“Headless Chicken” Training and How Strava Makes it Worse
article by Anthony Walsh
‘The biggest mistake I see repeated time and time again, is not training in pre-defined zones’
Over the past couple of years I’ve traveled all over the world, working with clubs and athletes.
The number one biggest mistake I see repeated time and time again, which is stopping athletes from maximising their available training time, is not training in pre-defined zones.
Zonal training is the key to maximizing your training hours and allowing you to peak at the right time for your target event. Zonal training is the idea that we should train at different intensities to stimulate a different physiological response. Racing and sportives have very definite (and known) demands which are placed on the body.
In order for us to effectively prepare for upcoming events we need to train the specific physiological systems associated with those demands.
A bi-product of not training in pre-defined zones is a culture that has developed around ‘average speed’; going out for a ride and determining its success by the average speed. There are a number of problems with using speed as your sole metric for judging performance.
For example, if you ride into a head-wind or up a hill your speed is likely to be lower than the converse. Therefore, you may have generated your personal best 20 minute power output into the head wind, but only averaged 25kmph, so you judge this ride to be a failure.
The main training-related problem with this emerging average speed culture (made worse by Strava) is that riders now ride around at a perceived effort of 7 out of 10 all the time.
So, whether you have one hour or three hours available, you tend to ride as hard as you can for that time.
In your mind this is the best way to make use of your available training time. In this way, unbeknown to yourself, you are just riding around in a ‘Tempo’ zone all the time and not actually making the best use of your available time. Riding around at ‘Tempo’ all the time leads to a very narrow range of physiological response in the body. That is, we get really good at riding around at this exact pace but poor at everything else.
An excess of Tempo riding is why you struggle to respond to changes of pace in your event or race, why you find it difficult to accelerate over the top of a climb and get dropped, and why you have no ‘pop’ when the final sprint is decided.
If you don’t currently train using a Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter, go out and buy one. If you have one but are failing to use it properly it’s time to wake up and get knowledgeable.
If you have 20 plus hours per week to train you can ride around without a plan and sooner or later you’ll probably stumble on something that works. However, for those of us with busy lives, we need to embrace the science and start questioning the old-school methods.
Embrace the intensity revolution!
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Anthony Walsh is the founder and Director of A1 Coaching.
He grew up in a house enveloped by a love of cycling and it became a core part of his life from an early age. Anthony’s father was a bike mechanic and his apprenticeship began at an early age, working on bikes long into the night in a makeshift garage in the family home.
Anthony’s father was also a true fan of the sport and Anthony absorbed a love and appreciation for the sport that would one day turn into his profession.
Initially the bike was a tool of utility for transport. As a child, it allowed Anthony to explore beyond the boundaries of his local neighbourhood and expand his horizons. This, in time, led to summer-long romances and life-long friendships. The initial tool for transport would later morph into a means by which Anthony would earn his living.
Anthony took up cycling competitively in his early 20s as a student in University College Dublin (UCD) – a string of injuries had ended a long soccer career that included an All-Ireland Winners’ medal with Bohemians Football Club.
After a degree in Economics, Anthony’s academic career changed focus and he turned his attention to Law. He earned an MA in Law and a Barrister at Law Degree from The Honorable Society of Kings Inns.
Anthony excelled on the domestic cycling scene while balancing the demands of full-time study and his performances acted as the springboard to a professional career. He would go on to compete for the Irish National team and sign contracts in France with Division Nationale Team, Super U; in Canada with Jet Fuel Coffee, and in the US with Astellas Oncology Pro Cycling.
Anthony’s academic background gave him a particular perspective which helped him to learn within the professional environment. He fostered relationships, worked with top coaches and respected directors, and interacted with some of the world’s top riders against whom he competed. He soaked up the knowledge gained from these experiences while also studying everything he could find on up-to-day scientific training methods.
The analysis of all this input, viewed through his academic lens, gave Anthony a unique perspective and insight into top athletes’ successful training and conditioning regimes.
By 2011 Anthony had begun to advise friends in a structured way on how to prepare for events. Word soon began to spread about the successes gained on the back of his advice. In this way Anthony had, unintentionally, made the first steps in establishing a professional coaching service.
As the demand for his services grew, Anthony envisioned a coaching and mentoring approach based on the best available scientific evidence, combined with a high-level of practical experience and common sense. This would be blended with sensitivity to the unique physiology, ambition and life circumstances of every individual, and also respect cycling’s rich heritage, culture and handed-down wisdoms.
When his professional career ended due to injury, Anthony set aside his legal career to establish A1 Coaching based on this vision, and to return to domestic racing with his old UCD club.
The results were nothing short of astounding: National Road Racing Champions and Triathlon Age Group Winners as examples. He has advanced the career of every athlete he has touched and riders in his stable are achieving their ambitions and winning races all over the world.
As the business grew, Anthony recruited a team of coaches which would bring as broad a spectrum of expertise and experience as possible. While each coach brings a particular perspective and unique experiences, each shares the vision and approach that Anthony articulates for A1 Coaching.
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