New Strava PRs & #1 rankings ūüĎŹ

At the end of each month, I rest for 2-3 days, and then re-test myself. When the gyms were open, I’d complete an FTP test on a spinning bike. These days, I time myself up the steepest, most challenging, local hills. I’m fortunate to have 4 right out my back door. They are not long (1.5 km), but have grades ranging from 5-13%. These are my new monthly test.

Yesterday I climbed them all in succession. My objective was to set a PR on each, and claim the #1 ranking for my age group if possible. Surprisingly, I did both ūüėÉ

I have been climbing more this past month, and have been feeling stronger, but I didn’t really expect to claim all of the top rankings.

I‚Äôm ready for the local mountain climbs next ūüėā

Look what I found … ūüėČ

Look what I found.

For the past month, I have transitioned to a body-weight strengthening program because I didn’t think I would have an equipped gym near the cottage. I don’t want to stop strength training for the next 2 months. I will ride more frequently, and longer, but I also want to maintain the strength I have built up over the winter months. So, I switched to a body-weight program Рsquats, lunges, leg lifts, windshield washers, planks, hamstring curls, calve raises Рusing only my own body weight that I can do anywhere. Surprisingly, it is the only weight I need.

I was in town today, and discovered a local gym that includes a spinning/yoga studio upstairs equipped with the Keiser spinning bikes I’m accustomed to, free weights, kettle bells, exercise balls, and stretching matts.

I loved it.

It was quiet, clean, and well equipped. I plan to go 1-2 times a week depending on the weather. When it’s sunny and hot, I’ll prefer to be on the bike. But when it rains, or I’m in town to shop, I’ll drop in, and do my customary 60-90 minute workout.

I have been travelling to the cottage for decades (longer really), and never knew this studio existed. It’s funny how the people you need, appear when you most need them. Last year, I wanted custom cushions made for an old rattan couch I treasure, and low and behold, I discovered an upholsterer living in the area looking for work. Ten years ago, I needed a new roof for the cottage, and low and behold, I discovered an experienced, out-of-work roofer renting one of the cottages across the way. Several years ago, I was looking for other road cyclists to ride with once a week. Turns out there is an ex-racer operating a small bike shop in one of the nearby small, very small, towns. Little did I know he services the entire area, started a local cycling club, and has successfully advocated for improved cycling signage, bike routes, events, and improved road surfaces in the area.

Who knew?

All you have to do is look, keep an open mind, and listen.

So here I am in remote, rural, northern Ontario, 10 km to the nearest single-purpose small town, and 30+ km to a major centre where there are restaurants, a variety of shopping options, and big-box stores. So, who would have thought I would have all I need right at my door step?

Excellent in 2 week(s)

 

LevelPainting

After my spinning workout this morning, my Suunto M5 coach reported that I would be “Excellent in 2 week(s)”.

I wonder what “excellent” will look and feel like?

I have noticed the Suunto workouts have been getting harder and longer. Not by much. 5 minutes and 5 bpm higher on average each week. And, it seems I get more rest days. 2 “hard” or “very hard” workouts and then a day off. More and more I feel like I need the rest. But a day off and I feel refreshed.

This is an 8 week program to “excellence”. I have noticed the workouts have slowly gotten harder. I never thought I could sustain this effort for these lengths of time. What was “hard” in the beginning is comparatively easy now. In 2 weeks I will be ready to hit the road.

In addition to the spinning workouts, I do 2-3 strength workouts as well. This year I changed it up and am only using my own body weight as resistance Рa lot of planks, single leg squats, hamstring curls and sit-ups on a ball. I wanted a routine I could take with me anywhere and not have to rely on gym equipment. These exercises have made a big difference. I am noticeably stronger.

I also have been doing a lot more stretching. After every workout, I spend 20-25 minutes stretching the neck, shoulders, arms, core and legs. They help. I seldom have any soreness or cramps afterward. In the warmer months, when I am on the bike more, I neglect to stretch and often experience muscles soreness afterward.

This 8 week program has taught me 5¬†things –

  1. I can work harder then I realized. A heart rate monitor is an excellent way to monitor your fitness level and progress.
  2. Rest days are just as important as training days. In the warm weather, I sometimes forget to rest.
  3. Stretching aids recovery and reduces injuries. I need to continue stretching even after outdoor rides.
  4. Planks are an excellent way to develop core strength! Why didn’t I know that?
  5. Because most of the workouts simulate a long, steep climb, I pedal more in circles. My pedal stroke has become more efficient. I notice on my commute home, the climb home has become progressively easier.

I think I deserve a reward. Don’t you? A cycling holiday in the sun is in order. I am thinking of driving down to either northern California or Arizona for a week in March. Do you know of good cycling routes?

