Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Alan Couzens

An HRV Primer

This post is for those of you who may be intrigued by heart rate variability (HRV) but not quite ready to devote the time to diving head first into the fantastic but extensive three-part series on HRV that, our resident cardiologist, Dr. Larry Creswell wrote or the five-part (!) series that I did on my own blog.

How Long Can I Hold My Peak?

A couple of seasons ago, I had the opportunity to work with a small group of ITU athletes. The experience was fun and frustrating at the same time. It was a constant battle between building fitness and hanging onto this fitness during extended periods of racing. However, I did learn a lot from this different approach to racing.

Training Zone Calculator

I've put together a calculator that will give you some recommendations on your personal heart rate and pace/power zones in line with EC’s terminology.

If you regularly repeat the test protocols and save the data, you'll be able to benchmark your fitness throughout the year.

The Hidden Cost of an Overly Aggressive Bike Position

With the 2015 bikes hitting the market, many ironfolk will be "looking to upgrade." Usually this means better materials, sleeker lines, hiding more "stuff" and, above all else, more aggressive geometry. After all, nothing looks better rolling through transition than a bike with full aero set up and a huge drop. Big drop = low frontal area = this dude is serious about laying down a fast bike split!

Well, there is one element of that equation that is missing: big drop + holding the position for 5ish hours = fast bike split!

Sharpening the Saw

Let’s take a look what to do when things “aren’t going right” in your training. Specifically, what about those times when things aren’t quite so evident but there is just a general feeling when athletes are not “getting what they deserve” out of the training that they are putting in?

“Training Through” Races

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it” -Arnold Glasgow

Further or Faster - The Midseason Dilemma

With the spring season starting up, many athletes will begin to wonder, “How much base training is enough?” or “When is the right time to start some faster workouts?” In terms of the Annual Training Plan, athletes may wonder if they should continue the Base phase or enter the Build phase of training.

What Type of Athlete Are You?

“It takes Different Strokes to rule the world” – Different Strokes theme

While I had to confess my complete lack of qualification in talking on last month’s subject of time management, things have come full circle this month to a topic that I am intimately familiar with: the relationship between training load and top performance.

Absorbing a Training Camp

Training camps can be an incredibly useful weapon in your training arsenal. When compared to the regular training block, they can be thought of as akin to the difference between a semi-automatic rifle and a musket. While both fire a single bullet with comparable effect, the difference in load time between the two means you can get a lot more done in a given time with the semi-auto.

Discussing Benchmarking with IMTalk

When triathletes talk "benchmarking" they usually fall in one of two camps: The "old school" heart rate advocates and the "new school" power junkies. But does it have to be one or the other?

Fatigue Curve Calculator

Looking for a simple way to understand your fatigue curve to spot areas of weaknesses and opportunities for improvement? Coach Alan Couzens has developed a calculator to do it for you.

22 Questions: A Retrospective Analysis of Your A Race and Season

It’s that time of year again: most of you will have completed your “A” race for the season and will be left with a bunch of resulting powerful thoughts and emotions. Now is the time to use those thoughts and emotions to full effect by refining your training plan for next year.

Fatigue Curves for the Kona Athlete

In my last article in our How to Qualify series I looked at how some typical benchmark workouts may progress across the course of the qualifying year for an athlete who is on track for a Kona slot. In this piece, we’re going to dive into these benchmarks in a little more depth to look at some of the implications of being strong in some benchmarks while struggling to hit others.

I’ll address such questions as:

  • What do the benchmark tests tell us about strengths and weaknesses of the athlete and the sort of training we may want to include in the athlete’s program?
  • What do they suggest about how the athlete may want to approach a pacing plan for the event?

Kona Benchmarks

In my Plan for the "Realist" article, I wrote about some of the general levels of fitness that I typically encounter among athletes who qualify. Many of these measures of fitness are a little abstract, especially for those not super familiar with WKO+ or my own method of performance modeling: CTL, VO2 score, etc.

In this piece I want to bring some of those numbers down to a rubber meets the road perspective so that we can begin to answer the most basic of questions -- what sort of training sets/sessions should an athlete be able to accomplish to indicate they are in Kona shape?

Plan for the "Realist"

by Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Last week I talked about the different improvement curves that I’ve observed for different types of athletes. I identified three basic athlete types: the natural, the realist and the worker.

As part of our new “How to Qualify for Kona” section that recently kicked off, I’m going to put some of those observations into the context of what it means to different types of athletes looking to qualify for Kona.

