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As most of you know, I am always searching for ways to use technology so that we can better understand cycling fitness and performance. I’ve been using the Moxy Muscle Oxygen Sensor since 2014, and have developed some strong ideas about how its’ use in our studio can help us understand the following:
· Proper Warm-Up Procedures for maximal saturation and vasodilation.
· Fatigue when performing intervals.
· Glycogen Depletion and replenishment.
· The effect of intensity on muscles before, during, and after intervals.
· Recovery and Optimizing the timing of caloric replenishment.
As the Moxy became more common, Garmin got on board, and allowed their smart head units to accept SmO2 and ThB from Moxy’s on to the screen via custom fields, and once on screen, this data is now being recorded in the latest .FIT files, so it allows me the chance to look at information both acutely and empirically. Having these two data points, along with Heart Rate, Wattage, Cadence, Speed, Slope, and elevation, has really opened my mind towards just what is possible, and what isn’t.
Well, we can now add a new phenomenon to my amateur observations; what happens when a cyclist trains at low elevation, but competes at a significantly higher elevation.
On April 1st and 2nd of 2017, I traveled from my home in Dallas, TX (elevation ~430’ or 130m above Sea Level), to Ft. Davis, TX, to compete in a Stage Race known as the HammerFest. Last year, my wife and I traveled out two days early, and rode some, to try and adapt to the elevation (5050’ or 1540m) and dry air. I’ve raced and ridden out here enough to know that my performance definitely suffers, and the goal in the weeks prior to the event is to raise my Threshold as high as possible, while also trying to raise my Vo2max. It’s a tall order, but there have been years where I’ve competed well. That said, most of the time, it’s a real struggle, and I have to believe it has much to do with showing up just a day before the race, and making the first stage, my body’s introduction to strain at elevation.
Now, thanks to the Moxy, I think I have the proof.
In the weeks building up to the competition, my intervals routinely showed rising wattages, with SmO2 levels bottoming out in the 25% range, give or take. I’ve known athletes who were able to take their SmO2 values down to the teens and single digits, but they came from a power-lifting background, and tended to be on the heavier side; perfect for most Texas cycling, but not ideal for Ft. Davis.
On the morning of April 1st, however, when I performed my warmup, I was SHOCKED to see that my Moxy was reading in the MID 50% range, as soon as the signal was picked up by my Garmin 1000. At first, I felt this was a result of the low temperature, but as I went through my warmup, I saw that SmO2 would routinely drop down to 10% during my warmup efforts, but would rebound over time to a more-expected 70% or more.
Now, the first thing to consider is that during my warmups at lower elevation, I never began an interval set until my SmO2 would rebound to AT LEAST 85%, and as high as 92%. Furthermore, it takes me about 30-35 minutes to get my ThB values up to about 12.40. When I’m at both of those numbers, or close to them, I know I’m vasodilated, that my core temperature has risen, and my legs, at least (I measure at the Left lateralis), are ready for any efforts I throw at them.
On this morning, however, SmO2 never went above 79%, ThB never surpassed 12.34, and again, as soon as I put any real effort in to my surges, or the climbs, SmO2 dropped to between 8 and 15%, and ThB never changed.
Something was seriously off.
I finished the first stage, a Point-to-Point effort that climbed Mt. Locke, with three major climbs that finished at 6790’ (2070m), and was REALLY disappointed in my results. My watts were down, my cadence was low, I felt heavy and it felt like my legs were dead. As soon as the effort ended and I began to recover, my legs began to REALLY HURT, like I had just undergone a SEVERE resistance training protocol, with multiple sets of squats at high loads.
Disappointed as I was, I waited for my wife, who was also a bit disappointed in her performance, and we rode down together, to eat, recover, and prepare for the next stage, to be held that afternoon. Ironically, the physiological results of that stage were completely different, with an warmed-up average SmO2 in the 85% range, and a range-under-stress in the 30-45% range, which is MUCH more typical of my values during hard efforts. Furthermore, my ThB basically maxed at a stable at ~12.49, and the effort itself showed little change, around 12.00 or thereabouts. It did drop to 11.80-ish toward the end of the stage, but overall, my muscles “Felt” better, and I felt like I could challenge in the race. Now, it didn’t end up that way, but results aside, it’s the physiology that we’re studying in this post.
I’ll attach the files to the blog post if possible, and if not, I’ll try to set them up for download on Google Drive or something like that, for people to study independently, since, remember, I’m not a Scientist. I’m a hack.
So, what’s the lesson to be drawn from this? Without the Moxy, I never would have known just HOW IMPORTANT adaptation to elevation is for a cyclist, or any athlete’s, performance. During my first stage, I basically raced myself in to a deep state of muscle strain, and ended up sore for days afterward. Ironically, had I gone out on the Friday before the race, and actually performed some intervals of similar strain, I would have basically gotten through that penalty phase of adaptation, and would have been better prepared for the efforts at elevation on Stage 1. Who knows – I might have actually had an even better physiology for the 2nd stage, and would have been completely prepared for the third stage that was going to be held the next day. Sadly, a final winter rainstorm blew through the Davis Mountains overnight, and my wife and I both decided to skip a rainy, sleet-covered, 26 degree race with snow above 6000’ (1830m), and winds above 20mph. We’re both too old and cautious to try racing in those liminal conditions, especially when we know there’s really no financial reward to speak of, just a possible great story to be told from the ER.
The Moxy Monitor remains one of my most crucial elements for training and competition. Without it, I’m left guessing as to how ready my body is for work. I will definitely call off a training session if I see numbers that are ‘off’, and I also work hard, as a coach and as an athlete, to provide consistent, safe, effective protocols for warmup, hydration, and recovery.
