Sunday, September 22, 2013

My first workouts with PowerCranks

Last week I finally had my power cranks installed. Due to my busy schedule and already existing workouts the bike sat lonely waiting for me for a few days. On Friday sept 21st my coach finally handed me my first workout which was only to get familiar with them. The first 10 minutes were me just trying to figure out how to get a fluid pedal stroke with them. It was not easy, but I was finally able to get them moving correctly. The problem I had was being able to go longer than 30 seconds. It seemed that my abductor longus and iliopsoas were WEAK and just not able to go any longer. I spent an hour working on getting myself familiar. I had also had the cranks installed at 145mm and I think that hurt me as well since my legs felt cramped on the bike.

On Sunday I was assigned another hour long workout by my coach. 24 sets of 2 minutes on, with 30 seconds rest. I was worried I would not be able to finish the workout since only 2 days before I was struggling with 30 second sets. It took about 5-7 minutes of warming up to get into a rhythm, but once I did that I was able to get the 2 minute sets done. I definitely noticed that my legs were BURNING by the end of the 2 minutes. I had adjusted the crank arms to 165mm and put the bike into a harder gear which actually helped me to keep a consistent pedal stroke. When I had tried to use a lighter gear I noticed that I was unable to keep the pedal stroke slow and focused. The lighter gear caused me to spin to a point where I lost control and got out of rhythm.

I will say that the first sessions caused me to realize that I am weak in both a smooth pedal stroke, and strength in the pull up part of the stroke. My coach was quick to point out that this was normal and points to the fact that there are gains to be made in my overall cycling. That was reassuring for sure.

My goal for next season is a slot to Mt Tremblant and I am 100% sure that the PowerCranks are going to be the key to my success. Although the workouts were difficult I am definitely looking forward to the gains in both the bike and run. My weakness is being able to finish with a strong run off the bike and I can see how PowerCranks will help me to be able to run stronger off the bike. Super excited to see gains over the coming months. Happy I started with these now so I have time to get proficient with them.

Below are videos of me using the PowerCranks.

Aero bars

Out of the aero bars

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


This post was originally posted on one of my other blogs:  http://90dayswithpowercranks.blogspot.com/



A season of adaption coming to an end and the results speak for themselves….

My season is quickly coming to a close and after 4+ months of intermittent (2 to 4 days a week) PowerCrank usage I can say without a doubt they have (1) improved my power and comfort on the bike and (2) helped spur a fit revolution for me that will pay benefits through the off and into next season.   I am also excited about transitioning to the offseason, because I will be using my PowerCranks for near “exclusive” use from September through January and will be continuing to post updates and wattage reports.  I feel pretty confident in saying that I will see continued benefit in power, cadence, and comfort by virtue of “exclusive” rather than intermittent use, and can’t wait to see if I can blow away PRs in 2013 beginning with the Jack Frost TT in February.

Improvements in power and comfort:

I went into this in-season PowerCrank trial with the hopes of improving my power on the bike, especially as I focused on a few big events (e.g. Cascade Cycling Classic and the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge).  While my luck in the races left a lot to be desired – I crashed or had a mechanical issue in pretty much all of my major races this year – I did experience some pretty significant in-season power improvements and am happy to report that while the adaption to PowerCranks took some time it was a valuable investment.

The following table highlights the power improvements I saw during the PowerCrank trial:

Time
Wattage Before
Wattage After
30 sec
692
765
1 min
570
570
2 min
470
470
5 min
382
387
10 min
362
367
20 min
329
355
30 min
331
335
60 min
303
303

Key call-outs:

  • My major improvements were in the 10 to 20 minute range, which probably highlights the near-term benefits from intermittent usage.
  • I think that leveraging the PowerCranks during the offseason will help in my sub-5 minute power as well as my endurance above and beyond 30 minutes.


