Archive for the Winter Homework Category

Cycling Reactivity

Posted in Winter Homework on December 31, 2010 by bethleasure

Wanna Make u Jump Jump35

36“If you gotta think, it’s too late.” Nelson Vails, Track Star, on reacting

Attacks and sprints require Jump


Yo, now is not only about long slow miles. Neuromuscular reactivity and preparing muscle fiber to morph from slow to fast, then fast to fast– fast can jump start winter training. Plenty of snap is to be had in racing and group riding. But even more is made available by recruiting it all winter to go to war for you when it counts. Maximum quickest efforts even of a very short duration can be taxing. Working it now in training prepares you to transfer this work into group riding or racing later, leaving your more limited in-season training time for other energy systems.

It’s true some got da goods and others struggle, but everyone can release more speed. Our fastness potential is waiting to be unleashed. A team director’s frustration is a fresh rider in position who doesn’t react at the critical moment either because of a hesitant timidity or no snap. This faltering tendency is removed by rigorous training.

Automation is the highest evolution of skill mastery; consciousness is the first in the learning sequence. See it, do it, work on it, incorporate it, release it without thinking. Who better than a 37sprinter to describe training for fast reactions and finishes? He said to think like a cat as it pounces on prey. The fastest twitch fibers known are in the tail of a rattle snake. That’s how quick you want to visualize the initial mechanics of a sprint or attack movement: STRIKE!

Think you’re not a Sprinter? Neuromuscular reactivity is an important life skill like swerving quickly to avoid an accident, hurdling an obstacle to save a child, righting yourself on slippery ice. Dogs even twitch this fast when dreaming…about chasing cats? 38Wassup dawg? Nuthin’ much, jus tippin’ wit mah lethal bizzle.

Prayer for Reactivity

“I’ll charge them like a lion, like a leopard stalking in the brush. I’ll jump them like a sow grizzly robbed of her cubs.” 39Hosea 13:7-8

We are thankful that we’re all equipped with some speed capability. We confess we sometimes limit ourselves through stereotypes. Quicken us, oh Lord, in the ways which help us to make best use of time.


Ponder Am I training to call out the speed? Affirm I am fast. I can think fast, see myself fast, and train to become fast. Watch what you think; become who you are.

35hip-hop lyric by kriss-kross from their tune, Jump Jump. White girls can jump jump; so can skinny bike racers.

36More from Nelson the “cheetah from the jungle.” He had a little somethin’ somethin’ in the sprint department.

37Reeves Taylor was a masters rider who won a lot in my district when I first started to race. The military moved him on but not first before teaching me this important sprint visualization. In a world of winning secrets, I’m grateful for his generosity in sharing this concept.

38Translation from gangsta rap: Question: So what’s new, dude? Answer: I’m just cruising with my super fast skills. 

39The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Pedaling Efficiency

Posted in Winter Homework on December 17, 2010 by bethleasure

Making Music

29“There is a real difference in the sound of the tire on the wind trainer with the more efficient riders. They had less of that cyclical up and down humming noise, and more of a continuous humming throughout the whole cycle.” Regis Chapman, Coach, on biomechanical “music” of a pedaling test

Pedaling is not as easy as riding a bike...


Think of the rhythmic tick-tock of a 30metronome, used by pianists to select tempos while playing, as the background staccato for symphonic spin. There are a number of ways to improve pedaling technique, such as single-leg drills and fixed gear training. Innovative devices marketed to increase power by decreasing the dead spot effect, such as 31unconventional chainrings, or by improving muscular efficiency, such as 32alternating cranks. Each method has enthusiastic groupies for their respective tunes. However, there is little evidence of the effectiveness of these devices in making one both more efficient and in that efficiency translating to performance.

Because of the dead spot at the top and bottom of the stroke, no one really pedals circles. In fact, those forces at 0 and 180 degrees help drive the crank forward. Studies show more powerful riders emphasizing the downstroke while making the upstroke less negative – that’s really not pedaling circles at all. So pedaling efficiency is about maximizing energy output into the drive train while minimizing energy lost by muscles* unrelated to pedal stroke. One can record efficiency in a test and still have leg strength discrepancies, distinctive optimal crank position, varying degrees of 33roundness, and unique cadence. Efficiency is really more about the ratio of Type I to Type II muscle fiber.

There are a bunch of neat set-ups to test pedal stroke by devices ridden at home, while some require the expert analysis of a biomechanist. This analysis is incomplete without a determination of muscle fiber composition. Like walking into an orchestra during tune-up for a concert, there seems to be little standardization at present for cycling efficiency testing, terms, or training.

