What is VAM? Cyclists, even riders that don’t necessarily consider themselves climbers, almost always love a good hill. The other things that cyclists love are gear and data. As power meters and GPS units have become cheaper and more ubiquitous, a typical cyclist has more data available to them than ever. This article will discuss one particular metric that can be measured using a GPS: VAM VAM was a term first popularized by Italian cycling trainer Michele Ferrari. VAM is the Italian acronym for “ velocità ascensionale media” which basically translates as “average ascent speed” . Just think of VAM as vertical meters climbed per hour. VAM is typically measured in meters per hour ( M/H), but you could theoretically use feet per hour as well. What makes this metric so useful is the fact that when climbing, most of the power the cyclist applies to the pedals goes to pushing the cyclist upwards, rather than forwards. So VAM can be used as a proxy for power to weight, as well as to compare performance on say an 8% grade, to that of a 10% grade. If an athlete is climbing at a VAM of 100 (M/H), it will take the athlete 1 hour to get to the top of an 8%, 10% , or even a 15% climb of 1000M . The VAM metric can therefore be used to compare different climbs to each other. You can tell if a performance is a good one or a bad one based on the VAM you achieved on the climb In the absence of a power meter, VAM can be an excellent way to gauge an effort, or even a great tool to build a workout. For example: If a rider has a powermeter, I might have him do a 20 minute time trial, and then take 95% of his average power as his threshold power. If the riders doesn’t have a powermeter, I can have him do a 20 minute hill, and record the VAM. If he does a VAM of 1000, I can assume that at threshold power, he climbs at 95% of 1000, or 950 M/H! So if I want this athlete to do 4 X 10 minute intervals at threshold power but he doesn’t have a power meter, I can tell him to do 4 X10 minute hill shooting for an average VAM of 950! There are plenty of online tools out there such as Garmin Connect and Strava that allow you to upload your rides, and look at your VAM along with other metrics., and most GPS computers will allow you to view your VAM as you ride. So there you go: VAM is a great tool to compare climbs of with similar vertical ascent, and can also be used as an inexpensive alternative to a powermeter.
The January issue of Outside Magazine has a list of the ” 10 Biggest Fitness Myths”. I don’t know how they go about calculating the “biggest”, but seeing as how popular magazines frequently get these messages so wrong, or the advice in their lists is just plan silly. I think Outside did a good job with most of these, so I am going to address a few of them here:
Myth #1: Stretching prevents injuries and improves performance.
This is absolutely true. The evidence has been piling up for over 10 years. No matter what your gym teacher or personal trainer says, stretching does not prevent injuries. It is a well established fact that stretching BEFORE exercise inhibits maximal voluntary contraction ( strength and power), and there is a growing body of evidence that it may inhibit maximal aerobic work as well. I am not saying here that a warm up does not have its place, or that stretching is not useful in some circumstances. But stretching does not prevent injury, and pre- event stretching can definitely hurt performance.
Myth #2: Running barefoot is better for the body.
I am a cycling coach so this isn’t really my area of expertise, and I usually only run if someone is chasing me.
Myth #3: You need to focus on your core to become a better athlete.
I couldn’t agree more. I am just plain tired of hearing about how important the core is. A few years ago, there was a guy buying adverts on Velonews suggesting that the best way to improve your climbing was to improve your core strength, and I saw recent blog post from a coach that suggested that core muscles are more important than your leg muscles. All of your muscles are important! But you don’t pedal with your abdominals or your obliques. Otherwise all those women that spend hours in pilates classes would be crushing it on the bike. You pedal with the muscles in your legs and your butt. Period. I am not saying that doing a little core work is useless. These workouts have their place. But the importance of a strong core in cycling and many other sports has been grossly overstated. You can only train so many hours a week, and you get faster on your bike by riding your bike, not by doing crunches.
Myth #4: Guzzling water and electrolytes before a race prevents cramps.
Also true. You need to be properly hydrated and you need to take in electrolytes for many reasons, but hyperhydration and taking in large amounts electrolytes isn’t going to stop your cramps. Find a cure for cramps that really works and I promise you you’ll be famous though.
