End of Phase II—Two Steps Forward, One Step Back? Using HRV in a Training Plan

31 12 2014

I’ve found curious results when considering heart-rate variability (HRV) readings in the training plan. For the most part, the two analysis domains followed the proper trend, that is to say when the LF/HF ratio was high, the dominance level of HF power was low as was the index for the natural log of rMSSD x 20. That being said, I look back over the respective phases and think about where I am versus where I thought I would be. Maybe there’s more “art” to this than “science.”

Back in September, I wrote about a phased training plan that I would use to organize my off-season training. Soon after, I learned a bit more about HRV and it’s value as a factor for day-to-day training decisions. There are two types of analysis that I pay attention to: time-domain and frequency-domain. Fortunately, the Kubios HRV software puts the results side-by-side for easy comparison.

There were roughly 21 medical and sports journal articles that I studied when I decided to check what I call the “big picture.” That is to say, I would watch the Mean R-R, SDNN, and rMSSD variables from the time-domain analysis, the LF/HF ratio (Fast Fourier Transform,) and LF/HF ratio and HF (AR) variables from the frequency-domain analysis. The reason I did this was because most of the journal articles held conclusions for particular domains (and metrics.) Since I was extracting the report variables all at the same time from the Kubios software, there wasn’t any extra work involved to create the tracking graphs. (I feel that I should at least mention that the “non-linear” group of variables were available, but that I didn’t see enough recommendation or acceptance within the art to call for tracking them.)

Day-to-day decision rationale: I mostly consider the following graph (Figure 1) for training vs. recovery decisions. If the index is low (near or below the lower standard limit,) I opt for a day of rest. If the index is between 47 and 52, I’ll workout, but maybe with a lesser duration. If the index is higher than 52, I’ll definitely put in a hard or extended workout. I do look at the other tracking graphs, and if they point the other way, I’d re-consider…again viewing the big picture. Thus, a higher index indicates increased capacity to engage a tough workout and benefit from it.

Line graph of the natural log of rMSSD times 20

Figure 1. rMSSD variable from the Time-domain analysis

Some remarks about the various phases:

  • Resistance Phase/hypertrophy (P1h)—I had the impression that my legs mass-gain would be more…granted I added 16 pounds of body weight and a 5% increase in body fat compared to this time last year. Then, the BF calipers indicated less than 10% so the current level of 15% objectively puts me at the “fat body” self-ranking. On the other hand, my wife says my thighs definitely got big and my butt got rounder (she says she likes it, whatever.) Graph-wise, I thought I should see larger swings as I lifted the big weights and then into rest/recovery.I still think that I goofed my 1 repetition max test by attempting six lifts when I should have attempted a higher set by using only three lifts (instead of wearing myself out faster with six.) The hypertrophy part was characterized high lifting volume with moderately high resistance.
  • Resistance Phase/strength (P1s)—this portion was characterized as reduced lifting volume and increased resistance. There were some definite sore points within this period, although at the end my system seemed to spring back with some better index numbers at the end. I think the percentage lift points would’ve been higher…noted for next time.
  • Resistance Phase/power (P1p)—characteristics include increased lifting speed, reduced resistance, and sprint interval workouts. This was a volatile combination. Most of the period saw lower index points where near December 10, I forced a couple of recovery days less I continued to dig myself into over-training. The need to lift “faster” eventually found me lifting the squat bar enough to “hop” into the air. Again, these workouts were draining, and it reflected in the index plot.
  • Aerobic Endurance Phase (P2)—the graph shows a higher index trend, which I believe reflects the lower measure of time spent on riding near/above the 76% FTP minimum target. There were sprint and muscle endurance intervals intended to complement the endurance riding, most of the time the difficulty was not in completing the intervals. The problem was in accruing time-in-the-zone (TIZ) at the minimum target for the specified duration. Try as I might and even with best effort, the most effective extraction to stay in zone two (above 76% FTP) was only 44% to 51%. In other words, I could ride for three hours, yet only have half the ride time above my target. If I rode for five hours, again roughly half would be credited towards correct TIZ. So, to accomplish four to six hours at zone, I would have to ride for six to eight hours…not a realistic idea. The cause was this: riding outside, I’m subject to traffic, stop light and signs, pedestrians and speed limits on multi-user trails, etc.—constraints to my effort. There’s nothing I can do to omit those factors. On the other hand, I could decide to do that time requirement on the trainer, and I did for most of it. However, about 3 ½ hours was all I could muster on a trainer, any more than that I just could not get my brain around. Note: the 76% figure comes from Morris’ designation of the lower limit for the endurance zone on his scale. I figure he’s got a good reason for making it that way. Overall, I did not gain the volume target for this period, and that’ll likely hurt me later on. Because the phase intensity/impact was less extensive, the graph shows higher index marks. (My reasoning anyway.) I had played with the idea that this phase indicated that some type of “form” had incurred, but then I hadn’t done much riding comparatively for me to truly accept having any “form.” I had also extended this period by two weeks to try to meet requires. Next year, I’ll try to find a longer, uninterrupted stretch of road like a secondary state highway to meet the TIZ requirements.
  • Aerobic Endurance Phase/rest week (P2r)—this is the built-in rest week for the second phase. It has its own training regimen oriented around rest days and a few (but more intense) short interval workouts. This is also the week that I spent out-sick courtesy of the local flu bug, so not really much training to speak of, nor of much quality rest either. Kind of a waste of a week progress-wise. It’s why the graph’s index numbers are swirling around the bottom of the plot, again, dashed lines indicate non-training days.
  • Phase 3 Supermaximum Sustainable Power Intervals (P3)—the first two days of this period were sick/non-training days. Although I did try part of the first workout during the second day. Not bad results, I made the target wattage, but was not able to complete the full workout. I deemed it “OK” after being sick for a week.

