• Setting Goals for your Cycling Season
• Base Training Gets a Bad Rap!
• Training the Mind for Competition
• Training on a limited time budget
• Being Committed
• How not to Overtrain
• Efficiency Drills for Cycling
By Thomas Chapple
Each year I sit down with my cyclists and review their previous cycling season and talk about goals for the upcoming year. I help them outline goals that follow a simple format. They should be measurable and time limited, challenging yet realistic, and within your control. When you have clear goals outlined your training can be more specific and motivating.
Measurable and Time Limited
Saying “I want to climb better” is a good goal, but how will you know when you’ve accomplished that and if you don’t set a deadline you’re more likely to procrastinate. You’ll also want to be able to measure progress along the way. Saying “I want to climb Old La Honda road in under 25 minutes by May 15th” creates a measurable goal that is time limited.
Challenging yet Realistic
Set goals for the year that are realistic enough to reach this year, but not so easy they don’t challenge you. Each year you can build on the previous year’s goals and continue to make advances in your cycling fitness. For example, if you can already climb Old La Honda road in 25:15 then 25:00 is certainly realistic, but may not be challenging enough for the year. On the other hand if you’ve been training correctly for years and still can’t get up OLH in under 30 minutes then expecting to break 25 minutes this year may be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Within your Control
It’s also better to set specific performance goals rather than outcome goals. Don’t make your goal “I want to beat so and so up Old La Honda” since you can only control your own training, recovery, and nutrition and not what anyone else is doing. A better approach is to know what you need to do to improve your personal fitness so you can beat your training buddies up the hill and set your goals based on what’s holding you back. If you can currently average 250 watts for 25 minutes, but will need to hold 275 watts in order to reach the top of OLH in under 25 minutes, then make “average 275 watts for 25 minutes” your goal. This gives you a specific performance marker to aim for, regardless of what your training buddies are doing.
Assess and Set
It’s okay to have long term goals and dreams, but you should also think in terms of upcoming months and a single year. Dreams are accomplishments that will take more than a year to achieve. If you can realistically obtain it this year then it can become one of your goals for this season.
You’ll need to assess what is holding you back from being able to accomplish your goals. Is it aerobic endurance, strength, efficiency, body composition, motivation, inadequate recovery, some combination of all of those or something else altogether? Once you break down what is holding you back, or needs improving, you’ll need to set up supporting goals that will help you reach your season goals.
If losing weight is something you’ve struggled with, and you have a few pounds that you could afford to lose, then form an outline of how you’ll accomplish that. Assess your daily caloric intake and compare it to daily expenditure. Look for 300-500 unnecessary calories that you could cut out of your daily routine. If you’re drinking two extra large mochas a day consider switching to smalls. Eat smaller portions and don’t be afraid to leave something on your plate. Focus on nutritious choices like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins as your daily base. Add more carbs from bread, pasta, or rice on days when you need the additional calories. One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make is eating too much on their easy, or rest days, and then not eating enough on days they train hard or long. Try and make sure you balance your caloric intake with your daily expenditure, but don’t be so strict that you won’t be able to stick with your plan. Let yourself indulge from time to time, just not every day. Remember to assess body composition rather than just weight since losing fat and maintaining or increasing lean muscle mass is the goal.
If motivation is holding you back make commitments with friends and training partners to workout together. This is one of the best ways to assure a higher probability that you’ll get your workouts done. Just make sure that you pick workout partners, or groups with similar abilities and goals.
Many of you may be stuck in areas where the weather doesn’t accommodate training outdoors year round. If this makes getting your workouts completed more challenging try and find ways to make indoor training more desirable. Training on a stationary trainer, or rollers can be very productive if done consistently and reasonably. Don’t try and do much more than two to three hours indoors. You may also find that your indoor power output will be lower than what you could do for the same heart rate and RPE (rate of perceived exertion) outdoors. I see indoor power zones range from 5-15% lower than what a cyclist can achieve outdoors.
Random training is much easier to ignore than a written training schedule so you should schedule your workouts and have recovery days, and weeks, built into your plan. Fitness happens during rest. You certainly need to apply a training load to get fitter, but you also need enough recovery to allow your body to make adaptations that lead to greater fitness. I often come across highly motivated athletes that are held back by inadequate recovery rather than lack of training.
