As we head into the winter months, weight gain is nearly inevitable. On average, Americans will gain between .48 and 2.22 kilograms during the holiday months (Yanovski, et al. 2000). As endurance athletes, we often associate weight gain with holiday season and justify it due to the amount of training we will put in during the spring and summer months.
The point of this blog is to discuss how weight can affect performance in endurance sports for either positive or negative results. This blog will not touch on dietary habits as I am not a registered dietician. The only purpose of this blog is to make you aware of specific weight principles/theories and how they may contribute to your success or downfall in 2017.
Disclaimer: Regardless of the thoughts in this blog, a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index) is considered between 18.5-24.9. There are both positive and negative side effects to losing or gaining weight that puts you outside of this range. It is up to you, the reader, to understand these principles or consult with a registered dietician for individual success.
When we look at long distance runners or run specific athlete’s, there is no doubt that they tend to carry around less body weight. However, what is the actual purpose of this from a performance aspect? Well, it has been well established in the running community that each pound you lose will make you about 2 seconds per mile faster (generalized concept).
Example of how weight can affect running
Goal: Boston Qualifer
Pace needed: 7:35/mile or faster for a marathon
If we take this generalized idea into account with a 5’11 athlete that weights 186 pounds (BMI is 26) and runs a 8:00 pace for a marathon, this athlete could lose a substantial amount of weight and still be classified as healthy via the BMI scale. Lets suggest that this athlete gets serious about nutrition and loses 30 pounds over the course of a year and is at 166 pounds. This athletes BMI is now around 23, their pace has dropped to 7:00/mile pace, and with the proper training they now have a realistic shot at reaching their Boston Qualifying goal.
Regardless of the athletes goals, if you are above 24.9 in the BMI chart or even in the upper range of the healthy zone, you can still lose some weight to become a faster runner overall. Beyond the faster speeds, you will be reducing the impact on your legs with each stride and you will be able to handle a higher training load if built correctly.
Note: There is a point where you can be too light for optimized performance. When your body can’t respond to the training load and you are constantly becoming hurt, it could be an indicator of a poor diet or lack of muscle/bone density to help absorb the miles of running. This is very personalized and therefore you should not make any specific plans simply off this blog alone.
Weight in cycling is one of the largest factors of success that often gets neglected at the amateur level. Depending on your strengths and the terrain of the race, weight will make all the difference between winning an event or finishing mid-pack without a chance. What many amateur cyclists neglect is race selection based on their strengths. While I understand wanting to race often and I see great value in that, expectations in cycling should be catered around race selection and which race fits your watts/kilogram chart the best.
Example of how weight can affect cycling performance
Lets look at Fabian Cancellera vs Nairo Quintana. Fabian Cancellera has an unbelievable amount of raw watts he can sustain for long periods of time. His actual power numbers would destroy Nairo’s numbers if they were compared as apples to apples. However, due to Nairo weighing 40 lbs less than Fabian, there is no way that Fabian can stay with Nairo as soon as weight starts becoming a factor (the terrain increases). Therefore, because of how big of a factor weight can be in cycling performance, each of these professionals targets races that work into their strength (Fabian = 1 day classics and TT’s, Nairo = grand tours with mountain climbs).
While we aren’t Fabian Cancellera or Nairo Quintana, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses in the cycling world due to weight and genetics. By testing where you are in the watts/kilogram chart (developed by Andrew Coggan), you can begin to see what type of races you should be targeting and how losing or gaining weight may help in your overall performance.
Note: If an athlete is racing in flat terrain and has a strong bike set up, they may actually benefit from gaining weight which will generate a larger overall amount of watts. On flat ground with higher watts and a strong bike setup, you can actually improve your performance by gaining weight (see track cyclists for example).
I don’t want to spend too much time on this as swimming performance revolves around technique and experience much more than weight. However, I will touch on two aspects of swimming and how weight is factored in.
First, swimmers tend to develop a small layer of fat over their bodies for two reasons. The first reason is that swimming pools tend to be a bit cold when used for training. Swimmers will actually develop a small layer of fat to help insulate their cores and bodies. Secondly, the small layer of fat can act to help create some buoyancy. This buoyancy will help keep the body high in the water for reduced drag (think wetsuit). Now, with that being said am I telling swimmers to gain weight… no. Im just discussing what tends to happen with swimmers bodies. They tend to be very fit and strong, they just don’t have the chisled physique of other athletes.