The following highlights the comfort improvements I saw during the PowerCrank trial:

  • My pedal stroke has smoothed out and I no longer have as pronounced of a “hitch” at the top of my left pedal stroke.  As a result I have become more comfortable over longer distances and have been able to increase my cadence (particularly on the track) without “bouncing” around.
  • I have less tightness and soreness in my hips and gluts and have developed additional strength in my quads.  I spend less time having to “loosen” up my hips before and after races and I am more comfortable in car rides home.


Fit insights and revolution:

I feel it is honest to say that I went into the PowerCrank trial with little to no expectation of changing my fit dramatically, or beginning to identify ways that I could alter my saddle height and/or setup to provide better comfort, smoothness, and ultimately power on the bike.  Luckily for me, I did, and even if I hadn’t experienced the power gains I’ve seen the fit insights alone would have been more than a success!

In my previous post I talked about the changes I’ve been making to my fit based on the insights from PowerCrank riding and a few folks have asked “how did you know you needed to make changes?”  The simple answer is I didn’t really know at first, but as I began to become more familiar with riding PowerCranks I began to be able to discern between “things that felt odd, because I was pedaling independently” and “things that felt odd, because something was off in my fit.”  After I had transitioned out of my initial adaption period I began to notice that my left side felt “compressed” and didn’t fully engage throughout the pedal stroke. 

Think of the sensation you experience as you walk up a flight of stairs.  Your legs are “disconnected” and acting independently as you coordinate the lifting of your body from one step to the next.  As you walk up the stairs you can discern differences in the way each leg reacts under load and while moving, and you can quickly identify if the differences are due to tightness, extension, or injury.  If we use walking up stairs as an analogy for my observations, I noticed that (1) I was walking up the stairs is a semi-squat (knees always bent), (2) that my left leg was “squattier” than my right and didn’t fully extend before I began on the next step, and (3) since I was in a semi-squat position it took a lot of energy to pull my leg up to step up on the next step.

PowerCrank riding provides you a similar sensation while on the bike (i.e. independent motion with the requirement of coordination) and provides you a platform for analysis if you are willing to (1) listen to you body and (2) try out different adjustments.

My immediate response was one of my old 1mm adjustments, but by sheer dumb luck I decided to throw caution to the wind and moved my saddle up by 10mm instead.  The “jolt” of adjustment did both my mind and body well and helped free me from my micro adjustment habits and allowed me to look at changing my fit with an open mind.  I have often wondered why my previous fit experiences didn’t throw caution to the wind in order to evaluate “bigger” changes and I think that is due to two facts.  One, we often talk ourselves out of change, because the steady state is known while change is unknown.   Two, fitters fall prey to the same thought process, especially with stubborn elite athletes, and often make minor changes rather than large adjustments.  This is all complicated by the fact that our bodies are effective “masking” agents and adapt to whatever you throw at them, which means it learns to work fairly well in compromised positions.

In the end I have made the following changes to my position and will continue to evaluate future changes during the offseason as I transition to exclusive use as well as strength building.

Saddle Height:       Up 25mm
Saddle for/aft:       Forward 2mm
Saddle Angle:         Down 2 degrees
Results:                   My legs extend and engage more fully in my pedal stroke; I have better hip rotation; and I have reduced impingement on my psoas for lifting up my leg over the top of my pedal stroke. 

1/8/2012 Update:  The results of 3 months (Sep. through Nov.) of 100% PowerCrank riding

During the past few months several folks have asked whether or not I have continued my PowerCrank riding beyond my 90 day "trial" I completed during last season.  The answer is, YES, I have been using my PowerCranks and completed 90 days of 100% PowerCrank riding, which extended from early September (after the season ended) through the beginning of December.  During that time period all of my riding (both inside as well as outside) was completed on my PowerCranks aside from my power tests, which were conducted on my Cervelo P4 using traditional cranks.

Now that I have spent more than 6 months riding my PowerCranks I no longer "think" about riding them, because the stroke and engagement has become second nature.  They are still relatively fatiguing (you notice the extra effort/engagement after 3+ hours in the saddle), but no longer require me to "think" about what I am doing.

