bike75.gif (2872 bytes)

CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS

  Last updated: 8/22/2012

The Facebook Project -Training with Luqman
A step by step review for a new cyclist


I frequently get questions on designing personalized training programs. Although all the necessary information can be found on various pages of my website, those of you just getting serious about cycling need a better way to pull it all together and make it relevant for your own goals in riding. When I received the following question on the CPTIPS Facebook page, it seemed like a good time to walk through the process, step by step, to develop (or modify) a personal training program. As I get feedback and comments (send them to me at CPTIPS feedback), I will revise and add to this specific webpage.


The Luqman Project

"My name is Luqman. I am a 16 year old student. I got my road bike in December, 2011. I have been joining group rides occasionally from the end of December until now - about 150 miles total. I think I am doing well but I have not seen any improvement. So the group rides I was joining are quite fast, at least for me although it's only 15 miles, and occasionally 35 miles. I have been dropped a few times but it was not consistent. I felt that I didn't improve anything on cycling, and I really need to have some help from the experience.

I have a very beginner road bike, with carbon forks and aluminum frame, equipped with Shimano 2300 8 speed. As for now, I can't afford things like jersey/short, cyclocomputer, shoes but I have a helmet to get me started. I usually use my normal shorts to cycle.

I live in South-East Asia, the weather here are hot and wet through out the year, the terrains near my place are mostly flat but there are quite a lot of hills if I go further away outside the city. I really need some experienced advice or training plans to help me improve. Even though we couldn't meet, I hope you can be my coach. Thank you."



I. Where to start - it begins with the right attitude.

Although it may seem trite, attitude is a major factor in reaching your personal best on a bike. There will be days that you want to cut short your ride, and others where it seems your goal is quite a distance away. Although there are physical characteristics that are common to elite cyclists, more often it is attitude, coupled with a sound training program, that will make the difference in reaching a personal goal. Persistence counts -- and although twelve weeks of training will get you into good riding shape, it will take years to reach your personal best.

The flip side is that attitude alone will not get you to your goal. Success requires incorporating many of the tips that follow on this page (and elsewhere on the website) into a personal training program - a systematic program based on sound principles of physiology. There will be periods of frustration, but overcoming that frustration is what separates the world class riders from those that are just "very good".

This email tells me that Luqman has the first and most basic requirement to become a better cyclist - the desire to be among the best.


II. A good mileage base

A good mileage base is the foundation of a successful training program, important if you want to avoid the types of injuries that keep one from riding that season. So take it slow at first.

If it is early in the riding season, or you have just decided to get back into riding after a period off the bike, you are probably feeling pretty frisky and the tendency is to push yourself. But the first order of business for the training year is to put some unstressed (no intervals, no sprinting up hills) miles on your bike (and body). It's not that intervals or hills are forbidden - just keep them reasonable and not too hard or too often.

Remember, you're banking foundation miles for the season. The best strategy at this point in the training year is to let how you feel on the bike (perceived exertion) tell you when to add that additional effort. If, at the end of the long ride, you feel you could go out and put in a few more miles - you are probably doing it just right. A good target is a base of 500 miles - and as a rule of thumb, don't increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10% over the prior week as you are getting there.

Q."I'm doing base training of 25 miles. Half of the distance is riding into the headwind, and the other half is with tailwind. So, I managed to maintain good high cadence.. so when I'm riding the other half of 25 miles base training, I'm going fast (I think)... around 19-22 mph.. am I too fast for base miles? Am I doing it wrong? But I felt I can maintain good breathing and high cadence, does that mean it's okay?"

A.Remember, the reason you are riding within the limits of comfort is to minimize the chances of an injury during this early season riding. You will have plenty of opportunities to push your limits once we get into a structured training program. As long as you are feeling good, it is fine. As time goes along, you will naturally get faster and still feel comfortable with the pace. You just don't want you to feel you are pushing it - feeling tired - as this increases the chances of pushing too hard and an injury. So it really doesn't make any difference how fast you are going (in fact you might actually do better if you just put some tape over your speedometer and rode like you felt).

III. Cadence

Q. Luke: "Can you please make me a base training schedule with a little bit of pedaling/cadence drills inside it that I could follow, for about 10 weeks (or more/less) to 500 miles? I'm trying my best to get a cyclocomputer with cadence, as I want to have a great technique on pedaling as well as high cadence in cycling."

