Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

"Devoted to the science of Maximal Athletic Development"

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Overtraining - The Next Level:
Using HRV to get the most 'bang for your buck'

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Feb 2nd, 2015

This is part of a 5 part series on using Heart Rate Variability to guide your training. You can find part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here & part 5 here.

In previous articles I’ve looked at overtraining and some of the simple tests that you can use to detect it. In this piece, I’m going to turn it up a notch, both in the sophistication of testing explored and in just how broad we make our definition of ‘over training’.

When we think about it, over training means, quite literally, doing more training than is required to reach a given level of fitness or result. In other words, it is not quite as ‘black and white’ as popularly believed. An athlete may well and truly be over-training before he is relegated to a vegetative mess who can’t make it to practice in the morning. Indeed, the ability of the astute coach to identify these preliminary indicators that an athlete is not ready to absorb the day’s scheduled programming may make all the difference in avoiding these more serious states!

This preliminary identification of an athlete being ‘just a little too tired’ to benefit from hard training is very much where coaching art meets coaching science and, until very recently, art was winning! Click here to read more...

'Sensible Crossfit for Endurance Athletes'.

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Dec 10th, 2014

This past weekend, Endurance Corner hosted our annual coaches clinic. I love these opportunities to get coaches together to learn. While I attend these clinics as a presenter, I always feel I learn far more than I teach. For whatever reason, there is always a great variety in coaches that attend, both in the ‘way’ that they coach and the populations being coached. It becomes clear to me, after spending some time with these people just how specialized my niche is. It’s a good wake up call that there is a whole world of different athletic and coaching perspectives out there and that I will become a better coach by looking beyond my little, specialized, very homogenous world.

That long winded ramble, leads me to one of the conversations that took place this weekend on the merits of Crossfit Endurance. Crossfit Endurance is the endurance athlete ‘arm’ of CrossFit that deals with using crossfit training methodology to prepare endurance athletes.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Crossfit idea that comes down to one thing: Despite the fact that Crossfit prides itself on variety, it is very one sided when it comes to energy system development: Everything is done hard, i.e. with a large anaerobic component. Click hereto read more...

Are you a 'High Responder’ to training?:
Putting the performance back into performance modelling.

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Nov 20th, 2014

In a previous post, I talked a little about some of the different ‘types’ of athletes I’ve come across in my years of coaching. The guy smiling (in the midst of a double marathon!) in the pic above is Mike Coughlin, on his way to a 2nd place at the 2011 Ultraman World Championships. Mike is one of the fastest responders to training that I have had the pleasure to work with. Mike took himself from very average fitness levels to World Class levels for his event in the space of 16 (very hard) weeks of training. This is not a normal training response!

In that previous article, I alluded to a system of actually quantifying these differences in training response among athletes. In this article, I want to expand on that a little and give you a readily applicable practical assessment of whether you are a high responding ‘Natural’ (like Mike), an average responding ‘Realist’ or a low responding ‘Workhorse’.

I can’t claim any level of originality here, the study of quantifying the relationship between load and performance for different athletes has been around for several decades, beginning with the work of Bannister (1975). More recently it has been embraced & applied by the mainstream endurance sports community in the form of the ‘Performance Management Chart’ in software applications like WKO+ and Training Peaks, but it lost a little something along the way, namely the ability to model actual performance! Click here to read more....

The Impact of Travel on Performance

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Nov 11th, 2014

So far in 2014, the Iron Gods haven’t been smiling favorably on my squad. It is a peculiar phenomenon but it seems that both good luck and bad luck come in batches. Last year was a bad luck year on the training side – I had athletes falling off their bikes in quick succession, picking up weird bugs & overall having a tough go of things, only to be rewarded with surprisingly strong race results. This year was the polar opposite – I had a group of athletes put together perfect builds to arrive at, honestly, ridiculous levels of fitness for age group competitors, only to have their race day performances thwarted by factors that were near impossible to predict or control.

Madame Pele was one of the Gods who seemed particularly annoyed at me for some reason this year. She opened a big gap between ‘normal’ v ‘front of the pack swimmers, turned on the winds early in the bike to widen this gap then instructed the bulk of the AG field to ride with their heads down on a Kamikaze mission centered around anyone who might be coached by me. Needless to say, rear wheels, rear derailleurs and bike splits were the obvious casualties.....Click here to read more.

Ironman Bike Split Calculator

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Nov 5th, 2014

Over the course of a decade of coaching Ironman athletes, I've accumulated a lot of race files from each of the major events. In an effort to put that data to good use, I've started to compile them into a database of power, speed, athlete details and divisional rank for the various courses. This will remain a work in progress but I figured that I would share some of the trends from the races that I have observed so far, in the hope that you can use this information to make better choices when it comes to selecting the right race for your goal/performance level and personal strengths and weaknesses.

In the midst of compiling data over the weekend, I posted a chart similar to the one below on Twitter. The chart shows the regressive power curve for 7 of the major U.S. races, plotting watts per kilo versus bike split (in hours) Click  here to read more.

Did you 'hit your burn' today?

