An uphill battle

Climbing is, for a lot of us, the epitome of what cycling is: from getting a PB up your local climbing segment, to sportives across mountain ranges, to watching the likes of Pogačar dance up them at a sickening pace. There’s something very different about going full gas up a climb to going full gas on the flat; it feels like a different challenge and sometimes quite a bit harder. Is it because of the fact you get less speed for the same effort and the psychological effect that has? Is it the constant force of gravity always putting up a relentless fight? Or are there other factors that contribute to climbing feeling harder than being on the flats? 

Having personally got a Wahoo KICKR climb gradient simulator for training during bad weather, I was curious as, when the gradient was set at a higher level, the same power levels felt harder than when the bike was set to the flats. I decided to do my undergraduate dissertation on investigating the effects of simulated gradients on muscle activation. (Full dissertation study)

6 participants cycled at 75% of MAP for 2 minutes at gradients of 0, 7, 14 and 20% incline. During this test, the EMG (electromyography) levels in a number of leg muscles was measured to determine if certain muscles worked more or less on different gradients. The results showed that there was a statistically significant increase in muscle activity in the gastrocnemius medialis (GM) and bicep femoris (BF), with a significant decrease of activity in the vastus medialis (VM). There were also changes in muscle activity in other muscles that, although were not deemed statistically significant, do present a practical significance given the percentages involved. The reason for these changes could be due to several factors. Firstly, when climbing up steeper gradients, we tend to close our hip angle so as to keep weight distributed evenly over both the front and rear wheels. Additionally, as the gradient increases, saddle angle changes and can require some muscular effort to maintain position. 

So what does this mean for us? Based on the results of this study, it can be suggested that training on gradients regularly could improve performance on them. Although power levels over given periods of time can be improved from training on the flats or on the turbo with no gradient, training on a gradient can help significantly with rate of perceived exertion. There’s a good reason that, even after plenty of time spent on the turbo at higher intensities, going out on the roads and hitting the climbs can feel that bit harder. It’s because we potentially haven’t been using the same muscles in the same way, so introducing that new stress does feel like more.

The takeaway: it looks like there are genuine benefits to training on gradients. You can train on gradients by either riding them outdoors, or using an indoor gradient simulator.

(Full dissertation study)

Introducing our next new coach: Patrick Fotheringham

A big belief of mine with coaching is that shared experience is vital for a better coach:athlete understanding. Although I now have a wealth of knowledge, both practical and theoretical, when it comes to racing and training, I didn’t actually start racing until I was 19 so never experienced the youth or junior ranks. This is why I’m very pleased to bring on Patrick to ATP Performance. Patrick has been racing for many years, from youth level all the way up to senior. Being part of the Halesowen Academy has given him the opportunity to learn from some great figures in cycling, and he now works with their juniors and U23 riders to help guide and mentor them. Here’s what Patrick has to say:

“Having started racing when I was 13, I bring 10 years experience in the sport of cycling to the table, taking me from u14 youth omniums to the Tour of the North and Belgian kermesse scene.

My personal outlook on cycling and racing has always revolved around the reasons we start riding, as well as developing a life long association with the sport.

My role as a mentor for junior riders has further helped me with creating the focus around this. I am currently 2 years into my Sport and Exercise Science degree, giving me the basis to provide quality coaching to athletes of all levels, and I am looking forward to doing a masters in Strength and Conditioning upon completing my undergraduate degree.”

I have known Patrick for many years and he has been a big part of helping me remain grounded and maintaining a focus on enjoying the sport and riding my bike. This has helped improve my own performance and love of the sport and is one of the reasons I wanted Patrick to be a part of this, coaching and mentoring others. I can’t wait to see what he can do as part of the ATP Performance team.

Introducing: Frederik Scheske, our first new coach

When starting ATP Performance, I wanted to ensure that the coaching provided was by both qualified, experienced and compassionate people. I’ve held myself to these standards and am very happy to introduce the first new coach joining ATP Performance, who also represents these values: Frederik Scheske

“I started racing bikes at university when I was 19 and, although coming to the sport quite late, have progressed through the ranks and spent the last 2.5 years racing at UCI Continental level.

I’ve found my strengths in cycling in criterium racing, with podiums and a win at the 2019 Tour Series in my first year at UCI level. I am now riding with the Ribble Weldtite outfit and have an extensive knowledge of improving time trial performance and aerodynamic tips & tricks.

Combining my racing experience with now having completed my Sports and Exercise Health Sciences degree at the University of Exeter, I have an array of knowledge and strategies to improve the performance of both experienced and new cyclists. I want to provide athletes who are planning to compete in their first sportive or racing at international level with the in-depth, one to one service they deserve.

Competing at a UCI level while studying has provided me with a good insight into the challenges of work/training balance, as well as how to overcome the time constraints and other hurdles. Outside of cycling, I used to race single-hand dinghy class sailing boats and flat water marathon kayaking. Additionally, I also completed assistant instructor qualifications in sailing, and volunteer coaching in kayaking. Taking part in other sports also allows me to have an open mind to trying different coaching strategies, not just relying on what cyclists have “always” done.

As a coach, I obviously aim to bring out the best performance possible but also place a large emphasis on enjoying riding and racing bikes. Using theoretical knowledge from my degree with first hand experience of racing at international level puts me in an ideal position to provide the highest standard of coaching. I look forward to working with and watching athletes achieve their full potential.”

I’m very happy to be working with Frederik and can’t wait to see the positive impact he is able to have on the cycling community. He’s an incredibly talented bike rider who is inquisitive, knowledgeable and always striving to perform at his absolute best, be it on the bike or helping others to achieve their goals.

What is W Prime?

Watts Prime (W’) is also often referred to as a person’s anaerobic capacity (AC) – your reserve or ‘battery’ – and is measured in joules (J) or kilojoules (KJ). It is used as a template on which to base how long a certain wattage above Critical Power (CP) can be sustained for, and how long it takes (in theory) for the battery to be recharged. 

NB: CP can be used as the critical power for a certain time (e.g. CP5min & CP20min) but for the purposes of this article it is determined as the maximal sustainable wattage for extended (>60min) durations. Theoretically it can be sustained indefinitely but many other thresholds come into play during this (neuromuscular, substrate utilisation and heat for example).

There are two common ways of determining someone’s W’, with both methods also requiring CP testing. 