Myth #5: Popping ibuprofen before a hard workout prevents sore muscles afterward.
So many people do this, and it is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Not only do ibuprofen and others NSAIDS fail to reduce post exercise muscle soreness Inflammation an important part of the muscle’s repair process. That means that inflammation is required to recover from training. You are hurting your recovery by taking those things. NSAIDS do have their place, but don’t pop them willy nilly. Save them for when you have a specific pain or inflammation issue that needs to be addressed.
Myth #6: Dehydration hurts race performance.
Outside magazine is wrong here. WTF are they thinking. Maybe they only had 9, but wanted to finish off their list. Dehydration will make you slower, and can be dangerous. Simple as that.
Myth #7: Ice baths speed recovery.
I’m not sure on this one. I personally thing the jury may still be out.
Myth #8: Long and slow is the best way to burn calories.
True. Ride harder and you burn more calories. That isn’t hard to figure out. The only caveat here, is that if you do a really exhausting 1 hour ride, you may not be able to burn as many calories as if you do a 4 hour easier ride.
Myth #9: Fructose is a performance killer.
Fructose is a sugar that is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. It is a great fuel for exercise, and for post exercise recovery. Too much of it, like any carbohydrate will make you fat. So use some common sense here. But if your sports drink has some fructose, even HFCS in it. You are probably getting exactly what you need.
Myth #10: Supplements take performance to the next level.
Most supplements are a waste of time. I hear people say things like ” well, I started taking such and such, and I got much fitter”. I am willing to bet that the same time you started taking that supplement was the same time you started training harder. It was the training. I don’t care if your local hero takes a particular supplement either. Just because ” Joe Fast Guy” takes it doesn’t mean that it improves performance. He would probably be just as fast without it. That being said, there are a few things out there that are helpful. The number one being a simple carb/electrolyte sports drink!
Thats my 2 cents. You can find the list along with Outside Magazines comments here: 10 Biggest Fitness Myths
A key component to having a good race is having a tried and tested routine that you stick to. You will have some pressure and stress while trying to accomplish your goals. So it is important to feel comfortable leading into the day of your race. You already must be a disciplined individual to prepare physically and mentally for your race. Taking that discipline and utilizing it for your race day prep is important.
Pick a routine that you know works. Try to sleep the amount of time you normally when training. If your race is on a Sunday don’t add tons of extra chores around the house Saturday. You and your coach have done efforts that should mimic your event. Pick foods that you have eaten before these hard efforts and that you know sit well in your stomach. All testing of new foods should be done during training, months before your event. Give yourself extra time during preparation. Plan for everything to take longer and expect that you will need that extra time.
Because competition is stressful physically and mentally it is important to not add any extra stress. Make sure you are comfortable. Plan your meals ahead of time. What will you eat the day before and the day of (pre and post event). Choose the clothing you will wear to your event, during your event, and after your event. Make sure your equipment is the way you want it. Do you always use red TT bars at a time trial. Make sure they are on your bike not your workbench.
Just like discipline in training discipline in preparation is very important. Practice your preparation. You will most likely have similar events leading up to your peak event. Try new things months in advance. Repeat what works, and right it down to review later. Repetition is key to dialing in your routine. Finally if its not broke don’t fix it.
It is always important to remember life is not perfect. Things can go wrong. We all have had mechanical at inopportune moments or forgotten a helmet. If your are having a challenges here are a couple things you can do. Take a deep breath, ask for help. If it can’t be helped let out your frustration out and than let it go. It is very important as an athlete to have multiple goals. Pick two or three races you want to do well at. Then choose multiple metrics to measure your success. There is almost always a success in your performance.
If you want to take your training to the next level, let the coaches at Crank Cycling know. We can help you meet whatever training goals you have!
See you on the road,
Coach Jesse Eisner
So it is the end of your season and it has been a long one. You just finished the Everest Challenge which has 30,000 feet of climbing. Or maybe you just did a five day UCI stage race in the Caribbean. For some of the riders I coach, this is the way their season ended. When your season has ended with such lofty goals, you can be left with a lack of drive to continue training.
Some riders force themselves through periods where they lack motivation. This can, and usually does, lead to overreaching and eventually burnout or over training.
