I’ve been thinking about writing this piece for a while and I guess I’ve finally gotten around to it. It will assuredly be multiple parts but will be somewhat self limiting. The title is a bit pretentious, I mean how can I discuss All You Need to Know About Training in a single article. Yet it’s not far off since what I’m going to discuss really hits all of the global points that are important when it comes to training for sport. But you ask, what about the details, the endless minutiae. Well….
The Stages of Coaching/Training
The reality is that many (including myself) drastically overcomplicate training. I actually identify three phases of coaching:
- You know you know nothing
- You think you know something
- You realize what you don’t know
It’s usually during phase 2 that folks overcomplicate things. In college, oh my, the complex periodization programs I’d draw up. It was a spreadsheet exercise with pie charts and graphs and I’m sure in hindsight I had more fun drawing things up than I did actually doing the training. Not only could I never actually follow the training plan, even when I did it didn’t accomplish much.
Eventually you learn that all the planning isn’t realistic to begin with and just doesn’t accomplish more than a simpler approach. When you’re coaching you eventually do the same. Early on, you want to impress your athletes with the sheer complexity of the training to show off how great you are.
Then you eventually realize that all the showing off doesn’t get them fundamentally better gains than just working hard on the basics. And great coaches eventually distill those basics down into great programs.
This is an example.
AIS Track Cycling
To address that idea, I want to look at a post that was made a bunch of years back about the Australian Institute Sport (AIS) track cycling program. It was written by their weight room coach so this isn’t some second hand account. This is the guy that was coaching the athletes that were, at the time, kicking serious ass.
They aren’t as dominant now that UK Track Cycling has taken over but for a bunch of years they truly ruled the roost. And for a country as small as Australia, that’s something.
Note: and this is for the people who claim that sports science has contributed nothing to sport, the AIS is tied in with a lot of sports science research which was being applied directly here.
One caveat, and the author mentions this at the end: this post really describes elite training. This is for guys who have learned the skills and have the technical background, have the genetics to be this successful and train full time. It’s also for a sport with a limited number of physiological capacities that have to be trained which simplifies it somewhat.
It wouldn’t be appropriate for a developing athlete and not everyone could survive it. As he says, take concepts from it even if you can’t apply it completely. This also won’t necessarily apply to sports with more technical requirements where a lot more work would need to be put into that.
But to a first approximation, I think this piece tells you more or less all you need to know about training. I’ll post up the individual excerpts with my commentary as I go. You can see the original here.
A Primer on Track Cycling
I’ve written about track cycling before (in the overwritten series on Olympic Lifting I did) but will recap here. It’s a type of cycling done on an indoor track called a velodrome (an oval track with banked corners) and there are a variety of events including short sprints, medium distance events such as the kilo (1000m about 1 minute), some team time trials and some longer endurance events (including a bizarre event called a Madison where teammates sling each other back into the race).
The piece I’m going to put up focuses mainly on the sprints but mentions enduros at the end. The sprint in track cycling is bizarre due to the nature of the sport and what it requires. Track bikes have a single gear unlike road bikes.
Since there is no shifting, that means that the single gear has to be optimized for the highest speed part of the race. It has to be big enough so that the cyclist doesn’t spin out and can’t keep putting pressure on it. But that also means that it is enormously difficult to get started from a dead stop.
Because of this, track cycling sprinters are notorious for having huge legs and big squats. This is Robert Forstermann, a freakish German track cyclist with absurd legs and a huge squat (260kgX2 so 570 lbs) and he is a match sprinter.
Mind you, he has said he was born with big quads but, good lord. They look deformed because they are. Bodybuilders would kill for that kind of leg size.
In his even event called the match sprint, cyclists sort of dick around playing cat and mouse for like 2.5 laps (often stopping in a track stand and not moving) and then one launches an attack from a dead stop or slow roll and it takes enormous forces to turn over that monster gear. It takes roughly 10 seconds for them to get up to full speed and then it’s 10 seconds or so all freaking out to the line.
The time trials start out of blocks and the same requirements hold although the gears aren’t as large since speeds aren’t quite as high. But the gear still has to be big enough to accommodate the top speed which means it take huge forces to get the bike up to speed. The start is insanely explosive.
This is Sir Chris Hoy doing a standing start. His peak power output has been measured at 2400 watts. The average male might put out 1/3rd or less of that if they are lucky.
But this type of event requires, huge maximum strength and power requirements on top of very high leg speed. Top guys will spin out at about 160+ RPM (road cyclists typically roll at 95-110RPM or so) and do it with high force so it’s a combination of a couple of different biomotor capacities to really excel.
So with that background let’s get to the post made by the strength coach of the AIS team. For each major point, I’ll first provide the quote from the original article along with any comments I have.
There are No Secrets
1. We don’t keep any secrets from anyone, including the Poms, the Frogs, Ze Germans or the Yanks. In fact, people just generally don’t believe what we tell them, disagree or their programs (or minds) are too set in concrete to change.
We invite other top riders to train with us and they get faster, but they go home and do the same old thing. The Head Coach, support staff and I are happy to tell anyone and everyone what we do. We usually just don’t get time to sit around on chat rooms or make social chit chat on E-mail, let alone write a book.
