VO2 Max Test

One of the benefits of living near a major hospital is the opportunity to be poked and prodded for science.  These studies usually involve remuneration and are rarely the kind of thing  you consider doing absent a specific interest in a project or need some easy money.  A couple of months ago, I signed up for a test because it offered the opportunity to take a VO2 Max test for free.  Usually, these kinds of tests can only be found in sports medicine programs, and can be expensive.  I jumped at the chance to learn more about my physical condition and have another tool to focus my training.  However, I can only expect this to be a one-time test, and will hope to alter my training and use any future tests I might happen into for further analysis of my training over the longer term.

This test was taken on a bicycle, though some are performed while running.  The point of the test is to push you to your physical limit while observing how your body absorbs and expels Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide during the increasingly difficult exercise.  They took my weight and height and some blood for labs.  I was heavier than I expected but right about where I expected for height.  Weight is a determining factor and one of the ways to increase your VO2 Max is to decrease your body weight.  My weight has been a bit of a battle for me lately because I have been bulking from lifting so much weight.  After the initial measurements and blood draws, I was prepped to get on the bike.

The Bike was set up like a spin bike, but with road and aero bars.  The pedals had cages, but the guy running the test said they had a clip-less set-up.  I was slightly frustrated by not having my cycling shoes, but I don’t know if it would have made a very large difference.  The test went for about 10 minutes.  I scored 39.6 on the VO2 Max, and that puts me in a pretty average range for my age.  My maximum heart rate was 171, which  is low for my calculated maximum.  Basically, this result was unremarkable, and barely showed I had been training cardio.

My anaerobic threshold results were telling, and really provides the best indication of where my training needs work.  My AT was at about 135 bpm heart rate.  This happened 6 minutes into the work out and at 200 watts resistance.  That seems low, and means that most of my training lately has been taking place above my AT, which doesn’t directly help cardiovascular strength.

I came across an article recently that discusses this exact point.  Basically, base cardio is built with training in HR Zone II, where you burn both carbohydrates and fat for fuel.  This would also explain why I am not losing much weight, but that is mere speculation as I haven’t been very consistent with my diet.  Regardless, my seemingly normal VO2 Max result indicates pretty clearly I am not training effectively for cardiovascular fitness.   As a result, I am changing up my training to have more longer duration lower HR sessions on the bike and skates.  I am going to use the time on skates to work technique.

Speaking of technique, I am also attending the Joey Mantia Clinic in June that will be at the Roseville Oval.  I am really looking forward to learning a lot more about technique, and will likely update these pages around that time.  For now, though, I guess I am headed back to the bike.

Finally Back to Skating

My first inline skate session this year took place on March 13.  Really, it was just barely warm enough, and the road I skated was just barely passable enough, to permit me to skate about 3.5 miles.  For a marathon racer, that is barely even a warm up.  However, it was also a wake-up call to what I have been doing right and what I need to do more of as the season approaches.  While Minnesota braces for what I hope is the death rattle of this winter, the weather has decidedly changed for the better.  The last weekend of March provided great weather for skating with a high around 40 F on Saturday and 60 F on Sunday.  I headed out on Old Salem Road both days, starting from Autumn Ridge Road, turning around at Salem Corners.  This route is just short of 5 miles one way.  In order to get an even 10 miles per workout, I lapped a nearby subdivision and got an extra 0.7 of a mile each day.  Total skate distance for the weekend was about 21 miles.

Conditions Saturday were great, if a little cool.  Sunday, the temperature was just right, but the wind was intense, and reminded me of the 2013 NorthShore Inline Marathon.  The pace for each workout reflected the conditions.  Saturday saw an average pace at about 13.5 miles per hour, while Sunday’s pace was 12.5 miles per hour.  It felt great to get outside and skate, but 10 miles per skate and at these slower paces shows that I need work.

Saturday’s skate surprised me.  The average pace was faster than I expected.  This was also true for Sunday’s skate.  I also learned that hills are easier with stronger legs, so my time lifting weights this winter should have a positive effect on my skating this summer.  I am glad that I am seeing positive signs of building when it comes to my off-season program.  In addition, I learned I haven’t been doing enough cardio during the off season, which will likely prompt a change in training plan in October that has a focus on cardiovascular fitness in addition to weight lifting.  Technique training has helped, but I need to keep drilling every aspect of technique, and this will continue to be the year of technique as I hope to spend 10 minutes every skate working on nothing but technique and attend the Joey Mantia clinic in June.  One glaring problem with my technique is that I am not bending into the skating position properly.  On Sunday, my back started to bother me with a little bit of pain and muscle fatigue.  This usually means I am bending at the waist to get low rather than bending at the knees.  This also pointed out some weakness in my core, so I am going to spend some time building there, too, likely doing Supermans when I do wall sits and skater sits.  Strength is great, but in this sport, it means nothing without technique.

