Functional Training

As a business owner and father of four, I have had needed to keep a pretty set routine over the last three years. I have tried to create a better home-life balance and have not been maintaining my personal functional training with the consistency I once did. This caught up with me. I have felt a gradual decline in my overall athleticism and core stability. Aches and pains have been inching in and I attribute it to decreasing overall core strength and stability. So starting on Oct 1st, I have done a 40 minute range of motion, stability based, strength class twice a week here at VQ Highland Park. Angie, from Illinois Bone and Joint Institute is our class leader.  I have been doing this class pretty consistently for last 6 weeks and I have noticed a huge difference in the way I feel both on and off the bike.

The cold weather usually makes me feel a bit more lethargic on the bike and I tend to get a little off which from switching from my road to my cross bike. The workouts are also shorter and more intense with a bigger focus on upper body engagement when riding. It’s not uncommon for the body to feel out of balance until returning to the road bike in April. Since I have started a consistent strength training routine I have felt more balanced and stronger then I have in years.

My diet, training hours, training intensity, bike and set up, sleep, and work hours have not changed much over the last 5 years. The only change I have made has been FT class with the VQ crew on Monday and Wednesday from 6:50-7:30 a.m.

This is not an over the top, hard core, pump fest, but rather a balanced based well rounded workout with a focus on range of motion, stability and rotational movements.  We do simple squats, pushups, balance exercises, coordination drills (brain busters is what Kelli Richter calls them). These things are all done at a tolerable intensity that leaves you tired but not blown to smithereens.

I think for the first time I have found a program that does not take too much time and really makes a difference in how I feel. Here is an example of how I feel better:

1. I always have to see a chiropractor or physiotherapist when I start riding longer or harder on my cross bike since my hips tend to get off kilter and I end up pedaling with one leg way more then the other, I have not had to see the chiro once this fall/ winter. My body feels perfectly balanced and my legs put out equal power.

2. Another example is when I do my VQ performance test for athletes I often have to demonstrate a walking hamstring stretch for the athletes. I am always strong on my right leg, but terrible on my left leg. Since the strength training work I can perform the stretch better on both sides and there is no difference in my ROI or my balance on either leg.

3. The last thing I will tell you is that my power on my cross bike has been the highest I have seen it in 4 years. Both my short and long range power is mid summer levels and my volume has been cut in half over these last 12 weeks.

Keep in mind, these are issues I have been dealing with for 5 years and now they are gone. I am excited about this program and think that everyone should give it a try.

Fall Fitness

Greetings from Robbie Ventura 

Fall Fitness
Most people approach their fitness at this time of year in one of three ways:

 1. Increased engagement: completely gung ho and super-focused on 2015 goals
These athletes are using this great fall weather to ramp up training on all fronts.

2. Change in engagement: pulling back on endurance engagement and reducing overall training time
These athletes seek other forms of exercise, often involving more strength and coordination. This departure from longer, more steady state exercise to a focus on more athletic and strength work makes a ton of sense to me.

3. Disengagement: unfortunate stop to all training 
Some are physically and mentally burnt out or are out of balance from a long season. Others have lost all their motivation because they have no fall or spring goals. And then there are those who are just on to other things.

At this time of year, VQ mostly sees the first two approaches. We have athletes who are so pumped for this year’s cross-season, as well as goals for next year, that they are training hard and loving this time. Many of the VQ veterans are taking a break from big volume training to focus more on healing and getting to fitness components like strength, stability and skill. We realize that getting stronger, more stable and balanced will help adapt to higher training loads in the spring; consequently, keeping us growing and helping to reduce the risk of injuries. To me, putting on a little muscle and increasing range of motion rounds us out and allows us to stay younger and more capable.

Now, whether you are going for it or winding your endurance training down a bit, this is a perfect time to get some reference points on your current fitness level. You can find this information in the lab or in the field.

