If you are training for a cycling goal, the last thing you want to find out is that some of those hard-earned training miles have been wasted. Just like junk food, it is possible the more fun option is not always the best option to reach your goals.
For adult cyclists with limited time to train, these junk miles can take up large percentages of the weekly training schedule, leaving little room for effective training.
WHAT IS JUNK?
Junk miles are most often described as hard endurance riding, ‘noodling’ endurance rides that are too easy or ‘kitchen sink rides’ that involve all intensities but none with any sustained or significant time in any zone. All of these rides can be really fun — who doesn’t like a group ride or coffee spin? — but if rides without a clear purpose or intensity focus occur frequently, this can decrease the effectiveness of a given training plan, especially for a cyclist with limited time to train.
As an example, one rider could do 2 x 20 minutes just under their functional threshold power and then cool down for a quick 1-hour workout. While another rider does a 2-hour group ride that also has 40 minutes at threshold but done in 30–60 second bursts with coasting and some lower output riding between. The stimulus and adaptation will be different between these rides and it is up to the rider to decide which riding ‘nutrient’ they want in their cycling ‘diet.’
ONE PERSON’S JUNK IS ANOTHER’S TREASURE
It is possible one rider’s junk miles are another rider’s best training method, depending on their current fitness and goal. If you are just getting into cycling, or your goal is general fitness, then it may not matter much what you do each day as long as you are having fun and getting out frequently.
However, an experienced cyclist wanting to achieve a personal best in an event will have to be more specific about the intervals and riding they do to ensure they are ready. This means that what might have worked last year when you started cycling, may not work this year with your increased fitness or more ambitious goals.
PASS ON THE “FAST FOOD”
If you ate at fast-food restaurants every day, it would be hard to eat healthy even if you made the best decisions you could. Similarly, the area you ride in determines the type of riding you do each day. Most obviously, if you live in a dense city with traffic, stop lights and limited cycling routes, you will be more subject to inconsistent riding with a lot of coasting. Consider using the indoor trainer for a focused ride each week. Using a mountain bike or cyclocross bike in the city can also help slow you down and minimize coasting.
Many developed areas are not hilly so getting faster on climbs is going to be hard if you don’t look at other options like weekend trips to hilly areas, hill repetitions and using the trainer to supplement your local cycling options. Similarly, if every ride you do is a group ride, you may need to skip some as you prepare for your big goal.
JUNK MILES AND FATIGUE
Junk miles are attractive because they give you a feeling you are working out without the discomfort and focus the harder intensity zones require (try the 2 x 20 threshold example above). Whether you use a polarized style of training or a threshold-oriented training, it is important you have extended periods in the desired zones to achieve great fitness and results.
Junk Miles are fun and they feel good — just like eating candy bars — however, it is important for intermediate and advanced riders to think about how each week, if not each ride, fits into the progression toward their goals.
Sprinkling some junk miles into an otherwise well thought out training plan is absolutely possible, but watch that the majority of your cycling ‘diet’ comes from quality work that will have you fit and confident the next time you stand on a start line.