A.Cadence, or revolutions per minute of the cranks, is a number that deserves a few comments. Keeping a good cadence (I encourage 90 - 100 revolutions per minute) will lessen the force delivered by your thigh muscles to the pedals of your bike through the knee compared to a slower cadence for the same road speed. Thus a higher cadence will decrease the chance of a knee injury. Cadence and power output (work being done by your legs) are two different issues, so even in this training base phase, riding at an easy PACE (lower work output), it is good discipline to work on keeping your cadence in the 90 - 100 RPM range.

An example might help. I have found the calculators at the Analytic Cycling website to very helpful in sorting out questions such as this. Assuming you use the basic assumptions suggested on this webpage, and you only change the cadence, you get the following:

Thus maintaining the same road speed (work output) you will get significantly decreased stress on the leg (and knees) riding at a higher cadence.

It will be tough to focus on cadence without a computer, but you can do it. And once you get use to a faster cadence, you will begin to keep it more naturally without thinking about it. It will require concentration at first - and you may find yourself spinning at 65 or 70 as a more natural rhythm for you. But remember, assuming a set pace, faster cadence = less power to the knee per revolution = less stress on the knee joint, =less chance of injury. And 90 - 100 RPM is your goal. (By the way, Lance Armstrong was known for riding at a high cadence, often 120 - 130, and this set him apart from his peers on the road.)

IV. Identify Your Riding Goals

You've ridden your base miles, and it's time to ramp up the training program. The next step, as we move forward, is to look at the goal you've set for yourself (long distance ride - a century perhaps?, multi-day ride/tour, or competitive event) as well as the types of training rides you will be doing along the way. This analysis will help us develop a rational training plan and a sound nutrition program to support the effort. Our final plan should include: Two aspects of each ride, length (duration) and intensity, will affect planning.

For example:

The following 6 examples cover the most common training ride and goal ride scenarios.

  1. THE COMMUTE or SOCIAL RIDE

    This ride is done at a comfortable pace of 50-60% VO2 max. for 1 to 2 hours, often multiple days of the week. The goal is a comfortable ride with energy left for the remainder of the day.

  2. BASIC TRAINING RIDE (often referred to as LSD or long, slow distance)

  3. INTERVALS

  4. LONG DISTANCE

  5. COMPETITIVE EVENT

  6. MULTI-DAY RIDE or BIKE TOUR

V. Level of Exertion

Q. Hi there, currently I'm doing my base miles. I've got my cadence computer already and training 90-110 rpm. But ... I don't have HRM, so how do I know I'm doing the right intensity for base miles?

A. There is a two part answer to your question.

First, for this period of time you are putting in your base miles, you should not be worrying about your riding intensity (except to avoid pushing yourself and getting hurt in the process). It is okay to vary your riding, do occasional sprints, but you should not be at a level of focus where a HRM would be needed.

Then when we do get to outlining a training program, and want to track your exertion, I prefer to use perceived effort (exertion) -- often expressed as %VO2max -- rather than a HRM to track a level of exertion.

If you are interested in how your perception correlates with your heart rate (without a HRM) and your %VO2max, you can get a good approximation by

You now have a quick and easy correlation between perceived exertion, HR, and your your personal %VO2max.

Let's work through a quick example. Your training program calls for a recovery ride at 80% VO2max. This is actually a fairly reasonable pace so you want to be sure you are not pushing your upper limits (which is the challenge of these recovery rides).

This example demonstrates that a target heart rate of 146 (on a HRM), a perceived effort of 15, and 80 %VO2max are all different ways of expressing a single level of exertion.

VI. Training Physiology

There are a few key physiologic principles that we will use as we develop a training program that is specific for you. I will highlight them here.

VII. Two Components of a Successful Training Program

We are almost there, designing a training regimen for you. To be successful in meeting your training goals, you will need two things.

VIII. And Don't Forget to Drink

Failure to adequately replace fluid losses associated with exercise is the single biggest contributor to poor performance in competitive athletes. This is especially true in cycling where evaporative losses are significant (sweating and loss through the lungs can easily exceed 2 quarts per hour).

To take advantage of your training program, and assure that you perform at your personal best, it is essential that fluid replacement begin early and continue throughout a ride.

A South African study comparing two groups of cyclists (one focusing on staying hydrated, the other not) exercising at 90% of their personal maximums demonstrated a measurable difference in physical performance as early as 15 minutes into the ride.