  • The lab provides a great way to quantify your fitness level. I love when athletes come in to participate in a blood lactate test. We can determine so much about how they have adapted during the year and where they stand in comparison to tests taken in the past. The lab test is nice because, through interpretation, we can determine how the lower end energy systems have adapted to the training load.
  • Now, if you are short on time, you can still look at the threshold and high-end energy systems by doing field tests. Field tests are very effective in determining the higher end energy systems. You can do a field test by doing a 4-minute and 20-minute all-out test. This will give you an idea of where you are and whether you have improved the higher end systems. There is a good chance that if you have improved these systems, you probably improved the lower end systems as well.

The key is to create a consistent test that you can repeat as often as you like. At the very least you should test now, in the spring and again midsummer. This will help give some structure to your season and help you determine what is working and how your fitness changes throughout the year.

I also think these tests help determine how an athlete’s current training intensities should look. What are the current power, HR and PE zones? Believe it or not, power zones change throughout the year and recalibrating them is important. If you have never done a test, then I suggest doing one now. No matter where you are currently in your fitness quest, testing will give you valuable data to improve as efficiently as possible.

So, whether you are a VQ athlete or not, be sure to get a fitness reference point this fall. You can do a lab test that involves a lactate ramp test and will provide great data on low- and high-end energy systems to point you to your focus this off-season. If that’s not in the cards, do the 20-minute field test so we can calibrate your indoor and outdoor training intensities to maximize your training effect no matter what your engagement level is.



Midseason Lull

I have been criticized at times for writing about things that have already happened and teaching things you have to wait an entire year to use. In other words: timing is key. This greeting takes that into consideration, offering advice about something that will most likely be experienced by all of us in the next few weeks.

For endurance athletes, August can be a difficult part of our seasons. Many of us had a huge summer and are tired and spent from the stress and training for our “A” events that took place in July. For bike racers especially, since July is the peak of the season, motivation in August is tough! For those who have big goals in early- to mid-August, like Ironman, Leadville or other “A” events, this time is nerve-racking while you hope and pray that you have done enough or, in some cases, not too much! Either way, there isn’t much you can do now…so you start to get nervous!

Those with great fitness and big July events may start to experience some symptoms of “burn out”. This often happens after a big event or season goal has gone by. You feel physically tired and the motivation to train is starting to dwindle. Many of us have been going at it hard since May and are just plumb tuckered out, needing a break. For me this is the part of the year that I call my “midseason lull” and I have experienced this almost every year since I started cycling. My motivation to train and eat right and do intervals seems to fall sharply during August and I have had to learn how to manage this change. About 20 years ago, I started to take 7 to 10 days off at this time and reduce cycling and training. During these 10 days I do other things to stay fit and freshen my mind. I play a few rounds of golf, go for a wakeboard, take a family vacation…and when I do ride, I do not do intervals! With all this fun comes a slight decrease in fitness. Losing some fitness is much easier to swallow when my early summer goals are behind me and my fall goals are far enough away that I have time to get it back.

The key to that statement is “fall goals”. Picking events in October or November are critical to bouncing back and getting remotivated to train after that August break. Let me reiterate: always have a fall goal! The biggest problem I see for endurance athletes is a post-event mental and physical nose-dive in the fall and then having to spend the entire winter digging out of a hole that does not need to be there. I say this now because there is still time.

Pick an event in late-September, October or November that excites you. After your break in August, get excited to get in great shape for your late-season goal. If you have a big event in mid-August, take 10 days or so in early-August and get after it in mid- to late-August. Either way, allow yourself a break, then put the next goal on the board and go for it. The goal does not have to be nearly the size or scope of your big mid-summer event, but it has to have enough substance to stimulate/motivate you to get back on the horse.

The key here is to be okay with losing a little fitness. Knowing that will provide some mental and physical rest that will bounce you back to a higher peak than if you would have just kept grinding all summer and fall. The loss in fitness that a mid-summer break costs you is not that great if you have had a great spring and summer of training and events. In fact, I would bet that some of the lack of motivation and stagnant fitness is caused from your body’s inability to stay on good form for such a long time.

I am not saying to take the month of August completely off, but rather a short, unstructured break from training, hard group rides and events. You can still ride a couple times easy when you feel like you “want to” but also do some others things to keep you occupied that do not involve measurement, stress or extreme fatigue.