Ignoring the, at least by US PC standards, racist terminology, good coaches know that there is more to their method than just the method itself. Yes, coaching is an art and a science although I’d argue that the art of experienced coaches comes from experience of trying things out systematically and coming up with a heuristic for certain situations. The best coach can tell you exactly what he does, that doesn’t mean you can do it (look at how many bastardize the Bulgarian system for example).
Sports Change with Time and So Do Training Methods
2. What Charlie Walsh and Gary West used to do with our sprinters when they were the Head Coaches was state of the art at the time and they are both great coaches. You will not find anyone in Australian Cycling who will question that or say a word against what they did at the time, but times have changed and those methods are not quite enough to consistently hit the top spots now, although you can still be troublesome internationally if you’ve got natural speed.
The top speeds have gone to a new level and to reach that level, you have to specialise your sprint riders more. I’m sure if Charlie and Westy were still coaching the Oz team, they wouldn’t be doing exactly the same things they were doing ten years ago. They are too smart for that.
Coaching changes with time, usually as sports change. Track cycling has gotten faster and faster, stronger guys pushing bigger gears and it’s more speed dominated. Older methods are still valuable but sport evolves over time and so must the training methods or at least the focus of the training. This is actually true of a lot of sports, the top speeds needed on the track in events like the 400m and 800m are at a new level; if you don’t have the speed, the endurance doesn’t matter.
Look to Other Sports for Ideas
3. Most of what we do is based on methods and research that have been around for decades but have not been applied to cycling. It has mostly been used in athletics and we have copied a lot from that and what the French and Germans have done at various times. The Brits were formerly coached by our current Head Track Coach, so they do a lot of similar things too. What the Dutch are doing now, I’m not sure, but they were mostly all speed skaters before they were top cyclists, so maybe there’s something in that.
You can often learn from other sports although you have to take into account the differences. The Germans, back in the days of Charlie Francis focused on top speed first and speed endurance second with the goal of maintaining that top speed for longer rather than building endurance and then trying to get faster.
Many speed skaters back in the day switched to track or road cycling and there is a LOT of crossover between the sports in terms of the training methods because the events are hellishly similar bioenergetically, muscularly and biomechanically.
It’s part of why I’ve always enjoyed reading about other sports and how they apply training within the unique confines of their sport: often you find techniques that can be applied, perhaps with modification, to something else.
I find the link with speed skating even more interesting since I did that sport. But the body posture and physiological requirements are actually quite similar. Speed skaters had a fairly long history of switching to cycling and doing very well.
Training Must Evolve Over Time to Maintain Progress
4. We are constantly trying new things and changing what we do, so what we do this year will be different to what we did last year and so on. Australia is a small country and is competing with some real powerhouses in terms of talent pools, resources and money that we can’t even dream of matching, so we have to be a step ahead or we’re not in the race.
No real comment here. When you have thousands of athletes to throw at a sport, you can grind most of them down and have a few world beater survivors. That doesn’t work for smaller countries and you have to be a lot more applied with your coach.
Track cycling has the added element that the differences in times for first and third place are often measured in tenths or hundreths of a second these days. Chris Hoy missed a world record once by 5 THOUSANDTHS of a second. That’s 0.005 seconds. An eye blink is about 0.3 seconds. There’s no room for error in anything in a sport like this.
Training Continues to Change
5. What sprinters did 10 years ago is completely different to what most of the top sprinters are doing now. The critical factors that determine success or failure have changed. Tactics have changed and the tournament formats have changed.
Training that would win 10 years ago is generally not as successful today, but every dog has his or her day and some old-school trainers still come out on top now and again, but it is happening less and less.
This ties into sports evolving as above. Different tactics and event layouts require different approaches and coaches have to acknowledge those changes and accommodate them (while never losing sight of the older methods that may still be valid). In the match sprint for example, it used to be that everyone would roll up to the last line before launching.
Now you get guys who launch their attack from 200m out and have the endurance to make it to the line without crapping out. Many sports have added more rounds so even if the event is speed, you need the endurance to get through prelims, quarters, semis to the finals.
Winning is About Going Faster for Longer
6. Our philosophy is simple. Most events are speed endurance. To win you need to go faster for longer than the other guy or gal. Some riders are better at faster, some are better at longer, but they generally need a bit of both.
To have speed endurance, first you need speed. If you can’t ride 5.0 for a flying 100m, you won’t ride 10.1 for a 200m. Speed is hard to train and takes a long time. Endurance is easy by comparison and we just chuck that on at the end.
This is a key section to this piece so far as I’m concerned. In the old days of sport training, even for speed sports, you started with endurance and worked towards speed. But things started to shift a few decades back. Charlie Francis was using this approach in the 80’s developing top speed first and speed endurance second. Supposedly the Germans did this with their sprinters with a special flume. They would start by training for short distances at world record speed and stretch out the duration over time.
Because in sprint events, it doesn’t matter how long you can go, it matters how fast you can go. And speed is not only very genetic, it’s very very hard to train. It takes constant, relentless work to get small improvements (consider that a track sprinter may train for a year to take a tenth or less off their best time).