Where weight can hurt swimming though is due to the amount of drag created by the overall size of body mass. So, if you don’t have proper technique and you have pounds to lose, you are actually having to pull your body through a large amount of water with each stroke. The thinner you get the smaller the amount of drag you will produce as long as you keep the same efficiency in the water.
As the races get longer and the sun is beating down on you, body mass will start to play a large role in the overall performance. For Triathletes that spend 1-17 hours at a race, the longer the race, the more impact weight plays on overall performance. While you can read above the reasons how weight affects each individual sport of triathlon, the one note that I haven’t touched on is heat dissipation. Due to Triathlons often taking place in the hot summer months of the year, heat dissipation will separate the great from the good in the triathlon world.
When looking at elite performance in the sport of triathlon, the number that always comes out of the mix is a BMI of an athlete between 20-22. While each athlete will get their in different ways, this amount of body mass allows them to be a fast runner, produce the power/weight needed for the bike, swim efficiently, and shed heat in a more effective manner than say a triathlete at 23-24 BMI. Due to heat being such a large factor on race day, the better your body is at cooling, the faster you will be. With mass being the key ingredient in how fast your body cools down, it can therefore be linked with race day performance.
A note on BMI
There are far better metrics to use for athletic performance than BMI. This blog only serves as a generalized standard that can be used from a Birdseye view. Athletic performance should be looked at through each specific sport and key factors. Therefore, you can use BMI as a general gauge, but again, each athlete is different and don’t use BMI as your only mode of gauging performance.
The purpose of this blog was to show how weight can be an overall factor in athletic performance. While there are plenty of numbers being thrown around in this blog, don’t settle on the mindset that lower weight always equals better performance. While lower weight often does create a better performance, there is a point of diminishing returns. By being educated on what the numbers mean and finding where you produce the best results, you are in a far better place to set realistic goals and achieve them in 2017.
When looking at sports, many athletes, coaches, parents, broadcasters, etc get caught into the trap of only analyzing numbers. These numbers are what wins games and therefore receives all of the attention. However, where do these numbers come from? Do they just magically happen on game-day or during an event? In my short four years of coaching, I have started to find a trend among the best athletic performances. If I look back at every personal best or huge breakthrough, I find these characteristics. Regardless of how strong, fast, or skilled an athlete is, every personal best performance can be tied to these non-physical traits. Therefore, rather than size or the amount of muscle on an athlete, these are the traits that I look for in an Ideal athlete.
Disclaimer: These views are only my own. Many coaches differ in their teaching/coaching styles and what qualities they look for in athletes.
The number one quality that I find from the ideal athlete is a motivation that is intrinsic in nature. If I look at my top athletes, they will occasionally post on social media and interact with the community, but they don’t seek approval for every workout, training session, or new personal best that they set. They are quiet publicly but very load internally. These athletes know what they need to do, they set goals, and they are motivated to hit those goals for their own reasons. These are the athletes that have continued to find success year after year and don’t feel the need to justify their success or downfalls to anyone publicly.
One of the largest flaws I currently see in athletics is the social media craze and everyone needing to feel accepted for what they are doing. This often leads to athletes needing others approval for anything they do and once that approval is gone or interest has faded, the athlete loses motivation and begins to lack in performance. From a coaching perspective, I love working with the intrinsically motivated athlete because I know that by proper goal setting and having a proper focus on the task at hand, they will continue to improve each year.
Disclaimer: Social media is here to stay. Every athlete is going to post on social media at one time or another regarding their sport. However, how an athlete interacts is what I am looking for. An athlete that needs approval from others will always lack motivation when things get tough. What we should be preaching in this social media era is being part of a larger community that can be there for networking or educational purposes, but isn’t the motivation for you putting in all of your training hours. That is a dangerous tactic that quickly becomes a black hole of trying to impress others rather than trying to improve yourself.