If illness and injuries cause setbacks for you every year focus on moderate progression of workout volume and intensity. Spend more time developing core strength and base fitness and work with a good bike fit professional. Nutrition and recovery also effect health so be sure you’re making good choices there too. Find ways to improve your training consistency. This is one of the biggest factors in how much you’ll improve. I’d rather see a steady consistent training load progression that is less than the maximum an athlete can handle than seeing them try to do too much, too quickly and then loose the fitness they do gain because they get sick, injured, or burnt out.
Keep in mind things like how much time you’ll have available to train this year. Don’t set expectations that will create a high level of stress within your life. Seeking a good balance between your cycling life and “other life” is important, yet often overlooked when setting goals for the year. When we set clear, practical, yet challenging goals we are more likely to reach them.
If you’d like some help reaching your cycling goals this year let us know. We offer a variety of coaching programs and cycling camps.
By Thomas Chapple
Lately, you may have been hearing that you should skip the base training and only do “sub-threshold” training or V02 max (CP6) intervals. If you’re training to race, or are an intermediate to advanced cyclist looking to improve your cycling pace, then you clearly need to do advanced training at the higher intensities. You still, however, need to establish a good foundation first.
What many are suggesting is that base training is just wasting your time riding easy. This is an old misconception that came about when riding LSD (long steady distance) miles was popular and you did just ride around at an easy pace all day, mostly in zone 1.
My early base training is focused on riding in zone 2 at 55-75% of your CP30. That’s not just dorking around. Try riding for 4-6 weeks at 75% of your CP30 for 2-3 hours at a time. You’re working, and building aerobic fitness! I don’t have my athletes ride in zone 1 (less than 55% of CP30) for training. Zone 1 is for warming up, cooling down, and recovery rides only.
My base training creates a foundation of fitness that will allow you to work harder and longer when you do start training at higher intensities. I have many athletes come to me after training at high intensity year round and they have reached a plateau and have failed to get any faster, regardless of how hard they train. By having them actually slow down for 4-8 weeks and ride steady efforts between 55-75% of their CP30 they have become faster and are then able to go on and set PR’s throughout the year.
It’s a long training year and in order to reach your full potential you need to train most of that year. If you try and do high intensity training year round you’ll plateau and be at risk of burning yourself out and over training injuries. Ease into your training year by first building a solid aerobic base foundation and then add intensity gradually and progressively. This will allow you to build your fitness higher and have peak fitness at the right time of year. It does take planning to make this happen so you need to get a training plan outlined at least four to six months prior to your most important events of the year. Your training should move from general to specific. If you’re preparing for racing don’t start your training year with race intensities. Build aerobic fitness, skills, and strength first and then transition to advanced race specific training about 12 weeks prior to your most important events. If you’re training for ultra endurance events your first training rides of the year shouldn’t be 100 plus miles at race pace. You build up to riding that duration and then build the intensity that you can ride for that duration over time.
Developing greater fitness requires progressive overload. This is where you gradually add more and more training load (training load is a combination of training volume and intensity). The body adapts to the training load demands that you place on it and in order to see continuous improvements in fitness you have to place greater challenges on the body over time. If you present a training load in a gradual, appropriate manner and provide adequate recovery, the body will make adaptations to that load. Once the adaptation is made you’ll need to increase the training load, or change it in some way, to stimulate further growth. Once you reach the maximum number of training hours you have available during a week you will increase the training load by gradually introducing higher intensity efforts.
You’ll notice this same pattern when doing leg presses. You start out with a weight load that is moderately challenging and, over time, you find that you can, and need, to add more weight in order to see greater gains in strength. There is a similar building up approach that I follow in workouts on the bike. By starting out with moderate workouts in zone 2 during the early base training phase and then adding intervals in zones 3 and then 4 you’ll be building a solid foundation to support higher intensity workouts in zone 5. You should be doing appropriate high intensity workouts 9-12 weeks prior to your most important events. What is appropriate for you will depend on your experience and which specific events you’re preparing for. Preparing to ride Death Ride is different than preparing to race criteriums. You must also know which fitness elements are holding you back so you can focus on developing them to a greater level each year.
There are also other elements that are addressed during the base training phases. These include strength, skills, and weight loss. The more years of training you have completed the shorter your base training phases will need to be and the sooner you can start adding higher intensity workouts into your training program, but don’t neglect building that base foundation each year. Greater advanced fitness is certainly the goal, but a larger aerobic base foundation will support the development of a higher level of advanced fitness.
