Training is the single most important factor determining your cycling performance, and also one of the most common things people do incorrectly. This article outlines the principles of training or primary factors that must be in every rider’s training program to ensure constant progress. Looking for an elusive shortcut to improve their cycling performance, numerous people have questioned the benefits of new fads, however when analyzing their routines, programs and adherence to training it is clear they aren’t doing the simple things right. This is the first step in maximizing your performance. Do the simple things correctly, then have a look at the fads. Although I know buying that flash new pair of bib shorts or that nice new helmet is much more appealing, spending $200 on a decent training program will improve your performance more than these impulse buys.
Every training program has to have a goal, albeit cycling for the health and fitness benefits, completing Taupo, or doing it in under 5 hours. As simple as it sounds, this is the first step to training properly. Once you have a goal you can then determine whether your current fitness level or training match the demands of that goal. The body is a very adaptable organism, and when you stress it through training it becomes stronger anticipating more stress. However there are good ways and bad ways to stress your body, and the principle of progressive overload means you gradually increase the stress you place on your body allowing it to fatigue (through training) and then regenerate stronger (through recovery).
Along with progressive overload, specificity is vital. Specificity implies training the same muscles and systems of the body in the same or similar to those used in competition and covers intensity, duration and mode of training. So if you want to ride Taupo in 5hrs you need to average 32kph. If you are consistently training at speeds that are less than this, you will struggle to maintain this average around Taupo because of a lack of specificity in your training. Likewise if you decide to train for Taupo by doing one ride, two runs and two swims a week you will under perform in comparison to using all five of those sessions on the bike. Specificity is intimately related to progressive overload as you need to expose your body to similar time frames to that expected in Taupo. As an example, you could train for 1hr every day between now and Taupo and still suffer like a dog and ride like a snail because your body will not be used to riding for such a long duration.
Detraining is the reverse of training and is essentially your body becoming weaker from a lack of training. This principle is very important and related to the consistency of your training schedule. I like to add a few of my own principles of training to the mix and consistency is my number one. As an example it is no good doing one 160km ride every fortnight to train for Taupo. Your body will be stressed, adapt, and then detrain by the time you ride again! A whole lot of pain and no gain! Riding twice a week will maintain your current fitness level, but it is simply not enough to improve it, as there is still too much time between sessions.
Make the best of the time you have available by training smarter – not harder, by training above your threshold for adaptation. As we get fitter it becomes harder to improve and we can spend months doing numerous hours on the bike at an intensity that is not hard enough to stimulate changes. We feel tired, and training for long periods of time is tiring, but unfortunately it does not guarantee results. This is where I recommend regular laboratory testing and training tools such as heart rate and power output monitors to determine training thresholds and improvement. These thresholds can be determined via blood lactate testing, using approximations of thresholds via heart rate maximum or power based time trials. Given I’m an exercise physiologist, yes it’s a biased approach(!) but it is flawless and guarantees positive changes. This ensures you are enhancing the benefits of your principles of training, and most importantly isn’t a fad. And you can even test yourself to make sure you are adapting on your favorite hill climb or time trial course. Cycling performance starts by getting the simple things right.
This article first appeared in the October 2004 edition of New Zealand Endurance Sport Magazine.