CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
A focused aerobic training program can increase your VO2max by 15 to 30% over a 3 month period and by up to 50% over 2 years. The reverse is also true with a drop off in performance within a few weeks of stopping a regular training regimen. Metabolic changes (cellular enzyme levels) can change quite quickly; physical changes such as the concentration of muscle capillaries and skeletal/cardiac muscle fiber size occur more slowly (see detraining below).
Metabolic adaptations in training increase aerobic energy production (ATP from glucose) as well as the removal of metabolic end products of energy production (such as lactic acid.). There is also an increase in the efficiency of energy production with more ATP coming from lipid metabolism, and less from glucose metabolism, at intermediate levels of exertion. The extra energy from fat supplements the energy produced from glycogen and glucose. The result is an increase in endurance (the ability to maintain that level of performance for a longer time).
Training will improve the physical structure of the muscle itself, making it more resistant to the stresses of prolonged exertion. The strengthening of the connective tissue between muscle fibers minimizes the micro-trauma (and post exercise discomfort) that can accompany a training session.
A training regimen is not just about applying stress. It should include adequate periods of rest and recovery to allow mental and physical recovery and minimize the risks of overtraining and burnout. And, as this article illustrates, there is also a positive benefit of improved competitive performance.
As time passes you can begin to add a few intervals or hills into your ride. Remember, you're banking foundation miles for the more serious training to come, and as the risk for pushing is highest at this point in the season, the best strategy is to let the terrain and how you feel (perceived exertion) dictate when it is time to add additional effort. It is better to feel as if you could go out and put in a few more miles than to have pushed yourself to the point of needing an extra recovery day for those sore muscles.
A good target for base mileage is ~500 miles - and as a rule of thumb, don't increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% (over the prior week) as you get there.
Two common metrics of muscle strength are:
Glucose (glycogen) is preferred for ATP generation for high level aerobic performance. Fat is an alternative, but metabolic bottlenecks in the cell enzyme machinery limit the maximal rate at which ATP can be produced.
Efficient generation of ATP from glucose oxidation requires oxygen. When a cell's requirements for oxygen are exceeded, glucose metabolism shifts to less efficient anaerobic (without oxygen) pathways. These alternative pathways produce fewer ATP molecules per molecule of glucose oxidized and also produce acidic byproducts that are uncomfortable (the "burn") and hinder strong muscle cell contractions.
So we see that supplying maximal energy to the active muscle requires that both adequate carbohydrates and oxygen be delivered to the exercising muscle. For short bouts (sprints) it is oxygen that is the limiting factor in the production of more ATP, while in endurance events it is usually the amount of glucose available.
There is no metric to measure our body's glycogen stores, but on a normal diet they should equal 1200 - 2000 Calories. And if you anticipate needing more Calories for a longer ride, internal glycogen stores can be supplemented by appropriate carbohydrate snacking.
But we do have an excellent metric for the upper limit of oxygen availability, the VO2max. It quantitates the maximum amount of oxygen the body (basically your muscles) can use in energy metabolism. It is considered the gold standard of cardiovascular, pulmonary, and muscle cell fitness.
The measure of an athlete's specific VO2max (a great performance metric) requires a sophisticated physiology lab. But as a training metric, reflecting the amount of physiologic stress, the percent of VO2max (%VO2max) can be easily estimated by using a heart rate surrogate, the % of maximum heart rate (%MHR).
The third requirement for optimal performance is a healthy intracellular environment, essential to maximize the production of ATP and facilitate strong muscle cell contractions. This requires the right balance of specific minerals (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium) and rapid removal of the acidic end products of energy production. If these acidic molecules accumulate, they can cause both physical discomfort (the "burn") as well as diminish the strength of muscle cell contraction.
As exercise intensity approaches a rider's VO2max (between 85 and 100% VO2 max), some areas of the active muscle (those less well supplied by blood vessels to help deliver oxygen) shift to anaerobic pathways. The result is a production of increasing amounts of lactic acid and other acid metabolic byproducts. And as production increasingly out strips the body's ability to remove them, the fluid around the muscle cell becomes increasingly acidic, and performance degrades.
The increase in blood lactic acid levels is the basis for another gold standard performance metric, the lactate threshold (LT) reflecting the body's limits to remove it. LT is expressed as % VO2max, the level of exertion where the balance between production and removal of lactate shifts and blood levels begin to rise. We need a physiology lab to determine an exact %VO2max for the LT, but just as with the VO2max itself, there is an easily measured, but less accurate, surrogate for LT (a specific %MHR) to allow us to use our personal LT as a training tool.