The first is the 3 minute test: this consists of 3 minutes at absolute maximal effort from the off, so starting with a sprint. The aim is to drain the W’ by the 2 minute 30 second mark. At that point, the theory is that you cannot sustain power above CP, so the average power for the last 30 seconds should be your CP measurement. Then, for the first 2 minutes 30 seconds, the work done (J) above CP is determined as your W’. This test can be tricky to do reliably and requires the athlete to fully empty the tank early in the effort. 

Another method is the 3 and 12 minute power test: this requires the athlete to complete a 3 and 12 minute paced time trial where they should feel spent and empty by the end of each effort. Between each effort is 40 minutes of very low intensity to fully recharge the W’. Using these results and a formula to determine the power curve, CP can be derived as well as the W’. An example graph below shows the W’ in the shaded area – note how the volume of the blocks is the same.

A power curve showing both the CP and the W’ battery (represented by the red blocks)

The reason W’ can be useful for both athletes and coaches is that it provides not only a way of measuring improvement for repeated efforts capacity and anaerobic efforts, but also a means of determining the number of efforts that can be performed in training before failure. This table from an Excel sheet shows how the CP, W’, wattage for the effort, the length of the effort in seconds, the wattage for recovery and length of recovery can all be used to determine how many repeats can happen before failure of the effort (W’ reaches 0 J). 

An example of how CP and W’ work together: A rider has a CP of 300W, a W’ of 20000J and is riding at 400W (100W above CP). So, 20000 (W’) divided by 100 (W above CP) = 200 seconds, the length at which the rider can theoretically sustain 400W. If then riding at 200W for 200s, the W’ should be replenished. 

As you can see, come effort number 5, the W’ should be depleted. Even after the recovery period, W’ is not replenished enough to complete the next effort fully

Having a high W’ is a trait commonly seen in successful CX and crit riders. If the battery is greater, then the rider can perform a greater number of short attacks or sustain a power above CP for longer. Additionally, they can do more repeated AC efforts, which is very useful in races where pace is variable. However, if a rider improves their CP through training, they may find their W’ value dropping. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as a higher CP means that a higher wattage needs to be reached before the W’ starts to drain, and a higher power can be sustained while still recovering the W’.

CX is a discipline where a large W’ is particularly useful

However, W’ and CP do have their limitations. Firstly, a rider’s pain tolerance/threshold can make the 3min test difficult to conduct, as burying themselves that deep and subjecting themselves to pain like that so quickly can often lead to a rider backing off from the effort. In the same way, CP may be 300W but a rider would struggle massively to hold that for, say, 120 minutes. There are also other thresholds at play for both short term AC efforts and longer duration sustained ones. Heat, neuromuscular fatigue and substrate availability all affect a rider’s ability to perform and maintain/put out the theorised wattage that W’ and CP testing assumes possible. However, even with day-to-day variances in personal performance and variances in equipment measurements, W’ and CP still present a useful testing tool for athletes and coaches. The results can be used to programme training sessions that will benefit a rider by progressing them towards their chosen goals, whether that be improving race results, getting more out of club runs or moving up the local KOM rankings. 

Body dysmorphia and disordered eating in cycling

*first published on The British Continental*

SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling rider Andy Turner explains his own troubled experiences with body dysmorphia and disordered eating and shares his tips on how to overcome them.

Body dysmorphia is something that seems to affect a lot of cyclists (myself included), to some extent or another. It’s so easy to compare our own data, power numbers, and body images with what other people choose to show on social media. We see someone who looks ‘leaner’ or someone who’s putting out more power, etc, and instinctively compare ourselves to them. This picture is a good example. 

Photo: Huw Fairclough

I’ve posted it before because I see it and think I look lean, that I look like what a cyclist should look like. 

I’ve also seen plenty of photos where my cheeks are puffy, I look like I have no chin, or I’m gut breathing and I think I look pregnant (see the one below, for example). Those images are ones where I’ve told myself I don’t look like a ‘cyclist’ and so I want nothing to do with them and that’s part of the bigger problem. I think like that because of what I’ve seen on social media: pictures of riders dehydrated and tensing like hell to get veins popping. In reality, it means nothing. It could be a picture from a good angle, edited in some way, or just a certain circumstance (dehydration for example). 

Andy at the 2019 Bourne CiCLE Classic (“I thought I looked puffy yet had my best Nat A result”). Photo: Craig Zadoroznyj

Mads Pedersen was once described as ‘too large’ to be a cyclist. Yet he won a world championship on a course that was far from flat. Remco Evenpoel was described as being too fat by his team manager while he was winning mountain stages and stage race general classifications. He was then quoted as saying he was trying to lose weight while he was recovering from a broken hip. The result – so it appears – is that he has not healed or recovered as quickly as might have been expected. This is just speculation, of course, but low energy availability, while the body is trying to repair itself, does not help healing and repair. The body needs to be able to function to sustain life and it will put that ahead of healing bones adequately. So low energy intake will lead to impaired recovery. Remco’s words, and the setbacks he is now potentially facing, do scream of disordered eating. I only hope he recovers well, is able to reach his full potential, has a healthy happy career and enjoys good health beyond that.

This leads me to another problem though: the apparent acceptance that, at the highest level, you have to be ‘unhealthy’ to a certain extent. I’ve heard it said that riders in Grand Tour teams have low bone mineral density and osteopenia. This would certainly be an explanation for why GC riders appear more prone to breaking their backs or other major bones when they crash. For winning the Tour nowadays, this would appear a ‘necessary’ sacrifice to make. These practices, however, are being followed by riders on seven-figure salaries with top medical professionals on hand 24/7 to ensure they don’t get it catastrophically wrong.

If you are racing anything that isn’t a grand tour, you do not need to be so lean that sitting down hard onto a wooden stool will fracture your pelvis

People see these lean, chiselled machines going up mountains at a pace that leaves you in awe. They want to do that; they want to look and feel like that. The result: they want to get lighter. They generally do this by eating less, counting calories and macros, and obsessing over food and drink. ‘Eating is cheating’ becomes the mantra on five-hour rides. The worst part is that I know of so-called ‘coaches’ who get their riders to follow similar mantras, which can lead to the riders developing disordered eating or can put them at risk of both short and long-term health problems. If you are racing anything that isn’t a grand tour, you do not need to be so lean that sitting down hard onto a wooden stool will fracture your pelvis!