I just did a week trip to Italy and I probably don’t need to state the obvious: I ate and drank way too much; however, I really unplugged mentally from the day-to-day schedule, structure and stress. That allowed me to return home motivated and excited to work hard with the VQers to get them ready for some great later-season event goals. I am doing the Levi Gran Fondo with some friends on October 4th and am now excited for and focused on this event. It will be great to connect with my old teammate Levi Leipheimer and some of the beautiful roads of Santa Rosa. I also have some smaller goals like the Sub-5 Century in September and Rebecca Rusch’s Idaho event. These are measuring sticks for me to use along the way, but are also events I will enjoy and use to help tune the motor for Levi’s event in October.

For now I suggest you do the following: grab a calendar, your significant other(s) and a glass of wine and figure out what you can agree to for a fall event. If you have big events in the next couple of weeks or have finished your big events already, understand there will be some post-event blues. Have some fun, take a break and recharge the battery. Your fall event will have you back on track and enjoying the process once again.




We all have more potential than we are aware of, that is for sure. Maximizing that potential can be dangerous. Often times the juice is not worth the squeeze; requiring too much time, energy, cost and thought.

At VQ we try to find the balance in uncovering as much of that potential as possible without throwing the athlete’s entire life out of order. This can be done through effective training and education that teaches the athletes about their bodies.

The process always starts with an evaluation and a goal. Once these two things are in place, the process of uncovering your natural gifts can begin.

Many of you reading this are at different places in your potential discovery, but please read on. See how far into the process you are and get a glimpse at how to keep on rolling.

After you have a goal and a general idea of needs for achieving that goal, you need to develop a consistent training routine. The routine might include working out every TuesdayThursday and Saturday for 30 minutes. This routine will become part of your weekly habits and you will see tremendous growth as your body starts to adjust and accommodate this new consistent weekly stress. The key is consistency. Making the routine doable is very important. It needs to reflect what is realistic.

To take your growth a step further, you may want to slowly increase the intensity (how hard you go), frequency and duration of training within that routine; thereby increasing your volume of work and adding more stress to the system to further elicit a stronger training effect. Now here is where it gets tricky: at some point you will no longer be able to increase your duration and frequency since you have no more time available to train. Many of us find ourselves in this space at one time or another–“stuck” in our progression. Once you are here, you need to start doing the following to further the process of uncovering your potential:

  • First, record your training and how you feel during and after your workouts. Once you start doing this you will want to move to stage two.
  • Next, while recording how you feel, also include other information gathered from your training tools. You may want to invest in tools that monitor speed, heart rate, power, distance, calories or kilojoules burned, cadence, etc. Many of us do both of these things pretty well, but the most important component comes next…
  • Finally you need to analyze this information. Looking at your data and your comments about how you feel and then comparing that to your outputs, helps you learn what workouts are the most effective in making you better. Looking at trends in your training and trying to determine when you need rest and when you need to push it will further help you dial in what types of loads will help you maximize your improvement.

Over time this process helps you learn your body and how it responds. This is key because once you learn your body and its responses you can work so much better with a coach or training program.

At Vision Quest one of our big goals is to create an environment where all these things are easier. We do performance evaluations and goal-setting sessions before athletes start to train with us. We have some really great VQ event goals for them to engage in if they do not have specific goals of their own. We have a variety of workout offerings to fit various lifestyles and we try to get people in training routines that do not disrupt the balance of life. We have swim, bike and strength workouts at all times of the day to make it easy for all our athletes to find a consistent training routine. Our cycling software allows them to keep track of a ton of information and auto-upload to their e-mail or TrainingPeaks account (online software used to track performance and input comments on how they felt). The analysis is the toughest part early on, but over time as you learn from the VQ coaches, staff, data and other athletes, you will find what works best for you. This is an ongoing process that changes as you change from beginner to expert, younger to seasoned, low stress to high stress. The process needs to be meaningful and reflective of the realities of your life.

This process of maximizing your potential is part of the joy of training and getting fit. It is not about winning or keeping up with the guy that trains 30 hours a week. It is about being the best you can be with the time you have. And, through it all, really enjoying the process of learning more about your body, how it works, what makes it tired and how much training intensity, time and rest are needed to optimize your fitness!



