Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Using First Beat Software to Guide Training

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been learning how to use the First Beat software system to analyze workout efforts and recovery.    It’s a very powerful, but complex system and I’ve been lucky to have the guidance of Jim Galanes  (see http://www.jimgalanes.com/).  I think any Masters athlete looking to improve their health and race results would find his coaching quite valuable and worth the money.

To use First Beat software I collect data with two different heart rate monitors.  The Suunto Ambit 2 is a traditional chest-strap and wristwatch combo.  However, the watch can be programmed via a computer program to have custom displays of data for up to ten different sports.   If you’re running on the treadmill then you can turn off the GPS, but when doing a rollerski it is fun to see how much distance you have covered.  The other monitor is the BodyGuard 2 from First Beat.  It uses two electrodes that you stick onto your chest and it hangs on a wire connecting the two electrodes.  It can store several days worth of data.  I thought it would be uncomfortable, but I barely noticed during the day or during overnight sleep. 

The First Beat software can analyze the BodyGuard data to show when you are in a stressed state, a recovering state, or recovered.  If worn after a hard workout you can see the many hours it takes for the body to recover.   One interesting thing I noticed is that driving a car is stressful no matter what the traffic is like.  No wonder I’m tired after a long drive to Craftsbury.   First Beat also can analyze the data from the Suunto and compute a Training Effect number from 1 to 5. Training is supposed to stress the body to enough to stimulate an adaptation response.  So both the duration and intensity of the workout and the duration and quality of the recovery must be carefully monitored and evaluated.

I’m still learning the tools, but it seems that they will let me guide the athletes that I coach to be sure that they work hard enough when they need to work hard, easy enough when they need to go long, and that they properly recover from the hard or long workouts.

Here is a successful interval workout with a training effect of 4.0:

 Here is my physiological state during a good night’s sleep when I completely recovered:

You can read some very clear explanations of the details of using the system by Zach Caldwell here: http://www.caldwellsport.com/2014/07/firstbeat-epoc/

Monday, June 2, 2014

This past weekend I attended my 35th reunion at Harvard College.  While the parties were fun, the best part of the event were the sessions where classmates recounted their life stories with a special emphasis on overcoming setbacks and being resilient when life took a sudden wrong turn.  Several people had known the ultimate pain of losing a child.  How do you recover from something so traumatizing?  Jody told us of her loss, and how her father's experience as a Holocaust survivor informed her recovery.  She had learned that to be a survivor you must work to create other survivors.  Cornelia told us that she recovered from an abusive marriage with three key tools: first, a great support system of caring people, second, engaging her creativity in rebuilding her own life, and third, giving back to others.  In the area of support she told us about the four kinds of support that people can offer.  The best is Active Positive support where you say "That's great what you did, tell me more about it".  The next is Passive Positive where you just say "That's great that you succeeded".  But, some are Passive Negative where they might say "Great that you did well, but isn't it pretty easy and there are others doing better?".  Ouch.  Worst of course is Active Negative where someone says "You didn't really do anything good and you are not worth much".  To succeed we need to be very careful about who we surround ourselves with.

What does this have to do with ski coaching?  I feel that one of the great benefits of ski racing is that it gives us many chances to learn resiliency in a safe and not debilitating way.  Some day we will face a real trauma and perhaps the skills that we learned bouncing back from bad races will help us rebuild our broken lives.  As coaches we can teach our athletes to learn to get Active Positive support, to be creative in building their own lives, and to support others in their efforts to reach their own goals.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Measuring Talent

Simi, Jessie, and Sophie doing skits at REG.  Acting is a good measure of performance under pressure.

The latest post from the satirical blog, Nordic Tribune, has some arch comments about the difficulty of using dryland tests to determine on-snow skiing talent:  http://thenordictribune.blogspot.com/2014/05/usst-identifies-future-olympic.html

I've coached many times at the Eastern REG camp and was there as the USST developed their testing and selection process for NEG.  I know what a challenge it was to come up with some sort of standardized testing program. Is it a perfect system?  No, far from it.   It does have the advantage of setting up some objective measures that can give coaches some performance numbers to attach to athletes.  Athletes who win ski races are the sort of people who rise to any challenge and figure out a way to do well.  As a measure of competitive fire they are useful tests.  The satirical blog makes fun of having a 180 degree jump in the agility test and it makes fun of Newell because he didn't win on the World Cup last year.  But, I've watched Andy do the agility test and I think being of the top ten fastest skiers in the world is amazing.  I can see that his speed and coordination on the agility test correlates directly to his ability to mix it up with the skiers from the Nordic powerhouse countries.   He is great on rollerskis and even better on snow.

Given that the current testing system isn't perfect, what would be better?  In an ideal world (and please note this is just a fantasy of an ideal world), I would have all skiers on matched rollerskis and have them do two tests.  First, an uphill double-pole test.  In our testing at CSU we have found that this test has an excellent correlation to on-snow race performance.  Comparison between results of different regions would not be possible, but within each region you would have an excellent measure.  Second, I'd like to see a 5K skate rollerski time-trial.  With matched skis you would have an excellent measure of fitness and technique.  Again, terrain difference would make region to region comparison poor, but within each region you would see who can ski fast.

Hope to see some of you in Lake Placid for Eastern REG.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Back to Blogging (The Power of Goals)

Hi Coaches (et al.),

After an 18 month hiatus, I'm coming back for regular blogging.  I have no good excuse for not writing.  But, I've set a goal of weekly posts.  Hold me to it.

This brings up the subject of the power of goals.  Spring is the season when we CSU coaches meeting with our athletes to review the results of the past season and to set goals for the coming season.  We set outcome goals (i.e. race results) and also detailed process goals (i.e. the work we need to do) to help us reach the outcome goals.  I met on Sunday with a second year J2 skier.  He had a solid season this past winter and raced well at the NENSA J2 Championships.  For the coming year he set the goal for himself of making the NENSA Junior Nationals team.  I told him that he will need to lower his Double Pole Test time from 14:45 to 12:30 (among other improvements) to have the fitness to make the team.  One tool to achieve this goal will be using his homemade ski erg (the Robolina - directions on www.csuski.com) each week to build his specific power.  In the middle of the day on Monday I received an email from the skier with a copy of his training log showing that he had gotten up early that morning to use the Robolina before school.  Setting the outcome goal of making JNs and the process goal of improved double-pole power motivated the young man to put in the extra effort that it takes to reach the top levels of the sport.