It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing the same bike rides at the same pace week in, week out. Even more so if you are training for a long race and want to get a lot of distance under your belt to build some confidence. And while long, slow rides are useful – they give you a solid foundation to your training programme – they won’t give you the whole arsenal you need to deliver a great performance. Here are the sessions you should be doing as part of your training regime and why.
Cycling at a constant moderate pace – so you can maintain a conversation without getting out of breath – increases the number of blood capillaries in your muscles and the number of cells in them that produce energy. The net result is that more oxygen and fuel is made available for your muscles to keep working. If you are new to cycling, and especially if you’re planning to ride or race longer distances, it’s vital to dedicate some time to these rides so you build a solid fitness platform. From there you’ll be able to advance to the more difficult sessions where the real fitness benefits are made.
These sessions are rides in which you alternate a period of harder cycling with periods of easier effort. Training sessions such as this are the cornerstone of improving fitness because intervals will push up your anaerobic threshold, which is the point at which you slow down because your body can’t process the lactic acid that has built up in your muscles. The higher your anaerobic threshold, the longer you can maintain a fast pace. Start out by alternating between equal periods of hard and easy cycling, then increase the duration of hard effort or decrease the time of easy riding – or both – as you get fitter.
These are the sessions to do if you want to increase your absolute top speed – and who doesn’t? They target your fast-twitch muscle fibres, which are responsible for bursts of power. Although they include hard and easy efforts, these aren’t the same as interval sessions: you do full-on sprints of up to 20 seconds, followed by three to five minutes of recovery before sprinting again. You’ll only need one or two speed sessions a week and they can be tagged to the end of any other workout. Just make sure you are fully warmed up before you start sprinting to lessen the risk of injury.
These workouts are not pleasant but they’re effective at making you fitter and faster. You can train in hills in a number of ways. The most obvious is simply to practise cycling up them – it’s no good doing all your training on the flat if you plan to enter a mountain race! Another is to improve your anaerobic threshold. After a warm-up, attack the hill as hard as you can before coming back down easily, recovering for three to five minutes, then attacking again. Or really test your muscles by cycling up in a seated position in a gear higher than you’d normally use. Resist the temptation to sway from side to side and you’ll make it more challenging.
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