If we get lucky, the weather could permit skating again this coming Sunday.  The trails are starting to thaw, but they are still wet.  It just means more road skating.  The season will really start to build over the next two weeks, though, as the regular temperatures are creeping up into the mid-50s.

If you are in Rochester, Minnesota and you are interested in joining a group for training, check out the Facebook page for the Med City Road Skaters.  All of the information about when and where training sessions will occur will be posted on that page.

SkateLove: Joey Mantia Clinic in Minnesota

Sorry to bomb people’s feeds with this if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, but I want to get the word out that Joey Mantia will be running a clinic in the Twin Cities area the weekend of June 7, 2014. I am going to certainly try to be there. If you are close, you should consider attending, too.


Also, this link goes to a project I have been tangentially assisting with called SkateLove, a group dedicated to supporting and growing the sport of Inline Skating in all of its varieties. Check it out. http://www.skatelove.org

First Skate of 2014…

Like many places in the Midwest, suffering through the Polar Vortex has been as pleasurable as you would expect.  This winter has been more difficult than most because inline skating hasn’t been an option since the Metrodome’s demise.  Now, the much loved skate spot for speed weenies is a smoldering hole in the ground, leaving the skaters awaiting the rebirth of the Metrodome, which is scheduled to open in 2016.  Ice hasn’t worked out as well as I had hoped.  So far this winter, I have only been ice skating twice, and the second time was at the Roseville Oval.  The Oval is fast ice, and really showed how dullness my blades.  I couldn’t catch an edge to save myself.  That was either a deficiency of technique or of the gear.  I was mostly likely the worst possible combination of both.  Now, though, with the daily high temps regularly above freezing, it is practically tropical by comparison to our sub-zero high temperatures in January.  This had me counting down the days to getting back on my inline skates.  March 13, 2014, ended up being the first day out.

The weather proved to be too nice to miss.  It had been in the low 40s all day, and the temps held in the high 30s even as the sun was going down.  I made it out to start around 6:15 pm, so I knew that it would be getting colder and darker pretty quickly.  I got to my skate spot, got all my gear on, including rain covers for my older skates, and rolled away from the car about 6:30 pm.  I skated in a neighborhood I was hoping would have dry streets.  I wasn’t that lucky, but there were only two spots where the run-off from the snow melt crossed the road.  Those spots were wet, and a little sandy, but did not prohibit skating.  The circuit is about 0.7 of a mile around a neighborhood near the Church we attend.  It is toward the end of the long skate route we use for training on Saturday mornings during the summer.  I just wanted to get out and roll to see if I still remembered how.

I only did 5 laps, for a total of about 3.5 miles.  I only got to skate for 15 minutes, but it was worth it.  Top speed was just over 20 miles per hour to see if I could get a good sprint in at the end of the work out.  Since it is a circular circuit, I was working against a steady wind for about half of the lap.  When I first pushed away from the car, I felt like I hadn’t ever skated.  My ankles were wobbly, and my feet felt really heavy.  I was wearing my older skates, which are heavier, but after about a half a mile I started to get back into form.  I felt like I was able to get and stay lower in the skater squat, which is do to my off-season training.  Getting to 17 mph and staying there didn’t seem hard from a strength perspective, but endurance will be difficult as I attempt to maintain that speed.  I had a lot more power to work with in the push.  Thanks to a little bit of ice time, I felt like I was getting more power to the ground.  My technique didn’t feel too bad, and I was able to work the double push a little bit even though the skates I used are a little big.  This all translates to better speed, generally.  The low points, though, included weak feeling hip flexor muscles and getting winded very quickly.  My heart rate wasn’t extreme, between 140 and 160.  Similarly, I felt a lot of burn in my hips at first, which is either due to the unfamiliarity of the movement since I haven’t skated in so long, or bad technique.  The bottom line is that I am not working hard enough on the bike and I haven’t maintained my cardiovascular conditioning as much as I wanted to over the off-season.  I will be trying to get out and skate a lot more in the near future as the weather begins to get better.  However, that may not really start in earnest until April.  I guess we will have to wait and see, but I am going to try to spend more time on the slide board and work harder on the bike.

