It’s All About The Saddle

The most significant contact point that you can get right on your bike is the saddle. If your bike fit is correct, your saddle will be taking the largest percentage of your weight and will be offering optimum support. If support is inadequate, too much weight will be going through some of the rider contact areas on the saddle or through other contact points, creating problems.

The saddle that comes with your new bike is, like most mass sold items, designed to generically fit people of the average size/build of the bike purchased and simply finishes the bike within a price point. It is not the best saddle for you.

What are some of the factors to consider in a saddle?

Support

The saddle carries most of the weight of the body. As the pelvis is not that large, it has only a small amount of contact area with the saddle. This contact is not like sitting in a chair. It is essential that your choice of saddle enables the most contact area available. This means that widths in different parts of the saddle are important. It is crucial that you select the best saddle, in shape and design, for your individual build. If the saddle is not wide enough to support the pubis, riders twist to one side causing uneven loading, knee angles change causing loss of pedalling efficiency and potential shear forces. Get it right and the saddle increases comfort, efficiency, and performance.

Stability

Saddle design is also important for good rider biomechanics, which is key to maximising efficiency. Consider what shape of saddle best suits your riding style and sporting aspirations. The right saddle for you will provide stability. Being stable avoids the power output drop and performance or riding deterioration which instability causes. Stability creates the opportunity to improve power, speed or aerodynamic position.

Comfort

The wrong saddle can cause a range of other issues from simple discomfort to saddle sores or vascular problems. Saddles that cause a ‘hotspot’ result in riders shifting weight to the other side for relief. As a result, as they do so they place extra stress on the knees as they then track differently, placing unnecessary shear forces on joints. Repeating that thousands of times in a ride or race increases the risk of injury.

A poor choice or poorly positioned saddle results in riders shifting on the saddle to get comfortable. As a result, each shift causes a break in the pedalling rhythm. Each break in rhythm causes a loss of time. Research has found that at elite level each shift causes a time loss of approximately 3 and 1/2 seconds and is a lost quality pedal stroke. This means that not only is there a time penalty but also a negative energy cost.

Aero-friendly

The saddle is possibly the piece of equipment that most affects your aerodynamics. If a rider can’t hold an optimal position, the aerodynamics of the rider will effect drag coefficient negatively. For example, this will result in loss of gains made from expensive deep section wheels or other purchases. Riders and triathletes will discuss aerodynamic gains all day. However, the bigger gains are stability, comfort and efficiency. When you have stability you create the opportunity to improve power, speed or aerodynamic position.

If you cannot rotate the pelvis anteriorly it will be difficult to maintain an aero position or to be riding in the drops. Therefore the often-seen option of lowering the base-bar or slamming handlebars is not a positive choice. Without stability on the saddle it’s difficult to hold a quality aggressive or  aero position.

Triathlon Specific Considerations

Triathletes often wish to stay aero for as long as possible but if the saddle doesn’t suit the rider, it’s hard for them to rotate the pelvis anteriorly. This rotation is important to create that necessary stability in the position. An uncomfortable saddle will limit ability to maintain that position due to discomfort caused and pressure on nerves and blood vessels. This results in posterior rotation of the pelvis to relieve the pressure, coming back to the base bar position and toughing it out in a poor position. This can cause excessive loading on the lower back which in turn affects the whole of the posterior kinetic chain. For triathletes, any problems created on the bike section can also later cause problems on the run when loading on the body and the damaged area increases dramatically.

Individuality

There are some differences to consider between female/male pelvis size and width. Females generally have wider pelvises. However it’s important to consider yourself as an individual rather than making gender assumptions. It’s about finding the right saddle for you as a rider. What is the width of your pelvis? This is measured by the distance between the ischial tuberosities, the ‘sit bones’.

Other questions might include: Do you need more stability? Do you genuinely have the flexibility to use a certain type or model of saddle?

Knowing how you load your saddle is important. Do you load to the front, middle or rear of the saddle? Knowing this helps in saddle choice. You may need to ensure sufficient leg clearance to stop your knees angling out or poor rotation of the pelvis and increased positional shifting.

Cycle-fit

Once you have the right saddle, also getting the height of the saddle right is essential. Power transfer is never going to be optimum if it is too high.  Saddle height being too high, perhaps to emulate what the rider perceives to be the optimum position, can lead to the rider having to tilt the saddle nose down to reduce unwanted pressure. In turn this causes instability as weight slips forward, increasing pressure on the front of the pelvis and causing discomfort. It can also place too much weight forward affecting, shoulders, back, arms or hands, and lead to other issues. 

