CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
An aerobic training program can, over a 3 month period, increase your VO2max by 15 to 30% and by up to 50% over 2 years. The reverse is also true, a drop off in performance within a few weeks of stopping a regular training regimen. Metabolic changes (cellular enzyme levels) change quite quickly and tissue changes such as the number of muscle capillaries and skeletal/cardiac muscle fiber size occur more slowly (see detraining below).
The metabolic adaptations include an increase in aerobic energy production, the removal of metabolic end products of energy production, and an increase in the efficiency of energy production with a shift of the ratio of glucose and fats to produce ATP. An increase in the relative amount of ATP from lipid metabolism and less from glucose metabolism. The increase in the percent of total energy from fat spares glycogen stores. The result is an increase in endurance.
Training strengthens the connective tissue between muscle fibers which then minimizes the micro-trauma (and post exercise discomfort) that can accompany a training session and the stresses of endurance rides.
A training regimen should include dedicated time for rest and recovery to minimize the risks of overtraining and burnout, and can improve competitive performance. This article emphasizes the benefits for competitive performance.
Remember, you're banking foundation miles for the more serious training to come. The risk of injury from pushing to hard is greatest at this point in the season, so let the terrain and how you feel (perceived exertion) dictate when it is time to add additional effort. It is better to feel as if you should have put in a few more miles than to have pushed to the point of needing an extra recovery day for those sore muscles.
A good base mileage target is ~500 miles - and as a rule of thumb, don't increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% (over the prior week) as you ramp up.
Metrics of muscle strength are:
Glucose (glycogen) is preferred for ATP generation for high level aerobic performance (90% + VO2max). Fat is an alternative for less extreme levels of activity but metabolic bottlenecks in the cell enzyme machinery limit the maximal rate of ATP production.
Efficient generation of ATP requires oxygen. When a cell's requirements for oxygen are exceeded, glucose metabolism shifts to less efficient anaerobic (without oxygen) pathways. These alternative pathways produce fewer ATP molecules per molecule of glucose oxidized and also produce acidic byproducts that result in the "burn" as well as limiting the strength of muscle cell contractions.
Supplying maximal energy to an active muscle requires both adequate carbohydrates and oxygen delivered to the exercising muscle. For short bouts (sprints), oxygen that is the limiting factor in ATP production while for endurance events it is the amount of glucose available.
There is no metric to measure the body's glycogen stores, but on a normal diet they equal 1200 - 2000 Calories. It has been estimated that only 50 - 60% of these calories are readily available to support exercise, so if you anticipate needing more Calories for a longer ride, internal glycogen stores can be supplemented by appropriate carbohydrate snacking and energy drinks.
However we do have an excellent metric for maximal oxygen availability, the VO2max. It quantitates the maximum amount of oxygen the body can deliver to the muscles and reflects the state of cardiovascular, pulmonary, and muscle cell fitness.
Accurately measuring an athlete's VO2max requires a sophisticated physiology lab. But for use as a training metric, maximal heart rate (MHR) reflects VO2max and can be used as a surrogate. The percent of VO2max (%VO2max) is then estimated using % of maximum heart rate (%MHR).
A third requirement for optimal performance is a healthy intracellular environment, essential to maximize the production of ATP and facilitate strong muscle cell contractions. This requires the right balance of specific minerals (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium) as well as the rapid removal of the acidic end products of energy production. If these acidic molecules accumulate, they cause both physical discomfort (the "burn") as well as diminishing the maximal strength of muscle cell contraction.
As exercise intensity approaches a rider's VO2max (85 to 100% VO2 max), areas of the active muscle (less well supplied by blood vessels to deliver oxygen) shift to anaerobic pathways. This results in increasing production of lactic acid and other acid metabolic byproducts. As production increasingly out strips the body's ability to remove them, the fluid in and around the muscle cell becomes increasingly acidic, and performance degrades.
Measuring blood lactic acid levels is the basis for another gold standard performance metric, the lactate threshold (LT) which is the point at which production begins to significantly outpace removal and is expressed in terms of % VO2max. Once again, you need a physiology lab to determine the exact %VO2max for an athlete's LT, but as with the VO2max itself, there is an easily measured, but less accurate, surrogate for LT (a specific %MHR) to use as a personal LT training tool.
