Saturday, January 28, 2017

Managing Sleep and Training

I often hear of athletes saying that they only get 4-6 hours of sleep in order to fit their workouts in. It never fails to surprise me: don't they know this is counterproductive? Then I remind myself that before I knew how important sleep was, I would do the same thing. So, I thought I would present a little background information on why sleep is so important, with the hopes that it will encourage you to find the right balance between sleep and training.

Sleep is an essential part of our daily routine, required to return our body to homeostasis and for us to maintain a healthy living. It is a time during which our body heals, both physically and mentally. It is when our bodies grow stronger from previous training as the muscles rebuild and our brain re-sets to handle the next workout.

There are two stages of sleep: Non-REM Sleep and REM Sleep. Non-REM sleep makes up most of our sleep time and is when our bodies are in a parasympathetic or "rest and digest" state, brain activity is low. REM sleep is a time when brain activity is high, yet our bodies remain paralyzed. This prevents us from acting out our dreams. The combination of both states allows us to store nutrients, promotes injury healing, restores cognitive function and gets us ready for the next day. Sleep is incredibly important for normal functioning and even more important for athletes, considering the mental and physical training we endure.

How much sleep do we need? The following is recommended:

Newborn: up to 18hours
1-12months: 14-18hours
1-3 years: 12-15hours
5-12 years: 9-11 hours
13-18 years: 9-10 hours
Adults: 7-8 hours or more
Pregnant women: 8 hours or more

Keep in mind, these are the requirements for the general population and athletes likely need a bit more.

How does lack of sleep effect athletes? Here are a few effects:

- Prevents muscles from healing and growing stronger, which can lead to lack of progress and injury
- Effects cognitive function, which may prevent you from mentally getting through either a high intensity or high volume workout
- Increased appetite - will lead us to consume excess calories and "junk foods" ... ever wonder why you are gaining weight while training for something that causes you to sacrifice sleep?
- Impatience and irritability - don't become an annoying training partner!
- Decreased performance
- More prone to illness. Athletes lower their immune system when they train, combine this with lack of sleep and it makes an athlete much more susceptible to sickness.
- Decreased reaction time. This is especially dangerous when riding out on the road.

What is my rule on sleep and training?

Let me preface this by saying that I have never needed a lot of sleep. This has been tried and tested as I've still been able to make gains in fitness with 7-8 hours of sleep per night (maybe with more I could get even stronger?). I have a very strong parasympathetic drive - my resting heart rate is 40-42bpm, which, I'm speculating allows me to "rest and digest" a lot easier than others. I actually have a hard time sleeping longer than 8 hours. So, my "rule" on sleep is that I need an average of 7.5 hours in 3 consecutive days in order to handle a big training load (TSS > 100) on a given day. So, if I have gotten 6-7-6 hours of sleep before a big training day I will need to modify.

How to improve your sleep? These are a few things that work for me:

- Write down all your worries on a piece of paper about 1hr before you go to bed, to help clear your mind and prevent worry at night
- No alcohol before bed (alcohol can initially help you fall asleep, but it can easily disrupt REM sleep later in the night as it becomes metabolized).
- Meditate to fall asleep
- Look at pictures of people sleeping before bed
- Don't nap longer than 30 minutes! While napping can make you feel better, it certainly disrupts your sleep cycle during the night, and prevents normal healing and sleep functions from occurring.
- Establish a sleeping routine. I go to bed and wake up at the same time almost every day.
- Medications can effect the sleep cycle, so try not to take sleep medication before bed
- Workout 3 hours or more before bed

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Bike Training in the Off-season: Strength and VO2max

I've never been a strong cyclist (relative to other female professional triathletes). I have swum competitively since the age of 11, I have run since I was 7 years old (as a soccer player, then on school cross-country teams and then as a triathlete), but I didn't own a bike before the age of 19. I never even liked to ride a bike! It wasn't until 2008 that I actually started training on the bike. Then, in 2009, I started riding indoors in the winter and in the summer to compliment my outdoor riding. I saw a HUGE jump in my cycling fitness that year and, since then, I have been able to make small gains every year (thanks to WattsUp cycling and computrainer). However, I've never been quite satisfied with my progress. My highest FTP has never been higher than 205W (3.8W/kg). My best normalized power for the bike portion of a half-ironman is 192W (187W average power) or 3.45W/kg. While these numbers are strong, they lag behind other Pro females, who have an FTP of 4.0W/kg and are at or above 3.8W/kg for the half distance.

This year, Adam and I decided to do something a bit different with my bike training. We decided to place a huge emphasis on training me to be able to recruit my glutes while riding. Adam did a lot of research this summer on glute recruitment and how to specifically train these muscles - which is now heavily emphasized in the WattsUp program. My "butt training" started with me riding in running shoes or with my bare feet on top of my bike shoes (to isolate the glutes during the "push down on the pedal stroke"), a lot of glute activation work (bird-dogs, side-band walks, glute bridge, etc.). This training progressed to lots of hills and slow strength work in December and some short VO2max sets. Without doing much VO2max work at all, I had a personal best 5min TT in December of 259W in aero position - that's about 4.9W/kg. Then, I went on to do a 20K TT at The X3 Lab, where I held 218W avg power for ~36minutes (~4W/kg). My previous best 20min TT from last year wasn't much higher than that. Currently, I'm doing a lot of work with short intervals at 240W to 300W. That makes 205W feel super easy!

In addition to on the bike work, I have included strength training. I have a glute activation routine that I complete 3-4 times/week before hard bike workouts. I also have a strength routine which I complete twice per week. Currently, my strength routine involves forward and reverse lunges with light weight, single leg deadlifts with light weight, single leg angled leg press with heavy weight and straight leg deadlifts with heavy weight.

As I move toward race season (my first race is June 11th) I will progress my 240W+ intervals to 2, 5, 10(?!) minutes. I will combine these workouts with FTP, tempo and endurance rides and continue strength training. The hope is to FINALLY hold 200W NP for a half-distance race!

Test Sets 2016 to 2017:

5min TT - Dec 23rd: 259W avg P (5min)

20K TT - Dec 30th: 218W avg P (36min)

5 minute TT - Feb 3rd
20 minute TT - March 24th
20 minute TT - May 4th
Half-ironman - June 11th, Sept 18th (Barrelman!)
Long course (56km) - June 25th (Welland) and Aug 6 (K-town)