When you’re new to cycling, training is simple: just ride. At that point, every ride helps make you a better cyclist and this can keep you motivated for several seasons without much thought to formal training. However, once you’ve topped out on your time on the bike, you need to start honing in on the adjustments you can make during those training hours to continue to see improvements.
Here are five ways to do more with your workouts in the same amount of time:
We all know about interval training. These are shorter bouts of hard riding interspersed with rest periods. This training structure lets you spend more time at a higher intensity than you would if you just rode steady. These harder periods of riding, while uncomfortable, stimulate fitness improvements and can also provide a mental training effect as you get used to being uncomfortable like you will be on hard climbs or during races.
Interval training varies, but a popular example would be 3×10 minutes at your functional threshold pace (‘race pace’ or a pace that gets you breathing hard). You can start using intervals by simply changing one day of the week to hill intervals where you ride up a local climb a few times, rather doing a steady ride.
When you start riding, your cadence is generally lower (~70rpm) but most cyclists start noticing their cadence increases as they become more efficient. An experienced cyclist will be able to use a wider range of cadences depending on the situation. Grinding up a steep climb or spinning fast to speed down a gradual descent. Purposefully using a lower or higher cadence in training can help you challenge your body and become more fit. During endurance rides, see if you can increase your average cadence or try a few focused sessions of lower rpm work to help build hip strength and your tolerance for higher muscle tension by using a moderate cadence (75–85rpm) during your tempo or threshold workouts.
FREQUENCY OF TRAINING
How often you train is another variable that increases as you ride more but can also be manipulated without changing your total training hours if you split a longer workout into two shorter workouts. For intermediate riders who are already riding 4–6 times a week, the addition of a quick morning spin as a second ride one day a week can have a surprising effect on your performance. Double days are a tactic used by many elite athletes, such as triathletes that can also benefit busy people who don’t have large chunks of time to train. You could do a morning spin or strength workout then get out for your main workout after work.
MODE OF TRAINING
While cycling may be your passion, it is also worth including other forms of training to challenge your body in different ways in the same amount of time. Traditionally the base or ‘general preparation’ phases of training include the cross-training that helped build your body and increase overall fitness. Strength training, yoga, running and hiking are all common additions to a cycling training plan.
FUELING FOR PERFORMANCE
Aim to keep your off-bike diet healthy (veggies, protein, reasonable portions) and fuel during your rides as needed to keep that quality high. Many athletes eat too little all day and not at all during their hard training rides, then end up bingeing in the evenings and on the weekends on low-quality foods that offset any deficit achieved during the week. Aiming to fuel consistently and watching your bike performance for indicators you need more energy is a wise next step for the cyclist who has maxed out their weekly training hours.
Now that you are riding frequently, it’s time to design your training to optimize the results you get from the time you have. Keeping an eye on your performance and results clues you into when you need to change things up and refocus attention on one of these components.