In conclusion

Saddles are a hugely personal item of equipment. Spend the time to learn what suits you, get someone to assess your position critically. Get measured to have an optimum width to offer stability. Review your options regularly. Some manufacturers have test saddles you can borrow from retailers and others offer a 30 day trial or return. Time invested in getting it right will be rewarded with your goal of comfort with increased efficiency and performance.


Ian is a qualified cycle-fitter with over 10 years of experience working with age group and elite level riders/triathletes of all ages. He believes he is fortunate enough to have been trained by some of the best fitters in the business. His fitting knowledge is supported by his understanding as a Level 3 High Performing Triathlon Coach and a British Cycling Level 3 coach for Road, Time Trial, and MTB.  He is an age-group athlete, has represented GB at Long Distance and Cross Triathlon, and has completed over a dozen multi-day long distance cycling events. He is always happy to discuss your needs in relation to fit and training. Please get in touch with any questions.

Behind Bars

Well to be exact, behind handlebars and aerobars. As with all your contact points on the bike it’s important that your bike fit is optimised to enable a great position but not at the cost of comfort. If comfort is not there, then efficiency is affected and so, therefore, is speed. 

I am sure most of us who ride a bike have experienced that feeling of pins and needles in the hands, often along the ring and little finger. You take your hand off the bars, make a fist, wave your hand around and the sensation reduces and disappears. Hands back on the bars, back up to speed, and a while later it is time to repeat the process. On each occasion, whilst you do this, you reduce your speed (not to mention the one-handed cycling and changes in ride posture/pressure on other contact points).

Clinically, this is known as Handlebar or Cyclist’s palsy. It is commonly associated with compression of the ulnar nerve. The median and ulnar nerves provide sensory innervation to the hand. Compression most frequently is in an anatomical space in the wrist called the Guyon’s Canal. Depending on your choice(s) of hand position on the bars and the setup of the front end of your bike, the numbness may also be experienced around the thumb, index, or middle finger. This will be compression of the median nerve and may be diagnosed as Carpal Tunnel syndrome. This is more common among mountain bikers and the cross -triathlon community due to the different handlebar configuration and hand position. 

For triathletes, from novice to experienced, there then there comes the question of aerobars. Incorrectly set up aerobars increase the risk of ulnar nerve impingement at the Cubital Tunnel at the elbow. As the ulnar nerve travels from the neck to the hand, compression of the nerve may show symptoms along this path. Most often symptoms are numbness and tingling in the hand or finger of the affected side and difficulty in the application of finer motor skills i.e. changing gear in an aero position.

Handlebar Palsy can be split into four categories, with a fifth category to consider in relation to aerobars, according to where the compression occurs. Each has its own characteristics of sensory loss and/or motor weakness. While it is unusual for age group triathletes and cyclists to suffer motor impairments, any symptoms and their causes should be managed to avoid the risk of long-term chronic damage.

Research in this area over a number of studies indicates that this is an important issue for growing numbers of athletes riding on aerobars. Cross-referenced studies have shown increases between pre-event and post-event symptoms; and end of season symptoms have shown a further increase. Triathletes and Time Trialists should research or take advice on the best shape of aerobar design and configuration for their individual biomechanics.

There may be a range of reasons for the symptoms across all groups of riders including:

  • Being too far forward on the bike – uneven weight distribution;
  • Too much pressure through the hands;
  • Incorrect grip on the bar;
  • Incorrect athlete position on aerobars;
  • Aerobar pads with insufficient or worn padding;
  • Saddle too high/bars too low;
  • Worn down handlebar tape;
  • Poor saddle choice/position;
  • Lack of padding in gloves;
  • Incorrect bar width;
  • Incorrect aerobar design for particular athlete;
  • Incorrect aerobar set up – angle, width;
  • Overinflated or narrow tyres.

Due to the changes in how we train with the advent of turbo and smart trainers, a growing variety of platforms to train and race on plus virtual racing events, the prevalence amongst the triathlon and cycling community may be on the increase.  Historically there is an increase in people experiencing symptoms over the winter months. This is most likely due to decreased changes in hand position; less movement of the hands generally and reduced fine motor movement demands. Training indoors may bring on symptoms due to factors such as wearing different gloves or moving less on an indoor trainer. 

This condition can be caused by a poor bike set up/fit. I often see riders with stems slammed low to emulate a perceived quality aero position when the rider just is not capable of maintaining it comfortably, safely, or efficiently. As a result, weight shifts in different proportions around the contact points. The most common hand positions for symptoms are hands on the hoods or drops or by the gear shifters. Also, for those on aerobars, the general considerations for handlebars apply to the base bar but also consideration of the design of the aerobars and set up plus individual biomechanical limitations.