A major goal of training is a cardiovascular that will supply more oxygen for energy production and an increase in the cellular enzymes involved in both ATP production and lactic acid removal. And a corresponding increase in VO2max and LT.
In resistance training, as an example, weight serves a double role - a metric of the stress being applied (the weight being used for each set of repetitions) and the performance metric as the weight of a one-time maximal lift.
For cycling, there are multiple training metrics to choose from. Some are easier to measure
Is one metric better than another? There is no hard science that supports one metric - HRM (heart rate monitor), PE (perceived exertion) or a watt meter - as a superior training tool. They all provide a tool to apply measured amounts of stress when training. Although there is a lot of discussion over which is superior, it is more likely that training success is from applying a systematic application of a training metric rather than to the specific metric used.
I prefer perceived exertion as a training metric. It integrates a measure of stress (heart rate, watts of power) with your state of fatigue, your glycogen stores, and your recovery status into a single value. Coming directly from our "central governor", this sense of how much you are pushing your maximal ex can be expressed as a numerical term and followed without a need for special equipment. Here is one example of levels of PE using a 10 point rather than the traditional 20 point scale.
Why do I prefer PE rather than HR? One day you are in your HR training zone and feeling great. But on another day you just drag at the same heart rate. The same HR number in both examples, but an entirely different PE for each session. In the second example, your increased perceived exertion is telling you there is something else going on (not enough rest, failed to allow adequate recovery from your last session) and warns you not to chase the heart rate alone or risk the negatives of over training. By listening to feedback from your body, you decrease the chances of an injury and setback from going too hard.
Conclusions? It is not the metric but the application of whichever metric you choose, applied in a regimented program that is the most important predictor of a successful training program.
Oxygen consumption (VO2) measures the amount of oxygen being used by exercising muscles to convert glucose (and fat) to energy. It is expressed as the volume of oxygen (in liters) used per unit of time (per minute). As exercise intensity increases, VO2 increases until it plateaus at the VO2max. At VO2max, the lungs, heart, and vascular system have reached their limit to deliver oxygen to the muscles. That is the point at which muscle cells switch to less efficient anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolic pathways.
Measuring an athlete's VO2 directly requires a sophisticated physiology lab, but there is a work around. Heart rate and VO2 rise in a in parallel . At 100% of your maximal heart rate, you are essentially at your VO2max. Thus exercise intensity expressed as %MHR is also %VO2max and you now have ready access to one of the "gold standard" training metrics.
Lactic acid is produced by all cells, especially those with high metabolic rates such as neurons (the brain) and the exercising muscle. Lactic acids is cleared from the blood by conversion to pyruvate, a small amount in the muscle but the majority in the liver. Blood lactate levels reflect the balance between production and removal. .
As exercise intensity increases, muscle cells outstrip their oxygen supply, shift to less efficient anaerobic metabolism with increased lactic acid production. the balance between production and removal shifts. The level of intensity at which lactate begins to accumulate (where blood levels begin to rise is the lactate threshold (or in more scientific terminology, the onset of blood lactate accumulation - OBLA). This graph illustrates the rise in blood lactate levels as exertion increases. At a point between A and B, OBLA (the Lactate Threshold) has been reached. This article is a good reference for more details on lactate metabolism.
The lactate threshold is an excellent endurance performance metric as it reflects the maximum exercise intensity (%VO2max) an athlete can sustain for extended periods without triggering an increase in lactic acid levels in the blood. Thus a higher LT means a higher level of energy output (watts of power) sustainable over a longer period.
To increase lactate threshold, an athlete needs to train at a level of exertion that stresses lactate removal but is not so intense that it triggers lactic acid accumulation - this level of exertion is their LT. And this exercise metric requires regular updating as it will rise as training benefits accrue.
This annotated graph may explain it better. The right vertical axis is the HR. The lower line is the OBLA or LT. The HR at the LT deflection for the untrained subject is ~ 130 beats per minute. After a training period of several months, it has shifted upwards towards 180 beats per minute. The upper line, HR of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) has also increased.
