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Deficit Reduction: Eliminating imbalance on the bike

Meredith Miller has always been the consummate domestique, ever gracious in her labor for others even as she found personal success on the road, highlighted by a national road title in 2009. But over the last few years she caught a new bug, falling in love with a side of the sport deprived of domestiques and lacking in team tactics, where both sacrifice and reward are personal affairs. She turned into a ’crosser, and one of the best in North America.

Helping her along her new, markedly dirtier path, has been a collection of training methods pioneered, and patented, by the Colorado-based Athletic Improvement Center (AIC), brainchild of Kevin Younger. Younger’s approach is based in the single, simple notion that “all athletes, no matter what level they are, have deficits.” Even elite cyclists like Miller have areas of weakness which, when addressed properly, can be sources of improvement. After an evaluation, AIC prescribes specific workouts, mostly off the bike, designed to correct the imbalances and weaknesses in each rider.

“The key is to test for those deficits, determine where they are, then individualize the program to correct the deficits to balance the body,” Younger said. Training your weaknesses while racing to your strengths is nothing new, but Younger’s methods for determining the exact source of shortfalls in each individual, and the methodology for correcting them, represent a step forward in the art of coaching.

Younger’s testing is proprietary and patented, and is unique in that it applies a strict, scientific approach to the determination of athletic weakness, rather than relying on athlete perception and coach observation. AIC tests athletes on equipment designed for physical therapy rehab, using protocols designed by Younger for equipment manufacturer MRS. The machines allow Younger to measure asymmetric strength, proprioception (the sense of orientation of one’s limbs in space — what cops test suspected drunks for on the road side), coordination, endurance capacity and power capacity through a series of exercises.

“We can tell if you have a 12- to 15-percent deficit on the right glute, for example,” Younger explained. “That would effect your right pedal stroke and your power output on that side, and we would work to correct it.” In addition to the MRS testing, AIC uses what it calls a functional mobility screen — essentially a test of mobility and stability throughout the various joints in an athlete’s body — to determine deficiencies in those areas. A combination of both tests results in a profile of each athlete’s deficits, and is the basis of a program to correct them.

Miller began working with Younger prior to the 2009 season, the same year she won her U.S. road title, and the same year of her meteoric rise in the world of cyclocross. She underwent the usual testing, and like every other cyclist, Younger was found to have deficiencies in a number of key areas. The prescribed workouts were difficult, more so than any of the winter work Miller had done in the past. “It was super high intensity,” she explained. “A workout would only take a half an hour, but in that half hour we would do 500 reps… I was probably more lean through a winter of off-season training than I ever have been before.”

More importantly, she was more balanced, and the weaknesses identified by Younger were being remedied. “For Meredith we do a lot of core and back stability work,” Younger said, highlighting two issues common among cyclists, and particularly important for ’cross racing.

“If you’re going to do ’cross, it’s a lot more short, explosive training, versus a four-hour road race, where you’re working on endurance and power over time,” he said. “The demands are very different. We design her workouts with that in mind.”

That said, the AIC workouts are difficult enough that Miller has to be watchful not to overdo it heading into the ’cross season. “The AIC workouts basically substitute for a bike workout,” she said.

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Velo magazine.

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