Ever wondered why some training programmes work for some athletes and not for others? Why some people are genetically gifted athletes? Why there is a fixed set of intervals for all athletes? Why certain drugs work for some and not others? Do compression socks work? What the hell does a VO2 max test tell you, is it just useless information? Is lactate friend or foe? I delve into the sport science world and try to find the answers to train smarter and hopefully become a better athlete. This page is written in my own thoughts and words with a cross-pollination from several other sites and links to the original articles. Some of it might sound like a rant but it is written to make you think. So if you read it without a open mind then your in the wrong place. Enjoy and open your mind.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review of ZeroPace Training Log

This is a review for ZeroPace Training Log. I have purchased the ZeroPace (ZP) software so this is a honest review of my experience.

Over the years I have used Polar, Garmin and Suunto heart rate monitors and with the build up of training files I need a training log software where I can view all the data on the same training diary. There are several online training software, Training Peaks being the cream of the crop for online software but if you want all the features this comes with a monthly price tag to match, I found that TP is not so user friendly, but this is a personal opinion. Accent is another software which for GPS based software is good, it is a PC training software so all your files are on your hard drive but you are limited to GPS files, so a watch which doesn't have GPS wont work with this software. There are several other training software but many are outdated and lack features or a wide range in HRM watch support.

As I travel a lot during the race season I don't often have online availability for training logs, so I prefer a offline version where all my data is on my hard drive, plus where bulk uploads are done a offline version runs quicker. This is where ZeroPace comes in. ZP is good value for money and has many if not most of the features that the more expensive training diaries has. ZeroPace also has a online version and a mobile version, the PC version does interact with the online version, but I have not used these two versions of the software so I can only comment on the PC based software.

The customer support for ZP is fantastic, I have seen several of my suggestion incorporated into updates to the software. Currently the software is designed for Windows, as I have a Mac I run ZeroPace on a Boot Camp partition. Installation is simple and quick. Updates are free and a upgrade license is only required  for major updates where the software goes into a new version.

Most Garmin and Polar devices are supported so that uploads of data are uploaded directly from the watch into the software. For other watches you will need to import the data first. I use a Suunto HRM watch and some of my data was on FirstBeat. FirstBeat I found very limiting in features and is only compatible with Suunto and Garmin. FirstBeat files needs to be exported which take a while before being imported into ZP, the files from FirstBeat is also rather large so this is not a long term option. I now use a old copy of Suunto Training Manager for export to ZP which uses a much smaller export file. (If you Google you will find a download link for STM). ZeroPace will do a import of either single or batch imports of files. ZP has the ability to show GPS files which is viewed through Google Earth.

The following file types are supported: 

Polar HRM files, Garmin HST and TCX files, Suunto SDF and FBE files, Timex CSV and PWX files, PowerTap CSV files, SRM TXT files, Specialized SLG files, CompuTrainer TXT files, Tacx RTF files, CatEye CSV files, Ciclotour TXT files, Kettler Tour Concept CSV files, iBike CSV files and Swimovate PoolMate Pro files.

Below is a series of photos which gives a feel for the training diary software.

Calendar view
In the Calendar view you have all the daily training sessions listed with week totals on the right, it is possible to also use the calendar as a training plan. On the bar graph screen the training plan data and actual data can be compared.

There is a option to either take a snap shot of the data or in the list view, data can be exported  into a spreadsheet format. 

List view

The list view contains much more information than the calendar. On this above screen shot  mainly heart rate information is shown, all columns are customisable and can be filtered with uploaded data from eg, power, speed, distance, cadence etc. In the above example you can also see a drop down list where gym workouts are included. Colour codes can be used to compare information. 

Note that with Suunto only heart rate, energy and altitude information is imported. As I don't have the GPS pod I can not comment on Suunto's import of GPS data. I have Garmin data on ZeroPace and all this data has been imported without problems.

Information from Suunto watches such as respiration rate, EPOC and TE are not imported, but then again this data is based on calculations and not actual measured values. So I am happy to live without this data. 
Chart page
Chart page with various charting options such as 2D, 3D view, line graphs etc to view just about any of the downloaded or manually added data. Two separate data fields can be viewed at the same time in the chart, in the above example the following is shown: The bar graph, time in heart rate zone and the long horizontal points is total exercise duration.

Heart rate, speed, altitude, power, speed  screen
Graph with heart rate, speed and altitude.
Heart rate graph, with time in zone on the left , time in heart rate zone at the top, and interval information in the two pop up boxes on the right. In the above graph heart rate and altitude is shown. ZP will also show power, speed, cadence and with some watches temperature. In the top left are options to view cadence, speed and power in a distribution chart.
Another nice feature is that all information columns can be hidden so that the graph is less cluttered, this is a good feature for smaller computer screens. On the graph, notes can be made as on the right.