Oh, “What are these pictures?” you ask. Again, they have nothing to do with the post. I simply like them. I have been experimenting with cloud based photo editors and this is a collage of a painting in the office. I like the colours and broad, unsophisticated brush strokes.

 

 

Excellent in 3 week(s)

ParkArt

These pictures have nothing to do with this post. I just like them. Sometimes, when I travel a different path, I discover something remarkable. Like these over-sized jelly beans.

Well, I will be “Excellent in 3 week(s)”. I have been following the workout routines prescribed by the American College of Sports Medicine. I am 5 weeks into this 8 week program doing the workouts on a spinning bike.

I have to say, I like the¬†program. It is integrated with my Suunto heart rate monitor coaching and motivating me daily. This “coach” on my wrist tells me when to workout, when to rest and how hard to work. It’s brilliant.

I have come to realize¬†that training with a heart rate monitor is the best and fastest way to improve. There is no cheating. You heart rate measures your body’s response to stress, to exercise.The fitter you become, the less effort required under normal loads. Hills become easier to climb. You can maintain a face pace for longer periods of time.

I have 3 weeks left. And then what? I am not certain. My “coach” will tell me. For now, I am enjoying the workouts. They are hard. Each week they get harder. But I see steady improvement. What was once “Very hard” is now just “Hard”. Over the 8 week period, the work load has steadily and slowly increased. I am fitter, stronger and losing a little weight.

Yesterday was a “Rest Day”. I seem to get more of them than in the earlier weeks. Today, is a “Very Hard” day. I will be working near my maximum heart rate for 30 minutes. At this point, this is more difficult than climbing one of our local mountains – steeper and faster.

Just 3 weeks left.

Sunday is my day of reckoning …

Sunday is my day of reckoning.

I set weekly goals. All sorts of them. Some personal. Some professional. I sometimes write them down. Not always. But I always have targets to shoot for. And, Sunday is the day I take stock. Measure how well, or poorly, I have done.

Today, I took a long walk. I often do on the weekend. I had a few errands to run but mostly, I like being outside and the pace of a walk. I reconnect with the neighbourhood, stretch my legs and review the week past and the one ahead.

Like many, I try to lose weight this time of year. When the wetter, shorter days take hold, I cycle less and the weight slowly begins to climb. I don’t want to be so out of shape in the spring that I am unable to complete the Pacific Populaire, the first century ride of the season¬†for me. So, between now and March 1, I plan to lose 5-7 pounds. That will have me at my¬†optimal cycling weight again. This week, I lost 1 pound. It doesn’t feel like it but thats what the scale at the club said.

I am also several weeks into the Suunto 8 week training program. My “coach-on-the-wrist” told me I had a “Great Week” of workouts and am a week closer to “Excellent” fitness. I don’t know about that.

I did a 40 minute “Very Hard” workout on the spinner this morning maintaining a heart¬†rate that kept be in the VO2 Max zone the entire time. It was like a 15 km climb up one of the local mountains at a 10-15 km/h pace. Once again, I did it but it seemed harder this time. Earlier in the week when out on my road ride, I sprinted up one the the climbs. I was feeling strong. I had my heart rate monitor on and my heart rate exceeded what is “normal” for someone my age. My¬†“coach-on-the-wrist” asked me if I wanted to reset my MHR.

I said yes, of course, without thinking of the consequences. It means the “coach” thinks I am 20 years younger and adjusted the difficulty of the workouts accordingly. This “coach” is either going to make¬†me stronger or kill me.

So, this weeks ends with me a pound lighter and with a heart of a man 20 years younger.

Next week, I plan to be another pound lighter, another week closer to “Excellent” fitness, have new cleats installed on my new road shoes and have converted my Garneau carbon bike’s crankset from a standard to a compact.

In the gym …

I am in the gym more these days training on the spinning bike.

I like the spinning bike. In 45-60 minutes, I get a good workout. Together with my Suunto M5 heart rate monitor and the power meter on the Keiser M3 spinning bike, I can monitor the work rate and set realistic goals.

Cycling inside is different. Hotter! There is no wind to help cool you off. There is no traffic. No stops signs. No traffic lights. It is continuous pedalling. There is a flywheel which means no coasting. But the biggest difference for me is the integrated power meter.

Power is the rate at which energy is used over time and is measured in watts. Tour de France riders average 200-300 watts during a 4 hour stage. I have been averaging 225 watts over a 45-60 minute workout including a warmup and cool down. During a warmup I am pedalling at 90-100 rpm and expending approximately 150 watts. During climbs, I am pedalling at 70-80 rpm and expending 250-300 watts and, during sprints 400+ watts.

These are not great numbers compared to younger, more competitive cyclists but they provide a benchmark and give me something to work at and improve upon during the winter months.

