Everybody makes mistakes, and coaches tell they’re driven to distraction by seeing the same mistakes made again and again. These are five most frequent training mistakes you should avoid at all costs.
1 EATING TIME
The time we eat is usually decided by working hours and social norms rather than by hunger. If you are training a lot, then let your riding time dictate your meal times. This makes sure you make the most of every opportunity to improve your recovery.
If you’ve done a tough or a long ride, having a recovery drink afterwards is the easiest way of refuelling. Within the next 30-60 minutes after completing your ride, sit down to a proper meal including both carbohydrate to restock your muscle glycogen and protein to help support recovery. If you’ve had a really demanding ride, or have exercised late in the day, a glass of milk, recovery drink, or bowl of low-sugar cereal before bed ensures there’s protein available in your body for it to perform its overnight recovery work.
Prepare your meals in advance of your ride so that they’re ready to be consumed. Take recovery drinks or prepared meals to work in a lunchbox so you aren’t starving after your ride and can eat at your desk if necessary. Eating as a family or with friends is an important a part of being sociable, but try to make your biggest meal the one eaten first after your ride — when your physique needs the fuel. At other mealtimes, eat smaller portions, particularly if you’re trying to drop some pounds.
2 STEADY RIDES
When somebody says to you, “I’m going for a steady one tonight,” what do you hear: a ride of consistent and even pace where the hills are ridden comfortably and the effort level maintained on the descents? Or do you hear, “It’ll be fine, we’ll be going slow.” Whichever you hear, you’re probably wrong, because claiming a ride will be “steady” is one of the biggest lie riders tell each other.
It’s very rare for a “steady” group ride to truly fit the standard definition of a steady training session. The average heart rate or power by the end of the ride could be in the right zone but probably doesn’t tell the full story. The majority of “steady” group rides quickly degenerate into a smash-fest, although nobody admits it; everybody joins in the collective delusion that it was steady — except the poor rider who made the mistake of cycling at a genuinely steady pace and got dropped in the first five miles. It’s fairly tricky to maintain a genuinely steady pace, as you feel like you are reining it in on the climbs and going flat-out on the descents.
A truly steady ride is almost impossible to achieve with other cyclists, one or other of you inevitably needs to wait, so it’s a good ride to do on your own. It’s also test of pacing strategy and the mental skills wanted to maintain focus.
3 DON’T TRY TO RECOVER LIKE A PRO
When it comes to training, we can learn a lot from professional riders. However, recovery is different. You’ll often hear professional riders refer to two- or three-hour rides as “recovery.” For them, these long rides mean trundling along at a pace that barely registers as exercise and keeps their bodies ticking over. However, for the majority of amateur cyclists, a 3-hour ride is a considerably large chunk of training time, and there’s no point in wasting it on going slowly.
Similarly, we know professional riders spend a large amount of time relaxing. All their energy is reserved for training. Few of us have the free time to commit only to training — nor the understanding partner who would let us get away with it.
If you’re riding for 5-10 hours a week, your approach to recover should be different to a professional (many of whom train for more than 30 hours a week). If, because of limited time, you ride only once every 2-3 days, you can scrap recovery rides altogether. Other activities count as active recovery — including a fun pedal with the children or some essential but maybe boring household chores. These activities still involve movement, yet without the intensity of training.
Make your limited time on the bike really count. If you have completed a very tough session, difficult event or demanding block of training, a very light 30-minute spin suffice to help stretch and relax you. There’s no need for a 3-hour recovery ride in an amateur’s programme.
4 GROUP RIDES
Cycling with others is one of the most enjoyable parts of riding, and it can really develop your fitness. The problem for many committed club cyclists is that the social aspect becomes more important than the training itself; some turn up to every ride no matter what they’re trying to achieve.
Smashing the Thursday night chaingang is a goal in itself, and for many people that’s enough. However, if your goal is to do well in an event or race, and this scheduling isn’t producing the progress you want or expect, it may be a good idea to check your riding social life. As with steady rides, outlined above, it’s rather difficult to train effectively with another person, but you can make group rides work for everybody — given some cooperation.
If you are motivated by cycling with others, it’s possible to tweak sessions so everybody gets a good workout — as long as it’s agreed in advance. One way is to handicap the groups so that the slowest cyclists leave first and get caught by the fastest.
Smaller groups of four training together means everybody gets a workout at their own pace, including the slower riders. If doing intervals, set the slowest cyclists off first and let the fast cyclists catch them. Each interval stops when the front cyclist is caught.
5 TRAINING ONLY AT THE WEEKEND
A cyclist who trains or competes only at weekends, due to time constraints, is also called a “weekend warrior.” Smashing it up at the weekends and doing nothing during the week isn’t a recipe for fitness or performance. Consistency is the basis of fitness progress; a tough ride at the weekend and then five days off won’t produce the step up in fitness you might want.
After a week’s complete inactivity, changes start to occur in the body that lead to fitness losses. For instance, after three days, your blood volume can be reduced by 5-12%. This means a decrease in the amount of blood your heart can pump — both in terms of amount of blood pumped per beat and total blood volume per minute. This results in your heart working slightly harder to maintain a given workload on the bike.
There are also some metabolic changes. After six days, muscles start to become less efficient at “soaking up” glucose — the body’s primary fuel for exercise — from the bloodstream. This means that during exercise you need to place more reliance on your (limited) muscle glycogen stores, and you also become much less efficient at building up those glycogen stores after workout.
Leaving no more than 2-3 days between sessions will avoid fitness stagnation. We know that it’s not always easy to cram in the sessions, but even just one midweek session will help maintain progress. Cycling to work instead of going by car or public transport is an efficient way of getting time on your bike. Turbo-trainers or rollers are also your friends when it comes to making the most of even just a spare 30 minutes.