Over the years, fitness practices and techniques have changed a lot. Let’s have a look at some new rules of cycling training.
OLD RULE: Ride your bike as much as possible.
NEW RULE: Cross training and core work are crucial.
In the past, it was believed that the best training was just to ride your bike. While specificity is one of the key principles of training, only cycling doesn’t suffice. The natural imbalance on your musculoskeletal system caused by doing no other type of sport other than cycling can make you susceptible to injury, or put you at a performance disadvantage. Just weight (or bodyweight) training techniques, such as squats and lunges, can considerably increase your leg strength, too. Also, for bone health it’s vital to do exercise other than cycling.
A study carried out at Telemark University College, Norway, discovered that a program of squat exercises boosted efficiency and pedaling economy, as well as extending time to exhaustion at maximum aerobic power in its subjects by 17.2%.
OLD RULE: Long, steady cycling sessions rides are the basis of your fitness.
NEW RULE: Short, intense intervals yield big improvements.
Training was once based on spending as many hours on your bike as possible. Sometimes referred to as LSD — long steady distance — cyclists felt under pressure to spend so many hours on their bikes every week. It was all about getting the miles in. But in reality, who has time for that? If we’re lucky we can carve out a set number of hours a week to ride, and rarely have the chance to increase our mileage. Fortunately, research is showing that we can achieve the same, or even greater benefit, in less time by doing very short, but very demanding sessions.
Research has shown that a 20-minute high-intensity interval session brings numerous benefits to your training. Work carried out at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kagoshima, Japan, discovered that this form of training can increase anaerobic capacity (i.e. when you’re working out at more than 90% of your maximum heart rate) by as much as 28%, while “moderate intensity” training had little effect. High-intensity training, a set of intervals at near-maximal effort (20/40s, for example, where you go flat-out for 20 seconds, then recover for 40 seconds) not only saves your time but also hikes up your VO2 max, which means your body can use more oxygen. In this way, you’ll also increase your post-exercise calorie burn, because your metabolic rate will stay elevated for some time.
OLD RULE: Increase your mileage only by 10% a week.
NEW RULE: It’s okay to binge train now and again.
The beauty of cycling is that it allows you to considerably increase your training load for a short period of time with extremely low risk of negative consequence. The runner who jumps from 20 miles a week to 40-50 miles a week often ends up injured, but for a cyclist an increase from 4 hours a week to 8-10 hours a week should not pose too many issues. These occasional binge weeks can be so beneficial that you should seek them out whenever you can, particularly the closer you get to your goal events. The most brutal of schedules will always offer these opportunities occasionally, so keep your eyes open and be sure to snatch them when they come your way as the occasional overload week can prompt big jumps forward in fitness.
OLD RULE: Don’t stand if you can sit, don’t sit if you can lie down.
NEW RULE: Be dynamic.
Riders love this rule, because it’s a great excuse to be lazy. After a workout session or a ride there’s nothing better than a little sleep on the sofa, especially because you can justify it as recovery. Few of us are exercising hard enough or often enough to need to follow a rule of doing nothing when not riding, especially if you are trying to drop some pounds. Regular exercise helps keep your metabolic rate high and burns more calories during the day. Moving frequently, taking the stairs instead of a lift, for example, is good for burning more calories. It’s also good for your muscles, because the slouched position the majority of us assume at our desks is bad for our posture, and may also result in muscle dysfunction.
OLD RULE: Consume recovery drinks after the ride.
NEW RULE: Start your recovery before completing the ride.
We should all know the glycogen window, the 15-30 minute period straight after workout when our body is at its peak to process food to restore glycogen levels in our muscles. But now professional athletes are consuming the recovery food even before they complete a training session. There are benefits to this; on very long hard rides it prevents your body from becoming catabolic and breaking down protein to fuel exercise, thus protecting protein stores. Consuming a recovery drink in the last thirty minutes of your exercise helps prevent the hunger pangs that drive you straight to the biscuit tin.
OLD RULE: It takes several years to condition your body to cycle 100 miles.
NEW RULE: You can cycle your first 100 miles already after six months.
Old-school riders love to big up the challenge of riding. Cycling 100 miles, doing your first race or climbing an Alpine mountain was considered a rite of passage and something that would take years of preparation and discipline to prepare for. Not any more. You can take up really demanding challenges after only six months of starting cycling, and many people have already done just that. Don’t let preconceptions of an event hold you back; of course, it will be demanding but be sure you can do it.
OLD RULE: Record your mileage.
NEW RULE: Measure your functional threshold power.
For almost hundred years, a magazine published the annual mileage chart. Dedicated club riders all over the UK would regularly record their miles, with the belief being: the more miles the better. While tools such as Strava or Garmin Connect continues to record mileage and riders still care about their annual total, it’s not really miles that are important. How many miles you have cycled doesn’t reflect your fitness or your training progress. Unless you aim simply to cycle as far as possible each year then the measure you should care about most is your functional threshold power (FTP). Your FTP is a measure of your power at a point that equates with blood lactate threshold. It’s one of the best predictors of performance and a clear marker of whether your exercise is working and your fitness improving. Regular testing of your FTP is important to keep adjusting your training zones to make sure that your training is as effective as possible.