The 10 best tips for beginners. By Whit Yost
So you’ve bought the bike and everything that goes with it and now you’re ready to go out their and get lean and fast. Here are 10 tips to apply to your training to help you achieve greater fitness and speed.
In South Africa, our major cycle races are focused in two periods, October/November and February/March/April. Fortunately, your body is capable of getting into peak shape more than once a year, so even if you are not planning to do events in one or both of those periods, pick two or three events a year, spacing them out roughly into different quarters of the year (one per quarter).
A goal will help you keep focussed on a specific programme, rather than just saying, I wanna get fit. Feel free to do other events too, but use them as training or build-up rides to your main goal event.
Hammering from day one is going to get you nowhere, fast. Watch the pro’s in the early season and you would be amazed at the slow pace they ride, yet when they get to their racing peak, they are super fast. The secret: Periodisation. We don’t really have space here to go into the details so here, roughly, is how it works: Work in groups of four weeks (commonly called macro cycles), increasing time on the bike by 10 percent per week for the first three weeks, then dropping back to Week one’s allowance for Week 4; and then in the next macro cycle start week one from Week two’s riding time of the first macro cycle. This will allow your body to gradually overload, and then recover, maximising your training effect.
Follow this pattern for 12 weeks and then take a rest period of at least 2-4 weeks before beginning your next 12-week plan. Focus on time in the saddle, not distance. Your cardiovascular system doesn’t care how far you have gone, just how long you went for. Estimate the time you will need to finish your goal event, and work toward riding more efficiently for that length of time, rather than trying to ride your race distance faster.
Keep It Fun
Mix up your rides, make one ride a week a long, solo, soul-searching affair, another one a fun group ride with a coffee stop, or head for the hills for a change. Variety will make it easier to stay motivated.
Buy A Heart Rate Monitor
The best thing you can do to manage your training is get one of these fun gadgets. It will help you gauge how hard you are going, and, more importantly, keep you from going too hard when Week four of your plan calls for a gentle recovery ride.
You are making a major change in your way of life by committing yourself to reaching your goals, and your body will feel the effects for the first few weeks. Recovery is as important as effort, because fitness and improvement
come from the stronger regeneration of the muscle fibres you are breaking down while riding. Make sure you allow for an extra hour a day’s sleep, at least, for the first few weeks of riding, and then let your body settle into a comfortable pattern that balances your social needs with your goals.
Recovery Is Key
Recovery is what makes you fit, not riding hard, as we explained in Tip 5. Training flat-out every time you ride will be fun for about three days, and then your body will drop you like a hot potato. Balance every hard ride with at least two easy ones. You will know you have the right balance when the easy ones seem like too much fun and the hard ones seem like hell, rather than the other way round.
Make-Up Is For Sissies
Never try to squeeze in an extra ride at the end of the week because dinner with the in-laws scuppered one of your planned ones. Once it has slipped away, let it be. You won’t lose any noticeable fitness in one, or even two days, and the danger of burning yourself out by doing too much at the end of the week instead could set you back weeks.
Improve Your Skills
Cycling is not just about being fit and fast. You need to work on riding in bunches and being able to sit in a slipstream if your focus is the road, and technical skills if mountain biking is your thing. Put aside one day a week to join other riders and gain the experience needed to keep yourself upright and in action once you get to race day.
Food And Drink
Many people make the mistake of only drinking when they race. Wrong. The same rules apply to training; Michael Schumacher needs petrol in his car to get home after practice, right? Drink about 500ml of water per hour of riding, and eat an energy bar or energy gel in the same period. Sports drinks added to your water are also highly recommended as they provide the right mix of nutrients to keep your body fuelled for the effort. Once you have finished, make sure you eat a nutritious meal, and rehydrate at a rate of 500ml of water for every hour you rode, within an
hour of finishing the ride. This is when your body is repairing the day’s damage, so give it the energy it needs to do the job right.
The biggest and hardest lesson to learn is patience. You may think you are getting nowhere, and everybody seems so fit and fast, but you will get there, we promise, with a conservative, structured approach. Even Lance Armstrong starts his year with measly two-hour rides and slowly builds up to his brutal eight-hours-a-day regime, and if he didn’t do the easy ones to start, there is no way his body would have the fitness base to do the hard stuff.