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.
There's been a lot said about Alberto Salazar, the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) and Nike lately. We've seen a groundswell of opportunity to affect change. But, will we? While disheartening, it has been encouraging to hear so many athletes speaking out. Yet, we risk apathy overtaking action, that everyone will simply move on.
A lot of shenanigans in the world of anti-doping have occurred recently, including a big bomb about Alberto Salazar and his precious NOP (Nike Oregon Project). Tune in to hear it all distilled down and to draw your own conclusions.
There's a guy at the gym where I lift, who prepares to squat by doing about five minutes of static stretches covering all aspects of his posterior chain. While his head might be in the right place -- attempting to limber up before doing his heavy squats -- precisely how he is stretching pre-lift is misguided.
Growing up as a competitive swimmer, being more flexible was drilled into us. We would spend a good 15-20 minutes limbering up before every practice. The thought at the time was two-fold: 1) being more flexible reduced the risk of joint injury; and 2) increased flexibility helped us swim faster. In college, I would keep this practice alive by heading down to the pool a solid 30 minutes ahead of time and take myself through a pre-workout stretching routine.
The jury still seems to be out on whether or not stretching enhances performance. Part of this is due to the various types of stretching – static, dynamic, ballistic … you name it. Part of this is also due to people not knowing how to properly stretch or which stretches will elicit the best results. Despite the simplicity of the act of stretching, there is a bit of confusion around it.
I’m not here to advocate for or against stretching. Largely, athletes know whether or not the act of stretching makes them feel better or not day-to-day. Personally, I like stretching. I go through a short 10-minute routine as I wind down for the night. Going through a series of static stretches – ones that I hold for 20-30 seconds each, is a perfect way to relax the muscles and transition into my bedtime routine. And, during a strength session at the gym, a few seconds of ballistic movements pre-lift at least feels like it activates the muscles about to be engaged.
If you do choose to stretch, there are definitely some “do’s and don’t’s” to which you should adhere. For example, static stretching should not be done during a workout or prior to a competition. Studies show that holding a pose for an extended period of time fatigues the muscles and inhibits proper neuron firing. The punchline of this is that fatigued muscles do not perform optimally. And, if you stretch after your warm-up and before your main set, you open yourself up to potential injury (especially in the case of something like a track workout in running). If you feel the need to do some sort of stretching during workouts or before competition, resort to ballistic stretching. Ballistic stretching is when you hold a position for just a couple seconds or less. A classic ballistic stretch is one that swimmers do, when they cross their arms in front of their chests and then arc them behind their backs and clap their hands together before swinging them back to the front and then back again, over and over. With ballistic stretching, you are effectively taking a muscle through its full range and back to the starting position, quickly but in control and multiple times in a row. Ballistic stretching awakens the muscles and prepares them for the rigors ahead. That said, ballistic stretching isn’t the best form of stretching for winding down at the end of the day; static stretching is.
Dynamic stretching can be thought of as yoga or similar practice. Think of it more as a workout in-and-of-itself. Dynamic stretching can have great benefit and complement your primary sport. It can increase balance and core strength, and help reduce fatigue in the latter stages of a race because your body is providing you with the structure and support you need to continue pressing your effort.
Probably the greatest benefit of stretching is that you’re moving the body in non-linear ways. The majority of sports we do typically operate in one plane and force us to move linearly. By moving the body in other directions, we better open it up and ensure we are flexible beyond the range of motion required for our preferred sports. In the end, this is the key and probably answers the question as to whether or not you should consider stretching a valuable addition to your day-to-day routine. That is, are you flexible beyond your required range of motion? If you are, then stretching may not hold any benefit for you other than helping you “work out the kinks.” If added flexibility is needed, then stretching is a great way to create that additional range of motion.
The 70.3 Worlds just occurred. If your race did not go as planned or projected, compare what you did in your final prep to this suggestion; maybe you will find a different approach which could yield different results. We also have some big season-ending Ironman races -- the World Champs in Kona, IMFL and others. For those still awaiting the big day, hopefully you will find this insightful.
The easiest part about training for a key race is the training. The closer athletes get to the big day, the more jittery they become and the more questions arise as to how to ensure they get to the start line feeling fresh, sharp and ready to tear into the race. Athletes swear they can feel their fitness melting away during a recovery day or a complete rest day. When during high-volume training they were excited about some R&R, during taper time that same R&R freaks them out.
What’s challenging to remember – but, also critical to remember – is that all the hard work has been done. Before you even start tapering, you’re ready to tackle the distance. You’ve logged the endless miles and you’re super fit. The taper is about adding some freshness, some spring to your step, so that you can cover the distance even faster because you have less fatigue (not less fitness) built up in the muscles. Instead of partly drained, your battery will be fully charged.
So, here is a blueprint for the final 10 days of training heading into your key long-distance triathlon event. If you need to rejigger a couple of days, go ahead. The point is that this provides you with a nice mix and balance of S/B/R, providing enough stimulus to keep the body humming without allowing it to start hibernating, so you hit the start line feeling ready to go rather than sluggish. You can also set your mind at ease and not fret about whether you’re doing too much or too little – this approach will be just right.
I find this approach to be of particular value to Masters athletes, who tend to have fuller lives and more stressors than their younger counterparts. With kids of various ages, higher stress jobs and typically more financial responsibilities, it is easy to let mental and emotional stressors overflow and drown out the added energy from reducing the physical stress during taper time. Following this plan will at least allow Masters athletes to combat the potential for heightened mental and emotional duress, which can be more fatiguing than a hard day of training.
