How Getting Faster!

It is inspiring to see professional cyclists and to be amazed by the speed and power they are able to hold for hours. Intuitively, the desire is to train faster, to try and aspire to at least some of this ability.

So, you crush it every time you go out in a club; you’re still in the mix for the charge at the top of the hill, and you try for that hot spot at a 60km/h sign. During a solo ride, you always try to set a personal record on your local loop.

But step back and think: this is not how professionals train.

Pros spend an inordinate amount of training time at a “low” intensity, rather than trying to collect a new Strava segment each time they leave.

Training hard all the time leads to stagnant physical fitness and average performance throughout the year. The question is: why? Surely the fact of going “strong” will eventually make you fast…. don’t you think so?

Understanding what limits your performance will help you accept the need to relax. Proper training is what distinguishes an exceptional cyclist from an average cyclist. This structure is not built during the “base” season – it is built after years of constant training.

Improving your cycling endurance and performance depends on the following:

  1. The ability to maintain repeated muscle contractions.
  2. The ability to move more air into and out of the lungs. (Practise exhaling completely, and inhalation will do it on its own.)
  3. More efficient respiratory muscles, both mechanically and metabolically. (See point 2 above.)
  4. The ability to transfer more oxygen into the blood from the lungs.
  5. Increased cardiac output capacity, to pump larger volumes of oxygenated blood to your muscles.
  6. A well-developed blood capillary network, to distribute blood.
  7. Increasing mitochondrial density in muscle, to use oxygen in the aerobic metabolism of fuels to produce ATP (the energy molecule your muscles use).
  8. A higher percentage of slow-moving muscle fibers, which increases your ability to use oxygen.
    All these changes are stimulated by controlled, relentless and low intensity pedalling. In other words, you won’t feel any better when you drive freewheel, but you’ll also stagnate if you drive hard every time you drive freewheel.

Finding the balance

The vast majority of readers will do well to adapt in eight hours a week on the bike. If it is you, then you are quite close to the right ratio if six hours of your eight-hour week are devoted to the 75% rule (see’How to train easily’, opposite).

It will be so easy that the temptation will be to go further; but that is where discipline must come into play. Go harder, and you’re back in no man’s land – and your fitness will be stagnant.

Ideally, the remaining two hours should be divided into two one-hour sessions – including warm-up and cool-down – during which you will do your training at regular, high-intensity intervals or participate in a short, challenging group hike.

Straight training with low to moderate intensity means there is no time wasted – it is a high quality stimulus for maximum improvement. You will notice that the hills will seem slow, and the flat sections fast, compared to your usual training pace.

Training is simple; the hardest part is discipline. But once the results are known, it will no longer be a problem.

How to train “easily”?

Start with the heart rate. At a minimum, you will need a heart rate monitor.

Determine your maximum heart rate as close as possible – you are most likely to see it in a difficult group run or hike.

Never use the formula’220 minus age’ or any other formula. Set 75% of your maximum as the target average, BUT: limit deviations from this average by 75% in 10 times in both directions. Here is an example:

  • Maximum heart rate 177
  • 75% of 177 = 133
  • During the trip, train between 123 minimum and 143 maximum

You must pedal the dishes and stockings, and go super slow upwards; you must be confident that this method will stimulate and build your aerobic energy metabolism capacity.

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