What can you do to relieve or stop the symptoms?

  • Get a proper fit. Talk with your fitter and ask their rationale about changes to your set up.
  • Optimise your handlebar width for your physical size.
  • Optimise your aerobar design and shape for you.
  • Make small changes in angle to your handlebar position to reduce pressure on the hands.
  • Make sure to change hand position every 5-10 mins – especially when on the trainer.
  • Avoid over-gripping the bar – an overly tight grip does not improve your handling or security.
  • Reflect on your ride position and grip.
  • Ride a wider tyre or adjust tyre pressure.
  • MTB riders / Cross athletes should keep your front suspension serviced.
  • Gloves with foam/silicone inserts. Research indicates 3mm of foam to be effective.

Most of us who cycle will experience this from time to time. It is about noticing it, reflecting on it, and making those changes to improve your position or riding habits to maximise your health and the riding experience.


Ian is a qualified cycle-fitter with over 10 years of experience working with age group and elite level riders/triathletes of all ages. He believes he is fortunate enough to have been trained by some of the best fitters in the business. His fitting knowledge is supported by his understanding as a Level 3 High Performing Triathlon Coach and a British Cycling Level 3 coach for Road, Time Trial, and MTB.  He is always happy to discuss your needs in relation to fit and training.

Sleep And Athletic Performance

Sleep is an essential component of health and well-being. The amount and quality of sleep you get impacts on your physical development, emotional state, cognitive performance, and quality of life. Studies also show that optimal sleep duration and quality for athletes is associated with improved performance and competitive success and reduced risk of injury and illness. Potentially some of this enhanced performance is gained through increased participation in training as sessions are not lost to fatigue or illness.

However, many athletes don’t get the hours or quality of sleep they need for a variety of reasons. Some of these are external factors such as work and family commitments, travel, academic schedules, or poorly designed training and competitive schedules. Even though these are external factors, if they are affecting your sleep it is worth looking at them to see what changes can be made to help you.

Other factors affecting sleep are very much more readily controllable. If you are honest with yourself about your self-assessment of your sleep duration and quality you are likely to find quite a few tweaks you can make which will improve the duration and quality of your sleep.

The first stage might be to begin careful monitoring of sleep. Most athletes are keen to upload their training data to share with their coach or friends but how many also share their sleep metrics. Many watches have the ability to measure both the duration of sleep as well as any periods of being awake and the amount of deep sleep within the total duration. There is an old management saying of “that which is measured is managed” and that can equally apply to your sleep. Regular monitoring will identify when your sleep is less than optimal which by comparing with your activities at that time can help you to identify the factors which are problematic for you. 

Some of the first factors to look at are the timing of your training sessions if you train in the evening. Try to finish no later than a couple of hours before bed. This is particularly important if you are eating your evening meal after training as you should aim to have a few hours for digestion before trying to sleep. Caffeine has been shown to have positive benefits to athletes but its stimulating effects will not help to get to sleep. Set yourself a deadline in the day beyond which you avoid caffeine.

One factor we recommend is the careful management of electronic devices in the hour or two before you go to bed. Phones, tablets, TVs, computers and similar all emit blue light, the wavelengths of which have a powerful waking effect on your internal body clock by blocking the hormone melatonin. Using blue light devices just before trying to go to sleep is likely to result in you feeling stimulated and alert just when you should be winding down. Either shut devices down a couple of hours before sleep time or change the background colour settings on the screen.

A significant downside to screen time before bed is also the mental clutter which it may cause. Reading an email with a work-related request just before going to bed is going to cause your mind to be busy. Set yourself reasonable boundaries to your working hours and don’t feel you have to automatically download emails in the evening. Keep yourself in control of what comes into your life outside of working hours, particularly in the time before bed.

Finally be aware of whether alcohol may be affecting your sleep. As an athlete you may not be consuming much but it may be enough to affect the quality of your sleep due to its affect on hormones. Whilst alcohol is thought of by many as an aid to sleep it actually is not effective. It may reduce the time it takes to fall asleep but this is offset by having more disrupted sleep in the second half of the night.

Our top tips for athletes to improve sleep habits are:

  • Aim to get your training finished no later than a few hours before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
  • Shut down blue-light devices 1-2 hours before bed.
  • Set regular wake and bed times.
  • Do a sleep health audit over at least a 2 week period.
  • If you use a platform such as Training Peaks, record your sleep and other metrics to help you or your coach identify problems with your sleep.

