Over the past several weeks, I have been reminded how much of a “groupthink” there is within athletics. “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.” - Wikipedia. Before anyone gasps as quoting wikipedia, I did it because it goes against what would normally be accepted, and it has a straight to the point definition of the word. In fact, using wikipedias definition is an excellent example of going against groupthink.
So, how does groupthink come into athletics? I find that it keeps a strong role in athletics due to very strong traditional views in certain sports as well as everyone being an expert in the field. I hope after reading this you can take a step back in your sport and truly question why you’re doing certain things. Is it because its always been done that way or because its actually in fact the right way to do it?
Traditional Views and Breaking the Mold
To be honest, both of my points will go together due to the traditional view creating so-called experts. However, lets focus on traditionalists first. Have you ever gone to a football practice in the middle of summer and noticed how few water breaks the team may receive? I bet if you would have gone 10 years ago it wouldn’t even seem out of the ordinary. This is a great example of a traditional view that somehow water may make you weak, or if you train without it you’ll become stronger. Now, in todays age with safety of utmost concern, you’ll see athletes getting water breaks as needed, but just as short as 10 years ago that wasn’t always the case. Coaches learned this from their coaches and therefore it must be correct. While this is just a small example of how groupthink works, I can promise you that its embedded in nearly every sport you’ll encounter. It’s always been done this way therefore it must be the best way.
What I’m not here to say is that the traditional view is wrong in all cases. It could very well be correct. My only goal of this blog is to make you aware of this phenomenon in sports and get you thinking about things. Does it really make sense to always go to track practice and have 50% of your weekly miles run at high intensity? Does it make sense to go out for an 8 hour ride just because time in the saddle helps? Does it make sense to have 100 pitches as the theoretical cut off for major league pitchers? The answer to all of these questions is maybe in the right context, but what we fall into with traditional thinking is a black and white way of decision making that doesn’t allow for any grey area. Groupthink guides all decision making in these situations. When its either one way or the other, we get trapped in a psychological box that doesn’t allow for us to maximize the situation. That is what we should try to avoid and being aware of this is the first phase in better understanding.
Everyone is an Expert
Quite possibly one of the downfalls of american athletics is that everyone is an expert. This stems from the traditional way of thinking in that their coach taught them this way, it worked, and therefore they are now an expert in the field. While this was good for the individual and may work for 95% of others, it is limiting growth at it’s roots by only doing things one way forever. We all know you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, yet that is what we are doing with athletes today. Let me use an example that gets me pretty fired up.
The idea of pedaling drills on a bike. At some point someone thought it was a good idea to focus on pedaling drills to make someone faster. This idea then went onto others and quickly it has become a prescribed workout by coaches to help with pedaling efficiency. While all of that sounds fancy and good, I can’t find a single scientific article that actually justifies doing this to help efficiency. Rather, what it may do is increase muscular effectiveness (actual power), but have a conflicting result for efficiency. So lets get this straight, pedaling drills may improve effectiveness, but they will conflict with efficiency. Its simply an error of words, but in all actuality it is wrong at its foundation and causing headaches for many.
Let me explain further. By using the term efficiency, the athlete assumes that they are getting better at riding a bike. In all actuality they are producing more force for a given amount of time, but their body is requiring more work and therefore reducing the efficiency. For an athlete that is looking to be a sprinter, okay, this works. For an athlete that is looking to ride an Ironman, not so much. The cardiovascular strain on the body will be much higher than the extra watts you may squeak out.
While this is a small hiccup and many will read over it, these small word errors or thoughts without actual scientific evidence are destroying proper and efficient training at its foundation. People are telling others what they heard and these false ideas are spreading like wildfire. What we need to be better at as a whole is understanding the mechanics behind different training methods and giving educated feedback based on this understanding. Simply telling someone to go swim 10x400 yards because it worked for you is like giving them the keys to the car but the car doesn't have a steering wheel. They will only crash in this situation.
I know the traditionalist will fight me on this, but that is fine. A good conversation needs to be had. If new ideas weren’t brought into training then we would still be trying to break the 4 minute mile along with other athletic feats. What I need to drive home is that groupthink in all athletics can be a scary thing for development. Along with this idea of traditional coaching, you also have the idea that everyone is an expert and false information is spreading constantly. The best approach for all of us is to take a step back and truly think through what we are doing. If you don’t want to do this yourself then the next best step is getting a coach that will do it for you. Understand that you are an individual and everything should be catered to your athletic abilities. Each individual is a square peg, if we keep trying to fit them into round holes then we are going to be left with a big mess at the end of the day.