Listening to your body is one thing; actually seeing it perform via wattage, heart rate, SmO2 and ThB, provides a holistic approach that is incomparable. I cannot WAIT to go back to elevation and ride – only this time, I’ll make sure I have an extra day squeezed in to actually perform some ‘elevation adaptation’ intervals, that will leave me more prepared to take on the slopes and loads required to achieve my best.
Now, this cyclist is a top-tier mountain biker, who has properly allowed himself some “Down” time, to enjoy other pursuits. When he was on-form earlier in the year, he was literally unstoppable. He only got FASTER as the fall season progressed, and it was exciting to follow. But let’s face it - getting a power meter on a mountain bike is a chore, and honestly, I don’t like all of the options that are out there right now. It’s expensive, and when people have to choose between an expensive power meter, and 4 months of coaching or more, well, the bikes are expensive enough already. Furthermore, given the stochastic, punchy nature of Texas mountain biking, I often wonder if a 1hz reading from an MTB power meter is adequate to capture the nuances and accelerations that are necessary to properly analyze a ride.
But sometimes - Physics just doesn’t correlate with Physiology. While the computer or the prediction algorithm says you “Can” do something, it doesn’t account for all the things that may interfere, like sleep rhythms, recovery from a previous workout, hydration status, all of it. That’s where the Moxy Monitor comes in.
I honestly should be using this device more, but knowing how to use it does require a bit more attention to and knowledge of “what’s going on”. But with this conversation up, I decided to take a look at Randy’s SmO2 values, and try to help him do what was best with the time he was spending at the studio.
Now, we have to review a bit, but here’s the summary:
SmO2 values will tend to hit ‘Floors’ which align with Lactate Deflection Points 1 and 2, when properly placed on a client’s Left Lateralis. MOST of the time, we’ll see cyclists hit a “Max Active Saturation Point”, of about 85-90%, and MOST of the time, LT1 will correspond with about 40-45% SmO2, and LT2 will correspond with about 25-30% SmO2. If you get down in to the teens, or single digits, theoretically, you’re nearing necropsy.
But it was immediately obvious that something was ‘off’. Nothing about Randy’s values were normal. I checked the position of the monitor, but it was good. There was no light pollution, either. His SmO2 during intervals that were supposed to be in the Vo2 range of intensity, were wayyy too low; like near 10%. When his recoveries between intervals occurred, he hit the regular ‘max’ 80% saturation around the first two efforts, but for the entire second half of the workout, his ‘recovery’ SmO2 never cracked 65%, and his interval minimums dropped down TOO low at first, and then, again, never really recovered. Here’s a better look at the chart.
Here it is with power added in…
The translation, for me as a coach? THIS GUY WAS KNACKERED! THIS GUY WAS EXHAUSTED. We were lowering his intensity well below his Critical Power early and often, he wasn’t keeping up with load, and his SmO2 minimums were STILL down in the 20% range. The recoveries never rose up much past 55%. His range was diminished, his power down significantly. He had no business attempting a hard interval set like that.
Now, let’s fast-forward to this morning. It’s been two days; he had a massage and slept a good chunk of the day after the massage (some massages are actually therapeutic workouts, and the relaxation is done AFTER the therapy). He got nine hours of sleep, was hydrated, rested, recovered, and caloried up.
Here’s his chart from today…
It’s a little bit harder to see, but the results were MUCH, MUCH better. Maximum SmO2 was up above 90%. Minimum SmO2 actually never went below about 40%. WE RAISED HIS CP to try and get one specific area of the intervals to sort of ‘sit’ around 50%, and it never really dropped below about 58%. It was a complete reversal of fortune. He worked hard, left with great confidence, and honestly, we probably could have gone a bit harder, though I didn’t want to try that too much, and instead focus on the success of the day, and grow it from that point.
SmO2 via the Moxy Monitor allows you to see a workout from the INSIDE-OUT, and allows you to train via your Physiology, and not just your Physics. You’re not ‘on-form’ every day. Things happen. Diets fail. Work creates stress. Maybe the music isn’t just right. Maybe it’s the holidays or EOY junk. But it helps to have a place to go where you can get a great workout that’s JUST RIGHT for YOU, and YOU only. Matching the watts to the load is just part of the story. Moxy helps you accomplish that at Cycling Center Dallas. Come visit and we’ll show you how.
· My Xert Users are achieving fitness breakthroughs in their Xert modeling, and their Focus.
· I Myself am seeing this in my own riding. I’m trying to set new Max Wattage PR’s now and then, and I’m also trying to “Game the Hill” using the MPA and Wattage Xert app.
· I’m instructing my clients to do the same.
Here are a couple of examples…:
Jim is a recreational cyclist in his 60’s, who contracted with me because he was sick of getting dropped on rides with his peers. He also wanted to learn how to be a better climber for the times when he traveled to Colorado.
Climbs in Dallas are much different than climbs in Colorado, but the idea is still the same; improve fitness, then “Focus” on the area of training that will best fit your activity profile. Jim wanted to be a climber in the summer, and, honestly, a “Puncheur” when riding in Dallas. So I set him up with the Xert Apps, taught him how to keep the rider profile current through Garmin Connect and Garmin Express, and gave him some specific intervals during the week.
Things started happening in late September, and I THINK THEY ARE JUST REALLY, REALLY cool!
In Mid-September, while it was still hot and windy, but travel season was over, Jim had a Fitness Signature on Xert of:
· Peak Power: 650w.
· High Intensity Energy (HIE): 10.9kJ.
· Threshold Power: 209w.
Then, on September 21st, on a local solo effort, THIS happened…!