100% Focus Overview:

  • Period began after the end of the season (Eugene Celebration Stage Race), and after I had ended my initial 90 day trial period of intermittent within-season PowerCrank riding (see post and table above for background and details) and extended through the first week of December, 2012.
  • During the 3+ months all of my indoor and outdoor riding was conducted on my PowerCranks aside from my tests, which were conducted on my Cervelo P4.
  • During the 3+ months my program focused on my normal "post season" riding, which was primarily open rides with limited intensity and no structured intervals.
  • Historically, I have started my initial intervals to prepare for the next season during early December, so I wanted to compare my wattage baselines from 2011 to 2012 to see if my PowerCrank riding was helping to establish additional strength/power.  Additional power at the start of my interval training should lead to higher values throughout the 2013 season.
Testing Overview:
  • I completed two wattage baseline tests during my 90 day focus period so that I could compare two reference points.
  • The first test was completed mid-October, which was halfway through my focus period and more than 40 days since my last intense workout.
  • The second test was completed during mid-December, which was after I completed my focus period and more than 50 days since my last intense workout (the mid-October test) and more than 100 days since my last race.  Historically this has been my "low point" in the season for power.
Testing Results:

Time
2011 Reference
2012 Results
Mid-October 20min Test
318 watts
344 watts
Mid-December 20min Test
292 watts
319 watts
  • As you can see from the table I saw a fairly significant "jump" in my wattage during my early offseason training, which should provide me with a higher base to build off of during the remainder of my preparation for the 2013 cycling season.
What's next?
  • Since late December I have started to mix in traditional riding with my PowerCrank riding and intend to do so going forward.  Right now I am looking at setting up an additional bike and anticipate spending 3 to 4 days a week on the PowerCranks throughout the season.  I enjoy the change-up of having both systems available to me, and while I would likely see more gains by continuing my 100% PowerCrank focus, I think that I am going to balance both to keep things mentally and physically "fresh."
  • I also am planning on a 3 to 5 month 100% focus period at least once a year (most likely September through December) to help maintain and hopefully further the gains I have already seen during my initial trial and subsequent focus period. 
Let me know if you have any questions, because I am happy to add further details!
Great feedback from a customer who went to shorter cranks


http://90dayswithpowercranks.blogspot.com/

Monday, April 23, 2012

First race on short powercranks

A small introduction of myself before writing this item: I  have been training exclusively on powercranks for one year now and they have proved to be very beneficial in tilting both my running and cycling performance to another level. I ended up as my age group champion in Kona in 2011 and took off 40 minutes from my 2009 Kona time. But that's another story ;-)

This year I started to experiment with short (135mm) powercranks, which is 40mm shorter than what I was used to. "Why?" would most people argue. It was Frank from powercranks that got me interested in the idea because he assumed that shorter cranks (combined with higher seat and lower front) would put you much more aerodynamically on the bike and saving  lots of watts on the bike. This was a plausible assumption that had yet to be proven with windtunnel testing and so on. Anyway, since a few months I ride these ridiculously short (although Frank still thinks they are too long) cranks. And I like them!  At first I thought I would have to change gearing or pedal a much higher cadence to attain the same power output because of the smaller leverage of those cranks. This is not true: for some reason I manage to generate the same power output with the same gearing and almost the same cadence. I think the reason for this is the more efficient angles of your joints when the cranks are in the best position to generate power which is in the upper quarter of the pedal movement.
So I was quite confident that riding short cranks wouldn't affect my bike performance (from a biomechanical point of view) too much. If there really were aerodynamic benefits I expected to gain some extra speed from going short.
This weekend was the first real life test during a long distance duathlon in France. The bikeleg was 85km long on a rolling course and there was a terrible wind and part of the course was a quite heavy traffic area. Despite all this I manged an average speed of 38.5 km/h which was much faster than I'd anticipated at this early stage in the season and this gives me confidence that going short really might have some real benefits! Next real life test is scheduled on June 10th at Eagleman 70.3. To be continued!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tahoe on PowerCranks


I'm spending the last week of the year in Tahoe. Last year, I swore off writing anything this time of the year because I was playing in pow-pow up to my unmentionables, but this year, Tahoe is pathetically dry (so far). I knew the conditions were not ideal for skiing, so I brought two bikes: my cyclocross bike for some potential trail riding and my Jack Kane equipped with PowerCranks.