So don’t be mislead by those trying to change the name of base training to foundation period or something else and then claiming that base training is a bad thing. Base training is not just riding along in zone 1. It’s actually about building an aerobic foundation by first riding at 55-75% of your CP30 in early base and then adding zone 3-4 in mid/late base, while also developing your strength and skills. I don’t ask my athletes to train only in zone 2 year round. For some it’s as few as 4 weeks and then they’re adding training in zones 3 and 4 (75-95% of CP30). Once you realize that base training is about first establishing your aerobic foundation and then bringing your fitness to peak form through advanced training you’ll understand that base training is not only necessary, but that it works.
By Thomas Chapple
The Body will Follow the Mind
A talented amateur triathlete was on the run at mile 20 of the Ironman World Championships. He was suffering and surviving from mile to mile on Coca-Cola. His body was shutting down. His goal for the race was to be the top amateur finisher. He was currently the second amateur. He was questioning whether he could maintain his pace and even finish when he spotted the current first place amateur up the road. Suddenly, and with determination, he picked up his pace. He closed on, and passed his closet rival with such pace as to assure there would be no possible response. He finished 16th overall and as the top amateur.
He had more left in the tank than he believed, but he had lost his focus and detoured from his task. His pace slowed because he was giving in to the fatigue, and was willing to accept that slowing down was not only possible, but necessary. Once he spotted his competitor his task came back into focus and he tapped into a resource that many of us seldom, if ever find.
Finding ways to perform at our full potential when the body is telling us that it’s done is essential for success in tough endurance sports like cycling and triathlon. That gap between us and our competitors may be a mental gap rather than a physical one.
Some research indicates that the body may have a mechanism designed to prevent it from fully depleting itself by convincing our minds that we need to slow down and conserve. Have you ever pushed yourself beyond what you thought was possible during a workout or race despite your desire to slow down? Although there certainly is a point that we must slow down, or stop to avoid injuring ourselves, for some of us that point may be beyond when we actually do. Finding ways to flow with fatigue rather than fighting it may be what it will take to reach our potential.
Finding Ways to Stay on Task
If you find yourself focusing on, or distracted by fatigue or suffering during training and racing try redefining it as merely discomfort, or a challenge. Then move your focus to your breathing or pedaling/running form to help you get back on task. If we find ourselves spending time dwelling on the fatigue we might tell ourselves that we just can’t hang on to a wheel, or maintain a pace any longer. This will surely be self defeating.
If you’re beating yourself up verbally, “I screwed up”! “I can’t climb”, “I never do well at this race” you’ll most likely find ways to fulfill your assertions. Try being nice to yourself; “I learned some things in that race”. “I’m working on improving as a climber”. “This time I’m better prepared for this race”.
Don’t underestimate the power of your words. During a 24-hour mountain bike race they shot a flare into the night sky at the 12-hour mark. One athlete saw the flare and energized herself by saying “yes! I’m halfway done, only 12 more hours to go!” while another drained their energy by saying to himself “damn, I’m only halfway done, I still have another 12 hours to go”. Say both of those phases and you may feel the difference. What are you telling yourself?
Another idea is to choose a three word or less mantra that will help keep you focused on your task (maintaining a pace, staying relaxed, or getting to the finish) rather than on your discomfort. Choose mantras that empower you and are task specific. One example would be for a mountain biker to use “strong, steady, relaxed” for long climbs and “smooth and relaxed” for descents.
Your inner dialog should enhance the focus on your task, increase confidence, and help reduce anxiety. The words of your mantras should have meaning to you that fulfill these elements. “Strong, steady, relaxed”, for example, could mean “I’ve done the training (strong), I can maintain this pace (steady), and I’m feeling great (relaxed)”. “Smooth” used in descending could remind you to flow like water over obstacles rather than slamming into them like a monster truck.
Work toward identifying your mental strengths and weaknesses
Your emotions can affect your physical energy, and conversely energy levels can directly affect your emotions. Learn to identify things that drain or charge your physical and mental energy.
Identify ways that you can calm yourself down when your energy is too high, and is making you anxious or nervous. Try focusing on your breathing or relaxing tight muscles, for example. Identify ways to get yourself going when your energy level is too low and you’re feeling lethargic, unmotivated, or unconfident. One idea is to try visualizing past success or reviewing your goals. Learn to use these methods when you need them.
You can also create mantras to use when you’re experiencing a variety of emotions like weakness, fear, nervousness, ennui, frustration or whatever you tend to experience before and during competition that may be holding you back. Select words can have an impact on your emotions. Repeating calming words can help reduce anxiety, and using energizing words can get you going when you’re dragging.