THAT, dear readers, is a FITNESS BREAKTHROUGH.
What’s a FITNESS BREAKTHROUGH? Well, it’s when your ACTUAL POWER OUTPUT is HIGHER than your Predicted MAXIMUM POWER AVAILABLE!
For FOURTEEN SECONDS, Jim was pedaling at a power output that was ABOVE his MPA. Was the model wrong? NO, NO, and NO. He just hadn’t put that level of effort out before, and he earned his “Medal” on the Garmin 1000 Screen!
So remember those previous Max, HIE and Threshold values that we had been using? Here’s what a breakthrough means for those…
· Peak Power: 649w (we still haven’t really worked on a true “Sprint”, but that will come.).
· High Intensity Energy (HIE): 12.4kJ (a gain of 12%).
· Threshold Power: 214w (a gain of 2%!).
And here’s what the chart looked like after the re-analysis.
Now, interestingly – take a look at Jim’s PREVIOUS hill. It’s the one in red that is on the left side of the image. Notice how the MPA line (Dark Blue) kind of follows the curve of the red line, which is wattage? I’ve seen this a bunch, and I love it; It’s basically a way for a rider to “Get More” out of an effort. In other words, you can always go a bit longer at a lower intensity, and not dig too deep. In this case, Jim knew that he really wanted to hit the SECOND hill stronger, and he followed a more “Steady” profile. The terrain dictated the watts and cadence, but yeah – this was a solid moment where Jim was able to “Chase” his MPA, and then break it.
But wait – it gets better…
So what had been a 214w Threshold and a 12.1kJ HIE, slipped, and when Jim put the spurs to this hill again… Well, the model needed some updating, and here it is…
· Peak Power: 651w.
· High Intensity Energy (HIE): 12.9kJ.
· Threshold Power: 219w.
Here’s the Updated version.
What you see is basically that the MPA slope is more gradual, which makes sense; when you train for higher intensity, it allows you to go harder, longer. Because Jim has real data, and paced himself according to the MPA app on the Garmin 1000, he had another Gold Medal, and got to update his training information from Xert.
But you may think that this is just one example…. Well, here’s another.
Jing was a great client of mine, who got a job and moved to Northern California, and he’s experiencing the same type of thing; Breakthroughs that translate to more successful cycling.
Here’s Jing’s Activity Chart; I’ve highlighted his first Fitness Signature, after an adjustment period when he was moving in, unboxing, etc.
His Fitness Signature in mid-September read:
· 673w Peak Power.
· 21.3kJ HIE.
· 251w Threshold.
What set this Signature up was this particular hill in Palo Alto, called “Emerald Hill”. Here’s the wattage and hr and MPA profile.
This was his first ride out on this type of terrain, and he was nervous, so you can see it in his wattage profile; it’s at or above Threshold, but he doesn’t last long above it, before backing off.
So, here he is a couple of days later, where he had another Fitness Breakthrough, though it wasn’t quite where you might think….
The image is of the hill that he climbed, and you can see that he marshalled his resources well, using the data in the Garmin 1000, and pushed it on the final part of the climb.
But here’s the catch; remember how I harped about Jim needing to get a “Real” Peak Power? Well, elsewhere in this file, Jing actually DID hit a new Peak Power, going from 653w to well over 800, and that altered the Fitness Signature Significantly.
With the new data in hand, it looked more like this:
· 811w Peak Power.
· 20.0kJ HIE.
· 249w Threshold.
And that tells me that maybe he could have eked out a slightly better hill effort. Well, here’s the next week….
So you can see… he’s learning how to “game” the hill, using his on-screen MPA and Wattage App!
Here’s the next week. Same hill.
I’m actually going to zoom in on two efforts, since he kissed his MPA on both of them, BUT HE DID NOT SURPASS THEM!
Here – Have a look:
He’s learning how to “game the hills”! In our discussions, he’s come to realize that hills like this are a game of patience and pacing. They’re not perfect, but I like how he’s playing it a bit conservatively at first, and doesn’t tap in to his HIE until the last 1/3rd of the hill, and he still doesn’t go too far. Now – could he go harder? Certainly! But that’s at the cost of possibly blowing up. We’ll continue to work on his Threshold, but I’m really happy with how Xert makes teaches you how to “Think” a strategy, be it a hill, an attack, or a pacing strategy for any recreational athlete.
Finally, I’m going to recount my own experience from this weekend.
Work and Coaching have really taken their toll on my time, and it’s been rare for me to get out and get any real consistency or volume, other than lifting weights 2-3 times a week, and maybe getting to ride in between other efforts. But that said, I AM a “fast-responder” to stimulus, and after getting in some decent rides on some weekends, I had a couple of experiences of my own, using the MPA App.
First – there’s a hill in Glen Rose, TX, that was once part of their rally course, which always spelled the “Make it or Break It” moment for me in this rally. It’s just 4 miles from the finish, but the cyclist who “gamed” the hill best, usually got to solo home.
I NEVER got it right.
But recently, I’ve been back out there, and with the MPA App and my metrics inserted, I tried to “game” the hill with a better pacing Strategy. Here’s the first effort on this hill in, oh, 6 years? 7? I really don’t remember completely.
Do you see where the red circle is? ROOKIE MISTAKE!!! I rode TOO HARD, TOO EARLY, and I FORGOT ABOUT THE SECOND HALF OF THE HILL!
I can’t show it right now because my internet is kludgy, but my heart rate went through the roof on the steeper part, and I basically blew up and denied myself a smoother transition going in to the second part of the hill, right after the “knuckle”! So MPA and Xert revealed that I COULD have ridden it better. I just screwed it up.
Here’s the second time I tried it – about a week later.