While riding you should be taking in a minimum of 4 to 5 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes or 1 to 2 standard water bottles per hour. When extreme conditions of heat and humidity are anticipated, and the risks of dehydration are higher, the following strategy of maximizing hydration before you start the activity can be a good preventative measure.

But a word of caution. With the frequent emphasis on "staying hydrated", the pendulum on fluid replacement requirements can swing to the opposite extreme where overcompensation, drinking excessive amounts of electrolyte free water (read sodium or salt here), has occasionally led to an even more serious and life threatening condition - dilutional hyponatremia (low blood sodium concentration).A recent study found that overhydration with hyponatremia was a far more frequent finding in runners who had collapsed than dehydration.

Here are several hydration tips:

We will cover the components of a traditional training program next, and then move on to optimizing your nutrition.

IX. Your Training Schedule

Now that we have covered basic training principles, we will pull them together into a rational training program for you. The basic unit of our training program will be the training week. Seven days of riding and resting.

Each day on the bike has two components - ride length/duration and ride intensity, the same two aspects I asked you to consider in defining your season's riding goals above.

Each week will consist of 5 days on the bike - 1 high mileage day, 1 slow recovery day, and 3 intermediate mileage days of variable intensity. The other 2 days will be rest days - off the bike (or short recovery rides).

We'll cover the details (length, intensity) of each ride, and how they fit together into a training week, in the next several sections. But first, a few comments on "rest". One of the bigger risk an enthusiastic rider faces is overtraining, right after pushing too many miles and developing a physical injury (the reason one has to be disciplined and put in those base miles before starting to push oneself.

Fatigue, the tiredness one feels after riding, is a normal part of the training process. It is to be expected after the physiologic over load of exercise and is a natural response to the stimulus which leads to adaptation and performance improvement. Fatigue is our signal that we are pushing our physical limits. However, in certain circumstances, fatigue can be a warning that we are pushing too hard (that there is an imbalance between exercise and recovery), and indicate the need to back off or risk an actual deterioration in our performance. This is a common dilemma in a personal training program: Hard work makes us faster, but how much is too much?

One of 5 types of fatigue, overtraining is the result of " doing too much, too quickly". The body responds well to regular, moderate changes, not upheaval, in a training program. So the rationale for rest days, recovery days on the bike, and limiting mileage increases to no more than 10% per week, is to minimize the risk of overtraining and the debilitating and often long term (weeks to months) fatigue which limits rather than stimulates improvement in performance.

The most important aspect of preventing overtraining is realizing you are almost there. A good training diary is a tool you can use to alert yourself to this risk. In addition to the usual training facts such as mileage and times, it should include a daily notation on:

Next, more about the 3 types of training rides - high mileage days, slow recovery days, and the intermediate mileage days of variable intensity.

X. Your Training Week

First step, calculate your average weekly mileage for your last 2 or 3 weeks of riding. This will give you the mileage of your first week - then, to minimize injuries, you should increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 to 15% per week. Here is an example of the process - Example.

You can also estimate the length of a training program to reach a personal goal by using the average long ride from your 500 mile base training period, increasing it by 10 - 15% a week, and repeating this until you arrive at a figure that is equal to or greater than 75% (3/4) of the length of the event for which you are training. The number of repetitions needed to get to the 75 % number is the number of weeks of your training program. See Step 2 in the example.

How should your mileage be divided throughout the week? It will require balancing frequency, intensity, and duration of the individual rides to achieve your personal goal. For more detail, review this summary of training techniques. Here is how I balance the three.

It's important to ride at least 5 days a week, and take at least one day off.

  1. One high mileage day - working up your mileage by 10 to 15% per week until it equals your event distance
  2. Three intermediate mileage days
  3. One slow recovery day - longer than the intermediate mileage days, shorter than the high mileage day.

  4. One or two rest days - off the bike or short recovery rides. Depending on your level of training (or evidence of overtraining) the seventh day is an additional intermediate mileage day or an additional rest day.

Be flexible and adjust your program to your lifestyle. A rigid program is destined to fail.

Intensity

As far as pace of your rides:

XI. Nutrition Basics

You may have the best training program in the world and have developed the optimum "engine" for your cycling event, but if you don't eat right, that is provide the optimum "fuel", you will not ride at your best.

How should one eat to get the most out of their training program? There is a two part answer.