In closing, I’ll keep watching the “big picture.” Next year this time, I’ll use the lessons learned after this evolution to make the program better.

Thanks for reading. My next post should show how I was able to integrate the BSXinsight Lactate Meter into the training program…and I’m really looking forward to learning that! See ya.


2015 Four-Phase Plan: Hypertrophy Period—Raising the Bar

18 10 2014

It’s mid-October and I’ve been getting antsy about getting started since mid-September. For the last few weeks I’ve walked here, jogging there; trying to be active without being in the saddle. Nothing crazy, just different. I’ve also been doing preparation work with the Olympic bar in the squat rack, evaluating my form to help avoid injury and to anticipate the heavy work to come later. The specifics of lifting form are prolific on the web; just use a browser search and you’ll find them.

Phase I Hypertrophy Period

So in my mind, working backwards in a process context—to be competitive I must create and sustain higher power outputs than I was accustomed to producing as a Cat 4. In order to produce higher power outputs I must create and/or change the muscle fiber needed. In order to create or change the muscle fiber I must use the proper training, nutrition, and rest regimen.

Phase I is where I create the muscle mass. Specifically, the purpose is to: “stimulate muscle growth by requiring a high number of repetitions against moderately high resistances.” According to the author, “…these experimental models elicit significant increases in muscle size in relatively short periods of time.” I’m rather curious just how much of a mass gain will be realized. I wonder if I’ll end up looking like the character “Champion” from the animated movie The Triplets of Belleville:

Picture of the animated character

“Champion” Huge legs and tiny upper body


Performance Cycling author Dave Morris prefers that during this period we should not ride at all or very little because of the high work volume. He also recommends that many riders pay close attention to their response, while discomfort is expected, chronic soreness specifically from the joints should be followed by a reduction in either weight or sets performed.

First thing to do is determine my one-repetition-max (1RM.) Note that I’m using the low-cost concrete discs that I cast. Your discs will weigh a bit different. I’ll start this with a warm-up routine: 6 to 8 repetitions with the 19 lb. weights that ended my preparation period. Next, start the lift attempt sequence. Allow 2 to 3 minutes rest before trying the next level:

  • First attempt: 45 lb. set (135 total lbs.)
  • Second attempt: 45 and 7 lb. sets (149 total lbs.)
  • Third attempt: 59 and 7 lb. sets (177 total lbs.)
  • Fourth attempt: 59, 19, and 7 lb. sets (215 total lbs.)
  • Fifth attempt: 59, 45, and 7 lb. sets (267 total lbs.)
  • Final attempt: 59, 45, 19, and 7 lb. sets (305 total lbs.)