Endurance is easy relatively speaking and you can top it off in 4-6 weeks for an event like this (certainly for long-distance endurance like road cycling this is not true). But without the speed it doesn’t make an ounce of difference. Charlie Francis was preaching this in the 80’s as well: to run a certain time in the 100m requires a certain top speed. If you can’t hit it, you can’t make the time and your speed endurance can’t make up for it. Speed dominates.
Speed Means Acceleration which Means Power Which Means Strength
7. To get up to speed, you need acceleration and that means power. Power is a combination of strength and speed. The speed part you get on the track, the strength you get in the gym. Low cadence power (0-120rpm or so) we can train in the gym too, but high cadence power (120-200rpm) is too fast to do in the gym and you generally need to be chasing a maniac on a motorbike (e.g., our Head Coach) down the bank to increase that. Or at least, someone faster than you to break the wind so you can go overspeed.
On top of the need to improve speed along with the difficulty of it, you have to look at what determines speed. In track sprinting, there is a strength component (to get out of the blocks quickly), an acceleration phase, and then the speed endurance phase. Each is trained differently.
The same goes for track sprinters who develop start, acceleration/drive, top speed and endurance separately before putting it together into a single effort. To prepare for a given sport you have to figure out the determinants of a given goal are and train them as needed as well as semi-sequentially.
If power is based on strength and speed is based on power you build strength first, power next and then speed. The reverse order doesn’t work. And you don’t train them just by doing it over and over again. You train each segment separately and specifically before putting them together over the full distance.
Different Events Have Different Needs
8. Aerobic Capacity (VO2max, AT) is the base for enduros, strength is the base for sprinters. We do three gym sessions and two track sessions for most of the year. Road is just for recovery, to keep them a little bit lean and to keep the sprinters out of the pub and out of trouble. It is generally a max of 2hrs, but mostly only 1 and is very easy – talking the whole time.
Another key aspect that is often forgotten. You have to consider the specifics of your sport in terms of what the base biomotor capacity is. For all endurance sports (past about 4 minutes duration), it’s aerobic capacity. For short events (20 seconds or less) it’s strength or speed (or some combination).
In the middle durations, say 4-8 minutes, it’s a little bit of both and this is a weird gray area physiologically. Also note that even the best sprinters do some easy aerobic work. Key is easy, talk test keeps them at a very low intensity, I’d say 120-140 heart rate tops. It’s EASY aerobic. It doesn’t hamper their speed (as often claimed) and most cyclists like to ride their bikes so this serves multiple purposes. It’s good active recovery and it helps to keep them lean.
Have a Primary Training Focus but Include Other Factors as Well
9. When strength is the focus, we don’t care what numbers they pump out on track, just what they lift. When power or speed is the focus, we back the gym off (2/wk and easier sessions) so we can get the numbers we want on the track (3-4/wk).
Generally, half the year is spent focused on strength and half on power and speed (roughly – depends on competitive calendar) although we always train a bit of everything, it’s just the proportion of each that changes. The strength work is not all done in one block. We cycle through strength, power and speed at least twice per year.
Here’s where I think it really starts to be useful. There is a limit to how much can be improved all at once when you get to a high level. Beginners can do it, intermediates can do it to a lesser degree but at the advanced levels, bringing up everything at once becomes impossible. At that point it becomes better to focus on one factor while maintaining the others before switching (and doing it in an order that is logical and progresses in a proper fashion). If you need strength to build power to build speed, you work in that order in a cyclical fashion.
Some do this as undulating periodization (2 weeks of one capacity, 2 weeks of another) and there are lots of schemes to use. This is very different from the old linear approach to training where you developed Capacity 1 by itself, then moved to Capacity 2 then to Capacity 3 and hoped that the training from 3 months ago would hold it’s adaptations. Which it usually doesn’t. All you ended up doing with this approach was to develop Capacity 1 and then lose it when you were working on Capacity 3.
Frequently it takes a while to develop something so you’re looking at blocks of training (Issurin’s block training takes this approach) where you do 4-6 weeks focusing on one or two related capacities while maintaining the others and working progressively to a peak before starting over. It’s basically just old annual linear periodization on a 10-12 week schedule instead of a 52 week schedule.
But the key is that you never get away from the other components of the sport either. Charlie Francis called this vertical integration, you train all aspects of performance to one degree or another. Just with a different emphasis at different parts of the year.
Keep it Simple in the Weight Room
10. Gym is generally 3-4 sets of 3 max lower body strength or power lifts – early in the phase, two strength and one power, later, two power and one strength. I don’t use cleans, jerks or snatches with our current riders – they are too technical for maximal efforts unless you have years of experience.
A few things here. Recall from above, in terms of the requirements for track cycling, strength, power and speed are required but only the first two can be dealt with in the weight room. People often forget that the fastest movements (perhaps outside of the Olympic lifts) are about an order of magnitude slower than anything that occurs in high level sport which is why the idea of training speed in the weight room is nonsensical for the most part. You can’t come anywhere close to the movement velocities that occur in sport.
As I also mentioned above, this coach uses a scheme were basically everything is trained to one degree or another throughout the year, just in varying proportions and the first sentence goes to that. Earlier in the year, the focus is strength but power is kept in the training. Later on it reverses to focus on power while maintaining strength.