*** Believe it or not – this IS the same hill; my internet is not cooperating and I’m having trouble zooming in appropriately.
Notice the difference in the two wattage profiles? The first is more of a parabola, while the second is more elongated, and doesn’t really kick up until AFTER the knuckle in the hill. For this hill, I was watching my Garmin 1000, and I watched that Xert App as my wattage went Black (Threshold), then Yellow (<3min of MPA remaining), to Red (<30sec MPA remaining!), but I never was able to make it go Purple, because I WAS COMPLETELY KNACKERED by that point! Again – I can’t show it, but my HR broke 190, and I traveled a good bit further up the hill before I backed off.
(Edit – HERE it is… Finally)!
Finally – this past weekend, I had the chance to ride a good old-fashioned rally, and about 20 minutes in, I was dealing with some riders that I don’t particularly feel safe riding around; they always wear earbuds – in grupetto’s – and you can hear their music when you ride beside them, it’s so loud. AND they’re a couple, AND they don’t really have a sense of situational awareness. So, with just a few people left in the front, maybe 5, including me, these two, and two others, I saw a hill, and I saw an opportunity.
I had already depleted my MPA a bit here and there as we picked up our speed, rolling out of town, but at this moment, I increased my power output as the hill rose to meet me, then stayed steady at or around my threshold, and finally increased my wattage one more time as the hill picked up its’ pitch one more time. Looking through my right arm, I noticed that the shadows which had been behind me were getting gapped, and after another 20 seconds of Threshold, I was alone.
Now, I TRIED to go from “Yellow” on the MPA app, (<3min of MPA left) to “Red” (<30sec of MPA left), to “Purple”, but it just got to the point where it was crazy-hard, I felt like my eyes were going to pop out and my lungs were going to burst… and I backed off, which you can see in the image. I was able to keep pedaling as the gradient lessened, and while my MPA didn’t necessarily rebound, the Red/Blue gap opened up, giving me some room to recover.
The result? Well, I spent the rest of the ride alone, and had the motorcycle escort to myself the entire time.
Here are my overall results from the day:
It was a pretty good day: nice average speed, great kJ count, GREAT Strain value, in perfect temps, under sunny skies, rolling terrain, and the knowledge that THIS STUFF REALLY, REALLY, REALLY works.
Xert takes a complete re-think of intervals, efforts, hills, and timing. I think that was one of the things I was never good at when I was racing all the time: I had really bad timing, and didn’t figure out when to play the game and when to back off, and recover. Now? Well, I had some idea of it with W’, but the model, especially on Anaerobic efforts, just didn’t hold up. This Xert MPA stuff? In REAL TIME, with REAL VALUES yielding REAL RESULTS?
Well, it works!
Want to learn more about Xert, MPA, and how you can apply it for yourself and your cycling? Check us out at http://bit.ly/BikeCCD.
This is part 2 of the blog on Bone Health and Cycling.
READ THE PREVIOUS POST HERE.
The following section is especially important for those who cycle as their main force of exercise to stay on top of their strength training. However, ANYONE concerned about improving or maintaining bone strength will gain much from the following information.
Put Forces on your Bones to Make Them Stronger
Don’t be afraid to lift relatively heavy weights , and add some plyometrics and impact training into your program. Some examples of these things might be jumping rope or any kind of jumping or, even punching a bag for fun to provide some impact for your upper body. Adding these things to your program AFTER developing a foundation will ensure that you are ready for the higher forces that these often place on the body. Strength training results in your body’s ability to actually increase the amount of muscle fibers that are fired when asked to, as well as how fast they are able to fire. Both of these things result in the muscle being capable of producing more force, which in turn, means more forces exerted upon the bones to which they are attached.
In addition to providing greater forces to stimulate bone growth, strength training also reduces risk factors that result in broken bones by increasing muscle mass and improving balance. This is especially important in older populations at any activity level. If you have better balance, more strength and muscle, and stronger bones, all of those things come together to make you more physically resilient and stable. You will be better prepared to handle unexpected that unexpected gust of wind or pothole due to increase core and total body strength and stability. If it happens that you are involved in a crash, your bones are less likely to crack under the impact. Now, you have two ways of staying off the injury list.
How to Strength Train for Strong Bones.
Put random forces on your bones to stimulate growth. Some research has shown that the best results in the short term come out of subjecting bones to high forces in a more random fashion. Shorter term training programs of more random high intensity forces on your muscles and bones have actually been shown to be more effective than programs that progress over time. Now, this is contradictory to a program you might put together for performance gains, but it is still something that should be considered if you are concerned about improving your bone strength. Also, these are short time results. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t periodize your program, as longer periods may be needed to produce the benefits to bone density in that case (2). If you are following a periodized program and want to make sure it addresses your bone health, my suggestion would be to continue to do so. However , make sure to include one or two exercises that target bone health regardless of what the overall program goals are. The goal of these movements is to provide the forces on your bones to stimulate adaptation.
Allow for longer rest periods between sets to allow for greater force production. Circuit training is a type of training program where individuals are performing movements, one right after the other with little rest, and then repeating the circuit multiple times. It has NOT been found to be as effective for bone and muscle growth This reason for this is due to the lower amounts of resistance used, because of the short rest periods, and the forces you can push are lower. Circuit training may still help with bone health in the long term and is still great exercise. However, if stronger bones are your goal, design a program that involves more strength, higher forces and longer rest intervals. This will allow for more maximal forces to be produced during the sets.
If you are someone who likes to attend group circuit classes or are not as comfortable lifting heavy weights, or with high forces, research argues against that. In addition, if you are a cyclist or long distance runner who doesn’t utilize strength training or doesn’t lift heavy weights for whatever reason, you are also at risk. This is especially true for lighter and leaner individuals.