How To: DIY Plyo Box

Keeping with the trend of building my own exercise equipment to keep costs down, and after reviewing some material on plyometric training for building power while skating, I decided I needed to build a Plyo Box.  A plyo box is just a wooden box with various heights onto which you can jump.  This helps with short twitch muscles, which should translate to benefits in sprinting and general push power.  I built mine out of plywood from the hardware store, some wood glue and some drywall screws.  I found directions for building a plyo box over at End of Three Fitness.  There are two different tutorials on that page, and you can use either of them.  I used the first tutorial for my build as my dimensions were different than both of the builds on their website.  However, the second tutorial is good for direction on how to layout the cuts in the wood.

My planned design was for a 36″ x 24″ x 24″ box because I wanted to have a really tall box to jump.  I wasn’t prepared for exactly how tall 3 feet would be, but after using it, I think it was good choice.  Upon further reflection after returning from the store, I opted to go with a 36″ x 24″ x 20″ box to provide a little more variety for different types of jumps.  I sketched out my plans on a sheet of paper and decided how to deal with cutting the wood.

After reviewing these blog posts, I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish and what I needed, so I headed to the hardware store looking for a sheet of 3/4″ plywood.  I walked around confused for about 10 minutes, and then talked to an associate.  I learned that someone (probably who works at IBM, they are local) complained that the plywood they sell wasn’t 3/4″, but 23/32″ thick.  Seriously…

After picking out my appropriate 4 foot by 8 foot by 23/32″ thick sheet of plywood, I was able to have the first set of cuts taken care of at the store.  If you go to a big box hardware store like I do, consider having them make the cuts, as they will be easier to complete and more accurate since they have bigger saws made for cutting whole sheets of plywood.  They did three cuts for me, yielding the 6 pieces of wood I needed for my box, two 24″ x 24″ pieces, two 34.5″ x 24″ pieces, and two 34.5″ x 22.5″ pieces.  When I got the pieces home, I decided to change the dimensions on the box and cut 4 inches off one side of the 24″ x 24″ pieces and the 34.5″ x 22.5″ pieces reducing them to two 24″ x 20″ and two 34.5″ x 18.5″ pieces, respectively.  Laying out the cuts would look like the following (forgive my terrible image editing skills):20140313 Plyo Box cut diagramThe resulting cut pieces looked like this:photo 1 - Copy (2)
I used the materials listed in the first tutorial, but opted for 2″ drywall screws:

photo 3 - Copy (2)photo 2 - Copy (2)

Assembly was tricky because of the size of the box.  I put a bead of glue on the edge, and set the top piece using a desk.  I then screwed it all together with the screws.  The two medium sized pieces fit inside the top, bottom, and two other sides.  This inset piece can be hard to attach, so after assembling one side, I added the inset pieces.  It looks like this:

photo 1 - Copy

I used a lot of wood screws to make sure things didn’t come loose or in case the box was damaged later.  Setting the sides of the box in and screwing everything together looked like this:

photo 2 - Copy photo 4

After adding all of the sides, I got the following box:

photo 3 - Copy

So far, I have used the box once, using the 24″ side to do step-down jumps, the 20″ side for single leg jump-ups, and the 36″ side for jump-ups from the floor.  The 36″ side is high, but I can make it, so I have some room to grow here.  It also makes a nice table for when I am riding the bike so I can put my computer on it to watch video while cranking out the hours of intervals or recovery rides.

Sum total, this was a $30 build and took a little over two hours to finish.  It is much cheaper that buying something similar.  I will probably cut hand holes at some point, though, to make it easier to move.

How To: DIY Squat Stands

Since I started lifting weights in earnest at the end of 2012, I always felt like a lack of appropriate equipment was limiting the benefit I got from my lifts.  I started lifting with a 40 pound dumbbell kit that you can get just about anywhere.  I got mine at the local sporting goods store.  I had to modify a lot of my movements to get the right target muscles for skating specific cross training.  This meant modified versions of dead lifts and squats to work with the dumbbells.  Weight was also limited, and I very quickly moved beyond the weight I had.  Also, dumbbells aren’t ideal for lifts that target your legs.  I then acquired a standard barbell.  It was a 5 foot long standard width (1″) barbell with screw-on end caps.  This totally changed the game for weight lifting because I was no longer having to modify lifts that started on the ground.  Squats remained a problem.  I quickly got beyond the 150 pounds or so in weight that I had amassed in standard plants, that included eight 10 pound plates, and two 25 pound plates.  All of my standard gear then got traded for a 300 pound Olympic lifting set.  While I continued to progress in weight for lifts that started on the ground, I found it more difficulty to modify for squats.  I was doing all of my squats hack-style, where you basically lift like a dead lift but with the bar starting on the ground behind you.  My form suffered, and I don’t think I was making gains that really helped.