Andy Turner (SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling) in the last major road race of 2020 – the Betty Pharaoh Memorial – before racing was suspended. Photo: Howard Goldberg

My worst experience of disordered eating was around 2015-2016. I spent the start of 2015 with a knee injury and couldn’t ride much. I couldn’t control my training and I couldn’t race so I turned my attention to controlling what was left of my regime: my diet. I ate maybe 1200kcal a day whilst walking excessively and got to 69 kg at 190 cm tall. On returning to riding, my aerobic engine was still decent, but I had no kick whatsoever. I even raced alright once I was able to, churning away like the diesel I had become used to being. All good, or so I thought. 

Come late spring I was screwed and couldn’t do much on the bike at all

2016 started well. I had done a lot of miles over the winter and was, aerobically, extremely strong. However, some of my winter riding had included seven-hour fasted sessions, purely for the goal of getting as lean as possible. I had heard how, because ‘you only burnt fat at low intensity,’ you didn’t need to consume anything else (this is utter bollocks by the way). My racing started well, as my power to weight was great and my hormonal balance hadn’t yet swung wildly out of control. Come late spring, however, I was screwed and couldn’t do much on the bike at all. 

I was able to get going again but, up until mid-2019, I was very much a big TT engine with no top-end. My testosterone levels were low, my haematocrit was in the mid-30s and my haemoglobin was so low I was put on iron supplements because my GP thought I must be anaemic with those values (not due to high plasma volume as can sometimes be the case in endurance athletes). The 2017 season was a good representation of this situation: over winter I’d put quite a bit of weight on as my testosterone levels were low and my metabolism had dropped. Going through this saga turned out to be a necessary evil as it caused me to seek help, which ultimately showed me the error of my ways. 

How did I overcome this? With a lot of difficulty… Meeting Dr Nicky Keay in 2018 was a big help when I underwent testing as part of her research into RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports). I had finally got things working better again and she filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge. 

Andy in 2020 (“When power PBs were coming, composition was better but I was eating more and timing it properly”) Photo: Orlagh Malone Gardner

I got further inspiration from a combination of much reading (I had started my degree in Sport and Exercise Sciences), chatting with a lot of experts, a little intuition, and an N=1 study on myself. This was based on the premise that, if you under-fuel, your metabolism drops, so if you over-fuel slightly and ensure greater energy availability, surely you can return it to where it should be? I therefore increased my daily intake by ~100kcal/day every two months. This also helped me to fully understand how much food you actually need to eat in order to function at your best, which went a long way to preventing a lot of the disordered eating practices I’d adopted. 

At my worst point, if I went out to eat I would take maybe half an hour of agonising over a menu before deciding what to eat, working out the fat contents, the kcal of everything and calculating how much I’d need to exercise (or not eat later) in order to ‘make up for it’. That was on the rare occasions that I actually went out, as I preferred to avoid any form of eateries as it meant not being in exact control of what I ate. I was a nightmare. 

I’m still not quite 100% there but I’m a lot better. I still prefer to go out to eat somewhere or have a ‘treat’ if I feel that I have earned it through exercising. However, I’m now OK with allowing myself what I regard as treats, be that a pizza or a chocolate orange. Currently, I still track calories (not necessarily a good idea…) and I eat around 2800kcal a day plus extra to account for whatever I burn through exercise. My power numbers are all up, my body composition is actually leaner now, I have greater muscle mass and my energy levels are high. 

The recovery process from disordered eating takes time and has to begin with a willingness to recognise the signs and accept that there is a problem

The recovery process from disordered eating takes time and has to begin with a willingness to recognise the signs and accept that there is a problem. Some signs to look out for are: 

  • obsessing over food choices
  • not eating enough before and during training (saving the calories up until later in the day) 
  • over-use of low carb or fasted rides

Regarding body dysmorphia, I would advise unfollowing social media accounts which focus on showing off alleged ‘leanness’. I’d also suggest not weighing yourself or looking at yourself in a mirror in the evening as, if you’ve been training all day, you’ll have inflammation from that. Additionally, if you’ve been eating throughout the day and you’ve refuelled properly for the next day, you’ll be full of carbs and water. This will naturally make you look bigger! For women, it’s important to remember that hormonal changes throughout the month can lead to bloating and you can look significantly different from day to day. This is entirely normal!

Andy Turner at the 2020 Betty Pharoah Memorial. Photo: Huw Fairclough

Please try to confide in someone if you are struggling or you have concerns. The irony is that, with body dysmorphia, we can more easily see when someone else is suffering from it but we often can’t help ourselves. It’s important to have a support network of trusted friends and/or family who can be honest with you and provide help and reassurance when you need it.

If you’re healthy and you’re happy, that’s much more important than how you look

Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes. ‘Compare yourself to your past self, not to someone else’s present’ was a great quote I saw recently. If you’re healthy and you’re happy, that’s much more important than how you look. Social media is a minefield, hence why I’ve included the ‘puffy’ image. Because in that race I was riding the best I ever have and got my highest National A finish to date: a top five. So, try not to compare yourself to others, have faith in yourself, and try to aspire to be the best version of you.  

STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING DURING LOCKDOWN

Originally published on the Rule28 Performance Hub

Here is a functional S&C session from ATP Performance  you can do at home. No weights needed!

S&C should be an important part of every cyclist’s training routine. From improving neuromuscular activation, enforcing neuromuscular pathways, developing power and improving resistance to fatigue there are many benefits to be had. Additionally, injury prevention, improved range of motion and greater bone density are all important parts of the bigger long term health picture.

This session will work your full body – since cycling involves a lot more than just your legs. A strong core is essential to ensure good power transfer to the pedals and maintain an aerodynamic position on the bike. 

