Sunday, August 19, 2007

EN Coach Rich Strauss to deliver FREE pre-race talk at IM Louisville

When: Friday, 9am
Where: meet at the inflatable Gatorade bottle at the swim start area.

Rich will discuss the mental, pacing, and nutrition skills he's used to help Ironman athletes have successful race days. Rich has delivered his talks at almost a dozen Ironman events to hundreds of athletes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Endurance Nation Ironman Webinar Schedule

Next weekend is a big one on the North American Ironman calendar, with IMLouisvile and IMCanada both next Sunday, August 26. Not too shortly afterward will be Ironman Wisconsin on Sept 9. You may recall our last Ironman webinar for IMLP. We had a great turnout, however, Patrick and I felt the session was too long and unweildy. So we've decided to split this up into two parts. Here is a quick run down of what we have going on for you.

Please note time zones below

Part I: Monday, Aug 20, 8:00pm EST: Endurance Nation Ironman Pre-Race Talk

This talk is and not course-specific. Please tell ALL of your Ironman and Half Ironman friends and training partners to join us.

Part II: Endurance Nation Course Chalk-Talk, using Google Earth

  • All talks are FREE
  • All times are Eastern time zone.
  • Please subscribe to the Endurance Nation Blog for updates.
  • Finally, if you're not tired of listening to me run my mouth, I will be at IMKY and IMWI to deliver these talks again. Expect 9am, Friday, at the swim start area but check the blog to be sure. Even if you are tired of me, please stop by and say hello :-)

Rich Strauss
Endurance Nation
Crucible Fitness
Ergomo Coaching Center

Pedaling Technique Summary and Drills

  1. The bike goes faster because you apply more watts to rear wheel, period. The rear wheel doesn't care in what manner that power is generated at or applied to the pedals. What matters is what that power is when it reaches the wheel.
  2. Your feet are attached to the pedals, attached to straight cranks, attached to circular chain rings and a round axle or bottom bracket. You have no choice other than to pedal in a circle. All you are really in control of is what muscles you fire when as your legs spin through this circular trajectory.
  3. Your legs have been engineered to apply the most power most efficiently by pushing against the ground (running, jumping, walking), not by pulling up (activating the hip flexor). Contrary to product claims, there has been no evidence to suggest that the "way" to pedal a bike is by applying power in pretty little circles.
  4. If you are thinking about this or that area of the pedal stroke and firing/relaxing different muscles at different times, but the power at the rear wheel is the same or less, you haven't accomplished anything. If you are doing all of this AND applying more watts, then we can talk, but my next question is how long can you sustain this? Another point in here is that nothing is free. If you're applying more watts to the bike, that work has to come from somewhere. It is not gained by efficiency, energy savings, etc. You must do more work in order to output more work. Period.

So how should I pedal a bike?
What I'll now discuss is how you should apply your leg power to the pedals as they trace the circle of a pedal stroke. Divide the pedal revolution into hours of the clock, as seen from the right side of the bike, and into four sectors of three hours each:

  • 11-2pm: Imagine you are "rolling a barrel" under your foot. At 11pm you begin to push forward across the top of the pedal stroke/clock face until your foot is in the 2pm position.
  • 2-5pm: The power phase of the pedal stroke. You're pushing relatively straight down on the pedals, in the manner your legs have been design to apply force most efficiently. Most beginner cyclists pedal straight up and down, like pistons, applying power to the pedals from 2-5pm. I feel they are missing the opportunity to apply that leg strength across more hours of the clock face.
  • 5-8pm: Imagine you are "scraping mud" from the bottom of your shoe. We transition from pedaling down to following through, activating the hamstring and pulling our foot rearward.
  • 8-11pm: When your right leg is at 8pm your left leg is at the beginning of the power phase, 2pm. We want 100% of the power applied by the left leg to be transferred to the rear wheel and move the bike forward. However, if your right leg, at 8pm, is "dead" on the pedal, then a percentage of your left leg power is not applied to the rear wheel but instead is used to lift the right leg. Now, this lifting effect is probably less than you think, as your right leg, spinning at 90+ rpm, does have a significant amount of momentum to "throw" it over the top of the pedal stroke. Instead, from 8-11pm we want to "un-weight" the pedal, applying just enough lifting force to make our foot weigh zero on the pedal, so 100% of the work performed by the opposite leg is used to propel the bike forward. Notice that I'm not counseling you to activate the hip flexor and apply power on the upward phase of the pedal stroke.

Why not?
In my opinion, it goes back to how our legs are designed. They are engineered to apply a great downwards force and comparatively little upwards force. Why waste energy trying to put a relatively small muscle to work (hip flexor) doing something it isn't really designed to do anyway: apply a great deal of power upwards. My experience has been that your leg realizes it is getting worked on the upstroke and compensates by resting, or producing less power, on the downstroke. The result can be a net decrease of power to the rear wheel.

