Tag Archives: plyo

Changing Cycles…

Seeing as it has been a quarter since my last post, and seeing as we are walking into the start of the outdoor inline season, I thought it was time to post here again.  Really, life has been kind of hectic.  We went to Hawaii over Christmas in 2014, meaning I got to skate outdoor in 70+ F weather on Christmas.  That was pretty cool.  After that, I spent a lot of time being busy around the house, taking care of our toddler, and eventually helping to take care of a newborn.  With two kids and a lot of personal and family changes on the horizon, this outdoor season looks to be a bit of a transition year.  Regardless, I am already skating outside, which means it is time to get fitness focused on my races this year.

First, I currently plan on attending the Chicagoland Inline Marathon and the NorthShore Inline Marathon this year.  If the stars align, I might be able to make it to the Minnesota Half, but right now I do not expect that to be a possibility.  With a truncated race schedule, this presents the opportunity to have a more focused early season build phase for training.  As such, as I am considering how best to organize my training for this season, I am taking this opportunity into consideration.

Before digging into the details of the training plan for this season, though, I want to review the off-season.  I had a couple of specific goals beyond what was mentioned in a previous post.  Specifically, my goal was to add 15 pounds to my heavy lifts before the start of this inline season.  My goal was to rear squat 200 lbs. and dead lift 250 lbs.  I hit those marks at the end of March, pretty much right on schedule.  Beyond these goals, though, I spent a lot of time on the slide board, but not enough time on the bike.  As a result, my lack of cardiovascular fitness reared its head while I visited Team Rainbo last weekend for the last team indoor training session of the year.  Even skating on wheels that have seen a lot of miles outdoor, I was able to push the pace, but didn’t stay with the pace line because I didn’t feel like I had enough grip to not be a danger to everyone else in the line when pushing deep in the corners.  What stood out, though, was the diametrically opposed burning chest and spry legs.  Lifting heavy has been good this off-season, but I didn’t get enough cardio.  Slide board and jumping on boxes alone isn’t enough.  I wasn’t consistent enough about spending any kind of time on the bike this winter, and that is something I absolutely must fix for next year.  This notwithstanding, my early season skates have been slightly faster on average than at the start of last year, but I haven’t been quite as efficient, meaning my heart rate is a little higher than my similar work outs this time last year.  I feel stronger, though, and that helps the mental game.

As we transition into the season, though, it is time to change training cycles. This transition will implement some of the things I learned after last year, like maintenance weight lifting needs to be in the schedule during the season.  Going back to weight training during the off season in 2014, proved to be more challenging than it should have been, requiring a 35 pound deload before building up to a 15 lbs. personal best on all my lifts in March.  I lost too much in that time period, and I hope to preserve these new personal bests through the season so that is my starting base weight in the fall.  While there is one day of weight training built into the schedule, I expect to also use it as an occasional rest day, since you maintain strength gains longer than cardiovascular fitness gains.  I have a lot of rebuilding to do with cardiovascular fitness, but that will eventually come back, too.  The season of technique last year also proved helpful, so I am planning on dedicating a day for the first month of the season to work on technique, using cone and double push drills from the Mantia Clinic last year.  So, this is what the outdoor training schedule will look like this year:

  • Mondays:  Maintenance weights
  • Tuesdays: an easy recovery skate
  • Wednesdays:  Cone Drills and intervals
  • Thursdays:  longer intervals and/or hill skates
  • Friday:  a recovery skate
  • Saturday:  Long Tempo Skate, and
  • Sundays:  Long Trail skate in the afternoon

Hopefully, this will maintain my strength baseline and build my cardio back to where it was toward the end of last year.  This plan will change a little bit once we get to June, as I will likely cycle out the technique day for more intervals, hills, or duration skating sessions.  Regardless, with only two races in the relatively distant future, patience will be necessary.

 

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Off-Season 2014-2015, Get At It!

The NorthShore has passed, my chest cold thing is finally gone, I have skated maybe three times, the race wheels have been put away until next year, and now we have nothing to look forward to but the long, cold, dead Minnesota winter.  There is a reason, besides keeping warm, Russians drink heavy.  If I lived in Siberia and had to look at that much snow, cold, and ice as that climate is known for, I would be driven to excessive consumption of alcohol also.  But, all of this time stuck indoors with not a lot to do means plenty of time to lift heavy stuff, binge watch bad TV while spinning on the bike, and think about whether I have enough clothes to keep warm while trying to ice skate.  That is pretty much what my off-season will look like.  Until the cold really sets in, I plan to try to skate on the weekends.  The sun sets too early to permit skating during the week right now.  As a result, training for next season starts right now, because your off-season is what makes or breaks your race season.  So, here is the plan:

