Q&A with World Champion and BaseCamp Coach, Amber Neben

Tim Cusick and Amber Neben Training

Above, Amber with BaseCamp Head Coach, Tim Cusick. Photo courtesy Nate Murray.
Interview by Senta Scarborough

Here at Fierce Hazel we embrace all types of cycling, including indoor training. But what’s our “secret training” to get stronger and keep us fit in the winter? It’s BaseCamp and it’s definitely pure adrenaline Fierce Hazel. 

Why do we love it? It’s a training camp where anyone at any level can set their own course for improvement with some of the best cyclists and coaches on the planet. 

Don’t take our word for it. We sat down with BaseCamp coach Amber Neben. Yeah, that’s right, that three-time Olympian, three-time world champion, and six-time national champion. Neben’s been competing at the highest levels of the sport for 20 years, facing down the best in 17 world championships no less. Her longevity at the top of the pack separates Neben from the others, hands-down.

She’s so fiercely dedicated to her sport that when she broke her pelvis four weeks before this year’s world championship, she still raced and came in fourth. We’ll dive in more to her story and journey in the January 2022 edition of our journal. Stay tuned!

Today, we are gearing up for BaseCamp’s 2022 season starting Nov. 29. So we asked BaseCamp Coach Neben some of our most burning training questions:

Fierce Hazel: How different is the training you give a BaseCamp cyclist from what you give a pro? 

Amber Neben: Honestly, the level of education and the quality and delivery of the training is the same for both. It is simply customized differently based on the individual athlete. With a BaseCamp cyclist we take into account the same information we would a pro. We want to know their training experience, this year’s training volume, their desired training hours for the program, their discipline (i.e gravel, road, time trial etc.) and their event goals. 

Every plan is built with the same thinking, simply adjusted to the demands of the athlete’s event and training volume. A pro working one-on-one with a coach can further customize based on that athlete’s specific abilities and long range goals.  However, ultimately, the thinking behind building the plans for all levels is very similar from our perspective.

"The proper training principles are the same for everybody."

The art of applying those is further nuanced within that one-on-one coach athlete relationship or within the BaseCamp community. Additionally, in BaseCamp, we do a lot of training education. We want the athlete to understand both what they are doing and why they are doing it. The athletes also have access to strength and nutrition experts and deeper education. Learning happens through the question and answers in the group, the power file reviews, the webinars, and all of the access to the various coaches in the program.

FH: What should I expect at the end of the program if I follow the BaseCamp training plan? 

AN: When people leave BaseCamp, they are physically stronger and more resilient athletes. Their aerobic engines are bigger and better. They're more prepared physically and psychologically, probably more prepared than they've ever been to take on new events or new challenges. They're more equipped with an understanding of how to train and what to do next. 

More specifically, we work on raising their threshold, making them more fatigue resistant, building better muscle endurance and coordination, and also raising VO2 max*.  All this happens as a result of a very specific sub threshold progression that focuses on aerobic energy and cadence manipulation. Of course, we sprinkle in some intensity so the other systems don’t go dormant, but we mostly focus on the aerobic energy systems.

*VO2 max is the amount (volume) of oxygen your body uses while exercising as hard as you can. It's a common tool to understand your fitness level.

"Athletes leave with a depth to their fitness that prepares them to move more specifically toward their event goals after the program."

FH: What does a good offseason training plan look like? 

AN: A good offseason training program will have excellent progression built into it. We want to progress the work from one cycle to the next cycle to the next cycle by manipulating time and intensity.  Often, a really big mistake that people make is they don't progress their training or they try to move too quickly. 

The other piece of the puzzle is being willing to slow down to get faster.


We spend a lot of time doing zone 2 rides which are just basic endurance rides. Learning to do these hard enough but not too hard is key. Then, it’s mixing in tempo, again increasing time in zone in tempo, before we move on to the next level of sweet spot training. 

To answer your question about training zones, you have basic active recovery, which is very easy riding. Then, you have zone 2 riding which is endurance riding. We split this zone into a lower and upper endurance range. Then the next zone is tempo. This takes a little more concentration and is probably where most people end up if they ride “hard” all the time. Then you have “sweet spot” which is the zone that overlaps upper tempo and lower threshold. We focus a lot on building time in zone.

Our goal is not to set world records, but to set the stage for these personal records to happen when it matters during their event focuses!


We do regularly test in BaseCamp, so we can get these zones set correctly while also giving the athletes insights into their own improvements as they move through the program. (And often they do set PRs once they actually follow a progressive training program!)

Other parts to our training plans include dosing in some strategic intensity so that your body doesn't completely forget those other energy systems. When we're working on our base training most of our focus is on our aerobic engine, fatty acid oxidation and aerobic glycolysis, that kind of thing. But, your body still has to be able to make energy anaerobically. So we’ll sprinkle in some intensity to help keep those systems awake and working. We also want to make sure we are working on waste product removal and neuromuscular components of cycling. 

FH: I’m wondering if there's something overall about BaseCamp that you think is important for people to know just if they're thinking about this program?