MAF Training – An Information Summary

What is MAF?

The acronym MAF stands for maximum aerobic function. 

Why does MAF matter?

MAF reflects our ability to burn (oxidize) body fat for nearly unlimited energy. Reliance on fat-burning, a predominant fuel source potentially used for most of our needs, occurs in the cell’s mitochondria, found in muscles, including the heart, kidney, liver and many other areas. Fat-burning also increases production of ketone bodies, useful for energy by the brain and throughout the body, and helps keep energy high, and blood sugar and glycogen stores stable. Maximizing natural fat-burning directly improves all areas of health and fitness.

What are the elements of health and fitness which MAF addresses?

  • Training within MAF HR training zone
  • Beating sugar addiction
  • Turning on fat-burning
  • Controlling chronić inflammation
  • Managing stress

What is my MAF training zone?

Your MAF HR is determined by subtracting your age from 180.

Then modify this number by choosing one category below that best applies to you:

a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (including any operation or hospital stay), are in rehabilitation, have been prescribed any regular medication, or are chronically overtrained, subtract an additional 10.

b. If you are injured, have regressed or not improved in training (such as poor MAF Tests) or competition, get more than two colds, flu or other infections per year, have seasonal allergies or asthma, are overfat, are acutely overtraining, or if you have been inconsistent, just beginning or returning to exercise, subtract an additional 5.

c. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems mentioned in a) or b), no modification is necessary (use 180 minus age as your MAF HR).

d. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, have made progress in your MAF Tests, and have improved competitively, add 5.

The resulting HR is the high end of the HR range with the low being 10 beats below. For example, a 40-year old in category b) would have an exercise range of 125-135 bpm. Users can self-select any intensity within this range.

Your coach may choose to work you to a slightly ‘adjusted’ figure in line with your goals or markers from previous sessions.

How does MAF training work?

Your MAF rate is the maximum HR you will train at. Your training zone is within the 10bpm below your MAF HR. Initially, exercising at this relatively low heart rate may be difficult but after a short time, you will feel better and your pace will quicken at that same heart rate, so you will not be exercising at that relatively slow pace for too long. In other words, you will walk, run, bike and perform all activities at faster paces. This increase in pace (or power) at the same MAF HR is also an important evaluation, called the MAF Test, that measures this progress. We include testing in your plan at regular intervals to evaluate that progress.

What if there is no or little progress?

The two most common reasons include:

  • Calculating a MAF HR which is too high. This could be due to an error in using the 180 Formula, such as choosing the wrong category.
  • Poor diet. Your diet can influence your fitness even more than exercise itself. For this reason we recommend starting with the Two Week Test to identify any carbohydrate intolerances and establish good eating habits.

What is the Two Week Test?

One of the most effective ways to quickly improve health and fitness is to determine your tolerance to carbohydrate foods. This can be personalised through the Two Week Test.

Carbohydrate intolerance occurs when we consume more sugar, starch and other carbohydrates than tolerable. The result is we store large amounts of these foods as fat, and we are unable to burn stored fat for energy.

Record your perception of your health and diet before the test to compare with your experiences during and after.

  • Avoid all of the following foods during the Two-Week Test:
  • All sugar and sugar-containing products: Includes basically anything with honey, sugar, agave, fructose, cane sugar, or syrup in its ingredient list.
  • Sweets and desserts: cake, cookies, ice cream, muffins, candy, gum, breath mints.
  • All non-caloric artificial and so-called “natural” sweeteners, including stevia.
  • Many canned and prepared fruits and veggies contain sugar or starch. Read the labels!
  • All bread, muffins, rolls and product made with flour (whole-grain, multi-grain, flaxseed, rye, gluten-free, etc).
  • All products made from corn and corn flour, including tortillas.
  • All pasta.
  • All snacks: crackers, chips, rice cakes, etc.
  • Energy bars and sports drinks.
  • Ketchup, mayo and other sauces and condiments. These often contain hidden sugars.
  • Rice: wild, brown, white, basmati, etc.
  • All other wheat and wheat products: whole wheat, farro, bulgur, khorasan, millet, etc.
  • All other grains: millet, quinoa, etc.
  • All potatoes.
  • All fruits and berries.
  • All legumes: beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, peanuts, etc.

