Most cyclists don’t consciously “select” a training system… it just happens…
They jump on their bike every day then based on how they feel they “decide” just what training they should do. This could be a 60min time trial, or a group ride with their mates… usually letting the senior riders dictate the days workout… sound
For the record… this is NOT the way to achieve your true potential as a bike racer.
In truth, there are three different training systems, namely “racing into shape”, the “always fit” method and “periodization”…
The “Race into shape” method:
This is the most common training system used by cyclists as it’s easy to do…
Step 1 involves building a large aerobic base by pedaling around 1500km – 2000km at an easy pace. While this amount of “easy” riding works, in truth for some it’s simply too much while for others it’s just not enough…
Step 2 involves racing every weekend and getting in a mid-week race (if available) or a hard group ride. The result will be a higher level of fitness… There are some good reasons to use this method of training, the most important being that the
fitness gained is specific to the demands of racing. Training this way however is unpredictable as there is no planned rest and as a result overtraining can occur.
The “Always fit” method:
In warm climates, cyclists often try to stay in race-shape through the year. The cooler weather and frequent races through-out winter entice them to keep a constant level of fitness by doing the same training riding week in and week out.
The greatest issue facing this type of athlete is boredom and burnout.
Burnout is not a pretty sight. All interest in training, racing and life in general goes for a “ball”… Another problem has to do with physiology as after about 12 weeks of training the same way, improvements seem to plateau… since fitness is never static, if you are not improving you must be getting worse!!!
The “Periodization” method:
This is the system used by most successful athletes today.
The basic principal of all periodization programs is that training should progress from general to specific.
Yes, periodization means more than simply training more specifically. It also involves arranging your workouts in such a way that the elements of fitness achieved earlier in your training are maintained while new ones are addressed
and improved. This modular approach to training means making small adjustments in your workouts every 4-8 weeks.
Flexibility of training or the lack of it may be the biggest obstacle facing a cyclist using periodization as successful periodization requires flexibility. The language of periodization seems to confuse many; however the following are the
terms that I like to use as these are the terms made popular by the likes of Joe Friel, Hunter Allen and Dr Andy Coggan amongst others…
The terms are as follows: Preparation Phase, Base Phase, Build Phase, Peak Phase, Race Phase and
finally the Transition Phase.
Trying to improve all aspects of training at once is simply not possible hence the need to break your training down into manageable“phases” as indicated above. The elements common to most periodization plans are increased volume at the start of the training season followed by increased intensity as the volume decreases.
This phase generally marks the start of your training year and is included only if there has been a long transition following
the end of your previous Race Phase. The purpose here is to prepare your body for the next phase of your training plan. Workouts are low intensity with an emphasis on aerobic endurance, especially in the form of cross-training.
The total volume of training is low when compared with most other training phases. Speed skills can be developed through drills, usually done on an indoor training or a set of rollers.
The Base phase is your time to establish your basic fitness abilities of endurance, force, and speed skills. Generally, this
is also the longest phase of your season and should last around eight to twelve weeks. The base phase is divided into three segments: Base 1, Base 2 and Base 3.
Base 1 marks the start of steady increases in volume to boost your aerobic endurance and increase your body’s resilience to handle larger training loads.
In Base 2, on-bike endurance work begins to replace crosstraining as the training volume increases. As your road rides
become longer, the companionship of a group helps to pass the time. Just make sure that you ride with a group that rides at YOUR required pace and does not turn every ride into a “race”. The majority of your road rides should be on continuously rolling to hilly routes that place controlled stress on your neuromuscular system. The best routes at this time of the season keep your efforts below threshold and allow cadences of around 80rpm and higher while seated on a hill. Muscular-endurance training is also introduced in Base 2, with the addition of Tempo workouts based on hear rate or power output.
Base 3 marks a phasing-in of higher intensity training with the introduction of some proper hill work done at or slightly
above threshold. Base 3 also brings about your highest total weekly volume of training with aerobic rides accounting for more than half of your training time. By the way, your longest training rides should now be as long as your longest
race of the season, or two hours… whichever is the longer…
Group rides are still the best way to get the miles in but while it’s ok to occasionally put the hammer down in a
sprint, just make sure you don’t turn these rides into “races”!!!
Your purpose now is to get as fast as you can with low-effort rides before turning up the heat in you Build phase.
By now, several weekly workouts should now have you riding at threshold, while your Speed-skills work is done mostly as
“Form Sprints” on the road.
Anaerobic-endurance is now introduced in your Build phase and just with force, hill work, and muscular-endurance training,
this should be done with caution to avoid injury. Feel free to race during this phase of your training, but remember that these are low priority races and you should regard them as a substitute for some of your anaerobic-endurance workouts.
Anaerobic-endurance workouts may also include intervals and fast group rides.
During Build 1, endurance work is reduced but is still a prominent focus of your training. You would be better off by doing
your long easy endurance rides at this stage with one or two team mates or training partners rather than a large group. Use the group rides for the development of muscular-endurance and anaerobic-endurance.
In Build 2 you again slightly decrease the volume of your training while increasing the intensity. Training in Build 2
emphasizes intensity to a greater extent than in the previous four weeks. Anaerobic-endurance and Muscular-endurance sessions become longer while recovery is decreased between your efforts.
Now is the time you consolidate your racing fitness. It’s time to reduce your volume and keep intensity levels high relative
to your expected demands of your targeted races while emphasizing recovery between workouts. Ideally you would
want to train at race-pace intensity every 72-96hrs.