This past weekend was truly an eye-opening experience as an endurance coach. The Innovations in Training Power for Endurance Sports Conference took place in Indianapolis, IN and was host to some of the brightest minds in endurance athletics. We were given presentations on such topics as performance modeling, world championship performances, the data driven athlete, optimized intervals, etc etc etc. While all of these are fancy titles and at times could be mind boggling, the overall feeling of the conference was enlightenment. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Moneyball” I can’t help but lump this weekends experience, endurance sports, and the movie all in one category. We truly are on the cutting edge of finding what is possible given different variables.
Forgive me for using this term, but its the best movie title I can think of that many people have watched and can connect with. I remember sitting at the conference and asking myself if we should be looking to hire cycling/triathlon coaches or statisticians. From a pure numbers and model standpoint, endurance athletics is completely changing in how we operate. While in the past we could look at data and “analyze it”, we now have the “analytical” engine to access the data and both predict and prescribe for the future. This is a complete game changer in terms of optimizing athletic performance in different environments and different demands of races. While all of this seems very high end, I can promise you that the future is trending this way and it only takes several hours to be able to digest these charts/numbers and apply them in a meaningful manner. We are modeling data to predict and prescribe, but we also must keep the human factor in place that tells us how plausible a result may be given past training. None the less, what I’m hinting at is that these models can help increase your odds as an athlete which is the overall goal of training. Any coach not adapting to these methods in the future will be left behind as their predictive and prescriptive methods will fail to maximize the odds of every athlete they work with.
Quite possibly the best takeaway from the weekend was that nothing really changes for the athlete. Yes their may be some small lingo changes, but those can be quickly adapted. What I want the athlete to be aware of though is that these services are out there. While the coach/athlete connection is critical for motivation and accountability, the coach on the back end should be running different performance models on each athlete to ensure they are maximizing their training for the demands of the race at hand.
What an athlete should be looking to do though to maximize their odds in any setting is supplying the coach with the correct data. Im convinced now more than ever that if you’re an athlete without a power meter, you are wasting a serious chunk of your training. Stop guessing and make the investment! On that same front, companies now have started making running power meters. This is something that I believe every athlete should start tracking as well. While running power is a bit different and we shouldn’t view it the same as cycling, there are some very interesting data points that can be collected that show trends and can indicate when different training stimuli is needed. Runners: Get power!
While generalized training has always been a means to help athletes that didn’t want the one-on-one connection, I fear that they actually used the wrong charts to prescribe training that was never meant to be used that way. One of the most interesting discussions of the conference focused around Dr. Andrew Coggan and his traditional levels (endurance,tempo,threshold, v02, anaerobic, pmax). Whats crazy is that these were developed way back in the early 2000’s as a descriptive chart. However, coaches since then have been using them as prescriptive in nature. Many generalized training plans have focused on these and what we need to understand is that many individuals just don’t fit into such nice and even boxes. So while generalized training can be great for some athletes just starting and getting fit again, what generalized training is not doing is maximizing your odds for your best performance.
The Art of Coaching/Conclusion
While all of this is cutting edge and the world is changing, it still comes down to human interaction. We can’t just have robots telling us how to train based off performance models right? We need that human interaction that can understand work commitments, sleep, diet, family vacations, etc. While all of this is true, I just wanted to inform the reader that coaching is changing in endurance athletics and its best to be ahead of the curve. The technology we are currently using (the majority) was designed in the early 2000’s. Its time to catch up with whats possible and start to maximize your odds as an athlete. So if you’re reading this and you have all of this data but you don’t understand it, just know that there are coaches out there that can help you. While its a very small number of coaches at this point, the endurance world is going to make the majority adapt or they will be left behind. Whats possible is still not known, but the ability to maximize each athletes odd’s of a successful race day has jumped significantly. If you’re an athlete putting in the time, stop guessing! Guessing is not the answer, utilize the data/tools we have to maximize your odds and begin to be amazed at what is possible within your own training.
Written By: Christopher Morelock
First, thanks to Mind Right Endurance for reaching out to me to do this!
(I'll try to keep this as beginner friendly as I possibly can.)
So you want to go faster, but you aren't quite sure where to start. Maybe you've started, but you're mired down in the seemingly endless amount of white papers, drag savings, yaw angles and other information out there. Or maybe you're just looking to squeeze out that last little bit of "free" speed.
