Thursday, January 23, 2014

MTB Skills - Bike / Body Seperation

We are connected to our bike with our hands and feet. Although we sit on the saddle and can move our hips to aid in control of the bike, we often have to rise out of the saddle into the Ready Position to prepare for more challenging terrain. When in the Ready Position, our arms and legs act as our suspension. We may brag about the couple inches of travel that the bike suspension provides. We can get 6 or more inches of free suspension from our arms and legs. 

When traveling in our vehicles, the wheels move up and down with the imperfections in the road surface as we sit comfortably behind the wheel. Similarly, we want our torso to remain relaxed while riding our bike. The bike will be moving around beneath us on the terrain. The difference in motion between the bike and body is called Bike / Body Separation.

Bike / Body separation is a fundamental skill in allowing us to navigate challenging terrain such as climbs, descents, high speed corners, and rock, root, or log obstacles. The relationship between bike and body can change in three dimensions; forward and back, side to side, and up and down.

We move our body weight forward or back to remain in balance over undulating terrain, climbs, and descents. As we roll up a climb, we have to shift our body weight forward to keep the front wheel form rising off the ground. Conversely, we shift our body weight back when on a descent to avoid tipping over the handlebars.

Forward position while climbing.

Lean back while descending.

Forward on the front slope of an undulation or "whoop".
Side to side Bike / Body Separation is primarily used to control your path or direction. When cornering at high speed, we lean the bike in the direction we want to turn. The more we lean or separate from the bike, the faster we can go. Conversely, when we want/need the wheels to track through a specific path, we lean from side to side with our body to maintain balance over the tires.

Basic side to side motion.
Leaning the body to keep the bike on a specific path.

Leaning the bike during a high-speed corner.

The last dimension of Bike / Body Separation is up and down. We often apply up and down forces on the bike to control our traction. Compress your body and weight down during a corner to increase traction. Extend up or lift body weight to lighten the bike over obstacles. We will talk about this later when we discuss Pressure Control. An extreme example of up and down Bike / Body Separation can be seen when performing a "Bunny Hop" or when you lift the bike off the ground. This is extremely useful to clear obstacles while maintaining speed.

The phases of a "Bunny Hop".
In the photo above, the rider compressed down as you would do to a spring. Then explodes upward. As he passes over the object, he pulls the bike up closely under him. Then extends down and lands. Upon landing, he again compresses to soften the landing and maintain control.

There you have it. Bike / Body Separation is absolutely critical to most of what we do on our bikes. Mountain bikes using these principles will feel a special bond between the bike and the flow of the trails. Even cyclocross and even roadies can benefit from a solid understanding of these movements.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Advanced features of Garmin Edge devices.

Garmin Connect is an online workout library. It offers training diary features similar to TrainingPeaks. It also has features similar to Strava, allowing you to share your training with friends. Garmin Connect falls short of the competition on most things but they got something really right. They offer great tools to get the most out of training with your Garmin device.

Some of my interval workouts can be a challenge to manage, or even remember, while riding. I smile as some of you bring cheat sheets along with you for your rides. Some intervals may require you to keep close eye on the clock. I'd much rather see you with your eyes up the road. You can create Garmin Workouts to help you manage intervals during your training rides. (That link may not work if you do not have a Garmin Connect account.)

A Garmin Workout can be used to make your Garmin device beep as your intervals begin and end. Instead of staring at the small screen, you get a series of chimes indicating that it is time to begin or end an interval. This is a huge benefit when doing a series of short intervals or when I ask that you repeatedly change what you are doing in the workout.

Garmin has changed and improved this feature over the years. It has always been possible to create the workout on the Garmin devices but is painfully tedious. Garmin used to provide a stand-alone software allowing you to create workouts and then upload to the device. It was full of bugs and I gave up on it. They eventually added it to Garmin Connect although it had early limitation. Finally, they have progressed to a point that this is now a powerful feature AND relatively user-friendly to create.

Here is the description of a MicroBurst workout that I often prescribe:
Warm Up: 15 minutes within Zone 2-Endurance. Include 2 Spin-Ups of one minute each with one minute of rest between.

Main Set: MicroBursts help build leg strength and boost your FTP! Complete 3 x 10 Min SEATED MicroBurst intervals with 5 minutes of rest between sets. A 'Burst' is 15 seconds ON followed by 15 seconds OFF. During the ON segment, pedal seated as hard as you can. Aim for 150% of FTP. The OFF segment is 15 seconds of easy pedaling. Repeat continuously for 10 minutes.