The music of pedaling find its own key, keeping pace when the rhythm changes because of a competitor or a course and one’s preference. Researchers call this Freely Chosen Cadence. Pros have higher pedaling efficiencies at higher power outputs using faster FCCs than amateurs. Think of your legs as the means toward resonant notes, consistency your own personal rhapsody, a carol for the bike during the coming holidays. As cyclists, we are definitely different drummers beating a unique percussion.

Prayer for Pedaling Efficiency 

“…My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.” 34Psalm 57:7

We are thankful that we can save energy through harmonious cadence in the choir of the peloton. We confess we are sometimes out of tune and clamorous. We ask to use our bodies for praise.


Ponder Can I hear the music in my pedal stroke; is it like clanging symbols – or melodious? Affirm I can become a pedaling maestro. Watch as you tune-in to your most effective power play.

29“Pedal Stroke Theories,” by Regis Chapman under “Tech Letters for March 20, 2002” edited by John Stevenson.  This tool meant for pianists is a great accompanying “drum” for stationary or indoor trainer work. I grew up marking its quiet steady beat to the sweetly playing piano of my musical mother.

31“More Innovations from ROTOR – elliptical chainrings,” dated August 20, 2005 on  and

32Power Cranks are an alternating pedaling system which works the hip flexors in relative isolation without recovery. One ride or attempted ride tells you how tight and weak hip flexors are compared to a cyclist’s powerful quads.

33“Mythbusters,” a webinar by USA Cycling, March 18, 2008, presented by Steven J. McGregor, PhD, USAC Level 2 Coach, USAC Science & Education Faculty, Applied Physiology Laboratory, Eastern Michigan University.

A study of 2 groups with the same VO2 Max average of 69, showed the more powerful national-caliber group pedaled squares, or had higher peak torque on the downstroke for an hour effort with higher average watts. The more powerful group had a higher percentage of Type 1 muscle fiber. Therefore, pedaling circles may not increase pedal efficiency and may be detrimental to TT type events. However, for mass start road racing, smoother stroke may be more optimal, due to speed changes and minimizing muscular fatigue.

*I just completed a research project on Uphill Cycling and the biomechanical considerations, such as cadence. Really cadence is only just part of the question. Contact me if you’re interested in this research.

34The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Cold Weather Riding

Posted in Winter Homework on December 14, 2010 by bethleasure

Frozen Nose, Toes, & Clothes

26“When the temperature starts sinking below 25°F (-4°C) a fleece balaclava with coverage for your nose should be used. What is difficult for those of us who wear glasses is fogging up when wearing the balaclava. I try keeping my glasses further down my nose to allow for more air circulation.” Kevin Redmond, Cycling Commuter in Calgary, Canada

Now that's preparation!

I needed to prepare for a particularly aggressive pre-season race schedule, but obligations kept me in the mid-Atlantic over the winter. That was the year we had thirteen snowstorms and six weeks of temperatures hovering at 10°F. With modified equipment and proper clothing, I was able to stay off my indoor trainer for the duration!

There were many epic training experiences during that frigid spell. Riding meant being stuck in iced-up pedals at ride’s end, a Camelbak tucked inside my jacket to keep it warm enough to drink, and a mask of partially frozen drool from an icy balaclava. I took this in stride and during a “breakthrough” when the temperature “soared” to 20°F with clear sky, sunshine and slight wind chill, it felt tropical to me. I had acclimated.

Myths abound about cold weather riding. One doesn’t get a cold from training in the cold; colds are caused by viruses with immune suppression a factor. Cold weather training has been shown to stimulate, not suppress, immunity. Cold air isn’t a factor in your ability to train with intensity, unless it’s really cold. One can go hard in the cold. 27Cross-country skiing occurs in freezing weather and is certainly intense! Ski races happen unless the temperature drops to minus 4°F/-20°C. It may be an irritant to first-line airways, but is warmed by the time it reaches lungs, and a face-mask can also block cold air.

A stipulation for training in cold are fabrics which wick sweat near the skin, resist wind or precipitation as an outer layer and special treatment for hands, feet, and face with nothing left uncovered, except maybe the bridge of your nose underneath glasses. Another must is proper nutrition/hydration. It takes energy to stay warm so don’t neglect eating or drinking. Finally, a positive but prepared attitude melts icy intimidation.

Prayer for Cold Weather Preparation

She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.” 28Proverb 31:21

We are thankful for conditions that make us stronger. We pray for the tolerance and knowledge to approach cold weather with respect.

Ponder How can I improve cold outdoor experiences? Affirm I can be without excuse to train heartily when it’s cold. Watch attention to detail with equipment, clothing, and contingencies for a better ride.