What you will need:

  • Ideally a yoga mat but some cushions or a hoody can be used if you don’t have one
  • x2 bottles (500ml+) filled up with water (not for drinking)
  • If you are a more experienced lifter you can use dumbbell weights for these exercises but stay within your limits. This is a session to reinforce movement patterns, promote strength and muscular health. Not get ripped.
  • Clothing that allows free movement and a good range of motion

Warm up

Rule 28 Warm Up Home Workout
  1. High knee marching (x5 each side, alternating sides)
  2. Leg swings (x5 full swings backwards and forwards for both sides. have something to hold onto to steady your body if required)
  3. Inch worm (x6 full movements)
  4. Lunges.  (x3 each side fluid movement not holding the stretch). 
  5. Shoulder rolls (x5 each direction)
  6. Compass neck stretch (x3 each direction)

Large muscle groups

Rule 28 Home Workout Legs
  1. Front Squat 12 x 2 sets with 60 sec rest.
    (bottles held under chin or next to collar bones) Go down deep into the squat to get the full range of motion. If ankle stability is an issue place something underneath your heel to assist in reaching a greater depth.
  2. Lying down, hip bridges. 12 reps for 2 sets with 60sec rest. 
    When at the top of the final bridge of each set hold for 5 seconds squeezing through the glutes.
  3. Forwards lunge. 6 each side for 2 sets with 60sec rest. Keep controlled and stable, not letting your knee hit the ground and keeping your trunk strong so that you don’t tilt to either side.

Upper Body

Rule 28 Home Workout Upper Body
  1. Bicep curl into shoulder press. 10 reps 2 sets 60sec rest.
  2. Behind the head tricep dips. 10 reps, 2 sets, 60sec rest.
  3. Bent over dumbbell row. 10 reps, 2 sets, 60sec rest.
  4. Tricep dips using a table or bed. 10 reps, 2 sets, 60sec rest 

Core

Rule 28 Home Workout Core
  1. Plank for 90 seconds
    Make sure that hips do not drop down or get pushed up. Can be done either in a start position for a press-up (hands under shoudlers) or with your forearms down on the ground. I would recommend if you’re an out the saddle climber to opt for the former and time triallists for the latter.
  2. Swimming Kicks
    Lying down, shoudlers slightly up off the ground but keeping neck fairly neutral. Lift both legs off the ground and raise the up one at a time. As if you are kicking your legs for backstroke. Keep your trunk stable and don’t let it twist too much as you kick. Do 20 kicks for each leg
  3. Arm and leg extension.
    On all fours with arms shoulder width apart and thigh at 90 degrees to your trunk. Extend the left arm out and the right leg back, then bring them together so that elbow and knee meet, extend again. 6 full movement patterns and then do the same with the other arm and leg.

Stretching 

All 30 seconds each side or stretch

  1. Hip flexor and thigh (both sides)
  2. Calf muscles (both sides)
  3. Touch toes (both at once)
  4. Downwards dog
  5. Cobra pose
  6. Glute stretch (both sides)
  7. Sitting hamstring stretch (both sides)
  8. Childs pose

Nutrition training

When it comes to on the bike training, the first approach that comes to mind when looking for ways to adjust the training stimulus would be to change the efforts/riding that you are doing. After all, the way we make gains and improvements is from adjusting the training stimulus to cause stress to our body and reap the physiological adaptations that occur due to these stresses. However, there are many other ways to create a new training stimulus and stress the body to create useful, new adaptations.

Homemade energy drink recipe. Mixed source carbohydrate, salt and some flavour (careful with the ratios!!). A useful way to tailor CHO levels to exactly what you require.

A common method that many people will be aware of is fasted training or, more specifically, low carbohydrate (CHO) availability training. This can be achieved in multiple ways: either by training first thing in the morning after a long fasting period (sleep) or consuming a low carbohydrate breakfast; or you can train hard, refuel with low carbohydrate and then train again later with low CHO availability. Most people regard fasted training as a way of creating a calorie deficit so as to reduce body fat. It can be helpful for this but often the ride is short, easy and therefore low energy cost so therefore does not create much of a deficit. The biggest advantage of low CHO training is the increased stress that it places on the body to create more mitochondria (biogenesis). Fasted training can create a higher mitochondrial density within the muscles, improving the body’scapacity to utilise available fuel sources and therefore produce more power. It’s a useful session to include when time is short and you can’t do massive endurance rides where your body will almost inevitably end up in a low CHO state. However, it needs to be done in a careful and considered way. A lot of people training on low CHO can feel a bit more mentally fatigued, which can affect your ability to work (I didn’t do these sessions while I had assessments at uni). Another issue is that overly long use of low CHO training can result in energy availability issues and eventual overtraining, in part due to the increased physiological stress of low CHO training. 

A mix of slowly absorbed carbs + fats for lower intensity and some quickly absorbed carbs for higher intensity efforts to suit needs for each section of a ride.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is high CHO and even overload training. A lot of sports nutrition companies have brought out massively high carb energy drinks. Traditionally, 60g/hour was the thinking behind maximal carb consumption. This then changed to 90g/hour when using glucose and fructose sugars mixed together. Now, an increased number of multi-source carbohydrate drinks are recommending up to 100g/hour,with some studies finding that 120g/hour was tolerable, but only with training! Training with high CHO or overloading can improve the body’s gastric emptying capacity, as well as increasing glycolytic enzymes. These changes both result in a greater capacity to tolerate and process carbs thus leading to a potential ability to operate at a higher power for longer (ideal for racing!). Again, this requires training in order to acclimatise the body and will often lead to some gastric discomfort in the early days or, at worst, a Tom ‘Poomoulin’ scenario. Another factor to consider when consuming greater quantities of carbs is that more fluids and salts will also be required to ensure that the drinks are an isotonic solution and therefore more easily absorbed and utilised. The energy drink that you use can have differing effects on you because of this. I have trialled numerous high carb drinks (and gels – I’ll cover that in a future blog) and have found two in particular that work well for me, while others left me feeling quite sick or gave me a big blood sugar spike, which shouldn’t happen when exercising at a moderate to high intensity. High carb gels have never worked for me and always lead to bloating and discomfort. Primarily, I believe this is due to cramming in double the carbs into essentially the same liquid volume, resulting in a ratio of carbs:fluids:salts which is not ideal. Finding the right product for yourself will require a certain amount of trial and error on your part during training in order to determine what works best for you but having expert guidance can help make the process a little easier.

Normally saved for race day, but it is important to train using the fuelling strategies that you will use in races. The gut needs training as well as the legs!

These are just two nutritional strategies to help get the most out of your training by changing up the training stimulus. To get the best out of these methods, it is recommended to try them either under the guidance of a someone who is suitably qualified or by reading extensively around the subject and using yourself as a bit of a test subject. Ideally both! After all, what works for one person may not work for you – and what works for you now may still not be the optimal way of realising your full potential.

Indoors or outdoors?

