Thursday, December 13, 2007

4 What are the Pros doing? How do they train? - Part 2

1. First of all, what is the RIGHT gene? And like a recent post from Sprinter della Casa's blog, he says that if one does not have good foundations for the sport, he probably won't be successful and likened that to a building's foundations. Foundations can mean many things. Does it have to be all genetic? I don't know. The fact is, no one knows!

Its easy to generalize genetic foundation with the foundations of a building.

I find it laughable. The way structures work have been analyzed inside out. Its relatively EASY for qualified people to work out through equations and computer analysis and tests what not.

The human body is immensely COMPLEX.

So complex that even the top medical experts like gene scientists don't know for sure which gene codes for superior sporting performance.

So when these people have no accurate information, I don't understand why the rest of us below should be coming up with generalizations that genes overpower any training effects. We still don't know what sport worthy genetic material is.

2. No study I have read yet had solid reasons to attribute physiological differences (like muscle fiber ratios for example) in people from different backgrounds to genetic factors. For example, take sprinting, a type 2 muscle fibre action. Virtually all available evidence suggests that no, a sprinter's muscular makeup is not predetermined by genetics.

3. Height may be certainly genetic, and so would one have a weight corresponding to height but there are lifestyle factors that influence what weight you have. A 400 lb person can lose 200 pounds if he really puts his mind to it. We hear about extra ordinary stories like this. How did he get there in the first place? Were his parents obese? Maybe, but is that a definite conclusion? On another extreme, why are Kenyans skinny? Check out how they live.
World champs with different lives, very simple ones.

So I don't think there is a magical weight figure tied permanently to anyone.

4. How do you attain 400 watts of power. Certainly with training right? A new Cat 5 racer probably will not put that much power on a climb, a seasoned veteran will.

Pros that line up the tour probably have very systematic, scientific training methods. Its not something that they jote down the night before in their training diaries and say, 'ok I'll do this and this tomorrow.'

Yet none of us question how they train. We are more likely to be comfortable reading crap from a website, or taking the advice of a coach. Far more of us train uselessly and end up with overtraining and fatigue. We don't understand rest and recovery. We don't understand how the body works.

I don't believe that sort of training will get you anywhere.

Find out how successful people train, just like you can be successful in other endeavors by learning from people in that field. Napolean Hills success books talks specifically about what people did to become successful in its case studies. Do we have a Napolean Hill for cyclists? He could be used in a way for cycling, but it probably won't do you good because he won't tell you how the successful racers train.

5. Being feather weight and able to crank 400 watts is not everything. Ask a foot ball player to do the same, and he might. But for how long?

My point is that training helps the body work more economically through stronger hearts, bigger lungs, and by managing lactate better. Lance could crank 33-34 mph for maybe an hour. Was that genetic? Maybe yes, maybe no. Who knows? Show me a scientific study on how better his body was, than say, Jan Ullrich's, by how much, and how much of that is behind his victories. (Or you may read the book From Lance to Landis : The American Doping Controversy, and dispose of all fairy tales you saw about Lance on discovery channel.)

And could he have done the same when he just got into cycling?

6. There are also many other complex factors (financial, personal, diet, family) etc that come into the equation and determine whether a person with so called "good genes" makes it at all to the pro circuit. If genetics were everything, East Africans should be massing at the start line at pro races and Boonen would be just another figure in the peleton. Oh, I'm dying to watch a scenario like this. Boonen being shamed at a sprint by a native African. Oooooo...

My point is that its easy for most of us to make a mistake with the whole genetic superiority idea. I did that last year. Until I started thinking clearly.

What I also have to advise people choosing to believe this is that its easy to limit ourselves with the "genes makes perfect" issue. I would say try different training strategies to break that Cat 2 web. What are you doing wrong? Patience and lots of time gets you where you are, nothing is achieved over the course of the night.

None of us really look at how the pro's train. The lame person watching the Tour on Versus TV doesn't have valuable information on what exactly and specifically his favorite rider did to get to where he was.

Sorry, you may think I was crying and whining about this, but I'm really not. I just lusted for my perfect Christmas gift for all time.

Training diaries of the most successful cyclists on the planet, not necessarily limited to the Pros. Pros have all the time they want and their 'office time' is actually ON the bike.

I probably won't emulate every single thing written in the diaries. I'll decide what to do with that material after getting it.

Get me their training diaries... all of them.

Bottom line : Don't limit yourself with the gene pool idea. Train smart and take rest. Genes suck. I love my mom and dad but you know what, I won't waste my time thinking genes and letting it dictate where I go. Neither should you.


