Should You Build the Best Engine Or Focus on Specificity? With Jim Miller

What's better: a bigger engine or one that's tuned for a specific goal race? USA Cycling's performance director Jim Miller shares his training philosophy.

Jim Miller USA Cycling Coach Fast Talk Podcast

I’ll set the stage for today’s episode with an analogy. And apologies to those of you who don’t enjoy our car engine analogies; alas, we’re sticking with it on this episode. We ask the simple question: Which has the greatest chance of consistently producing the best performances: a powerful, finely-tuned, race-inspired engine—take your pick from Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, and especially if you’re an F1 fan, Mercedes—or a heavily modified Honda Civic that you hope can compete at that goal race you’ve been preparing for?

Bringing it back to cycling terms, is it more beneficial to build a robust, complete physiological engine and then apply it to, or activate it for, different race situations, or is it better to work on specific attributes of your engine given the specific demands of a particular race? The answer, it turns out, has as much to do with training philosophy as it does to physiological principles. In today’s episode, we analyze which is more appropriate for you, and which leads to the best performances, and the best athletes. It’ll likely become pretty clear where Coach Connor and our main guest, Jim Miller, stand on the matter.

Jim, as Chief of Sports Performance, leads USA Cycling’s Athlete Development programs. In his previous role with USA Cycling, after a two-year hiatus took him to TrainingPeaks, Miller helped the United States earn 14 Olympic medals and numerous world championship titles since 2001. The list of athletes Jim has coached over the years is too long to read here, but notably includes Tejay van Garderen, Kate Courtney, Kristin Armstrong, and Lawson Craddock, to name a few.

His coaching experience isn’t solely focused on the elite of the elite, however. Jim also works with athletes whose backgrounds or goals are unique, and they’re often from the amateur or master’s ranks. Not surprisingly, Jim has found the most success with the amateurs he coaches by applying the same principles he does to world champions. We’ll hear about those successes today. We’ll also take a compelling tangent into the importance of psychology and mental capacity to success.

On today’s episode, we’ll also hear from American pro Kiel Reijnen, data analyst and coach Tim Cusick, and WorldTour physiologist Dr. Iñigo San Millán. All that and much more, today on Fast Talk.

Let’s make you fast!

Jim Miller, USA Cycling Coach at the UCI Women's time trial
Jim Miller, USA Cycling Coach at the UCI Women’s time trial


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Episode Transcript

Chris Case  00:12

Hello, and welcome, again to fast your source for the science of cycling performance. I’m your host Chris Case.

Sports Car vs. Honda Civic

I’m going to set the stage for today’s episode with an analogy. And apologies to those of you who don’t enjoy our car engine analogies, but we’re sticking with it. On today’s episode, we ask a simple question, which has the greatest chance of consistently producing the best performances, a powerful, finely tuned race inspired engine? Take your pick from Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and especially if you’re an F1 fan, Mercedes, or would you prefer to have a heavily modified Honda Civic that you hope can compete at that goal race?

You’ve been preparing for bringing it back to cycling terms: is it more beneficial to build a robust, complete physiological engine? And then apply it to or activate it for different race situations? Or is it better to work on specific attributes of your engine given the specific demands of a particular race?

The answer it turns out has as much to do with training philosophy as it does to physiological principles.

Which engine do you want?

In today’s episode, we analyze which is more appropriate for you, and which leads to the best performances and the best athletes, it will likely become pretty clear where coach Connor and our main guest, Jim Miller, stand on the matter. Jim is chief of sports performance and leads USA cycling’s athlete development programs in his previous role, with USA cycling after a two year hiatus took him to TrainingPeaks. Miller helped the United States earn 14 Olympic medals and numerous world championship titles. Since 2001. The list of athletes Jim has coached over the years is too long to read. But notably includes Tejay Van Garderen, Kate Courtney, Kristin Armstrong, and Lawson Craddock to name a few. His coaching experience isn’t solely focused on the elite of the elite, however. Jim also works with athletes whose backgrounds or goals are unique, and they’re often from the amateur or masters ranks. Not surprisingly, Jim has found the most success with the amateurs he coaches by applying the same principles he does to world champions. We’ll hear about those successes today. We’ll also take a compelling tangent into the importance of psychology and mental capacity to success. On today’s episode, we’ll also hear from American pro Kiel Reijnen, data analyst and coach Tim Cusick, and World Tour physiologist and Dr. Iñigo San Millán. All that and much more today on Fast Talk.

Let’s make you fast!

This episode of fast Talk is brought to you by WHOOP. Now, Trevor, I know you convinced some athletes that you still coach, that WHOOP is a valuable tool. So maybe give us a little overview of how you use WHOOP for the art of coaching.

Trevor Connor  03:21

It’s just like I use it for other metrics. I want to see how hard they’re training. I want to see the work they’re doing. But I have learned with my athletes, that’s a complete picture. And I have sub athletes that have real good stamina and can push through things until they cook themselves like other athletes that can’t handle it very well. Getting that whoop data from them every week is remarkably valuable. You know, I asked them to send me the summary of the week and I want to see, I’d whoop there’s this week view where it shows you your strain every day. That shows you a recovery level. Add I have seen error. Like I said every athlete is different. Some athletes can tolerate it better than others. And you get to know them. But I certainly have sub athletes where if that strain is always higher than the recovery, they’re getting in trouble. We need to start heading, we need to find a period of time to recover. For a lot of my athletes, I want points in the week where recovery is higher than the strain and vice versa. But it is actually a very valuable metric that I can’t see anywhere else. And it gives me a complete picture of the week that I can’t get just from the training. So

Chris Case  04:44

welcome, everybody to another episode of Fast Talk. We’re really excited about today’s episode. We’ve got a great guest. We’ve got a great topic. We’re going to have a fun discussion. Welcome to the program, Jim Miller.

Jim Miller  04:57

Thank you, guys. Thanks for having me.

Chris Case  05:00

You know, before the program began, we talked a little bit about how we were going to introduce Jim how many of the American cyclists he’s coached over the years that the list is too long to, to read through it. We decided the list of people he hasn’t worked with would be the way to go. But we’re not going to read that list either. Jim, in your own words, tell us about this vast experience you have working with American cyclists.

Jim Miller  05:27

Oddly enough, I started coaching, cycling, or writing training for cycling A long time ago like 1993. So I think consequently if you span that many years, then you’re going to work with a lot of people a lot of athletes and also you know, have a lot of successes have a lot of failures in the process.

Chris Case  05:45

Tell me a little bit about that art from 1993. To now you start as a junior coach, just working with individuals and then you work your way up now to the what is it chief of sports performance at USA cycling

Jim Miller  05:59

that’s Right. So yeah,  I studied exercise physiology in the 90s I was really fortunate to have a college advisor by a guy by the name of Dave Martin worked as for 20 years moved on to the 70 sixers now now is in private industry, but he’s an icon amongst physiologists exercise physiologist. Now that I look back on it, it was amazing to have him as a advisors is a 20-year-old guy. Everything I learned in physics, physiology, and the 90s we’ll call them maybe the late 80s was geared towards either cross country skiing or cycling. So it was like this really amazing chance to learn from a super smart guy, specifically in sports that I love and participate in. So yeah, I coached I ended up while I was going to school had had a couple of riders asked me if I would coach them because they just followed me on training. Eventually one of them asked me how I come up with what we do every day. And I said, Well, for the most part, I’m making it up and seeing how it works. But I do have a plan and a methodology I’m trying to imply here. So started coaching riders in the 90s, early 2000s, I was offered a job as a women’s national team coach at USA cycling. At that time, I think the only way to really distinguish yourself or set yourself apart from other trainers or coaches was to have this national team experience. So I jumped at it, assuming like all good national federations that coaches are fired about every three years and I would do this for three years and find my way into something else, or another level of coaching. And it didn’t quite work that way. For me, I sort of began to take on more responsibilities take on more roles at USA cycling become responsible for more programs, more disciplines, all the way up into 20 1718, where I was overseeing All the programs took a brief hiatus to go work at training peaks, and then came back this years in basically the same role, but a little bit different setup and Instructure entitled.

Chris Case  08:14

Well, I mean, it’s amazing to hear that trajectory. And that’s the experience we want to tap into today. We’ve got a great conversation in store for everybody. Do you train the engine? Do you make that engine as best you can build it to be as efficient and powerful and sophisticated as possible? Or do you train for a specific event? That’s the debate we’re going to have? And, Trevor, I know you want to set the stage with some of the scientific debate some of the research that’s ongoing in this dichotomy here.

Jim Miller  08:52

Let’s start there.