If done correctly, training will lead to a more robust cardiovascular system to supply oxygen for energy production and stimulate the cellular enzymes involved in ATP production and lactic acid removal. And our VO2max and LT will increase.
Let's use weight training as an example. To increase your strength, you apply stress by gradually adding weight to your lift. The muscle cells respond by increasing in size, and over time, your one repetition maximum increases.
Any training program needs a measure (a TRAINING metric) to judge the level of stress being applied. You want enough stress to stimulate improvement, but not so much that you increase the risk of injury.
And if you want to measure the results of your training, an improvement in your performance, you need a PERFORMANCE metric as well.
In resistance training, as an example, weight serves a double role - a metric of the stress being applied (the weight being used for each set of repetitions) and the performance metric as the weight of a one-time maximal lift.
For cycling, there are multiple training metrics to choose from. Some are easier to measure
Is one metric better than another? There is no hard science that supports one metric - HRM (heart rate monitor), PE (perceived exertion) or a watt meter - as a superior training tool. All of them provide a tool to apply measured amounts of stress when training. Although there is a lot of emotion over which is superior, it is more likely that training success is from the systematic approach and application of a training metric rather than to the specific metric used.
I like perceived exertion as a training metric. It integrates hard measure of stress (heart rate, watts of power) with your state of fatigue, your glycogen stores, and your recovery status into a single value. Direct from our "central governor", an assessment that can be expressed as a numerical term which can be monitored without a need for special equipment. Here is an example of specific descriptors for levels of PE (on a 10 point rather than the traditional 20 point scale).
Let's look at an example. One day you are in your HR training zone and feeling great. You might even be able to push it a bit. But on another day you just drag at the same heart rate. The same HR metric but an entirely different PE for session. I contend that your perceived exertion (how strong you are feeling) is telling you there is something else going on (not enough rest, failed to allow adequate recovery from your last session) and warns you not to chase the heart rate alone or risk the negatives of over training.
Using perceived exertion as a metric in interval training does lead to improvement. Would you improve more quickly using a HR monitor? I doubt it. And by actively listening to feedback from your body, you decrease the chances of an injury and setback from going too hard.
My conclusions? All metrics lead to a similar result. And it is the application of whichever metric you might choose, applied in a regimented program that is the most important predictor of a successful training program.
VO2 (oxygen consumption) is the amount of oxygen being used by exercising muscles as they convert glucose (and fat) to energy. It is expressed as the volume of oxygen (liters) used per unit of time (minutes). As exercise intensity increases, VO2 increases until it plateaus at the VO2max. At VO2max, the lungs, heart, and vascular system have reached their limit to deliver oxygen to the muscles. The muscles then switch to less efficient anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism.
The VO2max is a performance metric (it increases with the level of training; higher is better) and a training metric (the closer exercise intensity is to an athlete's maximal aerobic ability, the higher the %VO2max, the more aerobic stress is being applied in the training session).
Measuring an athlete's VO2 directly requires a sophisticated physiology lab. But there is an easy work around. Heart rate and VO2 rise in a direct, linear relationship. And at 100% of your maximal heart rate, you are essentially at your VO2max. Thus your exercise intensity expressed as %MHR is also %VO@max. You now have easy access to a "gold standard" training metric.
Lactic acid is produced by all cells, especially those with high metabolic rates such as neurons (the brain ) and the exercising muscle. It is cleared from the blood by its conversion to pyruvate, some in the resting muscle but mostly in the liver. At level of our blood lactate level is determined by the balance between production and removal. As production picks up, mostly from exercising muscles, the balance shifts toward production and blood lactate levels rise.
As exercise intensity increases, muscle cells begin to outstrip their oxygen supply, shift to less efficient and lactic acid production surges. And with high intensity exercise, it is an exponential increase in production.
Lactic acid removal is fairly constant and the new imbalance is reflected as a sharp increase in blood lactate levels. This point is called the lactate threshold (or perhaps more correctly, the onset of blood lactate accumulation - OBLA).
This graph shows the blood lactate level as exertion increases. At a point between A and B, OBLA or the Lactate Threshold has been reached. This article provides more details on lactate metabolism.
Why is the lactate threshold important? Efforts at the level of the VO2max only can be sustained only for a few minutes - an aerobic sprint. For this reason the VO2max is not a good measure of optimal performance for the endurance athlete. The lactate threshold is a better metric as it corresponds to the maximum load or exercise intensity an athlete can sustain for long periods without experiencing a rapid increase in lactic acid levels in the blood and their negative effects on performance.