Crap. I was able to do the third attempt successfully, a total of 177 lbs. But when I tried the next level, 215 lbs., I had nothing in my legs and slowly sunk to the safety bars of the squat rack.  My second try at it resulted the same way, so I guess it is what it is—a starting point. I would have liked to have made the ~200 lb. level though.

All this lifting’s going to require food (based on my body weight):

  • CHO quantity—on heavy days-576 grams to 780 grams, on light days—390 grams to 476 grams
  • Protein quantity—117 grams per day.
  • Fat grams will make-up what’s left using a 65% CHO/ ~15% fat / 20% protein scheme.

In other words, I want to eat my minimum CHO and protein per day then allow fat calories to take up what’s left. I’ll use the Fitbit’s software to track food intake and burn rates. It worked really good for me last off-season for weight control so I’m going to stick with it.

Lift Schedule



Percent of 1RM

Rest between sets (min.)

#1 and #2 10 to 12 65 (light day 60) 1½ to 2
#3 and #4 10 to 12 70 (light day 65) 1½ to 2
#5 and #6 10 to 12 75 (light day 70) 1½ to 2

Weekly Plan

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Heavy Light Day off Heavy Light Day off (or team ride if I’m recovered) Day off

I can expect to get some aches but I need to watch out for chronic soreness in the joints…if this condition presents itself, I’ll decrease the training load by reducing resistance or sets.

Speaking of recovery and how to measure it. One new thing I’m trying is called heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring. This method has been around since about 2006, but I think it’s really starting to make its way into training regimens. Basically, the stress your body’s system is under manifests itself as changes in the beat-to-beat time period of your heart rate. When your body experiences stress, training input let’s say, it responds in certain ways, and one of those ways can be measured as trends in HRV.

In the next post I’ll write about how I’m using HRV in this year’s training program. Thanks for tuning-in.


2015 Off-Season Training Phase Summary—Looking for Better Results

12 09 2014

So I had some success and some not-so-success for race season 2014. Looking ahead, I hope that I can learn from the past and plan correctly for the future.

The season highlight was getting my teammate Steve T. on the top of the podium after the Tour de’ Bloom road race. (Yeah I know, I need to work on my victory V):

Picture of Steve and I on the podium in 1st and 2nd place.

Steve and I in the 1st and 2nd spots

The other part of this was that I placed 2nd in the GC, and that was cool.

In thinking about the off-season’s training, which is just around the corner, I wanted to dump the training stuff that I felt didn’t help and incorporate the lessons-learned. The off-season for `14 started like this:

Bar graph for the 2014 off-season training period

Accrued hours per week in various intensity zones

I want to keep the time identified as the yellow bars and move this portion of training into Phase II. The dark blue/power zone 4 will move to the power period in Phase I and the pink/power zone 5 time will move to the Phase III portion. See that light blue/tempo stuff? That’s going to go away. My original idea was to use the intensity levels in a “current level builds the foundation for the next level” sort of way, but I think I should have invested the time spent in tempo to time spent in and above power zone 4.

Let’s get to the kind-of-exciting, sort-of-motivating training plan. The plan lasts about 20 weeks in itself and should include one or two weeks for Murphy’s Law. We are all busy with work and family and it’s beneficial to have a bit of flexibility on our side. Here’s Morris’ plan (rest time added):