Practice your mantras during training. Mental skills become habits by practicing them frequently. Set out on every workout with a goal to stay focused as long as possible by using mantras, breathing and form drills. When you catch yourself drifting off, bring yourself back into focus. Challenge yourself to stay focused as long and often as possible. It’s not easy, but you’ll get better.
Adequate and appropriate physical training is, of course, necessary, but without being capable of staying focused on our task and pushing ourselves to our true limits we may never realize our full potential. Appropriate inner dialogue, or self-talk can improve athletic performance, but needs to be task specific, constructive, and rehearsed. Get to work!
By Thomas Chapple
How does a dedicated, competitive racer fit training into
a 9-5 life (40 plus hrs. at work, kids, spouse, pets, life's
This is one of the most common dilemmas that I face as a
coach. I feel that everyone should make the most of the time
that they do have to dedicate to training, but it becomes
even more critical when one is juggling many balls.
Some key areas of training methodology that will help assure
an athlete with a limited training time budget is training
with the greatest effectiveness are; consistency, balance,
fitness fundamentals, and nutrition.
Consistency in training is important to assure that fitness
continues to progress. Consistency means that getting sick,
overtrained, or being too busy does not interrupt your training.
Losing a week of training can set you back a few weeks in
progression. I’ve found that the “less is more”
concept works well for busier athletes. It’s better
to train a bit less and stay healthy, than to try and train
too hard or too often and miss training due to injury or illness.
Some ways to help assure that your training is consistent
is to make every 3rd or 4th day a recovery day, or day off,
and every 3rd week a recovery week. A recovery day means reducing
the training stimulus to a level that seems too easy. During
a recovery week you should reduce the overall training load.
Some athletes travel for work and are unable to take their
bikes with them. It’s important to maintain some form
of training. It could be running, or riding a stationary bike
in a gym, and weight training. A travel week might be a good
time to schedule a recovery week. I also schedule recovery
weeks for times that athletes know they will be busier than
usual. For instance, the week from Christmas to New Years
is a bad time to try and cram in a lot of training.
Train indoors during the winter. It tends to be more convenient
and takes less time overall. An indoor ride of 1:30 is equivalent
to riding outdoors for 2 hours. When you’re riding indoors
you’re not interrupted by traffic lights, rain, darkness,
cold, etc. You may have to lock yourself in the basement so
that the kids do not interrupt you.
Train first thing in the morning. This assures that your
workouts get done and you won’t feel the pressure of
missing your training if you have to work late, are tired
after work, or have family obligations at night. I have an
athlete that can actually get in 3 hours of training before
the rest of his family is out of bed.
In order to understand how to maintain balance you need to
realize that work and other obligations can take their toll
on your body’s ability to recover, and therefore gain
fitness. You must be sure that you can get at least 8 or more
hours of quality sleep every day. Sleep is when the body does
its healing and rebuilding. Therefore, it’s during rest
that you gain fitness. Rest does not mean falling asleep at
your desk. Training applies the stimulus, or stress, that
the body makes adaptations to that result in increases in
fitness. Without adequate recovery and rest the body will
not be able to make the necessary adaptations and you will
gradually lose fitness, become more and more fatigued, and
eventually injured or overtrained.
Working, sitting in traffic, or chasing twin two year olds
around all day are all forms of stress that take their toll
on the body’s physiological systems. That additional
stress requires additional recovery. If you have a tough week
outside of training, then it may be best to reduce training
a bit that week to maintain balance. I tell athletes to try
and keep their life as simple as possible. If you’re
planning on dedicating yourself to racing next season, then
this may not be the year to add any additional obligations
like volunteering to work on the PTA or coach the neighborhood
The most important, and least stressful type of training
involves focusing on the development of fundamental fitness
elements. These elements include endurance, strength, and
Endurance workouts are done at lower intensities (10-30 beats
below threshold heart rate, or moderate paces that allow you
to carry on a conversation) and are used for general endurance
base development and maintenance. The purpose of endurance
workouts is to strengthen slow twitch muscle fibers, improve
glycogen (stored carbohydrates) conservation, enhance the
oxygen delivery and utilization systems, and teach muscles
to burn fat. Endurance is one of the most important fitness
elements and a solid endurance base needs to be established
prior to introducing high intensity training. Endurance training
should continue throughout the entire training year.
Strength is the ability to overcome resistance: such as pushing
down on the pedals. Strength workouts are intended to improve
the ability to overcome challenges such as hills and wind.