To increase their lactate threshold, rather than focusing on VO2max, an athlete should train at a high enough intensity to stress lactate removal but still low enough to prevent lactic acid build up. That is at their LT. And this number needs regular adjustment if you want to keep up the physiologic stress as during training as it will increase.
This is a nice summary (and example) of the concept. I'll paraphrase and refer to my annotated graph.
With training the VO2max increases. But more important to overall performance is a increase in the anaerobic threshold. After a training period of a few months, the anaerobic threshold rises. The intensity of the exercise (to the point that LT is reached) has increased, let's say from 40% to 60% of VO2 max, without being accompanied by an accumulation of lactic acid. And the elite athlete can exercise at an LT of 93 percent of their VO2 max.
An effort that previously could be sustained only briefly (limited by an accumulation of acidic byproducts) can now be sustained for a much longer time. The total amount of work that can be done in the time spent (which translates into a greater wattage and thud greater speed) increases.
On the graph, the right vertical axis shows the shift of the LT deflection point after a training period. Let's assume a MHR of 200. The HR at the LT deflection point for the untrained subject is 130 beats per minute (marked as C). After a training period of several months, the LT deflection point has shifted upwards to 180 beats per minute (D).
The left vertical axis shows VO2max (line DB is VO2max and increases with time, but then plateaus). More noticeable is the area under the curve which reflects aerobic metabolism (that is before LT is reached and acidic byproducts build up). This area has now increased from the original area under line CA - remember this person was training - to the area under line DB.
With training the VO2max can improve as much as 30 percent. But the biggest impact on total work output is from the shift in LT. So as you develop your training regimen, remember that interval training is not just about doing 30 second anaerobic intervals to improve your VO2max. You also need to add in rides for longer periods (30 minutes plus) at your LT.
Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is a metric very much akin to the LT. It is defined as the highest average power (load) you can sustain for an hour, measured in watts. LT also equals the maximum load (often measured in terms of speed or heart rate) an athlete can sustain for long periods without a progressive increase in lactic acid levels in the blood and their negative effects on performance. Thus FTP (in watts) = LT (in %MHR or road speed). And both can be used as a LT training tool.
There are 3 levels of intensity to consider.
Does 30 minutes of 80% MHR equate to 40 minutes at 70% i.e. increase the intensity to compensate for decreasing the duration? For endurance training perhaps, but not for improving your VO2max.
As proof of an upper limit for the benefits of aerobic training, a group of swimmers training 1.5 hours per day was compared to a group training with two equivalent 1.5 hour sessions. There was no difference in the final performance, power, or endurance between the two groups. For endurance aerobic training (continuous, not intervals) at less than 90% maximum heart rate it makes the most sense to look at the duration of the planned event, and train:
The biggest challenge in developing a training prgram is striking the right balance between training intensity and duration.
This article stresses how important intervals are to improving your riding. When I started riding, there were two separate training styles. One was focused on sprints (intervals) if you were training for short events, and the other on piling up the mileage with long slow distance if you were training for endurance.
You need mileage if you are planning on endurance rides. These slower, long distance rides will help you "....get comfortable on the bike, practice pacing, and dial in your nutrition and hydration. All things that shorter interval workouts can't do."
You need to begin the season with some easy miles to make sure the back, shoulders, and joints have had a chance to prepare for the stresses of interval training, to decrease the chances of a training injury.
But you also need intervals, which can be a part of every training ride, if you want to get faster.
Takeaways from this article:
The biggest take away is the importance of adequate rest, a couple days off the bike altogether, to reap the rewards of the more intense training sessions.
I love the mantra - "You gotta go slow to get fast."
DO SIX 1/2 HOUR RIDES = ONE 3 HOUR TRAINING RIDE?
Q. As I have a rather flexible schedule I was wondering which would be most advantageous to build my endurance and fitness during the winter months of shorter daylight hours.. 5 days a week of 2 - 3 hour rides or 2 days 4 - 5 hour rides and recovery rides in between?
A second part is that I have had beginning riders ask a more extreme version: "What if I rode once a week for 2 hours vs four 1/2 hour rides, which would be best."
A. It all comes down to the purpose of your riding/training.
If you are training for endurance (length of time you will be sitting on the seat of the bike) you need to work up to riding at least one longer ride (near that time duration of that planned ride) a week. Thus if you are training for 3 hour ride, you need to work towards riding a single 3 hour training ride. 6 one half hour rides will not get your body (muscles, shoulders, butt) use to 3 straight hours on the bike like a single 3 hour ride will.
If you want to ride faster, then 2 one half hour rides at 80 - 90% VO2max may be almost as good a single one 1 hour ride (at the same clip).