Trevor Connor  08:53

Right. So this is that whole question of should you be training very specifically for the sort of event that You’re doing so if you’re a mountain biker, should your training be fundamentally different from a crit rider? Which should be fundamentally different from a stage racer? Or is it more the idea of, we all have an engine, build the engine, and then let the let your body figure out the particulars of the racing, build the best engine you can build and let it apply it to different races and a best engine wins and not to give the give a spoiler alert, you’ve already heard my bias on the show, which is, I would rather have a Ferrari than a Volvo that’s been tuned up for a particular event. Mm hmm. That’s the way I look at it. And so we’ll go into some of the science about this. It’s actually really complex. It’s a really interesting question. Even as I was going through all the research, there was a lot of contradictory information. So I between having Jim here and the fact that I love these ones where the answer is this complex, I think this is gonna be a lot of fun. But let’s just introduce a little bit of the science behind the concept. There is a big scientific debate over this doing very event-specific training, or should you just focus on on building that engine. So some of the names behind this, we’ve talked about Dr. Iran on the show, we talked about him in terms of block periodization. And he’s one of the proponents of build the engine on the other side, and we’ve never mentioned this name before as Dr. Bush who’s really pushed this idea of specificity. So let me just give the science side of this and gonna throw some terms out that we probably won’t continue to use but when you’re talking about that specificity side, you can also call it coordinated overload. Dr. Bush’s concept is, there is no such a thing as generalized strength. That it all has to be within the context of a particular movement or particular action. So you can build strength. But if it’s not in that context, it really doesn’t matter and so great to explain what I’m talking about a study that I absolutely love is one where they took people they put them on a leg press machine, it was a specially designed legs press machine that they could rotate. So they could have you in an upright position or they could have you in a supine position. Otherwise, everything was identical, exact same machine, exact same movement, you were just in a slightly different position. They had people trained on this machine, and then they measured their strength gains. So they measured the strength gain in the same position. So some of the group trained in this in the upright position. So I’m trained in the supine position, measure their strength gains, then they rotated them into the other position to see if they maintain those strengths, gains. What they saw was they only maintained about 25% while there was almost like the strength gains disappeared just by rotating the machine. So that would be Bush’s argument that you have to be specific. Otherwise, you’re going to train something that you can’t use. What doctor is Iran argued for? You’ve heard me talk on the show about energy systems. He actually referred to it as capacities. So his argument is no, you need to develop these capacities, you need to hit them very specific specifically, this is based on very much a Newtonian or traditional exercise physiology principles. So this is actually called general overload. And his argument is you need to produce an overload. And we’ve talked about this as the fundamental principle of training, you need to create a stress that your body can’t handle, which is the overload and then let your body adapt to it. And so his argument is If your body adapts capacities or energy systems, so you need to target those, and then you can use those capacities for the actual specific movement. So let’s build the engine, then let the engine figure out how to do the particular work, right.

Chris Case  13:19

It’s interesting because in there, you’re using the terms general and specific and you’re using it in both settings. And that’s why this some of this can get confusing. It can sound a bit contradictory, but that’s why we’re going to take our time and walk through this.

Trevor Connor  13:34

Slowly. We haven’t even started because here, here’s gonna be the first contradiction or confusion. Some of you might listen to that and go, but if you are targeting a particular capacity or energy system, isn’t that being specific? Right? Good question, which is spot on. And so the argument here is, there’s external and internal specificity. So this idea of training Your event. So the bush model that that specificity model is actually talking about external specificity. Your movement matches the event. So that’s external, where the general overload, the more is Iran promoted model is internal specificity you are targeting specifically internal systems, right. So there’s your first bit of confusion is actually you can argue both are specific. Yes, it’s just a different type of specificity. And just, again, spoiler alert, as we talk, get further down the road here, you’re gonna discover that internal specificity in some ways isn’t very specific at all. Yep. And so, study that I love to give you to explain that is the good old bicep study where they had people trained just the right arm. And at the end of the intervention, they discover that lo and behold, their left arm gets stronger too, even though they never trained their left arm.

Jim Miller  15:00

That’s crazy.

Trevor Connor  15:02

So that’s the argument that maybe we’re not as specific as we thought. Kiel Reijnen is an experienced World Tour rider with trek Sega Fredo was an exercise physiologist degree from the University of Colorado. I did an interview with him a few years ago where he brought up the edge of versus specificity question or to answer a completely different question. His thought, however, was very insightful.

Kiel Reijnen  15:28

Most your readers aren’t scientists, just using logic. Usually where I start. There’s a handful of things that come to mind first, we’re What are we doing in training, really, we’re trying to ready to race and not just do races, but you know, hopefully do well at those races. But so there’s a certain amount of specificity that comes in training, where initially, if you think about it just quickly, the goal of training is to simulate racing. So if you’re going to have if you’re going to race San Marino should go out and train for seven hours security, local crits. maybe an hour of high intensity is what you’re looking for. But that’s not if you sit and think about a little bit more, that’s not necessarily the entire picture. What’s your, if your goal is to get better at the event you’re doing simulated them to a tee isn’t necessarily going to get you the gains that you want to see, for example, never in a race. So I do eight minutes of threshold followed by a 32nd. Sprint, followed by 10 minutes and 4020. You know, that’s like, that’s way to be back. Doesn’t happen exactly racing. But it turns out that those saying those intervals in that order cause a certain type of adaption. And that’s what we’re looking for is adaption, and adaption that will really get you better at racing.

Trevor Connor  16:53

Jim, did you have anything you want to add to this?

Jim Miller  16:56

Oh, that’s pretty good. Now I’m confused.

Trevor Connor  17:01

Hopefully by the end of this, we can unconfuse our listeners on ourselves. But I’ll admit to preparing for this, I kind of threw my hands in the air and went, Wow, this is a confusing subject.

Jim Miller  17:13

It is also something that I think is debated quite a bit, actually, when you really start to think about it. And you think about the discussions you’ve had with other coaches in the philosophies, they are methodologies they apply, then when you realize you actually have this discussion quite a bit. Yes. So it’s a good one. In fact, I think,

Trevor Connor  17:31

I think it’s a really important one because it when I was reading, I actually read a great review, and we’ll put all the references as usual up on the website. But I read a great review comparing Bush to Iran, and it brought up was all founded on this whole overload principle. And we’ve said time and time again, that is the fundamental principle of training you have to produce a stress and overload that your body can’t normally handle and then your body adapts to it. So this is really getting at what is the best way to overload the body.

Chris Case  18:05

And eventually, we’re going to get to giving out some advice about what that looks like. Where do we go from here, Trevor?

Trevor Connor  18:12

Well, so there’s just two other points I want to bring up in this this scientific debate before we get into the the more practical one is again, going to the overload. You can’t overload a race, your body doesn’t have a here’s my crit system. So if you overload that, that’s, that’s being specific so that, again, if you’re training for a crit, and you’re doing specific crit training that is external specificity, but it’s not internal specificity. So the argument that’s been made against that approach is you have to hit multiple capacities or multiple energy systems, and to produce enough stress to overload each of those. You run the risk. overtraining. And that has always been his rounds are you met and that’s why he moved to the block train. If you look at blog training notes, you do these short cycles, where you just hit one or two systems at a time and really try to overload it. So that’s an important thing to remember. And the way people who talk more about the specificity the way they address that is with variants. So that’s a good old you have a runner that runs with weights on their legs, to produce it extra overload, things like that, or sprinting in the sand to make it a little bit tougher on you. The other important thing to remember is most of this debate has been more in skill oriented sports. So talking about sprinting or talking about law, your track and field type events, cycling, relative to a lot of other sports is a low skill sport. And more importantly, you’re doing most of your training on the bike. So you You’re actually doing the pedal movements. So to a degree, any training on the bike necessarily has that specificity to it.

Chris Case  20:09

I guess I’d asked that question of Jim. In your experience, would you say that things are changing in that regard, that more of the athletes you’re working with are doing more stuff off of the bike these days than they once did?

Jim Miller  20:27

I’d most definitely say yes. Specifically, I think more more strength training in the past has been not necessarily or prescribed often in the general idea being that if you lift weights you get you build muscle mass, which is heavy, and then you have a power to weight issue going the wrong way. But then the other way to look at it for me anyways is more muscle equals more

Trevor Connor  20:51

power. So if you generate, you build a little bit of mass, but you can produce more power than when you’re born in the right direction. Jim will work Really excited to ask you about and I think this will be the bulk of the rest of our conversation is what have you seen from experience? Do athletes do better when they do training that is highly specific towards their event? Or do you find it more the generalized let’s build that engine as optimally as possible and then let their their bodies figure out the event? What’s been your experience?

Jim Miller  21:26

I really liked your analogy earlier. Did you would you rather have a Ferrari or a Volkswagen? And I think in all scenarios, you’d rather have a Ferrari when I think about this is interesting. I go back to this you know, if I look if I think about the late 90s, we were all doing these this period ization is one energy system at a time, three weeks at a time with a week off. It’s like you know, classic volca period ization. Year after year. I kept realizing that in June, everybody would crack and fall apart. You we’d got to the point where we’d end up writing in a week or two Two weeks of rest in June so that they can finish off the season. As I really started to think about that, I’m like, this is a little bit crazy, because it’s so much intensity that, that you’re just, you’re too tired from training to race effectively. I think, you know, I took that idea. And I think around 2004 2005, a is produced, published a paper on Women’s World Cup racing road racing. And they basically said the entire road race is 230 watts, followed by five to seven minute video to effort that cause separation. Maybe before that five to seven minute video, there would be a handful of peak accelerations. And to me then that really started opening my eyes like, you have to think about what the event is you’re doing and what the event demands are. And then training towards building that engine for those event demands. I prefer to train a really big engine first. I think if you have a really big engine, then you can fine tune it and you can build in the specificity for a particular event. But without the engine, you’re just not even in the game. Mikey,

Trevor Connor  23:13

it’s a great way to look at it. And it was, you know, I share a similar viewpoint. And for some reason, so I’m looking at this study right now that I wanted to bring up that kind of parallels some of what you were saying this is a 1996 study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, where they studied runners, and they had runners who did different length distances from 10 k down to about 800 meters. And some of the surprising findings of the study were that the runners who spent their time training at race pace performed worse than the runners who tended to just have a more generalized training approach. And what they found was The best runners in all links were the ones who tended to do a lot of more moderate, long distance training with some high intensity running. So again, you know, this is a study from 1996 it is a little outdated, but you know, I find it really I found it a really fascinating study of specificity. I’m interested Is this what you found when you said you were you change the approach with the the athletes when you were seeing them all pushing over training? Is this consistent with what you were doing?

