Cycling Physiology

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Cycling physiology (and exercise physiology in general) is a topic that can take up entire semesters of college classes.  There’s tons of ins, outs and all abouts of how our bodies process the food we eat and turn it into energy that helps us push the pedals.

As an exercise science and physiology undergrad student, I found the biochemistry and function of human exercise physiology to be fascinating.  When I wanted to understand how to train better, be stronger and faster without spending my life on the bike, I had to rely on that background to put the pieces together.

I pride myself on making the difficult topic of physiology as simple as I can.  As I’ve said before, I try to “make real science, real simple.”

Peruse the archives and learn a couple of tips to help you take your training to the next level.

What is Aerobic Decoupling?

As a cyclist finishes their base training, it's important to evaluate how strong your aerobic base truly is.  By using a metric called “aerobic decoupling” you can quickly and easily determine if your base work was effective and if you're ready to progress into harder high-intensity interval training.  But before you can evaluate your aerobic fitness, you need to learn what aerobic decoupling is and how to use it effectively.

What is aerobic decoupling and why do we care about it?

If you're training with power, aerobic decoupling is a key measurement to evaluate as you perform base training.  Aerobic decoupling is a numerical measurement of aerobic efficiency and endurance.  It's representative of your body's ability to process oxygen and produce energy (as detailed in Biohacking Energy Systems) and is a marker of overall aerobic fitness.

Before you can appreciate the value of aerobic decoupling, here's a refresher about how your body produces aerobic energy and the concept of heart rate drift.

To produce energy, your body takes in oxygen through the lungs and passes it to working muscles via the blood stream.  Oxygen and a fuel (fat, protein or sugars) are processed in the mitochondria to create Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).  ATP is the actual energy molecule that allows your muscles to contract and create pedaling force.  Constant demands on the aerobic energy system can create a phenomenon known as heart rate drift.

Click through the jump to read the show notes for episode 78 of the Tailwind Coaching Podcast:


The Relationship Between Caffeine, Coffee and Bikes

From days gone by when Tour de France cyclists relied on the caffeine as a performance enhancer to the current day “coffee shop ride”, coffee and bikes have been an inseparable pair.  Cyclists have long had a love of coffee both for the taste, the performance benefits and the social interaction involved with a cup of joe.  Pre-ride, post-ride or mid-ride, so much of the sport revolves around coffee and the caffeine within.

But why?

Is it because cycling is traditionally a European sport, and Europeans themselves have a love affair with the coffee bean?  Or does it have something to do with the warming feeling of a cup of joe before an early morning slog?  Maybe some love the performance enhancing effects of caffeine?  Is social interaction a primary motivator?

Maybe it's one of those reasons.

Maybe it's just a little more intangible than any of those.

Click through the jump for some info on the performance enhancing effects of caffeine and why coffee and bikes belong together.


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VO2 Max Workouts

Most training plans put an emphasis on higher intensity training as the season progresses.  After building a solid functional base of fitness, you need to challenge your body in different ways to stimulate adaptations.  These two VO2 max workouts aim to challenge your body well beyond your comfort zone in less than an hour each, leading to big adaptations and big changes in your fitness and speed on the bike.

Why VO2 Max Workouts?

As I discussed in podcast 66, raising the ceiling on your fitness is important to ensure continued growth and improvement in your cycling fitness. VO2 max workouts are the perfect way to push your body beyond its comfort zone and force it to adapt and improve.  Here's an analogy for you: if you put a plan in a room with a 3-foot ceiling, once it grows into the ceiling it begins to spread out to the sides.  It never gets taller.  If you raise the ceiling to 10 feet, the plant has a lot more room to grow before it begins to spread out.

Your fitness is like that plant: if you never raise the ceiling, you'll never be able to grow.  That's why these VO2 max workouts are so effective at improving your body's ability to perform and raising your fitness level: they force you to train where it hurts and push your limits.  Many cyclists don't like to push beyond their limits or train “where it hurts” so they leave those big breakthrough fitness gains out on the road.  By using the two VO2 max workouts included at the end of this article, you'll realize bigger fitness gains and more performance in under an hour per workout.

Click through the jump for two free VO2 max workouts, an explanation of why they work so well and a downloadable cheat sheet to follow when you're on the trainer!


5 Secrets to Build a Functional Cycling Base

The base building phase is more than just long miles and zone 2 efforts in the cold (if you want to know why check out my podcast on why cyclists don't need traditional base training.)  To properly set yourself up for success next year, you'll want to put together a complete functional cycling base of fitness that you can build upon and carry through the entire cycling season.

True functional cycling base fitness prepares your body for harder efforts later in the year. It is vital to a long, prosperous riding season. Here's an example: If you think of your fitness like a house with a weak foundation, you know it won't last for years upon years. Without that solid functional foundation, your performance fitness will crumble over the course of the season no matter how much you try to train.

Click through for my 5 secrets of building a functional cycling base, share them with your friends and teammates and get on your way to your strongest season ever.  And since not everyone is comfortable with planning their own training, you can scroll down for a discount code that will make it even more affordable to follow one of my downloadable training plans.


Why Cyclists Don’t Need Traditional Base Training

During the winter months, many cyclists take on a steady diet of traditional base training: long, slow zone 2 or “aerobic” training rides.  For years, this has been the gospel for cyclists of all types, from the pros down to the greenest cat 5 racers, from endurance riders to crit racers to gran fondo riders.  The question is, with all the science coming out touting the benefits of high-intensity interval training, are those long base miles the key to season-long success or are they doing more harm than good?

In today's podcast, I'll explore the concept of traditional base training, how it's supposed to be done, who needs that traditional base training and who doesn't need it.  I'll also give you a way to compromise on your traditional base training which can help you maintain your high-end fitness throughout your base period and leave you stronger and fresher during the season.

Click through for the show notes and remember that the sponsor for this episode of the Tailwind Coaching Podcast is Stages Cycling.  Check out their power meters and help support the show!