Studies indicate that maximum aerobic conditioning (measured as an increase in
VO2max) occurs with 3 workout days per week. So unless you are trying to burn
Calories to lose weight, or are working to get the musculoskeletal system (back,
shoulders) in shape for a long endurance event by increasing mileage on the
bike, it is better to take 2 to 3 days per week off the bike to allow for muscle
and ligament repair and decrease the risk of cumulative stress resulting in an
increase in training injuries. Interestingly, it appears that the 3 days per week
will maximize aerobic conditioning equally in any combination - i.e.
3 days in a row with 4 off, alternating days of exercise/rest, etc.
Q. I was reading the other day in Joe Friels Cyclists Training Bible that he feels training twice a day is better because you release a second dose of growth hormone during the day. I haven't found any literature behind his comment. Have you got in more info about training twice a day compared to once? - J.
A.I am not aware of any literature supporting twice a day training other than as a "work around" for a training schedule limitations (such as work commitments). In fact I would suspect that if there is any effect it would more likely be a negative rather compared to a single longer session.
Although resistance and aerobic training impact the muscle cells unique and different ways, scientific studies suggest that there is little difference ..."within muscles whether the men performed both aerobic and resistance training or aerobic training alone." And it apparently made no difference as to the order i.e. if one does their aerobic workout first that day - or the resistance training.
For those of you, especially triathletes, who have complex training schedules, this removes one additional worry factor about the interference of different training modalities and should make your planning easier.
Aerobic training (important for cycling and other sporting events lasting more than 60 seconds) provides its major benefits through improvement of the cardiovascular and oxygen delivery systems to the muscle cell. These include improvements in both cardiac output (amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute) and changes at the muscle fiber level that increase the removal or extraction of oxygen from the blood cells in the capillaries. In addition, there is an improvement in the efficiency of the cellular metabolic pathways which convert glucose into ATP in the presence of oxygen.
There is always a combination of ongoing anaerobic and aerobic metabolism in the muscle cell. As the level of exertion (measured by %VO2max) increases, there is a transition within the muscle cell from this balance of an almost entirely aerobic metabolism (and minimal anaerobic metabolism) towards an energy production process with a more anaerobic component. There are always areas of relatively lower perfusion within a muscle - and these areas are thus more likely to be functioning anaerobically. So even at 50 to 60% VO2max some anaerobic conditioning is occurring. But at 85% VO2max (the "anaerobic threshold" for most individuals) there is an abrupt increase in anaerobic metabolism throughout the entire muscle. Even though some cross training of the anaerobic systems takes place during exercise at 60 to 80% VO2max, a training program for sprint performance needs to include several exercise sessions per week above 85% VO2max. Long slow distance may be good training for aerobic, endurance events, but it will not improve your sprint performance.
A good training program will be designed to include both aerobic and anaerobic exercise sessions. It is the art of finding the balance of the types of exercise (aerobic vs anaerobic; interval training, continuous training, and fartlek training) in your overall program which will determine its effectiveness for the competitive event for which you are training.
If one is training for sprints of up to 20 seconds in duration (which do not involve significant lactic acid buildup and basically are training the ATP and CP energy systems), it is recommended that the duration of the training interval be 1 to 5 seconds over the usual best time for the sprint distance (with exercise intensity or maximum effort being that of the event for which you are training. For example, if one is training for a 100 yard dash, and has a personal best of 12 seconds, the training interval should be a 13 or 14 seconds sprint at the same pace (ignoring the total distance being covered in the 13 or 14 seconds) with a rest (lower intensity activity) period 3 times longer than the training interval recommended for recovery - 42 seconds in this example.
Using intervals to train for longer sprints (up to several minutes) produces significant lactic acid buildup in the muscles along with stressing the anaerobic metabolic pathways. To train for these longer distances (several minutes of maximum output), it is suggested that the distance for which you are training be subdivided, and the training interval effort focused on that shorter distance. For example, if one is training for a personal best in a mile ride on the bike, and the best time for the entire mile is 3 minutes on the bike (with the best 1/4 mile segment being 30 seconds and the best 1/2 mile segment being 80 seconds) the training interval could be set at either 1/4 or 1/2 mile and the time for this training interval set at your personal best minus 3 to 5 seconds. In this example the training interval might be chosen as 1/4 mile with a goal of a 25 second time. And the rest interval should be 2 times the training interval (as lactic acid clearance does not require the same recovery time as recharging the intracellular metabolic machinery).