26 “Cycling In the Cold Weather,” By Kevin Redmond

27“Mythbusters,” a webinar by USA Cycling, March 18, 2008, presented by Steven J. McGregor, PhD, USAC Level 2 Coach, USAC Science & Education Faculty, Applied Physiology Laboratory, Eastern Michigan University.

Prolonged low-intensity training in cold is probably more dangerous than intense training because of glycogen depletion. Primary source of illness frequently is immune suppression due to underlying glycogen depletion.

28Holy Bible, King James Version public domain

Cycling Ethic: Do the Work

Posted in Winter Homework on December 10, 2010 by bethleasure

No Excuses


24“If you slack, you’re gonna suck.” Nelson Vails, Track Cycling Star 

Nellie still working hard in cycling.


One thing fatiguing to a coach is the bombardment of excuses for poor performances by athletes, no matter how creative, original, or pitiable. It’s true that fitness gains take time and in the adaptive stages of development, patience and encouragement are two necessary coaching qualities. Sometimes compassion is the appropriate coaching response.

It’s also true that bike racing combines so many uncontrollable variables there are legitimate reasons for a bad spell. Post-race interviews are often comprised of these colorful essays on unmet expectations and unforeseen adventures.

But today, we are focused on undesirable characteristics, such as laziness and irresponsibility in the context of a poor work ethic. The work ethic as it relates to cycling fitness consists of several parts: diligence in completing moderately difficult goals, and adequately challenging training tasks, ownership of one’s form and competitiveness, responsibility in goal-setting and motivation, and a moral belief that work is both its own reward and yields other rewards.

Since we’ve already pondered the benefits of rest in our bodies and relationships and no one in cycling society is a victim of forced labor, it’s safe to say that a strong cycling work ethic is essential for success. Work ethic is a psychological characteristic of world class athletes.

It’s refreshing when a pressure player confesses a lack of preparation, feeling of fatigue, or admits their limitation on the day. This is an athlete who can realistically address their weaknesses and come back a winner. No excuses, do the work.


Prayer for Work Ethic

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” 25Proverbs 14:23

We are thankful that our work will be rewarded. We confess we often do the minimum and see excellence as an entitlement rather than a reward. We ask for productive determination of the types and amounts of labor, industriousness to follow-through to completion, and conscientiousness in comparing efforts with self in a competitive context.


Ponder Where am I being lazy, expecting something for little effort? Affirm I am responsible for the direct correlation between effort and result that is so clear-cut in fitness. Watch your realistic assessment of your labor, your knowledgeable comparison with your own data, and your belief in what you can accomplish lead to changes in your regimen.

24Conversations with Nelson Vails. Nelson was known as the Cheetah “the fastest cat from the jungle.” Nelson came from Harlem and made good on his fast twitch all the way to the 6-Days in Ghent. He also pounced on gold in 1983 Pan Am Games and a silver medal in the Match Sprint at the 1984 Olympics. He still works hard today.

25The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Endurance: Money in the Bank

Posted in Winter Homework on December 7, 2010 by bethleasure

19“Ride lots.”  Eddy Merckx, Cycling Legend, advising young riders on how to become a pro 

One of the first to "ride lots"

20Logging mileage is the chief fitness goal for some during this period. The efficacy of periodized training long since proven in cycling, it’s necessary to work various energy systems. Cardiorespiratory endurance is necessary to produce the continuous aerobic energy in order to meet the demands of competitive road cycling.

Pro riders spend loads of time riding piano – imagine two fingers playing keys slowly back and forth with a long Latin pronunciation – that’s piăăăănōōōō. They also spend sufficient amounts of time in sweet spot aerobic training. Amateur cyclists are surprised at pro endurance pace, typically spending their more limited riding time at mid-range tempo. The difference is that pro piano is sometimes harder than amateur tempo (for the amateur!) Piano is old school Long Slow Distance – slow, sweating from the middle, able to discuss life with a training partner in full sentences. It has many benefits, including a well trained metabolism and increased oxidative capacity maximizing activity at the cellular level of muscle.

21Research has found shorter, more intense workbouts can resemble the physiological adaptations typical of endurance training. Yet there is no way around training time for certain goals. It’s like an incremental investment strategy that eventually earns you enough 22“interest” income to live on, allowing the principle balance for investment in other training intensities. Some have big bank, we all need some bank.

Prayer for Endurance

“So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” 23James 1:4

We are thankful for the time to ride a lot and a beautiful justification for staying within a lower zone. We confess we want to push gains which can only come consistently and incrementally. We ask for perseverance and fortitude to make a “deposit” that gains dividends in stamina.


