Maximizing Your Performance
This training article comes courtesy of Leah Guloien and Jamie Riggs, General Managers of the Cycling Division at Burnaby’s Catalyst Kinetics Group.
1. “What’s holding you back?”
Answering this one question, and developing a strategy to turn that weakness into strength, will pay dividends with faster times and stronger rides. Most athletes, for example, never consider they’re breathing? Many athletes breathe with quick shallow breaths, which not only wastes energy, but also hinders your bodies’ ability to burn fat as fuel. Taking 5 minutes per day before bed to practice ‘belly breathing’ is one of the simplest and quickest things an athlete can do to change their performance. To do it, lie on your back in a relaxed position, and place one hand on your abdomen. Now focus on taking deep breathes using your diaphragm, if you’re doing it right your belly will be moving up and down quite a bit. If you feel yourself tensing any neck muscles, stop, and refocus on breathing from the belly. A few minutes a day, and you’ll be started down the path towards becoming an efficient breathing machine!
Fitness testing is another way to examine your current performance level. At Catalyst Kinetics Group we start every athlete off with a comprehensive physiological assessment, which quantifies every aspect of your performance, from your breathing frequency and cardiac function, to blood values and muscle oxygen saturation. These types of assessments require expensive equipment and knowledgeable people to run them, but you can get a great start on your own with nothing more than your bike, a stopwatch and a heart rate monitor. See below for an example of a field test we use to build an athlete’s training program.
Fitness test: After a 30-minute warm-up, pick a straight, relatively flat stretch of road that you can ride at least 20 minutes with a minimum of stops. Start your watch and ride a 20-minute time trial, making sure to record power (if available), heart rate, and speed along the way. Record these numbers for later, and see below for some ways you can use them to build workouts.
2. “Have a plan”
It’s been said a million times, but this simple advice will pay off for anyone with ambitious cycling goals. It can be as simple as writing out the ‘Fondos, races, and rides you hope to do this year on a calendar, and taking a look at the spacing between them. This can have surprising results, as maybe you weren’t aware exactly how close together those two massive rides you were planning were, or didn’t notice a gaping hole with no events just waiting to be filled.
Once you have your main events penciled in, go through and mark out your next most important training periods, the easy ones! A big ride, race or Fondo take a lot of energy, both physically and mentally, and it can be easy to ride the wave of endorphins that comes from completing one of these events into another hard week of training. The result is that you find yourself in a deep ‘hole’ of fatigue, with that next big ride looming on the horizon. So after each big goal event, be sure to schedule an easy week of training, and from there you can start to rebuild toward your next personal best.
3. “Keep the easy stuff easy, and the hard stuff hard”
One of the most important benefits to having a plan laid out in advance is that you are in effect giving yourself a reason to go easy sometimes. If every ride you head out with no idea about what you have done or what’s up ahead, it is very easy to fall into the dreaded ‘junk mile’ trap. These rides feel great. You’re pushing the pedals, working up a sweat, as well as an appetite. But then you notice that no matter how much you ride, you aren’t losing any weight, or that no matter how fast the average speed on that three hour Saturday ride, you’re still getting creamed in the local group ride sprint.
Instead of pushing it every day, arrange your weekly rides so that a few, no more than two, are your hard rides. The rest of the time on the bike should be spent at a pace where you can easily hold a conversation with a person beside you. These rides truly do lay the base of fitness, logging time in these easy zones allows your body to adapt structurally to the load being applied. More blood vessels, increased density of cellular powerhouses, and a whole raft of other changes that turn your body into a super efficient, fat-burning, watt-churning machine.
Example Structural Endurance Workout: Ride for two hours at a ‘conversational’ pace, keeping your cadence between 85 to 95 RPM. Every 15 minutes do a short, 15-second sprint, and finish with 5 to10 minutes at 110 RPM.
The two hard days are the chance for you to explore your limits. Since you won’t be as tired as you would have been had you been riding ‘medium’ all the time, your hard efforts will be truly hard, taking your legs and lungs up to their maximum capacity. By pushing against the limits of what you are currently capable of, you will see your ability to sprint and hang on to the fastest guys in town increase dramatically. Thirty-second all out intervals are all the rage lately, but in reality there is no end to the sessions you can dream up. Whether they’re short sprints or longer five and ten-minute efforts, they all have a place in a well-rounded cyclist’s plan.
Example Short Interval Workout: Start out with a 30-minute warm-up, gradually increasing your effort level. Include one, 8-minute interval at an effort level of 8 out of 10 during this warm-up. Next, proceed to do six 30-second maximal efforts, staying in the saddle as much as possible, ‘spinning’ rather than ‘mashing’ the pedals. Leave at least four minutes of very easy spinning between efforts. Finish the workout with another 10 minutes at an effort level of 8 out of 10.
Example 10 minute Interval Workout: Take the average power you found during the 20-minute field test (see above), and multiply it by 0.85 and 1.05. These two numbers will become your high and low-end thresholds. During a 2-hour ride, do two intervals of 20 minutes each, alternating 3 minutes at the low-end threshold, with 2 minutes at the high-end threshold power. If you don’t have access to a power meter, you can also use average heart rate, adding and subtracting five beats to your average during the field test to find the high and low end threshold values.
4. “Take care of your body”
Addressing muscular imbalances and inefficiencies on the bike, whether it is as a result of habitual patterns that the body has become accustomed to or as a result of an incorrectly fitting bicycle can assist in helping you achieve your optimal performance.
Designing a pre- and post-cycling routine can help set you up for success. Purchase a foam roller to help with muscle activation and localized tension within the muscles. The glutes and the quadriceps are important areas to focus on. Some specific exercises we like to incorporate prior to our PowerRide sessions are planks, thoracic spine openers and bridges. Activating the core, opening up through the chest, and activating the glutes are all-important to a strong posture and alignment on the bike.
After intense or long sessions on the bike, it is important to cool the body down properly and not only in the sense of pedaling easier. Making sure to stretch out the body and return the body back to an ideal posture is important. Stretches such as spinal twist, pigeon pose, and downward dog are all great stretches post cycling. Take 10 minutes and pick 5 to 10 stretches and hold each for approximately 30 to 60 sec, always easing into the stretch and never pushing to the point of pain.
We hope you’ve been able to learn something helpful from this article, and wish you nothing but the best in pursuing your cycling goals.
Leah Guloien and Jamie Riggs are General Managers of the Cycling Division at Catalyst Kinetics Group, a Vancouver area, multi-disciplinary health clinic, physiological assessment and sports & fitness training facility.
Thinking of doing a Granfondo this year? Check this one out: Okanagan Granfondo