Improving Your Cycling Performance
In today’s fast paced world, it has become more difficult than ever for a working athlete to strike a balance between work, family, and cycling performance goals. After hours in the office and then spending time socialising with the family, it feels an uphill task to get out on the trials as most of our time is already gone. But despite being time poor, you can still make improvements in your fitness and cycling performance, with proper planning, prioritisation, and implementation.
Cycling performance, meaning, in this case, speed, power and endurance, is essential when it comes to training. All three are vital components whether you intend to race, focus on sports, aim to ride your first century ride or simply want to get better as a rider.
Cycling Performance: POWER, SPEED AND ENDURANCE
The good news is, becoming a better, fitter, and faster cyclist doesn’t need to be an experiment in self-torture. Cycling is fun! Just set your goals; follow a few simple words of advice, not to mention strong willpower, and the time you spend on your bike will be not only be better than ever but also be worthwhile in the end.
By following our top tips to improving cycling performance on a time-budget, you cannot only make the most of the time you do have but also maximise your cycling speed, endurance and distance on-the-go:
Step 1: Set SMART cycling performance goals & Ride with a Purpose
There’s nothing wrong with just going out for a ride, but if you want to improve your cycling performance and make the most out of your limited riding time, then you need to have a definite training plan that is aligned to your personal goals.
For example, your main goal for the year could be to take part in a 50-mile summer ride or an entire day-long marathon or it could simply be to speed up your daily commute to work. No matter what your goal, know exactly how you are going to pursue it and the exact details of your workout before you start.
When it comes to setting up a training plan, three-time European champion Matt Rowe says, “Your training plan needs to be realistic and must take into account not only your set working hours, but also the demands on your time that you know are likely to arise”.
Pro Tip: When setting goals, the tried and tested method to follow is the acronym, SMART
While SMART is a great rule of thumb to follow, it’s pretty self-explanatory rule that ensures you know your goal inside out, how to achieve it, and when you should be reaching it by.
Step 2: Polarised Training: Build Endurance on Time Budget
For the time-crunched cyclist, the key watchword is ‘leverage’ that means turning a small time investment into the largest possible fitness gain!
“Regardless of the time frame that you’re working with, it is still possible to get load into your legs, even with a workout as short as 20 minutes”, says Mark Hom, an avid cyclist and biologist, in his book, ‘The Science of Fitness’.
Improving cycling performance on a time budget starts with a schedule-friendly method called polarised training. Backed by a body of sound research, polarised training focuses on the opposite ends of the training spectrum, so in a particular week, you do both high intensity drills and easy aerobic rides. While shorter-intensity training bouts increase the number of mitochondria (tiny energy generators in your cells), high-intensity interval training is scientifically proven to make those mitochondria more powerful, which results in increased VO2 max, peak aerobic-power output and endurance performance.
The best recipe for building cycling endurance is to adjust the distribution of your training so that 80 percent of your rides are in the low-intensity zone whereas about 20 percent are performed at high intensities, 3 to 5 times throughout the week.
Step 3: Add Weights to your Training to improve Cycling Performance
Until a short while ago, most cyclists used to avoid weight training, fearing any extra mass would slow them down. With time, that’s all changed. Today, pro-cyclists recognise the numerous scientifically backed benefits of resistance training — not just for strengthening the legs, but the whole body. From building core strength to maintaining bone density, RT ultimately translates to improved cycling performance.
For the time-crunched cyclist, Kettlebells are easily the best resistance-training tools as they challenge multiple muscle groups to provide a complete-body workout. Thanks to the momentum offered by a kettleball’s dynamic swings and lifts, one cannot only build slow- and fast-twitch muscles but also improve overall cycling balance and coordination.
Step 4: Train your Lactate Threshold (LT) to Boost Speed
As a basic definition, your lactate threshold is the glass ceiling of your cycling performance or the highest average speed/wattage that you can maintain for 60 minutes. By systematically training your lactate threshold, you can improve your heart’s capacity to deliver oxygen to your muscles. As a result, your body produces higher power output and you can pedal for longer at a higher average speed. (For more on the working mechanism of LT, check this scholarly report published by the JournalOfSports).
