Body Weight v Speed

If you want to go faster you need to go lighter! This is a generalisation but in the vast majority of cases it is true.  Triathlon is a race of three parts, on both the bike and run lowering your weight will make significant improvements to your race times.

If you cast your mind back to your science lessons, the greater the mass (weight) the greater the force required to accelerate (move) it.  Sorry if you have just eaten that big bar of chocolate but it’s as simple as that.  This is why you spent a fortune on that lightweight bike frame, or covet those latest carbon bits and pieces.

Before you consider reducing your body weight you must ask yourself ‘Can I afford to lose any weight?’  You may already be at your correct weight however for the average athlete its unlikely.  Getting lighter is not a simple task as you must ensure you maintain your health and power to gain the benefits of any weight lost.  The scales may give you a clue to the weight you can lose but beware, a big muscular frame is heavy and powerful but for the same height may weigh the same as a slender body carrying unnecessary fat.  A more reliable indicator is your percentage body fat.  There are various tests available to measure fat percentage, you can use calipers or electronic resistance which will give a fairly reliable indication until you get to the lowest end of the scale.  Most of us can work it out with a long look in the mirror and an honest assessment from a partner, friend or coach.

I cannot stress enough in a weight loss programme you must maintain your power and health.  This means the loss must be gradual and not at the expense of proper hydration, nutrition, vitamins and minerals.

You will be aware that as you exercise or live your daily life you burn ‘fuel’.  This can come direct from your digestion or be supplied from stores within your body.  You are a clever beast so if you take in more ‘fuel’ than you need you store it in your body for use later when ‘fuel’ is more scarce.  Once your blood, liver and muscles are full of fuel you will store it wherever you can, generally around your internal organs or under your skin around the skeleton, this is what we know as fat.  The fat has its own weight but requires water for storage adding more to your body weight.

Generally we want to keep our muscle and our skeleton is pretty useful so it’s the excess fat we can afford to lose.  Reduce the excess fat along with the water it is stored in and your weight will reduce without loss of power or damage to your health.  Less weight, same power so you move faster.

So how do we shed this excess fat while maintaining a healthy body?  Quite simply we need to show our body food is a little scarce at the moment to make it draw nourishment from the fat it so carefully stored.  Your body will be quite happy doing this until you reach the lowest fat percentages when your body will take drastic and performance damaging steps to protect itself.  Weight management at these lowest fat percentages is risky and difficult, far beyond the scope of this piece.

If you can afford to lose some fat from around your body you have two choices, the first is to increase the energy requirement by exercising more or the alternative maintaining your activity level and reducing the ‘fuel’ you take in.  As triathletes are generally quite active and time constrained the more activity option is difficult without risk of injury, unemployment or divorce.  This leaves the option of reducing the ‘fuel’ intake in such a way you can maintain your health and activity while increasing the fat you burn.

Please ignore all the ‘get thin quick’ fad diets and pills, they may work in the short term but much of the weight loss is from dehydration, you feel awful and will be unable to maintain your active lifestyle.  As a result you will soon give it up and as you re-hydrate the weight comes back.  Genuine weight loss is as slow a process as it was to put the weight on originally.  Bear in mind there is enough energy in 200g of fat for an average person to run a marathon.

First assess your diet, keep a log of what you eat over seven days.  This alone will make you think about what you eat and just writing it down will reduce your intake.  You won’t want to write down ‘six biscuits in a boring meeting’ or ‘half a pack of Dorritos watching tv’.  You must include all your drinks other than plain water.  Consumption of sweet and alcoholic drinks is often the cause of excess ‘fuel’ being taken in.  It’s easily absorbed by the body and readily converts to fat if not required for energy.  So where do you think that evening pint or half bottle of wine ends up?

Once you have your diet log, sit down with your partner, friend or coach and take an honest look at what you really need.  How much of your food is poor quality sweets, fatty food or sweet/alcoholic drinks?  How much has proper food value, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals?  Generally the answer is obvious and it’s easy to see what you can cut down on or stop taking in completely.  Often you can cut down so much junk food and drink that you need to add more quality food to supply the energy you need to live a healthy life.  Remember you are looking for a very gradual reduction.