  1. First, which type of Calorie (carbohydrate, fat, or protein) is best to support the exercising muscle?
  2. Second, what are the effects of exercise on the digestive tract, important in deciding what and when you should eat to get those Calories into your system.

I. Type of Calorie - carbohydrate, fat, or protein

Carbohydrates which contain 4.1 Calories per gram (120 Calories per ounce) are the preferred fuel for muscle metabolism.

Fats contain 9 Cal/gram. Protein is only used as an energy source in malnourished states.

(see NUTRITION FOR TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE for a more detailed discussion).

The Bonk

When the body's 1500 stored carbohydrate Calories are gone, only fats are left (plus any carbs you eat) At that point, the exercise level drops to 50% VO2 max. at most as there is only fat to provide your exercise Calories. One can avoid the bonk by:

II. Effects of exercise on digestion (getting what you eat into your system and to the muscles).

Before we go any further, let's take a minute to discuss the role of the various parts of your digestive tract.

When designing a nutritional program to supplement your body's 1500 stored Calories for an athletic event, the rate of digestion and absorption of foods must be taken into account. The time needed for:

will directly affect how quickly any food will be available to the muscle to provide the supplemental Calories for exercise.

Emptying of the stomach into the small intestine is the rate limiting step in getting Calories into the blood stream and to the working muscles. Once food molecules get into the small intestine, they are absorbed quite quickly. You have control over the four major factors that can delay stomach emptying.

The bottom line? The optimal food for a rapid, high-energy boost during a ride would be a semi-liquid or liquid carbohydrate with minimal if any fat. On the other hand, an endurance athlete, competing at a lower VO2 max., might prefer a complex carbohydrate with some fat added to improve taste (and generally in a solid form), in order to slow emptying from the stomach and even out absorption over a longer period of time.

This page summarizes the key nutrition concepts that you should incorporate into your personal nutrition program.

XII. Scheduling Your Calories - The rule of 4's

Now that we've briefly covered key nutrition basics and the importance of carbohydrates in fueling your bicycling effort, let's spend a minute looking at the timing of your intake. After that we will pull it all together in specific eating and nutritional guidelines for the various types of rides discussed in Section IV above.

There are several principles that underpin what I am going to call "The Rule of 4's" - my suggestions for timing your nutrition. They are:

The next section will apply these principles to emphasize critical times to consider in planning your eating program to maximize your physical performance - the Rule of 4's:

XIII. Applying The Rule of 4's to 6 Types of Rides

We have previously stressed the importance of clarifying your goals to let us tailor a riding schedule for your physical training. The same logic applies to developing your "nutritional program". As I emphasized previously, nutrition is the fuel for your bicycling engine - and just as you would not put regular gas in a high performance sports car, poor eating will lead to suboptimal performance on the bike.

To review, your ride will generally fall into (or close to) one of 6 classic types:

Each ride has its own challenges:

More details can be found on my webpage Nutrition Plans For 6 Common Types of Rides. I also took a stab at putting this in a matrix format to allow easier comparison of nutritional plans.

XIV. Recovery

Ask a cyclist about their personal training program and you can talk for hours about mileage, intervals, and nutritional secrets. But you won't often hear about an equally important 3rd pillar of a successful training program - recovery. (The 1st and 2nd are cardiovascular training and nutrition.) Although recovery is often considered the last task of the current training day, it is the bridge that prepares you for your next riding day.

Replenishing muscle and liver glycogen stores is the most important focus of the post ride recovery period, but fluid replacement and rest need a few comments as well.

XV. Training Pitfalls and Misperceptions

The above sections cover the components of a well rounded training program. Now I would like to look at the practical challenges of pulling them together into your personalized training program. To do so, I am going to use excerpts from a number of questions sent to me.

Taking them one at a time should help clarify comments I have made - or where I place my emphasis in applying training concepts. As we go along, feel free to send me your questions and I will try to answer them for you. I promise to keep any excerpts anonymous. Send them directly to me at cptipsnew@gmail.com

  1. Be clear in your goal.
  2. Getting better - it's not just about the miles
  3. Improving on the hills - no pain, no gain
------------
.....more to come. Send any feedback via the CPTIPS Facebook page or directly to me at cptipsnew@gmail.com


If you feel this page helped you in the design of your own training program, buy me a beer.

Cycling Performance Tips
Home | Table of Contents | Local Services/Information