Sunday, November 29, 2015

Everyone has a bad workout

Picture this: You are just about to get on your bike to get started on a key workout. Today's session is meant to test your fitness. You've been logging more time on the bike, pushing yourself really hard and seen numbers in training that were higher than you've seen before. You had a few stressful days leading up to today and hard run yesterday, but you don't care. You want to rock this workout and prove to yourself that you are, in fact, stronger than before! It's all about perspective, anyway. A positive mindset will work, right?

So, you get on your bike, you warmup for 10 minutes still feeling pretty excited for the task ahead and the test set later on in the workout: 4 x 3 minutes at max power (with 2 minute recovery in between). Then you start getting into the workout and it's evident fairly early on that the legs are tired. Zone 1 feels like Zone 2, and Zone 2 feels like Zone 3. Your heart rate is elevated for the effort you are putting in. You brush it off, convincing yourself you are just not warmed up yet. Then the pre-set starts, which is some Zone 3 efforts meant to get you ready for the test set. It's very tough. This effort, meant to be sustained for 2 - 3 hours, is hard to maintain for 3 minutes. You think there might be something wrong with the power meter. So you recalibrate the trainer, you put more air in your tires, you adjust the resistance on the back wheel. Everything you can think of. You think positive thoughts, you try to tell yourself that it's mind over matter. Then you resume the workout. But nothing's changed. In fact, it just gets harder. Your heart rate is high, your legs feel like they are pushing through mud. Eventually, you accept the fact that today's just not your day. You cry. Months of hard training and finally a chance to test your fitness and you just don't have it in you. We've all been there.

That is when it's important to remember that training is not all about your performance on one day or in one test set. It's about accumulating consistent, hard training. It's about enjoying the good workouts and learning from the bad ones. Because every time you fail you learn something about this case it was what you can and cannot push through. And you move on, because a bad day today means that there is a good day coming up. And there will be another chance to test your fitness.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

American Thanksgiving has been an important holiday in my family. To find out the reason why, read my dad's blog post here. Basically, from the age of 8 (when I lived in New York) we established an important tradition. When I was a kid, from this day until Christmas day, always felt like a special and magical time. Unfortunately, that feeling faded into adulthood. But, with the presence of my niece, Ms Maddy, and Adam's wonderful children, that spark of magic that I used to feel around this time of year has returned a little bit.

Sparked by that holiday spirit, I thought I would write a blog post about what I am thankful for:

1. The health of my family and friends
2. The fact that I have been running without pain for about 10 months
3. My niece, Maddy
4. My parents and my sisters who are my best friends and who I love so much
5. The fact that WattsUp is a growing and promising business, with the potential to transform people into healthier and fitter athletes. And I get to be part of that!
6. The fact that I chose to go back to school and become a RMT
7. McDonald's muffins and coffee
8. The new friends I have made in the triathlon world in Toronto
9. That I have such wonderful sponsors and supporters as a triathlete
10. That I get to coach such wonderful people with such promising potential
11. That I am a step-mom to 3 wonderful children
12. That Adam's parents have been so kind and welcoming and are now a part of my life
13. That I get to have cake any day that I want
14. That I live so close to High Park
15. People who are kind
16. My Mamma's cooking
17. My Papa's sense of humour
18. The fact that I couldn't have chosen a better partner to take this crazy life adventure with!

Happy Thanksgiving. Be sure to give thanks for the most important things in your life.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How WattsUp Cycling Works: The Beginner to the Elite Athlete can Benefit

I have been coached by WattsUp Cycling since 2009. I started at WattsUp for one main reason: to improve my bike fitness. In triathlons I was nearly the fastest swimmer and runner in my age group, but my bike splits were much slower in comparison. And I was used to being the slowest cyclist on group rides. This changed drastically once I started following the WattsUp program. The program got my cycling to the level where I could compete and podium as a Professional Triathlete. And I no longer get dropped on group rides!

You may be thinking, "how can a program suitable for a Pro triathlete be suitable for me?" Well, having experienced the program for 6 years, let me tell you:

1. Everyone who follows the program has their own Zones to train with. WattsUp uses the following zones:

The power numbers that correspond to your zones can be determined by a standard performance test. Either a Lactate Test and/or a Time Trial. Each individual has their own power numbers and heart rate range corresponding to each zone. Here are three Zone Card comparisons (showing power):

So, Samantha could be riding at a power of 135W, while Kirby could be riding at a power of 175W, and Ben would be at 215W, and they would all be in Zone 3.

As an athlete gets stronger, their power at each Zone goes up. The program measures your performance every 6-8 weeks with time trials and test sets. My 60MP (60 minute power, also known as lactate threshold) increased by 20% from starting the program to my peak fitness. My 20 minute time trial improved by 40W. I've seen beginner athletes improve their lactate threshold by over 30W in 4 months and show a similar improvement in their time trials. Having a program personalized to each person's physiology works!

2. Everyone trains according to their own natural cadence. Similar to having a set of individualized zones, each athlete has a defined cadence that they find most comfortable. This respects the fact that some athletes prefer lower cadences while others prefer higher cadences. Thus, the WattsUp workouts are individualized to one's preferred cadence.

3. Frequency by which you do the workouts. A major difference between the beginner and advanced cyclist/triathlete in the WattsUp Cycling program are the frequency with which they are doing the workouts. As a Pro triathlete, I do 2-3 Quality Rides, 1 Base ride and 1 Recovery Ride per week. I recover faster than a beginner would. The beginner will notice improvements in their riding with 1-2 rides per week (Quality or Base), an intermediate cyclist will notice improvements in their riding with 2-4 rides per week. So, the number of workouts you choose to do per week is personalized, based on your abilities.

