Strengthening this “red zone” is one of the keys to improving your performance and remaining injury-free for every sport. Your power comes from the core.
These muscles stabilize your torso and provide the base on which you can build power and strength. It doesn’t help to have strong legs if you have a weak core.
Twice a year I offer an AB CHALLENGE series and I hope you will join me. I need to clarify that this challenge focuses purely on ABS; however, it is imperative that you use your core to complete the exercises.
In my workouts, I talk about the pelvic floor. Contracting the core is not the same as holding your breath or sucking in your belly. Both of these actions are dangerous when strength training as they increase intra-abdominal pressure, which is not good.
Check with yourself. Do you know how to hold your core? If not, please repeat this glute and core maintenance video once a week until you feel comfortable with this action and can activate the core with awareness, then automatically when required.
When exercising your body converts both glycogen (aka sugar) and fat into energy. Converting glycogen is quick and easy so these sources are used for high-intensity efforts such as short sprints and hill climbs. Converting fat takes longer so it is used more for lower intensity efforts like steady long training rides.
But this doesn’t mean that you can fuel up on nuts and fat for your long rides. Unless you have trained your body, by strictly following a Keto Diet, your brain only survives on sugar/glycogen of which we have a limited supply. So when you suddenly feel tired, dizzy, lightheaded, short-tempered, or sick during a ride, this is usually because you don’t have enough sugar going to your brain.
We call this lack of glycogen, “bonking”. You may have already experienced this so you will know that it is an extremely difficult state to reverse.
To avoid BONKING, always stay one step ahead of what your body needs.
Whether you feel like eating or not, following a predetermined schedule will ensure that you avoid “the bonk”. Set a timer on your watch to remind you.
Normally we count calories so that we don’t overeat. Now I’m teaching you to count calories so that you eat enough. The time to diet is not on the bike.
The timing of when you eat and the number of calories you eat at each interval are the keys to having a great ride.
If you eat too much at one time, you will upset your stomach. As you are working hard, your blood is in your muscles trying to do work – not in your stomach digesting food.
Everyone is unique in regards to how much they can digest comfortably. But 200-300 calories/hour is what is usually recommended. If you can eat while still pedaling, it is best to eat little bites of food every 10-15mins instead of the whole 200/300 calories at once.
It is your job to find out which types of foods and combinations of carb, protein, and fat percentages work best for you and your type of riding.
The following is a guideline to get you started. Add or subtract calories as your stomach insists or your energy demands require.
Always start a ride well hydrated and with enough fuel (inside of you) to last 60-90 minutes. You should NOT need to eat for a ride less than 90minutes.
Your pre-ride meal should be eaten within 1-3 hours before the ride, and consist of mainly carbohydrates. Fat and protein take 2-3hrs to digest so don’t eat them right before a hard workout. Avoid foods with high fiber as they also slow down digestion and may break up your ride with too many bathroom stops. As fat and protein digest slower, you can eat more of them before longer rides as you will use this stored energy later in the ride. Examples: toast with peanut/almond butter and banana, yogurt and granola and fruit, fruit smoothie, oatmeal with honey, eggs and toast, bagel and cream cheese, muffin
During the ride eat small bites but eat often. Eat your first snack 45-60minutes into the ride. Your snack should contain 200-300 calories of mainly simple carbs with very little fat and protein. Generally speaking the smaller you are, the less you need to eat, however, there are exceptions to every rule.
Examples: fruit bars, gels, boiled potatoes, bananas, fig newtons, sesame snaps, shot bloks, cliff bars, dates, homemade granola bars or cookies, sharkies, or a drink with calories in it like pure maltodextrin, Scratch, Vega Sport, Eload, etc.
It is best to have a variety of food with you so you can change the balance of carbs, protein, and fat throughout the ride. DO NOT BRING ONLY SUGAR and AVOID CAFFEINE until closer to the end of the ride.
Don’t put your body into a state of extreme highs and lows by overloading the body with pure sugar and caffeine. Consuming ONLY pure sugar will place you on an insulin roller coaster and will quickly make your stomach rebel. The exception to this rule would be an intense race where you are pushing a hard effort for the whole ride or the event is less than 2.5 hours.
Foods to avoid before or during a ride: – apples, berries, prunes (too much fibre) – nuts or high fat foods (a few are ok at the start of the ride) – large amounts of meat or protein including high protein bars (too long to digest) – salad or only veggies (you need calories not vitamins right now)
Hydration Use the rule of a minimum of one full water bottle of water (with added electrolytes or salt and lemon depending on how much you sweat) for every hour on the bike.
Ideally, you should be able to recover within 24-48hs, just in time for your next workout.
The key is to repeat the stress so the muscles can continue to build week by week. It is only through repetition that you will get stronger.
There are no shortcuts.
So do you need to be sore after every workout?