So if a little is good why can’t you just cut down dramatically or stop eating all together?  Unfortunately your body is too clever for that, cut down too much and your body will think food is very scarce indeed and assume you may have to survive some time without it.  Your body will reduce your energy levels to prevent you burning what you have too quickly, of course you will have to reduce your training as a result.  As your body works less it will not need to be as strong, it will sacrifice muscle before it uses the fat stores.  This is a good strategy to keep you alive for a long time without food but is very unpleasant and works against what you are trying to achieve.  This way you will lose little fat, feel awful and lose strength.  Any weight loss will be balanced by a loss of power so no increase in performance.

The secret is to reduce the intake gradually so you do not trigger your body’s survival mechanism, but by enough to cause it to dip into its fat reserves to fuel your activity.  After a few months you will find your weight is significantly lower, your power will not have been affected and you have the performance advantage we all strive for.  It’s not a quick fix but the effort is worthwhile.

Mark Harman

Donating Blood and Training

I regularly give blood and have on occasion met other athletes at the donor sessions.  Without doubt blood donation is a good thing to do, as we are cycling and running out on the roads we are at greater risk of accident and may one day need to draw on the blood donated by others.  We are also healthy individuals ideally suited to supply blood without a significant impact on our own lives, but how will it affect our training and athletic performance?

If you have gone through the blood donation process, their risk averse health and safety warnings make you believe you should not even think of moving quickly after donation, but what is the truth?

A 1-pint donation of blood reduces blood volume levels by about 10 percent.  The loss of fluid has an affect but if you race or exercise in warm weather you will lose more fluid than this and still function relatively normally.  Just rehydrate as you would on a warm day.  What’s different is you will also lose blood cells.  Blood cells will natuarally regenerate, returning blood levels back to normal after about 48 hours. However, the level of blood hemoglobin, your body’s oxygen transport mechanism, typically does not recover fully for up to three to four weeks after donating, so competitive athletes may observe a slight decrease in physical performance during that time period.

A 1995 study published in the “American Heart Journal” evaluated 10 male cyclists before and after blood donations to test the effect of blood donation on performance. Each cyclist was measured for oxygen consumption during maximal exercise testing at baseline, two hours before donating, two hours after donating and seven days after donating. Results showed that the maximal performance of the cyclists decreased for at least one week. Submaximal performance, however, was not affected by blood donations. The study concluded that while competitive cyclists should not compete for seven to 10 days after donating, cyclists exercising or training at submaximal intensity may not have negative experiences aside from a higher than normal heart rate the day after exercise.

So in summary we will be affected by giving blood, our race performance will suffer for about a week so don’t do it just before an important race.  It also tells us we can continue our sub – maximal training, the level most endurance athletes work at 80% of the time, almost immediately after donation.  Accepting you may experience an elevated heart rate and some reduction in performance for the following 48 hours.

If you give blood already I hope this helps you decide when to resume training and racing after donation and if you don’t it may encourage you to know you can safely include training, racing and giving blood in your athletic lifestyle.



Spinning Classes

A Spin Class is a cardiovascular, butt-kicking workout that takes us on a stationary but sweaty ride of your life.    In a spin class, remember it is your workout.  You control everything from your speed and resistance to your intensity level, so it can be as easy as you like or as challenging as you want it to be.  Its an ideal class for cyclists especially during the winter months when the daylight is short and the conditions are harsh outside.

What is Spinning?

Spinning is a specific format of indoor cycling, taught by only qualified instructors.  It is a cardio (aerobic) workout set to music lasting from 40 minutes to 60 minutes depending on whether it is a beginners class or more advanced class..

