Finding your Blind Spots – Improving your Triathlon in the Offseason

Finding your Blind Spots – Improving your Triathlon in the Offseason

IMG_6786Last week I rented a small SUV while I was at the Long Course World Championships in Oklahoma City, OK.   Normally I rent compact or economy cars because they’re less expensive and I don’t have a need for a lot of cargo room.  But invariably, by the end of my trip my back and neck are tired and sore from the low, molded seats that these cars usually come with.  So on the spur of the moment I upgraded to an SUV.  My back was really really happy with that decision!   But I had two close calls while driving on the highway, trying to switch lanes and noticing that there was a car in my blind spot.

I’m used to the blind spots on my own vehicle, and therefore know where and when to look and for how long before I switch lanes.  I was a bit surprised to have this happen twice…once on my right and once on my left in this rental SUV.  It didn’t take more than one occurrence though, because as soon as I knew there was a blind spot and where, I knew to look for it before switching lanes.

Improvement Requires some Type of Feedback

Normally in order to locate your blind spots you need some type of external feedback.  Hopefully it’s not a car accident that becomes your first warning a car was too close to you. Typically I look in my mirrors, rear view, then side view, then finally I turn my head to check for anyone there…in that blind spot that I’m used to.  IN this new car, I had to look further back and for a second longer.  But once I knew it was there, it became routine to check and I had no further close calls over the weekend.

Applying “Blind Spot Reduction” to Triathlon Training

How does this story apply to triathlon training?  WE all have blind spots in our own preparation for the sport.  Whether it’s a fitness blind spot (Doing only long slow distance and no intervals?), possibly a sport balance blind spot (you like running the most, so you skip all your bike rides?), or often a technique or skill blind spot (not sure when to shift gears, or how to smooth out your swim stroke?)

A blind spot means we can’t see it.  We need some type of external feedback to identify it.  So chances are, unless you train often with a variety of friends, hire a skills or technique coach, or sit down with someone to review your training and preparation you may not know where your blind spots are.

I can guarantee one thing, though…if you can locate them, they will almost automatically improve!  Just like my rental SUV story.    Once I knew they were there, they became a non-issue.

How to Find your Own Blind Spots (Hint: If you already know about them, it’s not a blind spot!)

If you become aware that you preferentially skip bike rides to go for a trail run, then maybe you’ll be more inclined to get in an extra trainer ride this winter or sign up for a spinning class.  Pay for it ahead of time or buy a punch card, and you’ll be more likely to go.

Even if you enjoy swimming and feel skilled, seek out a qualified swim coach in your area, or someone who can do video analysis from good quality submissions…and get some outside feedback on your stroke.

How to Specifically Ask for Outside Help

Take a swim or run clinic.  Ride with a different group of people.  Join a local tri club’s weekly fitness session.  All of these are ways to get objective feedback especially if you ask for it!   How do you ask for feedback?  Just pick out someone who seems confident and comfortable, or perhaps there is a coach attending and let them know your concerns.  Ask questions like:

  • Can you watch me shift during these rolling hills and let me know if I’m using my gears appropriately?
  • My right shoulder gets sore when I swim longer than 1/2 mile, especially when I am forced to breath left.  Can you take a look at what could be contributing?
  • I can’t seem to increase my pace when I try to run intervals. Can you let me know if you see anything that could be causing an issue?

You don’t have to know the answers, and you also don’t need to Know what your blind spots are.  You only need to be aware that all of us have them.   Blind spots are even easier than weak spots to address, because the simple act of becoming aware of them opens up all sorts of avenues to create lasting improvements.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  What kind of blind spots have you discovered in the past? How did you address them?

Threshold Testing with Power –  File and Performance Analysis

Threshold Testing with Power – File and Performance Analysis

powerprofileanalysis

 

I tend to be very analytical with my athletes training files, which is part of my job as a coach. I provide supplemental training and guidance on analyzing files to my associate coaches as well.  If you train with Steel City Endurance, you can expect to get feedback like this on a routine basis, but especially around testing periods.

This specific example is a power profile analysis that I annotated and sent to my athlete. The workout was a 5 minute & 20 minute time trial both performed in the same setting, similar to what is recommended by Allen & Coggen in Training and Racing with a power meter.

I’m sharing it  here in full with the exception of the final link at the end as that contains personal information.   Hopefully you can see how the email is somewhat conversational, and I reflect on what I as a coach can do better on as well.   The tone overall is or should be positive and encouraging…after all this was hard work!   I want my athlete to know where he currently stands and how well the testing was performed in order for him to make improvements as we go.

