Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Attempt at Vaughters' Stupid Training Methods

A year or two ago, CEO of Garmin Sharp and former pro cyclist on the USPS team Jonathon Vaughters wrote a guest column in Bicycing Magazine about four of the stupidest, yet effective training methods he's encountered. Read it online here.

Basically there are four stupid ways to train. Motor-pacing, not eating, riding until you puke, and doing intervals on consecutive days. I took a solid month of training and tried each one. And I can now confirm that they are amazingly stupid and extremely painful in different ways, and mentally agonizing. Here's my breakdown of each:

1. Motor Pacing: This is probably the most dangerous in terms of physical injury that could occur. Motor pacing involves sitting in the draft of a moving car. You can probably use your imagination to determine the possible consequences. But I'm told that the cerebral cortex doesn't fully develop until around age 23 and that's the part of the brain that analyzes risk vs. reward. It works, if not always tangibly. At less than ~15mph the effect isn't really felt because of the low speed, but rest assured that hiding in the draft does help you save energy. It also pushes you if you have the mental capacity to strain and not slow down on the hills. Vaughters writes, "When we analyze data from our team's power meters, we always find that the only workout that mimics a fast-moving peloton is motorpacing."

Verdict: Effective, when done on a road with almost no traffic. Otherwise: Suicidal. Vaughters offers this tip: If the car in front of you is forced to break, jump from the bike and hang on to the car or truck for dear life. Obviously your bike will be smashed, but you'll be more or less intact.

2. Not eating: Vaughters said he identifies this as bonk training. What it really does is teaches your body to use fat as a fuel at high intensity instead of pure sugar (glycogen), saving that for when it's absolutely necessary. He explains this training plan:

"On day one, do a solid, intense group ride for three to five hours. Really pour your heart into the efforts and hills. When you get home, resist the normal and completely sane urge to ingest calories. Wait a few hours, then go ahead and eat as if you hadn't skipped refueling--have a light lunch or dinner or whatever. Just don't pile on tons of carbs.

On day two, get out of bed and consume zero calories before you hit the road. You can drink plain water, even black coffee, but nothing that has any caloric value. As soon as you're warmed up, take your pace up to about 5 percent less than the maximum effort you think you could hold for a solid hour--then ride it for an hour. The first 30 minutes aren't so bad, as your body burns through the last of the stored glycogen in your muscles, but once that's gone, your body has to find alternative sources of fuel--and that ends up being fat, protein, brain cells, whatever. It's excruciating."

Was he ever right! This training method is the most mentally taxing in my opinion. And it also goes against everything I've ever been told by every coach I've ever had. I refuel ASAP after every session. It's also about 10x worse when it snow between sessions and the second ride is done on a trainer. But it also improves endurance tremendously when done about once a week. At the end, I could tell that I didn't need any gels during rides that I would usually consume two.

Verdict: Taxing and painful but it works amazingly well.

3. Riding until you puke: The idea here is that instead of the steady power required for longer intervals, this workout causes your wattage to fluctuate, which simultaneously forces your body to deal with the stress of producing higher power outputs and raises your ventilatory rate much higher than would a steady effort. Basically it works like this: Find a flat stretch of road with few to no stoplights (I used Country Road 21 in Fort Collins, near the Holiday Drive In theater) and ride all out for 10 seconds, then spin easily for 20 seconds. The 10 seconds are all out, the 20 seconds have to be spent spinning, no coasting. Vaughters said that the only reason he mentioned this one is because there are so few people that can mentally tolerate this workout that it really won't matter if it's published or not.

He underestimated a stupid, seventeen year old athlete with a good sense of his abilities. For a long time, I've been told that swimming is the most mentally taxing sport, and lessons learned in the pool translate to the rest of life. It's true. The mental strain wasn't too bad. Until I puked for the first time. It took about 15 minutes of this workout. And it's honestly one of the worst pains in the world. I really didn't think about the small things, like eating bland foods before, not having coffee or chocolate gels, etc. So what came up was acidic and burned like a mother. Worse, I got some of the vomit on my kit. Freshly laundered, mind you. What may be the worse part is that there's not tangibility in this experiment. No real effect or numbers to crunch.

Verdict: Painful, stupid, and no real result. Will not be repeating.

4. Intervals on consecutive days: Supposedly this is extremely taxing, painful, and improves your endurance a lot. Only the third really applies in my mind. Intervals, while painful, are nothing after throwing up acidic liquids on a previous workout. Vaughters wrote out this pair of intervals:

Day one: Do three hours total, with a 30-minute warm-up followed by three efforts of 10 minutes at 40k-time-trial speed and 100 rpm, and 10 minutes of recovery between. Cool down nice and easy.

Day two: Do two hours total, with a 30-minute warm-up followed by 10 efforts of 1 minute, all-out up a hill at 70 rpm, with two minutes of recovery between. Try not to stare at the apparitions haunting you as you cool down.

Okay, it was a pain in the ass. But isn't that what intervals are supposed to be? I didn't really feel that bad after the second day. It wasn't exactly pleasant, and I was tired as all get out, but it wasn't too bad. There is actual evidence that this works though. In a recent (more recent than the article) study, doing intervals the entire week at the beginning of the month improves V02 max more than doing spaced out intervals (four in a week, instead of one per week). Why? Because the body adapts rapidly to the amount of required oxygen and starts to think that the increased exertion is the new normal effort of a workout.

Verdict: Effective, not as painful as advertised, and not as dangerous as the other methods. Best "stupidly effective" method, in my opinion.

Disclaimer: Vaughters was right to say that these are not the smartest ways to train. They work, but are painful, and in the case of motor pacing, extremely dangerous. I would not recommend anyone try motor pacing. If you feel the absolute need to try another one of these, bring a friend as a spotter who can carry extra gels, water, etc. in case you blow up.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to see this in practice. Thanks for posting.