After doing some digging, a squat rack or stand seemed to be the missing piece in my weight lifting kit.  I don’t do a lot of upper body, so a bench wasn’t necessary.  However, I also wasn’t in the position to spend big money on a set of stands, a cage, or a rack.  A little more internet research led me to two blogs:  End of 3 Fitness and Homemade Strength.  End of 3 has a great section of DIY fitness projects, and promotes street parking, the idea that your garage can be your gym.  He made a set of squat stands out of 4″x4″ posts and buckets, with the posts set in buckets.  I liked the idea, but the build required tools  I didn’t have or couldn’t get a hold of.  Also, the build didn’t seem to be as effective as it could be, as there is no back-stop for the weight as it rested on the stand.  More digging led me to Homemade Strength, where the blogger had designed a set of squat stands that used variable height 2″x4″ rather than 4″x4″ posts.  After reviewing the build, the instructions on Homemade Strength ended up becoming the best option for the project.

I bought my materials at Home Depot (no link, this isn’t a sponsored project or post).  The store in my area gives you two cuts per piece of wood, so I premeasured based on the instructions, and went in with a list of materials.  It included four 10′ 2x4s, two 8′ 2x4s, two buckets, and Quickcrete.  Since I had the lengths I needed in mind, I could be more economical with my choice of 2×4.  In the end, this saved me money and resulted in less re-usable project waste.  I also used 2.5″ wood screws for the project.  Since the store did my cuts, I didn’t need a saw.  I went in with my measurements, grabbed my wood, and walked to the cutting station.  The associate helping me marked the wood, cut the pieces to length, and I walked out with all of the materials I needed ready for my build.  When set side by side, my pre-cut 2x4s looked like this:

photo 1
I then lined the pieces up on top of one another and screwed them together.  The pieces I picked out ended up being more warped than I expected, and the lack of a very strong drill meant there were some gaps in the wood.   If you can avoid this when you do your build, I would strongly recommend getting the wood to sit flush after it is screwed together.  This should prevent unnecessary cracking in the cement.  Also, when I set the stands in the buckets, I found that the top rest was about two inches too tall.  Before setting the wood in the cement, I had to cut the excess from the bottom of the stands.  Thankfully, I didn’t hit any of the screws.  This also resulted in a slightly uneven base.  I used the concrete to correct this problem when setting the posts.

After screwing them together, I placed them in the buckets and started working with the concrete.  I probably used a little too much water for the concrete as it cracked some after it set.  This may be caused by the warped wood problem, too.  After mixing the concrete in a tub, I started adding it to the buckets.  I put down a layer of wet concrete in the bucket and then put the post into the bucket, driving it down to the bottom of the bucket.  This compensated for my uneven cut to shorten the posts by allowing the concrete to fill in around the gaps in the bottom of the posts.  Once I got the concrete and the stand legs into the buckets, I used a level to make sure everything was even, and pushed the stand legs around until they leveled front to back and side to side.

photo 2
The end result is a solid set of stands that has two levels, one at squat height, and the other at bench height.  I probably didn’t need to do a set at bench height, but I have found this helpful for moving the weight from the ground to the top of the stands.  I dead lift the weight to the bench height, then move them up one side at a time to the top of the stands.  So far, it works pretty well, and I am glad I followed the measuring instructions for the bench height.  Otherwise, I would be forced to unload and reload the bar every time I need to switch from ground lifts to stand lifts.  This cuts down on wasted time during work outs.  This is what the stands look like loaded:

photo 3
I like the buckets.  The slogan is good motivation.  Aside from the tip concerning making sure the wood is screwed together flush, my other suggestion is to use Quickrete’s post setting concrete product.  I used Quickcrete 5000, which is a commercial grade concrete for heavy duty uses.  I may have let my ego get the better of me with that purchase.  I bought two 80 pound bags, and had about half of a bag left over.  I think the post setting concrete product is sold in 60 pound bags.  The post setting product also requires a lot less mixing, meaning you can empty the contents of the bag into the bucket with the post, pour the required water in the bucket, level your posts, and walk away.  The post setting product will set in a couple of hours, with a full set after a day or so.  This cuts down on a lot of the extra mixing work and equipment required by working with the commercial grade product.  It also requires less experience working with concrete.  If that aspect of this build seems daunting, the post setting product removes that concern.  If you don’t need a height for a weight bench, you can also set the lower height level for a short person, or just a lower starting height for your squats.  Using 2×4 provides a lot of additional options over using 4×4 for the build.

