Albert Einstein was not just a genius in his own field; his outlook and philosophy can be used to help aid your cycling performance. In fact, one of Einstein’s most well-known quotes is extremely apt for any sportsperson: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Now the new year is here it’s time to start thinking about your goals for next season. If you’ve reflected on the year just gone and found that you haven’t improved as much as you once did, maybe it’s time to start looking for new ways to go faster or further.
Even if you’re still seeing relatively big gains this could soon change or the monotony of repetition may suddenly get the better of you. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut repeating the usual training – long, slow rides, old turbo sessions and the same race tactics – all of which can become frustrating when you don’t see any improvement.
So with 2014 in full swing, there’s no better time to start mixing things up and trying new ideas and methods of training – it may be Einstein’s recommendation, but it doesn’t take a genius…
To begin an overhaul in your training, first you must evaluate your current level of riding along with your weaknesses, strengths and aims.
When looking into your strengths and weaknesses it’s often hard to be really critical, so asking friends that you ride with will help, so long as they give honest answers. This will also give another perspective to your riding and really ensure you’re being objective about your plans.
Remember, it’s easy to train to your strengths but much harder to work on your weaknesses, so knowing what you need to work on is integral to improving.
Many riders enjoy training in a manner that suits their natural capabilities. Climbers tend to enjoy hilly rides, but put them on a flat, windy route and they’ll struggle. On the other hand, a sprinter will hate riding in the mountains but relish tough sprint sessions. But it’s those hated sessions that usually need the most work, and are without doubt the ones most likely to improve your overall performance.
Froome’s all-round ability isn’t just down to luck…
If you’ve shied away from science in the past, this may be the way to go. It’s important to devise a way to measure your performance improvements, whether it’s through a timed effort on a specific section of a ride, a max test on the turbo or even through proper lab tests. Having something tangible to look at to see if you’re improving or not is vital. This will aid motivation and enable you to see if your new training is working.
Think outside the box
Once you’ve evaluated what you need to improve, you’ve then got to find new ways to train. Whatever it is you were doing previously has stopped helping you to improve, so there’s not much point in carrying on doing it!
There are many ideas out there to try; it’s about sifting through it all to find what will suit your needs and aims best, whether it’s looking up what pro riders are doing or investigating research into new training techniques. Speak to other cyclists as well; spending time hearing different opinions and experiences can be very helpful.
A key thing to remember when researching is that what works for one person won’t necessarily be any good for you. Be flexible, whether that means adapting a session to fit in with your time restraints, or changing it slightly to make it work for you. Often it’s the small, sometimes obvious, changes that make the biggest difference. Look at doing a few things slightly differently, and when you add all these marginal gains together it results in bigger improvements.
One squad that has had notable success by doing things differently from the norm of the pro peloton is Team Sky. By bringing in a coach from a different sport, Sky has been able to get a fresh outlook on training for success in cycling.
Australian sports scientist Tim Kerrison is the man who has helped coach Sky riders to two Tour de France victories. Kerrison’s background was primarily in swimming when he joined Sky, which has enabled him to employ these new training techniques with the team.
Kerrison is Sky’s head of performance support, and has worked with the riders using power and employing techniques that mimic efforts needed to win races like the Tour de France. Some of his sessions had riders climbing just below their threshold, then quickly upping their power well over their threshold, as if an attack was happening, before dropping back down to below that threshold again to clear all the waste products created by the intense effort. This allowed the riders to get used to working at a relatively high intensity while recovering from the attack.
Alongside this, Sky riders also have competitions to see who can get the highest cadence. Their attitude towards leg speed shows Sky is taking Lance Armstrong’s once revolutionary high cadence riding to a whole new level.
Sky also used wind tunnels to examine the difference between out-of-the-saddle and seated accelerations. We saw from Chris Froome’s riding in the 2013 Tour de France that seated, high cadence accelerations worked a treat, as he left his rivals floundering on the climbs.
Sky’s strategy of looking for and using new training methods has left the rest of the peloton playing catch-up, and trying to find innovations of their own.
The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle!
Mistakes make you
Einstein would have made a great coach. He once said, “A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.” Don’t be afraid to try and fail – doing the wrong type of training will help you learn to train correctly and find out what works for you. It is quite unlikely that you’ll find a perfect, magic training session straight away. It may take some research and adaptation, so be prepared for this.
But as you try new things you’ll find yourself understanding your own body and its responses to certain efforts and intensities. Learning through making mistakes is one of the most beneficial ways to understand things. In the long run, knowing what doesn’t work for you can help you notice when you come across a session that actually benefits your riding.