The Athlete Becomes a Student
I want my athletes to ask questions and try to understand the reasons for their workouts. I understand all coaches don’t want this interaction, but for me it is the strongest correlation I have to an athlete getting better. What I find is that the athletes that start to learn the methods to the madness start to excel at a much faster rate. Regardless if its a training day, or day of competition, there are going to be situations that pop up where the athlete needs to react on the fly. The athlete that understands principles can make a calculated decision for success while athletes that don’t understand principles must guess and hope for the best. As these situations arise on a daily basis, the athlete that can make a calculated decision is putting themselves in a better position to succeed day in and day out. These days and decisions begin to add up and the athlete that is a student of the game begins to overtake their competition in all of the critical components of performance.
I once read a book by Daniel Coyle called “The Talent Code”. In this book he talks about individuals replicating a skill they’ve seen vs truly learning the skill and its components. At the start of each session or training day, an athlete can choose to just go through the motions and train the body to react, or they can choose to truly focus on the training, understand it, and make conscious decisions throughout the motion/activity. While there are times that an athlete does just want a reaction, most of the time the athlete that fully understands the movement and has focused training will perform it at a higher level. The athletes that takes it upon themselves to learn the art/skill/science of their movement, often out perform others and are an absolute pleasure to work with on a day-to-day basis.
Note: “The Talent Code” by Coyle is the best coaching book I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.
Confidence not Cocky
This is key and one of the defining characteristics that I find amongst the best athletes that I work with. Each of my athletes that continually gets the most out of their performances tend to be very confident. If you were to ask the athlete before the event if they are going to succeed they will give you an answer that revolves around hard work but positive results as well. What I find is that the intrinsic motivation and the confidence/results tend to go hand in hand. This is because the athlete knows what they are capable of, they know the work they’ve put in to get there, and now they are ready to utilize that training, knowledge, and confidence for the best overall results.
These athletes are also never above the process and are constantly reminded of how humbling it can be. I believe this is where the confidence is drastically different from cocky. A cocky athlete would go into a contest expecting to do well because of their natural skill set and their extrinsic motivation is constantly being pumped by everyone telling them how good they are. A confident athlete would go into that event understanding that nobody is going to out work them, they can justify their effort to themselves, and they are confident that regardless of how hard things get, they are going to prevail because they trust in the work they’ve done.
I love working with these athletes because in training you can absolutely destroy them and put them through humbling experiences (cracking them and showing them that they aren’t invincible). However, as soon as you crack them and they don’t give in, they build that confidence that is a very scary thing for their competition. All of my confident athletes have been humbled in training, but it has made them extremely confident for the event and knowing that regardless of how hard things get, they won’t break or give in. Every athlete that reaches their best has this characteristic.
Friends and Athletes
My last point will be about the actual relationship that I develop with the ideal athlete. Some coaches don’t like developing a friendship with athletes because they believe it blurs lines. This works for some and therefore I will not try to contradict their coaching methods. However, for me the ideal athlete is someone that is willing to be a friend as well as a client. There is a very important reason for this in my opinion. In all of my years of team sports, I found that if a friend was standing next to me, I was willing to go beyond a point of comfort and sacrifice my well-being for their advancement. This is the same mindset that I want my athletes to have. Nothing in athletics is as powerful as working for someone else. You can often push yourself further than you ever thought possible and in the end, come out with a far superior product (performance).
I want my athletes to know that they can count on my for anything and that I will be willing to sacrifice my own well-being to ensure that they have what they need to perform. In return, my athletes will dig deeper than they ever thought possible in training and racing to get a performance that they are proud of and make results happen for the both of us. While some would say this contradicts my point on being against extrinsically motivated athletes (if they want to please the coach with their performances.. isn’t this extrinsic?), I would argue that this is intrinsic because the athlete is motivated from within due to the relationship that we have built as a collective unit.
While there are many different coaching styles out there, I have found that I tend to be “Cooperative” in nature. While that won’t work for every athlete, I have found that the four characteristics above tend to result in personal best performances and high levels of athletic achievements. If you are an athlete looking to get better, understand that it isn’t only about the X’s and O’s of your sport. If you want to reach a high level of athletic performance, you must start to understand what coaching style you work best with and how to best maximize that relationship. If you can take a step back as an athlete and start to look at the four points I made above, I would argue that you will start to see a large improvement in your overall ability to train and hit new personal bests.
