Last week I wrote a long rambling piece about my experience of ‘structured training’. It was pretty long and dull and other people do it better, such as the TrainingPeaks blog, the TrainerRoad podcast or Joe Friel’s Training Bible which I read and highly recommend. Instead, here’s 10 tips from this total amateur who spent a bit of time last winter trying to get faster at riding his bike.
The below is pretty obvious stuff, and ultimately it’s not rocket science. If you want to ride your bike faster, you pretty much just need to ride your bike faster.
1 Make a plan. Write yourself a training plan. It doesn’t really matter what it says, as long as there’s a sensible mixture of hard sessions, days off (you can still ride on a day off, just don’t smash yourself to pieces) and it accommodates your work and life commitments. I found having it written down made it both easy to stick to and far more effective than randomly getting on a bike and seeing what happened.
2 Have a clearly defined goal to work towards. It could be anything, a race, a Strava segment, a power PB, but having a target in mind which is out of your comfort zone will always focus the mind and force you to train harder than you had before. It also gives you something to build your training plan up to.
3 Don’t overtrain. If you’re knackered, you can’t train properly. Apps like TrainingPeaks are useful, as they monitor your training load and when fatigue gets too high it shows you. Both times my fatigue dropped below -30 on TrainingPeaks, I immediately got a cold for a few days.
4 Ride to recover. If you’re knackered, your legs hurt or you had too much beer, a gentle spin on the bike for an hour two will make you feel better and ensure you’re fresh the next day.
5 Work on your weaknesses. If you have a power meter it’s easier to see what you are good and bad at through testing your peak 30s, 1m, 5m, 20m power etc, but you probably know this yourself anyway. If you struggle to keep up with intense accelerations, do some intervals which work on 30s power (eg 10 x 20s max sprints, 1m between sprints, 3 sets with 5m between), or if you get dropped on longer climbs do some longer efforts like 20m @ 95% of max twice with 10m in between to try and nudge your FTP up.
6 Cycling is fun. Sometimes it’s just good to get out and ride, and if the training plan says ‘5 x 4m efforts’ but you want to go on a long ride in the sunshine and have a beer, just bloody do it. However, if you do this too much though you’ll end up like I have this summer and lose all top end speed and power. It’s all a balancing act.
7 The Turbo is your friend. Training inside is much more efficient (something like 50%) due to lack of freewheeling and reduced distractions. Zwift is brilliant for racing, workouts and social rides, and was a massive help for me in the winter. TrainerRoad + Sufferfest are also pretty good, but I preferred Zwift. Sitting on a turbo and riding for 40 mins randomly is both mind numbingly boring and totally pointless, but Zwift will make you faster if used with some structure.
8 Race to train. Nothing pushes you harder than sticking a number on your back and entering a race (or TT). You’ll learn a lot about your current level, and if you’re anything like me you’ll discover that what you thought was your max heart rate (185) is in fact a glass ceiling, and when you’re in a sprint finish for a win you can hit 195+, which in turn reappraises how hard you can push yourself the rest of the time. Interestingly, Zwift races can be harder than outdoor ones due to their relentless nature and lack of surges that you get in outdoor crits.
9 Go on a Training Camp. We went to Mallorca in March. Not only is it loads of fun, 25 degrees and the home of dead cheap beer and pizza, it’s also great for giving your fitness a massive boost. 3 or 4 long days back to back is nigh on impossible to do around working life, but if you nip abroad (it’s cheap and easy) you can rack up the Ks in quick time and reap the benefits.
10 Power meters are very useful, but not crucial. I bought one at the start of the year, and it’s invaluable for monitoring progress, training effectively indoors and outdoors and giving you loads of numbers to stare at when you get home. It’s not crucial though. Heart rate is a decent guide on longer intervals, and a stopwatch is all you really need to time intervals, which all bike computers can do for you. Still, if you can afford one and want to train properly, it’s well worth it.
I heard a good reasoning for buying a Power Meter the other day. Not having one is like going to the gym but not knowing how heavy the weights are that you are lifting. You can lift them, and do a workout and get some gains, but you don’t know what you’ve done or what you’re capable of. Having a PM is the equivalent of knowing you can do 50kg bicep curls 10x and gives you context to train for doing 60kg. You can do 60kg without knowing you’d done 50, but it’s a lot easier if you do.
The other important thing is to be less fat. It really helps going uphill. Top diet tip from me: eat a bit less and ride bike a bit more every now and again.