Also, note the comments about the Olympic Lifts. Noting that most early strength coaches came from an OL’ing background (and hence had a LOT of proximity bias/myopia going on), the simple fact is that there are simpler movements that can train the same explosive qualities. Track cyclists aren’t OL’ers, sprinters aren’t OL’ers. The time spent learning complex donkey work movements (that are nothing more than GPP) is time better spent practicing the sport.
The Issue of Specificity
11. We do one bilateral strength lift each session for “core” strength (Squat, Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift) – usually lower back is the limiting factor not legs and this is the only reason I use these lifts – for back strength in standing starts.
The rest of the lifts are unilateral. How many feet do you push each pedal with at one time? If you train bilaterally you get stronger bilaterally and unilateral strength lags behind. If you train unilaterally, you get stronger unilaterally. It’s a neural thing.
Exercise selection for sport is one of those things that has been argued for years. One the one hand you have the argument (Charlie Francis made this) that strength training should all be general and that since you can use heavier weights with double leg movements, you should save the one-leg stuff for the track.
Others argue for more specificity and mainly keep in mind that specificity and transfer are a continuum and not a black and white either/or situation. Track cycling requires an enormous amount of single leg strength to turn the pedals over, especially in the start and this is distinctly different from track sprinting where even getting out of the blocks is not that close to a maximal effort. It also uses both legs.
Also interesting that while back squats are done, it’s not really for leg training (note that other cyclists do perform what are clearly heavy back squats in training, probably for legs) but rather for core. If you watch the standing start in track sprints, the force generated by the legs is enormous and if the back can’t stabilize that, you lose power up instead of pushing down. Like Hatfield said “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”
What about a kayak?
More on Specificity
12. Single-leg Press is our bread and butter. Different foot and hip positions for different phases of pedal stroke, standing, seated, etc. I use high speed video to match joint angles and velocities for each rider. We mainly do it ballistically for power – throw the sled as far as you can – at different percentages of max to match up to different muscle contraction velocities for different phases of the acceleration (different cadences).
Continuing with the specificity issue, it’s interesting that they are varying the movement patterns to hit different aspects of the pedal stroke. Again, very different than say track sprinting where the main force application is in a fairly limited range of motion since the legs mainly move up and down once you’re past the acceleration phase. In track cycling you’re pushing in a big circle and trying to keep force all the way and this means generating force from fairly low knee angles to almost extended.
On top of the huge maximal strength requirements, cycling requires enormous explosive strength. So they do leg press throws. In Salt Lake, I actually would use a mini band on the leg press since speed skating ends with an explosive snap and that means keeping force requirements high through the full movement. I’ve also done leg press throws in the weight room and they are terrifying. This is Anna Meares, one of the top female UK riders performing the movement although she seems to be doing it more for duration than max effort.
Even More on Specificity
13. We do a lot of single-leg plyos on boxes, stairs, bungee sleds, etc during speed phases. Strength and power gains are extremely specific and do not necessarily transfer well. When Ryan Bayley beat Sean Eadie in the Commonwealth Games sprint final in 2002, Sean was tripling 250kg for a parallel back squat and Ryan was tripling 120kg On single-leg press, they were much closer (20kg) and so was the racing.
Another couple of good points here. Once again single leg plyometric work is done for explosiveness/power which is a key aspect of the sport. But honestly the second sentence is far more interesting since it gets into the specificity issue, at least within the above comments.
Track cycling is its own sport and clearly the single leg numbers are far more relevant than how much you can push double leg. I’m not saying this is automatically the case in other sports but it’s worth considering. Strength coaches often love to chase numbers because they are easy to measure. But that doesn’t mean that jacking up certain numbers will automatically boost performance.
And Yet More About Specificity
14. Single-leg squats (front and back) and deadlifts usually make up the third exercise and are as much for pelvic stability as strength. I’m going to try single-leg pulls and cleans this year, but these will not be our primary power exercises – more of a preparation for the work before Beijing. We have done SL squats, deadlifts and pulls for years now and the riders are pretty stable.
An example of numbers – our best single-leg squat figures are 3 @ 165kg on each leg (just over 360lbs). The weakest of the girls (who just entered the squad this year) is 3 @ 80kg on each leg, but she only weighs about 50kg. Two riders have done the 165kg so far. We have riders who can do sets of standing hops onto 1m+ boxes. The lowest is for one of the girls and is a 70cm box for sets of 8 each leg.
I’ll be honest that I’m not 100% sure what the single leg squat is referring to especially given the numbers he’s citing which are enormous (50kg girl doing bodyweight and a half, Jesus). It might be a step-up which my gut says is wrong. Maybe a split squat. I just don’t know and I have no way to find out.
But note that more single leg work is done for pelvic stuff. Due to the alternating nature of the high-force pedal push, if the pelvis is not staying flattish, force is being lost up instead of to the pedals. Also note the height on single leg hops. That’s three feet up and that’s explosive as hell.
What About Upper Body Work?
15. Upper body, we do two exercise per session (a push and a pull in the same plane of movement, different each day) in general prep and two per week in specific prep (both pulls) so they can keep hold of the handlebars in standing starts. The girls are starting to push themselves off the bike, their legs are so strong (around 3 @ 250kg on each leg for the girls and up to 350kg for the guys on SLP).