References

The MAF Method, Dr. Phil Maffetone
https://philmaffetone.com

Athletes: Fit but Unhealthy?, Dr. Phillip Maffetone and Paul B. Laursen
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882373/pdf/40798_2016_Article_48.pdf

Carbohydrate Intolerance and the Two Week Test
https://philmaffetone.com/2-week-test/

The Vegetarian and Vegan Two-Week Test
https://philmaffetone.com/the-vegetarian-and-vegan-two-week-test/

Winter Training Tips

What to do this winter to boost health and immunity and take yourself into the start of next season’s training in the best possible condition.

Winter months can be a challenge for triathletes. There is a balance to be found between easing up on training intensity, allowing time for other pursuits, perhaps coping with the weather conditions, and for some resisting the urge to forget fitness entirely for a few weeks/months, to succumb to the lure of the settee, Netflix, and one more chocolate.

Without doubt this year has been a challenging year for everyone, even those who managed to race, and it could be tempting to forget training for a couple of months. Resist. Use the next few months to really work on your health. In addition to the preparation for next year, working on base fitness over the winter months is going to give you your best protection from succumbing to Covid by boosting immune function and will have a positive effect on your mental health. That can only be a good thing over the next few months where the combination of lockdowns, restrictions from ‘normal’ socialising, cold and wet weather, and shorter daylight hours will combine to make life feel more challenging.

Consistency

If there is one word which is used when talking about the training of successful athletes it is consistency. Consistency doesn’t just apply during the period of time before your ‘A’ races. We find that those of our athletes who continue to be coached throughout the year and maintain consistent training start the next season from a stronger position than those who take a couple of months off and then literally start again at the beginning of the next season. Do what you can to not miss training days. Consistency becomes a habit and it is easier to maintain a habit than create a new one. Consistency of training also reduces reversibility, the inevitable loss of training gains when training stops. (Use it or lose it!)

Consistency is sometimes lost because athletes do too much with too little recovery until eventually they become ill or injured. You should be aiming for progressive overload of what you do in your training sessions but also allowing for sufficient recovery. This is where having a coach is a useful thing so you have an objective assessment of when and by how much to increase your training load. The general rule is 10% increase in intensity or volume. Gradual increases are tolerated by the body and with sufficient recovery adaptation can occur. Too big an increase is likely to lead to injury and time out from training.

Recovery & Maintenance

It is also worth bearing in mind that often it is not all about how hard the session is. The key to unlocking performance and reducing injury risk is recovery. Recovery and maintenance are individual to each athlete but are an area that is often overlooked. An effective strategy is to dedicate as much thought to this part of your training as to the ‘shiny’ sessions. This includes looking at the quality of your sleep and ensuring you are getting enough.

Enjoy Other Activities Whilst You Have The Time

Over the winter is a good time to participate in other activities you enjoy. Do so for the fun or social benefits of participating, whilst still remembering that specificity is an important principle for effective training. For triathletes this means continuing to have some swim, bike, and run sessions. Reducing the volume of those sessions from your in-season training can allow you the time to also enjoy other activities to keep your mind and body stimulated.

You might choose to still stick just to swim, bike, run but change the terrain.

Trail running gives an opportunity to get off the pavement and work on proprioception, balance and a greater understanding of how to run well. Or have fun mountain biking which will add a whole different intensity and experience to your ride if you are normally on the road, yet in return develops your bike handling skills and strength. Both of these off road options also engage you more with ‘process’ as you have to pay greater attention to the constantly changing terrain.

Reduce Volume

Now can be a good time to back off the volume. Although it’s great to get out for a long bike ride on a dry sunny winters day, ask yourself if a 6 hour ride is the best use of your time. Consider this both from a training perspective but also a balanced approach to life. Backing off the volume gives you time to do other things..

The debate between quality and quantity in endurance sports can be simply expressed as training volume (how much and how often) vs training intensity (how hard). Both are important and you will never be able to complete an endurance race without some training volume but ideally your training should always be the smallest does of training to achieve the result needed in this moment. If you’re doing an Ironman next year there will be a time for getting your body ready for long hours in the saddle but unless it’s in the next few months, you have time to do that later.

A periodised training plan allows you to improve the quality of your training in a progressive way and gives structure to your overall schedule. Success in endurance sports is gained from doing the right things in the right amounts at the right time.

Skill & Technique Development

Now is a great time to assess and identify areas of skill and technique that are ripe for development, improvement, or complete overhaul. Work on basic skills and drills, especially on the bike and run. Learn how to do it better or practice to refine your skills. If you have a coach, ask them for direction on what you need to work on. If you train yourself, take care that the information you are using to guide you is reliable. Make sure you are not spending your time doing what ‘x’ on Facebook does. Take the time to understand and work on developmental areas.