There is a page where you can enter goals and achievements, multiple athletes profiles can be updated and each sport can have its own heart rate zones entered. 

If I had to be picky the only down side is the limited GPS map features and map analysis, but by using Google maps the guys at ZP are able to keep their price affordable and the other features in the software makes up for the GPS features. I have used and tested around 7 or so different training diaries over the last few years and ZeroPace is the one that has impressed me most. Finally here is a link to the ZeroPace website: http://zeropace.com/

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Functional vs Structural changes through training

This blog is about making athletes think about their training, why do certain things and what happens when we try to adapt training programmes to our physiology instead of following the normal cookie cutter approach of just doing. Understanding what functional and structural changes are helps with this understanding of why we see certain changes through training. There is no official definition and these ideas come from FaCT so I have made my own version of the definition here plus given a few examples so you can get a idea of what functional and structural training is.

Don't confuse the definitions of functional training (or functional strength training) which Wiki writes it as, training the body for activities of daily life, which in short is transferring the strengths from one movement with resistance to a sport or activity.

Functional change definition: This is normally a short term result of training and is where the initial changes in the body is seen. Functional changes are often temporary and is gained and lost quickly.

Structural change definition: This is a long term change in the body that results from starting as a functional change and through months and sometimes years of specific training to develop that specific system may see the development of a structural change which supports the human body.

So when the two definition are combined then functional and structural training implies to the development of the human body through specific training which will normally start with functional change, and through specific stresses and adaptions lead to a structural change which will improve athletic performance. The development of the structure of the body which broadly speaking will include the respiratory system, cardiac system, muscular system, hormones, blood system etc.

Here are some simple examples: A professional cyclist who has been cycling for years, has a higher amount of mitochondria growth and capillarization compared to a amateur. Using the same trained cyclist, his muscles have developed from being a amateur cyclist being functionally good to adjusting the muscle fibres structurally so that they can better perform the required activity.

Athletes thus in general have a higher ability to utilise oxygen and pump a higher volume of blood which is developed through training.

You say so what, this is obvious. Here are some more examples to think through: A novice cross country skier will have problems initially learning to ski and use a huge amount of energy learning to balance, after a few days he has learned to balance and found the needed coordination and he will be skiing faster simply by having made a functional change. Now you did some tests as he started skiing and a few weeks later the skier has shown an improvement and you think, great he is fitter, but most likely due to the improved balance and coordination the skier is able to use more muscle to ski faster, which may show a higher VO2, instead of using muscle to balance. The Skier will initially very quickly develop the utilisation ability through capillarization and mitochondria density and the before mentioned improved balance and co-ordination. This is often the big improvements seen in research studies which last only a few weeks versus trained athletes where changes are small as there is very little room for functional changes. To make structural changes which will strengthen the athletes respiratory system, improve cardiac output and stroke volume may take months or even years.

Another type of example: A athlete goes to altitude or sleeps in a altitude tent and is able to raise his blood values, now he goes back to a lower altitude to compete and if he is a responder to altitude, he/her body is simply utilising the extra oxygen available to the body. To make a real altitude adaption takes many years of IHT and altitude training where the body learns to adapt, and to better utilize and deliver.

Some individuals can improve Stroke Volume (SV) through certain training protocols or even exercise which can be due to a plasma volume increase. This again is a very functional change which is temporary. Repeating this functional training over several weeks, sometimes months should (if the correct stimulus is used with the correct timing to stress the limitation) see a structural change in End Diastolic Volume (EDV) as a change in heart size, thus a higher volume ability to pump blood (stroke volume) and a lower heart rate (CO=SVxHR).

So in any system that you are training you need to think, is it development or just utilisation, i.e. capillarization or capillary utilisation, SV through plasma expansion or SV through EDV improvement,   mitochondria density or mitochondria enzyme reaction. Is the sudden improvement weather related, (hot=warmer tarmac=different reactions on bicycle/skate wheels resistance.) or is it true structural adaptation. Another improvement which has not even been mentioned is on the mental side. Once you have done lets say a performance test, you know how it feels, so next time in most cases without any physical improvement you know how to pace it better. Changes in nutrition can make functional changes to blood (e.g. beet root) certain supplements which may buffer H+. Respiratory training with specific devices will initially show great improvements as coordination and general conditioning improves (similar to the idea with the skier) but long term diaphragm strength and transfer of training to sport specific activity may take months.

The key to train structure, you need to find what is the limitation which is creating the weak link in athletic performance.

Further and more in depth reading on functional and structural training go to http://fact-canada.blogspot.de/2008/02/functional-and-structural-training-by.html and the here.