Based on the website WWW.CPTIPS.COM

This blog is based on the scientific content in the website Cycling Performance Tips. Idea about a new topic --forward it to the webmaster for CPTIPS.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Designing a your own training program (riding and nutrition) using CPTIPS

I developed the Cycling Performance Tips website over time as a series of webpages addressing a multitude of training and nutrition topics. For those interested in getting started on their training, and researching the nuances later, it was often difficult to extract the relevant information (which is spread over many webpages).

In response to this common comment, I pulled together a series of webpages to lead one through the logical development of a personalized training program - both mileage/effort as well as nutrition. I posted it on my site rather than publishing it as an ebook, as the latter could not be updated once downloaded. The website approach allowed me to amplify and modify content as reader questions arose.

The following link will get you to the opening page.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cadence - can you get something for nothing?

Q. I weigh about 200 lbs and am 6 ft 3 inches tall. I am currently using a compact chain set 50/34 with a standard 25/12 cassette. When cycling with some (lighter) friends recently in the hills in the Dordogne there was a lot of chat about gearing etc. Because of my weight I was obviously having to use more power to maintain the same speed as my friends on the longer climbs of about 5 miles.

It got me thinking that if I could have gone to a lower gear and used a higher cadence I could have maintained the same speed and maybe used similar power to my lighter friends? Then the conversation went to crank length (mine is 175) and the whole think started to seem overly complex with too many theories and a cafe seemed the best idea! - B.

Can you gain an advantage by using a larger cassette (lower gear) and spinning faster?

Let's assume you measure your power output at the back hub. That tells you how much work you are doing (generally expressed in watts per minute). Training is the only way to increase your maximal total power output per minute. This includes interval training (which basically stresses your muscles to exert more watts per minute - and your body to recover from the anaerobic stress of doing so).

Assume you are exerting to your maximum - and producing your personal maximum watts per minute at the hub. You can deliver this power with multiple cadences. If your cadence is higher, the power per stroke is less, but total power per minute measured at the rear wheel is exactly the same as if you used a lower cadence with more power per stroke. You are not going to get "more power" by spinning faster.

The reason I encourage riders to spin at a faster cadence (90 - 100 rpm) is that there is less stress on your knee per revolution (remember, faster cadence = less power per revolution = less stress on the knee joint, than a slower cadence - assuming the same total power output per minute).

As far as I know, there are no short cuts. A good base, training at the length of the event you are aiming for, and intervals to force physiologic adaption and improvement are the components of a successful training program.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More on intervals - can they keep you young?

Having just turned 65, it was quite a coincidence to receive 2 questions form my peer group (senior cyclists). Thee is little question that stressing your cardiovascular system will delay the inevitable decline one sees with aging. And it is not just the miles you put in. Athletes who maintain or increase workout  intensity tend to see their VO2 max decline at a lower rate than those who focus on higher  mileage but at a slower pace. Stay with those intervals - year round. Aim to keep the heart rate at 85 - 90 % of max. 2 days a week.

But don't overcompensate. That means take a day or two off a week and warm up before you do your intervals. I got the sense that the second reader was pushing too hard - and it is then only a matter of time till injury, burn out, or overtraining occur.

Other points to be remembered:

  • There is a drop off in muscle volume near age 60. Keep lifting those weights.
  • You will need a little more recovery time than when you were 25. So factor in a little off the bike rest time to let those muscles heal between workouts.
  • Stay on that balanced diet with an emphasis on fruit, vegetables, more whole grains and enough protein to help main muscle volume. And, of course, enough carbs to replace what you will be using on those rides.
  • Keep your life in emotional balance and enjoy family, friends and other activities. Don't just
  • focus on the biking to the exclusion of all else.

You can read more at and

Monday, August 16, 2010

CPTIPS - Website/Blog/Facebook --- How do they work together ?

Over the last few months, I've been expanding Cycling Perofrmance Tips presence in the social networking/online world. I was told the website alone was not enough, and there were better ways to get information to those that would benefit. The first step was the Blog, and now I have added a face book page.

My plan is to use:
We'll see how this works, and make changes as needed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Intervals - how long?

"How do I decide on the right duration for my intervals?"  An interesting question posed by a friend at work. She is training for a triathlon and wondered if there was a formula (or guideline) to define the optimal interval length (perhaps, she speculated,  related to the duration of the ride one isplanning).

