority of their training indoors. And, for triathletes and swimmers, no pool time is problematic -- unless you happen to own a flume or can bungee yourself to the wall of a small home pool not fit for lap swimming.
The goal of this post is not to recommend how you adjust your indoor training to deal with the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) and any TBD return to racing. What this post is meant to do is to offer some effective and simple (not easy) indoor bodyweight strength options so that you can either continue to make strength gains or maintain the strength already gained, rather than watch all your hard work slowly erode because you're not sure what to do. Also, this is meant for those who do not have home gym equipment.
Each of these examples will take roughly 30 minutes, largely dependent on how much rest you take between exercises and how smoothly you're able to transition from one exercise to the next. The beauty is that as long as you have enough room for, say, a couple yoga mats then you've got plenty of room to do these workouts.
1) 50 Step-Ups (I use a bar stool for height), alternate legs (25 ea leg)
2) Superset: 3 x 10-15reps -- complete a & b, then rest 30-45sec
a. slow-n-pause squats (lower for 4-6sec, hold at bottom for 2sec, come up)
b. slow push-ups (lower for 4-6sec, press back up; do on knees or elevate hands on a stair if necessary to complete the reps)
3) Handcuffs: 2-3 x 10-15reps with 45-60sec rest (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXzlIQ6Jgq4). The slower you move, the tougher it is!
4) Superset: 2 sets of 10-12reps -- complete a & b, then rest for 30-45sec
a. double-pump front lunges (lunge forward, come halfway up, go back down, return to start)
b. slow chin-ups (under your dining table, grip the edge underhanded and pull your chest up as close to the edge as you can, then lower back down. Keep body a rigid plank as you lift/lower)
5) 100 elevated push-ups for time -- use a sturdy coffee table or the 2nd/3rd step on a staircase. Complete as many reps as you can between breaks. Keep breaks and their duration to a minimum. This one will burn a lot! On the 100th rep, lower yourself for a count of 10. Ouch!
1) 100 Step-ups (barstool if you have one)
2) Tiger push-ups: 3 sets to failure, rest 45-60sec between (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mocsmPyHBn8). If you cannot do these, then regular push-ups are just fine!
3) Superset: 3 sets of 20; complete a & b, then rest 45-60sec
a. full squats
b. side lunges (10 to each side, alternating)
4) Superset: 3 sets of 10-15reps, lower for 4sec, come up regular speed; complete a & b, then rest for 45-60sec
a. chin-ups (under the dining table)
b. reverse dips (use 2 chairs of equal height. Put your heels on one and your palms directly behind your hips on the other. Your back should skim the chair behind you to know the chairs are the right distance apart. Try to keep the elbows in rather than let them splay out)
5) Superset: 3 sets of 15-20reps; keep moving
a. standing calf raises; lower for 2-4sec and don't let the heels touch the ground
b. your favorite abs exercise
1) 3 Rounds of the following for warm-up; 1min rest between rounds:
- 10 Burpees, including one push-up
- 10 Push-ups
- 20 Bodyweight lunges (10 each leg, alternate)
extra 1-2min rest before the next circuit
2) 10 rounds of 20sec on - 10sec off:
- Push-ups (on knees OK to keep velocity up)
- Bicycle kick abs, alternating elbow to opposite knee
- Bodyweight squats
Goal is to complete as many reps as possible in the 20sec, then recover for the 10sec. One round is completing each exercise sequentially (so, do not do 10 rounds of push-up and then move to the bicycle kicks). No additional rest; keep it going!
1) 3 Rounds of the following for warm-up; 1min rest between rounds:
- 10 Push-ups
- 20 Bodyweight squats
extra 1-2min rest before the next circuit
2) 3 sets:
- 10 x Burpees w/ 3 Push-ups
- 10-15 x Bicep Curls (weighted tote bag full of books or filled water bottles, if no dumbbells); slow movement up and down
- 1min rest
3) 3 sets:
- 12 x Reverse Dips
- 30 x Bicycle kicks
- 20 Weighted Squats + Shoulder Press (use the full tote bags, holding them up at shoulder height by the straps. Squat down, come up and then press overhead. Lower. That's 1 rep)
- 1min rest
If you need to take a few seconds rest within a set in order to complete the full reps, that's fine!
