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Blog-Um, Just a Thought

A Canadian's Thought 

Grinding your Gears

Edward Geddis

Pardon the interruption. I totally spaced last week and forgot it was winter break here on the Cape, so instead of sitting at my desk and writing in my blog, I was in Upstate New York skiing. With that said lets continue our discussion on Gears.

Last week we started to look into the concept or idea of gears, not just from a speed standpoint but also an overall power standpoint. What I mean by that is there is more than one way to skin a cat. We can get from point A to point B with either a very high turnover or cadence but an easier gear or a lower turnover/cadence but with a harder gear. In either case we end up at the same place but we challenge the body in different ways to get there. In the first scenario we are really taxing the heart and lungs or upstairs. These are the spinners, they have a very high stroke rate, cadence or turnover. They tend be smaller and lighter but not always. The second scenario tends to tax the legs or downstairs. These are the grinders and tend to be bigger and more heavily muscled. One way is not necessarily better than the other but rather each has its place depending upon what we are asked to do. We tend to stick with one or the other and find it difficult to transition or even perform drills in the other, quickly abandon or avoid training our 'off' style. This is a very poor approach and will limit you and your performance in the long run. One of the things we need to do is identify our weakness and then train to that weakness to become a more well rounded athlete.

As an example, I am by no means the biggest guy in the world, in fact, I like to race at between 145 and 148lbs and I am a spinner. I am most comfortable at a cadence approaching 100 on the bike and 184 when running. While this style suited me well for short total speed based races, moderate rolling terrain and climbs, it was not great at producing a lot of power for sprints or steep climbs. Even though I knew I needed to do big gear work to become a better all around cyclist I avoided it at all costs, relying instead on a good heart and a big set of lungs. As I transitioned from short course racing to long course racing this style became a huge limiter. No longer could I rely on my ability to suck up the pain of going all out for 12-15 miles, spinning like a madman knowing it would soon be over but rather I had to become more like a grinder, lowering my cadence and increasing my power output as I increased the distance I needed to cover in each race. Not practicing and training both systems resulted in a very slow run in my first Olympic distance race which was very hilly and nearly a DNF in my first 1/2 Ironman, again because of a poor run brought about by a poorly executed bike.

Each discipline has its own reason as to why we need different gears and also an approach to developing them.

In the pool, I find gears to useful to improve body position, improve ones catch and to improve the overall rhythm of the swim stroke. By swimming slow, I mean really slow, you have to truly engage core, and focus on a long taut body to prevent your legs from sinking. Swimming fast, sometimes with the help of fins, aids in timing breathing to the stroke, not to early, not to late. Additionally, changing ones stroke rate up or down may help in developing overall better swim economy and speed through improved technique.

On the bike, big gear work is king. Not only to out improve the amount of power which can be generated on any given stroke through improved neuromuscular recruitment, you also to learn to take some of the load off the heart and lungs, placing instead on the big power generators, specifically the gluts.

Finally, by upping your foot turnover or cadence in the run you begin to develop a run based more on elastic recoil, free energy, think of snapping an elastic band, rather than pure muscular force. The goal of running, within reason, is to try to have the feet touching the ground for as little time as possible. A slow plodding gait, means a very long contact time and requires your muscles to work so much harder than a fast light gait resulting in more speed with less exertion.

So what does this all mean. Quite simply we must train at different speeds, different cadences and different terrains so we develop all our gears because one never knows when you may have to grind for a while.


Edward Geddis

Ok, training has begun and we are getting into the routine of our Prep season schedule. Now is the time to start to look at some of the finer points of the sessions you have been prescribed. Why can't we just jump on our bike and go for a spin,  slap on the shoes for a quick jog around the block, or even just dive into the pool and splash around a bit to get up and down the lane. Well, I guess you could if your intention was just to exercise without a clearly defined reason for doing each individual workout. While there is nothing wrong with that, it probably won't do much to help you achieve your goal of completing an Ironman.

When applying training to a specific goal for triathlon training the concept of gears comes into play. The idea of gears is easy on the bike, little gear in front, big gear in back, this is easy to transfer to our workout goals. This concept of gearing becomes a little tougher when it comes to the run and seems almost impossible when we think of the swim. So why are different gears or speeds important and why do I need to start incorporating this type of training into my overall program.

First off, it has been my experience that most beginner and intermediate athletes, be it self-coached or new to coaching spend far to much time in the one gear, usually just below or at their desired race pace, when performing all their sessions. While this may bring about fitness it does not necessarily mean you are fit for racing. In doing this type of training you are putting a tremendous stress load on the body, leaving yourself prone to injury, and ignoring the other factors which could make you a better, more rounded and stronger athlete.

So why is it so important to have multiple gears. Time for a little physiology lesson. During any training session the body has 3 different energy systems it taps into at any given moment. There is the immediate energy system, the creatine phosphate system, lasting only about 10 seconds, the aerobic system, which if trained correctly, i.e. to burn fat like we talked about last week, can last days, and the anaerobic system, which falls in between the other two systems. While any given session will tap into all three systems, certain sets will focus on one system over the other. Sprints utilize the immediate creatine phosphate system, hill repeats and short intervals utilize the anaerobic, and the endurance run uses the aerobic, as examples. If all we do is train the higher end aerobic system the other 2 systems aren't challenged or developed and we become a one gear machine, not good in a racing scenario. 

