Tag Archives: sport science

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.

 


Do you even lift??

Admittedly, the title of this post pokes fun at bro-science (see also), but the post itself has a serious point:  lifting weights as cross-training for speed skating.

In the last couple of years, I have been in off-season situations where there wasn’t a good replacement sport for inline speed skating.  Generally, this is because I lived in locales where long track or short track ice speed skating weren’t viable options, or because the indoor inline skating options are limited for speed skating.  Life also tends to get in the way, as it does for many non-professional (read “I don’t work out for a living”) athletes.  As a result, I have always looked for a way to spend my time in the off-season that will benefit my on-skate time during the summer months.  In addition, I was looking for options for building strength and power that would support my speed skating and, ultimately, make me stronger.  The answer was lifting weights.

When I talk about lifting weights, I am talking about any kind of resistance program that will help with skating.  For me, right now, that is predominately barbell training.  Historically, it has also included dumbbell training, and body weight training.  Previously, I lifted to get stronger, simply doing lifts that would result in greater physical strength.  I have noted in previous posts that part of the point of weight lifting for speed skating is to put more power in the push.  The idea here is that the more strength your legs have, the harder you can push.  I have been experimenting and researching this idea for a little over a year now, and I can affirmatively say that lifting heavy stuff is good for skating.

Other endurance athletes know that lifting weights is good trainingRecent research supports these ideas.  Just because it is good for cyclists, though, doesn’t make it it good for skaters.  However, for a lot of reasons, it is true with skating.  Lifting weights helps with the economy of movement, which I examined in my last sports science post.  The idea here is you aren’t working as hard to get as much power transfer into the implement of forward movement.  For time on the bike, more push power in the legs against the pedals means you can maintain power for longer, or exert less energy for the same power as previously.  For skating, economy in this context means more power to the ground with less effort.  While there are a host of other factors involved here, notably technique, having the strength to push into the ground is one of the major components of skating.  That is, after all, why skaters have those noticeably larger butts and thighs.  Lifting weights with a focus on speed skating will help build those butts and thighs so you can leverage your technique and put more power to the ground.

So, should you lift?  It sure sounds like it.  Now we know why, the next question is how?  My answer to that query is however you like that will get you stronger.  Joey Mantia says he doesn’t lift weights, but prefers isometric body weight and plyometric exercise to build strength and power.  He can also do a wall sit for something like 10 minutes (his own estimation from the Minnesota Mantia Clinic).  He isn’t alone, Chad Hendrick and Shani Davis have also stated they don’t lift weights in interviews.  However, Apolo Ohno lifts, and so do a lot of other speed skaters, like Sven Kramer and Kevin Jagger.

I lift a barbell.  I find that barbell training works well for me.  It may not work well for others, so consult your coach or your doctor to make sure it is something you can do, and do safely.  My current favorite lifts are rear squats, power cleans, dead lifts, and Romanian dead lifts.  All of these exercises target the posterior chain, basically the muscles from your upper back through your heels.  These are also a vast majority of the muscles used in skating.  I mix these up with other exercises for power (like kettle bell swings), and upper body (like dips).  Another change that I made this year was training specifically for power.  I lift faster with a little more volume in my lifts, while still focusing on good form to build more powerful muscle.  The goal here is explosive lifting.  This should sound a lot like plyometrics, another terrific way to build power for skating.  In addition to lifting, I am still cross training with steady state cardio and plyos with some dry land and slide board, because you can’t neglect the skate specific stuff for cross training without losing out on skating performance.

If you are wondering about programming, you could do just those four exercises above, but you would end up a bit uneven.  This is why I have incorporated some upper body work in my strength training this year, notably over head presses and dips.  For basic lifting, consider Strength Camp’s big four, front squats, dead lifts, dips, and pull ups.  If there is interest I can share more about how I am presently programming my strength training.

So, do you even lift?  If not, maybe you should be.


A Moment on Intervals…

I have been thoroughly enjoying the Powerslide Powerskating Tutorials over the last couple of months.  The guys at Powerslide are doing some great educational videos to teach skaters about different elements of technique.  The framing of the tutorials is easy for everyone who is interested in skating to understand, but these tutorials are really focused on fitness and speed skaters who want to skate marathon events.