In a previous article for the Training Peaks site I conveyed some of the typical chronic training load ranges that I tend to see for athletes of different types and ability levels. The table from that article is reproduced below.

The times that qualify an athlete for Kona are getting faster by the year. The 2010 ranges for flat (Florida, Arizona, Brazil) and hilly courses (Lake Placid, CdA, St. George) for differing age-groups and genders is shown below.

So, comparing the two tables, if you’re a young(ish) male, you’ll likely need the fitness level represented by a VO2max/VO2 score of 60-67ml/kg/min* corresponding to a Chronic Training Load somewhere in the 75-150 TSS/d range. If you’re a young(ish) female, you’ll need the fitness level represented by a VO2max/score of 57-60 ml/kg/min* corresponding to a CTL somewhere in the 70-130 range.

Load and Performance

One of the most common requests I receive as a coach is to don my prognosticator hat and answer the question, “How fast will I go on race day?”

This question can take various forms, from the direct “Will I qualify?” to the subtle “What’s an appropriate pacing strategy?” but the inquiry is fundamentally the same -- "Based on the training that I’ve done, what are some realistic performance expectations?" Or, the flipside to that, "If I have 'xyz' performance expectations, how much training do I need to do?"

Considerations for Ironman Athletes Racing at Altitude

With the recent introduction of two new high altitude races to the Ironman calendar, the challenge of irondistance racing just reached a new level. Now, not only must athletes overcome the trials of optimal pacing (over many hours), nutrition, and heat, but an additional variable has been thrown into the mix: the reduction of the partial pressure in O2 that comes with increasing altitude.

Optimal Nutrition for Hot Weather Races

Some of the common themes here at EC are nutrition for health and nutrition for performance. Our editor was right to point out that these two topics are often distinct and perhaps even counter to one another. However, one situation in which they are very much linked is nutrition and hydration for hot weather racing. Get it wrong and not only is your performance going to suffer but you could very well be putting your health at risk!

Race Period Concerns: Over-Tapering/Under-Tapering

It seems that no matter which tapering strategy the coach and athlete decide on, there will almost certainly come a time close to the race when the athlete doubts the strategy. This is perfectly normal. The weird physical sensations that accompany the change in training that the taper brings, coupled with the stress of the situation make for some fertile ground for doubts to spring up. Without a smart strategy and a firm resolve, these doubts often breed dumb decisions.

So, what constitutes a smart taper?

Training Your Weakness: Speed and Power

In my last article I looked at typical triathlete development patterns. I suggested that endurance takes a long time to be maximized and that, while it is being trained, the typical athlete will tend to fare relatively better at shorter events than his peers who have a more developed aerobic base. But what if you’re an atypical athlete?

Playing to Our Strengths - Part 2: Understanding Long Term Development

In a previous article, I outlined the importance of understanding where your relative strengths lie in order to maximize your relative performance as a triathlete. I applied this on two levels:

  1. Understanding the sport that best suits your morphology, from swimming for the tall, strong and long levered to running for the short, skinny “lungs on legs” body build.
  2. Understanding the event duration that best suits you based on your fatigue curve. I suggested that this fatigue curve will, in all likelihood, change over your development as an athlete and that, consequently, the nature of your “A” race should also change in accordance with the event that you’re best suited for at that time.

I want to explore the second of these concepts in a little more depth.

Playing to Our Strengths

”You’ve got to dance with the girl who brung ya.”

I stole the somewhat cryptic quote above from strength coach Dan John.

Dan is referring to an all too common problem in sports of ignoring your natural strengths. We all pop into this world with some level of uniqueness -- tall, short, long arms, wide shoulders, big head… whatever makes you a little different from the rest is likely something that you can exploit in the world of athletics.

Three Powerful Strategies to Incorporate in Your 2013 Season Plan

In my last blog post, I offered a quick retrospective on some of the things that I would like to do differently as my squad heads into 2013.

While it’s always good to look back on the past with a critical eye, it is equally important to celebrate the successes -- the changes that we made this year that led to some breakthrough performances. I’ll attempt to recount some of those in this article, so that you, the reader, can apply them to your own 2013 plan and have your own breakthrough year!

Three Times You Want to See Your Little Blue Line Take a Nose Dive

Athletes who use the TrainingPeaks Performance Manager Chart effectively have a potentially huge advantage over their competition in their ability to see the big picture at a glance. A large part of this big picture perspective comes down to being able to track changes in fitness by looking at trends in Chronic Training Load (CTL).

