Monday, September 23, 2013

DVD Review: Climbing Power

Released in 2009, Climbing Power is just one out of an extensive library of cycle training DVDs from Carmichael Training Systems. CTS founder Chris Carmichael is most famous for coaching Lance Armstrong to multiple Tour de France podium “appearances” – but no longer any official placings.

Other titles in this impressive library include Climbing (and it’s critically acclaimed sequel Climbing II), Climbing Strength, Climbing Speed and Epic Climbing – this title is particularly disturbing due to recent revelations that anytime somebody mentions the word “epic” out of context a kitten dies – and it’s usually one of the cute ones. In fact, 2013 Tour Divide runner-up Jesse Carlsson had some interesting things to say about the (mis)use of this word in my recent interview with him.

Also part of the DVD collection is Max Power which, CTS claim is “..the most difficult workout we’ve ever put on video!” While this may well be the hardest session CTS has ever put on video, Greg Smithey’s Original Buns of Steel still sits miles ahead of the peloton of toughest workout videos in a solo breakaway that is unlikely to ever be brought back.

If you are game, slip in to your lycra onesie, leg warmers and headband and prepare to have your backside sculpted by the “Professor of Bunology”.

A quick glance at the back cover of the Climbing Power DVD reveals that it means business – “The Power to Conquer Any Climb…or Competitor.” This immediately poses a difficult philosophical and logical problem. What if two competitors come head-to-head having both watched this DVD and therefore achieved the power to conquer any competitor? It brings to mind the paradox of whether an omnipotent god could create a rock so heavy that even he/she could not lift it? The paradox is unfortunately not addressed by Carmichael in this particular volume, however, look out for the upcoming DVD release of René Descartes’ Epic Principles of Philosphical Power which should hopefully cover it.
Philosophical riddles aside though, if you take your climbing seriously then you won’t want to put in a half-hearted effort when it comes to the Climbing Power workout. At the DVD menu, a notice reads “Please complete the CTS Field Test before beginning this workout. Otherwise use your RPE.”

A few minutes of research quickly revealed that RPE is a medical acronym for Rectal Probe Electrostimulation. That’s actually a real thing – I dare you to Google it. As much as I enjoy a good acronym, and as tempting as RPE sounds, I remembered that my Rectal Probe Electrostimulator was actually still in the shop being serviced. This meant subjecting myself to the CTS Field Test prior to starting the workout in order to get the maximum possible benefit.
Carmichael introduces the Field Test and provides some intriguing scientific-ish background.
"In 2007 Dr Riggs Klika conducted a study that was published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and it showed that the CTS Field Test was an accurate test for determining athletes’ training intensities."
While this sounds very impressive, it turns out that Dr Klika was actually an employee and “Laboratory Director of the CTS Performance Center” in Aspen, Colorado. So, at the risk of sounding like that irritating person trying to put too many annoying facts in to the story, it’s worthwhile keeping in mind that this test was verified by an employee of the organisation who designed it – not exactly an impartial review.

The Field Test basically involves riding some intervals either on a windtrainer or outdoors on a regular bike, recording your power and/or heartrate and entering “…them in to equations you will see on the screen.”
Those keen mathematicians amongst you will realise that an “equation” like this basically does nothing more than define the calculation of a percentage.

After the Field Test, a quick consultation with a friend who has a solid background in mathematics confirmed that 0.95 of my Highest Average Power was, indeed, equal to 95% of my Highest Average Power and I could now continue on to the workout.

All jokes aside, it was now time to improve that climbing power, gain the ability to conquer any competitor and “get ready to sweat!”

Chris Carmichael is back to introduce the workout and lead coach Lindsay Hyman – her name alone was enough to get me sweating straight away.
The session begins with a 10-minute warm-up that “…mentally prepares you for the workout.” Although I decided to skip this due to the instantaneous warming effect provided by Lindsay’s last name, if you opt to use the Rectal Probe Electrostimulation method then it might pay to take part as you’ll certainly want to be mentally prepared for that.

Lindsay confirms that she is “…really excited to be here” and an enthusiastic “Are you guys ready?” was met with an overly excited “Yeah!” from the diverse group of assembled riders set up on wind trainers. Most of them were perched on a fleet of matching Serotta bikes in front of a very authentic-looking stone wall and an enlarged poster of Lance Armstrong.
Only a few minutes in to the warm-up and Lindsay was already throwing out the typical American enthusiastic motivational phrases:
“You guys are doing really good!”
“Good job!”
“Doin’ great!”

