CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
Last updated: 3/8/2011
A PERSONAL TRAINING PROGRAM
There are as many cycling training programs as there are trainers, but there are
certain common "rules of thumb" that you can use as you develop your own personal
program for that upcoming event.
- Start with a good mileage base. Before beginning a regimented training program, develop a base of at least 500 miles
of easy rides. (If you have a good winter or off season training
program, you can pare down this recommendation.)
- Don't increase your weekly mileage too quickly. Once you have your training base, calculate your average weekly mileage, and then
plan to increase it by no more than 10 - 12% per week. This includes both total weekly
mileage as well as the distance of your long ride. (This 10 to 12% figure was developed
from marathon training to minimize musculoskeletal injuries. Bicycling is easier on the
joints and muscles, implying that this figure might be pushed.)
- Ride 5 and Rest 2. Limit your training to 5 days a week, and take at least
one day off. Depending on your level of training (or evidence of overtraining) the seventh
day can be an additional intermediate mileage day or an additional rest day. For example:
- one high mileage day equal to the event distance
- one long slow recovery day
- 3 intermediate mileage days
- 1 or 2 rest days (off the bike or short recovery rides)
- Plan a short mileage day or rest day to follow the high mileage day. It should be
approximately 1/4 the distance of your long ride and ridden at a leisurely pace to help
loosen up your muscles after the long ride of the week.
- The three intermediate mileage days should be midway between the short ride and the
long ride of the week in mileage and should be ridden at a good training pace (85 to 90%
of maximum heart rate). One or two of these may be interval
- Your long mileage day will be keyed to the length of your pending event or ride,
and should be ridden at the pace you hope to maintain for the event.
Many coaches suggest you work up to the length (or even 125% of the length) of the event
while others are comfortable if you can ride 75% of the event distance comfortably.
This is usually planned as a Saturday ride (with Sunday as a backup for bad weather
or other unexpected circumstance that might derail
your training program).
- You might consider a second long mileage day during your training week, but ride this one
at a "recovery" pace.
- Your last "longest ride" should be 10 to 14 days before your event, and
you will then cut the distance the week prior to the event to 75%
the length of the planned event.
- You can estimate the total length of your training program by using your "average"
long ride from your 500 mile base training period, increasing it by 10% a week, and
repeating this until you arrive at a figure that is 75% (3/4) of the length of the event
for which you are training.
- Sharply curtail your rides for the 3 days immediately before
the event - focusing on short, low intensity rides (spinning) to keep your muscles from tightening
up. This recommendation is not as important prior to a multiday endurance type rides, but
common sense suggests that taking a few days off (short spinning rides only) immediately
before any planned event will facilitate maximum muscle recovery and glycogen repletion.
- Be flexible and adjust your program to your lifestyle. A rigid program is destined
- Pacing your rides:
- the long ride should match your own planned event speed (if it is more than just a sprint)
- the short "recovery" ride should be a leisurely pace at no more than 50-60% of
your maximum heart rate
- two of the intermediate rides should be at the planned event pace
- one of the intermediate rides, preferably prior to your day off the bike, should
be at a brisk pace 2 - 3 mph faster than your planned event speed.
More about long training rides.
- Early in the spring when you're building endurance, long rides will help to
develop aerobic conditioning.
- During the competitive season conventional wisdom says not to
design a "long ride" that is significantly farther than your event distance.
So if you do 40K time trials OR road races up to, say, 50 miles, your longest training
rides don't need to be longer than 40-50 miles. Centuries
and tours can be considered as an alternative to a long ride.
- Remember - long rides will help endurance, but won't necessarily make you
Tracking Training - Miles versus Hours
Although the number of miles ridden (per week) is the most common approach to measuring
training, there are those who believe that mileage doesn't count as much as time.
For example, compare riding alone at 15 miles per hour versus in a group at 20. Were both
equal workouts with an hour of saddle time? Or was the 20 miles a better workout? There is no
answer to this question, so you get to pick your own preference.
Using a training log
Keeping track of your training - and using the information to improve - is an improtant part
of any training program. How do you use the information?? I'll reprint the comments of
Fred Matheny (from www.roadbikerider.com - an excellent on line resource). I'll emphasize what
resonates with me in bold.
From RBR's 12/21/06 Newsletter: Motivation & Inspiration: Best of Coach Fred. " How Do You Analyze a Training Diary?"
