Archive for the Championship Physiology Category

Championship Physiology/Peaking & Tapering

Posted in Championship Physiology on July 7, 2009 by bethleasure

Peaks & Valleys

16“Your training graph should have lots of peaks and valleys.” Ned Overend, Mountain Bike Hall of Famer


TaperingBreakthroughs to winning performances are the result of constant pressure, little by little, with a restoration phase unique to each champion and championship. Much is said of peaking but the substance of it is in the tapering.

One fact of tapering is that a refreshing period to stimulate the peak must include some intensity; however, volume can vary so long as it provides relaxation and makes one hungry for the goal event. There are various types of tapers just as there are types of periodization programs. Linear types are often used – progressive load followed by progressive declines in volume or intensity. Current 17research is inconclusive in discovering an optimal type. As is the case for much of physiology, champions learn what form of rest precedes personal peak performance. Some respond best if a taper allows rest first and then a re-ramping of intensity with volume. Some respond better with an incremental decrease of effort leading to the event or with exponential decreases- a big drop in load followed by a smaller drop or a small ease followed by a bigger drop.

Taper duration can also vary from days to several weeks and is specific to individual as well as type of event; for instance, anaerobic peaks occur after a longer lay-off but compromise LT power. As part of type or duration, the period leading up to the event must be designed to reduce training-induced fatigue without reversing specific training adaptations. So a rest before a Classic has different characteristics than rest before a Grand Tour. A champion journey takes its strength from each place while using measured rests to reach the top.


Prayer for Peaking & Tapering
“As they pass through the dry lonesome valleys, they make it a place of good water…They go from strength to strength. God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!” 18Psalm 84:6-7


We confess we think of breakthrough as an overnight miracle when really it’s made available by constant momentum of varying paces that finally reaches a destination point. We ask for strength to strength.


Ponder Is finding my best taper a part of my training? Affirm I can try various ways to lay-off to come back even stronger. Watch for those “feed zones” into the climb of peak performance.


16“Ned Overend Keeps Going and Going,” by Peggy McKay Shinn for as posted on

17“Peaking & Tapering,” presented by Inigo Mujika, Department of Research & Development, Bilboa Athletic Club, in a USA Cycling webinar April, 2008.

18New Life Version Copyright © 1969 by Christian Literature International and The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Championship Physiology/Periodization

Posted in Championship Physiology on July 6, 2009 by bethleasure

Cycles & Sabbaths

14“100% of the time you get what you train for.” Clay Worthington, Track Sprint Coach


What goes where is up to a scientific but artful programmer

What goes where is up to a scientific but artful programmer

Specificity is a foundational principle of exercise physiology. Champions base training on this simple truth and demarcate it in carefully planned periods. The very universe works and rests and its periods are segments known as days, seasons, and ages. This illustrates the stress-rest principle or progressive overload that’s foundational in exercise physiology.

What this looks like in a cycling time-line can be mapped in periods, each with a purpose and a rhythm. Periodization for championship cycling divides training time into segments that work the differing energy systems required for road race success in ways that allow a peak period for championship events.

Not every pro cyclist has this luxury: some are required to maintain consistency throughout a competitive season. Yet even these must use periodization to build recovery into a busy race calendar. More and more, even domestiques must periodize training to be at top form useful to a GC contender or Classics specialist during the targeted event. Team periodization is a consideration of the Directeur Sportif’s selections for roster and races. 

There are differing schools of thought about which fitness to work when: for instance, working VO2max as a base or as a topper for a TT goal. Sometimes this difference is used by the same coach applied among athletes whose profiles indicate emphasizing a particular energy system or whose unique adaptation mandate an original mix of preparation.

The key is monitoring the training load and its effects. Champion physiology submits itself to frequent testing. Race fitness is the ultimate test, and timing its zenith is the universal quest of champions.