With the development of strength comes muscular economy. Strength
training starts with weight training and progresses to cycling
specific workouts. When the slow twitch muscle fibers are
strengthened faster paces can be obtained at lower levels
of exertion while sparing glycogen. With more strength you
can actually push down on the pedals harder which will enable
you to ride and climb faster.
Efficiency workouts are intended to improve muscular coordination
and efficiency, and ultimately economy. Efficiency workouts
are usually done with light resistance. They could include
drills such as leg speed, form sprints, or single leg pedaling
on a stationary trainer. This aspect of fitness can, and should
be improved with regular training. By improving your efficiency
you’ll be able to ride faster and longer with less energy
Nutrition is one of the most important and neglected aspects
of training. In order to stay healthy and gain fitness the
body needs a constant, adequate supply of appropriate nutrition.
The greater the demands you place on your body, the stronger
your immune system needs to be. If you continue to break down
your body through training without providing it with the nutrition
that it needs you’ll eventually get fatigued, sick,
Athletes need to eat before, during, and immediately after
training and racing. These calories are in addition to what
they would normally eat on a non-training day, and are necessary
to maintain energy and health.
I’ve had athletes come to me for help that have had
problems with reoccurring injury, illness, and fatigue and
I’ve found that they are usually training too hard too
often, not eating enough high quality, nutritional foods,
and not getting enough rest. They usually have spouses, kids,
jobs, school, and a list of other obligations in their lives.
By having them follow the basic ideas outlined above, I’ve
been able to help them realize greater fitness and enjoyment
form their cycling. The first step is to be realistic. Be
thankful for all the things that you do have in your life
and add cycling to enhance it, not tear it apart. And sometimes,
less is more.
By Thomas Chapple
Passion is an element necessary for what we do. As athletes we make sacrifices in our personal life and allocate a portion of our limited financial and time budgets to the cause of obtaining our objectives and personal goals. We get up early to train, ride in hostile weather, or labor through tedious indoor workouts week after week. We’ll skip a dessert, but not a gym workout. This is where the commitment begins, but is also where it ends for some athletes.
What I often see is that the athlete’s commitment is limited to the activities or workouts from day to day but not to the details that can make the difference in the efficacy of the process. Clearly, regular, consistent workouts must be completed in order to obtain our objectives and progress to our goals. I also see process mistaken for commitment.
Commitment to being the best possible athlete you can must go beyond following a schedule and completing workouts. Commitment is in the details of how you live your daily life, how you track your training, listen to and take care of your body, and your efforts to change whatever is holding you back from reaching your goals.
Not all of us can plan our day around our workouts like professional athletes, but we do have options and must choose carefully. If you make a commitment to a fitness or performance goal make sure it’s realistic given all the other obligations in your life. You need to then be careful not to take on any extra obligations in your life unless you carefully measure how they will affect your athletic goals. I’m not suggesting that you risk losing your job, or family to win a race. What I am asking is that you be realistic and fully understand what it will take to reach your goals before making a commitment to them and then following through by making the necessary adjustments and sacrifices in your life. Yes, it is necessary to sacrifice something to gain something here.
When an athlete expects to be able to train to complete an Ironman in less than eleven hours, but also works 60 hours a week, is raising three children single handed, and going to school part time they are not being realistic and are not likely to succeed. In fact, each aspect of their life may suffer. They will be too tired to work or study, spend quality time with family, and their training may be less productive as well. Something has to go. It’s not likely that it will be he kids, but I have seen a spouse leave an athlete that was apparently spending more time training than their current life could tolerate.
The athlete with a commitment to their long term goals also knows that skipping a workout when their body is not up to the task will not set them back but will rather keep them moving forward. Committed athletes know the benefit of maintaining balance in their lives. When the committed athlete asks themselves “what can I do today to make myself a better athlete” the answer may be rest.
The athlete that attempts to train through an injury rather than adjust their goals believes they are committed, when they are not. They are acting obsessively rather than remaining committed to their objectives. Staying injured is not the way to progress and only creates long-term set backs. This is when obsession is mistaken as passion, or commitment.
The athlete that has poor pedaling mechanics can’t put that in the back of their mind and continue as usual. They must make it their priority to work on that issue each and every day they ride. If you’re just out “riding” your bike then what advantage do you have over everyone else out riding their bike? View every workout as an opportunity to improve. Spend time during each ride practicing something. Focus on improving your breathing technique, body relaxation, concentration, riding skills, and pedaling mechanics. Your coach should provide you with ideas and feed back about these areas, but it is your job to follow through and work on these as often as possible.