Why do this build?  First, it was cheap.  Commercial stands run about $200.  This build cost me about $52 (I needed some mixing tools for the concrete, a trowel and basin).  Second, having the stand means I can do proper squats, work on maximizing my squat form, and have more productive work outs.  Hack style lifting was probably sufficient, but this will insure that I lift properly, and build the muscles I want/need to build for skating.  So far, this and my other DIY projects have saved me over $300 in commercial equipment.  I have been working out with this set-up for most of January, and I really like it.  If you find yourself  needing squat stands, you can’t go wrong with this build.

Reviewing and looking forward…

The end of the year always brings retrospective lists of what happened, and what we expected to happen but didn’t happen.  While there aren’t any lists anticipated in this post, in order to move forward, you have to look behind you.  As Ayrton Senna said, “[t]he past is just data, I only see the future.”  His point remains that the past is relevant to see where you have been so you can determine where you are going.  In that same vein, I can’t gauge my expectations and plans for 2014 without considering what happened in 2013.

2013 was an interesting year.  It involved a lot of major changes.  I moved from Chicago to Rochester, Minnesota (technically in 2012, but it has been the first full year here).  My wife and I welcomed a son to our young family in February.  I started a new job in April after 6 months of voluntary unemployment (see comment about moving).  We bought a house.  All of this living was going on notwithstanding any of the skating that was going on.  I started training with a new group of guys semi-regularly.  That was great, though one of them is much faster than the rest of us.  I finished well in the Metrodome Marathon, struggled through the Chicagoland Marathon, hung with the lead pack for the Minnesota Half, and did my part to pull the pack through the wind at the NorthShore.  I did not meet my conspicuous goal of breaking a 90 minute marathon time, but what did become clear is that I have the ability to hang with the front of the advanced pack, which I did to my detriment in Chicago, and to the finish for the Minnesota Half.  I set new personal bests in the Marathon and Half-Marathon distances, and pulled the lead pack at some point in three races.  I cannot be entirely disappointed in my performance in 2013 even if I did not accomplish my goal of 90 minute marathon.  I know I am capable of finishing in that time because I was able to finish close to the lead pack at the NorthShore, and with better tactics I could have finished with the lead pack at Chicagoland.  That said, I have a lot to look forward to in what will likely be a short season next year because of the state of our sport.  More on that issue in another post, though.

Looking toward 2014, I hope to skate at least 4 races, including Roll for the Roses, Chicagoland, the Minnesota Half, and the NorthShore.  The two wild card races are Apostle Island and Rollin’ on the River.  If the opportunity arises where I can make these races, I will certainly try to attend those races.  They could be day-tripped if I got up very early, as each race is between 5 and 6 hours away.  Financially, it probably won’t be feasible to go and stay.  With the later start for the NorthShore, I may consider making that race a day trip.  I would love to make the Route 66 race in St. Louis, Missouri, but that is a bit too far of a trip.  There may be another event here or there I can attend, but that is entirely contingent upon the schedule at the moment.

Aside from racing, the big goals and challenges for 2014 come in the form of training and technique.  I haven’t really spent a lot of time working specifically on technique.  As a result, my training in 2014 will focus specifically on technique, and building areas where my skating is weak.  Currently, I am focusing on weight lifting to build base strength like I did at the end of 2012.  I saw meaningful gain from this last year, and thought it was worth doing again.  So far, I have seen a significant increase in my lifts.  Like last year, this has already demonstrated tangible benefits in my skating.  This cycle will warp up in a couple of weeks, and my training will transition to the next mesocycle I have planned for the year.  This will involve one day of focused weight training with dry-land, likely dry skating and balance training, to specifically work technique in addition to base strength and explosive power; a day of plyos; a day of slide board with a specific focus on technique, and a day of cycling that will start as base cardio endurance and some intervals.  I am going to try and ice skate as much as I can, weather permitting, with a focus on classic technique, also.

The next mesocycle will start as soon as I can get outside to skate.  I am planning on quickly moving to skating to work technique as much as possible.  I am going to do a lot of longer slow skates, attempting to generate speed just from the technique.  I am also planning on doing my hill route at least once per week in addition to the long skates on Saturday mornings.  Ideally, I hope to skate at least 3 times per week.  Once we get into May, the volume and the pace will pick up, as the focus for skating will move to increased paces with intervals and fartleks (speed play), in addition to hills.  This will all lead up to Roll for the Roses, which will be the first test of my training for the year.  After that, the focus will be hills and intervals to get ready for Chicagoland.  Ideally, while I will be working on stepping up the pace, most of the skating will be focused on technique, and attempting to master technique as much as possible.  This means a lot of drills where I get low and push long and hard to the side.  If I work this focus for the season, I should be able to build on my success of 2013, and have a great year in 2014.  I am looking forward to what the season has in store this year, and hope that this year can lead to a rebuilding for me personally and also the sport.


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