The Secret Of Getting Faster!

If you put everything into every ride... you’ll get nothing out of any ride.


Mark Carroll |

It’s inspiring to watch pro cyclists, and be in awe at the speed and power they’re able to hold for hours on end. Intuitively, the urge is to get faster train hard, to try and aspire towards at least some of that ability.

So you smash it flat out on every club ride; you’re always in the mix for the charge up the hill, and you try for that hot spot at the 60km/h sign. When out on a solo ride, you’re always trying to set a personal best on your local loop.

But take a step back, and consider: that’s not how professionals train.

Pros spend an inordinate amount of training time at ‘low’ intensity, rather than trying the collect a new Strava segment every time they go out.

Training hard all the time leads to fitness stagnation, and an average performance through the year. The question is: why? Surely going ‘hard’ will eventually make you fast… right?

Understanding what limits your performance will help you accept the need to ease up. Training properly is what distinguishes an exceptional cyclist from an average cyclist. This structure is not built during the ‘base’ season – it’s built over years of consistent training.

Your cycling endurance and performance improvements depend on the following:

1. The ability to maintain repeated muscle contractions.
2. The capacity to move a higher volume of air in and out of the lungs. (Practise exhaling completely, and inhaling will take care of itself.)
3. More efficient respiratory muscles – both mechanically and metabolically. (See point 2 above.)
4. The capacity to transfer more oxygen to the blood from the lungs.
5. Increased cardiac output capacity, to pump higher volumes of oxygenated blood to your muscles.
6. A well-developed blood capillary network, to distribute the blood.
7. Increased mitochondrial density in the muscle, to use oxygen in metabolising fuels aerobically to produce ATP (the energy molecule your muscles use).
8. A higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibres, increasing your capacity to use oxygen.
All of these changes are stimulated using controlled, relentless, low-intensity pedalling. Put simply: you’re not getting any fitter while coasting; but you’re also going to stagnate if you ride hard on every ride.

Find The Balance

The vast majority of readers will do well to fit in eight hours a week on the bike. If this is you, then you’re pretty close to the right ratio if six hours of your eight-hour week are devoted to the 75% rule (See ‘How To Train Easy’, opposite).

This will feel so easy that the temptation will be to go harder; but that’s where discipline needs to come in. Go harder, and you’re back in no man’s land – and your fitness will be stagnating.

Ideally, your remaining two hours should be split into two one-hour sessions – including warm-up and cool-down – where you do your proper high-intensity interval training, or join a challenging short group ride.

Training right with low to moderate intensity means there’s no time wasted – it’s high-quality stimulus, for maximum improvement. You’ll notice that hills will feel slow, and flat sections fast, compared to your usual training pace.

The training is simple; the hard part is the discipline. But when the results come through, that will no longer be an issue.

How To Train ‘Easy’

Start with heart rate. As a minimum, you will need a heart-rate monitor.

Determine your maximum heart rate, as near as possible – you are most likely to see it in a race or hard group ride.

Never use the ‘220-minus-age’ or any other formula. Set 75% of your maximum as your target average, BUT: limit deviations from this 75% by 10 beats in either direction. Here’s an example:

  • Maximum heart rate 177
  • 75% of 177 = 133
  • During your ride, train between 123 minimum and 143 maximum

You must pedal the flats and downs, and go super-slowly uphill; you will need to trust that this method will stimulate and build your aerobic energy metabolism capacity.

And that’s what will make you fast.

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