Rio Strada Cycling Team Winter Training Camp

Mission accomplished on the inaugural Rio winter training camp.

The motivation in organizing (with the help of Bev McInnes, team director) the camp was to help the team understand the value of variety in their training. The winter training camp took place at Tahoe Donner in Truckee, and it kicked off with a social gathering and overview of camp objectives.  

I hoped to share with the Rio team riders that a variety of winter cross-training can be  fun and effective, and ultimately provides invaluable durability, injury prevention and improved performance.  Of equal importance, the inclusion of variety, especially preseason, prevents us from falling victim to feeling obligated to always riding our bikes. It allows us to understand there is a multitude of options for winter base endurance training – keep it fresh and fun.  Variety allows us to stay mentally and physically hungry to go after it when it counts, April-September. Over my career as an athlete and now coach, it has became clear that at a certain point, mental hunger and determination ultimately determines the victor.

Saturday morning – we woke to a bluebird day – and jumped in to a trunk stability program that focused on training a pillar-like neutral spine – with the goal to take that strength and awareness off our mats and in to our cross-country skiing. By training a functional neutral spine and maintaining it in our endurance pursuits – it creates a strong base from which to move and generate movement to our extremities. Efficient generation in to the skis and poles, in this case, with no energy leaks. 

After a bite of breakfast – we hit the trails for stride instruction. Morning instruction was followed by a snack (thanks to Andrew Strolin with Natures Bakery, who sponsored a generous supply of the natural fig bars for the team member’s valuable refueling), and then back out on the trails for time, to individually digest the technique concepts and practice what we learned.

Following lunch – free time allowed some to snowshoe for additional endurance time, while others capitalized on in-house massage with Daniella Gauvin. The idea with training camp was to provide an understanding of all the aspects included in training that create a comprehensive, effective and successful program. Regeneration in all forms – including nutrition//hydration, stretching, yoga and massage, along with rest, is a vital counter-balance to quality intensity training.

Saturday evening Jeff Angermann, Silver Sage Sports Performance Center physiologist and Assistant Professor, School of Community Health Sciences, University Nevada, Reno, provided an in-depth presentation on the physiological and nutritional aspects of effective training and racing. The presentation stirred questions and insightful answers, along with thought provoking discussion.

Sunday, and another blue-bird Sierra day, the training day started with isolated glute activation exercises and movement preparation exercises. This scientifically derived activation series helps us bring more glute awareness and trunk stability in to our endurance movements. As a society – due to sedentary lifestyles at desks and in cars – we are in a constant state of flexion. Consequently our hip flexors are tight, and we have lost our ability to activate and use our glutes, defaulting to an erroneously quad dominant movement strategy. The first step is to actually feel the glutes in order to strengthen them and then use them in movement. The tier of exercises derived from the six month fellowship at USC Movement Performance Institute I attended, effectively isolate and activate the glutes – and train them share the load with our over-active quads. The movement prep also allows us to become more aware of engaging the trunk, as well as firing the nervous system for improved balance and proprioception. Once we hit our skate skis for the morning instruction – we were primed for movement.

Sunday on-snow, cross-country instruction focused on the athletic, skate discipline. While cross-country skiing provides more general endurance base building – we can draw relations to specific movement demands, including compressing on to the ski as we compress the pedal.We started with instruction, which included lower and then upper body drills to break down technique,  and then hit the trails to bring the movements together.

Post-ski – a quick final bite, more delicious Nature’s Bakery bars, around the Tahoe Donner fire pits, hugs and smiles – a mass exodus, with the pedal to the metal home for Super Bowl.

A few other valuable, big picture reasons to add variety in winter training…

When I was racing – I would spend January at US National A Team training camps and then off to trade team camps in February. I would come home to master riders flying in February, winning the all-important training rides, like the infamous Sacramento River Ride and the long Sunday endurance rides – definitely the things contracts are made of….When I would return home again, at the end of May with a respite from international racing – these same people stale on cycling, had hung their bikes as garage art,  and were done racing for the season.

Effective training entails a more comprehensive, balanced approach than “more on the bike (or whatever the primary pursuit may be) is better.” It is a systematic orchestration of all the on-bike pieces to develop speed, explosive power,  efficient generation of force in to the pedals, specific pedaling strength, endurance, race pace intensity including subLT, LT, vo2 and anaerobic capacity efforts – we all know this, there are a bunch of books and blogs reciting all the same stuff. But the difference lies in how the program pieces are implemented, the athletes understanding of the “why” to training, the off-bike supporting activities, and the all-important mental training piece. 

Back to training camp concept, a big piece of the training puzzle is to keep each phase of training in perspective, and as a coach help the athlete understand the objective of each phase of training and maintain that perspective, irregardless of what everyone else is doing. Understanding ultimately helps the athlete hit each workout with purpose and intention, the key to glean the absolute from each training session- and helps the athlete understand and trust the training process as a process.

Using the foundation phase of training as an example – it is important to  continue to remind the athletes of the objective – to build a wide base of endurance and muscular strength upon which to build the other phases leading to competition. With proper investment this phase provides athletes with the ability to go deeper and effectively recover during race season. When this phase of training is skipped, athletes tend to be physically fragile, and are not able to adapt to and recover from training and racing loads.

But it is also the mental piece of maintaining the perspective of foundation training objectives  that in my opinion is of equal or greater value. The ultimate goal of the winter foundation phase is to emerge with the strong base, but mentally hungry to go after the next phase of increased intensity training. Allowing yourself to include a day a week or a weekend here or there of an entirely different base endurance activity, like cross-country skiing – is money when it comes to in-season mental hunger, tenacity and determination.

Too often – because we live in a physical world, we are consumed in our training with the heart rate or power numbers, what we ate or drank in examining our performances in training and racing – with little or no regard to our mental preparation leading in to or thought processes during the performance. This mental aspect of training should take center stage with the physical – and be central to every day and phase of training.