Choose movements to load key areas of the body.
The results of studies support that bone density is site-specific. This means that all of the bicep curls and chest presses in the world will not help you increase bone density in your hips and pelvis as much as doing lower body movements that put stress on the hips and pelvis. Lumbar spine stress is achieved by loading weight on the back, such as doing deadlifts or squats with weight (done with proper form), and by performing sit-up type movements and back extensions. Stress on the femur occurs when legs are put under heavy load or impact forces. So if you want strong bones in your hips, legs and spine, make sure you are including movements that target those areas. Or conversely, if you have a particular area you are concerned about, make sure and give that area some more love with some additional site-specific exercises.
Include Jumping, Sprinting and Plyometrics in your program. Plyometrics are movements that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a timeframe as possible. In addition, the movements make use of the elastic properties of the muscle to generate an even more forceful contraction. They train the neuromuscular system to fire off more fibers, which also creates more force. An example of a plyometric movement would be Jump Squats or Lateral Cone Jumps. The faster the muscle is stretched and lengthened as it controls your deceleration, the more energy is obtained from the elastic properties of your muscle fiber, and the stronger the following contraction will be (3). Any of the plyometric or jumping exercises are good choices for stimulating bone growth because of the high forces of the muscle contractions, as well as impact forces they generate.
Impact sports in which loading is applied unevenly and at a high rate also provide more stimulus for bone growth. So if you participate in sports such as tennis, basketball or other activities that involve jumping, accelerating or quick changes of direction, you have a definitive advantage when it comes to maintaining strong bones. If this is you, strength training as also crucial to ensure your muscles and tendons can handle these high, and changing in directional forces .
In addition to suspension training movements, consider adding movements where the spine is placed under load, such as squats with a bag, bar or employ the use of a standing machine. Loading up a leg press might be beneficial for the hips, but will not put the necessary compression forces on the spine which are lacking the most in cycling and are the most important for cyclists to include. The “Farmer’s Walk” (an exercise where you are simply carrying heavy weights), heavy kettle bell or dumbbell, or barbell work, kicking, punching, or flipping heavy bags, jumping rope, high intensity running, shuffling or cutting, and jumping, are also all good additions that will stimulate bone growth. These things can supplement your suspension training program as well, if you have access to additional equipment. An example of this would be performing a suspended squat jump, followed by a suspended pushup with high resistance, and a sprint to the end of the block. These would be three extremely beneficial exercises to stimulate bone growth.
Conclusion: If you are concerned about your bone health, it doesn’t mean you need to turn your program upside down. Simply include one or two random exercises that stress your legs, hips and lumbar spine in a random manner with some impact and force. If you are just starting to strength train, or have knowledge that you already have low bone density or osteoporosis, the more explosive exercises should be phased in gradually as you improve your strength and fitness level. Always develop the foundation before adding higher intensity, or more specific work to your program. Just keep in mind that being consistent and including bone building activity in your program during the long term will produce benefits.
1. Essentials of Strength and conditioning NSCA editor Thomas R Baechle
2. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: November 2008 Physiological Adaptations to Strength and Circuit Training in Postmenopausal Women With Bone Loss. Brentano, Michel A; Cadore, Eduardo L; Da Silva, Eduardo M; Ambrosini, Anelise B; Coertjens, M; Petkowicz, Rosemary; Viero, Itamara; Kruel, Luiz ] .
3. Jumping into Plyometrics : Donald A Chu, PhD
Cycling has a variety of health benefits and is definitely a good thing to do for your body. However, the research has shown that it does not help create strong bones. In fact, it may even decrease your bone density, depending on the amount of cycling training you do. So, if your solo form of exercise is cycling, you may end up with weaker bones than someone who is not even active! The good news is that you can counteract this with some cross training and strength training.
Why isn’t cycling good for my bones?
This is a lot of research out there on bone health and a fair amount on cycling and bone health. There are several reasons that have been consistently given in the research for cyclists having lower than normal bone densities.
Cycling is non-weight bearing. The primary reason for cyclists having low bone density is that it is a non-weight bearing activity. High level cycling in particular has been shown to have negative effects on bone strength because of the amount of time cyclists spend training and riding. You are spending a lot of time seated, with no compression forces on your spine and pelvis. Even though it may feel like you are pedaling hard at times, the forces you are putting into the pedals are also not distributed in a way that puts significant strain on your bones, which is needed for bone growth.
Recovery time also non-weight bearing. In addition, necessary recovery time from hard cycling usually involves additional non-weight bearing activity of sitting or lying down. Most cyclists reported avoiding weight bearing activities during recovery periods as a way to help enhance recovery from training.
Cyclists generally have lower body mass. Cyclists also generally are lighter, and low body mass is also a risk factor for osteoporosis and osteopenia. This especially applies to women, who in general have lover body mass, as well as to cyclists, who are consistently striving to obtain a low body weight in order to improve performance.
Cyclist have an increased risk of fracture due to crashes or falls. Whether you compete or just ride for fitness and fun, chances are at some point you will take a fall, or be involved in a crash. This applies to any level cyclist, whether you ride solo, with friends, in groups, or compete in rallies and races.
Research on cycling experience and bone density risks shows...
If you are a road cyclist, especially if you train hard or have been training for multiple years, you are more likely to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. This puts you at a higher risk for fractures; a risk that continues to go up with age and training. More masters were classified as osteoporotic compared to age-matched non-athletes, and the percentage of these increased significantly after a seven-year period.(1) So, for those of you in the category (which may be the majority of people reading this), you are not only more likely to be at risk, but the risk factor also gets higher as you get older and complete more years of cycling training.