Jim Miller  24:37

Yeah, I think it’s super consistent. I end up calling this training like, like endurance plus, so if you’re a world tour guy, you have to spend how you spent five hours a day 300 320 watts, and they just they just ride and then the races are decided five, six hours into this in it’s really quick. It happens really quick, right? It’s it’s a five, six minutes, 10 minutes. On a climb in there, and then they’re done and they’re back at threshold. But if you can’t metabolically be efficient enough to get to that five hour mark, you don’t even get a chance to race on that climb.

Chris Case  25:12

Yeah, I want to jump in here for just a second to hopefully clarify or confirm what I think a lot of listeners might have in their mind. And, Trevor, we talked about these zone high zone two rides right below a robot threshold is is that what Jim is essentially describing here and we espouse those as really beneficial, you don’t want to do those every single ride, but they do. Like he said, they say sort of. They don’t fatigue you but they give you a lot of load.

Trevor Connor  25:46

important to point out so you’re talking about pros doing five hour rides at 300 watts for a pro that is his own too, right? Yeah, right. Right. As frightening as that sounds, which is why most of us will never be too pro because we’re setting their threshold while the Pro is sitting there reading the newspaper. To

Chris Case  26:05

the point is they can sit there at that level because of the massive quantity they’ve done at that level. And they’re not super fatigued when it gets to the decisive moment, that five to 10 minutes where they have to get over that climb.

Trevor Connor  26:18

Right. And so this was a study I was gonna bring up a little bit later, but I think it’s worth bringing up now. And this is a hard one to explain. It’s It’s a 2013 study in exercise and sports science, but they compared cyclists to runners, so very trained high level cyclists to high level runners do untrained athletes to get a sense of the distribution of their strengths and without getting too deep into especially because I actually reread it last night when I’m struggling to fully get this. But when you talk about that, so they call it severe but that zone three That above lactate threshold really high intensity. They basically said in cyclists, untrained, and runners, all three cases that represented about 30% of what they call their amplitude, their their overall strength. And to clarify, you’re saying zone three here in a three zone in a three zone model. So that’s that above threshold really high intensity. They said, What differentiated cyclists, runners and untrained was that zone one in the three zone model, so that below aerobic threshold, so what we’re just talking about what the Pros will spend five hours training in for high level experienced cyclists, that was 52% of their capacity, were for an untrained, it was less than 40%. let me simplify this. Your top end is always 30% above whether you’re untrained, highly trained, whatever and it doesn’t seem like training is going to impact that very much. where you see the gains is in those lower intensities, and that pushes everything up. So Jim does that. Is that along the lines of idea what you’re saying?

Jim Miller  28:11

Yeah, exactly.

Chris Case  28:12

You don’t have to use names here. But I’m wondering if a case study of a particular athlete you worked with over the years might be helpful to hear about here, whether it’s somebody that came to you and had a completely different philosophy or a coach that was was driving them into the ground and you had to, to take them out of that mindset and that coaching rhythm and apply this model to them, or if it was a, someone that just didn’t know what they were doing. And so you had to sort of build this durability by by having them do a lot of these heavy load, relatively lower fatigue, high zone two rides in a in a five zone model.

Jim Miller  28:54

I’d probably about I don’t know how many of those scenarios that have happened through the Yours. I think I think a big challenge when you start working with an athlete and one is to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are of course two is to really really understand what their event is. Then three is how you’re going to get there like with a long term vision and not not just a short term vision and then you can start breaking down what they really need to focus on. I think for me with the high aerobic endurance or the zone two area you can spend a lot like like we discussed earlier, you can spend a lot of time there and you really you really can develop an engine. I think regardless and Trevor probably agrees with this but regardless of what event you end up doing the engine is critical and you see this all the time with with athletes we train we work hard, you spend 50 weeks a year for two good weeks but in those two good weeks you can do it all you can sprint you can climb you can time trial, you don’t you become almost feels like fatigue resistant, but then it’s gone. So I always try to try to build that engine so that you can, you can have a very high level, you bring people up to that is frequently you can to that level, and then you. And then if you add specificity to whatever the vision is coming up, like, if I think for an example, I think time trial, and we can we can even use a crystal Armstrong as an example. We spent a massive amount of time building that motor when we came to whether it was Beijing London or real specificity of that, that particular event or the demand of that event, then we would spend a lot of time doing a lot of different intervals in that in that timeframe. So maybe a specific example to that we start with with Beijing is this was a essentially a 30 minute time trial. It was straight up straight down. 20 minute climb followed by 10 minutes. is essentially what it was, I think, in this particular then you have to touch the brakes exactly one time. So while we spent a ton of time doing zone two rides a ton of time doing the threshold, a lot of time doing strength endurance. A lot of her intervals were on the climb that we found that was almost identical to Beijing, or mimic that. And we did almost every effort on that hill. That interval so if it was strength endurance, we did strength interest on that climb. If it was threshold, we did threshold on that climb. If it was over unders, we did them on that climb, any any sort of workload we did we did on that climb. Consequently, when she got to Beijing, in her climb that she was training, I was probably slightly longer and slightly steeper than the Beijing course. Beijing was actually easier for her. That was the that was an easier race for her.

Trevor Connor  31:54

So that almost sounds like with her. You were doing work that focused on the engine building. In the engine, but you were bringing in an element of specificity by working on a climb that was similar to what she was going to be doing a Bayesian. Yeah,

Jim Miller  32:08

that’s exactly what we did.

Chris Case  32:11

And you bring in that specificity in terms of the terrain. More, I would assume that you you work towards bringing more of that in as closer to the event itself.

Jim Miller  32:26

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly how it work. early season when we’re when we’re focused on that engine. It could be everything. I mean, she would race everything she would race. Local pro won two races with the man she would race. International races with our trade team in Europe. So it terrain was your relative, it was windy and flat and in Holland grade. It was climbing and hard in the Alps in France great. But as we approach the Olympic Probably 12 weeks out, and then then that specificity of that climb became really important and really significant.

Trevor Connor  33:08

So it’s almost like you build the engine. And this is actually to the question I really want to ask you. So it’s, it sounds like you’re building the engine. And then as you get closer to the event, then you go, Okay, let’s do some specific work to learn how to use the engine. For for the event that’s coming up.

Jim Miller  33:26

Yeah, fine tune it for what’s what’s, what the demand is going to be.

Chris Case  33:30

And I would assume there’s a not to not to take us off track too much. But there’s a huge psychological component to that as well.

Jim Miller  33:37

Very, very, I mean, I think this is one thing that that trainers and coaches forget is that training is the means not the competition, and the competition is what you’re actually trying to succeed at. I think to me, and I’ve also become guilty of that, where you’re, you’re looking at the training data, and you’re, you almost have a confirmation bias. I’m saying See, I was doing a ride and the training was right. We just didn’t perform on race day. And I think that that you always have to remember in this in this job is the race day is the day that the competition happens.

Trevor Connor  34:12

So the question I really want to ask you, which I think you’re you’re already, you’ve already have answered. And I always feel like I should introduce as as time travelers road racer in a mountain bike or walk into a bar. Yeah. But basically that question. So you’re a few years out from the Olympics. And you’re you’re at the Olympic center, you have exactly that you have a time trial, or you have a mountain biker, you have a road cyclist, so they’re all getting ready for different events at the Olympics. To what degree do you say, Okay, you go stand over there, you stand over here. And now you’re not going to talk with one another because you’re all doing very different things versus an engine engine. Let’s all go for a ride together because we’re just Yes, you’re doing different events at the Olympics. But basically, we’re going to train you all the same. Where in that spectrum would you lie?

Jim Miller  35:09

I would, I would 100% line the train together. You know, I think a previous position I’ve had is you see a lot of coaches and you see a lot of training plans and you see a lot of structure workouts. And I have to say that more times than not I look at a lot of these structure workouts. I’m like, Oh my God, if I had to do that workout, I had to cut and paste it onto a piece of paper, so I could follow it or replicated stem, I would have I would have never raced bikes, I would have quit. That’s that’s just not fun. And I think there’s a there’s a part of bike racing is fun and training is fun. So as much as I am about structure and about specificity and, and building the engine, I also recognize that you have to have fun in the sport and I say that if I took all three of those athletes, and we’re talking training, I would say 60% of their training almost looks the same. It wouldn’t be cut and paste or replicated. But for the most part, at least in my methodology, you go through a big beginning the year big 12 week build program, which is primarily aerobic works into some strength endurance, some torque to then ultimately ends up with big blocks of, of this zone to run I call it insurance plus, because it’s slightly harder, harder than and riding two by two is constant pressure on the pedals. And I am crazy about when I talk about doing big walks up but I do like four or five hours of that stuff. And it’s there’s no stopping. I can’t stand off stop rides, that resets the body.