Meals must be planned to meet our needs and assure that we can train from day to day. Missing an afternoon meal can be the difference between a quality workout/race, or a sluggish effort with little benefit. Don’t use the excuse that you were busy at work. Plan ahead. Take a lunch with you so you have it at your desk. Keep a bowl full of energy bars and fresh fruit on your desk. This provides emergency food and a good reminder to keep ourselves fed. Keep a large bottle of water with you at all times and keep drinking.
Don’t lose Track.
What may be missing in an athlete’s commitment is the accurate tracking of the quality of the workouts and recovery. Noting how your legs felt on a given day can lead to more successful workout planning and adjusting than knowing what the pro down the street, or your teammate did today.
If you don’t track how your workouts are going and your body is feeling and responding then you are missing out on an opportunity to get more from your training. When I review training logs I look for patterns that give insight into how an athlete’s body is responding to their training. If the athlete’s comments simply say “I did this workout” how do we know if their body was recovered enough going into the workout, performed the workout effortlessly or struggled.
When an athlete gets sick or becomes too tried to train the first thing I want to know is when this started and why. This is the function of the daily log, and filling it out with useful information is the athlete’s responsibility.
You may reach a point when your body is telling you that it’s had enough and needs additional rest. It’s important to know why. Was it the training load? Was it inadequate nutrition? Was it an increased in work or family obligations? Was it caused by weather that made training more challenging, and did you do the workouts as scheduled? To be able to make the necessary adjustments in an athlete’s schedule without knowing This information is a critical part of the process of developing an athlete’s training plan.
Here is a list of some of the details that the committed athlete is doing:
• Eating before, during, and after breakthrough workouts and races.
• Getting 9+ hours of sleep every night.
• Checking and recording morning resting heart rate: daily.
• Filling out daily metrics.
• Accurately logging daily workout details: including comments on how the body felt/responded.
• Having all equipment ready well in advance of a race.
• Sticking to your workout rather than keeping up with a training partner.
• Practicing skills every week: even when not scheduled.
• Developing a mental training regimen and practicing it regularly.
• Knowing when to say when.
• Making notes about training/racing and reviewing them periodically.
• Filling out detailed race reports.
• Tracking daily calories to assure that nutrition is adequate.
• Checking in with your coach when necessary.
Take personal responsibility for your success!
A coach provides structure, objective feedback, support, knowledge, and experience, but achieving your goals still relies on you taking personal responsibility for your success. You may still see improvements by following an appropriate training plan, but getting the highest possible return for your investment requires your full attention to detail.
Improvements in technique, fitness, and structure begin in the mind. You must first get it clear in your mind what it is that you want to do before you can get your body to engage. Write your goals down and place them somewhere that you will see them daily. Think about your goals each time you get on your bike. Take a few moments before starting a workout to get your mind on the right track. This will get your body on track too. Don’t just jump on your bike and start riding without first fully understanding what the objective of that ride is. Don’t just be out riding your bike everyday. Ride your bike with a purpose. Give yourself an advantage over the other riders out there that are just riding along.
Not Just Riding Along.
If you have poor pedaling mechanics you can’t put that in the back of your mind and continue as usual. Make it your priority to work on that issue each and every day you ride. If you’re just out “riding” your bike then what advantage do you have over everyone else out riding their bike? View every workout as an opportunity to improve. Spend time during each ride practicing something. Focus on improving your breathing technique, body relaxation, concentration, riding skills, and pedaling mechanics. Use the ideas in this book to provide you with the information on how to improve, but it is your job to follow through and work on these as often as possible.
Sure, riding your mountain bike will improve you skills, but give yourself an opportunity to improve more quickly and the potential for even more progress by thinking about what it is that you’re doing.
By Thomas Chapple
Fresh Juice vs. Burnt Toast
Each season, an athlete should have a purpose, a goal, and a reason for all the training. One or all of these are usually centered on an important race or set of races. The high priority races are established at the beginning of the training season and always seem to be approaching rapidly. So the time to put all that training, eating, and resting (yes, resting) to the test will be at that important event. So the question is, "Will you arrive at the starting line feeling fresh, energized, and ready to compete to your potential? Or, will you arrive tired, grumpy and ready for a nap?”
How well you plan your training and recovery will determine your state of preparedness on any specific day during the season. Most athletes have enough motivation to drive themselves to train hard day after day. The challenge that I run into as a coach is trying to get them to balance that motivation with enough patience to assure they get adequate amounts of rest. Without that rest, their bodies won't be able to recover from the days, weeks, and months of accumulated training stress.