First, for this discussion you need to know the context. I will be talking about a triathlon or TT bike, not a road bike. It's just easier when we draw the line somewhere and that's as good of a place as any. That's not to say aero positions can't be achieved / improved on road bikes, just that it opens up more doors than this discussion will have scope to deal with. The other disclaimer I'd like to put out there is that these things are VERY personal. What works for me, your coach, your neighbor, Bradley Wiggins or 99% of the people that go through a wind tunnel does not necessarily mean it will work for you. Of course if you aren't able to test for yourself it is best to pick the things that test well over a broad spectrum of people and hope that you are in that majority. It's always best to test for yourself however. Therefore, We (Mind Right Endurance and myself) are starting an Aerodynamic Consulting Service to personalize your equipment for your fastest results yet. If this interests you, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions!
Things most age groupers can do to gain free speed.
This discussion will be primarily about equipment choices. However, I wouldn't feel right without mentioning exactly how important position on your bike is. It is the single most important thing to make you go faster. My advice is to either find a bike fitter who understands the unique needs of an athlete looking to go faster, or be willing to dedicate a lot of time making tweaks yourself.
We'll start with the one that comes back to "you." More importantly, what you are wearing. The problem is skin is slow, so if you can cover it with an aerodynamic material, you'll go faster. The tricky part is that as slow as skin is, wrinkles in fabric are usually worse. That means you want clothing that absolutely looks like it's painted on you. It is fairly easy for time trialists, you find a skinsuit (the Castelli Body Paint has been a competitively priced option that tests well) that doesn't have a lot of wrinkles when you are in aero. For triathletes it becomes quite a bit more complex, as you need to be able to swim and run in the suit as well. Recent rule changes have allowed covered shoulders in triathlon, but many still constrictive to swim in an aero suit. Your individual body will make a lot of difference, but often this one comes down to whether or not the tradeoff's are profitable (say you'll be slower swimming, or in transition, compared to how much faster you'll be on the bike split...) The one piece of advice I'd give to most serious age groupers... at the very least get a one piece kit. The split in a two piece kit when bent over in aero is almost always bad for aerodynamics.
Your actual whip will be another important choice you make. While my go to answer to any questions on "which bike should I buy" is "the one that fits" there are a couple of other questions to answer before pulling the trigger. I classify bikes in three categories... superbikes, (Trek Speed Concept, Cervelo P5, Canyon Speedmax) proven bikes (Cervelo P2/P3, Specialized Shiv/Transition, Trek Equinox) and unproven bikes. (Planet X, Most "Chinarello" frames, Falco V bike) Of those, I would always suggest going with one of the first two categories unless price is the absolute determining factor. Even then, I'd prefer a used P2/Equinox/etc to an open mould frame. In my mind the primary thing that separates Superbikes from proven bikes is integration, particularly in the front end and cabling. Superbikes are made for people that have mechanics on hand to work on them and keep them running. If you aren't a handy mechanic yourself, you need to weigh the pros and cons of having a bike that you may not be able to work on / adjust / fix in a moments notice. As far as the aerodynamics go, most of the "big" brands have put some effort into making their bikes pretty fast. Most of the offerings nowadays should be on par with a P2 or P3, which was long the benchmark of aerodynamic frames. (And for what it's worth is still an excellent choice)
If you aren't restricted by bar choice (having a superbike for example) then I think having something adjustable but still slippery is often an excellent idea, especially if you haven't absolutely nailed down your pad stack and reach. My go to suggestion is the Profile Design Svet series for a base bar and the excellent Zipp Alumina clip on bars. This will give you a pretty fast setup with lots of adjustment possibilities while still allowing you to use any stem. If you do have your position nailed down and are looking for the fastest bars out there, there are many good options these days. The Tririg Alpha bars and the 3T Ventus are some of the slipperiest options out there so long as you don't have to conform to any UCI rules. (Triathletes do not, nor do most time trialists) Good UCI legal bars include the 3T Brezza Nano's and the USE Tula / R1 aero bars. For someone on a tighter budget, the old HED aero bars (they did not have a catchy name) and some of Vision's older offerings are fast and widely available.