I suspect that there is an "upper limit" beyond which a longer interval will not provide additional training benefits. And one also needs to remember the importance of rest, that is the duration of the rest interval - too short and the muscles/CV system do not have time to recover and let you maximize the next effort, too long and you aren't stressing your performance to the max.

I did find this from the literature - as relates to sprint intervals: In order to enhance aerobic endurance and increase VO2max towards its upper, genetic limit, interval training should consist of 3-5 minute work bouts with a 1:1 work to rest ratio or less. The intensity should equate to 90-100% VO2max.

My advice would  be to set 3 to 5 minutes as the maximum length for your sprint intervals - where you are pushing your absolute maximum to train for that sprint at the end of a ride or preparing to respond with a chase to a early breakaway rider.

For endurance riding, the idea of stressing your CV system to improve still holds. But if you just want to pick up your average performance from 60% VO2max to 65%, then a half mile or even mile ridden at the faster pace qualifies as an "interval" and if you work in a half dozen during your ride, you will improve.

The final answer to "how long" the interval is, as in many things, "it depends" and more on the level of exertion of the interval than the length of your total ride.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Improving Your Performance - Intervals

You have done your prep work - 1) you have your base miles to minimize injuries as you push up the miles, 2) you have mapped out your personal  training program (based on a few principles we discussed in April), and 3) you have made a decision as to how you will track your level of training exertion (either a heart rate monitor or perceived exertion).

Now the final piece - intervals to provide that improvement in your cardiovascular performance.

An ideal training week should include one long ride at a reasonable pace and a rest day or two. Rest is important, and if you ignore it, thinking that 7 days of riding = optimal training, then you will fail to reach your personal best. But more about over training next time.

That leaves you with 3 more riding days during your training week. One (or perhaps two) are going to be interval days - and these will be the key to your performance improvement. Intervals are based on pushing your anaerobic threshold, and it is this "stress" on the cardiovascular system that leads to adaptation and improvement (just as weight training improves muscle strength).

Intervals are most effective when they are :
  • limited to twice a week during the peak training season
  • when the interval sessions are separated by at least 48 hours to allow adequate recovery. (For example, if your long ride is on the weekend, Tuesday and Thursday make good interval days.)
Short exercise intervals are generally 15 to 90 seconds and almost always anaerobic in intensity, while longer intervals may be up to 3 to 5 minutes duration. Once you decide on the duration for your interval training for that day, pace your effort to exercise at your maximum throughout that period (if you can't make it through the entire interval, you need to cut back your effort a bit and not the length of the interval). The goal should be a total of 10 to 20 minutes of hard pedaling during the intervals themselves (don't count warm up, recovery, or cool down). If you are just beginning an interval program, start with 5 minutes of peak effort per riding session (total interval time) and work up from there.

To get the maximum benefit from interval training, it is important to allow adequate recovery time between intervals. Subsequent intervals should start before your heart rate and oxygen uptake have returned entirely to normal. If you are using a heart rate monitor, wait for your heart rate to drop to 60 or 65% of your maximum heart rate. If you are using perceived exertion (i.e. how you feel) to decide, wait until your breathing has returned to it's normal depth and rate.

For those of you interested in more specifics and ideas, there is more information @
But just as rest days are important, setting reasonable interval training objectives is important as well. If you set the bar too high, burnout and training drop out rates rise.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Improving Your Times - measuring your "work" to maximize improvement

You have put in your base miles. You are feeling good on the bike. And you have made that personal commitment to improve your speeds and anaerobic threshold. But where next??

What is the best strategy to push your body, maximizing your improvement for the time you are spending on the bike. Your friends talk about heart rate monitors (HRM) and "training zones". You have read about lactate threshold and the theory of pushing your limits using intervals. And in surfing the web you have stumbled across numerous training "systems". But the numbers you read about vary from program to program. Which ones are right - is there some science to call upon as you optimize training to improve?

The very fact that you are riding regularly has already stimulated changes in the cardiovascular system, lungs, and muscle cells which improve your work capacity - for both endurance and sprint activities. Muscle capillaries will increase and the effectiveness of the muscles in extracting oxygen from the blood will improve. In addition,  muscle cell changes will improve the rate at which lactate is metabolized and as a result, the rate of removal of lactate from the blood stream increases. Thus the balance between production and removal is shifted towards removal and lead to better performance before lactic acid inhibits muscle performance.