Whom it’s for:

Spinning is great for people who want a motivating workout that they can control at their own pace. Even if you’re not into choreography-based fitness classes, you can still enjoy Spinning because it involves neither rhythm nor complex moves. It’s low-impact, so it’s very suitable for people who want to balance out higher-impact exercises (like running) or for people who have some joint problems.  Because it is low impact, there is no loading of the joints so a fantastic workout if you are returning from injury or on a weight loss programme.
What to expect:

Try to think of your instructor as a guide—he or she should give you general guidelines about how much resistance to add, how fast to pedal, how hard you should be working, and when to do certain movements (like standing, sitting, sprinting, etc.). Using these cues as guidelines, it’s up to you to work out at your own level and pay attention to how you feel. You can recover, go slower, use less resistance, or vice versa depending on how hard you want to work. In a class format, everyone feels a bit of pressure to keep up. However, Spinning is non-competitive. Especially if you’re a beginner, remember that it will take a few weeks to build up your fitness level to be able to work hard for the whole class. It’s important to listen to your body and work at a lower intensity as you get the hang of it.

You can also expect to feel fatigue throughout your leg muscles when you’re newer to Spinning—even if you’re used to working out in general. But no matter what, don’t stop pedalling. At the very least, keep those legs moving slowly. Suddenly stopping any exercise has risks (like passing out and lightheadedness), so if you get tired, simply reduce your resistance and slow down to catch your breath.

You will also feel some saddle soreness from the seat, and that’s very normal. After coming to class regularly, that soreness will go away for most people. If it helps, stand up out of the seat a little bit when you need a break. You can also adjust your position in the saddle and take “posture breaks,” where you stop reaching forward to the handlebars to sit upright in your seat.

Alternatively, investing in a pair of cycle shorts or a padded gel seat will help keep you more comfortable during your ride.  Making sure your bike is set up correctly is also vital for remaining comfortable and injury free and a good certified instructor will be able to guide you through this.  If you are not sure, arrive a good 10 minutes before the class commences and the instructor will help you set up your bike to suit you.

What to wear: Workout clothes (but no long/baggy pants, because those can get caught in the pedals/wheels) and flat-soled workout shoes are a must. If you have them  cycling shoes with cleats (that clip into the bike pedals) can make your workout more effective. But cycling shorts and shoes are not necessary, especially not for beginners.

What to bring: At least one water bottle (trust me, you’ll need it!) and a towel for all that sweat.. If you have one, a heart rate monitoris an awesome fitness tool that instructors and students alike typically use to measure exercise intensity during spinning classes.  A heart rate monitor is not a must as often modern bikes will be equipped with this sort of information already built in but if you are the type of person who likes to record these stats, then a heart rate monitor is useful.  It can also tell you whether you are over working or under working at any given time.

Joining a spin class has many benefits as it allows you to continue training regardless of the weather or time of year.  Training with others is also great fun and can often push you further than if you always trained by yourself.  The music and the instructor are great motivators so the time goes quickly and is far less boring than sitting on a turbo trainer in a room by yourself.   A spin class helps you to burn plenty of calories and together with a healthy lifestyle will help you lose weight.


If you are a beginner to a spin class arrive early to get help with setting up on your bike to make your ride as comfortable and as safe as possible.

Let the instructor know beforehand of any illness or injury you may have so they can offer an easier ride.

Drink plenty of water before, during and after a class as you will sweat and dehydrate, so in order to get the best performance continue to drink throughout.

If you feel unwell, slow down, drop your resistance but do not come to a complete stop too soon.  Allow your heart rate to return to normal by just going slower.

If you unsure, speak to other class members they are always more than willing to share their experiences and expertise to make you feel welcome.


Classes are available with the North Norfolk Wheelers Cycling Club at Splash on a Tuesday evening between 7.30pm – 8.30pm.  Price is £3 per session for members.

Train Hard – Race Easy

Train Hard – Race Easy is an old saying but remains true today, get the work done in training and the race day will tend to look after itself.  For most of us the race season is still a few months away, an ideal time to think about your training and the race performances it produces.


