7 Ways to Become the MacGyver of Off-Season Weight Control

Weight loss is a perennial New Year's Resolution. As cyclists, we need to be mindful of our weight year-round, not just around January 1. After all, the fastest way to improve your power-to-weight ratio (a really raw yardstick to how fast you can go on your bike) is to chop off the weight while maintaining your power.

At this point in your off-season, if you haven't been minding your weight, it's time to start. Here are 7 ways to get control as shared by Tyrone Holmes on Active.com.

  1. Keep Riding - The no-brainer reason: manage the calories-in/calories-out equation. The hidden reason from my perspective? You've created a habit of daily (or almost daily) workouts, so don't break that habit. New habits are hard to establish. Working out is a healthy habit to have. Cherish it.
  2. Ride Long and Hilly - You need some longer moderate intensity riding each week. Plan for one long ride and one hilly ride. If weather prevents these from being rides outside, see the next idea...
  3. Cross Train - This is the winter saviour of icy-weather cyclists like me. Any aerobic activity will do: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, running, swimming. Even a bout of snow shoveling counts! I've filled many of my winter Sundays with a long cardio-combo session of snowshoeing, followed by classic cross-country skiing, finishing with an hour of clearing my driveway.
  4. Strength Train - Cycling is not a weight-bearing sport. Our bone density will benefit from strength training year-round. Your peak power generation will also benefit. And a strong core provides a stable platform for your legs to push against while riding. Off-season is the best time to begin strength training if you haven't already done so. And when you return to in-season? Keep it up once a week. See the power of habit in idea #1 above...
  5. Stop Eating So Many Carbs - Riding less than 2 hours at a time? You do not need sports drinks or energy bars. Water is good enough. Perhaps in the hour before or after you ride you can have a few higher glycemic index (GI) carbs. Outside those time-windows, keep them low GI, like you get from most vegetables.
  6. Have a Holiday Eating Plan - Set eating rules in your mind before you go to holiday party meals. For example, follow the Michael Pollan Plan: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Another way to look at it: If vegetarians can define themselves by a rule of never eating flesh - and live every day by that rule - can't you create an equally self-empowering rule (or set of rules) for yourself when you go a-partying?
  7. Do You Know About the 5-Pound Rule? - Don't expect to maintain your race-weight all season long. 5 pounds of weight gain is okay - but no more! When real in-season riding returns, 5 pounds can come off quite easily. But if you've got more than that to lose, an in-season weight loss plan can muddle up your efforts in real power gaining workouts. You won't have the energy in your tank for high-quality workouts. You might also want to read my article about the issues of asymmetric weight loss.
There you have it. 7 solid ways to control your off-season weight. MacGyver would be proud that you've got so many resourceful ideas in your mental toolkit!

The 2013 Festivus For The Cyclists

Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 as a way to commemorate the holiday season without participating in its pressures and commercialism. It is usually celebrated with the practices of the "Airing of Grievances", the labeling of easily explainable events as "Festivus Miracles", and concludes with "Feats of Strength". If you are a person of a certain age, you of course remember it was featured on an episode of Seinfeld.

You can read more about the whole celebration of non-celebration here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festivus

On BicyclingBlogger, I'd like to take this opportunity to recap the 2013 cycling season in my own Festivus fashion...

Airing of Grievances

Oh man, doping yet again!

Froome crushes the competition at the 2013 Tour de France, beating Quintana by 4:20 mm:ss. And our dear sport is still not in a place where Froome can merely take his spot on the top of the podium and be patted on the back and given a big hand shake for a job very well done. No, the press must still pester him about how it must have been doping. Are we still not in a position to accept that the anti-doping controls work?

Perhaps not... as Danilo di Luca was kicked out of the Giro in its last week for an out-of-competition EPO result from before the Giro even departed on its first day! How was he even allowed to start?

And even our home-country hero now has a taint from the skeleton hanging in his closet - outed by that walking/riding pasty skeleton himself, Michael Rasmussen. Never liked that twit, and was a little - just a little - skeptical with his book revelation of Ryder Hesjedal's "introduction to doping." At least Ryder didn't deny, deny, deny as many others have in the past, and admitted his use of long ago. I was always a bit worried about this, because Ryder did ride/domestique for Discovery in its Armstrong doping hay-days. But I thought it would be Armstrong that might finger Ryder - his bullying being so pervasive/perverse - not Rasmu-sh!#ten.

Let us all just hope that the doping controls of the 2012 Giro were solid enough to allow Ryder's victory to stand the test of time.

Festivus Miracles

A Festivus Miracle is an easily explainable event. Check out these Miracles:

  • Intervals are hard, and make me tired! It's a Festivus Miracle!
  • When I didn't ride for three weeks because I was holiday-ing in Europe, I lost 20W+ from my Threshold Power! It's a Festivus Miracle!

Feats of Strength

It was one of my stronger seasons lately. I had a solid 5th place GC showing in the Bike-On-Broadway Stage Race in Saskatoon back in May. And then in June, I had my best ever showing in the Banff BikeFest, placing an 49th of 81 starters. In the past, I never got an official GC result because I had always DNF'ed in the Road Race stage.

But Festivus isn't finished until my result has been wrestled to the ground. And I don't need to go far for that...