Trevor Connor  36:54

Thank you needed somebody to say that.

Jim Miller  36:57

You refuel it. Just like starts the clock over again on like, that’s, that was not the goal of this, the goal was that there’s this continual fatigue, which is initially not bad, but by our three and four and five, it’s, it starts to become heavy and and the workload hasn’t changed. And that forces the adaptation. But for the most part, up to about that point, I would say, I train most athletes the same way. And then once we have that, that engine really starting at home, then we may have some specificity changes. And that’s, you know, for me, I look at it a little bit, I think what I’ve been really good at is the ability to break down an event to what it really is, and what athletes what a particular athlete may need to be really good at that event. So if I took it at that point, if I just took a road racer versus a mountain bike racer and for just taking discussion we could say men or women, a road racer primarily creates power through cadence, right? So once they’re racing, and they’re moving that, anytime you have fluctuations in speed power, most of its coming from like speed and cadence. So I may focus more effort and energy in the in the intervals on cadence, then with a road racer than I would a mountain bike race where the mountain bike racer on may focus more on on torque, I think most of mountain bike racing, most of mountain bike racers, the powers developed through torque, so it’s low lower RPMs is a lot of in the saddle strength. So I may I may change at that point in time where, where they may be doing more torque related efforts than than the road racer would but up. You know, 60% of the training is very similar. It’s all it’s all about the bigger motor.

Tim Cusick, TrainingPeaks WKO Product Leader

Trevor Connor  38:58

We had training peaks, head of technology and top level coach Tim Cusick on the show a couple episodes ago to discuss TSS we thought it’d be very interesting to get his thoughts on the edge of versus specificity question both as a coach and a data guy. Yeah, so we decided we’ve talked about this a little bit on some recent episodes and decided we want to do a whole episode on should you just train as big an engine as you can get? Or should you be highly specific to the the races that you’re doing? So wanted to get your thoughts on this? Do you try to train more of the engine? Or do you try to really tailor your athletes to the events they’re doing?

Tim Cusick  39:40

I’m a big engine guy in my training, period ization philosophy, right. It’s just two phases. You have the train phase, and you’re really training to get into that performance and you have the train phase and you have the performance phase. All of your training phase is to raise the end. Don’t get me wrong, have some limiter Work and some like little bit, I might tweak how we get there based on the specificity. But my general goal is get the aerobic engine big I want, you know, if you were to put a metric to it, I want to push the threshold up from below, during all of that timeframe, something maybe a little time here and there. Don’t get me wrong, but that’s my general goal. I want to get that engine as big as possible. Because then I do believe in flicking the specificity switch. But very short window, like when, for me, it’s usually three to five weeks, and three is the core, right, three fours core, and really all that training, then I’ll do a short flick into specificity. Bang at something hard. Right, hit that real hard. All of that training, that big engine training was meant that you could do more work in that performance phase and that specificity or maybe what people would call the build phase. I want them to I want the athlete to be able to do a ton of good work in that session. Shea’s quality, strong work in that phase, then short taper depends on the athlete back to what I was saying before, right into the performance space. So, but generally, my goal was a big engine. You know, one of the things that Andy taught me early is that that threshold really is the number one indicator of performance success. And time and time again, I have to say that has come true. That doesn’t mean you don’t need specificity. You don’t need skill, you know, the crit writer example on this mat. But the end of the day, if you had one thing to do, and only one you could focus on, build that engine, drive FTP as the engine building goal, right? And then if you get a little specificity around that ticket.

Chris Case  41:45

Question, this brings up in my mind, and this goes back more to your point about Kristin Armstrong and you were saying essentially, you got 52 weeks in a year and two weeks matter. So you can spend a lot of time building an app. And then introduce race specificity, whether it’s through terrain or efforts or both, and and get her ready for that target. The wrench that I want to throw into the conversation is does this conversation apply to most amateurs? Because they might not have the luxury of building or spending all that time working on their engine, and then applying the specificity they might want to just race 15 times a year across five months. And I know Jim, you probably don’t have all that much experience with amateurs. You’d be surprised. Yeah. Okay. Well, good. Good. I want to I want to hear from both of you what, how does this apply to the the Masters racer out there?

Trevor Connor  42:52

If I was going to make an argument for specificity it would be more on the pro side. For the amateur, a lot of who whom are Just having some fun. I’m just going to say let’s just build an engine because a that’s fun. B generally aren’t targeting spending four years targeting a single event. Why would you want to be that specific? The only place I’m ever really specific with the Masters athletes I work with is when that is really consistent with the having having fun. So for example, I have one masters athlete I work with he did one crit and said, Never again. Yeah. And he loves time traveling. So we’re being Time Trial specific, simply because he gets enjoyment out of that. And he’s mostly doing this for enjoyment. Trevor’s exactly

Jim Miller  43:38

right, it applies maybe even more to amateurs. I actually will take on masters riders, if whatever they’re trying to accomplish is interesting for me, but also the Secondly, it challenged you to think differently. And that’s I think the thing with with training is you have to be really good. You have to really think about it and think from a different angle and think from it. Different mode or different discipline or how are you gonna approach it a couple years ago, I took a took on a 72 year old who wanted to go to masters, cyclocross worlds. And I’m like, okay, that’s super interesting, right? I mean, I’m not coaching anybody who’s 72 years old before. It’s cyclocross. So it’s in for 7070 year old group, they’re looking at a 35 minute race. So you could, you could break that down and say, Well, look, we just need to be able to do repeats of 30 seconds on 15 seconds off all day long and you’ll be perfect. Or you can make him more fit than he’s ever been in his life. And he can absorb those efforts that are coming at him, and consequently probably absorb more than he could produce. So his best chance of an outcome is is with just a bigger level of a higher level of fitness and absorbing those episodes that came towards him, which is what we ended up doing as well a year ago. took on a 35 year old race and masters and basically did the same thing just like you spent years and years and years and years doing these, these short intervals and this this high intensity training, unlike what you’ve never really took the chance to, to do 20 hour weeks or do 18 hour weeks or 70 hour weeks, whatever you whatever you have time for and your your professional life and work and family will still keep the intensity in there, keep that intensity involved, but you’re probably already pretty good at it. And if we can just build a little bit more fitness on that you can probably do a lot more than you’ve been doing. So I’d agree with Trevor that that in an amateur athlete that that extra focus or emphasis on aerobic capacity is probably going to be more rewarding than than the effort on the high intensity side.

Trevor Connor  45:51

So I want to take a bit of an about face here and go back you brought up and I appreciated this the you have looked at some of those interval work that’s been given to athletes. And just gone. That made me quit. Or I’d have to put a roadmap on my handlebars just to know how to do this. What is your says getting back to the specificity question? What is your opinion on intervals? So we’ve had Dr. Seiler on the show who has taken more of the approach of it’s just time and intensity. However you want to cut that versus there’s a lot of people go well, you’re this type of rider, you got this type of event. So you have to do this specific order of intervals. Because that’s highly specific to the event what you’re feeling or intervals intervals or do the intervals really need to be tailored to the the event type.

Jim Miller  46:42

You know, I tend to agree with Seiler on most things I love I love listening to him talk. He’s extremely knowledgeable and in his field, and that southern drawl just kind of sucks in this Yes, it

Trevor Connor  46:56

does. We’re talking about that that mix between a Texan accent and Norway. accent you could just do it all day


he’s got a smooth delivery that guy

Jim Miller  47:05

he does and whether, you know, I don’t know, I just I agree with him, I tend to think that our body in how we divide these energy systems and, and specifically intervals, we’re just it’s not that fine we’re not that we’re not that sophisticated when you tell somebody to add the body really doesn’t know the difference between 278 to 75 to 83, etc. So I tended to dump things into bigger buckets, changed their intervals up accordingly. I do you know, I do take the threshold interval and I like to do it a couple ways I do. I do long threshold intervals 15 minutes, 10 1520 minutes when we’re building fitness, but then when I really start to we start to get to race season and I think that the broken intervals the three on one off But you doing 15 minutes of it tends to elicit a little bit different response, you end up with a higher power output. It’s a harder interval. I think for your your bang for your buck and racing, you get more out of that. But honestly, I think that the silos, right that a lot of this goes into the big buckets, and it’s, it’s number and duration.

Trevor Connor  48:26

So I actually last night tried to find some studies that countered this. And again, this goes back to that contradiction. We talked about building the engine, you want to target the the particular capacities. And so here’s our next contradiction, which is I kept finding in the studies exactly what you’re saying, which was high intensity, high intensity, it just doesn’t matter. So I found one study of cyclists where they had one group of cyclists doing what they love, so they’re comparing it to Your your vo two max power. So one group was doing their interval work above vo two max. The other group was doing what they were calling sub max intensity. So about I think it was 90% of the vo two max or pretty close to threshold. And they were looking at improvements and Time Trial performance. And both groups had exactly the same improvement. They had another study in runners where they were looking at improvements in their 10 k time. And they had one group of runners again doing more threshold type work and they had the other group of runners doing sprint work. So super short super high intensity, and again, exact same improvement in their 10 k time. So just again and again and again. It was just simply you got to do some high intensity work. And I did find sizes head well if you don’t do high intensity work, no you can’t perform that well. So you have to have some butt After that, it just doesn’t all those believes that will sprint work trains this and to buy this train that and threshold trains that it doesn’t necessarily seem to be panning out. Sounds like that’s kind of what what you’re saying as well.

