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Triathlete Blog

Saturday with Dr. Phil

By February 10, 2014July 21st, 2015No Comments

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a day long seminar hosted by Dr. Phil Skiba.  He’s best known in triathlon for his world championship work with both Joanna Zeiger and Cat Morrison but also coaches a handful of top age groupers.  He’s written two short but informative resources on training, both of which I highly recommend for any coach.

The entire day was an amazing learning experience with a small group of 8 athletes and coaches.  It was entitled Data Driven Training and Racing for Endurance Athletes but it was much more than that.  Dr. Phil shared personal experience from his own coaching, research and current trends in sports science.  Currently, he’s the program director for the sports medicine program at a local hospital which means he’s reviewing and generating a lot of research.

Dr. Phil also covered a lot of “how to” with his Race Day Apollo software – it’s fairly impressive from a coaching perspective as it seems to do a lot of things that other software doesn’t do in terms of prediction models.  During the presentations, there were many graphs, charts and research results.  Throughout the day, Dr. Phil made it very clear that he’s not a genius or harboring any secrets: it’s basic physiology and models.  He also admitted that with each athlete, this approach can take some trial and error as you get to know the athlete. He shared that in finding an athlete’s edge, at times he’s put them over the edge where they need to “sit on the couch for a week and eat ice cream.”  Yet he also acknowledged that with proper communication from the athlete, it shouldn’t go that far (and as I’m sure every coach knows, this can be a problem because endurance athletes are sometimes a stubborn group who will push through and ignore their bodies – not always good, folks!).

I wanted to share some bullet points of my interpretation of the material presented (I took a lot of notes and I’m sure a few things got lost in translation).  Some is basic physiology, some is data-driven, some is research-supported (he dispels a lot of smoke, mirrors and myths out there) but most is common sense.  Hopefully you can blend it all together to gain something for your own training or coaching.  Enjoy!

  • TSS does not include real life stress; life stress will also influence training response
  • Endurance coaching is being a fatigue manager, not a training manager.
  • There are no training secrets – what works is all based in physiology & science.
  • 60-80% of athletic performance is genetically determined.
  • Good coaches must work w/in the bounds of an athlete’s limits to help them set realistic goals.
  • Always look at training w/fresh eyes, ask yourself: “what haven’t I been able to do & why?”
  • Lactate is byproduct of burning carbohydrate, not a waste product.
  • Anything longer than 90 seconds is primarily aerobic.
  • Critical power/velocity (CP): his term for where your physiology changes (FTP is similar to CP – different terms, similar concept).
  • If you want to go above CP, oxygen consumption will rise until you pop (for example, if your CP is 200 watts and you go 201, your fatigue will continue to rise there until you pop).
  • Performance is not linear; fatigue & intensity of effort increases exponentially.
  • Every time you go above CP, you tap into your “battery” & it takes this battery a very long time to recharge.
  • As you increase intensity, you increase recruitment of fast twitch fibers which fatigue easily.
  • A good athlete can hold CP for 60 minutes, most others can hold it for 30 minutes.
  • You can perform below CP for a very long time.
  • When you go above CP, expect: 1) a big drop in fuel levels; 2) a big rise in waste product levels; 3) “bad things” that happen in your muscles.
  • The amount of charge in your battery is negatively influenced by recent exercise, glycogen stores & endurance training.
  • Endurance training to increase CP improves the ability to go long at the expense of going hard.
  • To make best use of your time, specifically target the systems you will use in racing as you get closer to racing.
  • Remember, to get good at endurance sports, you should be doing mostly endurance training.
  • Research: interval type doesn’t always matter; you can be “nonspecific” & still get adaptations (sometimes “just going hard” for your interval works).
  • Research: you recover more quickly by going EASIER in between intervals; keep recovery as easy as possible (ie., in zone 1 vs in low zone 2).
  • Athletes must be mechanically prepared to increase intensity (ie,. through strides); brain needs to be trained to fire muscles together.
  • Adaptation takes about 6 weeks; especially w/the swim & run, you need the skills before you can go after the speed.
  • It takes 20-30 minutes to recover/recharge battery from harder efforts during a race (when you go above CP).
  • Power spikes above CP early on lead to a rapid depletion of your battery.
  • Remember: the tank empties fast & refills slowly so don’t empty the tank!
  • Obviously: emptying the tank on the bike impacts the run.
  • Fatigue & fitness both increase immediately with training; both decay exponentially after training but fatigue has a shorter half life than fitness so it goes away faster.
  • Every 5-10 minutes in a race, ask yourself, “Can I hold this power & get off the bike to run my best ______?”  If not, back off!
  • Power meters: in long course, use them to slow down.  In short course, use them to pace the 1st half & push/stay honest on the 2nd half.
  • Avoid going over CP for more than 10-20 seconds; if you’re going there, you had to ask yourself why.
  • Stagnating results:
    • Often from doing the same stuff for too long.
    • Under-recovery —- > overtraining.
    • Burning glycogen from training too hard + too often (takes 24 hours to restock stores) but if you keep depleting, your glycogen stores keep diminishing & never catch up.
    • Low carb/glycogen state —- > stress hormones increase  which over time leads to stagnation & overtraining.
    • The only way to “cure” overtraining is to rest for an undetermined amount of time (could take a week of sitting on couch eating/sleeping, could never resolve)
    • If you keep training & don’t improve, “hands off the wheels & BACK OFF”
    • Signs you’re overdoing it & it’s time to back off; RPE increases for same watts, sleep/mood disturbances, appetite change.
  • Research: most good cyclists self-select 90 rpms.
  • You will use the least amount of oxygen at 60 rpms but requires more muscular recruitment.
  • Research: Athletes are most efficient pedaling how they want to pedal OR by pushing down on pedals (versus pedaling full circles or pulling up).
  • Because we are built for running, the downstroke is the best place to generate power (simulates running motion).
  • To improve run efficiency & economy, “JUST RUN” (more).
  • Plyometrics help to stiffen the legs (which leads to better running).
  • Research: less flexible = more economical, more spring in each step (as Paula Radcliffe’s running got faster over the years, her hamstring flexibility – sit & reach – got worse).
  • Research: forefoot running is seen in the least economical runners; rearfoot running is the most economical.
  • Pay attention to sources of research, good ones include: Carl Foster, Exeter, David Pool, Brian Whipp, Susan Ward, Jack Daniels (also note sample size & be sure it’s done on moderately trained athletes).
  • Good journals for research (in order of recommendation): Journal of Applied Physiology, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, International Journal of Sports Physiology, European Journal of Applied Physiology.

There was much more covered about testing protocols and pacing strategies but this is enough for now!  All in all it was very worthwhile and made me wish I had the opportunity to sit down once a month with a sports scientist who could sift through all of the latest research and deliver me “the bottom line” on what I need to know.  The day also reinforced something I’ve held myself accountable to all along in this coaching career: though it takes time and money to educate yourself, what you get in return is priceless!