I have worked out on the Keiser M3 Indoor Cycle for years. I prefer it over a trainer. For one, it reduces the wear and tear on my road bikes. And, I like going to the gym instead of spinning in the basement. There are others to talk to and learn from. A TV to watch if you want. And, other equipment to help vary the workout. But, most importantly, I can relax in the steam room afterward.

I train with a Suunto M5 heart rate monitor with an integrated coach. It tells me how frequently to workout, at what intensity and duration taking into consideration my age, weight, current fitness level and fitness goal.

Yesterday, the M5 recommended a 55 minute workout maintaining a heart rate between 110-125 bpm. For me, that was like a steady 5% gradient climb requiring an average 210 watts output. I could have worked harder but I am careful to follow the workouts recommended by the watch.

Today, my “coach on the¬†wrist” recommended a “hard workout” – 35 minutes maintaining a heart rate between 130-144 bpm. It was like climbing one of the local mountains. Equivalent to a 12 km climb with a 5-7% grade. I completed the workout in 36 minutes, averaged 247 watts, burned 400¬†calories and maintained an average heart rate of 136 bpm. Again, I felt like I could have worked harder and gone longer.

These numbers are not precise. They are estimates at best. But they serve as a marker, a starting point for the next few months¬†spent mostly inside on the spinning bike. The goal is to see improvement, particularly more power. I am following a 6-week training program prescribed by my “coach on the wrist” that is¬†best completed on the spinning bike.

What is it with these M numbers? Doesn’t BMW market an M Series? Are Suunto and Keiser related in some way?

Things I like about the spinning bike

This time of year, I cycle outside less. I still average 200 km every week on the road but it is different. The days are shorter. It is cold and wet. And, I bundle up. I still enjoy the rides but, it is a different kind of cycling.

These days I spend more time in the gym. I have been working out on a spinning bike for years. A Keiser M3 indoor cycle. I even enjoy the occasional spinning class. Here are a few things I like about the spinning bike.

  1. There is no wear and tear on my bikes. I have an in-door trainer and have used it frequently over the years. I can use my own bike but there is wear on the drive train and rear tire. I know you can purchase tires designed specifically for this purpose but you use the same chainrings, chain and cassette as you do on the road.
  2. I can workout anytime of the day regardless of the weather. Rain. Cold. Wind. Dark. It doesn’t matter. I can train whenever I like. Whenever I have the time.
  3. In 45-60 minutes I can complete a good workout. It is an uninterrupted workout. No stop signs, no stop lights and no traffic. I like to simulate actual rides with a combination of flats, climbs and fast descents. Sometimes, I will climb the entire workout as if I am climbing one of the local mountains. It takes me about 60 minutes to climb either Mount Seymour or Cypress Mountain. I can do the same workout indoors all winter.
  4. There is a power meter on the bike. This is a big benefit. I do not have a power meter on any of the bikes and have no idea how much power I am generating. I monitor speed and time but power is the real measure of performance. On the spinning bike, I can monitor power output throughout the workout and use the average power output estimate to compare one workout to the next.
  5. My heart rate monitor is integrated. I wear a heart rate monitor, particularly indoors. The spinning bike computer is integrated (Polar compatible) with my belt so that my heart rate is also displayed along with elapsed time, gear (resistance), power output (watts), calories expended, trip distance (km) and RPM (cadence). These metrics help manage the workout.
  6. I can use my cycling shoes with cleats. This is a big benefit. This makes riding the M3 very similar to my road bikes. I can work on maintaining a circular pedal stroke, engaging all of the leg muscles throughout the stroke, pushing down and pulling up, applying consistent power throughout.
  7. There is a floor to ceiling mirror in front of me so that I can work on my form and positioning. I pay attention to my spine angle, shoulder position and arm reach when both sitting and standing. Over the years, I have noticed a difference. I maintain a straight back, relaxed shoulders and bent arms throughout the workout. My knees and ankles are perfectly aligned over the pedals causing less wear on the joints. The mirror allows me to easily check these positions.

If you are looking to put more miles on over the winter months, give a spinning bike a try.

Proper spinning techniques …

This time of year, I cycle less outside and head inside to the gym to lift and frequent spinning classes. I still commute on the “winter” bike but save the road bikes for dryer days¬†which, unfortunately, are few and far between.

Last year, I discovered I enjoyed spinning classes. I have used a spinning bike for many years but would workout on my own. I didn’t like the look of what I saw in so many spinning classes. But last year I discovered an instructor that understood road cycling. She tailored her workouts to simulate typical road workouts with a combination of flats, climbs and descents. And, she focused on proper form and technique to build power, speed and endurance. Each week she would vary her workouts so you would never repeat the same workout for weeks and, even then, they would be different.