As a coach, I often hear of runners coming down with injuries or not getting faster as they build throughout their racing season. After digging a little deeper, it generally becomes apparent that these runners are making training mistakes that seem to occur all to often. When looking at training flaws, I often find that athletes are compensating for either a lack of preparation or a lack of understanding basic principles. Within this blog I hope I’ll touch on these and help you become a faster runner overall.
Lack of Preparation
This one happens often, especially for some triathletes. Athletes will finish a season in late August-October and immediately make goals for a PR at a October-December race. Or, we will get a runner that has a big goal race coming up in 4 months and wants to set a PR or qualify for Boston. While running generally takes less time overall from a week-to-week commitment on you, it doesn’t mean that it takes any less time to build the proper engine and efficiency as a runner. The best runners I have are runners that have been hitting consistent weeks over many many months. When an athlete comes to me with less than 4 months to build for a running event, they often become discouraged when they didn’t have a huge PR because I wasn’t willing to risk injury by ramping up their training. I’m not saying that we can’t hit a PR, I’m just saying that if you intend to be a serious runner or have big goals, you need to have the proper build for that which is often between 8-12 months.
Lack of Distance
This is a big one for me. Somewhere in the realm of training circles, individuals believe that running a 5k for competitive reasons requires far less distance than running a 1/2 marathon or full marathon distance. I understand that the requirements of the race are nowhere near the same, but if your true goal is a competitive placement, then your volume needs to be far greater than that of which I often hear. At the end of the day, a 5k is still an aerobic event. Therefore, the larger your aerobic engine, the faster you’ll be at a 5k. Now, I understand that you can be very competitive at a 5k on 25-30 miles a week with the right structure, but I bet you’d be even faster on 40 miles/week. Even faster on 55 miles/week. And even faster on 75 miles a week. I understand those numbers are far-fetched for many due to commitments and recovery times needed, but I am here to tell you what is needed for optimal performance and not sugar coat the lack of miles that often go around race distances of 5k’s and 10k’s.
Lack of Training Principles
This is where the injuries come in. This stems from my point above about lack of volume. Many runners looking to increase speed will focus on 1-2 track sets a week if not more. More is more right? Not exactly. The highest probability of injury in running comes from over stressing the legs. This can happen from running too much to soon, or running to fast for too many times. Often, runners looking to PR at a 5k or 10k will neglect volume because their race is only 3.1 or 6.2 miles and instead focus on quick turnover and high intensity. Without the proper base in place, this is going to end in injury and have you out of the sport for a couple weeks if not more. I often find runners will add in track days with friends (which is great if done correctly) to try and off-set a lack of training. Well, Intensity is the highest cause of injuries in runners and therefore by focusing on Intensity first, you are flirting with fire.
So What is a Proper Build
Well, this comes back to my point about preparation. Be willing to give a coach 8-12 months if you are serious about running. Allow the first month or two to build frequency until you’re running 6-7 days a week easy. Then allow some time to build volume on top of that frequency while still running easy. Then allow some time to start adding in some tempo workouts to start building towards race day goals. Finally, start to add in the intensity that your body is prepared for and can handle! Remember, fitness builds through frequency, volume, intensity. If you build all 3 at once you are likely to get injured. If you focus only on intensity without a base you are likely to get injured. There is a right way and a wrong way to build, therefore giving your coach the proper amount of time is critical for overall running success.
Running is simple. You lace up your shoes and head out the door. However, once you get out the door, what do you do? If you give a coach the time needed, I can nearly guarantee that everyday you head outside will be productive in your overall goal. Not only will you be building fitness gradually, but it will be sustainable and allow you to do so in a way that doesn’t result in injury. It isn’t that running is some mythical creature that results in injury, its just that many athletes are making basic training errors. By understanding what running is at its core and what demands are in place at each distance, you will be in a much better place to run your best and make calculated decisions to meet your future racing goals.