It depends on several factors:
1. Short and long term goals
3. System you want to improve
4. Time of the season
1. You have a big goal and a short amount of time (3 to 8month) to achieve it.
With a short timeline, you will need to see consistent gains each week.
Yes, the pro athletes feel sore like this AND worse. But it is their job, and when they are not training, they use their time to recover with naps, massages, ice baths, proper nutrition, chiro, acupuncture, and more.
The best way to help reduce the soreness is to follow a yearly periodized training program, focus on the workouts that matter the most, and then spend the rest of the time recovering. The training will still hurt, and you will be sore, but you will have more days when you aren’t sore.
If you have reached your goal for the summer and are looking to maintain and enjoy your current fitness level, you may not feel sore for the rest of the season.
2. If you have a moderate to big goal but lots of time to achieve it (a year or more), you don’t need to push as hard with more time and can improve slowly.
3. Which system are you trying to improve?
If you don’t feel sore after the workout, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t improving.Training is not just for your muscles. There are so many other systems that are also working hard, which you may or may not be aware of.
With each training session, you become more efficient at your sport, strengthing or building new neural pathways. These pathways help you improve your technique so you don’t need to work as hard.
It is necessary to build a solid aerobic foundation. These are the easy rides, runs that shouldn’t be painful or make you sore.
Each ride or workout builds mental resiliency, improves self-confidence, and creates healthy habits.
Every workout creates stress on the body, which cumulates over time. You may be able to accomplish your goal by completing either 2-3 long workouts in the week or six short ones. The six short ones will not make you as sore as the longer workouts, but you will have made the same gains if the accumulated stress is the same at the end of the week.
Stimulates Growth cycle and Reverses catabolism
After 25, our cells stop growing and building on their own. We are now mature humans and are beginning the 2nd stage of life, where the cells start breaking down. Exercise stimulates a chemical reaction, reversing this process and stimulating new growth.
3. You don’t have any goals and would like to stay fit for life.
If training negatively affects other parts of your life, you may need to prioritize and re-evaluate. Since this is your hobby and not your career, you may be willing to give up a bit of speed or strength to not be sore. Or you may want to improve slowly year by year instead of trying to do it all in one season.
4. It is the off-season
You can NOT continue to improve in ALL areas throughout the year, nor should you try to maintain peak fitness. It is NOT possible and will only get you injured. You need to prioritize the different systems throughout the year. As a cyclist, your season would look something like this, along with the relative soreness you should feel.
January to February – build strength in the gym = muscle soreness
March to May – build endurance = body fatigue as you are building a base
June to August – build strength and power = muscle soreness from high-intensity interval training
September – taper, and race = body and mental fatigue as you are recovering from a full season of training
October – transition = no soreness or residual soreness from the season as you take time to recover fully
November to December – work on injuries/weaknesses = no soreness or start strength training phase = muscle soreness from getting back into the gym
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the time between heartbeats measured in milliseconds(ms). Contrary to what most believe, our hearts do not beat like a metronome, nor is it healthy if it does.
Our heart rate speeds up every time we inhale and slows down during exhalation, balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It also reacts to internal and external factors such as mood, temperature, exercise, an email from your boss, fighting an illness, or dealing with a chronic or acute injury.
A high HRV indicates that the body is recovered and prepared to tackle demanding physical and mental tasks.
A low HRV indicates that the body is in a high-stress mode and not as capable or prepared to complete demanding physical or mental tasks.
Why do we care?
By monitoring your HRV, you will know when you should train hard and when you should lay off. If your HRV is consistently low, you could attempt to lower it by adopting one or several habits listed below to help boost your recovery or take a few days off to rest before you get sick or injured. At the very least, your HRV will explain why you found your regular mountain climb so difficult when last week it felt like a breeze.
What can we do to help improve our HRV?
Get quality sleep and enough of it
Eat healthy and from a variety of food sources to ensure you are getting all the necessary vitamins and nutrients to repair your body and mind
Train really hard only once or twice a week
Take time every day to relax and wind down, both mentally and physically
Find your own ways to reduce or manage mental stress (meditation, breathing work, taking a bath, walk in nature are a few good things to try)
Understand that your body doesn’t differentiate between mental or physical stress
Take a rest day every 7 days and a recovery week every 2 to 3 weeks to give your body time to recover from the continued training
How do you measure your HRV?
You can measure your HRV every day with an apple watch for free. If you don’t have an apple watch, you can connect your Garmin heart rate strap to an app or use your smartphone’s camera to capture a moment in your day.
Breathing is the one activity we think should happen naturally and correctly.
But evolution does not always mean improvement. Over time, breathing correctly has become a lost art, leading to poor mental and physical health and less than optimal athletic performance.
I have been attending yoga classes for over 20 years. Every time they started or ended the class with alternate nostril breathing or “breath of fire,” I would grit my teeth and go through the motions waiting for it to be over so I could get on with the workout. I never asked why we were doing these breathing exercises, and I barely participated long enough to receive any benefits.