Final 10 days heading into an Ironman or Ironman 70.3
10 - swim 45min, include 500-1,000 of race-specific pace work, broken into 50s-100s
9 - run 30min with the middle 20 being steady, strong L2. No higher. Swim 20min easy and relaxed, emphasizing some kicking
8 - bike 2-3 hours. Include 2-3x30min efforts at or slightly faster than race day pace. For example, if your goal is to hold 20mph average, then shoot for 20.5-21mph here (but not 23-24). Simulate the race course as closely as you can
7 - swim 40min, mainly relaxed L1-L2 working on form. Can include 8x50 L3 with 10-15sec rest before cooling down
6- run 30min relaxed L1 with 4-5x10sec strides w/1:20 easy jog between
5 - bike 75-90min, middle 50-60min done as 8min L2/2min L3; last of the tuning up
4 - swim 20min easy and relaxed; run 20-30min easy and relaxed with 4-5x10sec strides w/1:20 easy jog between
3 - bike 60min mainly L2. Keep the aerobic engine tuned but avoid pressing the effort. Settle in
2 - pool swim 20-30min relaxed, to limber up, rejuvenate and burn some nervous energy
1 - Race!
There you have it. The critical component of the taper is having full confidence in your final approach and not questioning or second-guessing the final 1-2 weeks of preparation. Affirm that you are fit, that you are indeed sharpening your sword, and that when the gun finally goes off you will be flying through the race course.
Math is a funny thing.
Math is true. It is immutable. 2+2=4 and forever will.
Math is timeless. It is identical today as it was in the past; and it will be identical into the future.
Math is testable and repeatable. And, in this, we find understanding, comprehension and comfort. Our understanding and comprehension also extends to some of the less rigid aspects of math. As stated above 2+2=4. This is rigid. However, while also true, saying a three-digit number is greater than a 2-digit number is a general statement accepted as true. We still find comfort here, because we are provided with a nice, neat little package of data.
We accept mathematical terms for what they mean and what they define. We trust it.
Where we run into problems is when we mistake probability for fact. Or, more precisely, when we mistake probability for lack of fact. Take the cliché of a room full of law students and the teacher saying, “Look to your left, look to your right. One of you won’t be here next year.” While not a mathematical fact, the probability of this being true is based on historical statistics which render it true. While the law students may not find comfort in this prediction, they would find it difficult to argue against its accuracy.
The same can be said about cheating in Sport. We know, for a fact, that cheating occurs. We also know, for a fact, that the percentage of athletes who cheat is greater than the percentage which gets caught through OOC and IC doping tests. While we may not find comfort in these facts, we do find enough comfort to not dispute these facts.
Where things start to get murky is at the intersection of science (the testing), culture (the acceptance of doping and athletes who dope by each society), and morality (each athlete’s resistance to the temptation to cheat, or lack thereof). When we layer nationalism on top of this – “the pesky Russians are cheaters, but athletes from MY country would never cheat” – then we are set up for an emotionally-fueled argument which lacks reason on both ends of the pendulum swing.
On one end, we have those who say, “All elite athletes cheat.” On the other end, we have those who say, “Unless an athlete fails an anti-doping test, then he/she is clean.” While the concept of cheating is necessarily black-and-white – you either cheat or you don’t – neither of these stances is valid and neither holds any water. Statistically speaking, we know, for a fact, that stating an athlete is clean and should be believed if he/she has not failed a test, is an untenable position to take. With it being largely accepted that up to two-thirds of all athletes cheat, the pool of clean athletes is indeed very small. However, we do not know for a fact that all athletes are doping. The statistics do not support this, either. If you had to choose one end of the spectrum or the other to embrace, it would unfortunately have to be the “all athletes dope” end. The reason is because, statistically, the only thing we know for a fact is that all athletes being clean is false.
I’ve said it many times – patterns are proof. When we see performances and athletic feats which cause our jaws to drop and our eyebrows to raise, these knee jerk reactions come from deep inside each of us. Rather than skepticism or cynicism, these reactions are borne out of an innate sense each of us has to discern fact from fiction. Reality from fairytale. Yet, there is a population which demands testable and verifiable evidence as the only proof an athlete has transgressed. Statistics do not support this type of rigid stance. Because the anti-doping system is fraught with failure points through which we could drive tanks. So, if you are relying on an indefensible system which cannot provide ironclad proof of innocence or cheating, then you believe the anti-doping system is a mathematical problem like 2+2=4. But, we know for a fact that it is not. Not even close.
We know that more athletes cheat than get caught. And, the margin between those cheating and those getting caught is not a little, but a lot. The discrepancy is in orders of magnitude.
There is mathematical truth. There is mathematical accuracy based on statistical evidence – even in the absence of hard evidence (like a failed doping test). Given what we have historically seen across Sport – the cheating, the corruption, the buried tests, the silent bans, the physical transformations, the warping of facial features, the lies and deceit – there is literally no reason at all to think athletes today are training and competing any more cleanly than they ever have.
Statistically speaking, of course. Because in knowing the anti-doping system is broken beyond repair, we also know we will never close that monumental gap between the sheer volume of cheaters and the paltry few who are actually caught.