These workouts may also include “B” or “C” priority races that serve as a tune-up for the “A” races that follow.
The purpose of periodization is to reach peak form just as the important races occur.
Whoop, Whoop… this is the FUN TIME!!!! Now all that is needed is to race, work on your strengths and recover…
In weeks where there are no races, a race-effort group ride is the best option.
Until now you have been working on your “limiting factors”, now it’s time to improve your strengths, so make them as
strong as possible!!!
Your transition phase is a time for rest and recovery following your race phase. This should always be included after your
last race for the season, but may also be inserted early on in your season following your first Peak phase to help prevent burnout later in the year. Early season Transition phases may be brief periods of perhaps five to seven days, while at the end of your season such a break may be four weeks or so.
Use this time to “recharge your batteries” for your training and racing to come….
Remember, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!”
Until next time….
My previous article had to do with your bike setup, now logically the next aspect should be your pedal stroke, why…
Not much in life truly is “for free”, however, improving your pedal stroke will give you “free watts”and ultimately more speed… for free!!!
To illustrate just what I’m talking about, take a look at the table taken from one of my athletes during an FTP Functional Threshold Test).
For the purpose of this article, I have circled the important data.
the efficiency of your pedal stroke as a percentage. As you can see with the athlete above, his right leg is more efficient than his left. Ideally, a pro athlete will be in the 70’s – 80’s while the recreational rider will be in the 50’s.
“Power Split” is self explanatory but essentially displays power output differences between left and right leg as a percentage.
“ATA” (Average Torque Angle) displays the average point in degrees that represents efficient crank arm length usage. The best “bang for your buck” will be at 90 degrees.
Improving your pedal stroke will apply more power to your cranks and ultimately your wheels no matter what discipline of riding you are involved in.
The fact is that every rider should strive to improve their pedaling efficiency no matter what level they compete at.
So, how should you pedal then?
Imagine looking at your bike from the right hand side, now divide the circle of the pedal stroke into the hours on a clock and then into four sectors of three hours each.
Zone 1 (11 – 2 o’clock)
Imagine you are “rolling a barrel” under your foot. At 11 o’clock you begin to push forward and across the top of the pedal stroke until your foot reaches 2 o’clock. By applying force before the down stoke begins you are effectively creating a longer power stroke.
Zone 2 (2 – 5 o’clock)
This is the power phase of your stroke. Most beginners pedal straight up and down but this should only be the case at 3o’clock as that is when your pedal is at 90deg. At 2 or 4 o’clock you should be moving the pedal slightly forward and down or slightly back and down respectively.
Zone 3 (5 – 8 o’clock)
Here you need to“scrape the mud” from the bottom of your shoes… yes, roadies too…J!!! This will assist in keeping a constant force throughout the entire pedaling circle and help the leg that's moving the pedal up over the top of the
Zone 4 (8 – 11 o’clock)
When your right leg is at 8 o’clock your left leg is at the beginning of the power phase, 2 o’clock. Ultimately we want 100% of the power applied by the left leg to be transferred to the rear wheel and move the bike forward. However, if your right leg, at 8o’clock, is "dead" on the pedal, then a percentage of your left leg power is not applied to the rear wheel but instead is used to lift the right leg. Now, this lifting effect is probably less than you think, as your right leg, spinning at 90+ rpm, does have a significant amount of momentum to "throw" it over the top of the pedal stroke. Instead, from 8-11 o’clock we want to "de-weight" the pedal, applying just enough lifting force to make our foot weigh zero on the pedal, so 100% of the work performed by the opposite leg is used to propel the bike forward. This motion will bring your hip flexors into play and apply power on the upward phase of the pedal stroke.
Ok, I’m “sold”, now how do I improve my pedal efficiency? Simple… you have to groove your stroke and the easiest way to achieve this is through various drills.
Here are a few suggestions…
Do this on a stationary trainer. Unclip one leg and rest it on something and pedal with just the other leg. Keep the cadence, resistance and duration low until you develop your technique; start at 60 rpm. Alternate legs about every 30 seconds (or when you get fatigued) and gradually (over several weeks of practicing) increase the duration, cadence and then the
Pedaling with one leg will force you to move the pedal in full circles. You will notice right away how much work it is to pull through the bottom of the pedal stroke and lift the pedal back up and over the top. Try to eliminate the dead spots at the bottom and top of the pedaling circle, and keep the pedaling motion as even and smooth as possible. You should begin to see some improvement after a few weeks. Don't make the mistake of using momentum to "throw" the pedal up over the top. Move it purposefully.
Back and forth:
This drill emphasizes the application of pedaling force in the areas that are usually in the most need of improvement (the top and bottom of the pedaling circle). During this drill you'll be focusing on pushing the pedals over, or across, the top of the
pedaling circle, and pulling them back through the bottom. Think about moving the pedals back and forth rather than up and
After a while you'll begin to develop a better overall pedaling force application by learning to apply force over the top and through the bottom of the stroke. As with the other drills, work on keeping the muscles relaxed.
This drill can be done on any ride at any time. Try and include it as often as possible.
Lifting your knee:
When climbing, focus on lifting your knees. This will un-weight the pedal and you'll notice less resistance; this is good. Think about bringing your knees straight up and pushing straight down over the top of your foot.
Focus on one portion of the pedal stroke at a time and you'll be able to improve it quicker. Then gradually piece them all together as one cohesive movement.
Until next time, keep the rubber side down, and helmets on those heads…