Four-Phase Plan Summary


Number of Weeks


Major Components

1.Resistance Training Hypertrophy Period, Two to Four Stimulate Muscle Growth High lifting volume, moderately high resistance
Strength Period, Two Build muscular strength Reduced lifting volume, increased resistance
Power Period, Two Train muscle to produce great force at fast speeds Increased lifting speed, reduced resistance; sprint workouts
2.Aerobic Endurance Approx. three + one for rest Build aerobic and endurance capacities of cardiopulmonary and muscular systems, maintain power built during resistance training Long, low-intensity rides; sprint, lead-out, and muscle endurance intervals
3.Supermaximal sustainable power intervals Approx. three + one for rest Build cycling specific power output Short, very high intensity intervals
4.Maximum sustainable power intervals Approx. three + one for rest Increase high-intensity work capacity Longer, high intensity intervals

The reason I’m starting mid-October is because I want to do well at the start of our season; typically the Tour de Dung I & II races in the first two weeks of March. (Race date and time TBD.) Furthermore, like 2014, I’d like to focus on the four separate stage races that occur in the first half of our season.

A long time ago I read a research article (reference coming soon) that concluded that weight training had no significant correlation to cycling-specific strength in highly-trained racers. Since that time, I have never seriously integrated resistance training in my off-season program. (Note: for a short time, I did lift some weights during the 2010 season—maybe that partly explains how many of my all-time power peaks were achieved then.)

However, during the latter portion of the 2013 and the full season of 2014, while competing in the Category 3 level, I painfully realized that I was missing something in training. It was the quality of muscle fiber needed to produce and sustain the higher levels of power beyond what I experienced as a Cat 4. Hence, I was intrigued once I read that Morris had developed a method of enhancing type IIa and IIb muscle fibers with endurance qualities.

Phase I

According to Morris, “Because strength gains are speed specific, a resistance training program should include periods of high-speed lifting to allow strength gains to transfer into increased power output on the bicycle.” This tenet allows the segue from the Olympic bar to the bike; while giving a nod to the principle of specificity. Particularly,

…the methods used by researchers to elicit muscle growth appear somewhat non-traditional by the usual strength and conditioning community. However, these methods produce significant increases in muscle size in a very short time, and appear to be superior to the traditional method of lift-rest, lift-rest

and so on. This plan is more like lift-lift-lift-rest.

The second idea of this phase is to increase the intensity of the nerve impulses that reach the muscle groups. Basically, improving the nervous system’s ability to create more-intense impulses allow the muscles to produce a more-forceful contraction. So, improving muscle fiber mass is just as important as improving the firing impulse. Fortunately, both subjects respond to training input.

I’ll begin this phase with what I call “preparation.” The Olympic bar weighs 44 pounds, and I’ll start without weights because form will be important. This means quality over quantity. Additionally, poor form can lead to injury and I’m not about to do that. Here’s the preparation schedule:

1st Week—Two sets of eight repetitions, 7 lbs. x 2 + bar. Three times this week

2nd Week—Three sets of eight repetitions, 19 lbs. x 2 + bar. Three times this week

3rd Week—Four sets of eight repetitions, 19 lbs. x 2 + bar. Three times this week.

4th Week—(as needed for plan flexibility or readjustment.)

I visited a local gym just blocks away from my house (this would have been convenient.) However, they wanted ~$50 month and maybe an initiation fee. That’s when I decided to build my own squat rack. With a total acquisition cost of ~$101, my break-even point is after the second month of use:

Picture of DIY Squat rack made of dimensional lumber and concrete-cast bar weights.

DIY Squat rack. Features taken from various designs online.

Early picture: this design’s easily constructed, made of available material, and easy to disassemble. (Note: I purchased the Olympic bar from a private seller on Craigslist.) The concrete weights in the foreground are about 45 lbs. each. The weights behind are about 59 lbs. each.  I’ve since molded 19 lb. pairs. I’ve also lowered the safety bars to allow my hip crease to be lower than the top of my knees—based on my understanding of proper form. I’ll be able to perform the high/low back squat and dead lift. As a compromise for having my own stuff versus the gym membership, I will not be able to perform the inclined leg press, which is a different machine.

That’s it for now. It was cool to have a couple of high-points during the season, but I think I could have performed better. Having a vetted plan with specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals should speed me along to doing well at the various stage races this season.

Next post, during the hypertrophy period, I’ll discuss how the plan’s proceeding and what I’ve learned.

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