Prayer for Periodization
“Sow your fields, prune your vineyards, and take in your harvests for six years. But the seventh year the land will take a Sabbath of complete and total rest…The land will yield its fruit; you will have all you can eat and will live safe and secure. Do I hear you ask, ‘What are we going to eat in the seventh year if we don’t plant or harvest?’ I assure you, I will send such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough.” 15Leviticus 25

We passionately embrace periods of over-reaching. We confess we silence the raspy inner voice that whispers, “Enough!” at times. We pray for knowledgeable periodization.            

Ponder Do I have a well-planned program for achievement? Affirm I outline segments for long-term gains while tweaking for daily realities. Watch a personal flow-chart of goals and events in the context of demands and results.


14“Periodization: Sprint Track Cycling,” presented by Clay Worthington, 2006 USA Coaching Summit, Colorado Springs, CO

15The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Championship Physiology/Strength-to-Weight

Posted in Championship Physiology on July 2, 2009 by bethleasure

The Backpack

10“Imagine possessing one of the world’s most impressive cardiovascular engines, competing with that engine for 10 years and then losing 17 pounds of extraneous bodyweight. It’s like racing at a world class level with a backpack on and then one day taking the backpack off forever.”  Mark Sisson, Founding Member, International Triathlon Union’s Anti-Doping Commission, on Lance Armstrong’s champion physiology


Yeah well, got your mind off Armstrong didn't it?

Well, got your mind off Armstrong didn't it?

Lance’s backpack came off with the help of cancer but with the sustained incentive of Tour de France victories. In a seven-year period, he reduced body weight and body fat by approximately 7% and saw an improvement in muscular efficiency to 11“contribute equally to a remarkable 18% improvement in steady state power per kg body weight when cycling at a given VO2.”

VO2max values are influenced by changes in bodyweight. Less pounds with same power makes one faster. Finding that optimal weight while retaining and improving power output is a goal of championship training.

When competing in Europe, I noticed the leanness of my peers and even the public. Eating lean as a lifestyle provides a competitive advantage, not to mention the health benefits. There is a risk in the 12female athlete triad for overemphasis on body weight issues, and responsible supporters need to stress food-IN for energy-OUT versus diet or weight loss. Yet most people and most elite athletes can find more leanness and more watts. There is a super fit range of power at LT where one’s “fighting weight” feels perfect. It requires strict adherence to the data to maintain the right ratio. A champion seeks expert help.

Everybody carries a backpack of responsibilities, and sometimes that burden gets heavy! Sometimes we are to help each other with those burdens, and sometimes our own burdens are enough for us. Champions lighten their own loads and are able to lighten the loads of others by seeking accountability and advisement for this winning fraction.


Prayer for Strength to Weight Ratio
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” 13Galatians 6:4-5


Wow these numbers are amazingly rigid for each optimal zone. We need assistance with the discipline and duties to possess it.


Ponder Are my weight, food choices, watts, and energies aligned? Affirm I am a champion when these figures are optimal and in balance. Watch for other stressors that affect these tangibles.



10“Why Lance is Clean by Brad Kearns,” Mark Sisson is quoted by Brad Kearns cited on Tom Hodge’s blog, November 22, 2006.

[I wish to note that clean cycling and not testing positive are two different standards.]

11Same blog and source now quoting “an excerpt from a seven-year study on Lance conducted by the University of Texas (Austin) Human Performance Laboratory’s Dr. Edward Coyle “Improved Muscular Efficiency Displayed as Tour de France Champion Matures,” printed in Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2005”

12“Health & Performance Issues for Female Cyclists,” presented by Lynda Ransdell, Ph.D., FACSM of Boise State University at Enhancing Women’s Leadership in Cycling Conferences, January 2008, Colorado Springs, CO. Female Athlete Triad term officially adopted in 1992 with position statement by ACSM first published in 1997.

13The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Championship Physiology/Time Trial Ability

Posted in Championship Physiology on July 1, 2009 by bethleasure

Biological Clock

8“When I’m climbing well, I’m time trialing well. When I’m time-trialing well, I can climb.” Mari Holden, TT World Champion


Yep that's the necessary suffering!