Cold, Cold, Cold

The key to improvement is training right! An easy way to train right is to train indoors. Just ask Andy Potts who spoke to all the VQers a couple months ago. Andy is one of the most talented and grounded athletes I have met in the endurance world in a long time. He spoke to us from the heart and his passion and charisma were contagious. I think everyone who left the “Andy Potts Night” was motivated, excited and happy to be part of the endurance community. He spoke at length on the value of training indoors and how he could never get as good as he is by just training outside. He talked about the value of controlling load and increasing the work-to-rest ratio systematically, as well as the benefits of a controlled environment. After seeing the most recent FTP test results at VQ, I agree with him 100%. I have witnessed bigger improvements in power output by VQers this year than in any other year in the history of our program.

Now as we continue to refine protocols and improve our product, I reflect on the idea that people have been forced to ride inside more this winter and because of that we have been able to control the intensity and thus make bigger gains than would have been made outdoors. That is a silver lining to the big cloud of winter that has been shadowing us so persistently this year. Three cheers for getting stronger indoors!

There comes a point though, when we all feel like enough is enough and we need to get outside. When I get to this point I am willing to give up some improvement to get out for a nice long sunny ride and soak in all the outdoors has to offer. I was so fired up to get those great camp miles in Arizona–and now it is on to Base Camp in May! The sun will be shining and we will feel the awesome effects of all that indoor training. We were able to get outside a few weekends ago at the Barry-Roubaix. The event was a huge success for VQ with over 40 athletes taking the start. The overall consensus at day’s end was that it was one of the hardest, longest 60-mile days ever, but also one of the most rewarding! The event was well run and the support amongst competitors was unlike any bike race I have ever done. Supporting and encouraging one another openly is a sign to me that our sport is evolving in a positive way. The new energy from riding outside together was incredible and I hope the vibe at Barry-Roubaix continues to spread to all aspects of bike racing.

In closing, I will say that we need to find the good in every situation–it’s the silver lining in what our lives bring to us. The weather has been a challenge, but it brought the biggest improvements in VQ’s history. The road conditions, temperature and travel time to Barry-Roubaix were challenges, but the satisfaction of finishing, time spent with friends and rising to the challenge were very positive things that came out of that event. When gray clouds roll in, it is important to keep your goals challenging and your mindset positive in order to find the silver lining. Both of these things together make a great combination and can be influenced by people around you. Surround yourself with silver lining-seekers and you will find yourself wanting to smile more!



Winter Blues…Group Training Keeps the Blues Away

 When I come into VQ Highland Park on a Saturday, from freezing temperatures outside, and witness over 120 smiling athletes training hard on the trainers throughout the morning, it lifts my spirits and confirms how important group training is at this time of year. The cold, snowy weather we have experienced this winter has been the worst I have seen in recent history. This weather has proven to bring down our morale and excitement for life significantly. I believe what we do at VQ really helps many of us from losing motivation and happiness during these tough winter months. Exercise, in general, is so important to staying positive during these short, cold days. This is true for the VQ athletes as well as for the VQ coaches and instructors. After speaking with many in the latter group about what they find motivating, they unanimously said, “the smiles and passion of the VQ athletes”. I could not agree more with the VQ instructor crew.

For those of you reading this who are not VQers, I encourage you to find a group of athletes to train with who are motivated, supportive and friendly. A good group can really help keep you fired up, not only for exercise, but for being healthy and happy overall. A positive group training environment can be a “game changer” when the gray winter blues start getting the best of our moods.

Things to look for in finding a good training group:

  1. Good balance of life–find a group that is not “over-the-top-serious” about competition, but moreover wants to be efficient with training and focuses on the journey, not the finish line.
  2. Members need to smile a lot and be supportive of you no matter what your level or goals might be.
  3. Reliability–if they are on time, reliable and consistent, you will have a much easier time showing up…even when you don’t feel like it.

I would suggest trying out a few indoor training groups and settling on the one that makes sense logistically, financially and feels right in your gut! The class times and location of the studio should make sense so you don’t spend all your training time driving to and from a facility.

If you find yourself getting blue this winter you may want to think about finding some training buddies, cranking some good music and praying for spring!



