While this is some of the picture it’s not all of it. The key to developing cycling fitness is based on a solid understating of the core principals of training. Training is one of the import factors in developing your cycling fitness. But what are the other key factors that determine your success?
Every year of training improves your depth of your fitness.
Unless you are a track sprinter, the first important thing to remember is that cycling is endurance based sport.
It usually takes around three years of solid training to get good results on the bike. How you go about this training is important in determining how quickly you reach your cycling goals. So, building a solid base is important. And, every year of training builds on the base that you have developed over the previous years.
We call it depth, and it is the reason you can have a break from cycling for a year then after three months of quality training be within around 90% of your previous fitness before having a break. It is also why athletes from other endurance based sports can come to cycling and get really good results quickly.
Training is the stimulus, but it’s in the recovery that the adaptation happens. This is one of the most import things to understand in developing your training plan. To improve your fitness, you need to stress your body. You do this by training hard. But the actual adaptation, which is when you improve your fitness, is developed when you recover. The balance between training load and recovery is very important, and it’s something that we monitor very closely when we are training people on our coaching program. More on this later in this article.
So how do we measure training load?
There are many ways of measuring training load. It can be as simple as measuring total weekly km’s ridden or the total weekly time trained. With heart rate monitors we can measure the time spent in each heart rate zone for the week and now with power meters, we can measure a thing call Training Stress Score (TSS).
Available training time and external stress plays an important role in individual training load. The issue is that each athlete is limited by the amount of time that they have available to train. They are also limited by external pressures. Stress from work and family commitments play an important role in performance as well. As an athlete becomes stressed, they become defocused on their training objectives. They usually start eating poorly and have problems sleeping at night, and they have less time to train. For these reasons stress reduces performance. We are also limited to the amount of training we can have a cyclist do at any given time based on their base.
Keep Your Cadence High and Strengthen Your Cardio
One of the most effective ways to get the most out of your cycle training for endurance events is to keep your cadence high. What I’m talking about here is maintaining your cadence around 90-100 rpm on the flat roads while keeping it above 75 rpm on hilly roads (where your gearing permits).
By doing so, you’ll help build your cardiovascular fitness and reduce the amount of fatigue you’ll get during your ride. This is the first thing I get all my clients to do when they start on my coaching program.
Now, the physiological reason for a high cadence is very simple. As you increase your cadence, you rely more on your cardiovascular fitness and your endurance muscle fibres (that are designed to work all day) to drive the bike.
As you lower your cadence below 80 rpm, you rely more on your muscular strength using your strength muscle fibres. While these strength fibres deliver more short-term power than your endurance muscle fibres, they also fatigue more quickly.
So on your next training ride try to ride at a higher cadence.
You’ll be amazed at the results you’ll get when you start training yourself to spin at a cadence of around 90-100 rpm.
In just a few weeks you’ll not only be riding more efficiently and fatiguing less on the longer rides, but you’ll also be building great cardio fitness as well. Oh, and reducing the chance of injuring yourself.
The BIG Chainring – Your Secret Weapon
You need strength, lots of it, to ride up hills, into headwinds and along the flat. Regardless of what you are training for. Whether it is a recreational event or an elite competition, power training on the bike will make you ride faster. The more power you have, the easier your riding becomes.
I have a mantra. It goes like this… Build base before strength and strength before speed.
Once you have a good solid base, it’s time to focus on building strength – both on and off the bike.
While the Matt Brindle functional strength training for cyclists is a great way of building functional strength off the bike, the BIG chainring is your friend when it comes to building strength on the bike. Because it is done on the bike, it is the best form of “specific” cycling power training you can do.
In this training phase, you’ll spend a lot of time riding in the big chainring. On the flat, up hills, into headwinds… It’s almost like doing weight training at the gym, but instead, you are doing it out on the bike. Strength gives you the power base to start developing your speed.
In racing, power enables you to ride hard in breaks and bridge across to them, develop a killer sprint or get great personal bests in time trials. In recreational rides, it enables you to complete them quicker and with greater ease and comfort.
When doing this type of training, it is important always to focus on your pedalling style. Keep it smooth and strong. Try also to keep your cadence above 40 rpm.
