• Get A Good Night's Sleep

    Sleep is a very important (and difficult to manage) component of health and fitness. If you're having trouble getting a good night's sleep, try dimming (or even completely turning off) the lights in your house as soon as the sun goes down. This may be difficult if your nightly routine includes a lot of reading, but it's definitely doable if you plan on watching television. Dimming the lights will increase your body's natural production of melatonin, helping you fall asleep faster and feel more rested when you wake in the morning.
     

    There is also research surfacing that shows low-frequency electromagnetic fields (like those emitted from household electronics) can interfere with a natural sleep cycle. Remove (or unplug) all electronics from your bedroom and see if you notice a difference!
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  • Heart Rate and Recovery

    Did you know that changes in your waking heart rate can be used to predict your body's recovery status?

     
    Take your waking heart rate for a few days before you begin an extra-intense workout schedule (this will be your baseline). Continue taking your waking heart rate as you increase your activity level -- be sure you are doing this right when you wake up. If your heart rate is suddenly elevated by 3-5 beats/minute (above your baseline), then it's likely your body is not completely recovered and needs more rest (i.e. more nightly sleep or a quick nap). If your heart rate is elevated by more than 5 beats/minute, you should take the day off from your scheduled workout to let your body rest and recover.
     
    Use this technique to ensure your body is recovering sufficiently between workouts -- it's a great way to minimize the stresses of over-training!
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  • Plyometric Training

    Plyometrics were developed in Russia during the late 1970s and used as a way to increase explosive power in Olympic athletes. Since then, numerous studies have confirmed this initial belief: properly implemented plyometric training can significantly increase an individual's power production during explosive movements.

     
    To keep things simple, we'll divide plyometric exercises into two basic categories: high-intensity and low-intensity. If you're interested in adding plyometric training to your own routine, consider the guidelines below:
     
    High-intensity Plyometrics

     

    • Exercises: Depth jumps and variations.

     

    • Description: Stand on a platform and drop (don't jump) from a fixed height (typically between 1 and 2.5 feet). Land at a depth close to that of an important sport action and immediately jump as high as possible.
    • Frequency: In four-week blocks, 2-3 times a year. Perform 40-70 ground contacts* per week.
    • Other considerations: High-intensity plyometrics can be stressful on the joints, tendons and ligaments -- they easily lend themselves to over-training. Try to avoid high-intensity plyometrics during a season, especially if your sport already involves a lot of jumping (e.g., volleyball, basketball). The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends that you be able to squat at least 1.5 times your body weight before attempting high-intensity plyometrics. (Your heels should not touch the ground during the landing phase of your plyometric drill -- if they do, the drop height is too high for your current strength level [Laputin and Oleshko 1982].)

    Low-intensity Plyometrics
    • Exercises: Various jumping, bounding and hopping movements.
    • Description: There are hundreds of low-intensity plyometric exercises that can be performed. Examples include: box jumps, alternate-leg bounding, hops (for maximum height), hops (for maximum horizontal distance) and side-to-side hops. Minimize your ground contact time with all exercises.
    • Frequency: As desired, but always keep a one-to-one ratio of work-to-rest (i.e., if you perform low-intensity plyometrics for one month, be sure to take the following month off). Perform up to 100 ground contacts per week.
    • Other considerations: It's a good idea to maintain an equal balance of vertical (jumps and hops for height), front-to-back (long jump or single-leg bounding) and lateral (side-to-side hops) movements. You should also spread your total weekly ground contacts over three or four days.

    Finally, keep in mind that plyometric training is not meant to create a significant amount of muscle fatigue (although it may at first); plyometrics are designed to train your nervous system. Stop your set when you notice your performance (jump height/distance, explosiveness or reaction ability) decreasing, not when you reach complete muscle fatigue.
     
    *A ground contact is basically a repetition. Each time you land on the ground (after a jump, depth landing, hop, etc.) you are making a ground contact.

    References:
    • Mike Boyle, MA, ATC. Plyometric Training. pp. 16-18
    • Christian Thibaudeau. 2007: High-Threshold Muscle Building. pp. 41-45
  • Get Support

    You can't underestimate the importance social support if you're looking to make long-term, sustainable changes to your health and fitness.

     

    Making any large lifestyle change is challenging and a counterproductive environment will only make the transition more difficult. It's important to be around people that embody the change you want to make. Expand your social circle if you don't have a positive environment within your immediate group of friends; get involved in the community of health and fitness.
     

    The "community of health and fitness" may sound intimidating, but it can mean a number of things and provides many options: sign up for a local sports league, try a group fitness class, join an online fitness discussion board, register for a 5K run/walk -- the list is endless! Put yourself out there, do things, be active and surround yourself with other active people. You'll be surprised how fun and fulfilling physical activity is once you're in the right environment.
     
    It's been said that close friends will mimic each other's career successes, and the same is true for accomplishments in health and fitness. You'll see how natural a healthy lifestyle is once you're involved with a group that provides the proper support and encouragement.
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  • Weight Training for Cyclists

    It's pretty well accepted that a properly designed weight training program can improve performance in just about any sport, but cycling is one of the few activities where some still express doubts. Unless you're already putting in professional-level hours on your bike, more cycling may be the most effective way to improve performance. Combine this with the fact that increases in body weight (a common side effect of weight training) will typically decrease cycling performance and you can see why doubters still exist. With that said, weight training will improve cycling performance if you follow a well-structured program that creates the right sport-specific training stimulus.