It’s that time of year again. The weather has turned, legs are hidden away and covered in hair again, the roads seem wet even when it hasn’t rained for a few days and every ride seems to be a dawn or dusk one. This is the time when you start to think, should I be riding indoors or outdoors? There are arguments for and against both, it’s all very dependant on personal preference, goals and other individual factors.

Indoor or outdoor? Unfortunately when making this decision the weather isn’t normally as nice as in the photo on the right

Indoors 

Be it riding on the turbo, rollers or specific indoor bike, riding indoors is certainly a very time efficient and easy way of ‘getting it done’. Gone are the days of nothing but a blank wall to look at while wishing you could be socialising with friends again. Thanks to various indoor training apps and chat apps etc, you can still do ‘social’ rides indoors. It also means there is a lot less time spent getting kitted up beforehand or bike/kit cleaning afterwards. Your chain and other drivetrain components won’t be getting battered by the elements and you never have to worry about that one patch of ice that you will somehow hit (every year so far I’ve managed that). 

A big benefit of indoor training is that it is very specific. You can ride at exactly the numbers that you need to with little or no deviation. Riding outdoors, you may have to sprint out from a junction, or push just that little bit too hard to get over a particularly steep climb. Indoors it’s all very controlled. There can be disadvantages to this though, as in races, especially road, pace varies dramatically and an ability to deal with changes of intensity is vital. 

Another question is “to ERG or not to ERG”. It certainly makes the session easier to follow, but there is some debate as to whether it produces a slightly false resistance when compared to riding on the road. On the road you are overcoming gravity (when riding up hill), friction/rolling resistance and air resistance. On the turbo, you only ever fight friction. This can also mean that you inadvertently get more used to riding in a purely comfortable position rather than in a position which provides a balance of comfort and aerodynamics. 

In my dissertation, I investigated the effect of gradients on muscle activity. In races, the final result is often decided by performance on climbs. In my study I found that when riding at the same high intensity on different simulated gradients, muscle activity was significantly different in the hamstrings (bicep femoris), calf muscle (gastrocnemius medialis) and quadriceps (Vastus medialis). It could be suggested that long periods of riding indoors, on essentially a level gradient, could result in reduced performance or greater feelings of fatigue when producing efforts up gradients. 

A final potential drawback to indoor training (in the winter anyway) is heat adaptation. Indoor riding is almost always warmer than outdoors, because of the lack of airflow and ventilation by comparison. The body is very clever; it adapts to this and one way it does so is by increasing sweat rate so you can cool off more effectively. This is great if you’re going to be competing in hot conditions, but if you’re racing in Europe in the spring, you’re not going to need to be heat adapted! You may find that, when riding on the road, you have a higher sweat rate so may get cold more easily and may also need to consume more fluids and salts. 

One undisputable benefit of riding indoors however is the time efficiency. It is a lot quicker and simpler to get the work done compared with doing an equivalent session on the road. If time is of the essence, the turbo is nearly always king!

No mud and dirt on your shiny pride and joy

Outdoors

When the sun is out, the surroundings look stunning and you’re enjoying the fresh air, riding a bike is absolutely great. When it’s raining down, blowing a gale and you can’t feel your hands, it’s not so good. Part of successful winter riding outdoors is getting your kit right. Once your hands and feet get cold, that can make a ride unbearable. Once your core gets too cold that can make the next week or so unbearable if your unlucky enough to get ill as a result. Another factor for some people can be tightness of breath and constricted airways due to cold air. My personal clothing recommendation for winter riding is to layer up so that you feel comfortable, not necessarily warm, when standing still. You can always unzip a layer or cram a gilet into your pocket once you’re riding and have warmed up a bit. Wear gloves that are slightly too big rather than close-fitting, as this will result in a layer of insulating air around your hands which will keep them a lot warmer than tight fitting gloves that are not hardshell. Tape the vents in your shoes and get some decent overshoes; cold feet can get very uncomfortable on longer rides. Bring a buff: if your neck gets too hot you can wrap it over your bike computer and headset easily; if you get cold you can cover your face and airways with it. Photochromatic lenses are very useful. If you go out at, say, 8am you will probably be met with pretty gloomy darker weather to start, a low rising sun glaring in your eyes midway through your ride and finally finishing off with high sun. Lenses that can change tint are very useful for making sure that your vision is not compromised. Lenses also keep your face a bit warmer and protect your eyes from winter filth being kicked up off the road.

Fit a flashing rear light. Yes, I know we shouldn’t need to make ourselves look like Christmas trees on wheels, and that drivers should take care to see us properly, but it’s far better to be safe than sorry. If your ride passes through tree canopied areas where it goes from light to dark, a flashing rear light will almost certainly make your ride safer. 

As far as spares are concerned, always bring a little more than you think you’ll need. This applies to inner tubes, spare clothing, extra food anything else you may need to keep you and your bike going. You can always fit a bar bag in addition to a saddle bag (seeing as they’re now regarded as ‘fashionable’!) to cram all your extra stuff into. 

So those are some ways to make winter riding outdoors more comfortable. This is important because there are definitely some benefits to riding outdoors compared to indoors. These include ecological validity: basically, train and ride where you’re going to be racing, in this case the road. There really isn’t anything better than doing your efforts where you need to be performing. This also counters other issues of riding indoors such as muscle activity variations on gradients as well as overcoming gravity and aerodynamic drag. 

During non-covid times, outdoors is also the best way to keep social (restrictions permitting), even if it’s about sharing the suffering. Some of my favourite rides have been in horrendous conditions where I’ve seriously considered phoning for a pickup! I would say though, that if there’s even a slim chance of it being icy, don’t risk it. You’ll have to ride cautiously so won’t be getting any decent training done and one small patch of ice is enough to derail you completely. On these days, the risks outweigh the benefits by a very big margin.

It’s important to layer up and be prepared to whatever the weather may throw at you

So, to summarise: there are pros and cons to both indoors and outdoors. A combination of the two is generally best but this will be different for different people. Personal preference is another factor; some people can manage 4 hours indoors, some can’t. There’s no point burning out all of your keenness 3 months before even the early season races start! Make sure you’re well equipped for whichever ride you do. Indoors, you can at least get off the bike to fill up a bottle or grab snack easily. Outdoors it’s not so easy to obtain something you’ve forgotten once you’re 50k from home! The biggest thing is, enjoy what you’re doing. That’s the main reason any of us should be riding a bike.

