Planning your Training

By Karen Brems, Master World Cyclocross Champion 

Planning an effective weekly, monthly or yearly training schedule  is something        that requires a fair amount of trial and error, but can  really pay off.       If two people follow exactly the same schedule,  they will not necessarily        achieve the same results. It is a good idea  to talk to other riders and        find out what they are doing as far as  training, but everyone has to figure        out for themselves what works  the best for them. Also, remember one workout        does not equal a training  program. Training is a package deal and everything        is cumulative. If you do a certain top rider’s favorite workout every        time you ride without any knowledge of what else is in their schedule, chances        are you will not receive the same benefits. Unless you are independently        wealthy or riding your bike for a living, your training  will be the        result of trade-offs with your “real” life. Each person has        to determine for themselves how many hours a week they have to devote to        cycling and make the most of them. To achieve the greatest benefits from        your training, you have to stress your body as much as possible and then      give it enough time to recover and adapt to the stress. Your rest periods      are actually when you grow stronger. As you grow stronger, you have to stress        your body more and more to continue the adaptation. If you do the same thing        every week all year, you will eventually just reach a performance plateau.        Stress is cumulative as well. Professional cyclists do a tremendous amount        of training and racing, but when they are not on their bikes, they are most        likely sitting or lying down somewhere relaxing or taking a nap (except        when they are traveling all over the world!). They also probably get 8-10        hours of sleep a night, a luxury most people trying to fit cycling in around        a full-time job and/or family life cannot afford.

When we are at national team training camp, we tend to do all our  training        in “blocks” : 2 days hard, one day easy, 3 days hard, 2 days        easy etc. Days of the week have no meaning. In “real life”,        however, I think it is easier to dedicate certain days of the week to certain        workouts. Most cyclist the world over sort of fall into a general plan during        the racing season of: race Sat and Sun, Mon. easy, train Tues.-Thurs., easy        Fri. If you use this plan, Tues. and Wed. should be your hardest workouts        since that is when you are freshest. When you are first starting out, you        may find that you can only go hard every other day. As you get fitter though,        you will have to start going hard 2-3 days in a row to continue the adaptation.       You should always keep at least one day a week completely easy.

You can then put the weeks together to form monthly blocks. I find  that        a schedule of  3 weeks hard, one week easy works well for  me. That        means that approximately once a month, I will take at least  4-5 days in        a row very easy. Where you fit these “rest weeks” in can  depend        on your race schedule or other obligations. For example, if  you know that        because of your job, you will not be able to train much  a certain week,        schedule that as your easy week and go as hard as you can the few weeks        before it. There have been times when I felt like I didn’t need the        “rest week” and skipped it, but I almost invariably  regretted        it later... I also find that in general, I ride the best  the 2nd week of        the block. After more than 1-2 days of easy riding,  you may become “blocked”.        In general this means after a period of rest, your body will sort of shut        down and start up its repair processes.  You may feel pretty sluggish the        first time you go hard again. This  is completely normal. Most top riders        like to do a “race opener” type  workout the day before a race.        This is usually a few short, high intensity  intervals and/or some jumps.       You can use smaller gears than normal  to save your legs while still getting        high heart rates. In a long stage race such as the PowerBar Challenge or        even, I’m sure in the Tour de France, if there is a rest day in the        middle, most of the riders will be out doing a few intervals that day. You        need to keep your race systems active - otherwise you will really regret        it the next day.

The key to a good training program is variety. To be a successful  road racer        takes many different skills and energy delivery systems.  If you only train        one system all the time, your race tactics will be very limited. The basic        requirements for road racing and the types  of workouts that develop them        are the following:

Aerobic capacity: Long rides (at least as long as your longest  race)        at a steady (but not hard) pace. HR less than 80% of max. These  will help        you be fresher at the end of the race and teach your body  to use fat for        fuel and thus spare precious muscle glycogen

Aerobic power: Longer intervals (10-30 min.) at or just below  your anaerobic        threshold. Rest about half the work time. These will  help your climbing        and time trialing as well as allow you to spend  more time riding aerobically        when just going along in the pack as opposed to being anaerobic most of        the time and then when the pace picks up, you have nothing more to draw        on.

Anaerobic power: Very short (20-40 sec.) very high intensity intervals        with complete recovery in between (4-6 min.). These must be a maximum effort        the entire interval.

Anaerobic capacity: Short (1-2 min.) very high intensity intervals.        Rest about 3 times the working time.

Sprinting: 10-15 sec. maximum effort. Full recovery in between.  This        will train your creatine-phosphate energy system. You can also  get a lot        of the benefits of a sprint workout without the fatigue (for example if        you are not really a pure sprinter and training that system is not your        highest priority) by just doing very short (8-10 sec.) jumps in a relatively        small gear. This will also help your leg speed.