It is important to give ourselves time to relax from the rigors of training and racing even if you have come off a stellar season, accomplished your goals, and have a new level of fitness. It is important to remember that even if you are not physically overreaching or over trained, that you may be mentally tired. Our minds need just as much care as our bodies when it comes to recovery.
There are always alternative training methods to maintain and rebuild a high level of fitness. These alternatives can give us a break from a rigorous training schedule and still be fun. One method that some cyclists use is Cyclo-cross. Cyclo-Cross is like mountain biking and running mixed into the same workout on road style bicycles. Cylco-cross race courses are run on road, grass, and single track trails with minimal technical sections, but have areas where the rider must dismount and carry his or her bike while hurdling barriers.
Mountain biking is also another good alternative of riding. At the end of a long season, our training and competing can become only a means to an end. Sometimes this leads us to forget about the fun aspects of riding bicycles. Most of us started riding bicycles because it was fun and our competitive natures pushed us to compete on our bikes. Mountain biking leads us back to trails, keeps our brains engaged picking good lines on technical sections of these trails, and usually leads us to mud; and everyone knows that getting muddy is fun.
If you want to be as functional as possible in your off season, lifting weights is also a good thing to take up at the end of your season. Weight lifting is something you should talk with your coach or trainer about as you can very easily injure yourself lifting. Lifting weights should also incorporate the same movements that your cycling discipline does.
When starting to rebuild your overall fitness and transitioning into the off season, it is important to break up the rhythm of your training to include cross training and conditioning in a fun environment. Allowing your body to rest and recover from anaerobic efforts is important. Allowing your mind to rest from pushing yourself to accomplish your workouts is also very important. Training comes in building cycles. All building cycles whether weekly, monthly, or yearly should include rest periods.
Our long term goals as athletes should include rest, recovery, and relaxation at the end of a long season and taking that time will renew our inner drive. I am writing this blog post from Monterey, California, where I just took a few days off to relax, read books, and ride a mountain bike on beautiful Fort Ord, and believe me, I got muddy.
If you want to take your training to the next level, let the coaches at Crank Cycling know. We can help you meet whatever training goals you have!
See you on the road,
Coach Jesse Eisner
It is essential to know your strengths and weaknesses before adding specificity to your training plan. There are two common approaches, 1) further develop your strengths, and 2) focus on your weaknesses. Riders training to their strengths dedicate time and energy where their skills and abilities already lie; others, focus on their weaknesses in order to develop a well-rounded set of abilities. The Crank Cycling Climbing Camp can help both types of riders.
The Crank Cycling Spring Climbing Camp is where a dedicated rider can harness the power of specificity in order to achieve new levels of performance. After determining a focus area and attaining a base-level of cycling fitness, adding training specificity complementing and stretching your abilities is the next step. If you are a climber, more climbing and specific gradients that mimic upcoming events, including appropriate duration and intensity, is essential. Planning on competing in a century race with a 3-mile climb? If so, then you will want to reflect that exact effort in your training. Do you have upcoming touring century rides? The first goal for specific training is to start with duration barely exceeding your existing limits. To maximize your training, the goal is to incrementally extend that duration until reaching the desired effort level for a given event. Accurately answering the following questions will effectively shape your training program:
1) Does the event have repeated efforts such as a circuit race?
2) Is the event a point-to-point event with continuously rolling terrain?
3) Are there repeated climbs?
After these efforts are added into your training plan you can take specificity a step further
by adding continuous blocks of the chosen discipline to stimulate further adaptation—a training camp is a perfect opportunity for this. Training camps can be as simple as a long weekend with multiple days of riding, or as intricate as choosing multiple specific climbs over 3 to 5 days while maintaining specific power or heart rate output.
Crank Cycling just completed a spring climbing camp in some of the most challenging and beautiful terrain in Southern California. For three days riders enjoyed a FULLY-SUPPORTED experience including a follow-vehicle, food, drinks, spare clothing, mechanical support, expert coaching, and evaluation. Riders climbed over 21,000 feet, sped down winding descents, and pushed themselves to new levels—all developing their riding skills and pushing their physical limits.