While most think of cycling as a lower body dominant sport, and make no mistake that it is, there is an upper body component. Less so for road cycling to be sure but track cycling requires good grip and upper body to hold onto the damn handlebars. Note how early in the training year, they do opposing movements but get more specific (two pulls) later in the year.
On the Issue of Abs and Core
16. Abs and core, we do two per session – one mainly flexion, one mainly extension. Some have rotational or lateral components, but not isometric holds or pilates mumbo jumbo. If their “core stability” is poor, they wouldn’t be able to squat on one leg. Lying on the ground and waving your legs in the air doesn’t transfer to the bike.
That might annoy the physios and gurus who make money out of Swiss balls and all that stuff, but I tried it for three years in 20 different sports and it didn’t make any difference to performance or injury rates. They get really good at balancing on a ball, but there’s no Olympic event for that. It doesn’t transfer to the sport. Fix their technical problems in the actual technique (soapbox time is now over).
I really don’t have anything to say about this. Just note that the basics work in terms of core training. Get strong in key movements and stop diddling around with nonsense. Once again, track cycling puts enormous forces through the pelvis, torso, etc. and maintaining power into the pedals and not losing it as the body is pushed upwards is key.
Strength Training Specifics
17. A Gym session lasts about 2.5-3 hours for 6 or 7 exercises, a maximum of 33 sets including 12 warm-ups sets, so that’s about one set every six minutes or more on average. We don’t set maximum rests, just minimums. If they need longer to get their heads in gear, they take it. Ryan Bayley is the slowest trainer in the world. Lucky he’s so bloody fast, they’ll pay my bill to sit there and talk about muscle cars and heavy metal music.
Reps are a maximum of 6 for strength, and 4 – 15 for power (less for high percentages – 60-70% max, more for low percentages – 20%, or BW for plyos) Total contraction time for a set (not counting hang time in the air) is around 6-8s max – phosphate energy system all the way. Minimum of 2 min rest, but that is never in danger. Only the phosphate energy system can deliver energy fast enough for maximal work and you’ve got about 8s max.
First and foremost, remember how everybody says that a workout shouldn’t last more than 60 minutes. Well, it’s bull and always has been. Certainly if you’re dicking around for 2 hours, you should be done in half the time. But quality training requires quality rest intervals and when you’re pushing enormous weights for low repetitions, you need to take sufficient rest.
All powerlifters know this, when they are doing big weights and near RM loads, 5-10′ between sets is not uncommon. It takes that long to recover and then get your head into the game to do the lift safely. Ol’ers don’t usually do this but, as I’ve pointed out, a max in OL’ing isn’t the same as a max in PL’ing or other sports.
The Critical Importance of Training Quality
18. On the track they take about 3 hours for 3 or 4 efforts including half hour warm-up routine – same as pre-race warm-up. Warm-up, change gears, roll-up, effort, roll down 20-30min rest, roll-up, effort, etc. Lot’s more rest. Rest usually consists of sitting on their arses, paying out on each other, drinking Coca Cola (sponsorship please – the Coke bill is killing us) and the occasional chocolate cake.
This is especially good when there is a joint sprinter/enduro training session. (Enduros don’t get any cake – they’re too paranoid about body fat). In general prep phase, the sprinters ride to track and gym (15-20min easy each way) and in spec prep, they drive. Each track effort is no longer than about 15s and usually less than 10s. Again, mainly phosphate system.
Ok, I actually mentioned this when I talked about the nonsense about sprint training, athletic bodies and the fact that most people who talk about this have no clue what true sprint training actually is. Because true sprint training, not the bastardized kind of crap people think is sprint training takes FOREVER and you basically get dick done.
Look at the total volume of that workout, it’s tiny. And takes 3 hours to complete. They do a maximal 10-15 second effort and then rest intervals are about 20-30 minutes. My sprint workouts on the ice (which were 400m laps which are less intensive) took 4 hours and we got 4 all out 400m repeats done on top of some standing starts and drills on the ice. The rest was warm-up and cool-down or just standing around during sets.
For those not familiar with the terminology, warm-ups are warm-ups, usually light cycling that gets progressively harder. Track bikes only have a single gear and you adjust gear by physically changing out the front and rear rings. A bigger front ring is harder to turn as is smaller back ring and this actually changes the length of the chain (the bolt that attaches the wheel to the frame is adjustable) and track cyclist talk about gear inches (size DOES matter) when they talk about this stuff.
I think that paying out means making fun of one another but Australia, England and America are three countries separated by a common language. Coke is to maintain blood sugar as is the cake. And ha ha about the endurance guys and body fat. It’s funny because it’s true but realize that their events on the track are LONG and carrying excess fat around is never a good thing.
Not Hitting Your Goal Numbers and Hitting PR’s
18. The one thing we do that most coaches can’t cop is this. If you don’t make the target times or loads on the first effort or set, you warm down and go home. You aren’t fresh enough to train at a level that will make you improve.
If you do a PB, you warm down and go home. If you are on fire that much you can blow yourself to pieces in a couple of sets or efforts and it will take weeks to dig you out of the hole you put yourself in, so whatever it is, if you PB, you stop and come back next time.
This philosophy takes everyone a while to accept, but it works. When we don’t follow the rules, if we let someone pump out a series of PBs in one session, they are almost invariably wrecked for weeks afterwards and we never get close to quality training during that time.