As the weather here deteriorated, I looked forward to her class. To my disappointment (and not hers I am sure), I learned that she is pregnant with her second child and on maternity leave.

What to do!

It is critical to find the right instructor; someone you respect and can learn from. So many spinning instructors are not road cyclists. They don’t understand how road cyclists train. They don’t understand the correct form on the bike. They don’t understand how to properly setup the bike so not to cause knee and hip injury. We don’t do pushups on a bike. We don’t run on a bike. We don’t always stand up to climb.

Don’t misunderstand. I am not judging. Some enjoy these types of classes. They can be a good workout. They are just not for me. I want to spin like I cycle on the rode.

I have tried two new instructors during the past week. One has been trained by the instructor I like and will be taking her classes while she is on leave. I like her class but she is relatively inexperienced and not a road cyclist. The other has been an instructor for several years but conducts her class like a callisthenics workout. You spend the better part of the hour standing. Stair climbing. It is a challenging workout but it is not cycling.

I discovered the above YouTube video. It demonstrates various training techniques and highlights correct form. I am going to use it as a benchmark as I search out a new spinning instructor.

Matching Watts and HR

I wear a Suunto M5 heart rate monitor. ¬†I refer to it as “my coach on the wrist”. ¬†It tells me when and how hard to workout based on my sex, age, general level of fitness, current weight, RHR and goals. ¬†It is a clever device that keeps me motivated and helps me understand my capabilities better.

During the cold, wet, winter months, I train indoors on a Keiser M3 spinning bike both on my own and in a spinning class.  I have learned to use and understand the power reading on these machines thanks to the classes.  We do different workouts Рrepeat hill climbs, pyramids, flats and rolling terrain Рbut pay attention to 3 things.  Cadence.  Gear.  And, watts.  Often the goal is to maintain consistent power by regulating the cadence and/or gear regardless of terrain.

Today “my coach on the wrist” told me to do a 50 minute “hard” workout. ¬†In her language that is 50 minutes averaging 125-135 bpm. ¬†I wondered how that related to average watts. ¬†I don’t have a power meter on my bikes but I frequently wear the heart rate monitor.

I can sustain 130 bpm for extended periods of time.  I am working and work up a real sweat indoors but it is manageable.  For 50 minutes, at least, I never feel that I need to quit or slow down.  This is a comfortable work load for me Рan anaerobic workout where I am working at 80%-90% of my MHR.

So how does this relate to power?  Here are the numbers reported at the end of my 50 minute workout on the Keiser M3 computer:  average RPM Р80,  average Watts Р200 and average Heart Rate Р130 bpm.

This is not my maximum effort.  It felt like a long, steady climb at 3-5 degree grade.  I know I can work harder.  I have sustained a 300 watt effort for 45+ minutes during one of the classes.  Next I will record my average heart rate for the regular rides I do to see how much harder I can work.

I don’t know if this is good or bad. ¬†I don’t know how it relates to others other than I have read a Tour de France rider sustains 200-300 watts for 4 hours or more. ¬† It is what it is. ¬†A benchmark. ¬†Something to check from time to time throughout the season to see if there is any improvement.

I am a fan of spinning classes

spin-class-022410-lgI am a fan of spinning classes.

Who would of thought? ¬†I have only been to 6 classes but have come to realize they can be an excellent workout. ¬†And fun. ¬†Don’t misunderstand, I have been spinning for many years, particularly during the cold, wet winter months. ¬†I just never liked the energy of the classes I observed.

During the past several weeks, I have learned that a good instructor makes all the difference.  I have had 4 different instructors in the past week.  The instructor at the 75 minute class on Sunday morning is a cyclist and her workouts simulate an actual ride with hills of different lengths and grades, descents and flats.  Each week she mixes it up so the workout never becomes boring or repetitious, paying particular attention to bike fit, cadence, power and heart rate.  She is easily the best instructor I have experienced and, no doubt, will continue attending her classes, even during the cycling season.

The other instructors were questionable. ¬†OK for some but, not for me. Apparently, there are people that attend spinning classes that do not ride road bikes. ¬†They are there for a cardio workout and, that’s fine. ¬†They like these instructors. ¬†Instructors that arrive without cycling shoes or riding bibs thinking the Keiser M3 is more a step machine than a bike. ¬†They pay no attention to a proper bike fit or pedalling technique. ¬†In fact, one fellow set his up more like a step machine so that he was standing the entire workout. ¬†Another matched his workout to each song on his playlist, the same tempo and intensity for each song. ¬†He even worked in a few 1-arm pushups along the way.

I suspect a good one hour spinning workout is equivalent to a two hour road ride.  There is no resting, no stop lights or traffic to contend with.  So, I am a fan.

Just make certain you find the right instructor.