“It felt like I was on a 3 day vacation, except I was never more than an hour away from home. I got to push my body over some of the most beautiful climbs San Diego has to offer, while feeling very “pro” the entire time. There is nothing more relaxing than knowing you have a support vehicle near you at all times. A raise of your hand gets you anything you need, water , food, a jacket, a wheel change, sometimes just a word of support, or the directions to your next turn. I will be the first to sign up to Crank Cycling’s next climbing camp!” ~Jose Cepeda~
If you want to take your training to the next level, let the coaches at Crank Cycling know. We can help meet whatever training goals you have!
See you on the road,
Coach Jesse Eisner
The Retul Fit Part -2 Part one can be found HERE.
When I arrived at Studeo DNA’s fit studio in Carlsbad, Chris was just finishing up with another rider, so I got into my cycling kit and had a seat. The first thing Chris had me do was walk back and forth across the room in bare feet while Chris watched to look for signs of excessive eversion/inversion ( toes out or toes in) as well as excessive pronation or supination ( inward or outward rolling of the heel). The idea here is that someone will walk with a gait that is natural for them and that this foot position may need to be replicated on the bike. This is where cleat shims and similar tool are often utilized. My walking position was generally neutral, so that made this part relatively simple.
The next step was to run me through a few strength and flexibility tests to ascertain how these things may affect my bike fit. I never thought of myself as particularly flexible, nor do I have 6 pack abs, but I was rated as “ high” to “medium” on all flexibility metrics and “high” on the core strength test. Next, Chris verified that my cleats were evenly placed on my shoes, and he put me on the bike on a trainer that was on a level platform. While on the bike, Chris checked the cleat placement to ensure that the balls of my feet where at the center of the pedal axles. Once that was done, he began placing small Velcro dots on anatomical points on my feet, legs, torso, shoulders, arms and hands. This was done on both the right side, as the motion capture measures both sides of your body. The proper placement of these dots is important, as all measurements are taken from the points. Once the dots where properly placed Chris attached the Retul Motion capture sensors to the Velcro dots, and turned on the motion capture camera. He then had me pedal at my own preferred cadence at an easy, moderate and “ a little bit hard” effort level using an electronically controlled trainer that allowed him to control the watts. While I pedaled, the motion capture camera took data samples for 15 seconds at each effort level, and this was repeated for both the left and right sides. It is important to take data samples at these different effort levels, as you may well pedal differently when you are noodling along the coast vs when you are getting on the pedals hard during a race or other hard effort.
When the data capture was done, we looked at many different joint angles, at different points in space, and how they changed while I pedaled. The 3 aperture setup of the Retul system allows the the system to measure your movement in 3 dimensions. So while the camera is on one side, it measure not only up and down, left and right, but backwards and forwards as well. All of these angles are then compared to a set of norms developed by Retul after measuring many, many riders. My angles position, and movements were all well within the norms given by Retul, but we did notice that one my right side that my knee was moving a tiny bit more forward of the pedal spindle than what was expected. In an attempt to remedy this, we moved by saddle up, by just a tiny bit (3.5mm) and forward just a bit (5mm). Then we went through the motion capture process again, and looked at the data. There was very little change in my joint angles or the way my knee moved forward of the pedal spindle, but neither Chris nor I found this to be much of a big deal in the first place, and I had no pain or discomfort, so we decided to leave the bike as it was. We finished up and I got back into my street clothes while Chris used the Retul system to take measurements on my bike, and prepared a report on my bike and my fit.
Retul isn’t really a “fit system”, I would describe it more accurately as a “dynamic position measuring system.” The advantage of the Retul system is that it gives completely objective measurements, and catches things that they naked eye may not see. Once the data are collected, it is up to the fitter to use that information to help him determine your position and what, if anything, should change. Relying on an actual person to use all the information possible is, in my opinion, the best way to go about fitting someone on the bike. Some “fit systems” attempt to measure all of your segment lengths and then plug it into an algorithm to tell the fitter where to put your contact points. But as I’ve said previously, the experience of the fitter, the personal observations, and quite simply the “gut” of the fitter are just as important as anything else. So the Retul system does not fit you too the bike, it gives the fitter information that can be used to help fit you and your bike.