Keep mini-breaks as short and infrequent as possible.
1) 3 Rounds of the following for warm-up; 1min rest between rounds:
- 25 Jumping jacks
- 10 Push-ups
- 20 Bodyweight lunges (10 each leg, alternate)
extra 1-2min rest before the next circuit
2) 16min AMRAP (as many rounds as possible):
- 10 Burpees w/3 Push-ups
- 20 Lunges (10 each leg, alternating) with heavy tote bags
- 20 Bicep Curls (with heavy tote bags -- either hold one with both hands or one per hand, depending on how much weight you can hold)
- 20 Situps
Rest only when required and keep it to a minimum; get the HR up and keep it up!
These are just several examples. You can mix-and-match exercises, get creative with alternatives, and adapt to what you have available in your own home. The tote bags full of weight are an effective homemade dumbbell/kettlebell as well. You can certainly wear the tote bag (or backpack) during squats and lunges, and even for push-ups to increase the difficulty.
Here's what is key. For any type of strength workout -- at home or at the gym -- to be effective, it is important to stress the muscles to near-failure. Meaning stopping 1-2 reps short of complete failure. Complete failure is fine some of the time, but if you strive for complete failure every set of every workout, then your body will ultimately not be able to properly recover which can open you up to injury. As an example, the 100 push-ups for time can be done to near-failure between short breaks, and then complete failure on the 100th rep. If you're not "feeling the burn" then you're not lifting heavy/hard enough.
A final way to mix things up is to complete one of these, and then jump on the treadmill or bike trainer for another 20-30 minutes. Rather than use the cardio as the warm-up, by doing it after the strength training, you will get more out of the cardio workout and the body will be forced to further adapt. You can also add, for example, 10-12 x 30sec hard - 1min easy to add further intensity to the double workout.
In any case, hopefully you will give these a try and will find them an effective stop-gap while we anticipate the ability to return to our previous training and racing regimens.
Until then, stay safe and healthy.
Anti-doping is in an untenable situation. Despite its utopian roots to return Sport to the purity of “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” it is precisely this Olympic motto which has bastardized the global clean sport movement into its current, toothless and corrupted state. Indeed, look no further than the intent of the modern Olympiad -- to politicize sports into a means of proving nationalistic superiority on the world stage -- and the path to corruption, cheating and the erosion of the moral high ground quickly becomes not only evident, but inescapable.
Don’t believe me? Then, here is just one example. The Games are designed to shine a spotlight of glory upon the host nation. This provides the host nation with a world stage on which its government can promote its national goals. The politics lying behind each Olympiad are overt. Sport is the veil, the styled green curtain from ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ behind which nationalism and geopolitics not only promote submission, but also nefarious compliance.
Pierre de Coubertin founded the Olympic movement on a doctrine of ‘universalism’, defined as ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’ Really? This is the basis of the Games? Then explain to me how during tenuous and sensitive times in the world’s history, the likes of Nazi Germany, Russia and China have been chosen to host the Olympic Games? What geopolitical machinations exist to allow this to occur over and over again? And, one must think that even the athletes, with the nationalistic pageantry of standing on the podium in their nations’ colors while hearing and singing national anthems that politics, not Sport, dominates the Olympic Games.
Back to Sport. So, this all begs another question: Why does anyone think that clean sport exists? Indeed, when the accepted rate of cheating at elite-level Sport is 50-70%, and the catch rate hovers around 1%, then we can only surmise two things. First, that anti-doping in its current state does not work; and, second, that there is near-zero incentive to fix the broken machine. Afterall, what would be the incentive to promote clean sport and weed out the majority of the cheats?
The Olympics drive everything. If you think of a spiderweb, the Olympics and the IOC are the epicenter of the web. The various world sports governing bodies -- FIFA, FINA, UCI, ITU, IAAF and so on -- are connection points one ring out from the center; the various national governing sports bodies are connection points the next ring out; then comes WADA; then comes the NADOs; and so on and so on, further radiating out.
It’s a nuclear bomb of deceit.