Challenges Present Opportunities

Well 2013 is officially in the books for VQ. We had our last Group Event in Tucson, Arizona at the world-famous El Tour de Tucson. This was a race/adventure that I will never forget. Why, you say? For many reasons actually… First and foremost it was the first time in El Tour history that it rained on race day. It not only rained on race day, but also the day before and the day before that, leaving the entire course drenched in water. Tucson does not have a sewer system to accommodate rain and snow like we have in Chicago. Instead, they have giant run-off trenches, called washes, that cyclists cross on two occasions during the event. The roads had standing water and both washes were flowing nicely by the time the race got going. Almost all of the VQers attending the event took the start–in itself, a massive show of fortitude and grit! Just starting this 5- to 9-hour journey in the cold rain is something that over 50% of the El Tour participants decided to forgo. That’s right: over half of the participants bagged the entire event because of the conditions! The start was hectic, wet, cold and dangerous, but the VQers persevered. The rain never let up and the temperature never got over 48 degrees for the entire event. VQ had a combined total of 33 flats with many a VQer finishing on flat tires, plus several other mechanicals and 4 cases of hypothermia. We also had 4 VQers attempting their very first centuries–what a first 100-mile-adventure to have!

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Bruce Lee and it applied to this event for many: “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves as something to aim at”.

I have done this race many times: Always with a bit of a competitive spirit; Always in a position near the end of the race to compete in the first group on the road; Never really experiencing it from a different perspective. So I was sad when I flatted out of the first group, but was remotivated after I saw several of the VQers pass me, seeing them rolling along the rainy Tucson roads. I spent the last half of the race bouncing from group to group, riding with a bunch of VQers and finally seeing the race from a different perspective. I watched the dynamics of people working together to make platinum, watched couples riding together and friends riding in groups despite their different abilities because they wanted to finish together. This new perspective provided me with a really unique, neat experience.

After another flat and a uniform change (from a sleek VQ kit with craft base layer to a cotton hoodie and a poncho), I took to the course again, this time with a whole new cast of VQ characters to interact with (some of whom thought I was a cycling novice riding with a poncho that captured the wind like a spinnaker sail at the America’s Cup!). That poncho was actually choking me at every direction change as the hood filled with air and yanked my head violently, leaving me gasping for air and making a nice red line across my throat!

There were many different levels of cyclists comprising this group. Some riders were very strong, having found their way into this group via mechanicals, crashes or other mishaps. Some riders in this group were from the 70-mile event that started at a different location. Some riders were those that survived unscathed for the first 75 miles and ended up here. So many different abilities made this group less cohesive than the other groups I’d experienced throughout the day. And at day’s end I considered myself lucky to have the opportunity to ride with so many different athletes and learn more about the different tribes that form during these events. I tried to get them all to ride more effectively together, but I learned some things too. One interesting thing that I saw firsthand was as the ride wore on and the athletes became more tired, the differential in the fitness levels started to become more apparent and the ability to work together became more difficult. At the end, tensions were rising while common sense and good decision-making were decreasing significantly for most. We know it is important to remain strong mentally with physical fatigue. It takes training and experience to make this happen. I certainly had my own opportunities to work on my mindset as I encountered my various setbacks along the way. As a rider somewhat obsessed with aerodynamics, riding with that poncho was a much tougher experience than I could have imagined it to be! I had to continually adjust my mindset to be as positive as possible given the circumstances I encountered. Mental toughness and a strong positive attitude make a difference in these moments.

A true example of a great mindset is a 74-year-old, retired brain surgeon named Francisco Gutierrez. He finished his first century at El Tour. He has been with VQ for almost two years and has come a long way. He gained the most from this experience because he not only learned to ride in the rain, pace himself, work with others, dress and keep warm, ride through water, draft and eat properly, he also gained something way more important: the confidence that at 74 he can do amazing things both physically and mentally! Way to go, Francisco!!!

And so with that, I’d like to close the year by thanking you for the opportunity to support as well as learn from you each and every day. You are my gift and it is my wish to inspire you even a fraction of how much you inspire me. Happy Holidays to All!