The VO2max is a good predictor of sprint performance. But as it is above the rate at which acid byproducts which limit performance accumulate, the sprinter will be forced to slow or stop at some point. The lower line, the LT is just a % of VO2max, but can be sustained for long periods and thus a better predictor of aerobic endurance performance. With training the VO2max as well as the LT will increase. Not only has VO2max increased but the %VO2max that is LT has increased even more. The athlete can now ride or run at an LT (expressed as %VO2max) that is closer to the VO2 max. An effort that was previously limited by the accumulation of acidic byproducts can now be sustained much longer. The total amount of work that can be done in a specified amount of time increases, and the athlete can maintain more power (watts per minute) and a higher speed.
With training the VO2max can improve as much as 30 percent. But the biggest impact on endurance performance total work will be from an increase in LT. So developing a balanced training program needs both anaerobic interval training to improve VO2max as well as longer rides(30 minutes plus) at your LT.
Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is a metric akin to the LT. It is the highest average power (load) you can sustain for an hour, measured in watts. LT is the maximum load an athlete can sustain for long periods, but expressed in terms of road speed or heart rate. Thus FTP (in watts) = LT (in %MHR or road speed). Both are equally good endurance training tools and endurance performance metrics.
The 3 levels of intensity during training are:
A group of swimmers training 1.5 hours per day was compared to a group training with two equivalent 1.5 hour sessions per day and there was no difference in the final performance, power, or endurance between the two groups. For endurance aerobic training (continuous, not intervals) at less than 90% maximum heart rate it makes the most sense to look at the duration of the planned event, and train:
The biggest challenge in formulating a training plan is striking a balance between training intensity and duration.
This article stresses the importance of intervals in improving your riding. When I started riding, there were two separate training styles. One was focused on sprints (intervals) only if you were training for short events, and the other on piling up the mileage with long slow distance for endurance.
You do need training mileage if you are planning an endurance ride. Slower, long distance rides will help you get comfortable on the bike, practice pacing, and dial in your nutrition and hydration. All things that shorter interval workouts can't do.
You should begin the season working on easy miles (a training base) to give the back, shoulders, and joints a chance to strengthen for the stresses of interval training and decrease the chances of a training injury.
But after you get that base under your belt, you need intervals, both focused interval days as well as less intense intervals as part of every training ride, if you want to get faster.
Takeaways from this article:
The major take away is the importance of rest with a couple days off the bike altogether to reap the rewards of the more intense training sessions.
I love the idea "You gotta go slow to get fast" but success depends on finding your balance i.e how much slow and how much fast.
Studies suggest that you can get pretty close to your maximum aerobic conditioning
(measured as an increase in VO2max) with 3 workout days per week. So unless you are trying to burn
Calories to lose weight, or are working to get the musculoskeletal system (back,
shoulders) in shape for a long endurance event by increasing mileage on the
bike, it is better to take 2 (or 3) days per week off the bike to allow for muscle
and ligament repair and decrease the risk of cumulative stress resulting in a
training injurie. Interestingly, it appeared that the 3 days per week
will maximize aerobic conditioning equally in any combination - i.e.
3 days in a row with 4 off, alternating days of exercise/rest, etc.
Q. I was reading the other day in Joe Friels Cyclists Training Bible that he feels training twice a day is better because you release a second dose of growth hormone during the day. I haven't found any literature behind his comment. Have you got in more info about training twice a day compared to once? - J.
A.I am not aware of any literature supporting twice a day training other than as a "work around" for a training schedule limitations (such as work commitments). In fact I would suspect that if there is any effect it would more likely be a negative rather compared to a single longer session.
Q. As I have a rather flexible schedule I was wondering which would be most advantageous to build my endurance and fitness during the winter months of shorter daylight hours.. 5 days a week of 2 - 3 hour rides or 2 days 4 - 5 hour rides and recovery rides in between?
A second part is that I have had beginning riders ask a more extreme version: "What if I rode once a week for 2 hours vs four 1/2 hour rides, which would be best."
A. It all comes down to the purpose of your riding/training.
If you are training for endurance (length of time you will be sitting on the seat of the bike) you need to work up to riding at least one longer ride (near that time duration of your planned ride) a week. Thus if you are training for 3 hour ride, you need to work towards riding a single 3 hour training ride. 6 one half hour rides will not get your body (muscles, shoulders, butt) use to 3 straight hours on the bike like a single 3 hour ride will.
If you want to ride faster, then 2 one half hour rides at 80 - 90% VO2max may be almost as good a single one 1 hour ride (at the same clip).