Jim Miller  50:14

I think I’ve probably break my buckets into into that above threshold below threat add threshold maybe below threshold and then just that a real big zone but within those buckets then yeah, mix it up, change the change the number of intervals change the length of them change the change the power to slightly change requirements, but

Trevor Connor  50:37

I still think they grouped into those those three main buckets. And so Dr. Seiler actually even did a study about this and his conclusion was, the most important thing is the mix. So going back to that whole overload principle, the issue with high intensity is it causes a lot of autonomic stress. So if you do too much high intensity Do you cook yourself you over train. So you can only handle so much of that. But the problem is if you can only do so much high intensity, you might not get enough of a stimulus for an overload. So what they ultimately concluded is the best way to train the engine is that mix of a couple high intensity sessions with a lot of that zone one or in the five zone model zone two work that doesn’t seem to produce a lot of autonomic stress doesn’t seem to push you towards overtraining, but gives you that extra stimulus that you actually get an overload.

Jim Miller  51:36

Yeah, I think that’s right. And that’s that’s really consistent with with how I look at and do it as well. I think that that let’s say above threshold, the vo two systems. They also train really quickly. Right? So where you can spend months trying to improve a threshold if you if you commit a couple of weeks to vo to work that system in that Those powers really, they read, they respond and they, they jump up really quickly, you don’t see that with the robot powers. And so I think that when you when you do that you do have to be careful with it, you do have to manage the fatigue or more appropriately manage the rest. But they also respond really quickly.

Chris Case  52:18

For those out there listening, who think, Oh, I can, you know, polarize my training by sitting on the couch for four days, and then two days a week, I’ll just go out and do some threshold intervals. That’s not going to work. On the flip side, for those who are like how polarized my training by well are not polarized, but I’ll just do a whole bunch of long slow aerobic threshold rides or these high zone two rides or endurance plus rides, whatever name you give to them, that’s gonna do something, but it’s gonna it’s not going to be everything for you. So what you’re saying here is there has to be a combination of These things have volume and intensity in the right balance, something we’ve said 100 times before, this is more, a more nuanced way of saying the engine is most finely tuned with a really good balance of long and slow and hard and hard, intense.

Trevor Connor  53:24

And that was certainly in the research I read it was basically, you got to do high intensity, whatever you type of high intensity you do, yeah, doesn’t matter that much. But if you only do high intensity, you don’t see a lot of results. If you only do low intensity, you don’t see a lot of results. It’s in the mix. And the last thing I’ll point out and we’ve got I’ve been looking forward to this conversation because I got to pull out all my favorite studies for this one is this great study by by Dr. Larson or review wasn’t actually a study, which is the train for intense exercise performance, high intensity or high volume training. And this is actually the study that really dives into that whole PG c one alpha channel, and talks about the four ways that you can stimulate it and says, basically, low intensity stimulates it one way, high intensity stimulator another way. And what you tend to see is the high intensity way, produces gains very rapidly, but they they peak also very rapidly. low intensity seems to cause improvements very slowly. But far, the there’s obviously always a limit, but the limit is much, much higher. So you can see much bigger gains. Yeah. And that’s, if there’s any way I could summarize it, that’s, that’s the gist of it. Everything I’ve read, it’s this additive

Chris Case  54:44

effect. You hit all of these energy systems and you get something out of them by targeting them in some way and the collective gains that you see from that. Each of them adds up. Yeah. Did I say that? Did I say that? Well, I don’t think that I said that. Well, but people get the point that this, this is, you know, maybe it’s logical to us. I don’t know that it’s logical to everybody, but this combination is additive.

Jim Miller  55:19

Yeah, I think you said that great, to be honest. I think you know, there’s also something else to when you think when I think about animals also in doing this kind of work is, is the psychological preparation of it. And, you know, the sharpened of a bike race there, there’s every voice in your head saying you can’t do this. And there’s generally one voice saying you can see you’re fighting a lot of things. But I think in training when you when you do a lot of this work, and when I go to this zone tour, this endurance plus stuff was just hours of grinding it that that power and constant pressure on the pedals, mentally you start to believe that But you’re doing something more than others and you’re capable of this. Well, I think the same thing happens with with vo to work if you do like five by fives my favorite and I think it’s the least favorite everybody up know that races bikes. And there’s plenty of studies that suggest that there’s other ways to improve vo to other than doing five by five. We know that five by five works. But that’s psychological Battle of five by five that hardens people into warriors. It is tough. It is nasty. And as I said, I do think a lot about the mental aspect of the physiological work we’re doing as well and what the what that mental outcome is. And really, I think if you look at most of the riders, I coach, they’ve been successful. You would everybody would describe them as a warrior. When they go to race and they go to they go to give them the Rena. They’re not the one you want to come across.

Dr. Iñigo San Millán, UAE Team Emirates Physiologist perspective on Race-Specific Training

Trevor Connor  57:00

One of the first interviews I ever conducted for a training article was with Dr. Iñigo San Millán. On the head physiologist for UAE, it was over the phone and I had no idea how to record interviews. So forgive the quality. But also say it was one of the most insightful interviews I’ve ever had. Dr. Iñigo San Millán dives into the physiology behind training the engine. So really the question I want to ask is, is the best training purely race specific? Or should the best training be targeting physiological systems even if you’re doing work that isn’t that race specific?

Dr. Iñigo San Millán  57:37

Yeah, I mean, I agree that it’s about being more physiologically as efficient overall, right? You have all the energy systems in place, you’re gonna help your report. And that’s vsomething that we see you know, the workplace often you know, they don’t train specific, they always I mean, they might obviously the train more specific if theyre a time trialist or, a classic rider, they might train more of that duration or intensity but, they really train the rest of the parameters as well. So that is like, you know, like a climber doesn’t just to climb right through a lot of endurance rate training, and, and that’s across the board, not just in cycling, but you know, all the top sports, you know, and that’s about you, it’s, you need to have all the energy systems in place, and well develop as much as you can, because they complement each other. And again, you you might have, you might be a crit rider, and just to create increasing and a one hour report and therefore you you, you’re increasing a lot that glycolytic capacity of the fast twitch muscle fibers with all the elements, but again, you know, you’re not going to be able to clear out as much lactate, right? Because you’re gonna do like a endurance based training. You’re going to miss a good component, you know, therefore you’re going to be you’re not going to be able to improve I mean, to give you 100% of a criteria, you know, whereas if you have all the elements in place you’re going to travel through the criteria much better. This is something with crit riders not done now with many crit riders you know, hey you know you have a tubal reflexivity capacity but you can’t clear on the byproduct of the tubal with the lactate for example, so you need to improve your aerobic capacity you know to increase your increasing the slow twitch fibers in getting results can be for sprinters, you know, your sprinter and it’s all about sprinting, sprinting, but no, I mean, at the end of the day, either race, sprinter none at all, which is the fastest. But he is the one who gets there the freshest, right, right. And you know, in order to get there, the freshness You know, he has two very good lactate  capacity, just the last five kilometers are brutal. Right? And as always, he managed sprinters day, they cannot keep up with the pace and be super super fast but yeah, you know in 100 meter race, right but not in, you know, 80- 100 hundred 20 K. race, right where they get worn out by the end of the race I asked you this so many times, you know, they, they they and then they want to start improving their their aerobic capacity. Right. And they do miles and miles and miles of kilometers. they improve their sprints so they can give close to 100%

Trevor Connor  60:49

What would you say are the key physiological systems for cyclists?

Dr. Iñigo San Millán  60:56

I think the key physiological systems is is that Clean glycolytic system which is where you win the races, right into high intensity effort. The glycolytic system is key. We have very well developed systems. If you’re a sprinter, obviously you need to have all the ATP PCC Sam writing plays a very good, there’s a bit also genetic component there. And then lastly, it’s absolutely key to have a good lack of chance capacity. That happens, you know, by improving the mitochondrial function and also the slow twitch capacity to clear lactate, which at the same time, you know, as I always say to two birds with one stone, improve mitochondrial density, you’re going to be able to clear lactate  better, and you’re also going to be able to utilize fat better so it’s going to push your glycogen for the last part of the race. So to bone all this persistent Yeah, the glycolytic capacity. There’s like excess capacity and fat oxidation capacity

Trevor Connor  62:03

is all different training for each.

Dr. Iñigo San Millán  62:07

Yes, that’s how I see it. And these are kind of the concept that I then I, I turn, the medical training that I would like to kind of push for that concept in the medical trainees been trained over metabolic events are the metabolic parameters, right that you’re going to be meeting or having during the competition. Right? So in a competition, it doesn’t matter what kind of competition you’re going to need higher glycolytic capacity, right? You’re going to need high speaking capacity for CCNA, you’re going to need also highlight the team’s capacity and high production capacity, right? So you need to train No need to metabolic train right, all these components.