I know I”ve done my job as a coach well when my athletes become their won best self-coaches!  (It must be working well because two current or former Steel City Endurance athletes are now coaching with us as associates! )  Enjoy, and I appreciate any comments or feedback.

 

Threshold Testing Power Summary Analysis – Coach to Athlete

Overall really nice effort.  Noting the laps with your bike computer is helpful for me and saves me some time.  I’ve noted some features I look at on the graph.  The warmup is nice and easy and follows the protocol I wrote well. In looking at the effort, I’d like to see the HR climb just a little higher, close to your threshold at the end of 15 or so minutes. This lets us know your muscles are “primed” for a good effort, and that you’re not still warming up into a hard effort when you start the first interval.

You noted that the you felt like you were saving something during the 5 minute for the 20 minute effort.  You can see that here in the stepped appearance of the power line.   This 5 min & 20 min test serves several purposes. one of them is to “blow out” your anaerobic energy stores so that the 20 minute effort is more reflective of your true aerobic effort.  I don’t expect that you could go as hard for the 20 minute after  an all out 5 as you could in a standalone 20 minute effort.

The other thing this test does is simultaneously give us a 5 minute best power, reflective of your maximum aerobic capacity (VO2 max).

So this is a good start and we’ll adjust your zones based on it, and retest in a few weeks with the notes I made taken into account:
Let the warm up effort climb to just below threshold effort, before the 5 min easy spin
Go all out on the 5 minute aiming for an even power application
The 20 minute looks great here, again, go for best even effort for duration.

Here are your averages for the 5 & 20 minute sections

5 minute all out effort: 

Heart Rate Power Cadence Power:weight(kg)
Average 153 282 82 3.65
Max 165 323 107 NA

20 minute all out effort: 

Heart Rate Power Cadence Power:Weight(kg)
Average 162 255 78 3.14
Max 173 307 83 NA

Comments:
5 min Heart Rate
I follow the HR trend as an indicator of how close you are to your potential in performing this test.

Your 5 minute avg HR should be at or near your max Heart Rate. Since your max HR for the 20min was 173, your avg HR for the 5 minute, when done well, should be pretty close to that.  If you were significantly dehydrated by the end of the 20 min that could account for a few heart beats.

Next time around, or whenever you are doing long VO2 max type sessions, see if you can target a HR of 170 as an indicator you are going “hard enough”.  Power may continue to climb higher even if HR is maxed out due to anaerobic energy. That is, the heart doesn’t need to beat faster to deliver more oxygen because there are non-oxygen based energy sources.  Over time I really want to see what you can produce for a 5 minute max in terms of Wattage!  My guess is that a sustained 300W is in you now, possibly much higher since max was 323 and HR was still 5-10 beats below your max.

5 minute Power
Avg power of 282 is most likely below what you’re capable of just judging by the stepped appearance of the graph. We don’t need to worry about the values for now, but just something to keep an eye on for your next test is to really try to get your HR up a bit before the 5 minute effort, then nail a steady hard effort for 5 minutes with HR btwn 160 & 170 as a signal you’ve got it going hard enough. Then let the power be what it is! (can you hit 290-300 steady watts or higher?)

20 minute HR & Power
Your graph shows a general trend higher for each of these and not an abrupt jump at the end which is good.  Overall this looks like a good effort and once you get back into training I think these numbers will “nudge” higher bit by bit.

To calculate your power training zones, I’ll use 95% of this 20 minute average as the basis for your “threshold power”.  Over time the main goal is to improve your threshold power with training.  If this number isn’t getting higher then we need to look at reasons why…it may be OK because you may be getting faster for longer durations even though this value doesn’t move…or you may be getting more efficient by executing this effort at a lower HR value.

Power:Weight
A good metric to follow is your “power to weight” ratio.
http://www.bicycling.com/training-nutrition/training-fitness/trainingpeaks-power-profiles-cyclists

You can see that your 20 min power to weight ratio  of 3.14 & your 5 min ration of 3.65 puts you right at a “cat 4” cycling level, which is fine, and again over time we want to try and nudge this upwards. As a long course athlete, the 20 minute (& longer duration) power numbers are more important.

At this point I mostly want to make sure that you have a general idea of what the numbers mean and what I’m looking at…that will help you execute your workouts better and know what’s important and what’s less important.

Finally I created a chart with printable zones for your training zones based on this test that you can see here:

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