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:

Wattage Before
Wattage After
30 sec
1 min
2 min
5 min
10 min
20 min
30 min
60 min

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:

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!

No comments:

Post a Comment