But your biggest improvements will come with pushing your anaerobic threshold. All the approaches mentioned in the first paragraph are effective, and there is no proven "best one" (at least based on any head to head comparisons I could find). After chasing my personal numbers from day to day (my HR using a HRM, which varied significantly when I compared my HR to my road speeds and how I physically felt), I decided that perceived effort (PE) made more sense for my personal style (more on PE can be found at ). And for the last years, that is how I have trained. I have been much happier with my training, feeling less stressed than when I would miss my day's target, and I find I am just as strong as ever when it comes to my I do.

So in the end, I think this is a personal choice, and after you have a good training base, the real decision lies in the commitment to take that first step to push your comfort limits and stress the cardiovascular system.

Dick Rafoth

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's Spring - Time to Get Back into Shape

It's been a long winter, the sun is out, and your thoughts turn to cycling with your buddies (you don't want to be embarrassed about your performance), maybe a summer cycling adventure you have been planning, or maybe that century ride "personal best".  To ride at your best, you will need a training program - one that sets reasonable goals and will keep you focused. You want to maximize the results of your efforts (and time available to train) but not go out so hard or fast that you end up injured. Here are a few tips for successful training. 

1. Before you get into serious training, have at least a few hundred long easy miles under your belt as a good base.

2. Increases total weekly miles by 10 - 15% per week. The 10 to 15% figure has been used for years by marathons runners to minimizes musculoskeletal injuries with training.

3. Once you begin your actual training program, it's important to try to ride at least 5 days a week, and take at least one day off. Depending on your level of training (or evidence of overtraining) the seventh day is either an additional intermediate mileage day or an additional rest day. A typical weekly program would look like this:
  • ONE long mileage day - The ride which is your goal is the basis for planning your weekly long mileage days. Some coaches suggest you work up to a ride equal to the length (or even 125% of the length) of that event while others feel that reaching a distance equal to 75% of the event distance is adequate. This is usually a Saturday ride (with Sunday as a backup for bad weather or other unexpected circumstance that could derail your training program).
  • ONE short mileage day - Plan your short mileage day to follow the high mileage day. It should be about 1/4 of the length of the long ride and ridden at a leisurely pace to loosen up your muscles after the long ride of the week.
  • THREE (or four ) intermediate mileage days - The intermediate mileage days are midway between the short ride and the long ride in distance. At least one of these should be an interval training ride.
  • ONE  (or two ) rest days off the bike
4. The pace of your training rides:
  • the long ride should match your own goal ride pace
  • the short "recovery" ride should be a leisurely pace at no more than 50-60% of your maximum heart rate
  • two of the intermediate rides should be at the planned goal ride pace
  • one of the intermediate rides, preferably prior to your day off the bike, should be at a brisk pace 2 - 3 mph faster than your planned goal ride pace.
5. You can estimate the length of your training program by taking the long ride from your base training period, increasing it by 10% to 15% a week, and repeating this until you arrive at a figure that is at least 75% of the length of the event for which you are training.

6. Remember to be flexible and adjust your program to your lifestyle. A rigid program is destined to fail.

7. A good nutrition program is an important part of preseason training. Carbohydrates are the key to optimizing your personal performance. If you are planning to trim off a few pounds while training, cutting back on total Calories risks poor performance and the psychological impact of feeling you are not going to be at or beyond last years level. So if you are trying to shed the pounds, be prepared to deal with the fatigue that will surely occur on those longer rides. Suggestions for nutrition for six specific types of rides are summarized on the web site Cycling Performance Tips.
Keep these tips in mind as you plan your training program and it should be a successful riding season!

Dick Rafoth

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Training - Is there science in "training to the numbers"?

You have put in your base miles. You are feeling good on the bike. And you have made a personal commitment to improve your speeds and aerobic threshold. But where next?? Friends talk about heart rate monitors and "training zones". You have read about lactate threshold and the theory of pushing your limits using intervals. And in surfing the web you have stumbled across the Carmichael Training System Field Test (CTS). But the numbers vary from program to program. Which ones are right - is there any science to call upon?

The fact is that all these training programs are based on the same principles, all provide improvement, and there is not a proven "best" way (at least based on any head to head comparisons I've  been able to find). In fact, after chasing my own persoanl heart rate numbers from day to day (which varied significantly - especially when I compared them to my road speeds and how I physically felt) I decided that logic really supported perceived exertion as the most logical. And for the last many years, that is how I have trained. I have found myself much happier in my training, feeling less stressed than when I would miss my day's target, and I find I am just as strong as ever when it comes to how I ride. So in the end, I think this is a personal choice, and the real decision lies in that commitment to take that first step to push your comfort limits and stress the cardiovascular system.