After the Chicagoland Inline Marathon this year, I heard a number of comments from skaters about how they needed to add more interval workouts to their training.  I totally agree and have been needing the same structure in my workouts, also.  Part of the problem is that this is a structured work out that really isn’t fun, and, realistically, we all skate because it is fun to go fast.  Intervals, though, are well worth the pain.  Bringing this post back to my comment about Powerslide’s Powerskating Tutorials, a recent installment was specifically about intervals:

This is a very basic explanation of intervals for skaters.  Simple is really the best option here.  There is a ton of sports science on intervals, and, honestly, all it does is add to the confusion.  Intervals, for work outs, should be simple:  go hard for a certain amount of time, go easy for a certain amount of time.  The question quickly becomes how long the intervals should be.  Different intervals will, in theory, accomplish different training goals.  Realistically, intervals help you get your heart rate up so you train at or above your VO2 Max, the goal of which is to increase your VO2 Max, thereby increasing your level of fitness.  Intervals are also important for racing because, in a good race, you will have to deal with a lot of attacks from the front, and chasing down a flyer, climbing a hill, or a finish sprint are basically work intervals.  Joe Friel (clearly one of my favorite sport science bloggers) had a recent post on a study from Norway about the different effect of interval duration on highly trained racing cyclists.  The results are compelling, but what was notable is that the test group who had shorter interval durations had bigger gains in their VO2 Max after 10 weeks of training.

The science is fun to read (for me at least), but what we really care about is:  1. Why bother doing intervals, and, 2. How long should they be?

There are two reasons inline skaters should be doing intervals.  First, it is one of the best ways to help build your VO2 Max, and basically get you in better cardiovascular condition.  Marathon outdoor racers participate in endurance events, at least in the sense that the race takes at least an hour to complete.  We need to be cardiovascularly fit.  However, any training plan that includes intervals should also include extended duration Zone 2 heart rate work, also.  The musculature used for speed skating are made up of reciprocal systems, and both need to be utilized to create a strong skater.  Intervals help build lactate threshold tolerance and VO2 Max by working fast twitch Type II fibers, but the slow twitch Type I fibers work to clear out that lactate during the rest intervals.  As a result, you need both to be stronger and faster.  So we do intervals to compliment all that mind numbing time on the bike or on the trail staying in HR Zone 2.  Second, it is the best kind of training that mimics racing we can get, not considering tempo/fartlek sessions, especially if you train solo.  All of the up and down of intervals help prepare you for the pack dynamic of a race.  Lets say you get stuck at the back of a long pace line of about 30 skaters at the NorthShore Inline Marathon and you get to that first really sharp feeling hill climb around mile 10 of the race.  The front of the line speeds up, the middle of the line lags, and pretty soon, you are looking at an accordion gap opening in front of you as the line pulls up the hill, potentially leaving you skating alone in no-man’s land.  The best way to make sure you have the gas in the tank and the power in your legs to race up that hill and stick with the line is to do intervals, because this is the kind of situation you will run into over and over again in race after race, especially races with hills like the Chicagoland.  Intervals allow you to train for this part of a race without actually being in a race during every training session.

The big thing to remember and consider when doing intervals is to stop immediately if you cannot maintain your technique.  Absent good technique, the exercise/drill is meaningless.

Now that we know why, the next step is to determine the best duration for intervals.  Friel’s post suggests shorter durations for work intervals, and even shorter duration rest intervals, something similar to 45 second work intervals and 30 second rest intervals.  He also points out, though, that these kinds of intervals work best for well trained athletes.  The rest of us mere mortals are better with a 1 to 1 interval duration ratio.  The Powerskating tutorial above suggests 1 minute by 1 minute intervals, and this is a great place to start.  This means skating hard for 60 seconds and skating easy for 60 seconds.  There are tons of permutations on these examples.  A recent favorite of mine is a 2 minute work interval followed by a 1 minute rest interval.  The better question when deciding on interval duration is deciding the kind of workout you are going for.  Different intervals will accomplish different things.  Readers of Barry Publow‘s book Speed On Skates will note he goes into great detail about the different types of intervals and what they will accomplish.  Publow has also added to the general skating knowledge-base on the issue of intervals, also.  His post on Inline Planet provides some explanation for the benefit of intervals and two sample work outs for intervals.

In my experience, there are three types:  Short intervals with very high intensity, equal duration intervals, and long duration intervals.  Short intervals at a high intensity are just that, 30 seconds or less at a pace that puts you at or near your max HR or max level of exertion.  These can be done in sets with a longer rest interval between sets or with shorter rest intervals.  These build your lactate threshold and lactate tolerance, and will help you when you are in the finish sprint with your legs burning and ready to give out from under you.  Equal duration intervals are, basically, the intervals discussed in the Powerskating video above.  They are great for helping build endurance generally.  Longer intervals at speed get you used to skating faster for longer periods so you can chase down a flyer in the middle of a race.  Intensity should vary based on duration.  Shorter duration work intervals usually mean higher intensity while longer work intervals usually mean less intensity during the interval.  However, generally, intensity for any interval should be above 80% max effort, or HR Zone 4.  My recent long intervals will have HR spikes above 160 bpm, where my shorter interval spikes will be closer to 170 bpm, if I can manage it.

Either way, it is clear that sport science suggests that interval training is an important part of training.  However, it is important to also note that while intervals are a necessary part of training, they should not be used to the exclusion of longer duration endurance work outs.  I have already started to think about what the off-season will look like for me, and what my macrocycle and microcycles will look like for training.  I will have more on that after the NorthShore Inline Marathon.


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?