I call all of this Clock Face Awareness: by performing the drills below you become more aware of where you are applying power through the clock face and can therefore choose to emphasize one area/muscle group while deemphasizing another.

Isolated Leg Drills

Purpose: To divide the clock face into sectors, focus on them one at a time, and increase your awareness of what you're doing in each sector. ILD's increase your awareness of these sectors, enabling you to choose to do or not do "something" with each sector.

Drill: After a good warm up and a couple short, hard efforts to loosen up the legs, transition to ILD's:

  • Right Leg, Over the Barrel: Shift to a lower gear, lowering your cadence, and unclip your left leg. Pedaling only with the right leg, think "rolling the barrel" as your foot traces 11-2pm. Begin at lower cadence and increase your speed/cadence. At some cadence you'll experience a ratcheting of the pedal. Work to eliminate this ratcheting so that it occurs at higher and higher cadences. Do this for 30-60" seconds or stop when fatigue becomes to compromise your ability to perform the drill correctly. These are skills drills, we're not worried about your fitness here. Clip in, recover, spinning easily.
  • Left Leg, Over the Barrel: same drill, pedaling with left leg. After 30-60", clip in, recover.
  • Right Leg, Scrape Mud: same drill, thinking about scraping mud from the sole of our shoe from 5-8pm on the clock face. Again, start a lower cadence, increase until you experience the ratcheting effect, then try to eliminate. Over time, try to increase the cadence at which ratcheting occurs. After 30-60", clip in, recover.
  • Left Leg, Scrape Mud: same drill, left leg.

Focus Boxes

Purpose: To transfer the awareness of the sectors above into the entire pedaling action.

Drill: Perform immediately after ILD's. Divide the pedal stroke into four sides of a box. Then, while pedaling at a normal cadence, focus on one side of one box at a time for about 30". A sample focus progression might be: Right Top, Left Top, Right Bottom, Left Bottom, Right Up, Left Up, etc. The sides of the boxes are:

Top = 11-2pm
Down = 2-5pm
Bottom = 5-8pm
Up = 8-11pm

Spin Ups

Purpose: Increase the coordination of muscle groups through the pedaling circle.

As you do ILDs and Focus Boxes, it quickly becomes apparent that cadence plays a role. Specifically, what is easy to do at low cadence becomes more difficult at higher cadences. Pedaling requires Muscles A and B to contract and relax in a coordinated fashion: A contracts exactly as B relaxes. Your muscles can achieve this coordination when the movement is relatively slow, at lower cadences. However, at higher cadences your muscles can no longer fake the funk. A contracts before B relaxes. The result is often seen as a bouncing in the saddle at high cadence: your leg is trying to push down past 6pm, lifting you a bit from the saddle. SpinUps simply take you to this bouncing point and make you sit there for a bit, forcing your muscles to learn how to work together in a more coordinated fashion.

Drill: Do these at a low speed or resistance. It should feel as if your cranks are not even connected to the rear wheel through the chain. Again, this is a skills drill, not a fitness session.

  • Shift to an easy gear and increase cadence to where you begin to bounce in the saddle (usually 100-110rpm). Then back your cadence down a hair and spin there for 30-60. You'll notice that in addition to your legs feeling like they're spinning out of control, they also feel rather tense, like something is still contracted when it should be relaxed. This is exactly the point we are trying to take your body to.
  • Recover by shifting to lower cadence gear.
  • Repeat several times, trying to take the cadence up a bit higher each time.
  • 4-6 SpinUps is usually ideal.

After the drill just ride the bike at whatever cadence feels comfortable for you. You'll notice that this self-selected cadence has likely increased a good bit, just from this simple drill. You should also feel much smoother.

In summary, the bike goes faster when you put more watts to the rear wheel. You do this by pedaling the bike in a circular trajectory at the cranks. By becoming more aware of your pedal stroke you can choose to manipulate where and how you activate your leg muscles as your foot traces this circle.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ergomo Coaching Center, powered by Crucible Fitness and Endurance Nation

Elite triathlon coaches Rich Strauss and Patrick McCrann launch the Ergomo Coaching Center, powered by Crucible Fitness and Endurance Nation. The site will offer sales and support to Ergomo customers via a library of technical videos, podcasts and a live customer service chat window. In addition, the Ergomo Coaching Center will host power-training resources as Rich and Patrick develop these products for their Endurance Nation members.

The Ergomo Coaching Center is an official, fully stocked Ergomo Dealer offering same day shipping on all Ergomo products. Every Ergomo purchase from the Ergomo Coaching Center also includes:

Questions? Ready to order? Contact us or visit the Ergomo Coaching Center today!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ergomo as a Training and Racing Tool

Powermeter discussions usually focus on hardware, installation, weight and, yes, even appearance. But as I am in the unique position of being both a powermeter retailer and a full-time triathlon coach, I'd like to share with you my thoughts on why the Ergomo is the best power training AND racing tool on the market today.