After considering what I did for off-season last year, it wasn’t sufficiently structured, and my goals for working out during the week were based on an otherwise hectic life schedule.  This year promises to permit a lot more focus in my work out schedule.  Through the end of the year, I am going to continue to skate as much as possible, but realistically this will only last a couple more weeks until I convert my on-skates time to ice or indoor rink sessions/practices.  Since this will occur mostly on the weekend, that leaves me with 4-5 week days to fill with some training. Weight lifting provided some big gains for me over the last two years.  This was accelerated after I switched to an Olympic weight lifting set and built squat stands.  My goal is to get 3 days of lifting during the week from now until the middle of January, lifting heavy and adding weight weekly to every lift.  Every 4 weeks, I am going to deload, and give myself a rest to avoid overtraining.  I ended the off-season lifting 235 for my Dead Lifts and Romanian Dead Lifts and lifting 185 on my squats.  This year, I am going back to some older lifts and adding some new ones.  I am also changing up the way I am lifting.  Pat of the goal this year is to build power in addition to base strength.  One way of doing this is adding tempo to your lifts, or basically performing the lifts faster.  I am going to deload a bit at the start, and increase the pace of my lifts with the goal of adding power training to my base strength training, and, just maybe, spend a little less time lifting.  I am hoping to do the following three day schedule each week:

Day 1:

A1 Rear Squats
A2 Poliquin Step Ups
A3 Splits Squats

B1 Dead Lifts
B2 Romanian Dead Lifts
B3 Kettle Bell Swings (Set of 10)

C1 Core

Day 2:

A1 Over Head Press
A2 Curtsy Squats
A3 Power Cleans

B1 Barbell Row
B2 Weighted walking lunges (12 to 14 reps)
B3 Glute Bridges with Stability Ball

C1 Core

Day 3:

A1 Rear Squats
A2 Poliquin Step Ups
A3 Kettle Bell Swings (Set of 10)

B1 Dead Lifts
B2 Romanian Dead Lifts
B3 Dips

C1 Core

As you can see, it is a mix of standard lifts with some Olympic power lifting and, shockingly, some upper body work.  I am learning how important posture is to overall fitness, and seeing that I sit for 8+ hours a day at the office, I thought it would be good to add some upper body exercises to balance out my build.  These lifts are also, largely, compound lifts, meaning they work a lot of different muscles at the same time.  My goal will be to do 2 rounds of each super set, then follow it up with core work, likely P90X Ab Ripper X, because it hits everything in the core.

Aside from weights, I am planning on spending a lot of recovery time on the bike, grinding away on my heart rate Zone 2 target rides.  The gola here is base cardiovascular fitness, something that gets neglected over the winter months.  Beyond that, I am developing an off-skates program that will include plyos, dry-land drills from the Mantia Clinic, and slide board.  Ideally, I will take one to two days off per week.  I hope it will make for a productive off-season.


Skating, Fitness, and Some Science

I have previously mentioned that I want to post on the topic of fitness as it relates to skating.  Since I don’t have a degree or formal education of any kind, and the science specific to speed skating is so limited in terms of research and publications, consider this your lawyerly disclaimer that the remainder of this post is purely my opinion based on the arm-chair internet research I have done on the topic of sport science and how it may or may not apply to speed skating, specifically inline speed skating, and my experiences in training for inline marathon races.  Take this for what it is worth, something to think about and consider, discuss and dispute, dissect and analyze.  I hope this post can be used as a starting point for more conversation.

After my VO2 Max test in April, I realized that my physical ability, in terms of being an endurance athlete, is in the average range.  My goal is to skate faster, and one way to focus my training to achieve that goal is to consider what weaknesses I need to reinforce to insure I am getting the most of the engine that drives my hobby, namely my body.  Unfortunately, there is very little science specific to speed skating, and even less dedicated to inline speed skating.  Most of my research looked at similar endurance sports, like cycling, for simulacra that could be used to understand what happens to the body during intense exercise.

Cycling and running are both good sports to compare with speed skating, at least, from a physiological health and training perspective.  Mass start speed skating, like anything in inline speed, and some events in ice skating, rely heavily on the pack dynamic during the race similar to cycling.  Running provides a lot of analogies in the context of physical fitness.

In the vein of analyzing similar sports, Joe Friel, triathlete coach and master cyclist, has a wealth of information on his website that is helpful in understanding how the body works during endurance sport.  We should start with the premise, as he does, that being a good endurance athlete requires three things:  Aerobic Capacity, Lactate Threshold, and Economy.  Some posts on Joe Friel’s blog break down these concepts in detail.