Trevor Connor  62:52

And so for the, you know, the glycolytic we’re talking very short, high intensity for the fat oxidation, obviously, we’re talking about that. Training below two millimoles for the lactate side for the builder clear lactate.

Dr. Iñigo San Millán  63:08

Yeah, you need that slow twitch muscle fibers, right. And that’s the maximal mitochondrial lactate appear to the complex, right, which is just mainly those type one muscle piracy you have to stimulate those, and then therefore also the transport. But also you need to stimulate the glycolytic capacity because it’s going to help you to export lactate out, but doesn’t seem that the two complement each other because the lactate producing fast twitch muscle fibers is cleared mainly in the slow twitch muscle fibers to train both fibers.

Trevor Connor  63:47

So you really feel that you need to do the retraining at the below to millimoles or you need to be training well up above four millimoles to stimulate these different systems.

Dr. Iñigo San Millán  64:00

Yeah, I agree in those for at least the two metabolic point that is near the scene, the laboratory. Right? That area where it is kinda I see that that’s where like, there’s the two major events that initiated the maximal fat oxidation that corresponds to the first breakpoint of lactic. Right? And at the same time corresponds to this for spiking glucose utilization. That’s one point. And the other polarizes like higher intensity, which is kind of like yeah, we you fat oxidation disappears, lactate, just at the second breakpoint really spikes and carbohydrate utilization increases dramatically. training those metabolic events improve performance.

Trevor Connor  64:50

How would you respond to the specificity proponents who say most of racing is actually done between two and four millimoles So that’s where you should be doing all your training.

Dr. Iñigo San Millán  65:03

Well, that’s that’s a great question too. And  To be honest, I mean, I will not say that’s wrong or right. I think that I definitely contemplate those training. That’s where it’s called the zone 3. Right? Right. That’s where, like I have a  20 there too, because that’s important to kind of reproduce the competition. Right. And that’s why that, you know, that that extra says you can either one day travel through the race, right. Okay. But, but again, you know, like, race is always deciding into higher intention. Right, right, in order to be able to be successful, dealing with those higher intensities for the longer amount of time. You need to clear a lack of very well and without you need to train that slow twitch fibers. Right. But again, I really think I mean, I don’t think that we should allow that. That You know, that that’s the one that you’ve traveled? Right? Right. I think that intensity you need to throw there as well. And that’s what you’re focus on three. That’s a tradition. So between these two metabolic points that I’m talking about, right? between zone two and zone 4 , zone 4 would be like your lactate threshold and go to that site 20 hour you elicited adaptation to lactate clearance. That is zone three is kind of the transition

Trevor Connor  66:30

Okay, both

Dr. Iñigo San Millán  66:32

It’s not quite polarized,  trying to get to as many energy systems as possible.

Trevor Connor  66:44

Okay, so you really do feel train all all zones?

Dr. Iñigo San Millán  66:49

I believe so. But again, those those two main zones are the, to me, in my opinion as the most important that zone to write in that glycolitic capacity which The most the most important one, which is a form of polarized training too

Trevor Connor  67:07

this episode of fast Talk is brought to you by whoop is offering 50% off with the code Fast Talk. That’s f s t, ta lk at checkout. Go to Whoo. That’s w h o And enter Fast Talk at checkout, save 15% sleep better, recover faster, and train smarter. Optimize your performance with

The Psychological Component to Racing Bikes

Chris Case  67:35

the first time I guess I was introduced to these endurance plus type rides was when a few years ago I decided to dirty Kansa a second time. First time I did it. I didn’t. I did just rode my bike. I wasn’t doing anything in particular just riding as much as possible. That was my method. The second time around since we were doing it for an article Trevor and I work together and he started having me do the rides and initially, I think they don’t turn you into a warrior they make you feel like you’re a total wimp because you can’t do them. They’re a lot harder than you think they’re going to be, oh, just go out and ride you know, like, sort of hard but not really hard. Just do it for five, six hours or do it as long as you can.

Jim Miller  68:20

Three hours, two hours, three hours.

Chris Case  68:23

It doesn’t seem like much. But then that’s these are the types of ride that turn you into whether you’re male or female, they turned you into a hard man or a hard like, they just toughen you up. And that’s exactly what you’re saying. They turn you into a warrior like you feel really prepared you feel ready for the suffering that is innate in cycling.

Jim Miller  68:45

Yeah, you have to embrace it and it is the game. And I think that, you know, when I when I use zone two, with a young rider or a new rider to me, will spend a year, a full year, maybe even 18 months of just that stuff. That’s all we do, I don’t add anything to it. When you get to these, take a world tour guy, for example, they’ll do a zone to endurance plus ride five hours and call it 300 watts. But then we’ll get into at the end of it, we’ll get into the vo to work or the LA prime work or the, you know, the, the devadas. And you’re layering on additional demand on that. But that psychological pieces like okay, I can race Ruby. Now I can raise Flanders, I can do this because I’ve done this in training, and I did it by myself. Now I’m going to go into racing and I’ve got all this extra stimuli I can I can handle this. And so when they get into that nasty end of a bike race, it’s it’s the voice that’s overriding them isn’t the I can’t do this. I’m not been here. It’s the voice saying you can do this. You’ve done this in training. You’ve done this by yourself. And I think that’s when you really start to mix the two To psychological battles with the physiology that you start to really build warriors.

Trevor Connor  70:07

Yeah, that’s a really good point. I love the the bringing the psychological side because I think that is actually the domain of a lot of the specificity. So I actually, I’m thinking of an athlete who I am coaching, who he is one of the best trainers I’ve ever worked with. You give them work to do, and he does it spot on every single time, but struggles and races. And it’s that when it gets hard in a race, it’s that lack of belief that he can do it. And I remember a month and a half ago, I got on zwift with him. At the time I was having to do four by eight minute intervals. He was doing his eight minute intervals at about 323 30 watts. So we’re in this race on zwift. That’s on the London loop and there’s about an eight minute climb and he gets popped on the call I’m doing 280 watts. And had to had that conversation with him of why to get popped. So it was too hard. Like, but you do intervals 40 watts harder. Context really matters for him. And it was. So this is a case of the the mental side was working against him. And what we ended up doing was we just got on zwift every week. And I’m just like, we got to change the mindset around and that’s where the specificity helped, which is jumped in race after race after race. I noticed when I was when you hurt yourself, I want you to believe that you can hang with these people. Yeah.

Jim Miller  71:37

Yeah, it’s there’s a lot to it. You know, climber if you think of climbing, you can be climbing 280 watts, you can be the first guy in the group and you feel great. You can be the fifth guy or the sixth guy in line, and you feel terrible because you have no control of the throttle, right? And, and learning to let that go and not check the gauge. And not constantly do that self evaluation is that that’s. That’s half the battle.

Trevor Connor  72:06

That’s one of the things I do when I’m in a race and I’m not feeling good and we’re going up a climb. I moved to the front. Because there’s that mental side of, well, I can’t be feeling that bad if I’m on the front. Yeah, we’re like you said, if you’re sitting 10th wheel and you’re hurting you, you your mind, just dives in,

Chris Case  72:24

enhances everything that you’re doing. Yeah, yeah.

Jim Miller  72:27

I love that. I love that side of the sport. First wheel on a climb. You’re like I’m hurting. So is everybody else 10th wheel on the climb. You’re like, I’m hurting, but the nine guys in front of me aren’t.

Chris Case  72:38

Right. Well, it also I think some some aspect of that is if I if I’m on the front, I’m doing the hurting. If I’m 10th wheel, I’m being hurt. So you’re either you’re the the, you are either dictating it or it’s being dictated to you and it’s much more comfortable place to be the one dictating the pain or the pace or both? Yep, no, Jim, again not to get off track here. But how much of this type of psychology work do you do with these elite athletes that you’re working with? You were talking about some of the best American cyclists. You in history, I guess you could say with their gold medals in multiple gold medals. How much work are you having to do with them to toughen up their mind?

How to toughen your mind: Learning the bounds of physical vs. psychological strength with Kate Courtney

Jim Miller  73:28

I probably do a ton, but it’s now it’s become an A to me. And you also I think, I do think I get the benefit of reputation now. So I think people are athletes are much less inclined to call me and tell me they can’t finish workout then than they used to be. They don’t want to they don’t want let me down. They don’t want to disappoint me. They won’t tell me they can do something. So I think I get the benefit of the doubt that a lot of athletes suffer through something before they’ll call me but I think work on this all the time. Kate Courtney actually she’s she spoke about this before, so I don’t mind bringing it up. We had a we had a training block she did a couple years ago when I first started working with her. And I always like to say that there comes a time in an athlete’s trajectory when they’re working with you. That you have to show them how tough they are. They don’t know how tough they are. Kate was finished in a big block. I specifically put in a five by five at the very last day. I knew going in the last day that she was she was already tired. She was already cooked. She was pretty young. She was 21 then I knew my phone was gonna ring all day long.


And you didn’t answer the phone Did you?