Before I begin, I have to clarify one thing: The most important component in any powermeter system is YOU, not the powermeter. Any powermeter is only as effective as your committment to making the investment to learn how to operate, train and race with it properly. This will require a good bit of work on your part. If you can't be bothered to wade through user manuals, books, articles, forums, learn how to use software tools, troubleshoot comm port issues, perform pre-flight checks on your powermeter, or even what buttons to push, then no powermeter is right for you. Powertraining requires you to work, on several levels, to yield a good return on your investment. There are lots of people out there with $3500 cyclecomputers, that look remarkably similar to SRMs, on their handlebars. They simply don't know how to use tool they've invested a lot of money in. Don't be that guy!

Software trumps Hardware
Having said that, the major selling point of the Ergomo for me (as a coach first and retailer second) is the software, not the hardware. The Ergomo's close integration with CyclingPeaks sets it apart from the competition. CyclingPeaks is the gold-standard of power analysis tools, having created a universe of terms and tools we use to analyze and understand power data. Ergomo has integrated CyclingPeaks into it's powermeter in two powerful ways: on your desktop and on the powermeter itself.

On your desktop, CyclingPeaks is the tool you use to download your ride from your Ergomo, configure the monitor, etc. Other powermeters come with proprietary software which is not nearly as powerful or as valuable as CyclingPeaks. So Powertap and SRM owners have to take the additional steps of learning they need to purchase CyclingPeaks, making the purchase, and then learning how to use it. In my experience, many don't make it to step #1, much less progress completely to step #3.

On the powermeter display, Ergomo puts critical CyclingPeaks-derived numbers right on the monitor. It is one thing finish your ride, take a shower, download the file and analyze Intensity Factor, Training Stress Score, and Normalized watts, turkey sandwich in hand. It is quite another to see, feel, taste, and smell those numbers in real-time, on the bike, in the middle of your ride. This allows an Ergomo user to adapt their effort during each and every ride - or race - for the desired outcome.

Learn Faster
The results of these two factors is that, in general, my own Ergomo-owning athletes leap farther and faster up the learning curve than my Powertap or SRM athletes. They are hit squarely between the eyes with these CyclingPeaks terms during their rides and then, since their download tool is CyclingPeaks, they have no choice but to learn how to analyze and manipulate their data and the software. Most of these athletes quickly reach an advanced interest and depth of understanding of powertraining that I've seen many Powertap and SRM athletes never achieve. Basically, the Ergomo is a superior teaching and learning tool (see my investment points above).

Your Best Race Day - Every Time
The ultimate expression of this Ergomo + CyclingPeaks relationship is race day. By analyzing the files of my athletes and through discussions with other coaches, I've refined my race day pacing guidance to the level that much of the guesswork has been taken out of the equation. Imagine that your legs are a bank account with a positive balance. Your goal on race day is to spend that money at a rate that leaves cash in the account so you have enough to spend on the run. The Ergomo is the only powermeter that places your spending rate AND bank balance in front of your nose, in real time. That is extremely powerful information to have on race day. And the longer the day, the higher the risk of failure, and the more valuable this information becomes.

Testimonial from Coach Patrick McCrann of Performance Training Systems; Qualified at IMUSA 2007 using Ergomo Pro
"I relied on my Ergomo Pro to make sure that I executed my race plan perfectly. I wanted to start conservative - despite the early hills - and have a solid second loop. I used my Ergomo to track the Stress Score (TSS) of each loop so I could tell the impact my effort was having on my body. Knowing I wanted to ride under 290, I could see at the end of the first loop with a score of 141 that I was in a great place to push lap two. Dialing the effort up, I was able to ride a 152 on the second lap (right up to my target number). This pacing allowed me to get my critical nutrition in early and enabled me to mitigate some of the effect that a late headwind started to have. I got off of the bike 100% confident that I could run at my high-end...and I did. See you in Kona!"

Go Ergomo, Dust the Competition
If you are truly interested in boosting your performance - and are ready to make the commitment to a tool that is just as serious as you are - get an Ergomo. I strongly suggest you purchase an Ergomo from a coaching expert because there is a serious technological - and individual - learning curve, one that you will need guidance to successfully complete. I have trained and coached with power exclusively since 2003, and have turned hundreds of athletes loose on the unknowing Ironman competition. Join the ranks of my Ergomo athletes and get ready to have your best year yet.

Update: Ergomo Releases Customization Firmware
In their continuing commitment to being the powermeter leader, the makers of Ergomo have released a firmware update and software program that allows users to customize their Ergomo display. No more staring at numbers that don't matter to you - you can swap them out for the ideal combination of real-time and cumulative-time data that you need to be your best.

Rich Strauss is the founder and head coach of Crucible Fitness, an Ergomo Coaching Center. Rich has been an Ironman-specific coach since 2001, power-specific since 2003, and has successfully trained over 200 Ironman finishers. Hundreds more have used his training plans, now in their third generation of development. Rich is also the co-founder, with Patrick McCrann, of Endurance Nation and IronCamp.