Gains in fitness are the result of both training and rest. Without training, the body will not be stressed enough to cause the adaptation that will make it stronger. Without rest, the body will not be able to recover from that stress and will eventually become so overloaded it will begin to lose fitness. Eventually, if you continue to place an increasing amount of training load (or stress) on your body without providing it with the opportunity to regenerate, you risk pushing yourself into a physiological and psychological state known as "overtraining." If you reach that point it can take weeks, months, and, in some cases, much longer to completely recover.
One way to avoid this undesirable situation is to schedule regular recovery days into your training week and follow blocks of progressively overloading your body with a block of unloading that stress. This process falls under the philosophy known as periodization. It's not a new concept and it's really rather simple on the surface. The real trick is finding that balance between appropriate amounts of overload and adequate recovery. It can take months and even years to dial in the correct amount of training and rest that leads to optimal results.
The key is to start out by following some basic guidelines and then making adjustments to suit individual needs and responses. There are several good sources for information about how to develop a complete periodization schedule. Included in that list are; Tudor Bompa's Periodization, Theory and Methodology of Training and, Joe Friel's The Cyclist's Training Bible. You might also want to check out Edmund Burkes' Optimal Muscle Recovery.
Based on developing a format that builds a training program around recovery, I'll give you some basic guidelines to start from. The actual training that you do should be based on the specific demands of the events that you're training for, and on your experience, strengths, and weaknesses. I find that most athletes generally have a good concept of those demands, but need more help in structuring rest and recovery into their training plan. So I'll start there and will address specific training and periodization in detail during future articles.
Recovery can be classified as; daily, weekly, monthly (3-5 weeks), and yearly. Daily recovery begins with keeping the body fueled and rested. Appropriate nutrition is an important factor to daily recovery. Your body needs adequate nutrients to rebuild muscle tissue and replace the carbohydrates the body stores. One of the recommendations in Burke's Optimal Muscle Recovery is based on current research that indicates a relationship between the balance of carbohydrates and protein ingested after a workout and the rate of muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment (stored carbohydrates). Burke refers to it in his "R4 system." He recommends (among other things) that you take in sufficient fluids and electrolytes, take antioxidant supplements, and replace carbohydrates and protein as soon after training as possible. After exercise he recommends that you consume 1 gram of carbohydrate for every pound of body weight and include protein at a 4 to 1 ratio. That means that for every 4 grams of carbohydrates you should consume 1 gram of protein. Of course, Ben and Jerry's might have a 4 to 1 ratio, but wouldn't provide you with the same nutrients that a balanced meal would.
A full night's sleep is also important if you want to perform day after day. The body will do most of its repair work while you're sleeping, so if you cut it short or have a restless night's sleep then you're not getting the full opportunity to recover. One night of poor sleep is not tragic (try sneaking in a nap) but several of them begin to take their toll, not just on your ability to converse intelligibly, but also on your body's ability to recover quickly. A sudden inability to sleep well on consecutive days can also be an indication that you've been pushing too hard and not allowing enough recovery time. Some other indicators to watch for (I call them my vital signs) are: a sudden change in morning resting heart rate; a sudden loss of body weight; continuous muscle soreness; your usual workouts seem harder than they should; unusual mood swings or depression; unwillingness to train or compete; and, loss of appetite.
These are all good markers to track on a daily basis to monitor whether you're getting too close to your body's overload limits. Back off if you ever have any doubt. It's better to take a day off than to risk pushing beyond your limit. I tell my athletes that if they have any doubt they shouldn't work out. Although an optimal level of fitness is ideal, it’s better to be slightly under trained than over trained. I'd rather have athletes arrive at the starting line feeling like fresh juice than burnt toast.
If there are other activities in your daily routine that also produce stress, then they should also be considered in the total stress-load accumulation on the body. For example, if you work a crazy 10-hour shift selling overpriced stocks to screaming maniacs, or spend two hours in rush hour traffic surrounded by screaming maniacs, you might need additional rest. Stress can come from different places — family issues, chasing 2-year-old twins around the house all day, money concerns, school, and a host of other daily routines can contribute to the overall stress on an athlete's body. Keeping a balance between training and your "other life" is a must, but is often the most difficult task.