  1. Interesting topic.

    I think that some sort of predisposition has to be a small but important piece to the puzzle of who is fastest/stronger. But clearly there are lots of other factors (dedication, hunger, socio-economic background, parents support, etc).

    Maybe if East Africa had better roads, a history of loving bike racing, etc. they would be winning bike races instead of long distance running.

    Also a little luck - maybe I would have been the greatest hockey player ever - but it was too expensive when I was growing up to play.

    Maybe if ice hockey wasn't so expensive (equipment, ice rental) and soccer/basketball so cheap, there would other shifts in who played which sports. etc

    Regardless, the champions have done more than just been born with talent.

  2. Will,

    Thats why Africans run and play soccer. Its cheap!

    Yes, you struck gold right there. Champions are not born :)

  3. I saw your comments on the SDC blog, and at first I thought maybe you misunderstood my point (i.e. genetics determines peak potential performance). I thought this was the case when I saw that you criticized my comparing genetic ability factors to building foundations since we understand foundations but not genetics.

    However I never said what genetic factors would determine peak cycling performance. I don't know how foundations work, nor do I know how genetics works. However I can make observations about some cyclists in general, and they show, to me, that there huge genetic factors at work. My observations aren't proofs, I know that, but I felt compelled to share my views.

    My hematocrit example is one that illustrates that one variable doesn't make the racer. My 'crit level is beyond pro level but that doesn't make me race well. I think my power output relates more to my potential as a pro (or not). A Cat 1 that I know talked about doing intervals at wattage levels I couldn't hold, yet for him it was reasonable to do 5 or 6 reps at such intensities (500-600 watts on a PT). His late race attacks are astonishing 900 sustained watt efforts - I'd be dead after 20 or 30 seconds. So he has something I don't, some ability to perform work that is beyond what I've been able to perform. I've never placed in the Elite Nationals but he got third one year, and fifth as a Junior.

    I watched "kids" with very little training blow me away in a local time trials. One "kid" became a good friend. He, a now-ex-pro, talked with me a lot while he was struggling for many years to break into (unsuccessfully) the Div 1 ranks. He and I would go out for rides, talk about training, discuss his coach's recommendations, etc. He wanted to help me improve and he wanted to bounce ideas off of me. For some reason I was the guy he went to advice. Nothing earth shaking about his training. Lots and lots of motorpacing.

    In fact, the one constant I heard from the ex-pro and the Cat 1 (as well as reading other pros' reports (Lemond in particular before important events) etc is that motorpacing seems to be a preferred way to peak for an event. The ex-pro motorpaced a lot - I own his car now and the rear bumper is just grooved with all the tire burn marks - and he also had a small motorcycle set up with a roller. The Cat 1 also motorpaced a lot, his dad (an ex-racer himself) doing the driving. In fact the father told me that the motorpacing is what got his son in shape for both the Nationals where he placed.

    Both of their potentials, even as young as 15 years old, was enormously different than mine.

    Within the world of cycling (i.e. no longer taking into effect socio-economics) there is a definite difference in riding abilities. Although there are those like Greg Lemond who can make a list and check off his goals one by one (Worlds, check, Tour, check, etc), when I tried the same thing I didn't get very far. I guess that that's the point I want to make.

  4. Aki,

    I'm sorry I may have misunderstood. I'm having mixed feelings about the genetics vs training idea.

    I'm kind of being prone to believe now that you may have plateaued in your power abilities. I mean I'm sure it gets harder at this point without a doubt (since its Cat 2/1) but this is where one has to go for some really advanced training methods to break that comfort zone.
    This is why I'm being slightly arrogant in feeling that there must be something, something you can do to beat the 'genetics' slammed out by your friendly 'rivals'.

    I'm not at all sure what your training methods are, how long you have been riding, over training signs etc. If you haven't tried motorpacing, try it. I know my Italian coach of 73 years old who still races in Master's championships (in Italy) uses those techniques.

    Listen to your body at all times. I guess thats the point of a training diary.

    Third, I want to ask whether you have been using strength training 'enough'. Try continuing limited amounts throughout the season.

    Look at your nutrition (protein, iron balance). Try combination of foods that give longer time release of energy (like a high glycemic index with a low one). Try a few supplements just for the feel, like sodium phosphate (some research has proved its 5-7% effect on aerobic capacity)

    Something has got to give! Thats my point. Damn genetics. I'm sure you can break the cycle my friend (no pun intended).


Thank you. I read every single comment.