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What happens to the girls?

by Carl Brewer last modified 2010-07-31 22:16

They stop going faster, why?

Way back many months ago at (I think) one of the NTID conferences I've been lucky enough to go to, female sprinters were discussed.  One very common thing is that many of the ones that do very well in JW15 and JW17 often simply never go significantly faster once they get to JW19.

Why is this?

I have one thought about this, bear with my hypothesis, this is gut feeling not science :

When they're riding JW15 and JW17 the game is all about leg speed because they're restricted to tiny gears.  There's a certain amount of strength required (and you see this in the ones that do well out of the starting gate) but it's mainly a game of cadence.  This favours the girls who don't necessarily have a lot of strength but can spin like the clappers.

This is pretty obvious; girls aren't boys.  From a hormonal perspective, girls have roughly 10% of the testosterone that boys have.  Testosterone is the main hormone that drives muscle growth (amongst other things).  As such, it's really hard, without cheating, for girls to pack on significant amounts of muscle.  They can certainly grow stronger and put on some muscle, but unless they resort to training with the aid of the needle, they never get big and thus, strong enough to push bigger gears at high cadences.   The only female sprinters that ever looked like Sean Eadie were cheating (eg Tammy Thomas and Annalisa Cucinotta).  Combine this with old-school training methods that has them out riding lots of road miles, which blunts any muscle growth stimulii that they may get from sprint training and you get a kid that can spin, but will really struggle to push bigger gears and thus, go any faster when they're old enough to be able to push bigger gears.  We see this with some of the girls I work with, they're amazing as JW15's and JW17's but come JW19 the game changes, and it changes a lot.  The stronger girls start to take over and the super-spinners become less dominant.

Why do boys do ok in spite of mixing in lots of road riding?  They're awash with anabolic hormones in their late teens and for them it's not too late to undo the damage done to their fast twitch by endurance training.  But for the girls, their opportunity, I think, comes a lot earlier and is lost if it's burnt up by too much endurance training.

So, if that's true, or at least on the right track, what do we do to get the girls strong without cheating?

The time when they're growing the most is early to mid puberty.  This is when they have the most of the other growth hormone, HGH.  This is when they need to be in the gym getting as seriously strong as you can possibly make them, and doing high power and high torque efforts on the bike and NOT DOING ANYTHING CATABOLIC.  This means STAY AWAY FROM LONG ROAD RIDES!

Conventional wisdom says keep the kids out of the gym, I say nuts to that and I'm not alone.  I'm in favour of getting, in particular, the girls, in the gym as early as possible to get strong so when they're old enough to push big gears, they're strong enough to do it.  Keep them doing short, sharp efforts.  Anna Meares started as a kid racing BMX.  Short and sharp, high power, high cadences and high torque. Shanaze Reade and Willy Kanis are more elite track sprinters who started (and still do) race BMX.   You can add the required endurance work later, and that's endurance for dealing with the needs of a track sprinter, which is not the same thing as the endurance needs of an enduro cyclist and should be trained differently.  You may pay for this in the short term with them being a bit heavier as JW15's and JW17's because to put on muscle they need an anabolic diet (calorific surplus high in protein and low in the foods enduros live on, ie: simple carbs), but getting the girls strong AND able to push high cadences is, I think, the key to getting them fast in the long term.






Girls and sprinting

Posted by julian at 2010-08-04 06:46
It an interesting question you raise. I wonder about the the early bloomers speed wise probably benefit from greater co-ordination as well as being physically more mature. This doesn't preclude them from getting stronger down the road, though. Maybe the answer is more psychological. The early bloomers win easier earlier. Some will get satisfied and move away from the sport, and as the "triers" catch up, the early bloomers think they're not so good anymore and give it away. I've seen across many sports the kiddy stars tend to give it away, while the perennial runner up develops the work ethic.

Also, I doubt Vicky Pendleton is as strong as Anna Meares or a number of her rivals. But she has cadence on tap and can hold it for a long time. I think the strength only matters if you have the speed to go with it. Otherwise you should ride kilo/500tt.

Not referring to burnout

Posted by Carl Brewer at 2010-08-04 20:14
I wasn't referring to the ones that disappear, but to the ones that never go any faster. From the point of view of the best possible way to go faster, not "this works" because, almost everything *works* but not everything works as well as it could, which is the source of much myth and baggage. The novice effect is truly a monstrous source of myth, bullshit and bad practices.

The ones that give up and go away when the others catch up aren't the issue. Our goal is to get the best long term results for the really dedicated ones. That means, amongst other things (and leg speed is critical, for sure) that we take advantage of their hormonal situation when it's going to work best.

I see the superspinners twice a week, and I see them struggle with bigger gears to the point that they get hurt. The stronger kids don't have such issues. The boys, no worries. They just get stronger, but the girls don't, or, to make you happy/make this clearer, they don't get as strong as they might be able to get, and that's what we're trying to achieve. Yes, you can get them stronger whenever you start with strength work, but can you get them as strong as they can possibly get? I think the answer to that is no, not unless you get them when they're most able to build muscle or you cheat with needle-training.

Riders like Chris Hoy lifted the game in the mens game because he's so damn strong he can just ride everyone off his wheel on bigger gears than anyone else can push. I don't care about how strong Pendleton is, she's old news and for all we know, she may be stronger than Anna, Willy etc, who knows? We're talking about the next two generations of female sprinters and what it will take to be the best of them. I think that for too long coaches and parents etc have been too scared to put the girls in the gym (and WAY too keen to burn any muscle they may have away with long rides and enduro work) and I'm working to make that change. We have to change the game, not play the same one and hope that we find enough genetic freaks to get away with it.

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