Training: Are you planning to take part in a cycling race, but aren’t quite sure how to best prepare for it? Here are some tips that could help.
A number of factors come into play when designing a training program, as every cyclist has different strengths, weaknesses, and training requirements. Although a one-size-fits-all approach to devising a program isn’t always feasible, there are a few general tips to keep in mind while training.
Write it down
Develop a written training plan for the week ahead. Writing down your program will make you more likely to commit to it and execute your plan.
Identify your weaknesses
Identify what is currently limiting your performance on the bike, and train to improve those aspects. For example, if you are good on the flat but not uphill, then plan to work on your climbing abilities and vice versa.
If you are training for a particular race, ensure that the type of training you do is specific to your goal and of an intensity that will be needed to perform to your expectations at the event. Do at least two dedicated sessions per week that will act as a rehearsal for the day of the race. For example, if you’re aiming to compete in a very long race, the foundation of your training sessions should be built around increasing your muscular endurance and maintaining your power output for an extended period of time.
Ensure you ride efficiently. For instance, when climbing, try to stay in the saddle. This will help you generate power more consistently over longer periods of time. It will also be beneficial in the event of a headwind. Over time, as your endurance and leg power increases, you should find that you’re able to stay seated while riding harder gradients. Think of it as light weight training on the bike, for your legs. However, if you’re going to participate in a race with harder climbs where out-of-the-saddle climbing will definitely be required, it’s best to try to replicate this style of climbing during your training sessions.
Set your training zones
A heart rate monitor can be useful in establishing a set of personal training zones based on your maximum heart rate (MHR). Generally speaking, the following formulae can help you approximate your MHR:
Men: 214 – (0.8 x age)
Women: 209 – (0.9 x age)
A ride that could be classified as easy would likely need you to work below 60% of your MHR. A slow or steady ride would require 70-75% of your MHR, a ride that brings you to your threshold would likely be around 85%, and anything considered to be a very hard ride would require an effort of over 90%.
Stay realistic. Cyclists often like to ride in groups for camaraderie, but don’t let your training goals be impeded by inter-group contests, such as the race to the top of a climb to be crowned King of the Mountain, the sprint to the town signpost, or the full gas mentality of the training group. To get the most out of your training regime, it’s important to ride at your own pace. So keep this in mind next time you’re riding in a group.
Rest and recovery
Don’t forget recovery. It’s just as important as what you do out on the road. Recovery is a key element of your training program, as it enables you to maintain your fitness and allows your body to rest properly. Aim to have at least one day without exercise every week, and one out of four weeks should be a designated low-key exercise week.
Warm up and warm down
Warming up is crucial, particularly when you are planning to spend a long day in the saddle. It’s important that your warm up is cycling-specific, in other words, on the bike rather than off it, as this will prepare your body for the specific type of movements and exertions that your training ride will demand. On flat terrain, start in the small chain ring in a light gear, and cycle above your average cadence. For the first few kilometres into your ride, don’t be tempted to go hard, but keep the intensity low. Once you’ve found a suitable rhythm, you can decide when you want to push harder. At the end of your ride, take ten minutes to cool down by spinning easily. By the end of your cool down exercise, your heart rate should be less than 80bpm.
Prepare for acidosis
To teach your body how to tolerate the pain of acidosis, do intense intervals lasting from 15 to 30 seconds.
Fuelling on the bike
Keep an eye on your nutritional needs. Drink frequent amounts of water or sports drinks during your training sessions. Don’t hold off re-hydration until you feel thirsty, because by that time you’ll most likely already be dehydrated. Have some snacks in your jersey pocket to eat during your training ride. If you’re on a longer trip, start eating 30 to 45 minutes into your ride, and continue to eat smaller amounts every 15 to 20 minutes. This will prevent a hunger flat out on the road. Nutrition is vitally important in recovering faster, so it helps to be disciplined in your approach to your food intake on the bike.
Try to avoid ‘mashing’ or riding with a cadence that is too low. To assist with this, you can either invest in a cadence sensor, or do a manual cadence evaluation on a flat road by counting how many times your left or right knee comes up in 30 seconds, and multiplying that by two. Social cyclists generally push a cadence of around 80rpm, but most coaches suggest to aim for a range of 85 to 100rpm. Lower cadences of 70rpm or less generally utilise a larger amount of fast twitch muscle fibres, while high cadences of over 90rpm use up more slow twitch muscle fibres. The latter revolutions exert less strain on your knees and will result in better muscle blood flow and endurance.
After finding a suitable cadence, try to maintain or increase it when on the incline, by selecting a suitable gear. Once you’re comfortable with this, you can try to pedal a harder gear, but remember not to struggle with grinding a gear that is too big.
Train your mind, not just your body
It is said that your mental state counts for as much as 70% of your performance. Your psychological approach to training sessions has a great impact on the success of those sessions. If you remain positive in your approach to training and avoid being overly-critical of your progress, this attitude will no doubt follow through to your training, and ultimately your performance at the race.