There was no “Eureka!” moment for me. We made very minor changes ( 3.5 mm is almost as minor as it can get) that I may or may not keep. But I went into Studeo DNA with no major issues, and a comfortable bike position that works well for me. Someone that has issues with tightness, pain, discomfort, etc, may make more significant changes to their fit, and could potentially get much more from I bike fit than I did. My only criticism of the whole process is that it is done one a trainer, and you simply don’t pedal the exact same way on a trainer, as you do outdoors. Doing bike fits on a trainer is fairly standard these days though, and the stationary trainer offers a level of measurement and observation that would be very difficult to replicate when you are hammering along on your group ride.
After we finished the whole fit, and made the minor changes to my bike, Chris went about what he called “zinning” my bike. He used the Retul system to measure my to precise location of my wheels, saddle, handlebars, my bike geometry and more. These measurements were all part of the report that he gave when we were done, and proved to be quite valuable. A few days after the appointment at Studeo DNA, a custom Kirklee carbon fiber frame that I had been waiting for arrived on my doorstep. My mechanic was able to use the information, and the precise measurements made by the Retul system to replicate all of my contact points so that they were exactly the same as on my Time. Chris later told me that a some of his customers told him that bike setup report alone was worth the trip to see him. Another bonus is that Chris will see you again within two weeks with no additional charge. That way you get to try out any changes in the real world, and then come back if they aren’t working for you. A “free” return visit is an absolutely essential part of a high end bike fit, and I would guard against working any fitter that won’t follow up on his work.
If you want to check out Studeo DNA and the Retul system yourself, Chris told me that they are having an open house this Saturday June 25th. You can just drop in and check the place out, or you can bring you bike and gear so that they can put you on the trainer and take some measurements. Getting those measurements will be only $25, and you can apply that to a full bike fit if you wish. There is an Evite HERE. and a Facebook invitation HERE.
Below a some of the documents Studeo DNA provided me after the fit:
I saw this story on Velonews today: Upcoming from CycleOps: Heart-rate-based power meters and superlight carbon wheelset
I am going to say this as clearly and simply as I possibly can. There is no way to measure power using heart rate. It just isn’t possible. Heart rate is to dynamic. It changes due to factors such as fed state, level of fatigue, how long you have been exercising, hyrdation level and more. Power measured via strain gauges is instantaneous, and any effort put into the pedals can be measured right then and there, but but heart rate may take several minutes to catch up. So heart rate is a reasonable proxy for effort level on long efforts, but is practically useless for long efforts.
Like I said, I love my powertap, I have one on my bike, and I have a studio full of powertap stationary trainers. But don’t tell us you are measuring power when you aren’t. What PT is trying to do is measure training stress using heart rate, and make it applicable across different types of exercise. This is nothing new and it can be useful. You can read a good article on TRIMP HERE. But there is absolutely no no way that TRIMP equals power measurement.
I had a Retul bike fit done with Chris Bennet at Studeo DNA in Carlsbad last month, this is Part 1 of a 2 part entry on my experience with Studeo DNA and the Retul System.
I’d like to start off with my thoughts on bike fits, and fitters in general. A good bike fit is can be one of the most elusive parts of a cyclists training and fitness regime. Fitting an athlete and a bicycle is equal parts science, rider feedback, personal experience, black magic and voodoo. I’ve always been skeptical of expensive bike fits that use lasers, smoke machines, and other fancy equipment. After all, the most important part of a quality bike fit is the fitter himself. You often see shop mechanics doing bicycle fits, but this never made much sense to me. I don’t go to TP Automotive for my shoulder pain, so why would I go to a bike mechanic to help me with a bike fit. Even a week at some bike fit school, and a certificate on the wall doesn’t necessarily impress me. I’m not saying that all bicycle mechanics are bad bike fitters, I’ve met many excellent fitters who also know how to turn a wrench. My point is that working in a bike shop does not necessarily qualify someone to do a good bike fit. In my opinion, the most important aspects of a bike fitter are( in no particular order) are:
1) Experience on the bike:
A good bike fitter should have logged literally thousands of hours on the bike. This means that they have several years of experience riding bikes themselves, and simply know what it means to pedal a bike for mile after mile, hour after hour… and how to pedal a bike hard. Their understanding of how a bike and a rider fit together needs to be more than academic, it needs to be experiential.