Review This Year & Plan Ahead

Be honest with yourself about where you are now, how this year went, whether the allotted time you thought you had this year worked for you or whether life has changed for you and you have less or (if you’re lucky) more time available. If you kept missing training because of work or family commitments it may be that this reflection causes you to reassess your goals for next year. You might have the goal of a podium place at Ironman distance but if your maximum training time more closely matches the time needed to successfully train for 70.3 distance this is a good time to honestly evaluate what you choose to do next year. That’s not to say you have to change to 70.3 as you might need to let go of something else in your life to free up more time for the Ironman training. Equally do you decide that another branch of multi-sport is more suited to your time availability or physical abilities.

Plan your journey. Where do you want to be as a person and an athlete in 3 or 4 seasons, they are inter-linked. Ian’s early experience (30 years ago) was that it’s easy to simply plan on a season to season basis. You then bounce from event to event , cramming in the training to move towards a finish line. Sometimes this process has little recognition of what has gone before and what comes after. A breakthrough in thinking came when talking with a coach from another sport about planning for the longer term, several seasons ahead. This changed his success as he subsequently planned better from that point onwards.

We advocate that you initially plan over a period of 3-4 seasons. This allows your goals to be linked and allows you to feel that you are being successful a step at time. It also creates a consistent opportunity to reflect, evaluate and review your strategy towards the bigger outcome. Reviews and evaluation should be an ongoing process so that you are involved in the journey and it evolves as life does. Your year 3 is unlikely to look the same when it comes around as it did in year 1. Time spent this winter looking ahead at what you do could transform your training and racing over the next few years and beyond.

Strength & Conditioning

Now is a great time to develop a habit of strength and conditioning work.

This is a dimension of training often overlooked by athletes. Strength and conditioning can and should take on a variety of forms to allow a greater range of benefits. Incorporate quality key exercises from reliable training sources (not the latest feed of Instagram) including basic key weightlifting to a range of body weight exercises. Include some Yoga or Pilates, with a teacher that genuinely understands your sporting direction. Go to a few lessons, repeat what you learn regularly at home, and dip back for checks on your progress and form.

Nutrition

Review and overhaul your nutrition. This can include both your day to day fuelling and also your training and race-day strategies. We live in a world where for many of us accessing food is relatively easy, involving simply a trip to your supermarket and meal of choice. Do we fully look at or understand the nutritional information? Do we understand what we need for optimum function physically and mentally, both as a person but also as an athlete? How many athletes are relying on training with added nutritional products and supplements? Ask yourself do you need that energy drink for an hour on the bike in the next few months, potentially not. Have you established your tolerance to carbohydrates, our body craves sugars but do we need to feed it as many as we do.

We both eat a plant-based diet but even if we didn’t we would ensure we eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables each day to ensure we eat a range of macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients.

Winter is a good time to look at what you are eating and establish some good habits. This increase in awareness of the nutrient quality of your food choices might also help you make positive choices at festive meals. It really is possible to eat well at this time of year and emerge into next year at a healthy weight and healthy and energised for training.

Try Some Low Intensity Training

Low intensity training, especially at the beginning, can be frustrating as you learn to run slowly. It requires patience to allow for the physiological adaptations to occur.

Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF training) is the training philosophy developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone, who coached six-time Ironman Hawaii World Champion Mark Allen back in the ’90s. The philosophy was born out of Maffetone’s observation that many endurance athletes were frequently becoming ill and getting injured as a result of pushing their bodies to incredible levels of stress in training. The method works on a basis of 180 – age, then additions or subtractions from this for injury, training history etc. The aim is to become an efficient runner staying at or below this figure. To start with this can be difficult to achieve. It can be a shock to discover that you can achieve very little speed at a low HR and may be difficult to put your ego to one side and allow yourself to run more slowly than you would like. Remind yourself of what is possible to be achieved, the improvement in running economy and how your body will respond differently. Time spent working at a lower intensity now will build great base fitness and allow you much better endurance in next year’s events.


So to summarise, our top winter training tips are:

  1. Build or maintain consistency.
  2. Have fun doing other activities during the months you can enjoy having time for them.
  3. Reduce volume but keep some intensity.
  4. Skill and technique development.
  5. Plan and evaluate .
  6. Work on your strength and conditioning.
  7. Work on your nutrition and explore all the positive ways of enjoying seasonal eating without destroying your body.
  8. Try some ‘MAF’ training and work on your aerobic function.