Look again at the Olympic motto -- “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” This is what the general public wants to see out on the sporting field of battle.
Imagine what would happen if the next Olympiad were run with 100% clean athletes? We would see zero world records. Zero Olympic records. Zero national records. Yes, the competition would be exciting. But, the spectacle would be gone. The popularity of the Olympics has already fallen off the cliff. Countries used to fight for a seat at the table in order to host the Games; now, hosting an Olympiad is akin to Kryptonite.
The cleanliness of Sport and the efficacy of global anti-doping have earned -- and demand -- healthy skepticism. This is not to be confused with cynicism -- that all athletes are cheats and that no one in the anti-doping establishment wants to make a difference. Neither of these stances is true. However, the only thing we can know is false with certainty is the notion that 100% of athletes are competing clean. The reality is far, far from it. The situation of those in anti-doping has to be similar to politicians who have that twinkle in their eyes about how they are going to change the world, only to be suffocated into an inability to affect any meaningful change as their nation’s political machine grinds them to dust.
The athletes are squarely part of the problem. For myriad reasons they serve up excuses dressed up as justifiable stances for the decisions they make. Because it is a fresh topic, look no further than the athletes speaking with forked tongues about the whole Alberto Salazar/NOP/Nike debacle. In one moment, they are raising their pitchforks and torches against the sporting giant and vocally eviscerating the whole lot for the abusive treatment of its female athletes. Yet, in the next moment, these same athletes are writing blogs justifying their new Vaporfly purchase by questioning why they would give up a known competitive advantage to others, and female athletes both talking about their favorite Nike shoe models and posting photos on social media of themselves in their Vaporflys. Pathetically nauseating.
They will tell you that to not run in Vaporflys is to put themselves at a distinct disadvantage. They will wag the shame finger at Nike, yet still happily take the company’s money and continue to compete for the Swoosh. They will applaud that Mark Parker has stepped down from being CEO, yet never mention the hypocrisy that he is now in an even more powerful position at Nike as the Chairman of the Board.
No. Sport does nothing if it does not reward a win-at-all-costs attitude.
Back to the athletes and their being part of the problem. They continue to serve up bullshit like “I’ve been tested every day of the week. Twice on Sundays! I’ve never tested positive.” Remember the catch rate outlined above? Remember all the times we have heard this line from athletes only for them to get caught or ultimately confess to their serial wrongdoing during their entire careers? Any and all iterations of ‘always tested’ and ‘never tested positive’ should be the first red flags for any athlete using these as evidence that they compete(d) clean.
What typically comes next is some number of athletes, in the spirit of ‘full transparency,’ will share their IC and OOC testing data. Sincerely, I hope more athletes will do this. Here’s why. While in no way does sharing test data prove innocence or cleanliness, it absolutely shines a spotlight on the massive holes in global anti-doping. Whether it be the paltry number of tests, the multi-month gaping holes in testing through which you could drive a truck full of PEDs, or the multitude of suspect locations where athletes live and train. Don’t tell us you’re clean when in a handful of seconds we can rationalize precisely how you can subvert the anti-doping system with a doping free-for-all.
Which leads to the next problem with athletes -- the excuses. We hear “I’m not sure what else I can do besides show my test results to prove I’m clean.” Or, here’s my favorite: “Where’s your evidence I’m cheating, huh?” Or, “(Such-n-such questionable coach) only holds a stopwatch for me; I’m OK with that.” I mean, the list of deflection tactics is staggering. And, that list serves only to absolve athletes of responsibility. Patterns are proof. The informed know what cheating looks like and, given the odds, can spot a cheating athlete the vast majority of the time. So, rather than serve up excuses, why aren’t athletes coming together and taking a collective “We’re not standing for this anymore!” approach? Instead, they say, “It’s not my problem. Someone else needs to fix it. Until then, I’m gaming the fuck outta the system.”
