Why Cycling Training Is About More Than Miles Ridden

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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Why Cycling Training Is About More Than Miles Ridden

Cyclists love to brag about how many miles they have ridden. Beginner riders often track their mileage because it is easy to see it on a simple speedometer and track over time. Beginners often don’t venture far from their usual routes or seek out mountainous routes, so distance can provide motivation and some indication of progress.

If you’ve been riding consistently for some time, you will get better indications of your training progress by tracking the time you ride, the number of days you ride, and the quality of your intense days to see progress and catch disruptions or signs you need to adjust your training.

TIME AND DURATION ON THE BIKE

The issue with using mileage to gauge your training is you might find you are slower some weeks due to wind, temperatures or different terrain. So a great week of hard training might look easier in your training log if your only metric is how far you went. If you track time spent on the bike you can get an idea of how each week compares and a better record of how long you spent practicing. You could also track both distance and time to get two indicators of your volume that you can track over the long term.


READ MORE > BOOST YOUR CYCLING USING A TRAINING JOURNAL


INTERVALS AND INTENSITY

Another issue with only tracking mileage is it pushes riders to go at a certain speed to maximize the distance covered each ride. A fundamental mistake many cyclists make is not taking advantage of polarized training and planning hard, focused days, but rather defaulting to a medium intensity most days.

As you become more experienced as a cyclist, it’s worth planning a couple of hard, focused days where you ride hard in a group or do structured intervals. Planning and tracking the hard days helps ensure you also offset these days with low intensity, low focus days that are physically and mentally rejuvenating and help build your endurance capacity.

To see the improvement, you can track the intensity of your intervals using power, heart rate or the time it takes you to get up the local hill. Your training log might have an indication of your intensity in terms of the power you averaged, the number of intervals completed, the time you spent in a zone or the time it took to cover a distance. These intensity numbers provide very good indications of your progress if you watch for trends. You might progress from 3 x 10 minutes to 3 x 20-minute threshold intervals over several months or move up to the ‘A’ group from the ‘B’ group in the local cycling group ride.


READ MORE > 5 RULES TO MAXIMIZE CYCLING INTERVALS


FREQUENCY


Did you ride today? How many rides did you do this week/month? This question is easy to answer and track over time and can give you insight into how consistent and frequent your cycling training is. Top performers show up consistently, and newer cyclists benefit from frequent practice to get better.

Tracking frequency is an easy and cheap way to monitor your progress and observe trends in your training. A common example is riding really hard and long on the weekend and being so tired you can’t train until Thursday, so you ride only 2–3 times that week rather than five times if you didn’t ride as hard or as far on the weekend. If your frequency drops, there is often a need to adjust the plan to ensure you continue to practice consistently and avoid a cycle of training too hard and then not enough.


READ MORE > HOW TO ADJUST YOUR TRAINING WHEN IT ISN’T WORKING


THE BOTTOM LINE

Tracking training need not be high tech or laborsome. By looking at how often you train, how long you train, and what is happening during your intense rides each week, you can gain tremendous insight into how your cycling fitness is progressing. By tracking metrics that indicate your fitness and time spent practicing, you can avoid common mistakes and misunderstandings about what is important in training that only looking at mileage can cause.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.

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