Yep that's the necessary suffering, Mari!

There is both luxury of specialization at the championship level, as well as necessity of strength in all areas relevant to road racing. A pro team sprinter must complete that long road race to use natural speed and so trains at sustained efforts around lactate threshold in addition to sprints.

There’s little room for avoiding aerobic fitness based on biological preference at the pro level. While team time trials are rare below Grand Tour level, the race against the clock may be an individual effort but often with team implications. Furthermore, TT fitness paves a smoother way on a powerful road to cycling success.

Work near lactate threshold is fueled by two types of awareness: a narrow internal focus, preferably on instrumentation that assists pacing and pain management, as well as narrow external focus that senses route rhythm and adjusts pace according to terrain and intuition. The race of truth is just as much about being true to perceived exertion as it is to tangible splits such as speed and time or a wattage target.

There’s also learning how-to-TT-suffer that accompanies the discipline of it. Further, there’s a highly motivational element in evidence in “the power of the jersey” – when a race leader traditionally seen as a climber rides a time trial stage beyond expectation to hold on to victory, for instance. This motivation comes in training by designating resources and equipment to improve time trial competitiveness, such as an aero helmet purchase or wind tunnel testing. Other significant performance enhancers, such as mastering cadences specific to types of time trial courses, down-stroke technique, and aerodynamics unique to individual profile in relation to power output are details that gain seconds at the championship level.


Prayer for Time Trial Ability
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” 9James 1:12


We celebrate the race of truth – sustained hard effort that tests our mettle as much as our metabolic efficiency. We ask for strength, resources, opportunities, and tests to challenge and improve TT ability.


Ponder Am I maximizing my ability as time trialist? Affirm I master this fitness and skill to reduce time at distance. Watch for cadences, positions, strategies, and attitudes specific to this mastery.


8Conversations with Mari Holden, a generous and gifted champion. My favorite story about Mari is her infamous interval training up one of the canyon climbs near Colorado Springs, CO. She went so hard that she threw up on the top  (not the first time) but saw one of her best PR’s and average watts for the duration. She won the World Championship TT later that year.

9The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Championship Physiology/Power Profiling

Posted in Championship Physiology on June 30, 2009 by bethleasure

Rainbow Silhouettes

6“Data from the champion: the graph shows power (green), speed (pink) and cadence (blue)…after this fearless wild phase he remains pretty constant at a slightly lower level…” Analysis of TT power data




Winners are employing the latest technologies and methods to increase event-specific power. Training philosophies contrast as a basis for developing programs, such as race strengths, train weaknesses versus specialization. With the availability of mass-produced powermeters and power analysis, the debate deepens since distinguishing strengths and weaknesses is more accurate and ongoing. Data from pinnacle events in living color chart what it takes to compete in terms of champion physiology. Graphs can be evaluated in ever-increasing ways, such as an overlay comparing competitors in the same event or strategies to complete a single training interval within a targeted range. An advisor need never see the rider or the race to know critical physiological information useful for teaching someone how to train or explaining what effort worked in a race situation. Coaching and direction is increasingly a function of back office analysis and prescription, behind battle lines.

Fortunately, the power graph cannot replace real world race-side perception to make sound judgments about training and racing. Road crew and rider still enjoy the rainbow that comes after the rainy mountain pass even before studying the rainbow silhouettes of race efforts charted on a power graph. Various types of fitness, such as sprint, anaerobic, and lactate threshold power, necessary for road race success and tracked to the watt, lead to the pot o’gold. These outlines are full of information but are featureless without the human profile.

Power profiling – or testing to determine rank, progress and course requirements – still needs a champion heart to earn rainbow stripes.


Prayer re: Power Profile
“A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.” 7Proverbs 24:5-6


We celebrate the diversity of strengths utilized by road racing! We confess to paralysis via over-analysis. We ask for smarts to paint the colors of the power spectrum to intensify what has been naturally given from pale shades to bright hues.