First, aerobic capacity is basically your body’s ability to process oxygen and use it for helping your body generate and consume fuel.  Oxygen is the catalyst for the biochemical mechanisms that make the body operate, especially during exercise.  Unfortunately, aerobic capacity is dictated by, in large part, genetics.  However, you can train your body to increase your capacity.  Scientifically, this capacity is measured using a VO2 Max test, and it is one of the reasons I was so interested in participating in this kind of test.  It provided a benchmark for me to compare and analyze my fitness for the purpose of skating.  Realistically, there are a couple of things you can do to increase your VO2 Max without getting new genes.  Weight can be a factor, and I have been fighting with mine lately.  I am always looking to drop an extra 15 to 20 pounds, but now that I am past the ripe age of 30, that has proven to be more difficult than I expected.  The one big piece, though, is endurance specific training.  That sounds ridiculous.  I skate long distances all the time, so I should be getting enough endurance training.  However, what makes endurance training important has more to do with heart rate than distance.

There is a lot of scientific support for the proposition that most of an endurance athlete’s time should be spent training in heart rate zone 2, roughly 60%-70% of your max heart rate.  It makes sense that you train in this zone to build endurance because in this zone you are “teaching” your body to burn fat for energy, and your muscles respond by increasing the mitochondrial density (and see also) in your slow twitch muscle cells.  Before we go off the scientific deep end here, this really just means that the portions of the muscle cells that produce and consume energy during a workout are increased as a result of this kind of training, making the athlete more efficient at burning calories for long periods of time, thereby increasing your endurance.  In addition to Zone 2 training, intervals are important, especially at a pace that is at or near your VO2 Max.  What we see here is a coordinated way to increase your aerobic capacity by spending a lot of time training in Heart Rate Zone 2 and doing intervals, in addition to losing some weight.

The second piece of this puzzle is Lactate Threshold.  I won’t belabor the science here, as Friel’s post does a great job on that point.  This is literally the “red line” for your heart, or the percentage of your maximum heart rate you can hold for 60 minutes of high intensity exercise like a race.  This is sport specific.  My Lactate Threshold based on my most recent inline marathons suggests that my threshold is about 165 beats per minute (bpm).  However, take that with a grain of salt because I have never undergone any specific lactate testing.  For more information on this terribly misunderstood topic, check out Training Peaks discussion on Lactate Threshold.  The conclusion in this article is very interesting.  In order to increase your LT, you need to do more Zone 2 cardio because it is the slow-twitch muscles that clear lactate from the fast-twitch muscles.  However, it is also important to work those fast twitch muscles so the body can recruit all of the muscle systems to maximize its efficiency in clearing lactate.  Bottom line, spend more time training in cardio Zone 2, and do intervals, also.

Third, we need to consider the economy of movement to maximize the use of energy over a long race.  Joe Friel, again, notes in his post, that science knows very little about how this impacts fitness and sports performance, but that it is basically defined as how much oxygen the body uses per specified amount of exertion, or milliliters of oxygen per mile.  When speed skaters think about economy, we usually also think about movement efficiency, and for good reason as they are basically the same for our sport(s).  Friel talks about different ways to improve economy by pointing to examples on how to reduce external friction (like aero bars on TT bikes) or work on pedaling technique for cyclists, and reducing gear weight for runners.  However, he also notes that explosive exercises like plyometrics can make the body more efficient.  For anyone who has been to a skating clinic, this probably all sounds very familiar.  For speed skaters, this really boils down to something very straightforward, technique.   This is something we can work on until we think we have it perfect, watch video of our skating, and find 10 new things to change.  For skaters to excel on this level, it requires drill after drill to perfect technique and form, something most of us don’t care about as much as we should because we just want to get out and skate.

Knowing that efficiency is part of the game is great, but there also has to be a way to measure economy so we can see when it is having an impact on our skating and potential results in a race.  Friel commented in a Twitter post that the method of calculating efficiency over the duration of a work out is speed/HR.  If you are looking at an overall workout, for example, you can take average speed divided by average heart rate to get your economy for the entire work out or race.  My recent race at the MN Half Marathon would look like the following: 18.7 mph avg/165 bpm avg.  I think this serves to show speed over effort, and there are a lot of factors that influence this kind of data.  For example, in a pack sport like outdoor inline marathon racing, drafting is a big part of the tactics and should be considered a required skill.  It reduces the amount of wind resistance and can conserve energy by up to 30%.  However, when you are out on a solo skate, pounding away at the pavement, the real terms of economy come down to stride and glide length, underpush, weight transfer, and knee bend.  I also think that weight lifting has a role here, particularly in skating.  By lifting weights as part of training, you are capable of putting more power to the ground under max effort, which should translate to being able to put a larger amount of power to the ground through the push than if you are not weight training.