Weekly recovery means inserting active recovery days into your weekly training plan. The number of recovery days and their frequency will depend on your individual needs. I usually recommend two or three recovery days per week. I'll follow up one to three days of training (depending on the length, intensity, and purpose of those days) with one to two days of active recovery. The general formula is that the more total stress, the more recovery you'll need. One of those recovery days could even be a complete day off. Don't be afraid to take full days off. Even professional athletes (you know, the ones that train for a living) get days off. The key is to make sure you're getting some kind of rest, active or passive. I have athletes tell me that on their active recovery day they like to do several hours of easy riding at 70% of their maximum heart rate. That may seem like an easy workout for them, but it's still a workout. Active recovery should not reach a level that would be considered training. Use active recovery days to assure that your body is ready for another quality workout rather than using them to push your weekly hours up. The idea behind active recovery is to increase the flow of blood to the muscles and expedite the recovery process by delivering nutrients to them and helping to remove waste products.
An example of an active recovery ride would be to ride on flat terrain (or a stationary trainer) with light resistance and a slightly slower cadence than usual. This can be as little as 30 minutes, or up to about two hours. Heart rate should not reach higher than 65% of your maximum. Remember, it's not a dang "workout," it's a recovery. Relax, and let it happen! This is the time when your body is preparing itself for the next bout of training overload. By allowing yourself some time to recuperate, your next workout can be higher quality.
The next type of recovery is based on the amount of progressive overload your body can handle during two to four weeks of training. When you're setting up your training schedule (and following the principles of periodization) it should be based on blocks of gradually increasing amounts of training stress followed by blocks of recovery. The blocks of training stress should be enough to challenge your physiological (and to some extent your psychological) systems, and the blocks of recovery should be enough to allow the body to unload that stress and adequately recover. It will take some time to dial in what is an appropriate amount of training and how much recovery is needed. It's wise to err on the side of too little stress than to push too far and risk reaching the point where you've placed so much stress on your body that it won't recover quickly.
These training blocks can be just about any length that works. Generally, they will be from two to three weeks. During these blocks, you'll be alternating between training days and active recovery days (or days off). You might be gradually increasing the amount of training per week or maintaining a constant training level. You'll want to be monitoring those vital signs that can give you clues into how your body is responding to the training stress carefully during these blocks. This is where you have to learn to find what your body's limits are. It's wise to approach those limits carefully and not expose yourself to too much training stress too soon. It takes many years of consistent, appropriate training to reach the volume of training that a top pro athlete can handle. Too much training too soon is a formula for overtraining and injury.
The recovery blocks are generally one week long, but can be as long as two to three weeks or as short as three to five days. During these recovery blocks the total amount of training stress should be reduced to a level that allows you to arrive at the next training block fresh and recovered. If you start your next training block before you're fully recovered you may not continue to gain fitness. If you extend your recovery block too long you could start to lose fitness. This is when you really need to be paying attention to your "vital signs" and listening to what your body is telling you.
A fitness test at the end of each recovery block can give you an indication of both your state of fitness and recovery. This test can be as simple as riding at the highest effort that you can maintain (or a specific heart rate) on the same 10-mile stretch of road, and measuring average heart rate, speed, and time. Be sure that the conditions (weather, meals, days of rest, time of day) during this test are as similar as possible (this can also be done on an indoor trainer). If you're getting fitter then you should be getting faster or maintaining the same speed at a lower heart rate. If you're feeling sluggish and can't manage to maintain your usual pace then you may be over stressing your body and/or not allowing for enough recovery.
The last of the recovery blocks is as long as a month or more and should follow the end of your race season. This should allow your body some down time to rejuvenate from the stresses of the training and racing you've done and get it prepared for the approaching training season.
If you're thinking that there are a lot of personal choices here and not as many absolutes, you're right. Training and coaching are not exact sciences. There are many general principles that are followed, but each athlete will have different needs and will respond to training and recovery differently. The closer you get to your personal training limits the more careful you have to be about maintaining a balance between loading and unloading the training stresses. That's why it takes some time to dial in an optimal training program.
If you're not using feedback from a coach to help you determine what is appropriate for you then you should be listening carefully to the feedback your body is giving you. Most athletes can hear what their bodies are telling them, but they ignore it. If you ignore fatigue, it won't go away. The only things that I've found that will go away when ignored are your teeth and your girlfriend; fortunately, I still have my teeth. You must give your body the opportunity to recover from the accumulated fatigue caused by the stress of training. Ignoring that process can set your training back farther than pushing ahead will get you, and could leave you ready for a nap at the start of an important event.