2) Experience watching others:
Ok, this mostly comes with logging the miles themselves. But spending all those hours riding with others riders allows a good bike fitter to instantly sense when something isn’t right, to recognize the “suplesse” of a a bike and a rider working in perfect harmony, and to try and help you replicate that yourself.
3) An understanding of biomechanics and physiology:
A good bike fitter has to have a fundamental understanding of how our muscles and bones work together to put the power to the pedals. This is where some good old fashioned book learning comes in. Fitters can be self taught, take college classes, go to weekend or week long bike fit classes, or combination of these things to learn and understand the biomechanics of pedaling a bike. A good background in biomechaincs allows an experienced fitter understand how parts of the body are related, and adjusting one part effects the rest.
4) Experience doing actual bike fits:
Practice makes perfect. That is not to say that all new bike fitters give poor bike fits, simply that experience counts.
Each of these things is equally important and helps a bike fitter make you more comfortable, faster, and injury free on your bike. What you sometimes find in a bike shop employee is someone who has some background and understanding of biomchanics because they went to a “fit school”, yet I assure you that all of these things cannot be learned in a weekend. Many bike shop employees loves bikes, and love to ride them but don’t get all that , much saddle time. If a fitter has not had long hours riding the bike and watching others, a good understanding of biomechanics, and actual experience doing bike fits, then approach with caution.*
Studeo DNA in Carlsbad specializes in doing bike fits only. Chris is an experienced masters racer, with many miles on under his belt, and one look at Chris clues you in to the the fact that he is a former bodybuilder. As a bodybuiler and cyclists, Chris has spent years studying and absorbing information about the human body and biomehanics and is as well versed as anyone how all of those muscles, bones, ligaments and joints work together. Chris would be using the Retul Fit System to help examine my current bike fit, and possibly recommend any changes in my bike fit. People usually get a bike fit because they are either new to cycling, have pain or discomfort, or simply want to find a more aerodynamic or improved biomechanical position. I had no particular reason to change or alter my current fit, but I figured I would see what these guys have to offer.
Coming next…the actual fit process:
* I don’t want to seem as if I am bashing bike shop employees here, I’m just trying to drive home the point that being a good mechanic and being a good bike fitter are not the same thing! I have also seen non bike shop bike fitters that posses all of the attributes I’ve mentioned, at yet still give terrible bike fits!
Coach Jesse is heading up a climbing camp next week. Here are the deets:
Time to get your climbing legs on! If you are training for a long hard ride like the Death Ride, or just love to climb, this camp is for you. You will get in 3 days of 3+ hour rides with 4K feet of climbing or more each day. Each day features some of the best climbing and riding in the San Diego Area. You can train like the pros with full sag vehicle support, including spare wheels, food, drinks, and more. Day 1 Begins in Escondido, and gains 4K of of climbing a on the Way to the idyllic mountain town of Julian. Day 2 Follows the fabled Kitchen Creek up to the top of Mount Lagunaa and climbs for a total of over 5500 feet. Day 3 is definitely the “queen stage” of this camp and you”l climbs from Escondido up to the lake Cuyamaca and back, amassing over 7K feet of climbing along the way. Cost for the camp is $100 per day or or $275 for the whole camp. Athletes on a monthly coaching plan get a 25% discount. Contact Coach Eisner for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org or register HERE.
A warm up is an important part of your race preparations. It is rather silly to train for countless hours, travel to a race, and payg entry fees if you aren’t going to be properly warmed up. A proper warm up may not necessarily win you the race, but it can definitely lead to a sub-optimal performance and can lose you the race. We have posted warm ups for road racing, cyclocross racing, crit racing, time trialing, track racing, and mountain bike racing. These warm ups are not set in stone, and you may have to experiment a little bit to find out what works best for you. If you haven’t been doing a structured warm up, or are looking for something new, consider them a starting point. If you like them, stick with them, but feel free to experiment a little. You’ll more find information links to all of our warm up protocols here.