Although resistance and aerobic training impact the muscle cells differently, scientific studies suggest that there is little difference ..."within muscles whether the men performed both aerobic and resistance training or aerobic training alone." And it apparently made no difference as to the order i.e. if one does their aerobic workout first that day - or the resistance training.
For those of you, especially triathletes, who have complex training schedules, this removes one additional worry factor about the interference of different training modalities and should make your planning easier.
Anaerobic (oxygen independent) exercise is generally brief (less than 60 seconds in duration) and fueled via anaerobic energy pathways in the cell (ATP, creatine phosphate). A classic anaerobic sport is weightlifting. Sprint activities also use anaerobic pathways. If the sprint lasts more than 5 or 10 seconds, lactic acid production (and clearance) also becomes an limiting factor due to the negative effects of lactic acid on muscle performance. Training focused on anaerobic sessions will enhance the ATP and CP energy transfer pathways in the cell as well as improving the tolerance for and clearance of lactic acid.
Aerobic training (important for cycling and most other sporting events where effort lasts more than 60 seconds) improves oxygen delivery systems to the muscle cell and aerobic energy pathways. It improves both cardiac output (amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute) and changes at the muscle fiber level that increase the removal or extraction of oxygen from the blood cells in the capillaries. In addition, there are improvements in the efficiency of the cellular metabolic pathways which convert glucose into ATP in the presence of oxygen.
There are always both anaerobic and aerobic metabolism in the muscle cells. As the level of exertion (measured by %VO2max) increases, there is a transition within the muscle cell from almost entirely aerobic metabolism (and minimal anaerobic metabolism) to an energy production with a more anaerobic component. And there are always areas of relatively lower perfusion within a muscle - and these areas are more likely to be functioning anaerobically. So even at 50 to 60% VO2max, there is some anaerobic stress and conditioning occurring. But at 85% VO2max (the anaerobic threshold for most individuals) there is an dramatic increase in anaerobic metabolism throughout the entire muscle. Even though some cross training of the anaerobic systems takes place during exercise at 60 to 80% VO2max, a training program for sprint performance needs to include several exercise sessions per week above 85% VO2max. Long slow distance may be good training for aerobic, endurance events, but it will not improve your sprint performance.
A good training program will be designed to include both aerobic and anaerobic exercise sessions. It is the art of finding the balance of the types of exercise (aerobic vs anaerobic; interval training, continuous training, and fartlek training) in your overall program which will determine its effectiveness for your competitive event.
If one is training for sprints of up to 20 seconds in duration (which do not involve significant lactic acid buildup and basically are training the ATP and CP energy systems), it is recommended that the training interval be 1 to 5 seconds longer than the usual best time for the planned sprint distance and exercise intensity being equal to that which you hope to maintain during the event. For example, if training for a 100 yard dash, with a personal best of 12 seconds, the training interval should be a 13 or 14 seconds at the same pace with a rest (lower intensity activity) period 3 times longer than the training interval - 42 seconds in this example.
Using intervals to train for longer sprints (several minutes) produces significant lactic acid buildup in the muscles as well as stressing the anaerobic energy pathways. To train for these longer distances (several minutes of maximum output), it is suggested that the distance for which you are training be subdivided, and the training interval effort focused on that shorter distance. For example, if one is training for a personal best in a mile ride on the bike, and the best time for the entire mile is 3 minutes on the bike (with the best 1/4 mile segment being 30 seconds and the best 1/2 mile segment being 80 seconds) the training interval could be set at either 1/4 or 1/2 mile and the time for this training interval set at your personal best minus 3 to 5 seconds. In this example the training interval might be chosen as 1/4 mile with a goal of a 25 second time. The rest interval should be 2 times the training interval (as lactic acid clearance does not require the same recovery time as recharging the intracellular metabolic machinery).
A risk for any training program is the dropout rate which can double when intervals are used, so use them judiciously. Don't use intervals all year round, limit them to twice a week during your peak season, and separate each session by at least 48 hours to allow adequate recovery. If your long ride is on the weekend, Tuesday and Thursday make the most sense for your interval training. The goal should be at least 10 to 20 minutes of hard pedaling per training interval session, not counting warm up, recovery, or cool down. A good place to start is with 5 minutes of peak effort per daily interval session.