Sometimes, you can see it coming, but sometimes it just comes out of the blue. When it does, warm down, go home. Sometimes, at lower levels you can get away with it, but the better you get, the more capacity you have to exceed your normal limits, the more this becomes important. Enduros don’t need to do this. Everything is submaximal.
I will be honest that I think this might be the most interesting and useful part of the piece. The first half makes perfect sense at least within the context of a true sprint sport. While people used to try to build top speed with 90-95% maximum efforts, it’s now generally accepted that you build top speed with 100% efforts. The neural demands, muscular coordination, etc. has to be trained at that level.
But it also means that if you’re too tired to hit at least within some range of your top speed, you need to cool-down and go home. You’re too tired to get any benefit and will only dig into your recovery. No, this doesn’t apply to all sports where you can substitute a lack of top end ability with some lower volume work to get a benefit. But if you want 100% quality, you need to be within a fairly close range of 100%.
It’s the second half that is really profoundly interesting. What people don’t realize is that during true sprint work, hitting a PR is an enormous strain on the body. It’s happening when you are getting this enormous integration of physical and neural characteristics. But it is a completely new stress.
A teammate in Salt Lake used to run into this problem during time trials or races. He’d train tired and submaximally most of the time and when he tapered, he’d hit new speeds in races. And he’d get sore and exhausted from hitting a speed he hadn’t hit before or for a long time. And when you have to do 4 races over 2 days, this is detrimental. You hit the big PR on Day 1 and you’re wrecked for your other 3 races.
In the 80’s, Charlie Francis talked about how his guys would often need a 10 day break after hitting a new big PR; the strain on the system is enormous. And if you keep hitting more and more in the same workout, it’s damn near exponential. Powerlifters will tell you how they are wrecked for a week from a competition, especially if they hit PR’s. It’s 9 total reps with warmups, less volume than they do in any workout and it wrecks them for a week or more.
And, again, this is specific to truly maximal effort sports. Bodybuilding, endurance sports, meh. A PR is still submaximal and just doesn’t take it out of you.
Even Sprinters Do Some Aerobic Work
19. In general prep, the sprinters might do 2 x 1hr easy aerobic/coffee rides per week and an easier recovery ride on days off (unless they’re too fat, then they might do 2hrs and less chocolate cake). This year, we are doing a total of six aerobic development rides (over Christmas – fat time). In spec prep, they just do the recovery rides.
A little terminology but coffee ride is most likely referring to either doing the rides on nothing but coffee or is referring to an old term from the Continent (i.e. Europelan) where you would meet at the coffee shop, or stop half way through for some caffeine.
It’s easy aerobic to recover and note that they go long with a slight calorie reduction if they are fat. There is a minimal aerobic requirement for the sport (mainly to get through rounds and recover faster) so they do that. But not much since excessive (EXCESSIVE) cardio will cut into strength and power. Note that enduros always ride endless miles.
Priority Training Comes First
20. We generally always do track after gym. Gym in mornings (8:30am-11/12) track in the arvo (2:30/3pm-5:30/6pm). If the gym session is too hard, it will bugger them for track. As I said, for about half the year, we don’t care.
For the other half, I water down the gym so the track work is 100%. There is some short-term potentiation from doing some maximal strength or power efforts but the research is not clear on time frames since everyone does something different.
This is one thing we are looking at. If we do two maximal power ergo tests (6s with 4-5min recovery), the second one is always much better. The same has been shown with some contrast-loading studies on squats and plyos, etc., but an equal number of studies have shown no effect.
The time courses and stimuli are always different though, so it’s hard to compare. I think there’s something in it so if you find something that works for you, go with it. The exception is start sessions. We never do standing starts after gym. If we do, they are always crap sessions.
Another interesting tidbit and note that the opposite pattern has also been used where cycling is done early and weight work in the evening. It’s possible that the above has more to do with track availability than anything but I don’t know. Point being that there is still a shifting focus throughout the year.
When developing strength/power in the gym is important, the track doesn’t matter. When it’s time to track, that takes precedence over everything. A lot of athletes can’t get this: you can’t do everything at once unless you’re at lower levels. Something has to give and training is always full of compromises. You should train your current priority and put everything on hold. But eventually that priority may change in which case maximizing it takes precedene.
Going to the opposite pattern, some of this depends on the sport. Track sprinters would almost never do weight training before a sprint workout but this is due to the fact that even slight fatigue puts them at risk for injury. We never did it for speed skating either, too technical of a sport to carry any fatigue into skate training. So it got done afterwards.
We also emphasized strength building early in the year (when we couldn’t get on the ice) and it was mostly maintenance (my shortest weight training workout was 7 minutes door to door once) once we were on the ice. But track cycling is not a high injury sport in terms of technical breakdown. You don’t blow a knee when you’re tired on the bike like you do if you lose technique running sprints. You just stop pedalling.
Olympic lifters often use the type of pattern above although it can vary. Some go heavier in the morning and do assistance in the evening although a lighter workout to get groovetastic and get potentiated for evening is probably more common. I talked about this within the context of hypertrophy and strength training previously. In that context, my experience is that good lifters do better with lighter AM and heavier PM but mediocre lifters (who should usually be doing endurance sports anyhow) can do either or do better heavier (noting that their heavier is usually less than the lighter workout for good athletes).