In 2012 there was an extensive review of 31 studies on the subject(2). The findings were that adult road cyclists who train regularly have significantly low bone mineral density in key regions. This was found to be true when comparing the cyclists to control populations of both athletes in other sports as well as non-athletes. Areas of the lumbar spine, pelvic and hip regions, and femoral neck were all key areas found to have lower values in road cyclists than the controls.
Included in this review were only a few studies involving amateur cyclists or low level cyclists. Differences in bone mass were not found between the cyclists and controls when comparing with low level cyclists. However, studies that examined elite cyclists, or those training at high levels for numerous years, consistently found low bone mineral density in the elite and experienced cyclists.
This further supports that the level of training and years of training are strong factors in you as a cyclist being at risk for low bone density.
Junior Cyclists. Most of the differences in bone health were considering those older than 17 years of age. It is worth saying that the observation is cycling in the early years of life does not negatively affect the bones. However, it doesn’t positively affect the bones either. Participation in other sports has been shown to positively affect bone growth more than cycling does.
Translation: allow juniors to train hard and train often, but make sure they are getting some cross training as well, to create maximum bone growth.
Differences found with different cycling disciplines.
Road cycling at a competitive level might be more detrimental for bone health than mountain biking and recreational forms of cycling. This is due to all the reasons stated previously. Long hours on the bike, non-weight bearing. No impact forces, low forces in general while pedaling, and lots of time off your feet trying to recover from training.
Mountain bikers were found to have higher bone mineral density than road cyclists. One reason given for this was the vibrations endured off road. Depending on the level of mountain biking, the increased short durations of high force to get over obstacles may also help out.
Sprint trained cyclists have stronger bones than distance trained cyclists. This makes sense because of the large forces they generate for short periods of time. The leg muscles are creating high forces, which in turn puts high forces on the bones they are connected to. The high forces for short durations are similar to the demands of weightlifting. However, keep in mind that as a non-weight bearing activity, as hard as you might go as a sprinter, compression forces on the spine are still not present.
Triathletes and Duathletes: the combination of cycling and running counteracts the negative effects on bone mass that cycling alone may result in. Duathlon and triathlon training do not have the same negative effects as cycling training alone.
Ok…I may be at risk for low bone mass, what should I do about it?
Strength training and putting impact forces on your bones is the number one thing you can actively do to promote bone heath and bone density.
We all want strong bones that are resistant to breaking;
especially as we age. This is even more important for a cyclist. Let’s face it, a crash or fall at some point in your cycling life is likely to happen. Stacking the odds in your favor by including activities to maintain and stimulate bone strong is your best line of defense against a fracture if you do happen to hit the ground at a greater impact than you would like.
In the next blog we will cover:
- Why strength training improves bone health
- What the research shows.
- What type of strength training to include in your program if you are concerned about your bone health.
Part 2 of this blog is posted HERE
1. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: March 2011
Longitudinal Changes in Bone Mineral Density in Male Master Cyclists and Nonathletes. Nichols, Jeanne F1; Rauh, Mitchell
2. Cycling and bone health: a systematic review
Hugo Olmedillas, Alejandro González-Agüero Luis A Moreno, José A Casajus and Germán Vicente-Rodríguez BMC Medicine2012
In order to understand whether your body is properly hydrated or not, I’m a liberal user of, and proponent for, Pee Strips. Yup - strips that you pee on to determine your hydration status, among other things. Cycling Center Dallas and Online Bike Coach spend hours looking at extrinsic information, like Watts and KiloJoules, but too often, the intrinsic information is ignored. Reagent Pee Strips allow us to determine things, like a body’s PH levels, Leukocytes, Protein elements in urine,, and most importantly, Specific Gravity.
Specific Gravity is basically a way to see how much extra ‘stuff’ is coming out with your watered urine. It’s no longer enough to have a look in the bowl and determine whether ‘Clear and Copious’ or ‘Dark and Clouded’ is the best determination. Instead, when you pee on the pee strips, the chemicals are reacting to what’s in your urine, and the results are pretty revealing. Distilled water has a Specific Gravity of 1.000, and most healthy humans have SG’s in the 1.005 - 1.015, but basically, the further out you go from 1.000, the more dehydrated you are.
At the studio and online, we have been emphasizing the need for hydration as a critical element to training performance now for years. If you read back on this blog, you’ll remember that I suffered a serious heat stroke in late June of 2010, and later that year, met Dr. Stacy Sims at the Olympic Training Center, and she changed my world. Nowadays, we not only focus on hydration on an individual basis, we use it as part of the training strategy. Right now, at the studio, I have two clients who have incredibly high sweat rates, and they routinely post Specific Gravities that are in the 1.030 range and worse. They’re both triathletes, and they’re both concerned about the stigma associated with CamelBacks and drinking to a schedule. As a coach, I’m going to go out on a limb and make a bold claim;
If you TRUST YOUR COACH, then understand that you’ll be a STRONGER, FASTER, MORE EFFICIENT cyclist by drinking THE RIGHT MIX, ON A SCHEDULE THAT KEEPS YOUR SPECIFIC GRAVITY IN THE 1.005-1.01 RANGE, THAN ANY AERO, WEIGHT, OR SOCIAL PENALTY YOU MAY SUFFER FROM WEARING A CAMELBACK.
There - I said it. Now, I’m going to back it up with an event that happened this weekend, just to drive the point home.
My wife’s travels over the summer left me working the studio, and I was unable to ride as much as I have wanted, so upon her return, I was able to drive down to Fredericksburg, Texas, the second weekend of August, to ride with a friend who lives down there. He knows all the roads, is a past State Champion, and is making the most of small-town life. He’s a great guy, and lives humbly, so I thought this would be the best companion for a lot of LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) rides of 2-4 hours, out in the countryside. I got down a day early, and we planned on departing around 7am on Friday Morning, to ‘beat the heat’.
