While I do not profess to be an expert in the field of Exercise Physiology, I probably have a little more insight into the mechanics of the human body than most. Although I have completed a Bachelor of Exercise Science many years ago, the real platform for my learning has been my voracious appetite to test training techniques and measure the results.
Prior to 2010 most of my training involved going for a hard ride 3-4 days a week with no real plan in mind. Despite my knowledge I convinced myself that my lack of performance was all genetically related, specifically my shorter legs, and that I would be better placed changing sports and competing against Gimley from 'Lord of the Rings' in a Power Lifting competition. I became frustrated with my results and started to research training techniques for cyclists. Once I started this journey a burning desire to improve my results began and my whole approach to training was turned upside down.
For those interested most of my training has been learned from Joe Friel's a 'Cyclists Training Bible' and from the work done by Dr Andy Coggan. I will try to summarise some of things that I have learnt in a simple fashion but please do not read this and expect to understand the 2 years of research that I have done in 10 minutes.
1. Buy a training tool to measure your riding parameters. This can be done using a Heart Rate monitor, GPS device such as a Garmin with heart rate function or a Power Meter. If you have no way of recording how you are riding you will not be able to tell if you are improving.
2. Establish a baseline for the data you are measuring.
3. Create a training plan. Some rules that I follow include;
- plan in 5 week blocks where the first 4 weeks progressively get bigger with the 5th week being no longer than half of the largest week. For instance in week 1 you ride 4hrs, week 2 5hrs, week 3 6hrs week 4 7hrs. Then week 5 will be no longer than half of the longest week which is 7hrs so therefore you should spend no more than 3.5hrs training during that week.
- Never do hard days on the bike consecutively. Always either have a rest day after a hard day or an easy ride day planned.
- Never have breakfast just prior to a ride. If you ride early mornings give breakfast a miss until you get home providing the training duration is not longer than 2 hours. If you do want breakfast first give your body 2 hours to digest it.
4. Sleep at least 8 hours a night.
5. If you start to feel a cold coming on only do light rides otherwise you will bring it on faster and make it more severe.
6. Train with the specificity principle in mind. running and swimming are good for cross training but if you are looking to become a great cyclist doing them will detract from your cycling fitness.
7.Weight training will not help make you faster on the bike. Check out Andy Coggan's research on this. Granted it may improve muscle imbalances etc. Weight training can also increase hypertrophy (Size) of muscles making you heavier.
8. A high Wattage, a measure of Power, or a high heart rate, that you can sustain for a race is a very good predictor of performance. This usually indicates that your anaerobic threshold (ability to clear lactate from the muscles) is quite high. For hilly races a high heart rate or wattage combined with a low weight (rider and bike weight) will be a winning combination. Therefore to become better at riding hills either increase you power at your anaerobic threshold or decrease your weight. Buying a lighter bike is not the preferred way of doing this.
9. Ride with people faster than you as they will teach you how they got faster. However do not sacrifice the plan by doing this too often. Only do this once a week so that their training does not rule your training. Morevover if you become the fastest rider in your group do not ride too many days with slower riders.
Good luck with your training.