4. Progression of the program is science-backed. It is a year long program, suitable to get you ready for outdoor riding come May. It works through a few major phases of training. A few of the phases of training athletes will go through:

Strength/Neuromuscular: This forms the backbone of your training. It develops the pathway your brain uses to communicate with your muscles and strengthens those muscles. This helps prevent injury and decreases the effort required to push a big gear. (Think about weight lifting at the gym and how lifting the same weight gets easier over time).

VO2max and Anaerobic Power: This is similar to High Intensity Training (HIT), done on the bike. Very basically, by doing work at the highest possible power you can hold, it makes the easier power feel a lot easier. (Think about how lifting a 5kg weight feels after lifting a 45kg weight).

Threshold and Tempo Training: This is where the program focuses on getting the athlete comfortable "where it hurts." By training at this level of discomfort, you become more tolerant of this effort (both physiologically and mentally).

Summer Training: The program at WattsUp is designed to compliment your outdoor riding in the summer. Every athlete will be training for something different, an Ironman or a Sprint triathlon or Centurion or a Criterium. In the summer, you will do most of your specific training outside. And the WattsUp program recognizes this, so the program touches on all aspects of training (Strength, Intensity, Threshold, etc.) to compliment your specific training.

5. Cycling is fun! Whether you are a beginner or advanced cyclist you are likely in the sport, because it is enjoyable for one reason or another. Whether it's the social aspect, the training aspect, the racing or the fact that it means you can eat more chocolate. The WattsUp Cycling program is a great way to experience the time you spend on the bike!

In summary, you can see how the program can cater to everyone from the beginner to the advanced athlete. And how WattsUp is where "people become athletes and athletes become champions".

Come try a complimentary first class, or see a sample workout of the HomeCycling version of the program!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Finding the right balance

I am well into my 3rd term of massage school. It's been awhile since my last blog, in part due to how busy I have been. School has proven much more challenging than I expected. And that's partly really great, because it goes to shows how much education and training is required to become a registered massage therapist. However, it also means that school has been all-consuming since September, and my stress is at an all time high! At school, if it's not a test or a practical exam, it's assessing and properly treating patients. I find I need to be constantly "on" at school. And the fact that my knowledge of any anatomy prior to starting school seems like it was almost none, has meant there has been a lot to learn! Now, don't get me wrong, as a coach I knew my major muscles and bones, but now I need to know the small muscles, ligaments, tendons, where muscles attach on the bone, fiber direction, nerves, arteries...(you get the point!). That's a lot to learn in just 5 months! Not to mention all the rest of it. My being in school does not seem too different than a high stress job. I am there over 40 hours a week, 3 nights each week until 8pm. Tests or exams are like important meetings and treating patients in clinic is very much like problem solving a difficult issue at work.

I spoke in a previous post about finding the right balance with work, training, family, friends and recovery. That you only have a certain amount of stress that you can handle before you get sick, injured, overworked of overtrained. As the work or school stress goes up, you end up having to reduce the time dedicated to other areas of your life. The most common areas the dedicated athlete will cut time to are: friends/social and recovery. This is even what I would tend to do, too. However, having a coach, and being a coach myself, I know that this WILL NOT lead to better training and performance. So, as a result of my increased workload, I decided to cut the training time instead and leave the time for recovery intact. I went from training 16-20 hours/week in the summer to training 8-12 hours now.

I have shifted my training to being more focused. The main theme of my training now is QUALITY OVER QUANTITY. What is interesting is that: (1) I am enjoying my training more, (2) I am more focused during the sessions, and (3) I feel that I am still getting stronger despite less hours of training.

So, what is my advice for the time-crunched athlete who still wants to improve?

Swim: Join a Master's swim club or get a coach. This will prevent you from just swimming aimlessly without really knowing what you are doing. A swim club or coached swim workout will help make sure you are swimming efficiently. It will ensure your swim workout has purpose. Lastly, it will help give you a little extra push to put your best effort forward.

Bike: Do interval training on your own bike. Whether outside or in, the shorter days mean that there just isn't as much time for a long ride. Block your training to make it more interesting: hills/strength training for a few weeks, VO2 max training for a few weeks, threshold training for a few weeks, repeat. This will help keep all systems sharp for spring/summer riding. There are lots of great indoor riding facilities all over the city. WattsUp Cycling offers a studio in the west end and a home cycling program specifically targeted towards the rider's physiology, and this is a great option. (And what I will be following this winter!)

Run: Lots of brick runs (15-30 minute run off the bike)! Increasing the frequency of your running versus the duration of your long run is a great way to improve and prevent injury. You are also warmed up from your bike ride, so you don't need to do as long of a warmup. Once you have a strong base, you can even add intensity into those brick runs. Joining a run group is also an excellent option. The Toronto Triathlon Club and Marathon Dynamics have a lot of great groups on varying days of the week to choose from.

Overall: As a general rule, in the off-season, include 1 swim session, 1 bike session, 1 run session every 3-5 days to maintain your fitness. Depending on the duration you may be OK with more (5 days) or less (3 days) time in between sessions. This rule can allow you to focus your off-season training on one sport if you want to improve one discipline, specifically. For example, if your goal is to get stronger on the bike, then bike more and just make sure you are getting 3-5 swims and runs in every 2 weeks.