With all of the media last week regarding “super bikes” and their release at the Ironman World Championships, I saw a lot of athletes talking about which bike they want and which they will get this next year. While I love the bike industry and absolutely support innovation, I feel that the marketing of these companies has misguided some athletes. I fear that many athletes want to buy free speed which in itself isn’t bad, (its actually very smart) but that they are not seeing the returns on their investment that they could be.
For the basis of this blog, the new “super bikes” range in the price point from $10-15,000. For that amount, it appears that these bikes save somewhere around 20 watts (different figures from different analysis) at 30 mph. So, is it worth it, maybe. But if you aren’t tapping into these other investments first then you are likely not getting the results you should be.
The best investment you can make in endurance sports is time. While I understand time is money and you may spend far more than $10-15,000 with your time alone, you won’t ever make improvements if you don’t put in the time that is required. So, before you go drop $10-15,000, be sure that you can at least put in the time to build the engine.
#2 Data Recording Devices
Hands down the best thing you can do outside of training time is track your training data. Before you even look at #3, you should look into a power meter or heart rate monitor to measure output. While training in the past has been done for many years without data, technology has allowed for specific training and monitoring of training loads. Getting a Power meter for a cyclist may be the best investment you can make.
#3 Hire a Coach
While I understand mentioning a coach here just looks like a sales pitch, it truly is the best thing you can do once you have the tools in place (Time committed to training and technology to properly monitor performance). To make this argument quickly, a $10-15,000 bike may save you 20 watts, but by being coached properly with power you can gain 20 watts on your FTP in roughly 30-50 days. So if you have the time, tools, and coaching plan, you can gain the same amount of watts in 30-50 days as you can buy with a $10-15,000 super bike.
#4 Look at Nutrition
If you’re willing to spend $10-15,000 on a bike, I sure hope that you’re body is where you want it to be. By having a proper diet in place, you can lower your body weight and body mass which also makes you a faster cyclist/runner. By looking at nutrition and macro-nutrients and making correct food choices, you can increase your overall performance by a large margin.
#5 Get a Bike Fit!
This probably should be higher on the list but with equipment changing along with flexibility each year, I feel that you should get fit once a year to your bike. The four investments above should remain constant. The single largest thing you can do for immediate speed is to reduce your CDA (drag). The biggest factor of CDA is the human body on top of the bike. Therefore, the more aero you can become the faster your speeds will be at the same watts. And no, this isn’t a normal fit done in 20 minutes to make you feel comfortable, this is a performance fit intended for maximum speed. While its important to be comfortable on the bike, you also don’t want to be a wind block. Many athletes have poor fits for performance and while they will argue all day that they would rather be comfortable, you can train your body to adapt to positions and be comfortable, it all comes back to Investment #1 (TIME).
#6 Enhance Your Own Bike
You’d be surprised at how fast you can become on your bike right now if you have a performance bike fit, time to train in it, and enhance your bike. The quickest thing to do for most bikes that makes a large difference is to reduce cables showing on your bike which can be done through a new front end system (bars, brakes, cable routing). This in total may cost you some money to get the fastest set up, but it will save you quite a bit of time for a fraction of the cost of the new bikes. I would put this above wheels/tires as its the leading edge of your bike and the cleaner it is, the less drag you will produce.
There is a reason why this is #7 and not #8. Because regardless of how fast your wheel set is, if you’re running them with slow tires then you’ll be slow. You can take a slow set of wheels and make them much faster by improving the tires and tube choices. Just as cyclists are aware of aerodynamics, there is also a big contributor to speed called rolling resistance. The best way to reduce rolling resistance is to have the proper tires on, proper tubes in the tires, and proper PSI in the tires. Just for a general recommendation (but not the overall fastest set-up), try riding on Continental 4000S tires with Latex Tubes at your desired PSI, you’ll gain some easy speed if you’ve been using hardshell tires or cheap tires that often come standard on a bike.
These are flashy, no doubt. They look nice and complete the bike. If you are buying wheels before you go about the other investments then you will make some initial improvements, but you won’t get that much faster overall. Not much else to say here as they do make a difference, but I feel that they are probably the 8th Investment you should make for overall success.
