Tri Talk Triathlon Podcast, Episode 54

The father of modern periodization, training with power without a power meter, and radioactive fat. All that, today on Tri Talk.

Welcome to Tri Talk your podcast source for triathlon tips, training, news and more. To the new listeners in the last 2 weeks from Hong Kong and Israel, welcome to the show. In Israel, congratulations on your recent success in hosting the final ITU World Cup event of 2007. And a special hello to listeners in Hong Kong, including my brother John. I may be the 3-time corporate triathlon champion at my company, but my younger brother John can boast of his recent victory at the Hong Kong Yahoo.com employee games in the 100-meter dash. My goal at Tri Talk is to help you swim, bike, and run faster, to meet your personal triathlon goals. Whether you are an elite or amateur triathlete, we cover sprint distance to Ironman distance. I’m your host, David Warden, and this is Tri Talk episode 54.

As the third part in our series of periodization, I am delighted to able to bring you an interview with Dr. Tudor Bompa, a man who has influenced the training of virtually every triathlete who incorporates any concept of periodization into their training. We’ll get his thoughts on a wide variety of training topics, some that challenged my current perception of periodization. Also, we had a detailed conversation with coach Peter Cummings on how to train with power earlier on Tri Talk, but what if you still can’t afford that power meter? Is there any other alternative to measuring intensity, work, and performance improvement other than heart rate or pure power? There is, and you may already have all the equipment you need to set it up. We’ll look at the limitations and benefits from this alternate system. And, finally, I’ll spend just a minute telling you about the link between weight loss and radioactive fat. Yes, radioactive fat. It’s the kind of quality training information you just can’t get anywhere else.

Let’s get onto the good stuff! While I would normally save interviews for the end of the show, this week’s guest deserves the coveted spot at the beginning of the podcast. It’s one thing to hear periodization concepts drummed into your head by an average coach, like myself. It’s quite another thing to hear those same concepts reinforced by the man who is regarded worldwide as the leading specialist in the area of theory of training, coaching, and fitness. Settle back, and enjoy this interview with Dr. Tudor Bompa, including his opinion on strength training, peaking for competition, and how endurance training has started to become more like fashion.

 

When it comes to international endurance coaching credibility and reputation, it’s hard to find someone more influential than Dr. Tudor Bompa. Every time you look at a training plan, and see things like Base period or Build period, Race or Competition periods, you are benefiting from the man who is commonly referred to as the father of modern periodization. Since documenting periodization theory in his native Romania over 4 decades ago, which led in part to Soviet domination in athletics for nearly as long, he has coached athletes to 11 medals, 4 of them gold, in Olympic Games and World Championships. He is also the only coach who has produced Olympic and World champions in two different sports. Not only is he educated and successful, he is also, as I found in just the first few minutes of conversation, instantly likeable. But I asked him if he felt that the title, “father of modern periodization,” was a title he was comfortable with.

(transcript of this interview is not available)

That means weeks of training at an aerobic level at the beginning of a training year before introducing those higher intensities. And how does that aerobic period help with the athlete’s other physiological systems, such as the use of energy?

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Dr. Bompa also reminds us that the results of competition in endurance sports is almost entirely in the hands of the athlete. Unlike team or head-to-head direct competition, there are limited external factors outside of our control in triathlon that does not excuse for, as he puts it, childish explanations for our results.

If you are a coach looking to continue your education, and differentiate yourself from other coaches, you can find out more about Dr. Bompa’s Periodization Planning Specialist certification and other coaching services for athletes at tudorbompainstitute.com.

I found Dr. Bompa’s comments on year-round strength training particularly vindicating, as this is often a cause of division between coaches and athletes. While I have seen multiple studies to suggest the importance of year-round strength training to all 3 triathlon sports, I have never seen a study showing that it was detrimental to the performance of any of the sports. Recall that Dr. Bompa’s comments on year-round strength training were not a result of me asking specifically about strength training. But, when I asked what was the biggest mistake coaches or athletes make, it was his first response. Also consider Dara Torres, who is the current fastest female swimmer in America. Her daily workout includes 90 minutes of swimming and 90 minutes of strength training, spending equal amount of time with strength training as she does swimming. I also didn’t get to go into detail, but Dr. Bompa’s technique for determining and predicting whether or not you are truly at a peak for competition is fascinating, but I’ll have to cover that another day.

Before we move onto the next topic, I am excited to let you know about Joe Friel’s new company, TrainingBible Coaching. If you are looking for a coach, and want the same kind of methodical, scientific approach to training that you get from Joe’s long list of publications, this is the coaching organization for you. No matter what your current level or goals, no matter where you live, Training Bible Coaching is equally dedicated to each athlete we work with. Your goal is our mission. You bring the passion, we apply the science.

Moving on. How many of us had our desire to participate in triathlon stem from a desire to lose weight? It’s a big motivation, and body composition is one of the key elements in getting to race form. But many of us struggle with the ways we can lose weight. Now, I am always very cautious about talking about weight loss with triathletes, because some of you are already so lean, that you don’t need to do anything else in regards to body composition. But, if you are looking to shed just a couple more pounds in a healthy way, this study might be for you.

Researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia published in this month’s journal Diabetes a fascinating study on weight loss. More specifically, how standing up or sitting down during the day influences the body’s ability to burn fat. The scientists injected some fat into lab animals, but this fat included a radioactive tracer so that the fat could be tracked. Where did the fat go?

The radioactive tracer revealed that when the animals were sitting down, the fat did not remain in the blood vessels that pass through the muscles, where it could be burned. Instead, it was captured by the adipose [ad-uh-pohs] tissue, a type of connective tissue where globules of fat are stored.

The researchers also took a close look at a fat-splitting enzyme, called lipase, that is critical to the body’s ability to break down fat.