Again this year, like last year, my good friend Peter Toth pins me to the ground with his result at the 2013 UCI World Masters Track Championships with his Bronze medal performance in the Team Pursuit event. Well done Peter!

And now I can officially put the 2013 Festivus For The Cyclists to rest!

Stop - NOW

It's going to happen sooner or later. Some driver won't see you and perhaps back up right into your path. Or you're racing, you round a blind corner and there's a pileup directly in front of you.

You must bring your bike to a stop... NOW!

There is a technique to panic stopping. And it's best to learn the skills and practice some of its finer points before life calls on you to use it for real.

A Lesson In Physics

First, some physics. Consider the relative stopping power of your front and rear brakes. Lock up your rear brake and your wheel will generally skid. Lock up your front brake and what usually happens? I've never seen it skid, though some have told me it can. But I will expect your bike to stop dead in its tracks and you to pivot over the handlebars!

So which brake does the better job of stopping the bike? I hope you said front brake.

And now to a second point about relative steering control of your bike. When a wheel locks up, you've lost basic steering control with that wheel. That's why cars have anti-lock brakes (ABS). They're designed to keep the wheels braking, but still rolling, so the driver can have a chance to steer the car while it's slowing down. It doesn't help him stop faster, but it lets him maybe steer clear of an obstacle while at the same time slowing down.

The same principles are at work on your bike - I'm talking about the laws of physics here and you'll find them working everywhere in life.

Next, there are a couple more principles to remember when you've got to panic stop:

Principle #1 - A Feathered Touch For Your Own ABS

This doesn't mean a light touch. But it also doesn't mean grabbing your brake levers with fists full of fingers. Brake levers are, well as the word says, levers. (More physics here folks.) They've been designed to apply leverage to your braking system. You should be able to use just one or two fingers to squeeze them with enough force, whether you're riding with your hands on the hoods, or down in the drops. And using just a couple of fingers lets the rest of your hand work some solid steering, giving you a chance of avoiding the obstacle that just popped into your line.

Another element to feathering is the technique of modulating your squeezing force. With a little practice, your fingers can work almost as well as a car's ABS, and you should be able to brake hard enough to slow your wheels, but not so hard that you lock up your wheels.

Principle #2 - A Stopping Bike Really Wants To Keep Going In A Straight Line

Once you've got those brakes on, your bike will start to stand straight, and want to keep going in a straight line from the point where you started to squeeze the brakes. As I just said above, with one or two fingers actually squeezing the levers, you will have more hand available to otherwise steer the bike, but understand, this will be extremely difficult. Perhaps if you've feathered just enough power into the brakes to slow you down, you can then release them completely, in which case you can dive your bike out of the way. And if that means riding over into the ditch, that's a far better outcome than riding straight into the side of the SUV that just pulled out.

But I think most of us will just need to do our best to stop in a straight line. Here are a few drills to practice, so you aren't too surprised about what to do in real life. I'd suggest finding a smooth. level, grassy field. A golf green would be ideal, but I think the course marshals might not agree with me...

Drill #1

Get a little speed going, and use the power of leverage with two fingers on your brake levers.

Apply the rear brake harder than the front. Make the rear wheel lock-up and skid. Then feather it so the wheel doesn't skid.

Next, use your front brake more than the rear. Notice how the front brake will slow you more than the rear brake. If you are adventurous and have your helmet and gloves on (I hope you do!), try to actually lock up the front wheel and see if you can just get the rear wheel to pop off the ground. Hey, it's a grassy surface, so if you fall over it won't be so bad!

What you should notice is how your body wants to keep moving forward, and your front wheel tries to dig down into the grass.

Drill #2

It's time to learn the full technique. You'll be applying both brakes, and simultaneously trying to push your body backwards, low and away from your front wheel.

Stay on the grass, but now increase your speed. Put your hands in the drops, with index and middle fingers on the brake levers. Bend your elbows. You need to be able to push yourself backwards, but if your arms are already straight, you'll have nothing left to push with.

Now, at speed, set your pedals horizontal, apply both brakes in a feathering fashion and abruptly use your hands and feet to push yourself backwards, off the back of your seat, and stay low. You might even drop your butt down and behind your seat (careful, you could get stuck there!). If you skid your back tire, that's fine. But do your best to avoid going over the handlebars.

Do it again, with your hands up on the hoods. And again in the drops. And again on the hoods. And again... you get the picture.

Here's a modulating technique that I think works well: consider a one-two punch of the front brake followed by the rear brake. A quick on-off feather action on the front brake will scrub some of your speed quickly, followed by more speed scrubbing with the rear brake, but with little further chance of locking up your front wheel and sending you flying over the handlebars.

Drill #3

No more grass.

After you've done Drill #2, and have a really good feel for the technique, you need to feel how it works on the pavement. Use an empty parking lot, or a paved bike path, and run through Drill #2 again. A few rear wheel skids are okay, but too much and you're going to ruin your tire.

Finally, when you're out on a regular ride, occasionally try out your new panic stopping technique at an ordinary stop sign or red light. You don't need to skid your tire, but keep familiar with the feathering, modulating technique of applying force to your brake levers while at the same time straightening your arms and pushing your body low and backwards.

I hope the technique of panic stopping becomes second nature, so if you ever need it, the skill pops out of you faster than the unexpected obstacle that just popped up in front of you!