Well, we’re definitely human. We ended up talking and catching up all night, went to bed late, and slept in. We rolled out around 9:30, and, well, August 12th just happened to be - THE HOTTEST DAY OF THE YEAR IN TEXAS. So at our speeds and with our relative levels of fitness, HYDRATION… WELL-UNDERSTOOD AND COMPREHENSIVELY PREPARED-FOR HYDRATION, was FUNDAMENTAL TO OUR SURVIVAL on that day.
I rolled out with a 70oz Camelback, and two 24oz. Chilled water bottles. My friend rolled out with…. 2 24 oz water bottles with neoprene coozies wrapped around them. We rolled out just as the heat began to hit, and made it to a town called Comfort, after roughly two hours. Now, we did get water at a filling station, but the route back to Fredericksburg left us climbing, with maybe a slight headwind, and we ended up suffering as the heat of the day wore on. This road is also incredibly remote, so we were going through our fluid ounces at a higher rate. Eventually, I inadvertently separated myself from my friend, and climbed up to an overlook where there’s a small State Park that protects an abandoned tunnel, which has become a famous bat cave, home to about 19,000 bats.
I found a cool spot, drank up the rest of my Camelback, and downed another bottle, so I was at well over 100 oz. in just about 3 hours, and waited. It took about 10 minutes, and when he showed up, he looked just ragged. Fortunately, there is a Hole-In-The-Wall restaurant about 200 meters up the road from this lookout, and my friend knew the owners. We rolled over there ---- and spent the next two hours in the A/C, drinking lemon water and recovering. Even after that, in the 8 miles home, he STILL didn’t feel or ride well, and cramped on all but the slightest of efforts. We spent that afternoon and evening keeping him in a cool shower, and drinking to recover. A quick step on the scale showed that he’d lost about 6 lbs, which, for a skinny guy, is REALLY dangerous.
Me? I drank the other bottle, and then made a poor-man’s carb drink by mixing a flat Dr. Pepper with water, which I also drank on the 40 minute ride home. I then immediately drank a recovery drink, and took out a pee strip. The result? Well, it was a life-or-death issue. Here - take a look.
And here it is compared to the baselines you get on a reagent strip container.
So - after FIVE HOURS in the sun, in which temps hit a peak of 111 DEGREES… I was STILL HYDRATED at a SPECIFIC GRAVITY of 1.01. How much did I drink? 70+24+24+24 = 142oz, of which all but 24 of those ounces was NBS Hydration (remember the Dr. Pepper trick). Also - Look at the Leukocytes. I actually WAS burning fat, which was the mission for the weekend. Furthermore, look at the PH levels. That’s purely from the NBS. If I had decided to attempt some hard intervals, I would have been prepared for them internally, since intensity leads to lactic acid and increased Co2 output. Being slightly alkaline can help offset some of the challenges those efforts bring.
Here it is - Sunday morning, and my friend still hasn’t really recovered from the heat stress. It reminds me of that life-altering day in late June, 2010, when I drank the wrong drink, didn’t drink enough of it, and suffered a life-altering heatstroke that left me with impaired vision in one eye and a higher likelihood of migraines overall. I just hope this message gets across to others; you CAN exercise in the heat - you just have to be EXTREMELY prepared for it, and honestly, DRINK your way out of it.
PS - I honestly feel sorry for the Dallas Cowboys… They’re getting umpteen million dollars for a Gatorade Sports Science Institute in their new facilities in Frisco, and I can’t believe they’d be using almost 50-year old information and higher concentrations of sports drink, to their detriment. One can only hope that every sports franchise, in a warming world, will see just how powerful these new, scientifically based sports drinks, can change your cycling for the better.
Kurt Chacon is mentioned in this blog from previous years, when he helped riders understand that cycling is not just about legs and lungs, but is instead a Holistic sport that requires the entire body. Sure, certain muscles are emphasized, but that's at the expense of other muscles and parts of the skeletal system that can help reduce fatigue, reduce wasted effort, and transmit power to the pedals as well.
When you look at Kurt, he doesn't look like a cyclist. He's larger, more muscular, and the impression is that he might be better served with a more short-distance sport, but here he is, a recreational cyclist, capable of a solid power output and endurance in the 3-5 hour range. That said, he loves his anaerobic intervals, and has studied the information that has come out of XertOnline.com.
The intervals we built for the class, based on this Xert protocol this month, are HARD. REALLLY HARD. They're in the 200 to 300% of FTP range, and they're anywhere from 15 seconds to 2 minutes. People that have been coming to the studio for years are now commenting that they're actually SORE from the workouts, and they're having better rides outside. So we plugged in Kurt's information from a ride to see what's actually happening per the MPA model.
If you look carefully, you'll see that Kurt's MPA dropped substantially as the intervals increased in intensity, and for the entire duration of the effort, MPA never returned to full capacity. However, let me zoom in on something that I am fascinated by - the 4th and 5th intervals of each set.
On interval 4 of the first set, and almost every set thereafter, MPA actually dipped BELOW the interval's Peak Power, but it did it JUST AFTER the interval ended.
You can see it even more clearly on the 5th Interval. Here is a close-up.
Here, you can see that while Kurt was able to complete the interval, his MPA and wattage actually touched, though there was no breakthrough, but he continued to suffer as his power backed off, and the MPA dropped further.
