Friday, June 8, 2012

Seven Elements of Wiggins' Training: Part 2

Earlier we took a look at Bradley Wiggins' remarks about training.  Cyclists often prevaricate about their fitness and training levels (just try finding a power file for the cyclists are the very top of the heap), so while Wiggins has said he's engaged in the elements of training we listed, we can't be sure what Wiggins has actually done.  All we can be sure of is that he's in ridiculous shape, and we can recite what little we know Wiggins has been doing in the recent past:

Spring 2011:  Brought on Tim Kerrison, with a new approach, trained on track and at altitude

  • Spent a great deal of time on the track,
  • 3rd at Paris-Nice
  • Win at Criterium du Dauphine

Summer 2011:

  • Crashed out of Tour de France 
  • 3rd place the Vuelta
  • 2nd in World TT Championship to Tony Martin

Spring 2012:

This transformation we're seeing now was begun, it seems, in 2011, after a miserable first year with Sky where Wiggins overpromised and underdelivered.  (Good interview with Wiggins, in June of 2011 after his win at Dauphine and prior to his crashing out of the Tour).


The criticism of Wiggins, and the question we all had last year after Wiggins won the Dauphine and subsequently crashed out of the Tour, was whether he had peaked too soon?  That same question hangs in the air this year, except Wiggins has seemingly sustained sufficient form to be dominant since March; only now has revealed even better form, which he showed in yesterday's TT.

Yesterday we listed seven elements of his training under Kerrison:

  1. It's somehow like swim training
  2. It requires a constantly high level of race fitness (contrast this with Andy Schleck's miserable 6 months of sub-par fitness); and 
  3. Training, rather than racing, is the primary builder of fitness.
  4. It incorporates training for explosive power.
  5. Altitude training
  6. Huge Volume
  7. Lots of climbing 
I should add another one, based on a closer look at the volanic location of his training in Tenerife:

     8.  Training in heat

These elements I'll address in later posts.

In this post I want to see if we can tease out the structure of Wiggins' training plan.  By structure, I mean to examine when Wiggins does these training elements--his mesocycle.

Most cyclists follow traditional periodization plans.  In cycling, this means this means, putting it as simply as possible, that you go long before you go hard.  The concept of "reverse periodization," which I believe is guiding Wiggins' new approach, is exactly the opposite:  you go hard before you go long.

Both periodization and reverse periodization share the idea that the body responds to changes, and that the large plan (the mesocycle) should include many macro and micro cycles of different focus.  They both emphasize peaking for a particular event, and recognize that an athlete cannot sustain 100% race fitness all the time.

The two approaches differ in their understanding of how bodies adapt to training load.  

Advocates for traditional training emphasize the development of two engines--one that burns fast and runs hot (your anaerobic engine) and one that burns slow and runs cool (your aerobic engine).  Your aerobic engine, they argue, takes a long time to improve, and you improve it by going on very long rides--by building what's called a base.  Your anaerobic engine, they argue, can be stoked in a short time, and you improve it by doing intervals and the like.  You can stack the power of the two engines on top of each other:  imagine a low, broad hill (a base), with a very steep, tall incline (your peak) on top of it.  

Advocates for reverse periodization doubt the value of all that early aerobic work; they note what you and I probably note when we spend a month or two putzing around in slow as your grandmother mode:  a decrease in strength and power.  Don't lose strength and power every year, these coaches argue.  Instead, build the distance you lift a weight, hold your breath, sprint a 1,200w, or hold any given power.

This fits in nicely with the research coming from Tim Noakes of South Africa on fatigue and his central governor theory. (see Lore of Running By Noakes, Timothy D.)  Noakes, along with Matt Fitzgerald's Brain Training for Runners By Fitzgerald, Matt/ Noakes, Tim (FRW), offers convincing evidence that the notion of the "aerobic engine" is unhelpful.  They suggest--from their study on fatigue--training toward a pacing strategy, just as Wiggins' coach Kerrison and others do.

What does a mesocycle of reverse periodization look like for a Grand Tour contender?

Well, Wiggins started in the Fall of 2011on the track with the British pursuit squad, essentially motorpacing at 35 mph for 2-3 hours a day.  At the same time, Andy Schleck and other GC contenders were romping with dolphins.


In January Wiggins went to live on a volcano in January.  He has remained there, aside from a few weeks spent racing.  In training he has reportedly climbed enough distance to have reached outer space, so he has certainly done his share of long, hard rides.

His early-season training thus involved time on the track, time spent in the mountains--not just riding up them, but doing timed intervals up them, and time doing training for explosive power (as he revealed after his sprint win at Romandie).  I'm sure it also involved hours honing his position on both bikes in the wind tunnel and the shop.  It probably also involved time in the gym, possibly doing plyometrics or maximal strength training (Kerrison's guru, Ian King, was one of the earliest advocates for maximal strength training).  

In conclusion, Wiggins' macro cycle was probably based on a reverse periodization.  The early months of his mesocycle probably involved training at race-pace intensity (on the track) and great-than-race-pace intensity.  Although he clearly rode a great deal, even his longest rides involved burst of structured effort at intensity.  

There was no base period for Wiggins.  

Whether Wiggins can improve on his Dauphine form for the Tour is one question that has yet to be answered.  Even if Wiggins crumbles, he has already shown, by winning in March and again in June, the value of a different approach to the mesocyle.

In my next post, I'll take a closer look at the eight elements of Wiggins' training, and I'll try to draw something from the hermit on the volcano, some tips that might be useful for the amateur cyclist--the one who trains 5 hours a week.

2 comments:

Scott Saifer, M.S. said...

One thing to be concerned about when trying to extrapolate from one rider's success to plan recommendations for other riders is that you have to look a riders whole history. Say a rider does a lot of base for years and then one year he does a lot intensity and has a breakthrough. Does that mean that other riders should do a lot of intensity early in their careers, or that they should do several years of base, and then one season add a lot of intensity.

Rather than basing recommendations for amateurs on what Bradley Wiggings does, it would be great to compare two groups of amateurs, one of whom does traditional periodization and one of whom does revere periodization. Look at them after two years to see who's riding better say. I don't claim to know the answer.

deric santoso said...

Rather than basing recommendations for amateurs on what Bradley Wiggings does

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