After the animals remained seated for several hours, that enzyme virtually shut off. Based on these results, they also took a look at the same enzyme in humans when they were sitting down or standing up, and found the same results. That fat-splitting enzyme shut down when the humans were sitting rather than standing.

The researchers went onto suggest that what you do between exercising could be as important as the exercise itself, in regards to weight loss. So, if you are looking to lose a few extra pounds after the upcoming holiday season, consider standing up more during the day.

Now, for high volume and intense training, in terms of recovery, standing up more is probably not a good idea. If you are training 12 hours a week already, you need the recovery, and certainly don’t need to be standing up more in-between workouts.

Let’s wrap things up! I received good feedback on episode 52 where we introduced training with power for the first time on Tri Talk. The comments I received on via e-mail and on the forums were virtually unanimous in the fact that the athlete thought it was the right way to train. So what was keeping them from implementing power into their training regimen? I thought the primary reason that an athlete would not have been using power would have been the complexity or intimidation of using the products, which was what I was trying mitigate by talking about it in episode 52. In fact, the main feedback that athletes gave for not using power yet was cost. Even used power meters will still cost several hundred dollars.

So, is there an alternative, or an inexpensive way to train with power? To answer that, let’s define again why power is so important. Training with power allows you to objectively measure workload or intensity. Unlike heart rate or perceived effort, power data is not influenced by external and environmental factors. 250 watts is 250 watts regardless of weather your heart rate is off by 5 beats that day. An athlete or a coach is more likely to get accurate workload data from an athlete using power data rather than heart rate data. From that data they can assign intensities and race-day strategies.

So, what if we could find a way to measure the amount of work that an athlete is doing, that does not user power and an output in watts, but something that is consistent and is not as jumpy as heart rate or perceived effort?

Before I continue, let me make it clear that I am not advocating a replacement for power training. Even the term “alternative” to power training is pushing it. But, I want to talk to triathletes about not only how to be as physiologically efficiently as possible, but as economical as possible as well. I’m sure that some of you power purists are already foaming at the mouth, but hear me out.

The reason we don’t use speed as an indicator for work is because it is too easily influenced by wind, hills, terrain, etc. Our effort may be the same, but our speed will be different almost every minute based on these factors.

However, when we ride on a trainer, these factors are neutralized. There are no hills, wind or terrain variations. Other than environmental conditions like room temperature or humidity (which can be easily controlled), the conditions are almost identical for each ride. Therefore, can you use your base, cheap cyclometer as an alternative power meter? As long as the reading is consistent, does it matter is your computer is giving you your workload in watts or miles per hour? Even if the speed reading isn’t accurate, for use as a monitor for work performed, it doesn’t need to be accurate, just consistent. Power-proponents will be the first to tell you that even with regular power meters, you’ll get different readings from different units while on the same ride. What matters is the individual unit’s consistency.

To support this, consider two facts. First, many bike ergometers at a gym have spin machines or regular bike trainers that give you watts already. I won’t commit to how accurate that watt number is, but note that on those same bikes you can often see your watts and speed at the same time. You’ll notice that while there is not a linear relationship between the two, that they stay fairly consistent. After riding that bike a few times, if you covered the watts display, and just looked at the speed display on that bike, you would be able to know your wattage. On that bike, in that room, going 22 miles per hour would always result in the same wattage. So why do you need to know the wattage if you have the speed on that bike?

Also, consider that Kurt Kinetic, who makes great trainers, recognized this same fact. AS a result, they have a unit that will convert your speed on a trainer to power. They have obtained the power curve data for dozens of different trainers, and they know that at x speed on your specific trainer, your wattage must be y. Because there are no other external factors influencing your speed on a trainer, they can convert your speed to wattage.

My though is, if we can establish that speed is an acceptable indicator of work, based on these two previous examples, why do we even need to convert that speed to watts? I can just begin to graph my results in units of speed rather than in units of watts. Power-purists would argue that is like using weight instead of mass for scientific calculations. That might have disastrous consequences when calculating fuel requirements to get to the moon, but here on earth, in this particular gravity well, weight vs. mass is an acceptable measurement to determine an object’s properties, and I would argue the same applies to watts vs. speed when on an indoor trainer.

I would imagine that in order to maintain consistency, the PSI of the wheels would have to be very regular from ride-to-ride. And, for fluid or mag trainers, the contact tension between the roller and the tire would also have to be consistent, as that friction could effect the speed.

The disadvantages of using this are obvious. It would be useless when applying to racing. It can’t be used on a real outdoor ride. You can no longer compare your output to others to predict or benchmark performance. There is no software written to analyze this, type of data as opposed to the vast and powerful analytical tools available to athletes today to analyze real power. Even the Kurt Kinetic trainer unit that converts power to speed does not have any download abilities. Essentially, in the end you get what you pay for, a real power unit is by far superior, but this certainly seems to have merit as a “poor-man’s” power meter.

Consider the applications to bike fit as well with this system. Ride for 10 minutes and get an average heart rate and speed. Push your saddle an inch forward and ride for 10 more at the same HR, and what if your speed is now 0.2 miles per hour faster for the same average heart rate? You’ve just put yourself in a more powerful position for the same effort. Repeat this for cleat position, handlebar drop, stem length, seat height, and you can dial into your most powerful position using the cheap cyclometer that you already have.

That’s all for this episode! I’m out for the month of December, but I’m leaving you in good hands while I’m gone. Episodes 55 and 56 will be released on their normal schedule, but hosted by Eric Schwartz, a phenomenal triathlete and coach, and proprietor of www.duathlon.com. My only request is that he does not do a better job than me. As a duathlon specialist, I expect that Eric will only be 2/3 the host I am.