I read a great article today about Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner. Check it out here.
In particular, I liked item #9: Bradley’s systematic plan to make a number of small gains, such that the aggregate gain would be significant.
This same approach is applicable to stair climbing. By changing training & racing methods slightly in a number of different categories, the overall impact could be huge. For example, a half of a percent gain in one area only nets a 4.5 second improvement in a 15 minute climb. However if multiple incremental improvements are made in a variety areas, these tiny improvements can make a big difference. For example, 6 marginal improvements will cut nearly 30 seconds off of a 15 minute climb!
The best part of this approach is that several marginal improvements often take less effort than a large gain in a single area. Here is an illustrative example:
To be a better climber an athlete needs to be able to increase their power/weight ratio for the entire duration of a race. To do this an athlete needs:
1) A lower body weight
2) Stronger muscles & better muscle endurance (anaerobic system)
3) Stronger cardiovascular system (aerobic system)
*Assuming* each of these areas has an equal impact on performance, it would be possible to make a 3% improvement in any one area, but it would probably be much easier to make a smaller 1% gain in each of these three areas. In my case, I have a very hard time losing weight and I bet it would take a good one month effort to lose 1% of my body weight. However losing 3% would take much more than 3X the effort; I’d probably have to consistently improve my diet for the next year or so in order to lose the weight. I would have a much better chance making marginal improvements in both my cardiovascular endurance and anaerobic muscle endurance.
Over the next 4 months as I train for the Willis Tower, I’m going to challenge myself to make a number of marginal gains in a number of different areas. Here is my list of goals & actions.
1) Injury rehabilitation: My lower back, butt, and right hip are prone to injury because of an inflamed piriformis nerve. I also have chronic Morton’s Neuroma, another painful nerve in my foot. In order to train like a champion, I need to be at 100%. Below are some ways I can help myself recover.
a. Get wider shoes to help my neuroma
b. Get up and stretch every 10-15 minutes at work & at home
2) Injury prevention: Simply put, suffering another injury will prevent me from training. My Achilles tendon is often sore because of descending stairs. Likewise I don’t want to re-aggravate my piriformis once I’m finally healed. Here are some ways I can stay healthy:
a. Strengthen my calves and stretch them more often
b. Practice going down stairs backwards to relieve stress on the calves
c. Don’t perform certain exercises (i.e. deadlifts & running) until I’m back at 100% and do these exercises in moderation once I’m healthy.
3) Strength: Quad & Glut strength are both key to stair climbing. Here are the goals I hope to reach at the gym in time for the Willis Tower race:
a. Tabata leg presses: 2 sets @ 230 lbs
b. Dead Lifts: Three sets of 15 reps using 95, 145 & 185 lbs. These are light enough weights to ensure I don’t hurt myself, but I’ll need to heal a bit I get back to dead lifts.
4) Endurance: Long climbs require a phenomenal cardiovascular system. Here are my goals for my primary cardio exercises:
a. 4300 meters on the erg machine in 15 minutes (PB = 4195 meters)
b. 45 seconds (x12 average) up my practice stair case* (PB = 45.68 seconds)
c. 16 minutes on the Step Master at the 180 setting* (PB = 8 min@180 + 8 min@170)
*Assuming body weight = 175 lbs.
5) Diet: Proper nutrition helps the body recover and stay healthy. Although I have a healthy diet, there are a couple things which I could do to improve it.
a. Cheat less often when I’m out with my friends & family (i.e. less junk food)
b. Incorporate more green vegetables into my diet.
6) Weight Loss: Decreasing weight improves a climber’s power to weight ratio. At this point, I’m not willing to lose my upper body muscle mass, but I could certainly lose a few pounds of fat and still be healthy. My goal is to weigh in at 172 lbs (~8% body fat). A few actions are:
a. Limit the amount of bread that I eat in the morning
b. Cheat less often when I’m out with my friends & family (i.e. fewer calories)
c. Increase the volume of low intensity workouts on the weekends
7) Proper Sleep: Without rest, the body cannot recover from physical stress. I generally need close to 8 hours of sleep per night. During the work week, I often get fewer.
a. Aim to get ready for bed at 11:00 PM
8) Reduce Stress: I’m not sure what the correlation is between stress levels and athletic performance, but I’m convinced that mental stress cannot be good for my overall health. Since I’m overstressed, here are a couple ways I can reduce my stress levels:
a. Leave for appointments 5 minutes earlier than usual; I’m prone to road rage when I’m running behind schedule.
b. Bring along a Snickers bar with me on trips; when my blood sugar is low while driving, I can get angry.
c. Practice meditation at least 3 times per week.
9) Better Racing Gear: Gear which improves climbing efficiency or increases power/weight ratio will cut time off of my climb.
a. Use a pair of minimalist shoes; it will shave off nearly a pound of weight!
b. Climbing gloves may increase the efficiency of using the rail while climbing; at the very least, they will help prevent blisters.
10) Improved Racing Strategy:
a. Calculate my expected race pace and necessary time splits early in the race; don’t rely solely on my metronome.
11) Improved Racing Technique:
a. I’m positive I can adjust my step pattern to ensure I always land with one foot on the landings.
b. Use the metronome to assist pacing; Last year at Willis I sprinted up the first few flights and I paid dearly for it in the middle of the race :P