Remember to have fun!

Resistance training

Exercise and health often go hand in hand, especially given the awareness of the link between cardiovascular exercise and cardiovascular health. This is particularly important, as CVD associated diseases represent a major health risk across the globe. However, another area that is definitely worth a look into is resistance training. There are many potential benefits to long term health that can be gained by incorporating a properly planned resistance training programme into your training or fitness regimes.

You don’t need to get as big as the Rock to experience the gains of resistance training.

In exercise science, one significant area of interest for me is the part that better posture and musculature can play in reducing the chances of injury, especially long term. Resistance training can assist with improving both of these areas. One of the biggest risk factors for adults over the age of 40, and especially 60+, is muscle dystrophy (sarcopenia), the reduction in muscle mass associated with age, sex, illness and activity levels. As you get older beyond the age of ~30, your muscle tissue starts to decrease. This can be stopped or significantly slowed down with the addition of resistance training. The big benefits to this are that performing tasks that involve lifting, twisting or higher impact will reduce the chances for potential injury. Along with maintaining proper posture, this will likely decrease the chances of experiencing falls, which are a huge risk factor for mortality, especially in older populations. This risk can be reduced massively by incorporating resistance training into your fitness routine early on.

Movements, such as deadlifts, that incorporate multiple large muscle groups are ideal.

Another issue is bone density. The reason that falls can be so damaging for elderly people is that they are far more likely to break bones. One of the biggest causes of death in elderly populations is falling, breaking bones and the complications associated with this. Osteopenia is an early stage of the reduction in bone density. It occurs due to factors such as age, sex, activity level, vitamin D deficiency and chronic low energy availability (EA). The mechanism behind this is an imbalance in bone turnover (our bones are constantly being simultaneously broken down and rebuilt). Low EA, low vitamin D levels and being older or inactive all decreases the rate of bone mineral build up and can increase the rate of breakdown, thus leading to reduced bone density and potentially brittle bones. This massively increases the chance of breaking bones and, as it progresses, becomes osteoporosis. A good real-life example of this is when elite cyclists switch to running. I’ve seen this on multiple occasions: an athlete from a weight restrictive sport with limited impact or resistance training switches to running and experiences stress fractures or worse. They go into the running sensibly and well-guided in how to increase volume and intensity, but they still break bones. 

Improved trunk stability can be very helpful for assisting in better posture.

Including a properly planned resistance training programme can reduce the chance of injuries such as this happening. Equally, by the time the athlete (or anyone else) reaches the age of 60+, those that have incorporated resistance training into their fitness regime will likely be able to lead a healthier and more active lifestyle at that age. For anyone who believes that they may be at risk of osteopenia, a DEXA scan is a way to accurately and reliably measure bone mineral density. 

Resistance training is for everyone and can result is great fitness & health gains.

Embarking on a resistance training programme should be well thought out and considered as it needs to fit in with work, personal and other training commitments. The progression of the programme is also important in order to avoid injury, as is maintaining proper form for performing the lifts. Risks associated with resistance training are minimal when conducted the right way and with good guidance. The benefits, both short and long term, can be massive.

Andy Turner – A Swift Rise to the Top

(This interview by Charlie Mulraine was originally post on The Gear Changer)

Andy putting the 2020 kit through its paces. Photo credit: Orlagh Malone Gardner

As with many elite and professional athletes, you assume sport and keeping active has always been a part of their life. Therefore, when SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling rider Andy Turner tells you that he was the kid in the class who “skipped PE” and that he only took up cycling “on a bit of a whim”, it’s genuinely surprising.

In fact, there were times during the interview when I thought ‘is he pulling my leg about this?’ Turner has a dry sense of humour and an underlying wit that weaves in and out of his dialogue. His teammates will be able to confirm this but I imagine group ride conversation is far from ordinary with Turner in the bunch.

He clearly likes an impossible challenge, from wanting to become a professional cyclist to then combining this goal with a degree. All of this whilst at the same time playing a key role in the creation of a new Continental team when the previous Elite team sponsor pulled out.

In this extended interview, Turner talks about his route into the sport, how seeing riders like Rory Townsend and Max Stedman combine cycling with University proved to him it was possible and on his joint role as rider and Partnerships Manager for the team.

TGC: How are you approaching training at the moment Andy?

AT: I’m still not training properly as such, just Zwift racing and getting back in to some longer rides again. Trying to look after the head as well.

TGC: It can’t be easy not having a fixed calendar to aim for.

AT: Yeah, I just think doing almost a year-long of structured or winter training is almost a guaranteed way of burning out.

TGC: At least you can celebrate now as you’ve finished your degree.

AT: Yes, I got my results back from my dissertation this morning.


“…even if a training session didn’t go well, there was a feeling of ‘everything not going well’.”


TGC: What did you get?

AT: Ninety percent on that. I think that’s a first overall for my degree now in Sport and Exercise Science.

TGC: Congratulations! Had you combined the degree with racing for KTM UK, as the team was called back then?

AT: Yes, for my first year at University I was with KTM, so still fully amateur. Each year I’ve progressed, whether it’s getting more powerful, better endurance or getting a bit more tactically astute. Since going to Uni, it’s kept progressing at a similar level without the mental pressure.

TGC: How were you feeling before and what changed?

AT: Before, if there was injury or illness or even if a training session didn’t go well, there was a feeling of ‘everything not going well’ because there wasn’t anything else happening as I was just riding full time for about four years.


“Almost on a bit of a whim, I thought ‘sod it, I’ll give being a professional cyclist a go’.”


Andy battling the elements during the Betty Pharoah Memorial. Photo credit: Howard Holdberg

TGC: That must have been a tough gig as no doubt there isn’t any money at that level?

AT: No, I’d been working beforehand, saving up to fund the cycling, and fortunately still able to live at home.

TGC: It sounds like a lot of young riders have to do the same thing as they try and make it in the sport.

AT: When I decided on going to Uni, I chose to stay at home because with a lot of the accommodation it’s difficult to bring bikes. They often wouldn’t even let you have a turbo trainer.


“I was ninety two kilos with a threshold of 250 watts. I was the one who skipped PE all the time.”


TGC: When did you decide you were going to give racing a proper go?