‘Train Hard’, what does that really mean?  Many feel you have not trained hard unless you are in a pool of sweat, vision blurred, legs wobbly and hardly able to support you.  This is hard training and the subsequent adaptions will help you in a specific area of your performance.  For others you are not training hard until you have been on the road for hours, run out of food and water and are dragging slowly home in a world of pain ready to eat the whole contents of the kitchen.  This is hard training and your body will learn from this also, adapting to cope better with this type of activity.  Do you spend an hour at the pool improving your troublesome swim stroke, or an extra hour out on your bike which you love?  That fast bike ride may seem good ‘Hard Training’ but would the improved swimming technique from your mentally hard but physically easy swim have improved your whole triathlon race.  For others hard training is fitting twenty hours a week around a job and family commitments.  Cramming as much mileage in as possible, getting out in all weathers, working through those annoying injuries, getting out there even when your body is crying out for rest.  This is certainly hard training like all the other examples, but will any of those training methods mean you can ‘Race Easy’ when that big event comes round.


Most of you reading this will be in the world of endurance sport.  Sorry to disappoint you but your 5km runs, 10 mile cycle time trial and your supersprint triathlons are all endurance sports.  Will your ‘Hard Training’ deliver the result you are seeking?  So your ‘hard’ forty five minute cycle turbo session, where you stumble away from the bike, steaming like a race horse is excellent for developing your body to produce power at or above your aerobic threshold.  You will develop pure speed and for races under an hour in duration you will probably produce some good performance improvements.  However you are training in a zone where your body burns its available fuel very quickly.  This is fine if you have enough in the tank to complete your event but once the tank is empty your performance dramatically drops so training this way will not allow you to race your two hour plus event ‘Easy’.


So you have just dragged home from another long run, or a day out on the bike.  You have covered some hard miles, just made it home as your pace slowed and you slump on to the sofa with a well earned packet of biscuits.  That was some ‘hard training’.  It will help you cope with the distances involved in your endurance event but will it give you the speed you need to compete?  No it will not prepare you to ‘Race’ easy’.


How about the lifestyle athlete, every inch of those training miles is logged and scrutinised.  That ride which was 96 miles to home just had to have another four mile loop added so it looked better when shared on line.  When waking feeling tired and ill they still get the training done.  Ok the pace was slow and the heart rate very high but the miles were logged.  Wake with a sore leg, it’s been sore for a while now but a long run is planned so they run anyway.  There’s a bit of a limp but the run is logged and the miles in the bank.  Will this pattern of ‘Hard Training’ give the desired result on that long distance event? No they will probably start a broken and over trained athlete who struggles home well below their potential, not racing ‘Easy’.


So this ‘Training Hard Racing Easy’ is not quite as simple as those four words make out.  For endurance racing you actually need a combination of training fast – hard, training slow – hard, training long – hard, training technique – hard, training digestion and hydration – hard and resting – hard.  This is not helped by the proportions changing depending on what you are racing, a 10mile cycle TT is not the same as an Ironman Triathlon, the training is made up of similar components but vastly different proportions.


We know ‘Train Hard – Race Easy’ is the right way to go but how to ‘Train Hard’ is not so simple.  The athlete jogging gently along the road as if she has all the time in the world may be training harder than you tearing past on your bike at 30mph.  The athlete swimming drills slowly in the next lane may be training harder than you as you tear past doing 10 x 100m efforts.  The athlete sitting at home with his feet up may be training harder than you as you cycle along coughing and spluttering through a winter cold.


If you are unsure of how to balance your training to ensure all your hard training goes towards that easy race day you should consult an experienced coach.  Most will happily chat for free at a training session to set you on the right path.  You can even employ them to set a detailed training plan for you, to ensure you are doing the right proportions of training for your key events and to be able to quickly spot the signs things are going wrong.  If you do not have the knowledge or experience to know how to train for your planned events ensure you are guided by someone who does.


Now is the time to develop your training plans for the coming year.  Think about what you are doing ‘Train Smart – Race Easy’.


Keep warm