Ponder Do I know my strengths and rankings among contemporaries? Affirm I work that data and make it work for me and team. Watch those trends striating the data to forecast future horizons.



6“Scientific Analysis of the Cycling Leg in the 2005 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon: Power Output, Cadence, and Speed,” Copyright © 2005

7The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Championship Physiology/VO2max Fitness

Posted in Championship Physiology on June 29, 2009 by bethleasure

Suspended Ceiling

1“VO2max is your fitness ceiling…”    Angie Sturtevant, CycleOps Power Master Training Specialist 


Producing an Enviable Data Point

Producing an Enviable Data Point

Championship cycling requires stellar physiology. Some of this physiology is fixed and some can be trained. Current tests to determine potential, track progress, and measure training effectiveness center around power at LT and VO2max. Simply, VO2max is the maximum oxygen the body can use to convert nutrients to energy to produce power, work, and speed. At the given test point, it determines if your ceiling is high enough to compete at a certain level.

Exceptions are seen in some exceptional riders, and it’s a paradox that this scale is both fixed – determined by genetics and it also slides – and can be improved with training. Riders exchange bragging rights about test results, but as the predictor of performance, VO2max’s so-called ceiling falls short as a hard and fast determinant of potential. Indeed, 2values within ranges for superstar cyclists vary a bit. It’s true VO2max scores may indicate fitness at a given time, but not necessarily potential.

Other predictors of performance, namely power output in relation to body weight sustained over various time periods, offer a clearer profile of types and levels of competitiveness at test time. A recent 3study of regional versus elite winners showed nearly identical ranges of VO2max, but the elite group had more type 1 muscle fibers to produce more watts than the regional level group. More watts at similar oxygen uptake levels mean the more powerful rider will outride a fellow lungman. Further, 4phenoms whose muscles burn less at hard effort can go harder longer. All these figures can be improved with training.

A more relevant use for VO2max test results is to track efficacy and progression of training. Training max oxygen consumption is necessary to move toward set genetic limits of top-end effort and sustain riding at percentages of those limits. This is intense training that requires ruthless effort and total focus.

Prayer for VO2max Fitness
“For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert.” 5Isaiah 25:4-5


We are aware most of us don’t begin to reach limits. We pray to improve VO2max fitness.

Ponder What is my top range for VO2max? Affirm I have the focus to improve the values within that range. I know what values mean in terms of various levels of competitiveness. Watch power/watts increase specific to the zones of effort you work.


1“Featured Athletes: Boosting Threshold & VO2 Max to Achieve Fitness & Performance,” posted by Angie Sturtevant, CycleOps Power Master Training Specialist, on Tuesday, 08 January 2008

2Internet chatter claims 77-92ml/kg for cycling stars from Armstrong to Indurain to Lemond to Merckx. This was on a blog somewhere so who knows its veracity or accuracy or the test period. It is only one data point taken in an unknown context. The ultimate predictor of performance was what was achieved.

Lance Armstrong 83.8 ml/kg-min
Indurain – 88
Eddy Merckx – 77
Bernard Hinault – 87
Greg Lemond – 92.5

3“Elite Cyclists Group 1 versus Regional Cyclists Group 2,” Coyle EF, Feltner ME, Kautz SA, Hamilton MT, Montain SJ, Baylor AM, Abraham LD, Petrek GW, Med Sci Sports Exerc 23; 93-107 1991 presented by Stephen J. MacGregor, PhD, Applied Physiology Laboratory, Eastern Michigan University in “Mythbusters” a webinar by USA Cycling on 3/18/08

4Armstrong and Janet Evans, multiple long-standing world record holding swimmer, showed about 6mmol/ml peak blood lactate levels where most catapult to 22 mmol/ml meaning higher muscle “burn.” Evans recorded a “low” VO2max value in the 50’s but with muscles that experienced less burn at higher intensities.

5The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society