As a cycling coach, I’ve had the fortune of training with many pro cyclists over the last two decades. During this time, I’ve observed many different training trends and approaches, and realize that even everyday cyclists can benefit from incorporating some of these pro habits into our own training.
Here are three things the pros do that can easily fit in a casual rider’s routine:
1. FOLLOW A HARD TRAINING DAY WITH AN EASY DAY AND THEN AN OFF DAY
Intensity matters, and it’s a hot topic in endurance sports. As an addition to long-slow-distance (LSD) rides, high-intensity training is on the rise. However, the reality of how we do these intervals is often misunderstood. High Intensity has many benefits, but to achieve high intensity it’s crucial to recover adequately between the intervals and each session. This means taking at least equal recovery time between intervals and 1–2 days, or even longer, between hard sessions.
Intensity is relative: While pros are moving at a high speed, it might not necessarily be their max speed or threshold speed, since they are extremely fit. If your threshold is 200 watts, then riding at 180 watts all day is different than a pro with a 300-watt threshold using that same wattage. Further, don’t overlook the steady part of the endurance ride. If you focus on pedaling for most of the ride and avoid coasting, you will find the ride is more challenging, and you’ll maximize your limited training time.
2. MIX UP YOUR TRAINING WITH DRILLS, INTERVALS AND LONGER ENDURANCE DAYS
A pro cyclist rides many miles so they experience a wide range of cadences, wattages, speeds, surfaces and gradients. On the other hand, amateur cyclists don’t have as much variability in their training as they often ride the same route, for less time. For amateur athletes, it is important to plan variety into your training. Avoid doing the same thing every day or you will find you are doing all your training in the middle-ground intensity and see your fitness stagnate from lack of variety.
“My training usually is in five-day blocks, rising in distance and lowering in intensity over the days,” says Ben Perry of the Israel Cycling Academy Team. While Ben is at an elite level of fitness and preparing for multi-day stage races, we can take this idea of hard, short rides mixed with long, easy, steady days to our own two- and three-day blocks of training.
Evan Guthrie, a professional mountain bike racer says that while he generally follows this hard-easy pattern, he and his coach mix up the routine sometimes. “We also really pushed to see how far I can train and continue to find that we’re not hitting the ceiling too often and continue to find new levels,” he says. So we can have variability in the weekly structure as well, overloading some weeks followed by a full rest week, as long as we are careful to let our bodies absorb that training.
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3. ENJOY YOUR TRAINING, AND HAVE A GOAL FOR EACH RIDE
Guthrie starts each morning planning his day and setting a few objectives for training. “It gives me time to think about it and make meaning of every single training session,” he explains. This focused training is something that’s missing in many amateur training routines. If we ‘just ride for fun,’ it is very hard to make progress and push our limits, which is fine… But may not result in the race results or fitness you desire.
Pro riders have ambitious goals and upcoming ‘deadlines’ with races; however, they are typically relaxed about their daily training. Small disruptions for illness, injury or a flat in the middle of an interval set is just part of the journey. Pros often plan coffee stops with friends, warmup or cooldown with other riders, do intervals with a trusted training partner or just do a long ride with great conversation. Perry adds challenges and exploration to rides: “Have landmarks. Ride from one city to another or ride to a lunch spot and back. Do these 5 climbs. Break the ride into segments.”