#9 Location of Accessories
Did you know that putting a bottle on the seat post vs down tube is actually slower. How about having a bottle between your aerobars on a tri/TT bike can help reduce CDA. How about where you place your garmin on your bike matters? If you are willing to spend the money on a new bike, please don’t give away 20 watts due to poor placement of accessories. Think about that, you could get a new $10-15,000 bike and make it slower than your old one by poor attention to detail.
#10 Race Selection
Often times as amateurs we want to go do a bunch of races and don’t take the time to analyze our strengths and weaknesses. This comes back to #3. Don’t go buy a super bike and neglect race selection. You may actually get slower compared to your competition if you select a race that doesn’t suit your strengths as an athlete. While this is more of a tactical investment, it is a huge part of performance that is often neglected. Pick the races that allow you to utilize your skills as a cyclist/triathlete and enjoy the work you’ve done with the bike!
While the bike industry is a great thing and there are fantastic innovations coming out, you also need to be aware of the major improvements you can make that don’t carry a huge price tag. Don’t get me wrong, a super bike will help you as an athlete and it could be the difference between winning an event and coming in 2nd. However, If you aren’t paying close attention to the 10 Investments above, then you aren’t maximizing your current set-up and no amount of money spent on carbon is going to get you to the level that you could reach. So, before you go out and make a huge purchase, ensure that you are maximizing what you have.
Its nearing the off-season for many athletes and often times I hear that athletes want to get in the weight room and rebuild some of their strength. As a coach, there are often times that I agree with this and sometimes that I don’t. With each athlete being an individual that requires unique planning, it all depends on where they are in their development and what their daily schedule looks like. Below are some tips to help you decide how much time you should be spending in the weight room this off-season.
Did your 2016 end with some nagging knee pain or tight hamstrings? Where you constantly pushing through some discomfort in your legs while running or cycling? If so, then it is possible that you’ve created imbalanced muscles due to the constant motion or running or cycling. In this case, it is often a good idea to get in the weight room and focus on general strength training to re-balance the muscles. Often times our quadriceps will overpower our hamstrings or glutes and create exceptionally tight legs which often lead to nagging pains. By spending a month or two building your glutes and hamstrings back up, you will alleviate the pain and allow your legs to function in a smooth motion again.
For some athletes, they want to continue to train for 12+ hours a week in the off-season. For them I feel its a great time to get in the weight room because it will help with balancing of muscles, but it also will give their mind a break from the continuous swim/bike/run. For these athletes, its just as much physical as it is mental which I find great value in. However, for the athlete who wants to dedicate more time to what they missed out on during the season, the weight room may not be the best place for them. If an athlete only has 5 hours a week to train during the off-season, they will be losing serious swim/bike/run fitness if you put them in the weight room for 3 hours a week. Lets not forget that the act of weight lifting is anaerobic by nature and the act of cycling/running is generally aerobic. Don’t think that lifting weights makes you faster aerobically, it does not. What weight lifting does for endurance athletes is simply injury prevention. Therefore, if you don’t have a ton of time in the off-season, you’re better off keeping your aerobic base in place vs getting to the weight room.
While you need to get away from specifics in the off-season for a while, it doesn’t mean you need to get away from your endurance training all together. For someone that is looking to take a big step up in cycling for 2017, it may serve them better to put most of their time on the bike over the off-season as opposed to splitting it between the weight room and cycling. Again, every athlete is different, but by going over your goals for 2017 you will begin to show the coach where you want to be and where your time needs to be during your off-season/pre-season. Goals can never be set too soon and they do lay the foundation for not only your specifics, but also how you build the off-season and if weights will come into play or not.
There are a lot of different factors that go into a weekly training plan for each specific athlete. However, when looking at weight training, it often comes down to athlete needs and their goals for 2017. Whats important for endurance athletes to understand is that weight training won’t make you faster directly, but it may allow you to keep training for longer (no injuries) which can lead to faster results. So while weight training can be a powerful tool to include in your endurance training schedule, it only serves as an additional component and should rarely ever be the main focus. With that being said, talk with your coach about 2017 and building your yearly goals. With a clear picture in mind, its often easy to see if weight training will help the athlete succeed or take away from their endurance abilities overall.
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