During the summer of 2021, I attended a course titled “Breathe: Your health, movement, and performance depend on it!” led by Brian Justin. The course was based 100% on Patrick McKeown’s book “The Oxygen Advantage.” McKeown’s theory is that most of us are over breathers, consistently and constantly hyperventilating, which hampers the body’s ability to utilize oxygen. Our problem isn’t that we don’t have enough oxygen, but rather it is a problem of not having enough carbon dioxide (CO2). C02 is what determines how much oxygen your body can use. It is the crucial variable that allows the release of oxygen from the red blood cells, which is what you want most when climbing a hill.
For years I taught box (or square) breathing to help calm the nervous system, and I knew that breathing was a critical component missing in most training programs, including my own. Still, I was skeptical that breathing exercises offered the long list of benefits listed below, and so began my six-month-long research into the art and practice of breathing.
Breath by James Nester was the book that best explained the importance of breathing correctly and adopting a breathing practice. In his book, Nester undergoes a personal and journalistic journey to uncover the importance of breathing, how over-breathing and mouth breathing lead to health problems, and how to change our breathing patterns to improve our health and performance. I realized that what Nester had discovered as “new information” was what yogis and Ayurvedic medicine have known for centuries. Better late than never.
Excited by the positive results in my own life, I started to sneak some breathing exercises into my classes. I began to teach specific breathing exercises to private clients that would best suit their unique breathing issues and habits. In a few short weeks, my clients reported better sleep, more energy, better endurance in their sport, shortened recovery time, and generally feeling more calm and relaxed.
I wanted to know more and dove deeper, reading into all the types of breathing, purposes, and goals. I was shocked to learn that there are more than 30 different breathing techniques to choose from, which at first glance seemed overwhelming. In the end, I realized that except for Whim Hoff, every author or Teacher agrees on one type of breathing; slow breathing. Slow breathing is the most simple of all the breathing exercises. It is so simple that I’m sure you will think like I did, that it would be of no use and a waste of time. But not everything in training has to be complicated or painful. When possible, enjoy the easy ways that can improve your performance. So what is slow breathing?
Inhale through the nose slowly for a count of 5
Exhale through the nose slowly for a count of 5
Repeat for 2 mins, working your way up to 5 minutes every day. Once you get to 5 minutes, repeat twice a day, once in the morning and once before you go to sleep.
If counting to 5 is too long, you feel breathless, or it doesn’t feel easy, start with a count of 3 or 4 seconds and work your way up to 5. TIP: DO NOT MAKE THIS HARD.
So are you ready to read how you will benefit?
improves aerobic performance and V02 max
improves heart rate variability (see post on HRV to come)
improves sleep quality
reduces inflammation and recovery time from training
lowers blood pressure
lowers resting heart rate
reduce asthma symptoms and breathlessness during exercise
Q: Why should some form of strength training, hiking, running, walking, or cross-training be included in a cycling program?
A: Although road cycling is gentle on the body, protects the joints, increases aerobic capacity, and burns calories, it does NOT increase muscle strength/hypertrophy above the waist, increase flexibility, balance, or mobility, and for main purpose of this article, does NOT build bone density, which is crucially important both as we age and as a cyclist.
One of the realities of cycling is there is always the potential that we could crash. Competitive sports like soccer, tennis, and hockey help maintain quick reflexes and agility, which may help you get out of a sticky situation. Having a strong core and upper body strength help keep the bike upright (see last week’s post). A general strength training program or weight bearing exercises will help build stronger bones and add additional skeletal muscles to protect the joints. Should have the misfortune of crashing, strong bones may help protect you so you only suffer superficial injuries.
Q: I’m short on time. How can I build bone without adding in another workout?
A: The best exercise is the one that you will do and can easily fit into your schedule. If you don’t have enough time to add in a strength training program, then walking, hiking, or running will all increase bone density. Here are a few tips of how you can add a bit more bone building time into your day:
Walk more steps throughout the day.
Take the stairs whenever possible.
If you work from home, go for a walk around the block before starting your day and again at the end, just like you would if you had to commute to work.
Start the day with 15 mins of squats, pushups, and some basic lunges or strength training work. Exercise first thing in the morning and keep it short so it doesn’t take up too much time and you are more likely to actually do it.
When meeting friends for coffee, go for a walk instead of sitting in a cafe.
Q: If have the time, what are the best strength training exercises that will complement my cycling and also build strong bones?
A: Any weight-bearing exercise will turn on the processes to lay down more bone throughout your body. If you want to start a complementary weight training program, focus on the most significant muscles groups such as the core, quadriceps, hamstrings, and back. Unless you are training more than twice a week, avoid chest exercises and bicep curls as these muscles are often overworked and shortened due to too much time spent in flexion (driving, sitting, cycling, texting). Watch for blogs throughout the year on more specific exercises or contact Kristina to book an assessment or personal training session.