While the helmet can be very personal with regards to your own riding style, there are some clear options out there if you are just buying one without personal testing. There are also some helmets that are often stinkers. Helmets that often test very well on a wide range of people are the Bell Javelin, the Giro Advantage2 / Selector, (also likely the new Aerohead) the Specialized TT and the POC Cerebel. Helmets that often test poorly on a wide array of people include the Lazer Tardiz, the Rudy Wingspan and the Kask Bambino. So if you aren't sure what helmet to get, I tend to think it's hard to go wrong with the Advantage or the Javelin, as they can be had for under $100 all over the internet, so if you decide it's not the best for you you'll not be out a fortune.
There is so much data on wheels on the internet it's hard to know where to begin or end. My biggest issue is with no-name off brand ebay wheels (or re branded ones, which is now common.) The problem with them is although the price point is enticing, there is almost never any aerodynamic research put into them. That means you are often getting a wheel that looks very fast, but may not be much (if any) better than your training wheels. As a bang for the buck buyer, it's hard not to look at FLO cycling and think it's the best deal on a new set of wheels out there. Real data, well made and reasonably costed. Of course HED and Zipp make well tested and very nice products, as well as quite a few other companies at varying price points, and the used market is alive and thriving. Wheelbuilder and a couple of other companies also offer disc wheel covers for your spoked wheel, which can be had for under a Benjamin. Personally, I almost always suggest somebody takes their budget for wheels, buys a Powertap (considering they don't have a power meter of some other sort already) and a wheel cover, then buys a moderately deep front wheel.
Wheels (in the context of going faster) should never be mentioned without giving credit to tires. I won't go into tire selection for racing too deeply, but there are plenty of free resources (Biketechreview and Tom Anhalts blog to name a few) that measure rolling resistance in tires... there is little point in buying a fancy set of aero wheels only to run them on Armadillo tires.
For time trialists there are not a lot of options. You are fairly limited to whether you want a bottle on the down tube or the seat tube, and then whether to use a round bottle or an aero bottle, or no bottle at all. All of those options are viable depending on the distance of your race and your specific frame. For triathletes it's much more important and complex, both because you aren't limited by hydration options and also because your time on the bike (and racing in general) is going to be longer. My main advice in the hydration category is to be realistic and honest with your abilities. Saving a few watts with a slick bottle placement won't be worth much if it causes you to under hydrate because you don't use it. That said, an excellent go-to choice is the "torpedo" bottle placement. It tests generally neutral and sometimes positively for most people and it places the bottle right in front of you, making it hard to forget about. Another good choice is something like the Torhans system, which again is right in front of you to remind you to drink, and is also often very fast testing. (Some reports even hinted thant the Aero 30 was faster than no bottle on some Superbike front ends if set up very close to the head tube) The good thing about both of these options is that you can re-fill at aid stations. Bottles behind the saddle are sort of hit or miss, often requiring very tight placement to keep them out of the wind. Frame bottles come in varying sizes and shapes, and again, whether you use round bottles or a dedicated aero bottle should depend on the distance and your comfort. The one thing to always remember is straws sticking up are generally not good. Torhans address it with a fairing, and other companies often include a magnet to keep it held down... I think all of that is fine, just don't have a round shape out in the middle of the area in front of your face.
The little things
The Xunzi speaks on the death by a thousand cuts... and while not quite as torturous, sweating a lot of small details can often lead to big gains. These are things like smart cable routing on non-integrated frames/bars, number placement, aero brakes and chainrings, smooth shoes (Pro triathlete Thomas Gerlach has lately been advocating modified Giro Empires as very fast shoes) and even shaving.
While I don't quite believe that shaving your legs can gain you 20+ watts, I do think there is likely some benefit there. Cables out in the wind and poorly routed can often be costing you precious seconds, and will both make the bike cleaner, more efficient and faster. I've had excellent success in the past making very slick non-integrated cable routing using cable systems like Nokon's links. Shoes are certainly something that can make a big difference, large buckles and straps (and even boa dials) sticking out in the wind is surely not as good as a cleanly profiled narrow shoe... however again you need to figure out if the speed you will gain by swapping shoes will be negated because of increased difficulty getting into them. Time trialists have it easier, as we can use shoe covers. (Velotoze are cheap and usually good) The days of poor stopping, rare aero brakes (price an old Hooker brake some time) are thankfully behind us. Tririg is leading the charge with the excellent Omega series, and for a non-integrated front end it's high on the list of recommended upgrades. Aero cranksets/chainrings don't have a lot of definitive data on benefits, but they likely help a bit and of course, they look cool. (which is very important as well)
There is of course so much more... wheel and tire interaction, where and how you hold your hands and head, saddle height, cockpit height, bar angle... more than you can feasibly put into a post like this! Maybe next time. Hopefully you found this post at the very least a little entertaining, and who knows, maybe you will pick up a little free speed!