Strength: Lift weights. Or, you can do hill repeats of  3-6 min.        in a large gear (45-60 rpm) at moderate heart rates (80-85% of max.). Don’t        do this if you have knee problems.

Threshold training: medium length intervals (4-10 min.) above  your anaerobic        threshold (hard time trial type intensity) with incomplete  recovery (3-5        min.).  These should be as hard as you can go for  the given amount        of time.

You can also train your body’s ability to clear and buffer lactic        acid by doing short, high intensity efforts (30 -45 sec.) with short  recovery        (1-2 min.).

All these intervals can be done either uphill or on the flats, except  for        sprints and anaerobic power intervals which are best done on the  flats.        Where you do them depends on what your priority is. In general,  doing them        on the flats is harder - your legs will hurt more for the  same heart rate.        Ideally, you should do some of both, or you can do  the shorter ones on a        varied loop so within a workout, you will sometimes  be climbing and sometimes        going on the flats.

Obviously, nobody can train every system every week. This is where  the theory        of periodization comes in. The basic premise here is that  is takes less        to maintain a system than to train it. Therefore, you  can train each system        individually and then just do a minimum number  of workouts to maintain it        while you train the other systems. So, for example, you can work on strength        and aerobic capacity in the winter. Then you can work on aerobic power and        threshold training for a month while doing one long ride a week to maintain        aerobic capacity and maybe hit the weight room once a week or do a few climbs        in a bigger gear than normal. Then the next month you can keep your one        long ride (which will eventually become your road races as the season starts)      and one aerobic workout and add some anaerobic ones. Once the season starts      in full force, you may do one aerobic, one anaerobic and one sprint workout        a week. Or you can fit your sprints into an aerobic ride, or ride your bike        to work and do some jumps or sprint out of every stoplight you hit and then        have space for another type of workout in your week. The emphasis you put        on each type of workout depends on your individual strengths and weaknesses        and your particular race goals.  Everything is a trade-off - the more        emphasis you put on one type of training, the more other areas will suffer.        Even at the highest level, NOBODY can do everything all the time. For example,        if you are training specifically for the district TT, you may do 2-3 threshold      workouts a week and sacrifice your sprinting. Same thing for training for        a hilly RR. If you want to specialize in criteriums, you need to emphasize        sprinting and anaerobic intervals.

So where does the noon ride fit in? There is nothing inherently wrong  with        group rides. Their big advantage is that you can use other people  to push        you harder than you can push yourself. Plus, they are fun,  and after all,        that’s the reason most of us got into cycling in the  first place!        They are also a chance for newer racers to test out tactics.   However,        if you are doing the same group ride 2-3 times a week plus  racing on the        weekends, you are basically training the same thing all the time. Also,        NEVER do a group ride on your easy day - you will invariably get sucked        into going harder than you should. When you first start riding, as long        as you just ride your bike, you will get stronger. Then, you will need to        go harder to continue getting stronger, and this is where group rides can        come in. However if that is all you do, you will develop significant “holes”      in your overall ability. The closer you get to your potential, the more        you will need to add specific training to your program.

What about “double days”?  The advantage of fitting 2 workouts        into one day is you can put more stress on your body for greater adaptation,        and get more rest days to grow stronger in. For working folks, it also has        the advantage that often it is easier to schedule 2 shorter workouts than        one long one. This is especially true after daylight savings time hits.        For example, you could do a double day on Wed. and still get your 3 workouts        in for the week. Then you could take an extra rest day on Thurs., do some        jumps on Fri. and be that much fresher for your race on Sat.

Part of racing is just learning how to ride through pain. No matter  whether        you are a cat 5 or Miguel Indurain, going hard hurts! As you  get fitter,        you just go faster for the same effort - the effort is  always there. The        fresher and stronger you are, the harder you can  go and the more it will        hurt. It is usually my best races that have  hurt the most. It takes time        to develop the ability to suffer on a  bike. So, if you are just getting        into racing, you will probably be  better off doing most of your hard training        in a group setting until  you learn to push yourself hard enough on your        own to benefit from  interval training. This is also where having a training        partner comes  in. If one person is stronger, they can start the interval        later and  chase and everyone can benefit. Be careful when doing any kind        of intervals where you are trying to stay at a particular heart rate that        is less than your max. Here, having a competitor next to you can cause you      to go too hard and be “out of your zone”.

You also have to keep your training fun and interesting. If you are  not        motivated to train, you will get nothing out of it. Do not be afraid to        take extra rest days if you feel you are getting tired. Mental attitude        is a big indicator of overtraining. Most of us basically look forward to        getting out on our bikes everyday. If training is becoming a chore, you        are probably tired. Find a way to measure your progress – seeing improvement        is the biggest motivator of all no matter what your level. The intervals        I describe above are based of time. You can also find a hill or stretch        of road that will take approximately  that amount of time to ride and time        yourself on repeats.