Question: You've mentioned that you've kept a training log for almost 33 years. I'm
curious -- what are your training totals for 2006, and how do you analyze your entries
to help you plan for next year? -- Mark N.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Good question, Mark. Not many riders keep detailed training
logs, which is a shame, and even fewer know what to do with a year's worth of information.
Analyzing a training log is crucial to learning from your mistakes, understanding your
successes and getting better each year. I'd like to see you and all RBR roadies start
a cycling diary for 2007.
This task is easier now that computer-based diaries can be used instead of
paper-and-pencil logs. (For an example, see http://www.cyclistats.com) With electronic
diaries you can pull out average miles, average heart rate, number of hours at or
above lactate threshold and much other potentially useful data.
But having said that, I admit to still using an old-school paper diary. I've gotten
comfortable with this type during three decades, although I still find that turning all
the data into actual improvement is more art than science.
You asked about my numbers. With two weeks to go in 2006 I've done 527 hours on the
bike, 227 hours of other aerobic exercise (mainly hiking and snowshoeing) and about
50 hours of weight training. That adds up to around 800 hours of exercise. My totals
have been pretty consistent in the last 17 years, averaging 650-800 hours annually.
But lump-sum hours aren't as meaningful as the hours spent near or above lactate threshold.
In other words, quality is more important than quantity. And in this area my ability to
analyze my training falls short. It's difficult to pull that information from
a handwritten log. I rarely wear a heart monitor, and although I do have a power meter on
a bike, I'm not always riding that one when I go hard. So quite a few power profiles
of hard rides aren't recorded.
Periodically through the year, I read back over my diary to make a subjective analysis.
I check the number of interval sessions I've done and their spacing. I look for rides
that were hard even though no formal intervals were scheduled. Examples are spirited
group rides, races and courses with lots of climbing.
I also check my body weight, looking for fluctuations that could indicate dehydration or
But more important to me than intensity or hours is a subjective rating of my well-being.
I find my mental state to be the best indicator that I'm on the right track or doing
too much. Do I feel vigorous or flat? Am I eager to ride or am I going through the
motions? Do rides feel so good that I extend them longer than I'd planned, or do I plod
through a lackluster hour and head home?
Hard training doesn't, by itself, lead to improvement. Rest and recovery are the
essential catalysts. If I don't rest enough, everything goes downhill. So for me,
charting my mood against the objective numbers produced by my training is the
most useful aspect of diary analysis."
The following email from a reader is a nice example of how it all works
together. A specific example sometimes shows you the way through the morass
of "bullet points".
Q. I've gone over your web site articles for training and I have a question.
From reading, Max VO2 occurs at 90% max heartrate. On intense training days, how long
should you keep pedaling at MaxVO2?
This is sample intense session:
and so forth until interval is completed. Typically, I like to ride for about 60 minutes
for an intense session doing 4-8 intense intervals. Recovery rides are usually
60 minutes, and my long ride (current) is 2 hours.
- Pedal at 65% for 10 minutes warmup
- Pedal at 90% for x? minutes
- Recover back to 65%-75%
- Pedal at 90% for x? minutes
- Recover back to 65%-75%
- Pedal at 90% for x? minutes
Any advice would be appreciated. - JR
A. You have a nice balance of long day, rest days, and intervals. You can
fill in the "x" with any length interval you'd like - it really depends on the event
you are training for and your personal goals. With this balance in your program,
getting better will happen as you put in the time on the bike. But don't forget to
take off a day or two each week - that often takes more discipline than riding
Q. I am taking part in a 24 hour mountain bike event in July. There will
be 5 of us in a team, so we will be taking it in turns on a course that takes
approximately 40 minutes. That means we will have roughly 240 minute breaks
between rides. The question is how do you train for that? - KB
A. I would plan your weekly training program as if this was to be a single
40 minute, high intensity event, with a key element (or focus)
being what you need to do to maximize your recovery in the 4 hour break
between the 40 minute "events".
You should estimate the total mileage you will be riding in the full 24
hours - and be sure your baseline mileage (weekly) and long ride of the week,
support this distance. And train with an emphasis on
intervals to improve performance for the 40 minute events.
The few days before the 24 hour event, be sure you have maximized your total
body glycogen reserves - and replace your expended Calories after each
event using a liquid replacement as much as possible to minimize delays
in gastric emptying and absorption. Finally, be sure you replace sweat
loses - dehydration over the 24 hours is probably the biggest risk to
your performance. See nutrition for performance, the
interval ride section.
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