Another approach is to use one day a week for short intervals (i.e. five - 60 second and five - 90 second intervals) and a second for longer intervals (two - 3 minute and two - 5 minute intervals). Allow 3 to 5 minutes for recovery between intervals and don't forget a 20 to 30 minute warm up and a 15 minute cool down. It has been shown that as few as a half dozen 5 minute intervals (with 1 minute recoveries) during a 300 km training week will improve both time trial and peak performance.
If you have a heart rate monitor, you can key intervals to your maximum heart rate. Ride your intervals at 80 to 90% of your maximum heart rate and spin easily until your heart rate drops to 60 to 65% of maximum.
If you are training a long event, and your speed is just fine, it is important to make sure you are putting in the weekly miles (at any intensity). No intervals needed as it is about getting your body use to sitting on the bike for longer periods of time.
If you want to increase your top speed, you will need to increase your VO2max and will want to focus training on your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) with 2 days of intervals a week.
If you want to improve both, you need a combination of intervals and longer rides in your weekly program. But remember that more than 2 days of intervals a week increases the rate of training burnout and injury.
Zone 2 exertion improves both mitochondrial function and lactate clearance. At this intensity, the body is producing lactate but it is cleared before it can accumulate. And this stress on the body's lactate clearance pathways enhances lactate clearance when exercise intensity (and lactate production) increases.
In terms of perceived exertion, Zone 2 is a sweaty talk while riding with occasional breaks to breath (chatting is Zone 1) . And in terms of heart rate, it is 65 - 75% MHR.
Zone 2 is good for your health as well as your performance. It is equivalent to "brisk walking" - and the current recommendation is a minimum of 75 minutes per week at this intensity.
Zone 2 improves lactate clearance and endurance, but intervals are still necessary to increase your VO2max and aerobic performance.
Ideally, a balanced training program will include three to four days a week riding in zone 2 with an additional 2 days dedicated to intervals. Hour wise, you should be riding 80 percent of your hours in zone 2 and 20 percent doing intervals and short recovery rides.
For more on Zone 2 training.
Aim for a total time commitment per week of 10 hours. It's interesting that two of America's all-time great road riders, Greg LeMond and Connie Carpenter, both recommend the same total weekly training time -- 10 hours -- for fast recreational riders. They say if you devote that much to a mix to distance, speed, climbing and easy rides for recovery, you're likely to come close to your potential. And time on the bike seems to be the key, not the miles ridden. LeMond's Law is occasionally referred to in bike magazines. To paraphrase: when you record your daily workout, make your key entry the time you rode not how far you rode. The reason, says Greg, "twenty miles into a headwind is a lot different than 20 miles with a tailwind". The same holds for a ride in the hills vs. a ride on flat ground.
For most recreational roadies, 7-10 hours of riding per week is plenty for steady improvement if you have an intelligent training program. Wouldn't more be better? If you do try to add in extra hours, you risk bothy overtraining as well as the extra stress produced by more time on the bike. Both physical stress on your body and the pressure it puts on responsibilities to family, friends, and profession.
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?
My main concern is the disjointed nature of the event. I have an idea what to do to train for a 6 hour event or a 40 minute event, but as we will be racing hard for 40 minutes, 8 or 9 times in 24 hours do I:
A. I would plan your weekly training program as if this was to be a 40 minute, high intensity event, with the additional focus being on what you need to do to maximize your recovery in the 4 hour break between "events".
I'd estimate the total mileage you think you would be riding in the 24 hours - and then be sure your baseline mileage (weekly) supports this distance. Train with your emphasis on intervals to improve performance for these 40 minute segments, and be sure you have one long ride a week at lower intensity equal to the total miles of the event + 10 - 15%.
Be sure you have maximized your glycogen reserves to start - and replace your expended Calories after each event using a liquid replacement as much as possible to minimize delays in gastric emptying and absorption. And be sure you replace sweat loses - dehydration over the 24 hours is probably the biggest risk to your performance. (nutrition for performance, the interval ride section).
A. I think you are describing the warm up period that many riders experience - the first 5 miles, or 15 minutes, of a ride when the body cardiovascular and musculo skeletal systems are getting up to speed. It gets more noticeable with age and some riders are more bothered by it than others. I'm not aware of any shortcuts to avoid it - just listen to your body and don;t push too hard or your injury rate will go up