What does this tell us about training?  First, this analysis doesn’t seem very far off base.  Sutton Atkins from Sk8 Skool Online recently dissected a post from Training Peaks on these points.  Generally, we seem to agree that much of this scientific study from other sports applies to speed skating.  Second, and most importantly, it gives skaters an idea of how to train.  Joey Mantia said in the Minnesota Clinic he did in June that some skaters are tremendous physical athletes, while others have perfect technique, but the best skaters in the world have both.  I think anyone who seriously trains for speed skating should strive to be a great athlete with great technique.

Clearly, there are three things that need to be in a training program:  Long HR Zone 2 work outs, Intervals, and Technique practice.  However, we also see the need for supplemental exercise to support overall fitness and increase skating performance.  Plyometric exercises, skating in groups for drafting practice, weight lifting, and tempo skating all have their place in a well structured training plan.  Also, it shows we can rely on science supporting other endurance sports to help direct how we should be training as speed skaters.  All of a sudden, there is a lot more information and a lot more training options out there.

What do you think?  Am I right, or so wrong I should go back to the basement and spend 5 hours on the slide board?


Training Updates and Future Posts

I have been rotating between working out in the basement during the week and skating on the weekends, when the weather permits.  It has been a wet and windy spring here once the cold finally broke.  I have been able to skate at least once, sometimes twice, every weekend since mid to late April.  After my VO2 Max test in April, I did a lot of research about cardiovascular capacity, particularly material written by Joe Friel, and decided to significantly change my early season base training.  I mentioned in my last post that I was going to spend a lot more time working on base cardiovascular fitness, and, as a result, many of my recent training sessions that are not focused on weight lifting or skating have been extended duration cycling sessions with my bike in the trainer.  In addition to being a great way to build base cardiovascular fitness, it also helps me get caught up on television I don’t otherwise have time to watch.  I am averaging 2 of these sessions per week.  My weight lifting program has changed, also.  Like last year, heading in to race preparation phases, I tend to focus a lot on cardiovascular training.  When I made the transition last year, I took some of the weight lifting program into a joint plyometric program where I would do a super set of lifts followed by a super set of plyos.  I am doing some thing similar this year, but with a different target for my lifts.  Rather that focusing on split squats or Poliquin squats, I am hoping to build power by mixing power cleans, rear squats, dead lifts, and Romanian dead lifts with tuck jumps, split jumps, single leg jumps, super skaters, and box jumps.  I do this work out one day per week, and spend the rest of my training time on the bike or on skates.

Skating seems like it is going well.  The weekends have worked out so that the weather is manageable, though we have had some very windy days.  Slow skating is good experience, and it builds strength.  I am noticing deficiencies in my technique, and I am climbing a lot of hills.  I hope this will yield good results as I move into a training phase with a lot more skating.  So far, my average speeds have increased over last year, some of them by more than 1 mile per hour, which is a considerable jump from the end of one race season to the start of another.  I think weight lifting has helped considerably in this regard.

Starting this weekend, training changes again.  I am going to continue lifting weights, but I am planning on deloading, basically making my weight lifting maintenance work outs meant to insure that I am not losing anything.  I may slowly creep the weight back up, but I find that the delayed onset muscle soreness after really heavy lift days results in restricted training on skating days.  Skating volume is going to seriously increase.  This year, I am focusing on technique and trying to get every bit of power from my legs to the ground.  The hope is that this increase in efficiency will result in faster marathon times.  I am hoping to skate at least 4 times per week, with one day being a technique focus, one day an interval focus, and the other two longer skates that mix aerobic HR zone training and longer distance tempo skating.  I need to climb a lot of hills, also.  I plan on reviewing the data from the last Chicagoland Inline Marathon race to see where I struggled with the hills and see if I can keep up with the main pack this year.  All I want to do is keep up with the main pack and not get dropped.  If I can stay in the pack and avoid pulling, I should be able to keep pace for the entire race, or, at least, I hope to.  The key to this course, though, are the hills, and making sure you can climb hill after hill without losing the rest of the group.  I see a lot of time climbing the mountain-esque hills on Country Club Road in my future.

With all of this training going on, I am hoping to post more videos than I have been lately.  Also, I am going to have some posts that combine a lot of the research I have been doing on cardiovascular capacity detailing how inline speed skaters can learn from other endurance athletes and how these training theories can be applied to inline skating.  I hope it will make for some interesting reading.  This weekend, I am skating with Team Rainbo, and will shoot video of the Saturday practice to post next week.  For anyone who isn’t yet, Spring has sprung, get out and skate!


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.