New location

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Going to be posting regularly there.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The bike geometry problem

I know I've mentioned this one before, but it continues to cause issues every week, with at least one client that ends up on my fitting table that I need to bring it up again.

Carbon bikes can be a very good thing.  They can be comfortable (although often this is not usually a consideration of the stock bike company), they can be light, they can be stiff, and they can look cool.  The problem is that now they are cheap.  It costs so little to manufacture a carbon fiber bike that often the uber cheap and uber pricey stock frames come off the same lines, from the same hands, lay-up schedule and materials.

Okay, so that is another problem I can get into later.  The problem I want to talk about right now is molds.  Not like the fungus, but the casts that they create the frames and tubes from.  I don't have as big a problem with the frames as the forks.  If you look at the geometry charts of any major brand, and if they list the fork dimensions on the website (which more and more often they do not), you'll see that for a particular model the fork axle to crown and rake measurements are the same for every size.  Put simply, they use the same fork for every bike from 48 cm up to 62 cm.  The head and seat angles (and sometimes the bottom bracket heights) are altered between the sizes.  This doesn't seem like such a big deal until you look at the effect some of these angles, coupled with the fork rake measurements affects the handling of the bikes.

In general, the fork and frame angles are great for the "middle" size bikes -- the 54s, 55s, and 56s, or there-abouts.  But the small and the large bikes are sacrificed.  I've seen 76 degree seat angles on small bikes, and some steep head angles on the bigger bikes.

Not sure if you're bike is affected this way?  How does it handle?  Are you comfortable descending on the bike?  Do you have a "speed wobble"?  Even on the flats, do you have trouble holding a straight line?

Unfortunately, this problem is more and more common now with all the carbon manufacturing out there.  A well balanced bike fit is one way to lessen the problem, but even this has it's limitations.

Ride well.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Getting a coach

I've been coaching athletes for about 7 or 8 years now, and it grew out of a natural extension of being a physical therapist.  As a PT I need to educate and guide my clients in different aspects of their lives (strength, flexibility,nutrition, sleep patterns, body mechanics, alteration of work duties, etc.)  to effect a meaningful recovery.

Coaching athletes is at once easier and more difficult than rehab-ing.  Easier in the sense that my athletes are willing to do whatever I tell them so that they usually accomplish the goals; harder in the sense that expectations are much, much higher.  That part I like.

So what to look for in a coach?  I think there are 4 things to look for:

1. Credentials
2. Experience
3. Athletic background
4. Repoire

Credentials can be tricky.  There are many "weekend credentials" out there, so don't be fooled.  A "CPT" is not a physical therapist, but rather a "certified personal trainer" which is a distinction that can be obtained in a weekend.  USA Cycling will certify someone as a "Cycling Coach" by merely completing a take-home test.  There are many more out there -- these educational companies are a big business these days, so don't be fooled.  Do a little research to find out what it takes to become what your coach has as credentials, and lean toward people with advanced degrees in the field of the exercise science/physiology etc.  Although, this too can be a problematic since you can obtain a degree and become a "doctor" from shady "universities" that are unaccredited or have numerous times lost their accreditation, like California Coast University.  Bottom line:  do some digging, and find out what your coach had done.

Experience:  Find out who your coach has worked with.  What level of athletes has he or she worked with?  Professional?  Newbie?  As a new-comer to a sport, you may not want someone who works with pros -- they might have a poor understanding of what your needs will be, and certainly the reverse situation wouldn't work very well.  every good coach should have a list of athletes with whom you can talk to about their experience.

Your coach's athletic background is just to verify that they have undertaken the sport you wish to train for.  You wouldn't want to take advice from someone about how to train for a triathlon when they haven't done one themselves.

Repoire: Your coach should be a good communicator and there should be some semblance of a relationship between the two of you.  There is no need to be "buddies" but you do need to be able to talk to each other.

Elite athlete turned coach

I often see ads for former pro and semi-pro athletes hanging out there shingles as coaches once they retire.  This seems like a normal progression -- they've spent a number of years preparing themselves for the height of competition, so making the leap to guiding others doesn't sound like a stretch.

The problem with this lies in the reason they excelled at their sport.  I know, at first, this doesn't seem like a problem, but put simply, they could be good at their sport in spite of their training techniques.  I have read so many accounts of very talented athletes breaking all sorts of basic rules in regards to training that it has become almost routine.  There's the short-course triathlete who puts in 750 miles per week on the bike, all at long, slow pace, or the Ironman racer who puts in a 25-mile road run a week before their big race, because they "do better when they ramp up their mileage right up until race day."  In most cases, these athletes don't do things as infinitely stupid as this, but they just do what has worked for them, without regard for what might have worked better.  Many pro athletes don't alter their programs much from year to year, because "it worked well in the past so why mess with it too much."  There is not much understanding of the principles behind exercise physiology and human performance.  And, yes, perhaps breaking the rules was exactly what helped them achieve their outstanding results, but just because their top flight physiology responded to it doesn't mean that the average (or even the slightly above average) athlete will.

Elite athletes, I have found, tend to also have a poor grasp of what it "feels" like to only be able to run a 25-minute 5K.  They might have broken that threshold before they were a teenager.  I have seen a number of programs written for age-group athletes with significantly varying intensities for different intervals, which is great, except that many of these athletes didn't have this many different "speeds."  When they run, they may have their marathon pace (which is the same as their pace for any run over 45 minutes) and their 5K pace (pretty much the same as their 10K pace), and that's it.  And yet, their coach has prescribed 3 to 4 different speeds/intensities in one single workout. 

Time strapped athletes are also often ill-served.  I know Chris Carmichael just came out with a book about how to maximize training effect for the busy athlete, but this is not a new idea.  There are many of us out here that have been helping guide these athletes with time-saving, effective workouts for more than a decade.  I know amateur athletes who have been turned away by a coach because they only had 8 hours a week to dedicate to training.  The elite-turned-coach may have a really tough time coming to grips with the fact that their client is making decisions on the road whether to ride 15 extra minutes or to stop early so they can cool down and stretch.

It definitely can be confusing, so do some research and find someone you're comfortable with.  If you need to tell them to bump up or back off with the schedule more than twice, then maybe they aren't the trainer for you.

Best of luck