AT: After A levels, I wanted a break from education as I didn’t enjoy my time in secondary school and wanted to be out of that environment for a bit. Almost on a bit of a whim, I thought ‘sod it, I’ll give being a professional cyclist a go’.

TGC: I’m guessing there must have been some signs you had some talent?

AT: No, no, no. I was ninety two kilos with a threshold of 250 watts. I was the one who skipped PE all the time.


“It did help seeing Rory Townsend and Max Stedman who were performing well and doing degrees…it gives you the backing and belief that you can do it too.”


TGC: What did people think when you came out with this ambition?

AT: That there was absolutely no chance! My parents have never pushed me to do anything but have always supported me in what I want to do.

TGC: Did you have full belief in yourself to make it happen?

AT: I’m not a hundred percent sure really because I’ve never really hit a point where I’ve thought I was really going to go forward. There was always that self-critical side of things, even now if I win a race I’m still asking myself ‘could I have done this better?’ or ‘did it happen because of luck?’. The aim of being a cyclist was just to give something different a go, to try a different challenge. I had years of not getting as far as I’d like to, then I threw Uni into the mix as a new challenge once I’d got a better idea of what I wanted to do. It did help, before deciding to go to Uni, seeing Rory Townsend and Max Stedman who were performing well and doing degrees. Seeing someone else do it gives you the backing and belief that you can do it too.

TGC: What career goals did you formulate?

AT: Initially, during A levels, I was looking at law or something similar that would earn money but then I didn’t enjoy the work experience in that field. The idea of a desk job has gone out of my head completely. I guess through racing and becoming a bit obsessive about ways to improve my riding, looking at physiology, nutrition, psychology, it then seemed like doing a degree in that field would be a good idea.


“I got very interested in relative energy deficiency in sport. So now, I eat a lot more but I weigh less and I just feel much better on the bike.”


TGC: When did you see the signs in your own performance that suggested becoming a professional cyclist wasn’t a crackpot idea?

AT: The definition of a professional cyclist is a funny one, as a lot of the UK UCI riders aren’t paid a living wage so, by definition, it’s not professional really. The general regard is if you’re at Pro Continental or World Tour level, where there are minimum salary levels, it’s definitely professional. I see myself more as a glorified amateur, although I still conduct myself in a professional manner.

Andy having a moment in the sun during the Bourne CiCLE Classic. Photo credit: Craig Zadoroznyj

Getting to UCI level racing, it’s been less about having set goals as such but taking it as it comes and trying to better each year. When I started Uni that year, I got my first National B Road Race win and started finishing the National As rather than getting dropped in them. And then last year, it was progressing a bit more. I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be in the Prems at the start of the year but then I changed coach in the summer and that seemed to agree with me and then got a top five in a National A and a trip to the podium in a UCI.1 race.

TGC: Who did you change to?

AT: A guy called Tom Kirk. He has a PhD in Sports and Exercise Sciences and I just thought switching to someone who has a bit more of the scientific side of coaching would benefit me.

TGC: Does that better suit your personality? Seeing the evidence?

AT: Yes, a genuine scientific approach behind it, someone who’s interested in new training methods and nutritional strategies and implementing them together. Looking at it as the whole picture. I got very interested in relative energy deficiency in sport after doing a study with Nicky Keay. I had a tinker around with my eating, just slowly increasing what I eat through the course of about a year and a half. So now I eat a lot more but I weigh less and I just feel much better on the bike.


“For a couple of years prior to that I was getting minor sponsorships…So, rather than selling myself, it was having the idea of a UCI team to sell to the sponsors.”


TGC: Are you working as a part time coach as well?

AT: Yes, when I started my degree, I thought it would give me a bit of qualification to start coaching people on a smaller scale. Initially, that was working with a couple of people locally. Being able to ride with them gives a better way of coaching, a more personalised way. By doing so, you can see their technique, how they are riding in the wheels, and how they are expending energy. Hopefully, I will be getting an interview soon with a cycling technology and training plan business, which is launching a coaching service, and it’s sounding like there should be space for me to start working with them.

TGC: Will you do this alongside your racing with SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling?

AT: Yeah, I’ll be doing it alongside the racing. I was doing a full-time degree, whilst training fifteen to twenty hours a week, and I’ve managed to come out of that with a first so I think with a job in a field I enjoy working in, and have been doing already, it should be manageable.

TGC: SwiftCarbon Pro was born out of the ashes of KTM. How did that happen?

AT: I’ve got quite a lot of the sponsors on board for the new team. During the first year, the funding side of things was sorted out by the Team Owner, Paul Lamb, and it is still very much his team. Paul does all the UCI contract stuff and getting the licence sorted and organising for racers. I have just been searching for sponsors and selling the idea of the team to them.

Andy at the Bourne CiCLE Classic. Photo credit: Craig Zadoroznyj


“If you are going to promote things and ask people to part with their money for it you should be genuine and honest with it.”


TGC: How did you approach that challenge?

AT: For a couple of years prior to that I was getting minor sponsorships, discounts off stuff and promoting things. Based on the feedback from those sponsors I was doing it quite well. So, rather than selling myself, it was having the idea of a UCI team to sell to the sponsors. This meant working out what they were looking for from a partnership and how we could work with them to achieve this. This year every sponsor seems really committed to working with us.

TGC: Did you go to Paul Lamb, the team owner, or did he come to you regarding continuing with the team?

AT: Paul let me know KTM were pulling out and said he was on the hunt for sponsors. I’m quite picky about who we work with, I don’t want to use anything that would be a disadvantage. I don’t publicize things if I don’t think they’re any good. If you are going to promote things and ask people to part with their money for it you should be genuine and honest with it. Swift came to mind after seeing their bikes being ridden by the NFTO pros while I was racing with the Development Squad. I got in touch with them when I saw they would be at the Cycle Show. We had a chat and worked out what they were looking for. It was very late in the day getting all the UCI stuff registered but then we had the team sorted with a title sponsor. Then it was a case of adding to that with other sponsors.


“I think it’s accepting that as a rider for a team, you’re not just employed by them to race a bike.”


TGC: Do you feel a sense of pride from doing this?

AT: Yes, I definitely do. If I had an offer from another UCI team to ride for them, I wouldn’t want to. It would be leaving a team I think I have helped fairly significantly in building up.

TGC: What skillset have you got to make selling work?