It was at this point I realised what a great drinking game this DVD would make for. Gather a few friends, set up your wind trainers in the lounge room and assign each person one of Lindsay’s motivational phrases. Taking a shot (or even just a sip) each time Lindsay muttered your pre-selected phrase, would see things quickly get very messy indeed.

In the warm-up alone, I counted 6 “good jobs” and 5 “doin’ greats” and after only a few minutes she was already reminding the riders about the importance of staying hydrated. At one point she goes off track with “Try to stay focused, keep your knees ahead of you” which I found particularly confusing seeing as how the motion of pedalling does not really allow your knees to get behind you, but perhaps I am missing something.

As the warm-up comes to an end, there’s a quick cut back to Chris Carmichael who reminds you that
“In order for power intervals to be effective, you need to be 100% committed to each interval.”

You can translate this effort level using the following equation:
 Commitment x 1.0 = 100% Commitment
After another couple of minutes Lindsay explains how “a really important factor in staying hydrated is that we avoid dehydration”. Already parched after just 15 minutes wandering through the tautological desert of Lindsay’s motivation clichés, I found this statement in itself profoundly hydrating and made a concerted effort to “maintain that hydration status.”
It’s at this point that I wondered if Lindsay was actually playing her own version of a drinking game with the aim of getting a bunch of amateur cyclists in to a state of water intoxication over the course of a 1-hour indoor training session.

It’s not until the power intervals begin that Lindsay starts to really hit her stride. In the space of a single 2-minute interval she manages 8 “good jobs” and 6 “doin’ greats” bringing her motivational cliché rate up to an impressive 420 PPH (phrases per hour).

Along with a smattering of “looking goods” and “keep goings” there is ample opportunity for anybody playing at home to already be quite well toasted, just by the early stages of this workout video.

Throughout the session Lindsay seems to develop a particular affinity for Dave, the older gentlemen with the subtle moustache in the far-left corner.
“Feeling good Dave? Getting warmed up?”
“How you doin’ Dave?”
“Good job Dave. Keep going. Looking good.”

Whilst it all seems fairly innocent at first, Dave does seem noticeably irritated when Lindsay starts giving attention to Kelly, the other older gentleman in the group.
Later on, as the emotional interplay continues to develop things take an interesting turn when Lindsay starts showering attention and praise on two of the younger men, Brady and Jim. At first Dave and Kelly both seem a little flustered but to their credit, both manage to continue “looking good”, “digging deep” and most importantly “staying hydrated”.

As far as the ladies go, Jane gets a bit of attention too, but there is another woman at the front of the group who Lindsay pretty much ignores for the entire session. It wasn’t until the closing credits that I discovered the poor girl’s name is actually Amy. I’m guessing Lindsay was ignoring her because she wasn’t riding a Serotta like most of the others.
As the workout progresses, Lindsay really ramps up her intensity to the point where, on more than one occasion, she manages a staggering 11 “good jobs” during a 2-minute interval.

Despite this incredible effort though, somebody in post production didn’t care enough to even spell her name correctly in the credits.
Special features on this DVD include an interesting look at Lance Armstrong training for his comeback to the Tour de France in 2009. With the benefit of hindsight, this video offers up some priceless quotes.

“I haven’t gotten too crazy yet…Yet to dig in and do the specific things which ultimately are fun to do but right now it’s not the time.” I can only assume he is referring to attending legal hearings and confessing his sins to Oprah.
And on the subject of the doping accusations levelled at Armstrong throughout his career, Chris Carmichael “Puts to rest any questions about his past performances. He was tested, I believe over 40 times, out of competition controls, unannounced testing. Clearly he was a target for this. And that’s good. Cause I think that shows that Lance, what he is, and how he did it is beyond reproach.”

As it turns out, the only thing Armstrong did during his cycling career that was beyond reproach was to avoid a doping suspension. Hopefully CTS releases a DVD about this before Christmas: Avoiding Doping Control for Strength, Power & Peace of Mind.

For anybody interested in working up a sweat, digging deep, looking good, doin’ great or maintaining their hydration status, then this DVD is certainly a must-see. Equally, it should also appeal to those who enjoy romantic interplay between older men and an enthusiastic lady with a naughty name. Go on. Give it a go and see if you too, can achieve the Power to Conquer Any Climb…or Competitor. The CTS Climbing Power DVD is available now at The Fitzroy Revolution and all good motivational video stores.

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