Daily Readiness Monitoring: Utilizing the PUSH Band in the Sport of Track Cycling
By James Mellen
August 21, 2019
Track cycling is a specific discipline of cycling that takes place on a velodrome. The bikes are fixed gear and have no brakes. At the Olympic Games track cycling is comprised of six medal events: Madison, Omnium, Keirin, Sprint, Team Sprint, and Team Pursuit. Three of the events makeup the sprint discipline: Sprint, Team Sprint and Keirin.
The Sprint race is comprised of bracket style one-versus-one (1V1) races. Riders are ranked by doing a flying 200m time trial (flying means that the rider starts the effort at full speed). The current world record for the 200m time trial is 9.347 seconds which is an average speed of 47.8 mph. Once riders are ranked they complete a sprint bracket where the winner of each 1V1 ride moves onto the next round until there is a winner. Each 1V1 ride is only 750m on a 250m track. Sprint is a game of cat and mouse, many people equate the racing to a boxing match on wheels where tactics plays a significant role in the outcome of the ride.
Team sprint is the only team race for sprinters. Teams are made up of 3 riders for men and 2 riders for women. The race is started at the center of the straight from a standing start. The riders are lined up next to each other and the first rider is held in a start gate (a mechanical device to hold a rider until the start of the race). A countdown timer commences and when the timer reaches zero the race begins. Each rider leads one lap (so the men do a total of 3 laps and the women do a total of 2 laps). After a riders lap is completed they pull off of the front and the rider behind them continues. Through a series of rounds the team with the fastest time wins.
Keirin is one of the most high speed, dynamic and dangerous cycling events. Six riders are paced up to speed by a motorcycle (28 mph for women and 31 mph for men). With 3 laps to go (on a 250m track) the motorcycle pulls off of the track and riders are left to race to the finish. Being paced up to speed allows the riders to conserve energy to get to a race speed so they are completely fresh once the sprint starts. Imagine a sprint finish of the Tour de France where completely rested riders are popped into the race with less than a kilometer to the finish.
Working at Maximal All the Time
What sets track cycling (especially the sprint discipline) apart from the other disciplines of cycling is the speed and power necessary to compete in the races. On the track riders are able to accelerate and hit much higher speeds than their counterpart road cyclists (on flat ground). This need for speed and power makes the training for sprinting and road cycling very different. Sprint cyclists will spend a lot of time in the gym developing maximal strength while road cyclists will spend lots of time riding for extended periods on the road developing aerobic fitness. The difference in body types can be illustrated in looking at a world championship podium of road cycling (on the left) and sprint track cycling (on the right)
This increased muscle mass allows sprinters to reach speeds of 45+ miles per hour and produce 2500+ watts instantaneously over one pedal revolution. In order to train for these demands sprint training must always be done very close to maximal potential. If a sprinter consistently trains while they are fatigued they will not push the envelope in order to develop more power and in turn get faster.
Gauging how ready an athlete is for the training day ahead is critical knowledge when training for sprint cycling. This kind of test tells athletes if they are recovered enough to have an effective training session. In addition to subjective questionnaires a physical performance test is essential when assessing readiness.
Many bikes are fitted with power meters to measure the average torque over one revolution and the speed of the cranks. From this information power can be calculated for each revolution of the pedals. While this data does provide great training insight to compare efforts, it is very challenging to complete a standardized test to gauge readiness on the bike. Many factors including weather, approach speed (how fast the bike is moving before the effort is started), how much energy is used to get on the track, equipment, and gear ratio can all vastly change an effort’s power values. In addition, sometimes riders will warm up on rollers (a training device that keeps the bike stationary while still allowing the wheels to roll) because of limited time on the track. Additionally, if this test were implemented before a gym session in many cases it is impossible to ride on a velodrome before a gym session.
The PUSH Band provides an excellent way to solve all of these problems by gauging performance in a small and portable way that can be implemented in all scenarios. Specifically, the “Arms Fixed Countermovement Jump” has been utilized in my training program for this purpose.
I perform one arms-fixed countermovement jump before every training session that I complete after I am fully warmed up. The main metric that I pay attention to for readiness is peak velocity (peak velocity is directly correlated with vertical jump height in a countermovement jump). If the speed of the jump is more than one standard deviation below my 7 day average I consult with my coach to adjust training so it is not as intense. If the jump is more than two standard deviations below my 7 day average I do not complete the training that day and take a rest day. I also compare my 7 day standard deviation to my 28 day average. If the 7 day average is one standard deviation below my 28 day average this serves as a severe warning that I am chronically fatigued and need to adjust my training accordingly.
Research Supporting Vertical Jump Impact On Sprint Cycling Power
For my Undergraduate Research Thesis at the Pennsylvania State University in the Schreyer Honors College I completed an assessment of demographic, anthropometric, and physical performance variables as predictors of sprint cycling power (https://honors.libraries.psu.edu/catalog/5244jsm5617). Basically, I looked at various metrics to see if a combination of them would be able to predict normalized peak sprint cycling power (peak power divided by body mass). My research found an association between peak velocity of an arms fixed countermovement jump and normalized peak sprint power. This validated other studies that looked at the association of a vertical jump and sprint running times.
I have personally had good success with this method of assessment of readiness. The countermovement jump shows good association between my subjective feeling and my actual performance readiness.
Figure 1: Subjective Feeling
Figure 2: Peak Velocity
On both plots a large downward spike can be seen in both my subjective feeling and peak velocity plot around November 5th. This showed that I was fatigued and my subjective feeling matched how I was actually performing. This made sense for around that time because I was in the middle of a very heavy strength block where I was consistently getting more and more fatigued.
Sprint track cycling is a unique discipline of cycling that requires minimal fatigue to perform at the highest level in order to push the limits of training to get stronger and faster. The arms-fixed countermovement jump serves as a great test to assess readiness before any and all training sessions. As I continue to progress in my training for sprint cycling I will continue to use the PUSH Band as a vital tool to gauge my readiness for training.
BIO: James Mellen
James is an 11 time U.S. National Champion in the sport of Track Cycling specializing in the sprint discipline. In addition to competing James has also graduated from the Penn State Schreyer Honors College with a Degree in Biomedical Engineering and completed his undergraduate research thesis in the field of kinesiology and athletic training. James can be found on Twitter @james_mellen and on Instagram @jamesmellen5