Remember that during this phase of your training you many find that you’ll start to slow up. So it is also important to balance big chainring cycling power training with high cadence recovery bike rides. Too much big chainring work is like doing too much weight training at the gym.
You will trash your legs because you don’t give them the chance to recover properly.
If you have knee problems, it’s important to stay away from low cadence work on the bike.
It’s in the recovery that the adaption happens
We all know that to become better at riding your bike; you need to train to get results. By training hard we stress our body physically. During the recovery periods after hard cycle, training is when the body adapts. This natural cycle training effect is sometimes called positive adaptation or super compensation.
And, it is this training effect that provides us with our cycling performance increase enabling us to ride our bikes longer, faster… and stronger.
There are two key components involved to invoke this natural training effect in our bodies to enable us to become better cyclists:
1. Proper targeted and structured regular cycle training
2. Proper rest and recovery
For this process to work you need to give your body the rest, it requires recovering fully from your hard training efforts. When this is balanced, you feel great. You are in good health; you sleep soundly, wake up without an alarm clock and are in a good mood. Most importantly you are ready to commit one hundred percent to your next hard cycle training session.
I call it Goldilocks cycle training. Not too much and not too little. It is just right.
Get it wrong and the opposite happens when you increase the intensity of your cycle training without allowing your body to recover properly by giving it the right nutrition, recovery time or sleep it needs.
Being stressed also plays a big role in your recovery time too. If you find that you are stressed from other things in your life. You’ll need more time to recover from your cycle training before you can go hard again. In these cases, it is best to ride out these periods with a lower intensity or volume of cycle training until things get better.
When you continue to train under these circumstances and don’t allow your body proper recovery you end up overreaching. This is when you train beyond what you your body is physically able to undertake.
This is common when cyclists don’t have a structured plan and do a lot of bunch riding. If you carry on, you can become ill and be forced to take time off the bike.
This can set you back in your cycle training and may mean that you are either not properly prepared for or miss the event entirely you were trying so hard to compete in.
The normal three weeks on and one week off training cycle naturally builds a period of proper recovery into your cycling training program. This is when you progressively build the intensity week on week for three weeks with the last week; week four, being a fairly easy week. For most cyclists this training cycle works very effectively.
As you get older recovery becomes even more important, and you may prefer a two week on and one week off training cycle to ensure adequate recovery in your cycling training program.
A cycling training plan is built up of these four-week blocks. Each of them builds on the previous block and as they get progressively harder and more specific leading up to the event. The last four weeks focuses on highly specific cycle training and tapering just before you compete.
Measuring your cycling intensity week on week is important to ensure that you can progressively load your body in a managed and scientific way. One way to do this is to measure you resting heart rate in the morning.
A sign of not enough recovery is that it will be higher than normal. Also, check yourself for other signs of overtraining; that of being overly stressed or tired or a loss of motivation, depression or poor sleep.
Sometimes just taking a day off when you are feeling a little tired is all you need. One day off the bike is better than a week off due to illness.
The Power of the Indoor Home Trainer
Your indoor home trainer is an important tool in improving your cycling fitness. During your building and peaking phases, the humble home trainer becomes the most important piece of equipment to help you perform high-intensity intervals and sprints. Sadly skipped by many cyclists, these high-intensity efforts are critical to your success as a cyclist.
Not only that, training on an indoor home trainer is the most important key to improving you time trial performance for road races and triathlon events. It’s is scientifically proven that a structured six-week session on a home trainer can improve your average speed by up to several kilometres per hour, cutting minutes off your personal bests for these events.
Indoor home trainers are great at keeping you fit during the off season. They help you keep the weight off and maintain or even increase fitness over the cooler months. You can make your greatest fitness and weight loss improvements during the winter. If you can use your indoor home trainer throughout the off-season, you will notice a big fitness improvement while keeping your weight stable or even shedding a few kgs. And if you are a summer rider it’s not rocket science to understand that by keeping yourself fit during winter you’ll be able to hit the summer season as a much stronger, slimmer and fitter cyclists than if you were slouching around over winter.
This improvement is accessible to anyone with a bike, a home trainer, a heart rate monitor and the desire to spend two – four hours on it a week.
I hope that helps provide you with some tips on improving your cycling performance. Next issue we’ll look at climbing.