On Saturday and Sunday I went to do some skiing and finished off the days with an hour and half hour, respectively, on the trainer spinning PCs. The sets were really clicking and I hardly ever had to think about how my legs should be moving.

On Monday, I decided that I'd get bored very quickly if I continued to ski the same few open runs, so I deiced to make it a day on the bike. I mapped out a route on Strava and figured I'd hit Donner Pass summit first, and finish the day off with a near-seven-mile slog up Alder Creek/Skislope back home. Now I had to decide whether I wanted to ride PCs, or ride my CX bike. The difference between the smallest gears is one gearinch, so that wasn't really a factor. But I didn't want to ride 35s on the road because of how heavy they felt, so I decided to ride PCs.

I've previously never ridden this far on PCs or climbed that much, so I had no idea what would happen to me. I asked my usual question: "What's the worst that could happen?" I figured that if it really got to be too much, I'd just turn around and head back.

I rolled out of the house and headed toward Donner Pass summit through the first few flat miles. The first thing I noticed was how smooth my pedal stroke was. I didn't even have to think about what I had to do, my legs just knew it. I think having spent some trainer time on PCs the two previous days definitely helped.

Then I hit Donner Pass - a 3.2-mile climb that rises about 1000 feet - the pedal stroke remained smooth, but I definitely felt that I wasn't on my regular cranks. I didn't have any issues going up the climb, even when it pitched up, but I did notice that my legs were in a greater amount of pain than they should have been for the watts I was seeing. At the top, I flipped myself around and descended back down toward Donner Lake. I figured on the way back, I'd go around the lake on the other side, but for those of you trying that in the future, don't do that in December. There was about a 70-meter stretch of snow/ice that I had to hike my bike over, which could have been avoided had I gone back the same way I came. 

My legs were feeling relatively good after coming down from Donner, so I decided to proceed to do the other major climb in the area - Alden Creek/Skislope. Strava has this at 6.8 miles (my Garmin measures it at 7.5 miles) and rising about 1500 feet; however, a good chunk of that elevation is gained in the last 2.5 miles, so if you feel like you're flying for the first four miles, don't worry, you'll pay for it soon enough. 

That was roughly my experience, as the first four miles of the climb came and went relatively painlessly, but once I hit the last 2.5-mile stretch, the really hard climbing began and my legs were definitely in a lot of pain. The one good thing about reaching the summit of that climb was that from that point, it's a downhill shot back to the house, so I knew that once I was done with the climb, I was done!


Yesterday, I decided to go ride once again, and see if  can better my time on Alder Creek. I rolled form the house up to Skislope and began climbing the road I descended earlier in the week. It's a 2.1-mile climb that goes up about 700 feet and it really hurts near the top as the pitches go higher and over 10%. It's especially unpleasant when you hit it 10 minutes into your ride without enough time to thoroughly warm-up. But once that was over, I knew I had a seven-mile descent down to the start of the main climb of the day. 

I hit the climb hard and took about five minutes off Monday's time, though I managed to lose about 30 seconds when I dropped a bottle and stopped to pick it up. 


Both rides above were done on Power Cranks. So how did they feel in comparison to riding regular cranks? There are at least three different aspects of riding you work while riding PCs. First and foremost, they force you to work on syncing your pedal stroke, otherwise you end up in a galop. Having never ridden PCs before September of this year, I've been on them for about three months now, and I no longer have syncing issues while riding them. From my experience, I feel that anyone who's willing to put in at least 2-3 hours a week riding PCs (on trainer first then outdoors), can get their legs consistently in sync in one to two months. Obviously, more time on PCs, yields faster results, but 2-3 hours is what I've been doing. 

The second wrinkle PCs help iron out is leg power disparity. I don't suffer from this to a great extent, but traditionally my left leg has been stronger, and on some climbs, I have noticed that my right is in just a little more pain than the left. Hopefully, with time on PCs, that will even itself out. 