Now scroll back up and look at he first image. Intervals 4 and 5 for most of the sets revealed an MPA that dipped BELOW the intensity of the interval, but did not INTERCEPT the effort. In my opinion, this was probably one of the BEST workouts he, or any client, could have performed. He accomplished the task, finished each progressively harder interval, but saw a dip in his MPA, from which he basically never really recovered. So for this athlete, this was probably the most COMPLETE workout in recent history. The breakthrough will come, probably next week, when we attempt 1 minute intervals at 160% of Threshold.
Performing intervals that are STRAINFUL, yet REPEATABLE, allows for greater adaptation and confidence. Up until Xert, however, we only had the W' model to predict what the 'penalty' was for an effort, and even the developers of that protocol admitted that shorter, harder, more repetitive intervals didn't work with the model. MPA does, and I continue to be amazed at how uncannily accurate the Xert model is, for EVERY athlete.
We'll see how his testing goes next week and again in a traditional effort in September. Until then, grab a registration on Xert and see for yourself. It's pretty fascinating.
It's got my MPA and Power on the first 3rd of the screen, my Fat and Carb use in grams in the middle, and Xert's "Focus" and "Strain" on the bottom.
Obviously, I'll use MPA and rolling 3-sec power most, because it'll tell me, based on color schemes (Green, Blue, Black, Yellow, Red) what general 'Zone' I'm in, and basically how much Power I have left in the tank. I've described some of the details of this on a video I posted months ago, and it's also up on my YouTube page, so hopefully that explanation will help. Here are the links: https://youtu.be/7tbfbe_0D0Y and https://youtu.be/P1u3oLroef4.
Basically, if your power is Green, you can go forever. Blue is Tempo-ish, Black is Threshold-ish, Yellow is Vo2Max-ish, and means you've got less than 3 minutes of MPA left, and Red is Anaerobic, and it means you've got less than 30 seconds of MPA left. If it's Purple, congrats! You've had a fitness breakthrough!
Now, for the Fat and Carbs area on the screen, this is an interesting way to look at how we USE STORED AND INTERNAL ENERGY to GENERATE POWER, which in turn, helps us GET FIT. It also tells the cyclist just how freaking hard it is to actually BURN FAT. Remember, 1 gram of FAT yields 9 Calories, while 1 gram of Carbs yield 4 Calories. Our bodies prefer burning the Carbs, so this teaches you how to ride slower and in a zone that will burn more fat, thus preserving the carbs and teach the body how to better use that stored fat. Finally, I actually use it to help stave off bonks and also to try and stay on top of my hydration. If you know how many grams of food and sugar are in your pockets and bottles, you can come up with ways to mentally stay on top of your stamina through an eating and hydration schedule. The Carbs area turns red when you're mostly burning Carbs, or red when you're mostly burning Fat, and it's tied in to the information Xert puts in to your Garmin Express Code, so it's unique to every individual. Finally, if you're in to Polarized training, then THIS APP IS FOR YOU. I'll tie it in to the 3rd app next.
Now for the last 1/3 of the screen, I include "Focus" and "Strain". I don't want to get into debates about specificity, but readers, I have to tell you - this is a pretty darned cool app. If you've signed up for your free account with Xert, it'll ask you things like "What type of athlete are you?" And you look at a power-duration curve and basically think about where your strengths and weaknesses are, and make a selection. In this image, I selected "Breakaway Specialist", which in Xert's world means the focus will be on optimizing 5-minute power.
Now, when I go for a ride, as soon as the app gets enough data, it starts telling me where my "Focus" is, in terms of minutes and seconds. Ironically, it doesn't take much to get that "Focus" in to the lower numbers, from 1-4 minutes, and it's MUCH HARDER to get the Focus in to the numbers that are higher. Now, where the tie-in comes is this: Let's say, like me, you dabble (and I do mean dabble) in the Ultra-Marathon Cycling World, and you're looking to train for great power over 2-6 hours at a time. Well, here's your truth-teller, right here. You'll be pedaling and generating so little power that you'll be S L O W, and your "FAT" grams ID in the middle will be RED, RED, RED, while your 3-second wattage in the UPPER screen will be GREEN, GREEN, GREEN. It's boring, it's embarrassing, it's risky when it's hot, you hate yourself, you hate everyone else that's passing you and probably having more fun, and you hate your coach for forcing you to do these "Old School" rides. But that FOCUS will help. Furthermore, if you're really wanting to hit your FOCUS goal, you can literally ride as hard or soft as you like, knowing that this is really a good way to "Focus" on specificity. We all waste our time on rides; that's actually kind of the point of riding - it's dynamic. But this FOCUS can really help you hit your goals, or truly see how hard a group ride is, let's say, in your current condition, so you can then "Focus" your workouts using Xert's workout generator.
Finally, you've got "Strain", on the bottom. Like KiloJoules, Strain only goes UP. Now, it's NOT KiloJoules, but it's KiloJoule-esque, and if you put yourself through low-strain rides, it'll creep up, but if you put yourself through high-strain workouts, it'll jump up. Call it a new way to measure volume. Some of my indoor 60-minute workouts are in the 175 range (with a FOCUS down in the 2:30 range), and some of my longer, 3-5 hour rides with clients, at their speeds, are in the maybe 300-350 range.
SO - to sum things up on this screen....
- MPA is there to tell me what I can do RIGHT NOW, THIS INSTANT.
- Rolling 3-sec Power is there to give me an idea of zones as well as output.
- Fat Grams tells me what I've burned, and if it's red, it's my primary source of energy.
- Carb Grams tell me what I've burned, and if it's red, it's my primary source of energy.
- Focus is there to help me understand what I'm getting out of a ride,
- Strain is there to tell me how much volume I've accomplished or not.
Enjoy the ride!