Over the winter of 2015/2016 I participated in Wheel and Sprocket’s Training Hub program out of their Appleton Wisconsin shop. In short I found the program worthwhile, challenging, and fun. I also found the program educational with the instructors critiquing our technique and offering technique guidance. Some of those suggestions I took out on the road and immediately found great value in them. In addition, the idea I was working with a program designed by fitness professionals was comforting. It helped me to know there was sound science behind what we were doing and we were not just spinning.
Wheel and Sprocket’s Training Hub — Review Disclosure
I paid for my participation in the Fall and Winter sessions from my own personal funds. My friends at Wheel and Sprocket did their due diligence in the sales work but the decision to join was mine. Furthermore, I did not discuss with anyone at Wheel and Sprocket in advance of my intention to write this review. I have no outside interests in Wheel and Sprocket, but understand I am on a first name basis with most of the staff at W&S Appleton and am a regular on their summer Wednesday rides.
Wheel and Sprocket’s Training Hub — How it Works
The W&S Training Hub (at least in Appleton) was conducted in the upstairs level at their shop on West College avenue. The class was scheduled to start at 6:30 pm and they had classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday evenings. In addition, they had morning classes on Saturdays and Sundays.
Participation in the class included the use of a Cyclops trainer and the use of one of the wrist/arm attached heart rate monitors or if you had one you could use your own Ant+ heart rate monitor (mine was BLE and I used mine as well as theirs).
I would typically show up straight from work at about 5:45 which gave me lots of time to change, get my bike setup, and get a good long warmup session in. Often times I was able to chat with my friends at the shop and they would often times provide sound diagnosis for me.
The instructors and participants would arrive, get setup, the instructors would distribute heart rate monitors, turn on the fans, and get the class software setup. Usually around 6:30 everyone was present and warming up.
The software was run on a small iOS device and connected to a ceiling mounted projector. Each heart rate monitor was numbered and once it was on a numbered box appeared on the projector screen with our current heart rate, calories expended, the zone we were in, and points (based on time spent in each of the heart rate zones). I want to call out that your name is NOT displayed on the projector screen but a number linked to your heart rate monitor. It is up to you if want to share your number with your fellow participants.
The instructors would then guide us through the workout of the night which varied from week to week but often involved some of the following:
- One legged drills
- Cadence based riding
- Traditional intervals
- Pyramid intervals
- Short burst intervals
- Sustained threshold riding
- Easy recovery efforts
After the cycling session was complete the instructors would lead us through a short stretching session and often advise us to drink lots of water and perhaps some sports drink to assist in recovery. Classes would typically end around 7:45 pm or a bit later.
The First Session
The first session is where you set your zones. The drill is you provide your vital statistics to the instructors and they input the data into the system. Everyone then gets on their bikes and start to pedal as all work to gradually increase their heart rates. The class at certain points then would take the talk test to find our aerobic thresholds (AET). Once everyone had established their aerobic thresholds we would then move onto establishing our anaerobic thresholds (ANT). This is a tough thing to do in a class setting and I am not certain how close I was were I needed to be. My Polar account gave me some comfort that my ANT was correct but my AET might have been too high. I found it at times very hard to get to my ANT and above, but most often once I was there I was able to maintain it and gradually increase above that level.
However, unless you go out and get the full on rigorous test at a sports medicine center there is no real good way to set these numbers with firm confidence.
Wheel and Sprocket’s Training Hub — What I Liked
One thing I truly enjoy about the cycling community is the great camaraderie. Of course the folks at the shop have known me for sometime, but I met a number of folks face to face I follow on Strava or ride with during the summer and got to know them. Those folks I never met before I got to meet and know and look forward to riding with them this season.
I alluded to the coaching earlier and in particular I refer to one session that focused on cadence (how fast you turn the pedals) and I’ve picked up a preference for higher cadences (often times an inappropriately high cadence) and my first road ride after that session I was on a flat stretch turning the pedals at about 97 rpm. I upshifted a gear bringing my cadence down to about 92 rpm. At first it felt uncomfortable, but my heart dropped by about 5 beats per minute and I gained about 2 miles per hour of speed. Admittedly, there could have been some topography in play but the road I was on was pretty flat. I have observed that effect in other instances. Remember, the cost of working the legs is never zero even if the pedal effort is easy the cost in terms of working the legs may offset the benefit of an easy pedal stroke.
I had the pleasure of working with four different instructors. Mike, Craig, Mary, and Conor. All four I had confidence in being able to do the job and they did. They were able to run the software (sometimes a difficult task) and keep the program of the night moving along. In addition, their insights into cycling and fitness were illuminating.
That said, their styles were very different. Mary was a very engaging instructor providing a true classroom atmosphere. Her nights would start of with a mini-lecture complete with a whiteboard presentation and verbally quizzing us. What I appreciated very much from Mary was her sketching out the workout program on that whiteboard. I also noticed less experienced or even beginner cyclists in Mary’s class and her style was very beneficial to them.
This is not to say the other instructors were less helpful, but the skill level in the other classes was higher and therefore they did not require the same level of instruction. However, as I note above they would provide coaching to us.
As I note the program they used was designed by Lauren Jensen and from what I understand of HIIT was a sound program. I had no worries I was being driven too hard and I certainly knew I was not going too soft!
Wheel and Sprocket’s Training Hub — What I Did Not Like
This is a personal problem here. I had an hour and a half between the time I leave work and class start time. My office is within two miles (at most) of the Appleton Wheel and Sprocket and going home first and back seemed to me to be a waste of time and gasoline. So, I ended up trying to find errands or some other way to fritter some time away. Obviously, this is difficult situation requiring compromises of many folks and no time will be perfect for everyone.
The Heart Rate Monitors
I use a Polar BLE chest strap monitor paired up to my Polar V650 cycling computer and when watching the numbers on my Polar compared to what was on the projector screen there was always a slight variance and there was a fair amount of latency in response to heart rate changes between my heart rate chest strap reading and the W&S provided wrist monitor. This was very frustrating as my Polar would say my heart was at zone 4.7 and the number on the projector would say 3.5 and it would often time take five to ten seconds (or even longer) to catch up. Sometimes my box on the projector screen would completely blank out.
The Training Monitor Software
Not Wheel and Sprocket’s fault but the software was flakey. All too often, the whole screen would blank out and the instructors were fiddling with restarting the device and the program way too often. Once we got going things were usually okay, but we did lose a couple of sessions in the middle requiring the software to be restarted. Not a major problem as the instructors did a good job of tracking our progress through the programs, but it certainly was an annoyance.
Wheel and Sprocket’s Training Hub — In Summary
In summary, I very much enjoyed the program and looked forward to my Training Hub sessions. While we all prefer to be outdoors riding our bicycles it was a decent substitute. The training was worthwhile too and was not just getting the heart rates up but focused on other essential cycling skills.
In short I am happy to encourage you to sign up for Wheel and Sprocket’s Training Hub program.