If athletes wanted to truly promote transparency and visibility, they would think out of the box. They would hire an independent lab to test them every day and publish a running log of test data. This would include all blood markers, not just the PED screens. They would never live or train in a suspect region of the world, either because it is financially unreasonable for testers to get to that location or because that location has a well worn history with being a doping hotbed. They would cut ties with anyone who has a shady or questionable reputation. They would call out those whom they know or suspect of cheating while they themselves are still competing rather than waiting until they’ve retired to then say that anti-doping efforts in their sport need to improve. They would boycott Olympics hosted in nations with abhorrent human rights practices. They would refuse sponsor money from these same nations. The list goes on and on.
Yet, almost unanimously, they do not. We get a soundbite followed by a shoulder shrug. But, we are to believe these same athletes compete clean. The moral compass of the self-serving athlete points True North only so far before it veers sharply away. And we are told that it is OK; that this is the way of things in the world of Sport. Likewise, cheating knows no boundaries -- not culture, not color, not sex or gender, not national borders, not any given sport. It is critical to strip away the lens of blind nationalism through which so many view Sport. Every nation has its cheaters. Every nation has its form of state-sponsored doping. Believe it.
All hope is not lost. The general public is more informed and vocal about all the ‘sport is cleaner than ever’ whitewashing shenanigans. Whistleblowers continue to come forth, some under the threat of death. Some admirable grassroots pushback is also gaining a head of steam. It is still an exercise of pushing rope uphill, and without a commensurate and complementary top-down effort -- radiating out from the center of the spiderweb -- nothing will ever change. Not ever. Because the incentive to affect this change has never existed. There’s no reason to believe the incentive will ever exist.
What is clear is that the current system will never functionally change anything. What is required is a completely new anti-doping force. It’s not even a rebuilding of the current system. The current system needs to be thrown out in totality, the baby with the bathwater. Start anew with a blank sheet of paper. Fund it properly. Place strict liability where it belongs -- on the athletes -- and not just in word but in actual practice. Staff this new entity with fresh faces with fresh ideas who are free from any sport’s politically-driven machine. Remove any tolerance for any corruption or conflict of interest.
It is a case of the tail (the propaganda that we are winning the battle for clean sport) wagging the dog. In reality, with the current sporting model, clean sport is an unreachable idealism. If you truly believe Sport is cleaner than ever because the global anti-doping system is working, then here’s my advice: Pull. Your. Head. Out. Of. Your. Ass.
Take a step back and you quickly see this is a systemic problem of global proportion. Until this occurs, indeed nothing will change. The current ant-doping model is an aircraft carrier, yet clean sport proponents are bringing bows and arrows to the fight. Right now, clean sport is sadly a no-win situation.
Getting older. It happens to even the best of us. Some people age gracefully while others do not. Some see age as just a number while others feel that hitting 70 or 50 or even 30 signals Armageddon. Some bodies are built to last while others start to bend and eventually break. Aging is inevitable, but does it have to suck?
I celebrated my 51st birthday at the beginning of the month. In the past few weeks, in a handful of casual conversations, people have stated I look a good decade-plus younger; one person even said early-30s. “You’ve got great genes!” type comments. It is flattering and nice to hear, but not important to me. Yet, my interest became piqued. After the last compliment, when I got home I went and looked in the mirror. My assessment was a shoulder shrug: “This is what 51 looks like.” If it’s not, I’m not sure what it is supposed to look like, other than apparently a lot worse given the recent comments.
Sure, great genes can play a part. But, only to a narrow degree. The USA is enough of a genetic melting pot so that the ‘aging benefits’ of any particular racial background is largely muted. That said, I’ll embrace my Spanish heritage happily.
I sat with this for a bit. Why do people of all age brackets do a double-take when they hear my age? There are plenty of folks who take care of themselves and age well. Is it really that unique? I did not think it was; maybe it is.
So, I started thinking about what I’m doing that may be different that what others are doing. I also thought back through my own athletic career and recalled athletes who surrounded me. While we all looked super fit, especially in triathlon people looked weathered and like beaten leather. It’s not just down to sun exposure. I grew up swimming year round and in summer it was outdoors for 4 hours a day, 6 days a week. As a teenager, between workouts was a full day lifeguarding in the sun with no sunscreen. If anyone should look like beaten leather, it’s me!