If you’re interested in setting up personalized aerodynamic testing please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. While there are a lot of pieces that come into play, we can help you solve the equipment puzzle and find your fastest bike split!
Until then, thanks so much for reading, I really appreciate it!
- Christopher Morelock
As a coach, my eyes were opened this past weekend with the results of several of our athletes at Ironman Florida. When looking at the title of this blog it would appear obvious that swimming is a critical part in any triathlon plan. However, what often happens (and mostly for good reasons) is that athletes start to focus on their bike and run far before their swim. After all, athletes doing long distance triathlon can make up much more time overall by having a strong bike or strong run as compared to a strong swim. Even with that being so, our athletes at Ironman Florida this past weekend went in with swim confidence which I believe resulted in great performances from everyone there. So while there is more time to be made up on the bike and run for long distance triathlon, swimming is what sets up the entire day and therefore should never be neglected. Here is what can happen from a strong swim.
Less Time in The Water
As triathletes train more for the swim, they tend to get faster. The faster they get in the water, the quicker they exit the water and head into transition. While this seems obvious, what many people neglect is the actual amount of stress put on the athlete by how long it takes them in the water. An athlete that swims under 1 hour in an ironman may actually have less stress on their body than an athlete swimming a 1:30 even if the 1 hour athlete is working harder. By swimming more in training and exiting the water faster, you are limiting the amount of stress on your body initially and therefore setting up your bike/run to be a bit more fresh. For those athletes that are in the water for over 1:40 in an Ironman, regardless of how easy you take it, you’re going to be coming out more fatigued than you would if you were a better swimmer with more effort and it will affect your bike/run throughout the day. So, the first point of this blog is the more we train in the water, the faster we can push the pace and come out of the water in a good position to set up the rest of the day.
While there is no tangible metric to put on this point, I want to show how important swim confidence can be. When you enter a swim with confidence (regardless if you swim a 50 minute or 1:30 at Ironman), you feel as if you are executing the plan and your body is capable of the performance. We all know that our mind will give out long before our bodies. Knowing this, as athletes get in the pool or swim in open water, their confidence tends to increase. This athlete that is confident in swimming a 1:10-1:15 knows that they can hit these numbers and have a successful day. The more confidence you can carry throughout the day at Ironman the better you will perform. When things get tough, you know you can push through and your body will be ready to handle the difficult times. This is an unmeasurable factor in how your race will play out, and it comes from more time swimming. Athletes that fear the swim rarely ever have great days. Yes, they can finish the Ironman, but not nearly as fast as they could have with proper swim training and confidence regarding this discipline.
Swimming Sets up Your Finish
From age groupers to pro’s, if you are giving away serious time in the water then you will never be able to make it all up on the bike/run. You may be very good at the bike/run portion, but you’ll never be as fast as you could be if you were stronger in the water. While you can buy a fast bike and you can love the way it looks, you’ll only ever be able to ride it fast if you are starting the bike fresh. Therefore, even if the bike is your strength, you still need to start with your strength in tact and not jeopardized due to having tired legs/low on nutrition due to a long fatiguing swim. Further, the bike will set up your run. If your bike is your strength but now you’re trying to make up time on tired legs, you’ll probably over-bike and turn the run into a death march. Again, this all comes from the swim. So, while you may have the nicest bike in transition, and you may have the fastest individual time trial out of anyone there, you still have to look that 2.4 mile swim in the face and get through it with limited stress. For the athletes looking to do exceptionally well, if you haven’t put in the swim training then you’ll be starting the bike fatigued and will be giving away your strength and destroying your race. No amount of money can save you from a slow swim.
Every athlete depends. Some athletes who are in this sport for multiple years (hopefully all of them) may be in a bike or run build for overall development. There is a time and place for all of these. However, when you are ready for a peak performance and to truly test your limits, its all going to start with the swim. By neglecting your swim you are taking away your strength whether its the bike or run. I would urge anyone with a strong bike/run to try getting in the pool an extra day a week to start and slowly work on building volume. After all, triathlon is swim/bike/run and should be treated as such.
Disclaimer: This is a generalized concept meant to be taken as such. If you are an athlete with low hanging fruit in the bike or run, then it would serve you to focus on those for long periods of time. Same can be said for the swim. It is up to each individual athlete to talk with their coach to understand the best training practices for them at this given time.
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