Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

"Devoted to the science of Maximal Athletic Development"

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Volume vs Intensity:
'Data mining' the answer to an age-old question

Alan Couzens, M.S. (Sports Science)

Aug 19th, 2015

As key races approach, athletes get understandably antsy. The mind starts to run with thoughts on ‘what’s missing’ from the training plan. This isn’t helped by all of the mixed messages in the media and popular training texts.

Am I doing enough “sweetspot training”?

Is that Zone 3 stuff really ‘no mans land’?

Should I be doing more work at FTP to boost my ‘ceiling’?

Is my training sufficiently ‘polarized’?

Incidentally, it’s impossible to answer yes to all of the questions above!

Actually, forget the confusion provided by books and the internet, science is pretty confused too! You’ll find just as many studies touting the benefits of very high intensity training as you do studies promoting the benefits of low intensity aerobic work. So what’s the answer? Where can we go to get an honest, unbiased assessment of what methods actually work in the 'real world'?..

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Avoiding Hyponatremia:
Specific recommendations for Ironman athletes

Alan Couzens, M.S. (Sports Science)

Aug 12th, 2015

Endurance planet posted a very interesting podcast recently on the (literally) hot topic of hyponatremia in endurance events. Dr. Tim Noakes & Dr. Phil Maffetone – 2 guys who I respect immensely, weighed in on the topic and suggested that the problem is a simple one of athletes not listening to their body and drinking to a fixed schedule instead of “drinking to thirst”.

As someone who loves a good debate, this sort of advice frustrates the “you know what” out of me. Not so much because I disagree with it but simply because it is so general that it’s hard to argue against (like when Madame Zara foretells 'some trouble in your future') &, more significantly, for the athletes we’re advising, lacks a whole lot of practical applicability. This is exemplified in a quote from the podcast…

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Ironman Power Calculator:
How many watts will it take?

Alan Couzens, M.S. (Sports Science)

Aug 6th, 2015

It’s that time of year – race season! For many athletes, the ‘hay is in the barn’ and the emphasis has shifted from building fitness to getting the most possible race day speed from the fitness that you have been able to build. A large part of that comes down to aerodynamics on the bike.

Hopefully by the time we reach that final lead in to the race, the coach & athlete will have a fair idea of a likely range of power output on race day. By using key sessions like metric simulation workouts & other key ‘Big Days’ under race specific conditions, assessing this number is relatively straight forward. However, tying this number in to the speed that the athlete can expect for that power is a little more complicated.

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How to pull HRV data from your Training Peaks account

Alan Couzens, M.S. (Sports Science)

July 14th, 2015

In my last HRV post, I outlined a few of the practical issues (esp. for coaches) in keeping track of good HRV data. Namely... a) Many of the available apps significantly decrease the sensitivity of the data, diminishing its usefulness in distinguishing recovery days b) Most apps aren't well suited to the coach's need of easily keeping track of the HRV status of multiple athletes.

At the end of the post, I hinted at the ability to pull HRV data programatically directly from Training Peaks. This is something that I've been doing now for a few weeks for me and my athletes & I've found it super useful, so I figured I'd share it with you guys (in the hope that we get even more of you in on the HRV conversation).

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Periodization in accordance with your natural bio-rhythms:
Art meets science

Alan Couzens, M.S. (Sports Science)

Jun 10th, 2015

“I’ll ride the wave where it takes me” – Pearl Jam ('Release'.)

There was a great article on the McMillan speed blog a couple of days ago on the development of periodization over the years that I referenced/linked to in a tweet...

"Periodization should be based on individual biological rhythms not a selection from a menu of models http://t.co/QKQmHCR1cI"
Alan Couzens (@Alan_Couzens) June 7, 2015

The author, Matt Jordan suggested that the evolution of periodization in coaching has resulted in a movement away from the talk of theoretical models and towards a process of “biological problem solving” for the individual athlete...

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A quick and easy HRV calculator

Alan Couzens, M.S. (Sports Science)

Jun 5th, 2015

In previous posts, I’ve offered a few different ways to gather HRV data. These range from the complex “all the bells and whistles” Kubios to the various app options which often simplify the data into one (often undefined) HRV ‘Score’. I have personally found that gathering good ‘pure’ (i.e. not proprietary) data from multiple athletes relatively quickly to be a challenge.

My biggest issue with the bulk of proprietary scores (apart from an inherent distrust of folks who refuse to 'show their work') is that, based purely on experience, they lack the sensitivity to be of significant practical use. I.e. in the interests of getting nice looking, consistent scores, they've been excessively 'smoothed'....

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The Science of Heat Management: How hot is too hot?

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

June 2nd, 2015

"It ain't the heat, it's the humility" - Yogi Berra

I've had a lot of chats with athletes of late focused around one topic - heat!

Ironman Texas was a couple of weeks ago and, unsurprisingly, it was hot! Beyond hot, it was hot and humid. Very challenging conditions for an event that is, by virtue of its duration, already challenging!

I was nervous well before May. As the emails came in.."Coach, I signed up for Texas as my A-Race for this year", I found myself asking one question -- why? Yeah, there were a lot of slots up for grabs given that it was a championship race this year but this 'advantage' had well and truly disappeared pretty early in the piece when we saw the caliber of athlete that was going to be toeing the line this year. Honestly, I think the metaphorically 'hot' race of the year comes down more to chance....

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CTL Ramp Rates, TSB floors & Loading Patterns:
Easy as 1,2,3!

Alan Couzens, M.S. (Sports Science)

May 22nd, 2015

Joe Friel wrote a great blog last week addressing the question of CTL (Chronic Training Load) ramp rates, i.e. just how steep can we ramp an athlete’s training load before the proverbial engine stalls and the athlete comes plummeting back to earth?

I agree 100% with Joe’s statement that the 'right' answer to this is incredibly individual. Some athletes are simply more robust than others and can handle a more aggressive ramp. As luck would have it, this type of athlete also typically needs an aggressive ramp to keep up with the more ‘talented’ (but also more fragile) ‘natural’ athlete who is easily broken with an overly aggressive approach.

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Exercise as therapy

Alan Couzens, M.S. (Sports Science)

May 13th, 2015

One of the less considered (and less talked about) aspects of endurance sports is the use of training/exercise as psychological therapy. History is littered with top level athletes who began their athletic journey by literally “running away from” psychological demons, be they internal or external.

This drive towards endurance exercise as an outlet has powerful neurochemical roots. In the right dose, endurance exercise can significantly increase serotonin levels and boost vagal tone – something that studies have shown to be consistently low in the chronically depressed (e.g. Rechlin et al., 1994)

A slightly different ‘dose’ can significantly decrease levels of circulating cortisol & the anxiety that comes with an over-excited sympathetic nervous system – a measure shown to be high in those with anxiety and panic disorders (e.g. Gorman & Sloan, 2000)

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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....

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'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....

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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’...

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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.

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?”
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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.
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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....

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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 Swimsmooth.com 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)


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