This is well-supported by scientific research carried out on nine elite distance athletes over a two and a-half year period whereby it was noted that training at steady state intervals helped their LT advance by an average of 6 per cent. The LT upsurge was complemented with either improved PBs or higher competitive rankings for the athletes involved in the study.
But before you focus on improving your LT, you should first calculate it by taking the maximum average speed/power you can sustain for 20 minutes and multiplying it by 0.95. So, when you train your LT at Steady state intervals, you’ll pace your efforts to match this number.
You can get started with your LT training with 2 rounds of 20 minutes at your lactate threshold while ensuring five minutes of recovery between the two repetitions. With time, you can increase your efforts to 3 rounds of 15 minutes each with five minutes of recovery in between repetitions, and eventually working your way up to 3 repetitions of 20 minutes each.
Step 5: Take on Pilates to go that extra mile
When it comes to improving cycling performance, it goes without saying that training on bike is your main jam. But what about incorporating an alternative workout (in your training routine) that develops core strength, stability and motion control?
Pilates is a low-impact exercise that has been proven to be effective in building strong core muscles that help steady the rider on the bike, keeping the spine in stable posture whilst the limbs move. Moreover, core strength helps transfer more power to the pedals by endowing your lower body with a solid platform to push against.
As cyclists, we tend to have well-developed legs but don’t pay much attention to muscular conditioning of the upper body. Riding with a weak core can be compared to stacking a Porsche engine inside a Toyota chassis. While you can have all the power in the world, without a strong chassis the power will dissipate elsewhere.
Pilates exercises are focused on developing inner strength deep down your spine and abdomen, taking pressure off your leg muscles and promoting more balanced, long-distance rides. (For the best Pilates exercises, see “Best Pilates Exercises for Cyclists”).
Step 6: Recovery is the KEY
Finally, remember that a successful, high-performance training regime depends on quality recovery. With every session counting, it is necessary to fully recover from each workout and to make sure that your previous workout doesn’t have any damaging effects on the quality of your current one. That’s why it is imperative to include rest days in your weekly training plan, in addition to eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and being mindful of your general recovery.
Furthermore, did you know that adding a cycling-specific massage, a manual muscle relaxation therapy, can ease your muscles after an intense workout on the bike and speed up the recovery process? Researchers at McMaster University confirmed that massage reduces muscle inflammation by triggering biochemical sensors that send inflammation reducing signals to muscle cells to relieve muscle tension and pain.
According to Dr. Shane Phillips, of the University of Illinois, ‘Massage also improves blood circulation to the muscles and eases muscle soreness’. He further explains that deep pressure applied by a massage therapist opens up blood vessels and flushes out waste products, which helps reduce tenderness after a hard ride or workout. As a result, the increase in blood flow speeds up muscle recovery by providing more nutrition to the tissues.
Wrapping it all up
With the demands of work and family, it may seem like an uphill task to find appropriate time and training program for improving your cycling performance. However, by following these six top tips, you can still make the most of your time, consistently achieve those daily objectives, and maximise the gains from your weekly mileage.
To sum it all, you can incorporate the above hacks into a 7-hour-a-week training schedule with an average of just 60 enjoyable minutes of riding each day. While your personal schedule will determine the exact mix, most people prefer to ride more on weekends when they’ve days off. Here’s a weekly schedule that works for many riders:
7-Hours-A-Week Training Schedule
Monday — Rest day with 30 minutes of strength training.
Tuesday — Ride 40 minutes with 2 sprits of 20 minutes each at your Lactate Threshold (LT).
Wednesday — Ride 1 hour at a steady, moderate pace.
Thursday — Ride 1 hour including 20 minutes of hard effort (HIIT)
Friday — Rest day with 30 minutes of Pilates exercises.
Saturday — Ride 1 hour at an easy pace.
Sunday — Ride 2 hours at an active mix of moderate and speedy pace.
Add in a Sports Massage on one of the recovery days.
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