Cool Down: 10 minutes of easy pedaling before getting off the bike.
A continuous 10-minute interval of 15-second segments can make your head spin. I understand as I find this one challenging myself. Here is the same workout as it will look on Garmin Connect:

You can upload this Workout to your Garmin and then select it form the menu as you begin your ride. As you begin, you will notice nothing at first. In the image above, the Warm Up will continue until you hit the Lap button. This allows you to vary your warm up length or get to an area that is suitable to begin your intervals.

As you are ready to begin the first MicroBurst interval, hit the Lap button and the device will provide a series of chimes as you approach the end of each 15-second segment. You will also see a message on your screen indicating the new segment. After 10 minutes, the device will stop and rest until you hit the Lap button again. That will start the next MicroBurst interval.

As you create these Workouts, the Garmin Connect interface is very intuitive. It may be confusing at first but once you create a couple steps and see the result, it begins to make sense. We were once limited to 20 steps and you couldn't repeat steps. With the addition of the Repeat step, I can now create very intricate workouts. The 20-step limit may still exist but I haven't gotten to it.

There are a few things that may trip you up along the way. Creating a Workout may not be intuitive to everyone. Finding the Workout on your device and getting started may be strange at first. I could see it causing frustration. Be patient. Reach out to me for help. As you can see in the image above. I have created only a few Workouts. I can send these to you as files that you can copy to your Garmin device.

Here are a couple advanced tips:
  • You will see a couple extra screen pages on your Garmin while doing a Workout. Some fields may indicate what segment you are in. Others show your progress in the current segment or provide a countdown to the start of the next segment. Don't get caught up in these additional fields. The most important thing is the beeps. Use the beeps to guild you through the intervals.
  • Do NOT provide a "Target" for each step of the Workout.  A Target is a range that you can set for HR or power. Although it sounds like a great idea, the Garmin will beep if you are above or below the target. I used Targets once and was ready to shoot myself within minutes of beginning. Imagine a nag beep and screen message constantly reminding you that you are at the wrong power. In the image above, all of the Targets are set to None. Trust me, keep it simple and let the timer and beeps guide you.
  • Lastly, most of us have our Garmins set to Auto-Pause. As we stop on the road, the timer Pauses on the Garmin. As we continue, the timer Resumes. When doing a Garmin Workout, the Auto-Pause feature is disabled. The clock does not stop. If you are doing a timed interval, look for a route where you can ride without interruption.
I suspect I will hear from a few of you. "Wow, this is awesome thanks!" Then a few days later, "Dude! This is really confusing!!! Be patient. I've been dealing with this stuff for years and have gotten used to it. As always, I'm here to help.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sharing My Data - Standing vs Seated-Climbing

In a previous blog post, I wrote about climbing. That prompted a couple questions from you about climbing while seated vs climbing while standing. They were great questions and I've been thinking about them since. I went out on a climbing mission to demonstrate the pros and cons of seated and standing climbing styles.

I started from Lambertville and did my warm-up towards one of the larger continuous climbs in that area. I've done this climb many times but not repeated with the focus I would be applying during this ride. The climb is 9/10ths of a mile long. Climbing 180 feet at an average grade of 3.8%. Not impressive numbers but certainly enough to provide plenty of discomfort. As I often say, "Relative bumps in the road can do significant damage when ridden at race-pace!"

Interestingly, this climb is steepest at the bottom. This causes riders to dig deep early while being cautious not to get exhausted before the top. As I began, I did not know how many times I would repeat the climb. I planned to do it both seated and standing. Then a mix of both. Here is the portion of the graph containing all off the intervals.

Allow me to explain a few known climbing principles. Climbing while remaining seated is known to be more efficient. While seated, the saddle and bike support your body weight. With more points of contact with the bike, it is easier to balance and maintain a straighter path. When sitting up, you can see the road ahead more comfortably. 

When climbing out of the saddle, you have to support all of your body weight on only your hands and feet. The bike becomes less stable as it can now rock side to side between your legs. This rocking motion can influence steering dramatically. 

When standing, more muscles are needed to support the increased body weight and maintain balance and control. Those muscles will be calling for oxygen, increasing the demands on your heart. As a result, heart rate increases to provide oxygen to more muscles.