What else? Nutrition? Well, I’ve never been a beacon of super healthful eating. As a swimmer growing up and through college, it was ‘see food and eat it.’ And, then eat even more of it. And then more again. It was definitely all about caloric consumption. As a triathlete, similarly. Now, while I’m more cognizant of what I eat, there’s no rigidity, there’s no diet. It’s still just ‘food is fuel’ and eat the right amount. And, have a daily drink and dessert. There’s always room for dessert!
So, what else? So far I’m not breaking any new ground or following any super secret rituals. The Fountain of Youth does not run through my idyllic back yard (I don’t even have a back yard). I started to think about work. Here, I start hitting on something. That being, when I started a corporate career about 20 years ago, I drew some fairly hard lines in the sand. I would never take a job that compromised my ability to work out. I would not travel for work more than 20-25% of the time (and typically achieved 10%). I would not work for a micro-managing boss. I would not work for a company that put profits ahead of employee well-being. I would not work for a company that did not provide adequate family benefits. I have seen too many corporate professionals who look terrible. They are physical and, in a growing number of cases, emotional wrecks. Work is the top priority in many of these folks’ lives. Living on the road is a tough bargain. It’s a deal made with the Devil. You’re not in familiar surroundings. Sleep suffers. You’re not eating as well and you’re eating more; you’re almost certainly drinking more. Stress is higher. It’s easier to get sick. My steadfastness at not compromising on my work conditions has most definitely shielded me from negative impacts on my well-being.
What else? Emotional health. I’ve been married for over a quarter-century. My spouse is my bedrock. She is my bulls-eye in Life. Our kids are not. My siblings and parents are not. My friends are not. Lori is. Here’s why. Our relationship as a couple has been our top priority. We raised our kids and are now empty nesters. Kids come into this world, grow up, and leave. When we were no longer kids, we left our own nests, right? I have seen so many couples around us get divorced because, at the end of the day, they sat across the table from each other and had nothing to talk about. They ignored being best friends and a couple as they focused everything on being parents and work. Lori and I didn’t. And I feel more in-love with her now than I did when we got married. Really. Along with this, we have lived by two very simple rules: (1) do not say anything you cannot take back; and (2) do not go to bed angry. Simple in concept, challenging to execute. Yet, we have never strayed. Not once. We’ve had disagreements, sure. But, I can’t recall the last time we had a fight. I really can’t. Holding on to negativity and letting it fester inside leads to apathy. No one benefits from this. Remembering why it is we fell in-love in the beginning and cherishing each other every day has had a profound effect on Life. When my relationship with Lori is humming along, everything else hums along. It all resonates. If Lori and I are a bit out of joint, that dissonance flows through other aspects of Life. Harmony breeds harmony. The two things I look forward to are morning coffee with Lori and an evening drink as we unwind before thinking about dinner. Every single day.
So, maybe these last two things are the real keys to retaining youth as we age. ‘Take care of yourself’ is too simplistic, too superficial. When we hit 50 (or thereabouts), we start bearing the scars of the first half of our lives. The more deeply they run, the more pronounced they reveal themselves on our faces and in our bodies. It is inevitable. Writing this has forced me to reflect on my Life. At dinner last night with three couples who are our dearest friends, we talked about things we may have done differently or that we regret from our earlier adulthood. I have very few regrets and none which can be classified as major which would have then had a profound impact on me. This is not to say I did everything perfectly. Far from it. Plenty of lessons were learned. But, regrets? No.
I look around at my Life today and one word comes to mind: contentedness. Every decision, every bend in the road, led me to where I sit today. And has impacted how I look, how I move and how I feel. Again, I’m not unique. Nor are my philosophies. I will concede they appear to be rarer than I figured they must be. For every decade-plus marriage, there are several which never make it that long. For every fit individual, there are a couple who are obese and one who is morbidly so. For every 40+ athlete hammering it, there are a handful who are breaking down and falling apart or deciding they’ve had enough and stop moving.
Hopefully each of you reading this can find some nugget to take from it. I sure don’t have all the answers. The above encapsulates my thoughts on Life, decisions I’ve made and why I think my 50s are going to define my best decade yet. And, if in 10 years people think I look closer to 40 than to 60, well, that will be icing on the cake.