One of the joys of cycling is that you do not have to be a professional rider, or even a competitive cyclist for that matter, to enjoy the challenge of training for what many of your sedentary ‘non-bikie’ friends may think is humanly impossible. However, cyclists, both recreational and competitive, are a tough breed used to pounding the pedals whatever the weather or terrain and to them the challenge of pushing themselves to their personal limits is a big part of the attraction to the sport.
Jamie Copeland is typical of this breed. He cycled as a youngster before university and a busy career kept him out of the saddle. Following a number of injuries playing other sports his surgeon suggested, to aide his rehabilitation and return to fitness, he take up a sport with low impact on the knees: cycling. This immediately rekindled Jamie’s interest in the sport and aged 41 he is looking towards his next big cycling challenge: the 7 day 800 km Haute Route Pyrenees described by the organisers as the ‘highest and toughest cyclosportive in the world’. Jamie recently approached BikeZaar Performance for some expert advice on preparing for an event with the climbing equivalent of two ascents of Everest.
There is an incomprehensible amount of information about the right way to train, cycling equipment and training aids each purporting to give you that competitive edge. This leads to information overload and is where BikeZaar Performance was able to help to guide Jamie through some of the complexities of sports science and training.
Here we give a snap shot of that guidance, which was provided by Cycling Coach and Physiologist Mark Walker.
The scientific literature suggests that most top performing endurance athletes adopt a polarised approach to their training. That is, they spend around 80% of their time riding at a pretty low intensity pace (LSD, or long slow distance) well below lactate threshold and then spend the remaining 20% performing higher intensity intervals. Recreational cyclists can benefit from a similar approach by making-up the bulk of their riding at low intensity and performing one session per week during the winter at higher intensity, maybe increasing this to two in the spring/summer.
It is particularly important for older riders to work on strength as they often struggle to maintain a combination of strength, power and suppleness in their pedal stroke. Although age eventually catches-up, some of its effects can be offset by carefully designed training and the inclusion of some gym work. Cycling specific exercises like half squats, leg-press and heel raises can be beneficial in developing strength. Start with 3 sets at 6-8 rep max and then carefully progress to heavier lifting around 4-5 rep max to develop maximum strength. A nice tip is to do some spinning afterwards to remind the brain that it can make your legs move fast too!
As spring approaches it is worth increasing the tempo of one of your endurance rides and incorporating extensive intervals. These intervals should still be below the lactate threshold but are a little harder paced, around a score of 3 on the 10 point rating of perceived exertion scale (RPE). You can build your time at this pace with 15-20 minute intervals and 5 minute recovery periods. Progression can be achieved by gradually increasing the number and duration of intervals with the aim of achieving 1.5 hours of continuous riding at this pace.
Even more intense efforts at lactate threshold on a climb are an ideal way of developing climbing ability and improving cardiovascular fitness. These might be efforts of 4-6 minutes long with a minimum of 3 minute recovery intervals. By varying the cadence from 80-90 RPM down to 40-60 rpm, both fluid climbing and strength can be trained. Start with a set of 3-4 repetitions and build up as you get stronger, you should also alternate periods of climbing in and out of the saddle to develop technique.
As your fitness develops choose some long sportives to ride during the final build up to the Haute Route Alps. These will be good training and can get progressively tougher and closer together as the event nears. Take a long weekend (assuming time permits) and try to ride 3-4 long days in a row to partially simulate the event – it’s good to iron out any teething problems. Then two weeks prior to the race, cut down training volume to permit recovery but keep some of the intensity in the riding i.e. tempo and climbing reps to maintain fitness.
Many riders find the vast array of data now possible to collect quite bewildering and often confusing. Leaving them asking ‘What do I do with all of this?’ and ‘What are the most important performance indicators?’ Jamie was no different. Pragmatically, I recommended a few key training metrics such as: maximal mean power outputs that give the ‘critical power curve’; the heart rate-power relationship; RPE; normalised power; and resting heart rate.
The heart rate-power relationship is useful as an indicator of training progress because as fitness improves power output will increase for a given steady state heart rate or RPE. However, if there is a sudden and dramatic change either up or down this could indicate fatigue and is a good indicator that you need to rest.
In conclusion, there are many riders like Jamie with the ambition to complete sportive style challenges, but they are unsure about how to go about planning their training, analysing training data or selecting the right technologies to enhance their cycling experience. Good coaching is the key to unlocking a rider’s potential whether they are a competitive athlete or a recreational cyclist enjoying the thrill of riding in unique endurance challenges. This is why BikeZaar Performance has developed relationships with leading coaches and sports scientists who can help any cyclist realise their hidden potential and further enhance their enjoyment of this beautiful, but tough sport.