The last, and in my opinion, largest issue is engaging muscles in your pedal stroke you never knew you had, or knew you had but didn't know you could use them to propel yourself on a bike. The need to engage the hip flexors and hamstrings definitely makes climbing harder - it almost feels like I'm riding with a heavy backpack. However, at the same time I realize that it's harder simply because those muscles were not developed enough in comparison to my glutes and quads which are likely more engaged when I'm on standard cranks. As the muscles strengthen, with time this third issue should go away, but in the meantime, I definitely feel it helping me when I jump back on my regular bike and head uphill. 


[Originally published on www.cyclingmusings.com]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Powercranks training update

I’ve been riding these more and more, and no longer on the trainer. Nowadays, all the PC work is happening outdoors and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s a challenge and makes even the easy recovery rides interesting because while I’m pedaling lightly, I’m still training my muscle memory to fire the fibers in proper sequence, and I no longer have issues with the pedal stroke while on PCs. Now it’s all about building up stamina to go long distance on them.

The most recent PC workout was on Tuesday, when I did one 40-minutes set at tempo, averaging about 210 watts at HR of 159 (my zone 3 tops out at 162). The first five and the last 10 minutes were the hardest. For the first five minutes, my hip-flexors were telling me to go “F” myself due to some residual soreness, but then the muscles got used to the motion and that wasn’t an issue at all. I went through the first 30 minutes without any issues whatsoever, but as I crawled closer and closer to the 40-minute mark, I did hit a few dead spots and heard the familiar clunk. This only happened three or four times over the last 10 minutes, but it was still a sign of fatigue, which signals two things. First, more time on PCs is needed to build up stamina. Second, and most obvious, when I get tired, the pedal stroke gets sloppy.

The greatest benefit I feel I’m already getting from riding on PCs is my climbing feels much more comfortable. I’m not making a claim that I’m all of a sudden flying uphill. Given that I’m still in base, no serious hill training has yet taken place, but I am saying that my biomechanics are working better. I’m having a much easier time relaxing most of my upper body and just pedaling from the core. I’m very curious to see what will happen once I get to the build phase and actually start doing hill repeats on PCs. 

[Originally published on www.cyclingmusings.com]

Friday, November 4, 2011

Powercranks, first time outdoors

A week or so ago, when I wrote out my training plan for this week, today was to be a day on Powercranks, and I was really hoping to make it a day outside. However, the forecast last night left much to be desired, and I went to bed convinced I’d have to spend an hour in my garage on a trainer. But luck was on my side, and the rains passed in the night, leaving a clear, but rather cold, morning – so the opportunity was there.

Originally, I planned to drive out to the polo fields with my bicycle and just do an hour of outdoor powercranking and drive back. But when I got ready, the whole process of loading the bike, driving, parking, unloading and then doing the whole thing in reverse seemed a bit much for 6:45 a.m. After looking at all the possibilities of what could go wrong if I rode from my house, and death or bodily injury having not popped up on my radar, I decided to just roll and see what happens.

Pics or it didn’t happen, right? Here you go:

Along JFK drive on the way home.

I’ll start with descending because when I roll from my house (which is on top of a hill), that’s kind of what I have to do first. I’m glad that the first time I got on PCs outdoors I was going downhill because clipping in with the crankarm down is a bit unusual, so the momentum gave me time to find the pedal. I have to admit that going downhill with both legs hanging down was a bit weird at first, but as I got used to the sensation, it actually felt good – both of my legs could relax and neither had to stay in the flexed position. I was afraid that balancing may be an issue, but it wasn’t, at least not today.

Then came the stop signs and the red lights. I quickly figured out that for stop signs - where I stop but don’t unclip because the stop is so brief - it’s best to pedal backward with one leg and then get started. The alternative is to come to the stop sign with one leg in the up position, but why stress it when you don’t have to? A plus of PCs is that when you pedal backwards, the chainrings don’t move, so there’s no risk of chain drop. Of course, there is a third option of starting with one leg and then picking up with the other when the first reaches 12 o'clock, but that's a lot of unnecessary pulling in what could be a high gear, or unnecessary shifting into a much lower gear than necessary.