Ponder Do I need more time or more miles? Affirm I can pick a training strategy which best suits my goals and situation. Watch as weeks of work on one system prepares you for work at the next level.

19Eddy Merckx’s reported advice to young riders wishing to become professionals. Eddy Merckx is the most victorious male bike racer ever. Belgian and bad-ass, his approach to training referenced here was bottom line: to get faster, stronger, better – RIDE! Eddy is considered to be the greatest cyclist of all time by many, except those who believe Fausto Coppi was the Champion of Champions. His long list of accomplishments includes: 5x Tour de France, 5x Giro d’Italia, 4x World Championships, 7x Milan-San Remo, 5x Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 3x Paris-Roubaix, 1x Vuelta a España, 2x Ronde van België/Tour de Belgique, 2x Giro di Lombardia, 1x Tour de Suisse, 17 6-day-trials. Annual training mileage during his heyday was about 35,000 kilometers (21,747 miles). Considered lengthy at the time, it’s now the starting range for elite road and endurance track cyclists.

20Base period fitness goals vary but begin with solid endurance and well-trained metabolism. The special mix of training included in winter are a coach’s confidential prerogative based on an understanding of an athlete’s specific needs and desires. In some cases, logging lots of miles, wouldn’t be the best use of the base period. If you’d like further advice on this feel free to contact me in a coaching capacity

21“Research of Interest-High Intensity Interval Training Another Blow to Long Slow Distance Training (LSD)?” by Ken Kontor extracted from Sports Science Exchange Vol. 20 (2007) – Number 2 as reported in Performance Conditioning Cycling Volume 13, Number 3, Lincoln, NE.

22Dave Morris, an early researcher, utilizer, and innovator of powermeter data, is credited for explaining this concept to me. His favorite sermon, which I listened to reverently, was that with years in the legs, the biggest performance challenge was no longer endurance metabolism but power at higher intensities. His thinking on this was controversial in the years before new knowledge evolved into principles by tracking powermeter trends that are now widely practiced. So money in the bank means that you have freedom to work less on volume and more on intensity since the work necessary to have base fitness is cumulative and incremental with passing years. This point of “interest-earning” should be determined between you and a coach with contemporary knowledge of cycling-specific physiology.

23The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Prayer for Bike Shops and Mechanics

Posted in Winter Homework on November 30, 2010 by bethleasure

General Store

15“I love my job…part motivational speaker…father… psychologist… Through it all, I still like bikes.”  Chris Militello, Bike Shop Manager 

Chris Militello, one of the good guys...


You may remember from Cycling Community week, that we prayed for bicycle mechanics. Race mechanics are a different breed from shop mechanics, although there are some who work both scenes. Of course, pro racers rely more heavily on the race wrench.

For most, the main velo care-giver is the shop mechanic. In this way, a race mechanic is the ambulance for the bike and the shop mechanic is its primary doctor. Sometimes a shop wrench is the racer’s home-based psychologist also; and since a great fit makes you one with your bike, two get the treatment for the price of one.

Whether pro or amateur, it is here that a cyclist’s experience and bike repair is make or break, well fix really. It’s a base of stable support, consistent service, and customer-orientation. Talking shop at the shop is part of riding culture. We walk away from the world into the store’s safe haven like children running home from school. We greet Mama, grab a snack, and gaze with wonder at the toy closet asking can Papa fix my…? And Papa usually does.

The local shop is a cyclist’s general store- goods, gab and gizmos. A few really good bike shops are enough to convince anyone to thank God for these cottage industrialists, whose exemplary service is legendary. Stories like: on-the-road bike transport gone awry and a store manager lends name-any-bike-part for the harried traveler; owners adopt aspiring racers who live in their basements and provide them work whenever in town; patient listeners as weekend warrior recounts ride details, feet propped on an un-trued wheel drinking shop joe; provisions arranged for rare equipment, housing, sponsorships, rides, relationships. As if you need a reason to hang with your village peddler, it’s time for your bike’s annual overhaul.

Prayer for Bike Maintenance, Shops

“Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.” 16Matthew 13:52

We are thankful for cycling’s merchants and traders, and all those choices in cool cycling toys. We confess we sometimes take these folks for granted; many live on margin. We ask blessing on bike shops everywhere.


Ponder Is it time to get-give at a shop visit? Affirm I can be part of shop culture, supporting mom & pop even if fully sponsored. Watch trends throughout cycling civilization show up at your bike mart.

15quoted on shop’s website under “Meet our Staff.” Chris Militello often goes the extra mile for a rider. He’s a swell guy. Now he owns his own shop

16The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson