Spring has sprung, the weather has suddenly improved – okay it’s stopped snowing, and you realise that you’re not as fit as you should be (or would like to be). So, with summer not far off it’s time to get yourself into shape and buckling down to some training.
But what do you need to do? Smash ‘em till you throw up intervals, 6 hour endurance training rides, or something else? Thankfully it’s something else. Fortunately for us, we have Rick Stern of RST Sport on hand to offer some sound advice to get you back in the saddle and working towards your desired fitness goals.
Rick has been cycling since 1984, and since 1998, has been a professional cycling coach. Prior to being a cycle coach, he completed a degree in sports science, and started a PhD in exercise physiology. He has worked with world champions and riders at the Tour de France, through to athletes with the desire to complete their first sportive.
I’ll start with the idea that you’ve not been completely inactive over the last few months, since winter started – that you’ve done some cycling or exercise, but just not your usual efforts.
Of course, what one person might think isn’t much training, another person could think this is too much, so it’s important to not overstretch yourself.
Firstly, I think the biggest piece of advice I can give to improve your fitness is that consistency is pretty much the most important aspect of improving your fitness. I can’t stress enough that it is way more important and better for your fitness to ride 1 hour a day for five days, as opposed to going out on one day and trudging up and down for five hours.
Does consistent training mean riding every day? Well, for sure, it could mean that, but it certainly doesn’t have to mean that. It may be that you only have four days a week available to you to go cycling, and by consistent what I’m suggesting is that most weeks you then go out cycling on those allotted four days, in other words you’re training consistently. It may even be that on a couple of the other days you get in some strength and conditioning work to supplement your training.
If you can train 3 days per week as a minimum then you’ll start to make massive inroads into your fitness. Five days per week is generally brilliant for many, but more days per week than this is usually overkill. Four days per week, is somewhat of a ‘sweetspot’ for the amount of work done versus the time it takes up.
Adapting to your goals
Now that we know we should, in general, be training three to five days per week, what sort of training should we be doing in those sessions?
If you’re a racer, or want to start smashing it in a sportive, then you’ll need some intensity in your training as well as endurance riding. However, if you’re looking to increase your fitness and/or lose weight then it might still be a good idea to add in some intervals and also to look at your diet.
If you have ideas of racing, or riding fast in a sportive then as well as endurance rides at a moderate level (you should still be able to talk in complete sentences) you’ll want to include some hard tempo riding. We call these sessions ‘MIET’ (moderately intensive endurance training) and these are just below the ‘talking threshold’ (you’re not gasping as you would be at race pace, but you can’t talk in complete sentences without easing up on the pedals). If you start at 20-minutes of ‘MIET’ you should be able to complete about 40 to 60-minutes of it each week, by completing two to three 20-min efforts per week. Once you can manage say 2 x 20-mins at this level, you can then extend the duration of these efforts up to 60-minutes, then to 90-minutes. This sort of extended endurance work can be done relatively frequently and will really help you increase your fitness.
Other ways of increasing your fitness on the bike can include some intervals, but these needn’t be horrendously hard, or cardiac arrest inducing. If you think about how hard you could ride maximally for one hour then you could try intervals of 1 to 2-minutes at this effort (in other words, if you just do one interval of 1 to 2 minutes duration, it should be reasonably easy to do, because, by definition you could do this for 60-mins). If you haven’t done much training recently you may want to start with five x 1-minute of these intervals with 2-minutes easy in between the efforts, whereas if you’re a bit further along in your training you could start with ten x 2-minutes with 2-minutes easy in between. This session could either be done as a standalone session (this’d be great to do on the turbo mid-week when you’re short on time), or it could be included in an endurance session once you start to build your fitness (such as on the weekend).
If you haven’t done much training recently, then it might also be of benefit to do some work on your cadence skills. A great turbo session is where you ride at a steadyish endurance effort (one that you could ride at for several or more hours) but to intentionally vary the cadence, both up and down. You could start at 75 revs/min and go up in 10 revs/min jump every 3 minutes to about 115 to 125 revs/min with 1-minute easy in between (at a normalish cadence) and then to descend to 75 revs/min. This will help you learn to pedal at a variety of cadences, and can be interesting enough to stop you from being bored on the turbo at low intensity.
Additionally, to help provide some all-round fitness, it’s worth doing some supplemental body weight exercises, such as push ups, planks, side planks, and crunches etc. These will help you gain some upper body strength and fitness, and while this may not directly help your cycling it will help you be more rounded. Other supplemental exercises that can help would also include yoga, pilates, and swimming and running. The latter two are somewhat important if you’re a triathlete!
Other sessions on the bike you could try to help increase fitness, are to include hills into your endurance rides, and you should aim to ride these at a brisk effort (for you). Just by riding these hills hard, no matter how long or many (or few) there are, will be ‘natural’ or environmental intervals. They’re a super way of building fitness, whether you like hills or not!
Let me know how you get on with your training in the comments. I hope to see you all smashing the pedals!