Additionally, we have 2 primary muscle types we use in training,  type II or fast twitch muscle fiber and type I or slow twitch muscle fibers. While you can't chose which fiber type is being used at any given time the proportion of one type over the other happens independently of thought, based on the demands of the task at hand. Additionally, as we age, the number of type II fibers decreases and thus our ability to produce power unless we do sessions to specifically focus on these fibers dwindles accordingly.

Finally, by developing different gears we can begin to experience the feelings or sensations you will go through when a hard hill climb is called for or you need to sprint to the finish to get that PR. Gearing also allows for improved neuromuscular recruitment, and better motor patterning resulting in better form and technique. This means you will be able to do more, run faster, swim farther, climb better, while exerting less energy which makes for better overall results.

As you can see the reason to develop different gears goes on and on. One thing to remember when we talk gears, we are not just talking about speed, slower or faster, but also our ability to produce power. Power is something we all need, to fight a current or big waves in a swim, to climb the hill at mile 45 in Mont Tremblant or to sprint to the finish for the podium.

Next week, we will begin to dig into how to develop different gears for each discipline, and breakdown some sessions to help you develop these gears. My newsletter will give an example of a bike session which improves power and neuromuscular recruitment while continuing to build that all important aerobic base so sign up and enjoy.

Until next week, keep on moving but don't be a fixie, start to work on adding a few gears to your arsenal of training.


I ain't going on no Diet!

Edward Geddis

So last week we started the discussion regarding a very pressing issue for most of this time of year, how to get to race weight without affecting performance. Today, we will continue our discussion on how to improve body composition or put another way, burn fat, build muscle and be happy with the number that pops up on the scale.

An added benefit to all this is the positive affect it will have on heart health, which seems apropos  as this is Valentine's week.

To begin, the first step is to develop healthier eating habits. Easier said than done and the first step is to eat. Yes you read that right, eat. Commonly, when someone wants to drop weight the first thing they do is stop eating but as we learned last week this is the exact opposite thing we should do. For a quick refresher, review last weeks post. The key here is to get into a habit of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with small snacks through out the day. This help keep your sugar levels consistent, along with your energy levels.

Drink lots of water. I can pretty much guarantee you that you are not drinking enough water. Water is necessary for all process in the body either directly or indirectly. An easy way to determine how much water you need is your body weight in pounds divided by 2 giving you the number of ounces you need. For example a 150lbs male need 75oz of water. That does not include coffee, tea, fruit juices, soda, etc just water.

Next avoid any food which can be bought at a gas station. This means overly processed foods. These foods contain a tremendous amount of sugar along with a myriad of other disgusting ingredients that do nothing to help the body and in fact can do great harm over time.

Avoid anything white. This is probably the easiest but at the same time hardest thing to do to improve ones diet and the subsequent health benefits which follow, This includes sugar, flour, potatoes etc. The reason being is that these 'foods are typically overly processed and contain limited nutrient value.

Now to the real meat and pototoes so to speak. Each and every meal needs to contain 3 things:




Why may you ask are these 3 things so important. Well my friend, the answer is this, Protien is the building block of muscle, the thing we are trying to build. Protein also affects hormonal response for the good and lastly, protein takes energy to breakdown, thus burning calories to make it available to our body. Next is Fat, that thing we were told to avoid at all costs, for so many years. Fat gives flavor to food, gives of the feeling of satiety and because it is slow burning and has 9 calories/gram gives you energy for a long time. Additionally, when we eat fat we learn to burn fat, which is the purpose of this whole article, And finally, Fiber, whats the big deal with fiber. Fiber brings bulk to a meal, meaning we can consume less calories while at the same time feeling full. It also affects how quick things move through our GI track and the overall absorption rate help to reduce those sugar spikes we want to avoid. Lastly, food high in fiber typically are also high is very valuable nutrients, think veggies.

Ok, so we now have an idea of what and what not to eat but that still does not answer the burning questions of how much do I need so I can burn off that unwanted fat. Calorie counting does not work, we either under or overestimate the number of calories and often don't eat enough to properly fuel the machine to keep us functioning. The best method and the easiest method is the hand method. Simply put one hand, yes your entire hand is protein, lean beef, chicken, fish, tofu whatever is your choice for protein, cooked and seasoned as you like it. The other hand is fiber, your fruits and veggies, nuts etc. The fat comes in the form of fats in the protein, oils used for cooking, dressing a salad, avocados, nuts etc. If you are still hungry after the first serving go back for seconds but making sure even portions of protien/fat/fiber such as a fist size serving of protein matched with a fist size serving of fiber. Notice no where is there a mention of carbs. While we want to avoid refined carbs as much as possible, small portions are allowable here and there. As the season progresses and we get into more intense workouts, longer ride and runs more carbs, rice, quinoa, etc can be added in but again in small amounts. A slice or two of good hearty bread is also ok on occasion.

Lastly, the occasional cheat is ok as long as the cheat does not become the norm. A glass or two of wine, a piece of dark chocolate, a pasta dinner, what have you. Remember, one of my first posts was about taking baby steps towards a more healthy lifestyle, to much to quick and denying oneself the things they love usually results in the entire process breaking down and reverting back to old habits. By slowly reducing and eliminating the bad it becomes easier and easier and before you know it, you don't even want it any more.

I hope that helps out a bit. A good place to start is with a food diary, we all think we eat really healthily until we actually read what we ate each day. Write it down, review it, learn from it and substitute where you can moving forward. It is a process and as with anything in life doing it takes time and patience.

Happy Eating.