The “little blue line” on your performance manager chart offers a good proxy for your general fitness at any point in your training plan. As such, a common (and generally valid) goal is to see a steady and consistent increase in this CTL number as your training progresses. However, as a coach who looks at a number of these charts over the course of a season, I can tell you with a good level of certainty that there are times when you will actually want to see your little blue line take a nose dive, or put another way, there are times when you will want to make the decision to give up a little short term fitness in the interests of long term results.

Beyond the Fatigue Curve: Bringing Lab Testing to the Field - Part I: Fat Oxidation

As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of using fatigue curves as an indicator of the relative top end power versus submax endurance strength of an athlete. By looking at how an athlete’s power decays as event duration increases, we are able to make some conclusions as to the endurance capacity of that athlete and we are able to extrapolate down the curve to make some pacing goals/predictions for event durations which the athlete may infrequently attempt. This is especially useful for ironman athletes.

However, despite the usefulness of the fatigue curve, it still only represents a general impression of the athlete’s endurance.

Breakthrough Training: Four Key Lessons for the Serious, Frustrated Athlete

As far as triathlon coaches go, I think I have a fairly homogenous group of athletes that I tend to work with. They are typically guys who have been plugging away with relatively high levels of annual volume for a number of years and have had either inconsistent results or results not in line with they work put in.

Since my sample of athletes are fairly uniform in athletic history, the key to attaining a breakthrough performance for these athletes more often than not comes down to a few slight tweaks to the way they have been doing things.

Mental Toughness: A Physiologist’s Perspective

A few of you may know that I began my college studies with a view to a career in sport psychology. After a few years of study it became clear to me that my mechanistic mindset was far better suited to exercise physiology and so I left matters of the mind behind. Or so I thought…

Basic Limiters: Mobility

by Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Part I
Part II - Strength
Part III - Work Capacity

In this final article in the Basic Limiters series I want to talk about the most overlooked of the three: mobility.

Mobility is kind of a catch-all phrase that incorporates all aspects of functional flexibility -- the factors that may restrict an athlete’s range of motion in their chosen sport and general functional tasks. As such it incorporates:

  • Muscular tightness
  • Soft tissue restriction
  • Joint capsule restriction
  • And neuromuscular restriction/faulty movement patterns

It is a very important quality to the endurance athlete for two big reasons:

  1. Injury prevention
  2. Economy

Injury Prevention
Endurance sports are, more or less, whole body activities. On the positive, this fact enables the athlete to put sufficient demand on the body that they get a true systemic training response. All of the systems of the body from circulatory to metabolic to endocrine get a “workout” and, providing appropriate loading and recovery patterns are adhered to, the general health of these systems is enhanced.

The downsides of whole body activities are that:

  • The movements are generally more complex
  • The opportunity for faulty compensation is rife

Take running for example, say Joe Middleage arises from his slumber on January 1 one year resolved to begin running for fitness. He takes his first few loping strides and his body realizes (unconsciously) that he no longer has the ankle flexibility to drop his heel to the ground at the completion of each stride.

Basic Limiters: Work Capacity

As the third installment in this series on Basic Limiters, I want to explore one of the most important and yet misunderstood abilities that is the prime focus of an athlete’s Base Period.

Athletes vary markedly in the approach they take to early season training, ranging from doing super long endurance building sessions to hitting the trainer for some "bleed through the eyeballs" intensity fests. Both are inappropriate for this time of year and miss the point of general preparation.

So what is the point of general preparation?

Basic Limiters: Strength

by Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

In my last article on early season limiters I suggested three potentially performance-limiting factors which are often ignored by the performance oriented athlete but are absolutely integral to building the type of training that will lead to the highest potential level of performance later in the season. In summary these are:

  • Strength
  • Aerobic Base
  • Mobility

I presented a case for adding a fourth limiter of movement economy (or basic speed) in an article on my personal blog.

The relationship between these four qualities can be diagrammatically expressed as follows (from Counsilman and Counsilman, 1994) [click to enlarge].

All sports (and functional activities) lie somewhere within that triangle. Even for those sports that may be heading for a corner, there are still elements of all qualities present. Or, put another way, an elite ironman triathlete, while not as strong as an Olympic lifter, is still stronger than somebody who is deconditioned (close to zero strength). A power athlete, like a 100m sprinter, while nowhere near as aerobically fit as our ironman triathlete, is still more aerobically fit than "Norm Couchpotato" (Endurance at zero). And, finally, while an ultra-runner may get crushed over a 100m sprint by Usain Bolt, I still very much like his chances against the average American (Speed at zero). The larger point being that wherever your sport may lie within the triangle, the first step is simply getting on the board -- in other words, becoming an athlete.