There have been some big gaps between my posts here this winter. This is my busy season with lots of travel. It seems there is never enough time. I’m sure you know the feeling.
In my last blog as an intro to the topic of keeping it simple I explained how I've been on a quest the last couple of years to make training more user friendly by focusing on those few things that are most likely to produce rapid and positive change – what I've come to call the "Big Rocks." I also explained there that the most basic of the Big Rocks is skills. Unfortunately, this is usually the last thing endurance athletes are concerned about because many see aerobic and muscular fitness as the only aspects of fitness that are truly important to performance. But skills are also related to fitness, just not in a way we’re used to.
Most athletes could make significant and often immediate improvements in performance by refining their sport-specific skills. By "skills" what I mean is the ability to make the movements of the sport in an efficient and effective manner.
"Efficiency" in sport has to do with the metabolic cost of movement – how much stored energy, especially carbohydrate (glycogen and glucose), it takes to make the movement. If the cost is higher than what is necessary and common for advanced athletes then the inefficient athlete, in order to go faster, must either produce excessive effort (and hence a greater cost) or figure out how to reduce the expense (more skillful movement). Most opt for the first choice and give lip service to the second.
I'm using "effective" here to mean making the movements of the sport in such a way as to produce intended and beneficial performance results. In other words, an effective endurance athlete is one who is fast and powerful. This usually also requires making changes in one’s skills.
So what I'd like to do next is get down to the Big Rocks of efficiency and effectiveness – the skills of sport. And since the readers of this blog are typically triathletes and road cyclists I will focus on three sports — swimming, biking, and running. In the interest of the cyclists I'll start with the bike so they can skip the swim and run posts that are to follow (when I again find time!).
There is only one Big Rock for cycling. Pretty simple. This is the starting point every season for every cyclist regardless of the their level of performance – pro or novice.
Get a Bike Fit
This is so simple it's almost embarrassing. Regardless, get a bike fit done every year at the start of the winter base training period. Yes, every year. Even if it’s the same bike you were fit on last year. Things change. You get stronger or weaker, more or less flexible, have developed a little niggling injury or gotten rid of one, will do different types of races in the coming season, or forgot that you lowered your saddle by 3mm six months ago or changed to a new stem. You may also learn, unfortunately, that the bike you are riding simply doesn't fit you. The frame is too big or too small. I hope that isn't the case as it means a big out-of-pocket. I see riders in this sad situation in almost every race I go to, especially triathlons.
Go to a professional bike fitter to have this done. Don't have your spouse or friend do it (unless he or she is a professional fitter). Don't ask a training partner to take a look while you're riding along. Use a professional. Bike fitting used to nearly be all art; now it is mostly a science. A good fitter will put you in a position that optimizes your physique, physiology, and purpose. You'll learn how to sit on a saddle (many do it wrong), what your head, spine and hip posture should be, and how to be more aerodynamic.
The bottom line is that your pedaling and bike handling efficiency and effectiveness will improve after a good fit. You’ll waste less energy and be more powerful. And your risk of injury in the coming season will be decreased.
If you are a road cyclist who does crits, road races and time trials you'll more than likely need two bike fits. Triathletes typically need only fit the bike they race on.
If you're unsure who to go to for a fit ask around with others in your sport. A good fit will cost you a few bucks ($100-200 is common in the US but can be a lot more depending on what is done). If you are truly serious about improving performance on the bike it's some of the best money you'll spend. You'll come away after an hour or two as a better cyclist without even breaking a sweat.
In the next post I’ll write about swimming. While becoming more efficient and effective on the bike is quite simple, the swim is much more complex.