Jim Miller  74:41

didn’t answer the phone. I sat there and watched it ring didn’t answer it. Another 10 minutes would go by phone and ring again. Phone memory again. Finally after what I thought would be the end of the interval session. I picked up the phone and and she was like She was in tears. And she’s like, I can’t do that. That’s so hard. Oh my God. That was mean, you know, you’re being mean. And when she was done talking, I said, I’m like, did you do with him? And she’s like, yes, every single one of them. I’m like, did you do them at the power prescribed? She’s like, yes, every single one of them. I’m like, then you could do it. See, you’re, you’re better than you think you are. She’s like, but you have to admit, that was mean. I’m like, okay, you know, right. I’m like, if that’s what I meant that then then fine. But that day, I know 100% that she realized that she was way better than she thought she was. She was capable of way more than she was than she thought she was capable of. And from that day forward, she started walking with more swagger straightaway. Yeah. And I’m like, that is when you have a dangerous athlete. When they start to believe that they’re capable of things then then you’ve started create something, but I think as a coach You have to do that. I mean, your job as a coach is to challenge and to push and try to get more out of people there’s there’s a line where too much is too much. But that’s, that’s the art of coaching, right that comes with experience and knowledge. And initially you’re not very good at where that line is. As you get older, you become more confident where that line is and when you can push and when you can’t push and when you shouldn’t when you shouldn’t. But I think as a coach, your job is to absolutely push and challenge and try to get more out of your athlete. That’s that’s ultimately how you supercharge that motor.

Chris Case  76:38

Well, I want to plug our one of our past episodes because we’ve had Kate Courtney on Fast Talk before I think she actually told that very story but

Trevor Connor  76:49

from her perspective, same thing

Chris Case  76:51

is Episode 76. When to push and when to pull the plug with Kate Courtney and whoop That was all about. I mean, it is a fascinating discussion with Kate because A, she opens up about some of these things about, you know, she’s a world champion, but she has these vulnerabilities too. It’s great to hear that. She’s also a very good athlete and knows herself really well and has a ton of insight into her body and what it takes and how she can push it, and as you’ve just described, but she doesn’t know everything about herself, you know, and she’s still learning. She’s very young. So it’s a great, great episode, Episode 76. So check that out.

Trevor Connor  77:37

So I love the fact that we started this episode saying we’re gonna have this discussion about is it building the engine or is it specificity? And now we’re going down this unexpected road of really, you’re saying there’s this third element, which is mental and I think of, we’ve had some pros come in and be on the show and talk about this whole concept of You know, we all can do about the same five minute effort, we can all do the same one minute effort. That’s not what wins the race. Everybody thinks it’s about your five minute power. It’s not. And my experience in and what I’ve heard them say is it really comes down to, we’re gonna make this race bloody hard and see who sticks it out.

Chris Case  78:25

So let’s build the best engine and the best brain.

Trevor Connor  78:28

It’s just that yeah, that you have to have both. Yep. And I’ve I can’t tell you how many race I’ve ever bought my first experience with a pro res that moment when they stretch it out when you’re sitting there on somebody’s wheel doing 500 watts in the worst pain you’ve ever been in in your life, wondering what the heck is going on? Especially because it all comes back together. There’s nothing that’s strategic about it. And my old coach explained to me is like it’s a mental game. Cuz you’re sitting there dying on a wheel going and somebody is on the front driving this pace,

Chris Case  79:05

right? Yeah. Yeah. It’s such a complex thing in some ways to to explain to people that haven’t been in that situation. Experience plays such a big role in your ability as a cyclist because you’ve been in certain scenarios. First time you deal with that scenario, you’re like, there’s absolutely no way I’ll ever get back with the field. I’m just going to give up now. You do that enough times you realize, no, I can. I honestly I don’t even I can let this I could sit on these wheels all day. It’s it’s gonna come back together. And you get a sense for those types of things. Or you get a sense for how hard and how long you can tolerate those painful moments and come back from them. And then perhaps even surge ahead and win. So yeah, building building the best brain you can is the third group bone in here that we haven’t we didn’t put in the title of the show. But it’s a it’s a big component here. And part of that can be worked on in training, as we spoken about a little bit here. And part of it comes through racing and racing alone. Jim, a question for you then when you are trying to bolster somebody’s mental capacity, mental strength, their psychological attributes in training, do you have tricks that you use here? Not unlike what you just described, turning off the phone letting Kate Courtney suffered through that, so that she does realize she’s capable of something. Are there any other examples here that you want to give?

Jim Miller  80:44

I think for me, it’s all it is probably intuitive for me but you know, I think a lot of times the coach you you have to, you have to believe in them before they can believe in themselves. They start to believe in themselves because you believe in them. Did you know I guess when we talked about pushing and challenging, probably the other word I should have thrown in there is encouraging, right? You have to encourage them to do that you have to encourage them to try, you have to encourage them to fail. And inevitably, when you’re challenging somebody and you’re, you’re pushing them into that uncomfort, uncomfortable zone, they’re going to fail. And you have to encourage that. And then when that happens, then you have to pick them up and you have to dust them off and let them fail well, and let them be let them fail without being a failure. I think that’s that’s a really important part too, when people fail is to not make them a failure for that fill for failing. There. They’re two entirely different things. And and to fail and something is just part of the process. That’s that’s how it works. But it’s true that that failing that they become persistent and


and resilient.

Trevor Connor  81:59

And I think when you’re Both persistent and resilient, then inevitably you’ll you’ll become successful. The success then just becomes a byproduct. I think we have said that before. And that’s been something that I, I believe in strongly, which is if you are never failing, if you’re winning every race that you’re in, you’re not challenging yourself.

Jim Miller  82:18

Yeah, that’s training too. I mean, you can’t you can’t win every training day. You can’t set prs every single day. That’s a very good point. Some days are just going to suck and that’s how it is.


Yes, yes.

Chris Case  82:31

Yes, for sure.

Jim Miller  82:34

When they do, then fine. They stopped you know what today wasn’t awesome. Like, you got to the interval session or you got through the work the best you could and or in some cases, you didn’t even get through it. And that’s that’s just how it is. That’s, that’s done and, and move on.

Trevor Connor  82:52

I’m sure this has been your experience as a coach is certainly bear in mind, but one of the most frequent calls as well. When an athlete has that not so great day on the bike, and they immediately want to know, what does this mean? Why could I do the power I did last time? And your answer is always just just didn’t have your best day.

Jim Miller  83:13

Most cases, it doesn’t mean anything, right?

Trevor Connor  83:16

So I always tell the athletes look, yeah, it’s one bad day. Now if this happens five times in a row, then we have a conversation.

Jim Miller  83:24

Exactly. And that’s why we have so many metrics we measure too, right? That’s why we have so many different parameters that we take in as data and analyze. And collectively it means something but individually, it may not mean anything.

Trevor Connor  83:38

So how often we are going out of tangent here, but I just love this conversation because this is something that I deal with every week. How often do you have athletes that just have that bad day and absolutely destroy themselves to hit the numbers they were hitting on a good day and ended up failing at their workout?

Jim Miller  83:55

I mean, it’s not my favorite. I don’t try to I don’t like to see that happen all the time. But I know when you’re pushing that happens. So I think it depends upon the context of whatever block of training you’re in or what you’re trying to accomplish in that training. So it I mean, it happens, I think with everybody, it happens, I think you have to do it. But I’m with you, I wouldn’t two or three days in a row failure, then then I’m like, okay, we have to, we have to take a look at what we’re doing. Maybe we need to stop, maybe we need to rest. Maybe we need a break. Maybe we need to talk about what’s going on your life. But something’s not working. Because you’re not if you’re not doing what you’re capable of. The flip side of that is yes, if you’re pushing them, they may fail a couple times before they get it. But that’s planned, and you’re aware of that. So when they do call and they they’re panicked. That’s the encouraging part of a just keep, keep out and keep grinding and keep keep, don’t give up. Don’t quit and I think That’s where you really knowing those two different things is where you really start to be able to know when to push him not know when not to push. And and I do think that’s ultimately what gets you to that that warrior mentality or the psychological warrior.

Trevor Connor  85:16

It’s a tricky balance. And that’s kind of what I was getting at as those little ecent TriCities, which is when I have an athlete who hasn’t isn’t having a good day, and they push to hit their their peak numbers and fail. I’m a mixed emotions from a training standpoint. That wasn’t the smartest thing. They should have just backed down 1020 watts and successfully gotten through the intervals. But going back to what you were saying about the mental side, and that that warrior mindset, I kind of admire when they have a bad day and they go No, I’m gonna try to get through this. I’m going to try to do this because that’s you’re going to have those days and races.

Jim Miller  85:54

Yeah, that’s it. And they have to learn to do they have to they have to know they can, shall we

Chris Case  86:00

sort of try to bring this back on track now that we’ve had a very good tangent into the psychological. I’ve been loving this. Yeah, yeah. training the engine.