Oh yeah, one irrelevant note: it has been stated for YEARS by various coaches that Ben Johnson did a heavy triple in the back squat prior to his world record run. And it’s bullshit. Charlie Francis, himself, Ben’s coach, who was actually there said it never happened. Everyone still repeating it is simply full of shit.
Developing Endurance After Speed
21. Coming up to the major comp for the year (Worlds or Olympics), we slot in a speed endurance block. This involves the addition of some longer sustained efforts or sets of short efforts with low recovery once or twice per week, usually one on an ergo and one on the track.
This increases the muscles ability to buffer hydrogen ions from the anaerobic glycolysis energy pathway that you have to rely on when the phosphates run out and increases the enzyme capacity of that pathway as well, so it can run at a higher level. Adaptation is relatively fast and 6-8 wks will usually give a massive increase in this capacity.
As I mentioned above there is somewhat of a speed endurance aspect of at least some track cycling events. With guys taking even the match sprint out from 200, you have to have the top speed and be able to sustain it. At the same time, endurance is butt easy to develop and I’ve even talked (endlessly) about the fact that HIIT types of training happens fast and then you basically stop getting much benefit. three times a week for a few weeks or twice a week for 6-8 weeks and you’re topped off.
I’d note, and this is in the context of a much longer race (the 4000m team pursuit which takes about 4 minutes) that the German Track Cycling does it exactly the opposite. They do mostly distance work (since this is an endurance event) which they top off with speed and lactate tolerance work for a few weeks before comps. Same principle, build the primary biomotor capacity with specific training and then top it off with the last little bit. In fact, they only did 10 total days of speed endurance work right before the big event.
Volume is a Speed Killer
22. Here’s the logic. : Volume is a speed killer. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you do a lot, it will make you slower. The protein in your muscles (myosin heavy chain isoforms for those who know their molecular biology) will change to a slower, more endurance friendly type if you do too much volume. This is individually variable, but two sessions every day of anything will make you slower as will lots of aerobic work. You might still be fast for an enduro, but in sprinter terms, you’re still slow.
Once again note that the above is in terms of pure sprinting. Slogging endless low intensity work doesn’t help you. It doesn’t matter how long you can go if you can’t go fast. In sprinting. this isn’t true of other sports. And note that he’s talking about LOTS of aerobic work.
Clearly reasonable amount of aerobic work (and note that cycling seems to have less of an impact on strength than running probably because running has an eccentric component and cycling doesn’t) won’t hurt you. His track cyclists do 2X1 hours most of the time and occasional blocks of longer and/or higher frequency work. But at low intensities. A few hours per week of aerobic training is not marathon training and to think that the only options are no aerobic training or 20 hours per week is a logical fallacy called Excluding the Middle.
Training Slow Makes You Slow
23. Going slow makes you slow. If you want to be able to go faster, then going at less than maximal speed generally won’t do it. If it does, then you weren’t operating at 100% before. That’s OK. Most people can’t switch everything on. You have to practice it. It takes years to reach your 100% level even without any actual physiological improvement.
Most sprint events require sustained power output at cadences over 160rpm. If you don’t practice this, you won’t get good at it. Most people will spend all their bickies just getting up to 160rpm on a decent gear, so to train maximally at that level, you have to get up to 160rpm without using up your phosphate stores.
That’s where the motor bike comes in. Use the slipstream to get up to max speed or over and then spend your bickies. That way you work maximally at maximal speed. You have to train your nervous system to coordinate your muscular contractions at that speed.
I already made this point above. To improve true top speed requires training at top speed. And another word on terminology. Bickies is Aussie-speak for biscuits and here’s he talking about shooting your wad getting up to speed so you have nothing left to actually put into the effort.
It takes about 10 seconds to wind up from a rolling start to maximum speed on the bike and that drains energy (the lower speeds in running make this much faster). So to get to true top speed or above it means training behind a motorbike or using the bank to get up to speed without spending your bickies. Mmm….bickies.
Specificity Rules Up to a Point
24. Same in the gym. If all you do is slow, heavy. You get STRONG and SLOW. You need to do most of your work at race speeds using submaximal loads but at high speeds. If you can’t do single-leg stuff, then Olympic pulling movements are your next best option, but unloaded plyos are more important for higher cadences.
You don’t need to be able to clean or snatch or jerk. The pull phase from the floor to full hip and knee extension is where the gains come from. What happens after that doesn’t matter. You can throw the bar out of the window and the gains will be the same. I would only recommend this on your last rep as most gym owners get quite irate about their equipment being heaved out into the street, as do passing pedestrians. The overspeed work will come as you try to get away.
A few things here. First off I’m not sure I agree with the second sentence since the speeds you can achieve in the weight room aren’t anything close to what happens in most sports. Even slow lifting speeds where the intention to move quickly has been shown to improve RFD but who am I to argue with an Olympic level coach.
Again we have the specificity, training different biomotor capacities issue that I talked about in Categories of Weight Training. No singular approach can train every biomotor capacity. Maximal strength training is not strength-speed (clean and jerk), speed-strength (snatch), power (plyos) or speed (the bike). Charlie Francis trained each of those differentially because they have to be trained differently. Is there overlap? Sure. But ultimately specificity rules.