     
    An effective weight training routine for cycling should consider the following:
     
    • About 14% of the energy required in a typical cycling race comes from anaerobic metabolism, and weight training is a great way to improve the performance of those energy systems (especially important for sprinting and climbing).
    • Explosive leg exercises can improve leg power, acceleration speed and sprint performance.
    • Include methods that maximize leg-strength increases with minimal muscle gain.
    • Use sets that last 60-90 seconds with minimal rest periods to make the legs efficient at dealing with lactic acid. This will allow more work to be done at a higher intensity.
    • Increase core stability to minimize risk of lower-extremity injuries and maximize cycling efficiency.

    Here is a sample training plan that applies these guidelines:
     
    A. Squats:4 x 3-5, 180 seconds*
    B1. Split Lunge Jump: 3 x as many as possible in 30 seconds, 15 seconds
    B2. Split Squats: 3 x as many as possible in 45 seconds, 90 seconds
    C. Front Squats: 3 x 50, 45 seconds**
    D. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 25, 45 seconds
    E1. Front Plank: 3 x 60-second hold, 0 seconds
    E2. Side Plank: 3 x 60-second hold/side, 0 seconds
    E3. Hanging Leg Raise: 3 x 15, 60 seconds
     
    Perform this routine twice a week with 2-3 days of rest between sessions. Use this to supplement your existing cycling workouts (i.e., don't reduce the time spent on your bike to do this program). If you bike and weight train on the same day, try to separate the workouts by at least six hours and avoid intense sprinting and hill climbing on these days.
     
    *Each exercise is listed next to a given letter. If exercises are grouped together under the same letter (e.g., A1, A2 or B1, B2, etc.) they should be performed as a superset. When performing a superset, you will do the A1 exercise for the given number of repetitions, rest the stated amount of time, perform the A2 exercise for the given number of repetitions, rest the stated amount of time and repeat for the given number of sets. For example, you will be performing a superset of split lunge jumps and split squats. To do this, you will perform as many split lunge jumps as possible in 30 seconds, rest 15 seconds, perform as many split squats as possible in 45 seconds, rest 90 seconds and repeat three times.
     
    *The information on each line is listed as follows: Exercise name: sets x repetitions, rest period
     
    ** Fun fact: Elite-level cyclists will typically perform 50-60 repetitions of a squat exercise using 50% of their one-rep max. (Begin with a weight well below this, but you can consider yourself elite if you ever reach that level!)
     
     
    References 
    • Benjamin Fernandez-Garcia et al. 2000: Intensity of Exercise During Road Race Pro-Cycling Competition. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise; Vol. 32
    • Carl D. Paton et al. 2005: Combing Explosive and High-Resistance Training Improves Performance in Competitive Cyclists. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; Vol. 19
    • John P. Abt et al. 2007: Relationships Between Cycling Mechanics and Core Stability. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; Vol. 21
    • Massimo Testa, MD. 1999: Training Techniques for Cyclists; pp 49
    • James Marshall, 2008: Strength Training for Cycling at All Levels. Peak Performance Newsletter
  • Muscle Fibers and the 80% Test

    Today we're going to discuss an easy way to test for fiber dominance in your major muscle groups.

     
    First, let's review why this is useful information. Human muscles have two basic fiber types: slow twitch and fast twitch (it's actually more complicated than this, but using these two types serves our purpose). All of your muscles will have some combination of slow and fast twitch fibers, but it's possible (and common) to have a higher ratio of one type or the other in different muscles. A fast twitch dominant muscle will respond best to a different type of training than a slower twitch muscle (fast twitch muscles are best trained with heavier weights while slow twitch muscles respond better to lighter weights and longer sets).
     
    A great way to determine your muscle fiber dominance is the 80% Test. To perform the 80% Test, you'll choose a weight that is 80% of your one rep max (the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition) and perform as many repetitions as possible. The number of repetitions you perform will tell your fiber dominance in the tested muscle(s).
     
    Here is how to interpret your result:
    • 1-10 repetitions: You are fast twitch dominant and should perform high load and high acceleration exercises. (The closer you are to one repetition, the more fast twitch dominant you are.) Focus your training on loads that challenge you for 2-6 repetitions.
    • 11-13 repetitions: You have a balanced fiber ratio and should perform a combination of high acceleration and slower tempo training using moderate loads. Focus your training on loads that challenge you for 6-12 repetitions.
    • 14+ repetitions: You are slow twitch dominant and should perform longer duration sets with lighter loads. (The more repetitions you perform, the more slow twitch dominant you are.) Focus your training on loads that challenge you for 10-15 repetitions.

    Your dominant fiber type will tell you how to structure the bulk of your training, but everyone should perform a combination of heavy-, moderate- and light-load exercises with varying repetitions to get the best training effect. I would focus 60-70% of your workout on fiber-specific training and use the rest of your time performing other load and repetition ranges.
    Different muscles groups may have different muscle fiber makeups, so you should test each of your major muscle groups with a different exercise.
     
    The following exercises are recommended:
    • Squats: For testing your quads and glutes
    • Leg Curl: For testing your hamstrings
    • Flat Dumbbell Bench Press: For testing your chest and triceps
    • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: For testing your shoulders and triceps
    • Cable Rows: For testing your back and biceps
    • Machine Calf Raise: For testing your calves.

    It's not perfect, but the 80% Test will give you a good idea about your fiber types. This is a great tool to use when you're deciding how to structure your next training program.