People often argue that your power increases when you stand. That is true BUT...that increase is primarily due to the body mass that is no longer supported by the saddle. Standing alone does not produce greater power. There is simply more of your body mass acting on the power meter.

With that said, you can produce greater power output while standing. As we pedal out of the saddle, we rock the bike from side to side. We counter this motion by pulling on the handlebars with our arms. This motion and the use of our arms provides a greater output. As these additional muscles are relatively small, the increased power output is very short-lived. When we look at power output while standing, we will often see a burst and then a slow decline to nearly the same level as if you were seated. Conversely, heart rate will continue to rise.

Last but not least, there is a time when standing is a good idea regardless of power output. When seated, certain muscles are doing the bulk of the work. Although seated climbing is most efficient, the continuous use of the same muscles will cause fatigue. Different muscles become active when climbing out of the saddle. It is a good idea to get out of the saddle for short periods of time at regular intervals. The muscles used while seated will appreciate the rest. Then return to the saddle and continue.

With all that explanation out of the way, let's return to my intervals. My first attempt (1) was seated and more of a continuation of my warm-up and a recon mission. I picked an exact start point that I would use for each. I got a closer look at the grade changes and to see what my average power would be and how long it would take. I also chose an exact point to finish each interval (a utility pole). I returned to the bottom and noticed my resting heart rate. I wanted to begin each interval at relatively the same HR to allow for a better comparison.

The second attempt (2) was entirely OUT of the saddle. I was thoroughly warmed and just targeted to get to the top briskly. I made a mental note of my average power again. (279 Watts) Here is a little extra that you do not see in the data. My back was screaming at me. Ouch!

For the third attempt (3), I returned to riding entirely seated. I attempted to hit the exact same average power as in the previous standing interval. I went too hard early and was forced to back off as I neared the top to reduce the average power. The result was 282 Watts and some questionable pacing of exertion. "Nah, that isn't good enough!"

I started the fourth (4) with the same plan. Match the average power from the Standing interval. I improved my pacing and hit the exact number as in the Standing interval. Perfect! That is what I wanted to record and review later.

Let's compare intervals (2) and (4) in greater detail. Although very delayed and subjective, heart rate in the graph provides a good indication of my perceived exertion. Notice in (2) how quickly my HR rises. Then, it remains high while showing a slow decline until the final burst at the top. The decline in the middle was necessitated by the early burst. I had to back off a little. As I approach the top, I have only enough for a short burst. If I had not reduced my effort in the middle, there would not have been a burst at the top at all.

In (4), my HR rises much more slowly. Allowing for a continuous increase in exertion. Additionally, I have extra in the tank to put in a longer effort towards the top. Although the line displaying power is erratic, you can see that power is continuously increasing in the second half of the climb. The data does not reveal everything though. I was struggling at a low cadence during the early steeper section. Once beyond that, I was able to settle at a more comfortable cadence and reduce my loses.

After the fourth interval, I was happy that I had created a good comparison between climbing seated vs. standing. For the remaining intervals, I used a mixed strategy to see how I could get to the top quickest. The goal was to stand for the early steeper section. Then, "churn and burn" while seated through the middle of the climb. I would stand towards the end to deplete whatever I had remaining at the top.

For the fifth interval (5), I was too aggressive out of the saddle early. Similar to the earlier interval, I was forced to back off through the middle portion of the climb. Then only had enough left for a short burst at the top. I didn't feel good about that effort and went back down for another.

The last attempt (6) is where I got things right. A less aggressive approach early while standing. Although my HR rises quickly, it does not go as high as the previous attempt. It also does not drop nearly as much in the middle of the climb. The drop in heart during the middle is simple because I sat down. Remember, less muscles are calling for oxygen while seated and HR lessens. Then I have plenty in reserve for a blast towards the top. The time is slightly improved although the power is slightly less. "Power alone does not win races. The result is determined by how we apply our available power." I paced myself better and achieved the best time of the day.

As you approach any climb, consider how you want to apply your available power. Seated climbing is most efficient. There are times when we may be forced to stand. Such as when we run out of gears on a steep grade, when responding to accelerations and attacks in a race, or simply to give muscles a rest. Developing your personal climbing habits can take years. I have seen my own habits change numerous times as I learned and observed others. Never stop looking for ways to improve!