Also note the comments about OL pulls versus the full movements. Because ultimately once the pull is over what happens next is irrelevant to your power output.
I got into an amusing argument years ago who couldn’t understand that going to the explosion is the key aspect of the movement. He thought that you had to do the catch or full clean and his “logic” was that on a pull you couldn’t be sure of bar height. He was incapable of seeing that you can catch a power clean at different heights too and that it still didn’t matter. But I’m off topic.
The final bit about throwing the weights out the window, well…I think Dan John told me a similar story but don’t swear me to it.
The Transfer of Training
25. Use your maximum capacities at the maximum rate and in as specific a way as possible to transfer to the bike. I can outlift all our top riders in the gym and out-power them on the ergo, but I’m not in the race on the track.
I can’t put my power through the bike into the track. I’m just not technically as good as they are. Ryan Bayley may look like a monkey humping a tennis ball when he sprints but most of his power is getting onto the track.
Another issue about specificity and what weight training can and can’t do. Outside of Ol, PL and strongman (To a degree), all strength room work is general preparation/donkey work. I was stronger than one of my teammates in absolute terms and he outweighed me by 50 lbs.
But he could outskate me because he could put his strength into the ice and had corners and I couldn’t/didn’t. Don’t chase numbers in the weight room for sports where the numbers are only kind of relevant.
And a monkey humping a tennis ball, well, I half considered Googling it but then thought better of it.
Training Must be Tailored to the Event
26. One last thing. The kilo is not a sprint. It’s halfway between sprint and endurance. The old endurance-based training for kilo will get you to 1:03 and you may be able to pump out 1:03s all day, but the mark today is under 1:01. Soon it will be under 1:00, maybe in Beijing. The fastest first 500m wins the kilo now. If you want to go out in 18.6, then your standing lap better be 18.3 or better or else 18.6 is going to bury you.
You have to pace the kilo, but you have to get out fast and get up to speed fast. For three years, we trained Shane Kelly as a pure sprinter for half the year then as a sprinter for three or four days and an enduro for three or four days. We got him down from 1:03 where he had been for years to 1:01 changing him from a fourth lap rider to a first lap rider and he broke the Olympic record. Then he got beaten by three riders who did pretty much the same thing and they all went out faster.
Luckily he picked up the bronze in the kierin. The guys who win sprint and kilo generally do so at soft comps and are generally long sprinter freaks like Theo, Ryan and Torneau (probably spelt wrong, sorry mate). You can’t train to be a freak. You are born a freak and are always a freak, whether you train or not. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. And don’t be surprised if you see a monkey humping a tennis ball in the kilo in the future.
So here he has changed topics a bit. The kilo in track cycling (which is no longer contested) takes about 1 minute to complete from a standing start. It’s in a weird area physiologically in that it requires strength to start the bike, top speed but enough endurance to not crap out at the end (the 1000m in ice speed skating is similar, like I said they are physiologically similar).
You have to train all of those components and note the mixed approach that was taken. Pure sprinting to build top speed (and I assume this included the weight room work) and then a mixture of top speed (Which takes forever to develop and is lost very quickly) with extra endurance work.
And remember if you’re not born a freak, you won’t be a freak.
Elite Training is Only for Elite Athletes
27. All this is talking about the very elite and most people can’t practically train like this. Take what you can and apply as much as you can. As you get better, more doors may open and more specific training may become possible. Just go for it. That’s what sprinters do.
I have no real comment on this except to say that a common mistake made by non-elite athletes is trying to mimic the training of elites. Elites have genetics, resources and a build-up that you don’t have. It’s why Bulgarian training doesn’t work for anybody and needs to be forgotten.
Endurance Training for Endurance Athletes
28. Weight training for enduros – the same strategies apply but maximal strength and power are less critical. All endurance riding, even the bunch sprint at the end, is really submaximal. A little bit of gym regularly helps to maintain the structural integrity of the body, prevent imbalances and prepare you for crashes, but the real gains come on the road. Racing is the best training.
All our best track enduros race on the road in Europe. They come together for camps to touch up their track skills, but all of that was learnt as juniors and in domestic track racing on the way up. For strength endurance on the bike, ride up hills in the saddle on bigger gears. That was the only strength work out team pursuit did for the last three years and they won everything there was to win with a bucket load of world records to boot. Incidentally, they are also the fastest starters.
Track cycling has several endurance events but those are aerobic with some technique (i.e. in the Madison where you physically sling your partner into the race). They do most of their training on the road and weight train so they don’t break.
What Is Important in Life
Not exactly Conan’s list but good enough.
I don’t have much to add to what I wrote above or how Paul Rodgers, who authored this piece, concluded. Mainly I want readers to focus on principles. Specificity, periodization, exercise selection. Every sport, and especially sports of similar types have many similar physiological requirements although each also has its own nuances.
All training starts with generalities which then have to be applied in a specific way to address those needs. As well, there is often something to be learned from what other sports are doing. Sometimes it doesn’t apply but often it does. Finally, if there is a single thing to be gleaned it’s this:
Cake is the Secret to Greatness.