I think the following question and my answer reflect the frustration many feel and my approach:

Question:  I am not sure which base calculation I should use for setting up my training zones. My measured Max HR is 181 and my measured LTHR (by the CTS) is 170. Do I base my zones off the MHR or the LTHR. Because of the high LTHR compared to my low measured MHR, there is a large disparity between the two zones. Training so far using the MHR method seems hard enough, but should I be pushing it harder and go for the LTHR method? - BL

My answer:  As far as I can research it, the CTS Field Test is a proprietary Carmichael idea. I could not find any studies that correlate it with traditional methods to determine lactate threshold or MHR.

Will it work? Sure, any approach that forces you to push yourself will lead to improvement. Is it the best? There is no data.

What are the risks of picking one approach over another? If the heart rate you are aiming for in a recovery zone is too high, you risk over training when you really wanted to be in what is a very important part of a training program, a recovery zone, and as a result you risk a higher rate of burnout or overreaching/over training in your program. And if you are riding at a high level threshold zone at a heart rate that is excessive, you may be putting in a lot of unneceassary pain for minimal additional if any increase in training benefits (and may in the end decide to bag the whole thing).

There is no question that I feel different in training from day to day - what I ate, time of day, an extra cup of coffee, and even the effects of my ride the day before. I worked through this quandary (for myself) a number of years ago and decided that perceived exertion (not using HR numbers) avoided the focus on the monitor and in my mind made the most sense to maximize my training benefits and keep cycling enjoyable.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nutrition. No fuel = No performance. Carbohydrates are the key!

Your muscles need fuel (Calories) to function. If you do not provide enough energy (Calories) and in the right form, your performance will suffer no matter how rigorous your training program or balance of training and rest. If you have been on a good diet, your body should have enough stored carbohydrate energy to perform at a high level for 1 1/2 to 2 hours before you bonk. For longer rides, or if you are riding daily and not replacing Calories, you need to provide additional energy in what you eat and drink (energy drinks, not water alone) to maintain performing at your best.

These Calories need to be in the form of carbohydrates, not protein or fat. In fact, you have enough fat stored in your body to exercise for days (really) but as it is not as efficient a fuel as carbohydrates (sugar) you will only be able to maintain about 50% of your personal maximum. This is why you Bonk - you are running on fat Calories alone.

Riding day after day (multiday rides) are a special case. You have to actively work to replenish, each day, what you expended that day, or, over time, you will find you are slowly running out of oomph as carbohydrate stores are depleted and fat takes over as the source of the muscle's energy.

Here is the question that prompted this post:

I am preparing for Texas Hell Week, a cycling event in Fredericksburg that incorporates 8 straight days of 100+ miles rides. I am an avid cyclist who commutes 24 miles daily and I generally put in 3 to 5 hour rides on Saturday and Sunday. I love being on the bike and am fairly strong but am concerned about nutrition after my rides. I have been using a supplement called MuscleMilk for some time as a post ride supplement to build muscle. I'm about 165 pounds (fluctuates 163-168) and 5'8" and would like to lose some weight. I don't count Calories mostly because I don't have the patience. I'd like to drop down to around 155 lbs ultimately, but my main concern right now is Hell Week.

At any rate, looking at your site and thinking about the label on a bucket of powdered MuscleMilk... that stuff has a lot of calories (~250), gobs of protein (~42g) as well as a fair amount of fat and not much CHO. My thought was to drop that in favor of Endurox R4 for post ride recovery. It has more CHO, less protein and less fat. Then I saw your recipes for drinks and figured that might be a better deal... I hate Coke. Seriously, I just think it’s a nasty substance.

Instead of drinking carbs, can I eat carbs and drink fluids and replenish in the same manner as the shelf products? I'm a little confused about what constitutes carbs in the form of glucose as opposed to fructose. If memory serves correctly fructose is fruit and glucose is ... Simple sugars? Dense multi-grain Bread? What about meat products? - GS

My comments-

1) You want to replenish the energy you expend on the ride each day with carbohydrate Calories. Maybe a smidgen of protein if you believe the articles about better carbohydrate absorption with a little protein in the mix, but no fat. So get rid of the muscle milk if it is CHO light and all the Calories are fat and protein. It provides the wrong type of Calories to support riding at your best.