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Oct 27th, 2014

OK, I admit it, one of my favorite shows on TV has to be the Biggest Loser. There is something incredibly inspiring about seeing the transformation. Not so much the physical transformation but the inner transformation from someone who is leading the typical ‘office-worker’ life to, what essentially becomes, the life of a professional athlete.

Just like the life of a pro athlete, though, it doesn’t all make the highlight reel. While seeing 350lb folks race up sand dunes might make for good TV, the reality of their physical transformation goes a long way beyond this. So what is the reality? What is the process that leads to these almost unbelievable physical metamorphoses? Every so often, a coach will let the secret slip, usually in response to plateauing weight loss “Well, did you hit your burn?” Click here to read more...

The Benefits of a Legal Draft in a Windy Race

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Oct 13th, 2014

With another Ironman World Championship in the books, it’s time for that all important post-race reflection.

This year’s edition of the race saw a return to the normal tough conditions that Kona is known for, i.e. heat and WIND.

The latter of these was particularly strong this year and, consequently, played a major part in the race.

In somewhat atypical fashion, winds were very strong very early in the bike, especially for the age-group male pack and were almost a direct headwind at this point. Later in the race, while remaining relatively strong, they shifted easterly into the sketchy crosswinds that the Kona bike is well known for. Click here to read more....

What type of athlete are you? Part 2:Your Brain

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Oct 2nd, 2014

"It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor." ~Marcus Tullius Cicero

In a previous EC article, I looked at some of the physical differences that I see, as a coach, between athletes that impacts how I program for them. I broke this classification down into 3 broad categories – high responders (‘The Naturals’), average responders (‘The Realists’) and low responders (‘The Workers’). I’ve recently been reading a great book called ‘Squat Everyday’ by Matt Perryman. In it, he comes to a similar conclusion about the responder-non responder spectrum (in the world of strength training) but also adds a new term to the mix – reactivity.

The idea behind reactivity is that we are all born with slightly different (mental) ‘wiring’ that affects how we respond to a given (general) stimulus. In one corner, we have the ‘high reactives’ – folks who perceive any given stimulus as more intense than average. At the extreme end, we might find disorders such as Autism, where stimuli is perceived as painfully intense. A little further along the scale, we might find the introverts, like myself, who find high stimuli environments very taxing from an energy perspective. Folks who need frequent periods of quiet and solitude to recharge. Click here to read more

Nutritional Periodization for the Serious Ironman…

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Sept 18th, 2014

"Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water" - Bruce Lee

In a recent post I outlined the importance of a balanced energy system development for the endurance athlete with respect to aerobic glycolysis and lipolysis and the role that a balanced nutritional approach plays. I suggested that the athlete’s diet should match the demands of their training and that if they are training at intensities requiring aerobic glycolysis, by necessity, they need glycogen to power the training!

I really can't overstate the importance of getting this balance right and the importance of nutrition to the Ironman athlete. As I said in the last post, Ironman is fundamentally a game of a bunch of (similarly) very aerobically fit athletes testing their metabolic fitness head to head....Click here to read more.

How often should I breathe when swimming?…

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Sept 12th, 2014

As often as you need to!
... end of blog :-)

Well, that short, simple answer is 100% spot on but I know you want more info that that. So here goes….

I saw this great article on on the subject of breath frequency while swimming & figured I would add some quick observations on the topic.

If you ask around the elite triathlete ranks, you might be surprised by the intensity of views on this subject. Some will swear by the stroke balance that breathing every 3rd stroke provides while others (typically ex pool swimmers) will sing the praises of the extra O2 that breathing every stroke offers. So who is right?

There is good reason for the intensity of positions on the subject – this O2 thing is pretty important! In short, it’s so important that other stroke considerations will be built around ensuring its adequate supply. So how much do we need? (click here to read more)


Fat Burning for the Serious Ironman…

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Sept 9th, 2014

I received a bit of interest on yesterday’s tweet on the topic of Ironman metabolism shown to the left.

Most inquiries were asking what that 'ergogen..thingy' means :-) but a few of you were interested on where that balance point of the 'right amount' of fat burning for the serious Ironman athlete lies. So I figured I'd expand on that tweet and delve into the hot topic of LCHF (low carb, high fat) diets for Ironman athletes... Click here to read more....


Forget the disc wheel: Your most important 'upgrade' is the right crank!

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Sept 3rd, 2014

I recently wrote a couple of articles on how bike geometry interacts with body geometry – specifically how your open hip angle impacts the stack and reach of your optimal bike frame. The one big factor that I left out of that equation that can have a VERY large impact on both comfort and efficiency is crank length.

Crank length is a sort of 'linch pin' in bike fit. An often ignored factor where fairly small errors can have quite large effects & an otherwise good fit can turn into a very bad one, especially if you happen to be unfortunate enough to require a smaller frame size (which will almost certainly come with a comically disproportionate crank length!).

A crank length that is too long for the athlete’s hip mobility will result in a number of compensations that, at worst lead to injury, and at best lead to high levels of discomfort during longer rides. Click here to read more....