Going Scientific

One of the benefits of working at a college is that there are many really cool opportunities available with the various departments.  Fortunately, I work at Lyndon State College which has a very good Exercise Science program.  Several weeks ago, I was talking with one of my co-workers, Dr. Anthony Sgherza, about my training during the winter months.  In the past, we had talked about doing some spinning or other stuff during the upcoming bleak months; this time the conversation turned to training programs.  I’ve read quite a bit about training and cycling over the years, but I always welcome the chance to learn something new.  He talked with one or two of his students and then connected me with a senior student, Jonathan Dame.  Jon is a “non-traditional” student who is CSCS*P certified (pending completion of his degree) and has an interest in cycling.

The test bike

Jon and I met to talk over what I saw as my strengths and weaknesses in riding and discussed what I want to improve.  It was a little more formal than what I was anticipating but very reasonable.  Racing single-speed mountain bikes has some unique demands.  You need good general aerobic fitness paired with the ability to put out tons of power on the climbs.  Since you can’t shift down and stay at an even aerobic level, you have to be able to repeatedly dig deep and then recover quickly.  I am mostly concerned with maintaining the fitness I currently have and possibly increasing my power on climbs.  I would say that I was volunteering to be a guinea pig for him except that he seems to know what he’s doing rather than experimenting on me.

The first thing he wanted to do with me was go over a general fitness evaluation.  This involved several simple, low intensity exercises.  I warmed up for a little while on a rowing machine.  After that, I did some pushups (30), maxed out a very simple test of crunches, and did pull-ups (5).   I really don’t do much upper-body specific work, and the pushups reminded me too much of being in the Army.  Abdominal exercises have never really bothered me at all; at one time, I could do sit-ups almost indefinitely.  After the strength stuff, I did a measured stretch followed by some exercises to check for alignment or muscle imbalances.  I will mention that one-legged squats are not my thing; they just felt awkward.

We then moved on to the “wingate” test for anaerobic power.  This test involved a bike, which was more up my alley.  After getting my height and weight for calculating my power output, I proceeded to put my Time pedals on the bike.  The bike had SPD pedals, but I only have Time cleats on my shoes so they had to go.  It was a bit funny putting MTB pedals on an exercise bike but it worked.

I warmed up for about 5 minutes on the bike. The bike was equipped with a cadence meter, and I learned that I can spin at over 180 rpm if I have to.  In warming up, I also noticed that my comfortable cadence was a little faster than I thought, around 90 rpm.

The cadence meter
The cadence meter. The junk on the table is mostly mine.

The test itself consists of going full out for 30 seconds under load.  Thirty seconds doesn’t sound like much, but this test sure makes for a LONG 30 seconds.  Jon agreed to call out the time in 10 second intervals during the test and I initially thought he had forgotten about it.  Time can drag.  As you progress through the test the resistance grows to unbearable levels.  It’s like handing over the resistance control on a stationary bike to someone else and suffering the consequences. I pushed quite hard and was able to power through the entire 30 seconds.  From what I understand, some people have puked after this test.  Thankfully, I’ve never had that experience even though I’ve pushed even harder in race situations.  After I had recovered for a minute or so, I felt like I could have put out a little more and asked if I could give it another shot.

On my second attempt, I started out harder but hit a wall hard well before the 30 seconds were up.  By 20 seconds in it felt like I had no power at all.  Nothing.  I clearly didn’t have as much left over from my first attempt as I had originally thought.  Surprisingly, it was my lungs and not my legs that gave out on the second attempt.

First Test Second Test
Peak Anaerobic Power: 1081.11w 1195.67w
Relative Peak Anaerobic Power: 13.18 W/kg 14.58 W/kg
Lowest Anaerobic Power: 525.15 W 184.58 W
Relative Lowest Anaerobic Power: 6.43 W/kg 2.26 W/kg
Fatigue Index: 51.42% 84.56%
Total Work: 20215.6 N/m 19240.62 N/m
Relative Total Work: 247.44 Nm/kg 235.5 Nm/kg
Mean Anaerobic Power: 697.09 W 663.47 W
Relative Mean Anaerobic Power: 8.5 W/kg 8.09 W/kg
Fatigue Slope: 19.72 w/s 35.16 W/s

Being a bit of a nerd, I’m naturally drawn to this kind of thing.  Unfortunately, I’m not very well versed in power output measures so I had to have some of this put in context.  Most of the figures put me well above the 95th percentile for the general population of men.  They are figures that are not atypical for a strong Cat 1 or 2 road racer.

Test results comparison
Test comparisons. The red line was my first test, the blue was my second.

The next step is to work with Jon to set up some kind of program that will be specific for my goals.  I’m not sure yet what that will involve, but I’m expecting it to include some weights or machines.  I may have the chance to have my VO2 max. tested, but we’ll have to see when that opportunity materializes.  Regardless, I’ve never really liked resistance training but integrating some into my training might be beneficial.  I’m willing to give it a try since what I typically do over the winter really doesn’t work as well as I’d like.  I don’t want to set up expectations that I will be stomping all over the elite riders next year or anything like that.   Still, I would like to not lose the conditioning I have now and, hopefully, get off to a stronger start for racing next spring.  I’m actually pretty optimistic about the whole endeavor.  If this works out well, I might include some of the training in the summer months for some diversity.  I will post more on this in the near future.

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6 thoughts on “Going Scientific

  1. I suddenly have a mass feeling of jealousy rush over me. That is some awesome stuff. I guess I’ll make to with the “Rocky in the old barn in cold Russia” method.

  2. I’m jealous as well. looks like I need to send some emails to our Health & Human Performance dept!

    Do you do any xc skiing? Down mountain skiing takes up most of my time in the ‘off season’ but I’ve picked nordic back up in the last few years. Fun way to get outside and keep the heart/lungs in line.

    1. I’ve thought about doing the XC ski thing. It might be a good diversion with some obvious fitness benefits. I do have a pass for the trial system over at Burke so I should probably take advantage of it. Do you ski traditional or skate?

  3. Anthony

    Hi Mark

    Great work here – and thank you for sharing – ! – likewise, kudos to Professor Katie Bouley for overseeing the development and evolution of this lab. We look forward to continued good work. Rock on, Anthony

  4. Jack R

    No offense, but while reading this, I get the feeling you are quite full of yourself. You are basically bragging the entire time about how in shape you think you are.

    1. Well, that certainly wasn’t my intent but I can see where it could come across that way. There certainly isn’t any shortage of people who are faster, stronger, etc. I appreciate the criticism though. No offense taken.

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