Everyone is an individual and has differing responses to various training sessions, and again what works for Chris Froome or your buddy may not work for you. There’s no point continuing to plug away at something new that isn’t working, just because it’s new.
Give it a few weeks but if you really are seeing no changes in your riding performance go back to the drawing board. Don’t stress about this though, as going in search of a new idea is fine. If you’re finding a specific session too hard then make it easier by slightly reducing the intensity or time of each effort. Similarly, if you’re finding sessions too easy, increase the time or the level that you’re riding at.
It’s a daunting prospect, moving away from training methods you’ve always used and believed in. Many people are scared of adapting their ways and experimenting with different training methods.
Dr Helen Carter has been a coach for more than 20 years and has a PhD in exercise physiology. She has an extensive knowledge of psychology having studies western psychology and eastern philosophy. As she explains: “The fear of changing things keeps us bound to familiar ways – even if we ‘know’ we need the change.”
People enjoy riding within their comfort zones, despite not seeing any improvements for years, but a true overhaul means really rethinking and taking a risk. As Dr Carter points out, it’s similar to why people often fail at upholding new year’s resolutions. “We have a part of ourself that wants change and a part that doesn’t,” she says. “We need to take time to listen to both. We often fail to listen to the part of us that doesn’t want to make the change, that needs to stay the same – and that resistance soon gets heard when we fail at our attempts to change.”
Listening to these doubts and working out which one is the strongest is important. It’s vital to have a goal to aim for, as well as solid knowledge through research as to why you are doing new things. This can give you the peace of mind that changing your training is the best thing to do.
The benefits of HIIT
High intensity interval training (HIIT) has made headlines as an innovative training method. Many riders are used to heading out for hours in the saddle with the aim of getting fitter and seeing endurance improvements. However, if you are working full time and your aims are to get over the climbs on Sunday club runs, there’s not usually enough time, or much point in slogging your guts out trying to get the miles in during the week. It will leave you fatigued and struggling when it comes to the weekend rides.
Despite research into HIIT training being around for quite some time, it’s only in the past few years it’s come to the forefront. Even now, many cyclists still feel the need to head out on long rides to improve their cardiovascular fitness or lose weight, when it can be just as effective or even more beneficial to get some short sharp sessions under your belt. These are not only great for those tight of time, but research over the years has shown that HIIT can lead to big VO2 max (used to measure cardiovascular fitness) improvements.
A study in 2008, published in the American Journal of Physiology, found HIIT training improved VO2 max by six per cent more than continuous endurance training. Alongside this, research in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism in 2009, found HIIT training increased mitochondrial density (which produce energy in muscle cells). For many years, this adaptation was thought to only occur through regular endurance training, but we now know that these can occur through much shorter training sessions conducted at higher intensities.
What to try if you…
Just keep plodding along
Do you just go out and ride for hours on end, at the same steady speeds? While this is used during winter training to gain base fitness, doing too much ‘slow’ riding can leave you being just that – slow! Try changing the pace and the distance you ride: shorter rides at a faster speed; specific sessions where you attack the climbs or sprint for road signs. In essence, just mix things up and vary your riding more.
Go pop after an hour
If you’re a rider who hits the wall after an hour or two of riding, try slowing things down. Stop attacking every hill and just ride steadily for longer. Doing this will enable you to have a larger platform to work from and will allow you to top it up with more structured, specific training. Having better endurance means you can work on improving your speed later on with greater effect, and will make sure you can last the distance in longer races or sportives.
Can’t ride without numbers
Whether it’s speed, power, heart rate or cadence, try ditching the technology and ride on feel. It may seem quite simple to do, but many can’t manage without it. Being able to ride on feel is a great skill to have, as technology isn’t always reliable. Also, it often helps riders bring that enjoyment factor back into their riding. Constantly number crunching can lead to staleness and mental struggles when performances plateau or decline.
Lack structured training
The opposite tip to above, but if you have always shunned bike computers try giving it a go. Adding some stats to back up what you’re doing can help motivate you to train harder and smarter. Remember, it’s not all about going and smashing it to get the most Strava segments, but about using technology to aid your riding. This gives training sessions more meaning and ensures you stay on target.
Are missing that zip
If you’re a rider that really struggles when the pace goes up, it’s time to get some zip back in your legs. Try some HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions. Do short, flat-out sprints of only 10 to 20 seconds long and you will be able to crank the speed up. Give yourself relatively long recovery times, at least a minute or two, to ensure your leg muscles are ready to sprint again.
This article was first published in the January 16 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!