Chris Case  86:15

Let’s hear from both of you on the, the importance of this balanced training approach. Trevor, do you want to start us into our concluding remarks here of it? I’ll keep it short because again, I’m really excited to hear Jim’s answer. And Jim, please, you brought up some things we do think of. I hope you actually take us down another rabbit hole of really interesting conversations. But

Trevor Connor  86:43

Chris, I think you hit the the operative word, which is the balance. It goes back to you. Yes, I am a believer in train the engine. Particularly because I think if all you’re ever doing is is race specific training Your you are going to push overtraining or just not get enough of a training stimulus to ever get particularly strong. So I am a believer and build that engine. And the sum total of everything I’ve read, everything I’ve experienced is training. The engine is about balance. It’s the mix of work. It’s not about the magic interval workout, that magic prescription that you as we said, you have to print out and put on your handlebars because it’s that complicated. It seems high end work. Yeah, there’s slight variances, but for the most part, it’s just getting the high end working but it’s balancing that with low intensity work. Hitting the hitting this engine from from all sides and getting the proper training stimulus. But Jim, really address it here. What do you have to say and like I said, take us down some tangents.

Jim Miller  87:55

Maybe man, I’m good at taking people down rabbit holes. For me. The engine is is about it’s about consistency. It’s it’s, it’s week to week, it’s month to month, year to year, to really build a big engine, you can’t do it



Jim Miller  88:11

you can’t put together a good spring training and say I did the work. That is just not enough you have to put together years and years and years of it to build a big engine. A good spring training is important but a good summer racing followed by a good follow of training followed by a good winter retraining. Primarily, I mean, if you look at a cyclists, career, we’re looking at 1012 years interest injury free, not getting sick, all these things really add up quickly to this engine building. So I look at it it really their long term approach and and really try to put together year after year after year. I think when you do that, then you really, you really build a big engine. What I would say with that analogy is you kind of see there There is a place for specificity. But that’s kind of the icing on the cake. That’s the icing. Or if cold appears over here, that’s the salt in the soup that brings all the flavors out. accentuates

Chris Case  89:13

I haven’t used the salt analogy in a while I figured I’d throw that in there. You brought that one back.

Jim Miller  89:21

That’s a good one.

Trevor Connor  89:22

Right after I read an article about why we shouldn’t eat a lot of salt.

Chris Case  89:25

Well, you know, I know Yes, that’s, that’s a different. That’s a different conversation. Is is just an analogy. Just analogy.

Trevor Connor  89:34

So I want to finish up with with one last question with with everything you’re just saying. So going back to that time trial is a road racer, and a was a mountain biker mountain biker walk into a bar. So they’ve all built this engine.

Chris Case  89:53

The mountain bikers not walking out of the bar. He’s the one that’s getting drunk and collapsing on the floor. Right? Well, that’s good.

Trevor Connor  90:00

So what is time trial? It sits at the back corner just like he’s all angry. Yeah, he’s

Chris Case  90:04

the he’s the nerd Poindexter sitting by himself.

Jim Miller  90:07

Okay. Yeah, so road racers probably

Chris Case  90:10

trying to get phone numbers of

Trevor Connor  90:16

the standard has not been as good as our earlier tangents in this episode. So the question I have for you is they’ve built the engine. What is the specific work you would do with each of them? Or is it even more specific than that where you go, well, who’s the particular athlete?

Jim Miller  90:33

It would be based on who the athlete is. But for me, it’d be really event. Demand based the specificity would be event demand based. So depending on what we were going to be facing would define the specificity that I would prescribe.

Chris Case  90:51

And give us a sense of the factors there. It’s a it’s a say, you’ve done the 60% of the work building The aerobic engine with a mountain biker and then the target is the World Championships are you looking at? I assume you’re looking at the profile of the course. The the altitude that the course sits at the predominant weather conditions for that type of the or that time of year. The steepness of the climbs the decisive, if you can even get a sense for the decisive points on the course and how that person can take take advantage of those. Everything is being looked at. Yep, correct.

Jim Miller  91:37

That’s exactly how you do it. Mountain Bike worlds. demands and lenzerheide are different from the demands and obstat. Same same competition, same event, same outcome, but the demands of that event are just different. So you train this, you train the specificity towards those event demands.

Trevor Connor  91:58

So that’s like what you were talking about before. You So you talked about the Beijing Hill, you find a similar Hill and you do your work on that. That sort

Jim Miller  92:06

of thing if you can. Yep. If you can he you got to do it in heat. You got to you got to acclimate to heat, altitude, you have to acclimate to altitude.


And use and then really

Chris Case  92:19

go ahead.

Jim Miller  92:21

Yeah, I was gonna say, I think big picture too. You have to look at things like your competitors, and what can they do and what they can’t do and where can you create a separation and train for that as well. Right.

Chris Case  92:35

And you said in the example you gave with Kristin Armstrong that you set aside 12 weeks to build in most of that specificity when it came to working on the hill and the different intervals so yeah, if you have the luxury

Jim Miller  92:49

Yeah, and that was primarily because that hill was a it was a single effort. Lt. Right. You’re gonna climb as hard as you can, as fast as you can. is going to be one go and you’re done. Then you’re going down, then you’re going downhill at 60 miles an hour, and you’re fully recovered in 35 seconds. So because it was a threshold type effort, then we spent more time, we spent more time on that, because thresholds harder to build something like if I go to Kate’s lenzerheide, when, for the most part all year long, just being really consistent with training, being really consistent with the chronic training load that was present, always managing the acute training load in the rest. And then right before lenzerheide we I think we had two weeks. And we really just did a bunch of v2 work, not a bunch. I shouldn’t say a bunch, because that’ll give the wrong visual of it. But we we had a focus on on the vo to work or the event demands for that race.

Chris Case  93:48

So as a listener of Fast Talk, Jim, you hopefully are familiar with our one minute take home messages that we’d like to close the episode with. I’m going to put the pressure on you. We’re going to have you start And sort of give us the most important message that you’d like people to take with them from this episode, and you’ve got 60 seconds.

Jim Miller  94:10

physiology isn’t as precise as we is physiologists are scientists like to make it in real world application of bicycle racing. I think it’s important that you have a good grasp and understanding of physiology and disease, physiological science. I think when you when you’re writing training, you have to think in your prescribing training, you have to think a lot about a lot of different factors. It has to be fun. It has to be enjoyable, cycling’s enjoyable. It has to elicit a response, it has to create some sort of adaptation. So physiologically, you have to understand what you’re trying to get out of that workout. And then I think you have to think about the psychological side of it and what you’re trying to do with your athletes psychologically as well. I think when you can put all three of those things together And you can start thinking about your training and your workouts in your exercise or training prescription. Like that, then I think you’re well onto your on your way to being a successful coach. Trevor, what do you think?

Trevor Connor  95:16

So I actually came into this episode with what I thought was going to be my one minutes was was really getting into the complexity of this engine versus specificity. But I was so interested in these tangents we went down in that, you know, this, this further side of experience versus what the this just what the science says. And I’m not sure I can explain this in one minute. But what I like is just this overall concept of building a toolbox, part of that’s building this engine, but there’s also building the mental side building the confidence. It’s building All the pieces that you can then take to the event to put together a good event. And what I am hearing from you, Jim, that I really liked is looking for the coach perspective, you need to get to know the athlete and then figure out what tools they need. What’s and, obviously start with build that big engine, but then figure out what tools they need. And almost what I’m hearing is getting caught up in details like specifics of intervals, things like that. Just get you off track. It’s much more about staying bigger, big picture, building the best athlete you can and taking them to the race confident and strong and ready to give it their all,



Chris Case  96:53

Well, you know, I think taking both of your points and rolling it into one if you think Think of this in terms of ROI, getting the most out of your investment in your training and the time you’re going to spend training, which for you know, for most of our listeners, I would say that that is the equation that runs through their mind all the time. How do I get the most out of what I’m doing, when I’ve got to balance life and professional work and family and these types of things. And and what I’m hearing today is something that we’ve addressed in several ways in previous episodes would never essentially head on which is you build the most, or you improve your capabilities most effectively by working the engine as a whole, through balanced training, through psychological the buildup of psychological resilience and confidence and all of these different components through a balanced approach rather than skewing it to one side, high intensity or the other too much low intensity, and therefore, that essentially equates to the highest ROI. If that makes sense. I think I did a fairly sloppy job of explaining that. But you know, if you want the most bang for your buck, the engine is where it’s at. You throw in that little bit of, okay. My target race this year does have a eight minute climb that averages 10%. And that’s pretty unique. So I’m going to work on that when I can, leading up to the race. And that’s the amount of specificity that works the internal systems to deal with that component of the race, but the rest of the year is mostly about just making Making you the best athlete you can be. That was a long winded way of saying built the engine.

Trevor Connor  99:08

Such a complex but really interesting subject.

Chris Case  99:11

Yeah. Well, thank you, Jim Miller for your time today was great to finally get you on the program. We want to have you back to get more of your great insights. Thank you.

Jim Miller  99:23

Yeah. Thanks for having me. As a as you mentioned, I listened to your show all the time. And I think it was is much of an honor for me to be on your show, as you think it was for me to come onto your show. Great.

Trevor Connor  99:34

Thank you. Well, appreciate that. I’ll still say that the honor is mostly ours but but appreciate it and say that I hope we can get you on the show again soon.

Chris Case  99:45

That was another episode of bastok. As always, we love your feedback. So email us at fastag at fantasy labs comm or record a voice memo on your phone and send it our way. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure Leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast doc are those of the individual for Jim Miller killed Ryan and Tim Cusick and ego son Milan and Trevor Connor. I’m Chris case. Thanks for listening