AT: I think it’s accepting that as a rider for a team, you’re not just employed by them to race a bike, although obviously that’s part of it. The picture of someone winning a bike race isn’t automatically going to sell bikes. It might make people follow the rider or team’s social media and form an affinity with them. It’s empathising with the sponsors and understanding where they’re coming from as well. A business’s goal is to make money and making a return on investment in cycling is difficult. It needs creativity.


“I had a phone call come up about an hour in to the second stage and it completely froze the software!”


With Swift, for example, it was informing them that the investment of having a team with a title sponsorship would improve sales of bikes. Yes, it was about the team getting the results that we did, but it also involved the riders and team publicizing the sponsors in a way that makes people want to buy the bikes. It’s coming up with creative strategies for that. Swift are a direct to brand bike company and so we worked with them to get some partner stores in the UK. One of them, local to me in Hereford, is run and owned by one of the previous mechanics of NFTO. This enables people to demo the bike and ride it themselves before deciding to buy it. A big part of Swift’s marketing is ‘how the bike rides’. Both Paul and Pete Williams have been working with me to set up these partner stores so people can ride the bikes and see how they feel.

TGC: Being able to bring sponsors to the team must increase your value as a rider?

AT: That’s something that Swift like about a couple of the riders on the team. Will Bjergfelt was a UCI rider who then nearly lost his leg but he’s still racing UCI level on the road. There’s me coming from never really exercising as a junior to working through the ranks to becoming professional. They certainly like stories like that. Ultimately, I want to be selected on merit. It’s why I haven’t publicized much that I do get sponsorship for the team because I don’t want to be seen to be riding for them because of that.

Showing off the new 2020 SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling team kit. Photo credit: Orlagh Malone Gardner

TGC: With COVID, have you had to create a new marketing strategy to give sponsors visibility?

AT: Keeping up with the promotional side of things on social media is easy enough but you haven’t got the races being publicized to send people to the social media pages. Zwift racing is something we’ve been trying to embrace but cycling still has quite an ‘old school’ mentality towards it and there are still people who will ridicule you on Twitter for doing it. We had a Zwift race this weekend, the Joe Martin Virtual, but unfortunately we had technical difficulties. I had a phone call come up about an hour in to the second stage and it completely froze the software. I turned off Zwift but you can’t re-join an event! There’ll be more of those races in the future. We’ve also come up with different ideas like strapping a GoPro on to the bike and doing a time lapse of a technical descent to show how the bike handles. We’ve also reached out to some local photographers to do photo shoots for Swift which gives the sponsors visibility.


“If you look at Italy, Belgium and France it’s a celebrity sport there. Whereas in the UK, it’s seen as people getting in the way on the road.”


TGC: Do the ‘get to know the rider’ interviews engage the fans work well?

AT: It sounds like they do. I quite like a more creative take on things but the debate following the post I did for the British Continental, suggested most people didn’t mind about the production quality of social media, it was more about the content. My reverse set back seat post seems to get some interest! It really gets on the nerves on wannabe bike fitters!

TGC: I bet you have some thoughts on what should change in the sport?

AT: There are always difficult sides to this argument. It’s like Zwift racing, which is all about power and inputted weight. The British National Zwift Champs works better when everyone is on the same trainer and weighed just before the event. Interestingly, the majority of competitors on the day had a different weight from their home weight. In terms of road racing, some organisers say BC make it difficult for them whilst others say it’s not too bad and it’s local councils that make it more difficult. It probably depends which race it is. I think because we haven’t got an engrained cultural cycling side of things, it’s just going to be different. If you look at Italy, Belgium and France it’s a celebrity sport there. Whereas in the UK, it’s seen as people getting in the way on the road.

TGC: I suppose cycling has always been a sport that’s never been totally fashionable.

AT: Yes, and it’s also a bit untrustworthy of newcomers. When I started riding, because I was a larger guy my nickname was ‘fat boy’. Which for some people might make them stop riding but for me it made me think ‘well, I’ll get lighter and more powerful and then I’ll show you!’. It can be difficult for people to come into the sport. Women out on rides can get objectified and it’s just put down as ‘friendly banter’. People of colour or from minorities come and ride a bike and they don’t see anyone who looks like them.


“Seeing people achieve things, where you can see yourself in them, is going to be part of what motivates you to keep doing it.”


TGC: I saw the Black Cyclists Network have now formed an amateur race team.

AT: Part of the reason I looked at cycling as something I could possibly do, was Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome are about the same height as me. So, if cycling was just for people who are five foot four, I wouldn’t probably have given it a second look. Seeing people achieve things, where you can see yourself in them, is going to be part of what motivates you to keep doing it. So, if you’re from a minority group and you look at cycling you could think ‘I don’t think I’m going to fit in there, I can’t see anyone doing well who looks like me’.

TGC: Or it’s left to that outlier who sticks two fingers up and says they are going to prove everyone wrong but that cuts a huge swathe of other riders who could make it in the sport or just simply enjoy riding a bike.

AT: Even in nonracing environments, you show up with the wrong length socks you get ridiculed. If you’re wearing Castelli bibs and a Rapha jersey some people will mock you or if you’re wearing Aldi cycling kit. I will wear the ‘matchy matchy’ sometimes but other times I’ll go out with socks with red and green and blue palm trees all over them with fluro yellow shoes and a bar bag.

TGC: Yes but you can get away with it because you’ll just burn everyone off!

AT: It’s quite fun dropping people on climbs with a handlebar bag but I do despair of cycling sometimes.

TGC: What are your ambitions for the next couple of years?

AT: I’ve stopped being coached at the moment but once racing is confirmed I’ll restart that. With the Commonwealth Games being in 2022 in Birmingham, I’ve got enough Scottish ancestry (both parents are Scottish born) that if I’m doing well enough who knows, maybe I could get into the road race. It’s just something I’d like to do. There’s a lot less money needed to send someone to travel, it’s probably more likely they’d send people. This year, the goal was selection for Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain, as last year I was first reserve. They fall into a nice time of year. The period between these races is when I get my worst hay fever and I’m just struggling outside. Spring and September, this is when I get into my swing properly. Last year, on the weekend of those races were my best performances on the bike. I have a track record for tapering for an event!

The GC would like to thank Andy for sharing his insights and experiences as a rider. 

We wish him and SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling every success for the future. If you would like to know more about the race team please visit their website swiftcarbonprocycling.co.uk