For a red light, where I’d have to unclip, I made sure to start in a very easy gear. As I mentioned above, clipping in with the crankarm down is a bit tricky at first, and I wanted to make sure I could pedal with one leg for at least a few strokes to gain forward momentum. Once I had that figured out, the rest was simply a matter of getting the muscles to fire in proper sequence and keep it upright – the latter was never an issue.

Riding PCs outdoors is definitely different than on a trainer. Probably an obvious statement, but just in case you were wondering. The road comes as is and the terrain slowed me down, sped me up and not necessarily in the most expected ways. It’s easy to keep a good pedal stroke on a trainer, where I know when I will shift, when resistance will vary and when my cadence will change. Not so much outside. I had to pay attention to these changes and anticipate them to make sure I was in the proper gear and could maintain constant cadence if that was my goal, or change my cadence if that’s what I wanted to do.

I messed up quite a few times, but never for longer than just a few seconds and I was always able to recover quickly and get back into rhythm. I found that slowing the cadence down and going into a higher gear helped a lot to even out the pedal stroke, similar to how I started on the trainer. Then I could gradually go into a lower gear and speed up the cadence while keeping in rhythm.

About half way out to the polo fields, I realized that I was riding PCs like I was on a track bike – I always kept pedaling. “Why am I doing this?” – I thought to myself. So when the next little downhill came, I just let both legs down and coasted for a bit. It felt good! As I mentioned above, both legs relaxed and after five or so seconds of coasting, I was able to pick up the pedal stroke again. This was also great practice for starting to pedal from both legs being down and picking it up in rhythm.

Once on the polo fields, I just went around in a loop for about 20 minutes before turning around and heading back. It’s a flat .7-mile loop, so nothing exciting really happened, but given that the two longest stretches run east/west, the changes in tail/headwind meant I had to pay attention to my effort. Otherwise, when the tailwind would hit, it would become easier to pedal and a few times one of my legs would go a little faster and caused me to lose rhythm and gallop, but this was fairly easy to get used to and wasn’t an issue toward the end of my session.

One last item that I didn’t really have to deal with this morning - because I was never really going that fast or leaning my bike that much - is unweighing the inside leg when making a turn. It’s important to unweigh the inside leg as to not hit the crank on the ground. While my crank length is set to 145, the whole arm is about 190 (185 being the maximum adjustment).

In case you’re curious, yes, I did do the dolphin kick. It’s pretty neat, but better done in a low gear or on a downhill. In high gear, Newton’s second law of motion causes the bike to rock back and forth a bit – not very efficient. I also did it a number of times as I rolled back toward home on JFK, always either in the presence of other cyclists or when passing cars stopped at a stop sign. I figured I may as well give people something to talk about. Strangely, no one asked me about how I can do that.

On the way home, all I could really think about was going over Clayton on 17th Street. It averages about 14% for .1 miles – not long, but I was afraid that if I screwed up my pedal stroke, I wouldn’t be able to recover and would fall over. But I figured the worst thing that would happen is I would have to take the walk of shame up the hill with the bike – not a big deal.

As I began to climb up Stanyan to 17th Street, I started to gain more confidence. In fact, I was very surprised that climbing a steeper pitch, pedaling PCs felt no different than my regular cranks, but I knew that my muscles were not working in quite the same way. As I turned onto 17th, I had a bit of a downhill to let my legs hang – honestly, this feels so awesome, I think it was probably one of my favorite sensations of the whole ride. Then it was just two short but very steep blocks, and all downhill from there.

This was a great first ride outdoors on PCs, and now that I know I can navigate short steep streets of San Francisco, I’ll be getting out on them more often – and by that I mean that unless it’s pouring outside, I’m not getting on the trainer. Perhaps one of the days next week I’ll try to go a bit longer with a bit more climbing. By the time I hit my build phase, I hope to be training on them almost exclusively.

[Originally published on www.cyclingmusings.com]