Reframing the situation, being thankful for what you have, accepting what is, building for the future

Reframing the situation

Most of us are lucky enough that we have been born at a time and in a location that our basic needs have been met. Without us having to be aware of this privilege, we have been able to aspire to much more than mere survival. Our ‘normal’ includes sports, creative activities, socialising in a variety of ways, theatre and arts, choosing to wear clothes which project our personalities and achievements. The list goes on.

Coronavirus/Covid-19 has crept up on some of us over the last few weeks. It started as a situation somewhere else and our lives continued as ‘normal’. Now it is here and amongst us and we have to create a new ‘normal’ for as long as is necessary. Clinging to what we had, pretending we can carry on with our intended plans for the day/week/year will not be as useful to you personally or your community/country/species as creating a new way of being for now.

Examples I thought of as currently needing reframing are:

Your self-identity as an athlete
You will have spent time planning events for dates this year and envisaged your performance in these. Some may yet happen but it is possible that no events take place. In the meantime even though you are unlikely to be swimming, you can still bike and run (at a reduced volume and intensity to protect  your immune system) and do bodyweight strength and conditioning at home and keep yourself as healthy as possible. You are still an athlete even if you are unsure when you will race again.

Self-identity is a double-edged sword. We use aspects of ourselves to create self-identity and the ones we excel in, give us physical or external rewards or we enjoy most can easily dominate our lives. If all of your identity is tied up in being an athlete then the rest of your life could go wrong and you could still be happy. However if your identity as an athlete is threatened you have nothing left.

The psychologist and psychiatrist Raj Persaud recommends self-complexity in order to preserve positive mental health. Self-complexity involves seeing yourself in a range of ways. “Positive mental health strategies should include ensuring that your self-esteem is not focused in only one or two areas of life.” [Raj Persaud, Staying Sane, 2011]

You may have got used to being an athlete and the personal satisfaction that brings you but you are not only an athlete. You are also a son/daughter, husband/wife, father/mother, worker, member of society. Allow these parts of your identity to be more important to you at this time. Be the best individual part of the solution to this crisis that you can be and let that feed your self-identity.

Your needs versus your wants
The cycle-related equation n+1 doesn’t currently apply. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. [Maslow, A.H., A Theory of Human Motivation, 1943] Your physiological needs are homeostasis, health, food, water, sleep, clothes, and shelter.

Right now our health is under threat in a global way. If we don’t do the right things now this could threaten our ability to maintain supply of food and our ability to maintain shelter due to loss of earnings. The most important thing you can do right now is protect your health and the health of everyone else. That means staying home and keeping away from others.

It also means behaving in ways which allow others to do the same. You don’t need to buy products online which you don’t immediately need but which cause someone else to have unnecessary contacts and travel. (Yes we want to help businesses but the best way to help them long-term is to keep ourselves and others alive!) You don’t need that group cycle ride. You don’t need your usual hair cut, pub night, coffee and cake.


Being thankful for what you have

If you are reading this then be thankful that you are healthy enough to do so.

You also have time to read this so are perhaps not one of the frontline NHS staff who are working long hours and putting themselves at increased risk in order to save lives. (If you are one of those staff I am thankful for you.)

Be also thankful for police officers, fire service personnel, mountain rescue, delivery drivers, fuel station staff, supermarket workers, and cleaners, amongst many others who are working to keep society and supplies going. Don’t abuse this.

You have a good base level of fitness. You may, like myself, have an underlying health condition which elevates your risk of developing complications if you become infected but you are also fitter than the majority and have the best chance you can of staying healthy. You are also healthy enough to help others.

You have a home in which you can keep yourself safe.

You have the internet. You are not really socially distant. You can ‘virtually’ see and chat with friends. You can keep yourself informed. Used wisely and kindly, the internet is going to help you get through this. You have more ways of staying in touch than any previous generation. (Just be mindful that you are using it from your perspective. Someone else reading your social posts may have worked a long day on the nursing frontline or just lost a friend or family member.)

You can turn the internet off and have time to yourself knowing that no-one will knock on your door and disturb your peace.

If your work, like mine, has largely been cancelled for the next few months at least be thankful for the time you now have to read, write, think, take an online course. Now is the time to do all the things at home that you never usually allow yourself time for. No guilt needed.

Finally, the most basic of things to be grateful for, you are reading this via the light provided by the sun which is continuing to enable life on this planet. The planet will survive this. Be thankful for every sign of life continuing that you can.


Accepting what is

We all wish this was not happening and part of wanting to continue with our training and race plans is an unconscious desire to avoid accepting what we don’t want to acknowledge. Some are scouring the internet for the slightest hint of information about their race in case it is not cancelled. Accept that right now we don’t know how long this will last. We can’t know. We don’t need to know. We know what we need to do now. Stay home.

