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April 20, 2020

Managing Performance During Lockdown.

Luke Moir is one of South Africa’s top junior mountain biking prospects. An excellent placing in the 2019 Junior XCO World Champs (5th Overall) boosted him to the top of the Junior UCI World Rankings for XCO starting off the 2020 season. Luke, as many of our other Science to Sport Athletes, is currently in lockdown, only able to train from home.

Dr Mike Posthumus, Luke’s coach has given some insight to the type of training Luke is doing during this period:

We often use the term “building a strong foundation”, or a strong “base” very loosely without a true appreciation of what we are trying to achieve. With no races in the near future, there is no better time to take a step back, use this time wisely and to your advantage, whilst remembering to have fun along the way. Over the last few weeks, Luke’s training has consisted of all of the above.

We have included longer rides in zone 2. Training volume remains one of the primary drivers of endurance performance and there is simply no substitute of short cut for time in the saddle. We have also been including a few training sessions we call “metabolic” sessions. The term “metabolic” was coined by the coaches from Science to Sport due to the primary outcome related to becoming more metabolically flexible, i.e. emphasising lactate shuttling and its use as a fuel source. These sessions are not too taxing, since lactate starts to accumulate at relatively low intensities. Therefore you are able to perform longer intervals (may be built up to 40 minutes) at this intensity. Ideally we would like to determine this intensity off a lactate accumulation assessment (a test we offer in our Cycling Laboratory at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa), but without this assessment you can simply perform the intervals at 80% of your functional threshold power. Your functional threshold power (or FTP) may be simply explained as the maximum power (watts) you can maintain for a prolonged period, around 60 minutes.

Your ability to utilise and clear lactate is one of the most important factors which determines your functional threshold. During this time of the season, it is going to be more beneficial in the long run to try improve your FTP by improving lactate clearance and conversion to fuel. As training at or above your FTP for prolonged periods is very demanding, this can be prioritised later in the season. Once we know when the next races are going to be, we will start increasing the intensity again and making our energy creating machinery more fast acting, or as we say, strap on the proverbial turbo.

We have also been including a lot of strength work both on and off the bike. Luke has been doing some low-cadence (or torque) intervals. These intervals are excellent for mountainbikers as it is very important to be able to produce high torque (force) on the mountain bike, to be able to respond to sleep inclines or obstacles. These sessions are also included as we are able to load the muscle without severe cardiovascular strain. During these sessions you have increased leg muscle activation and therefore they improve neuromuscular (the connection between your brain and your leg muscles) function.

An example of such a session is to perform 6 x 4 minute intervals with 3 minutes rest. The intervals are performed in high zone 3 and low zone 4 at a low cadence (40-50rpm). Luke has been lucky enough to be training on a smart trainer so we have been able to see some of the numbers he has been producing. You are able to calculate the exact force pushed through the pedals from knowing the power and cadence produced. I know from working with national elite XCO riders that a value of 1.2 Nm/kg of bodyweight as session average across the intervals puts him among the cream of the crop within the elite mens field. During Luke’s most recent session he managed to produce a 1.15 Nm/kg session average. I know that he will hit the 1.2 mark before lockdown finishes!

Luke has also been working with Warwick Cross from the High Performance Centre at the Sports Science Institute. Warwick has been working on his strength and power off the bike. Together they also focus on mobility and stability, both very important factors to ensure long term progression as an athlete.

Lastly, it is important to have fun – Yes you can have fun indoors. Luke has been doing a few Zwift races, these races are fun to do with absolutely no pressure. We know that many of the results are slightly fictional but it is a nice way to keep you motivated. Luke is clearly very motivated and dedicated to his training as last weekend he managed to finish 5th in a flat hour long race around Watopia. Generating 4.5 watts/kg, not bad for a hour considering that he was spinning out because of his MTB gearing on the flats.

I am certainly looking forward to seeing what Luke can do in the 2nd half of the season when we are all cleared to race again!

Dr Mike Posthumus –
Senior Coach at Science to Sport

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