2) I'd go with at least 50% of your glucose replacement plan (fructose works too) immediately post ride (first hour or two when carbohydrates appear to be stored most efficiently in the depleted body storage areas) in liquid form (that is where my fondness for Coke comes from). Then switching to complex carbs (bread, pasta, rice) for the other 50% of your needs in the evening (with fluids). But if you are light on replacing the Calories you used that day, you will probably bonk earlier the next day. And it will get worse day by day.

3) If you hate Coke, do you like any other drinks that are based on sugar syrups? Any will work. Or you can buy more expensive sports drinks if you prefer. There is a current fad to use low fat chocolate milk which tastes good and has some sugar as a post ride Calorie source. That could add a little variety.

4) Meat (protein) does not need to be pushed. You should get enough protein from a normal balanced diet and eating more than the basic amount will just get cycled into fat.

5) If you want to lose weight (eat fewer Calories than you burn on a ride) wait till after your week long ride or I can almost assure you that you will have a bad time. It is hard to ride at your best when you are CHO deficient (negative balance). Then you are riding on fat energy alone - at about 50% of your potential. And it will feel like a struggle.

Dick Rafoth

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reaching your Personal Best - it's the balance of training, nutrition, recovery

Your "personal best" in any aerobic athletic event or endeavor is ultimately limited by your inherited (or genetic) makeup. But on the practical side, it is really the triad of:

  1. optimum training
  2. nutritional support specific for that training and the event
  3. proactive and adequate recovery
that will decide how much of your genetic potential is realized. In fact, it is not that unusual to see someone of lesser potential beat an athlete with the genetic gifts based on their commitment to a balanced training program.

Your genetics set the limits of your lung capacity, ratio of muscle fiber types, body habitus, and the mechanical aspects (advantages/disadvantages) of the relationship between limb and muscle lengths. Detailed analysis of family pedigrees suggests that both positive and negative genetic factors can be traced back for up to 6 generations.

This combination of inherited traits not only sets the ceiling or upper limit for personal maximal performance, but can also determine how quickly you will respond to a training program to achieve your optimum. Two riders, using exactly the same training program for an event, will improve at differing rates. A study of 650 subjects demonstrated that a group of riders on exactly the same endurance training plan, stratified into 5-10% slow responders, 5-10% rapid responders, with the remainder spread inbetween. And their ultimate improvement in VO2 max varied from 4 to 40%.

Understanding how you respond (compared to others) is just one part of tailoring your unique training approach which will address your strengths and needs to be understood to minimize the expected frustrations when you see someone else improving at a faster rate.

You can gain an edge by understanding these advantages of following a sound training regimen for an event to give you the edge you need. The content of this website, although originally written to minimize the limiting effects of poor pre event and event specific nutrition, will also touch on training theory and tips as well as the third component, a proactive recovery training strategy.

In the series of blogs that will follow, I will comment on all aspects of training, nutrition, and proactive recovery as they relate to developing your own a personal training program. Feel free to add comments or ask questions as they cross your mind.

Here are 5 tips to remember -
  • BE PERSISTENT - Attitude can be everything. Even though your maximum performance as measured by anaerobic threshold (AT) or VO2 max. may be predetermined, you should understand and work toward your personal optimums. A cyclist who maximizes their own AT at 93-94% of maximum heart rate can prevail over a genetically endowed slacker who has trained below their maximum.
  • BE PATIENT - Some of us reach our maximum more slowly, sometimes over years. One study documented a consistent, biopsy proven increase in the ratio of type I muscle fibers (and improvement in performance) over a 5 year training program!!
  • DON'T BE AFRAID TO TRY DIFFERENT TRAINING ROUTINES - When you feel you may have plateaued with your current training program, take a break and try alternatives - intervals, weight training, more rest. Or switch to a different type of ride, from stage races to a long tour for example.
  • BE SMART - Technique (smooth pedal stroke) and tactics are important attributes of a premier rider, along with psychological toughness. It's not all aerobic or anaerobic capacity, so don't sell yourself short. A positive attitude combined with riding smarter can make the difference.
  • SET THE RIGHT GOALS - Set realistic goals that give you the satisfaction of achievement rather than unreasonable ones that lead to disappointment from flailing at the impossible. Breaking your PR (personal record) can mean more than winning an easy criterium with little competition. And maintaining good health along with the camaraderie of a training group add to the satisfaction of training for a personal time or distance goal.
Dick Rafoth