Ensure that you are accepting what IS rather than what you fear will be. Try to avoid catastrophising, projecting into the future, and imagining the worst. Try to stay in the moment. That is the bit that you have the power to control. Let go of the rest.

I personally think of and use the words of the serenity prayer. It is simple and useful. “… grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” [Reinhold Niebuhr, 1932-33] I’m not remotely religious but I find this useful regardless as it reminds me of what is within my locus of control and what isn’t.


Building for the future

This will pass. You will race again. You will do so with increased awareness of the value of your freedom and health and appreciate it all the more for that. Keep doing what you need to do today so that you are ready to emerge from this physically healthy but also emotionally healthy knowing you did the best that you could on each day in the meantime. I have coped with tough times in my life by reminding myself that I did all that I could on each day to solve or cope with the problem. Be your best you by what you do during this crisis and that will give you a strength to take into your future.


This is merely my attempt to make some sense of the current situation and in the process to hopefully be helpful to others. I would be very pleased to hear your views.

Stay safe everyone.

The Benefits Of Athlete-centred Coaching

So why do you want athlete-centred coaching by a professional coach?

Hopefully you’ll agree that we’re all different and have all got to where we are today on different paths in life. So why would you want to do an exercise or training plan that’s not designed specifically for you? Or one which doesn’t even consider your training history, life commitments, or current fitness state?

I’ll agree that a plan is better than no plan, especially if it is progressive. However, I see too many people following numerous routines that will leave them either fatigued, injured, or back at ‘square one’. Athletes with a view of “this worked for my mate, so will work for me” or coaches with a view of “this works for this type of athlete”.

One Google search for a training plan for any sport will result in thousands upon thousands of hits but how many are actually any good for YOU? The best plans, for all levels of ability (beginner to advanced), are those that are devised specifically for each individual in real time as relates to their specific situation (i.e. athlete-centred). That is because they would usually consider the person’s training history, current fitness state, work patterns, lifestyle, emotional condition, other commitments, injury history, and ultimately THEIR specific goals and capacity for training.

There is much more to the training delivery that makes for athlete-centred coaching. There are a myriad of coaches advertising their services on the internet as individual. Some coaches are qualified and experienced to deliver this, some are not. Some are simply re-hashing plans from another coach for their athletes with no real consideration of the impact on the individual. They assume that the training equation will work this time, because it did before. Recording your training and personal comments, including life factors and emotional responses in a ‘training diary’ to monitor your progress will also go a long way to identifying if things are working for you, especially over the longer term. Being open and honest with your coach assists them in developing your plan week by week in the right way for you.

At KI Coaching we have the experience and necessary qualifications to help you. We only work with a small number of cyclists, triathletes and runners at any one time in a truly athlete-centred approach. Knowing you helps us guide you towards your goal. Although you may choose to work with us as individual coaches you have access to the range of knowledge and experience we have between us. We have worked with a range of competitors from Age-groupers, ‘weekend racers’ and National Champions, those new to a sport, and those with decades of experience, those who are time-crunched and life pressured, to those with the luxury of a train any time lifestyle.

“Ultimately, the more coaches understand and connect with people they coach – by observing, noticing and communicating – the more they will be able to support them and help them thrive.” [UK Coaching]


Remember it is about a balance that enables you to succeed.

#balanceandsuccess #greatcoaching

Why KI Coaching?

Why KI Coaching?

KI Coaching is a husband and wife coaching team, formed to combine our skills and knowledge acquired during 30 years of sports participation and coaching … and, just as importantly, to combine our working and personal lives.

Following a couple of years of a series of significant life events and external pressures affecting all areas of our lives we recognised a need to train and live in a holistic way in order to achieve work, life, relationship and sporting balance.

On reflecting on people that we have worked with in our coaching, we see a common thread amongst a number of individuals who demonstrate or experience a lack of true balance in pursuing sporting goals with family and life commitments. We want to be able to use our personal and coaching experiences to help you to achieve balance and success as you strive to achieve your goals. 

So KI reflects our initials, Kate and Ian, but ki is also a word which reflects our coaching philosophy. Ki can be defined as the circulating life energy that is thought to be inherent in all things. The balance of negative and positive forms in the body is believed to be essential for good health. It is the balance of training load and type with rest, the balance of dietary and lifestyle choices, and the balance of mental as well as physical health which bring a sustainable success to an athlete.

Our coaching philosophy is aimed at helping you achieve this balance of participation or performance success in sporting goals as well as in life generally.

Kate & Ian