AN: Everybody is welcome. Our hashtag is #trainwhereyoubelong. No matter what type of bike you ride, you're welcome. Road, gravel, mountain bike, time trial, triathlon, there’s a place for everybody in there. 

No matter what your goals are, whether you just want to get stronger, stay with your friends or beat your friends on the group rides, do some epic event, or a hard race, everybody needs to go through a base training phase. Please don't think just because you're not a pro, you don't fit in or the opposite. Please don't think that if you are really experienced rider, you don't fit in. Base training is an essential component to success for everyone. We will customize a program for your needs and you will come out stronger and be prepared to be faster than you've ever been. 

You will learn more than you thought was possible and it will be incredibly valuable to both your training and insight into what is possible.

 


Photo by Pablo Vallejo

One of the coolest things about BaseCamp is our community. 

People are looking for community right now, and our community is alive, real and so authentic. Last year was my first immersive year in it and it was very cool to watch people getting to know each other in this virtual community. We did challenges together, we encouraged each other, we learned together, and we shared together. It became a very special place. So much so that once it was over people didn't want it to end. People made arrangements to go to events to meet each other in person. They hung out as if they've known each other forever and that was just the coolest thing to see. 

Zwift group rides

Finally, the other thing that would be important to note is that when we do our virtual group rides, you're training at a percentage of your own threshold. That percentage is the same for everybody, but the actual power number is specific to you. Then, we keep the rides “together” so no one is dropped from the group.   

For example, let’s say you're a beginner and you think, “My threshold is only 100 watts. How in the world am I ever going to keep up with Amber who's leading the ride? She was in the Olympics!” Easy. Everyone works at a percent of that threshold. Let’s say it’s tempo for the day. You and I are both working at 85% of our own unique thresholds. Even though the raw power number is different, the percentage is the same, and we work just as hard as each other. That’s what's so cool about the virtual side of it. Everybody's working at the same relative percentage, and it's no drop. So you're in a place where you can hang out and ride together with people, no matter what level you're at. 

FH: Junk miles or junk food? 

AN: Oh, definitely junk miles. 

FH: And what is a junk mile?

AN: Junk miles are basically riding without purpose. So you're doing a lot of riding that's not really accomplishing anything. They can be really fun. 

Now, junk food. I really try not to do junk food because I think that once you get started with that it's way harder to stop than to just not start up with it.

FH: One piece of advice for someone who's been seriously cycling for only a year or two? 

AN: First, I would say, “Good work!” And then I would say, don't be afraid to challenge yourself. A program like BaseCamp might be perfect for you because you're ready to get stronger and do more on the bike, but maybe you're not sure how. If you are willing to invest some specificity into your training, be brave and figure out how much more fun you could have by being a better, stronger athlete, I think you would really be grateful I gave you that advice.

FH: How different is the training plan for a 50+ athlete compared to someone in their 20s? 

AN: It’s always dependent on the individual. How much time have you been an athlete? What is your training volume history and desire? What are your goals? A 20-year-old and a 50-year-old in BaseCamp could be doing a very similar program because everything else matches up. Alternatively, it could be that the 50-year-old has a bigger plan than the 20-year-old because the 50-year-old athlete is more experienced and stronger and needs some different training than the 20-year-old who is just getting started or vice versa. It's really not so much an age thing as it is a training age thing coupled with time available and goals.

Photo by Simon Connellan

FH: Heart rate versus power based training?

AN: In BaseCamp, we can train people with power or heart rate so if you don't have a power meter, you could still benefit from BaseCamp. If you're choosing between one or the other, training with power is going to be the better option because you're getting a direct input measure of your work. You push down on the pedal and can directly measure that power produced. The analytics built around power training are excellent tools to monitor and manage your performance, fatigue and what’s working (or not working!)

Your heart rate is an indirect response. There is lag time. It can be influenced by hydration, how much caffeine you’ve had, how much sleep you’ve had, various factors can impact heart rate, so it's not the best measure. But it is something that you could still train with it if that's your only option.

When you put the two together there's a lot of learning that can happen. So being able to train with power while using heart rate allows us to gain really good insights into your cardiovascular response to training. Additionally, it can be very cool to see your power numbers go up, your FTP go up, while your heart rate values might actually stay the same. 

*FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power, which is defined as the highest average power you can sustain for approximately an hour, measured in watts.

FH: And in order to do power-based training, what measuring tool do you need?

AN: If you were going to do power based training, you would need a power meter or a smart trainer or both.  For indoor riding a smart trainer will give you power. Or if you had an old school trainer, you would need a bike with a power meter. Of course, if you wanted to do power based training and you ride outside, then you need a power meter on your bike.

 smart trainer setup

Fierce Hazel says: Don't forget the fan!

Hurry, BaseCamp kicks off on November 29th!

And since you are part of the Fierce Hazel family, BaseCamp is offering the friends and family discount: $50.00 off either package.  Just follow the link https://www.joinbasecamp.com/membership-signup  and use the code: FAMILY50 for your savings. We recommend the Pro membership for it's nutrition and strength guidance. It's an exceptional value!

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