A risk to be considered is that training program drop out rates can double when intervals are used, so they should be used judiciously. Don't use intervals all year round, limit them to twice a week during your peak season, and separate each session by at least 48 hours to allow adequate recovery. If your long ride is on the weekend, Tuesday and Thursday make the most sense for your interval training. The goal should be at least 10 to 20 minutes of hard pedaling per training interval session, not counting warm up, recovery, or cool down. A good place to start is with 5 minutes of peak effort per daily interval session.
Another approach is to use one day a week for short intervals (i.e. five - 60 second and five - 90 second intervals) and a second for longer intervals (two - 3 minute and two - 5 minute intervals). Allow 3 to 5 minutes for recovery between intervals and don't forget a 20 to 30 minute warm up and a 15 minute cool down. It has been shown that as few as a half dozen 5 minute intervals (separated by one minute recoveries) during a 300 km training week will improve both time trial and peak performance.
If you have a heart rate monitor, an alternative is to key intervals to your maximum heart rate. Ride your intervals at 80 to 90% of your maximum heart rate and spin easily until your heart rate drops to 60 to 65% of maximum.
This level of exertion can be maintained for hours at slightly less intensity than you may have used in personal competitive events in the past, and is particularly suited for endurance event training. It is thought to have a preferential benefit for the slow twitch muscle fibers (as opposed to the fast twitch fibers used in sprint interval training). It is suggested that a distance of 2 to 5 times the actual competitive event be chosen for this daily segment of a weekly training program.
SPRINTS OR DISTANCE?
People usually are changing their training program for one of two reasons -
they want to ride further or they want to ride faster.
If you are training for the goal of riding a long event, and your speed is just fine, it is important to make sure you are putting in the weekly miles (at any intensity). No intervals needed. It is about getting your body use to sitting on the bike for longer periods of time.
If you want to increase your top speed (MPH), which means you need to increase your VO2max, you will want to train your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) with at least 2 days of intervals a week, with the intervals increasing your heart rate to at least 90% of your max heart rate).
If you want to improve both you need a combination of intervals and longer rides in your weekly program. Doing more than 2 days of intervals a week increases the rate of training burnout and injury - so I suggest limiting interval (>90% VO2max) training to 2 days a week.
Based on the above principles, the following outlines the design of an ideal weekly training program with the 7 days including:
Aim for a total time commitment per week of 10 hours. It's interesting that two of America's all-time great road riders, Greg LeMond and Connie Carpenter, both recommend the same total weekly training time -- 10 hours -- for fast recreational riders. They say if you devote that much to a mix to distance, speed, climbing and easy rides for recovery, you're likely to come close to your potential. And time on the bike seems to be the key, not the miles ridden. LeMond's Law is occasionally referred to in bike magazines. To paraphrase: when you record your daily workout, make your key entry the time you rode not how far you rode. The reason, says Greg, "twenty miles into a headwind is a lot different than 20 miles with a tailwind". The same holds for a ride in the hills vs. a ride on flat ground.
For most recreational roadies, 7-10 hours of riding per week is plenty for steady improvement if you have an intelligent training program. Wouldn't more be better? If you do try to add in extra hours, you risk bothy overtraining as well as the extra stress produced by more time on the bike. Both physical stress on your body and the pressure it puts on responsibilities to family, friends, and profession.
Q.I am taking part in a 24 hour mountain bike event in July. There will be 5 of us in a team, so we will be taking it in turns on a course that takes approximately 40 minutes. That means we will have roughly 240 minute breaks between rides. The question is how do you train for that?
My main concern is the disjointed nature of the event. I have an idea what to do to train for a 6 hour event or a 40 minute event, but as we will be racing hard for 40 minutes, 8 or 9 times in 24 hours do I:
A. I would plan your weekly training program as if this was to be a 40 minute, high intensity event, with the additional focus being on what you need to do to maximize your recovery in the 4 hour break between "events".
I'd estimate the total mileage you think you would be riding in the 24 hours - and then be sure your baseline mileage (weekly) supports this distance. Train with your emphasis on intervals to improve performance for these 40 minute segments, and be sure you have one long ride a week at lower intensity equal to the total miles of the event + 10 - 15%.
Be sure you have maximized your glycogen reserves to start - and replace your expended Calories after each event using a liquid replacement as much as possible to minimize delays in gastric emptying and absorption. And be sure you replace sweat loses - dehydration over the 24 hours is probably the biggest risk to your performance. ( nutrition for performance, the interval ride section).
A. I think you are describing the warm up period that many riders experience - the first 5 miles, or 15 minutes, of a ride when the body cardiovascular and musculo skeletal systems are getting up to speed. It gets more noticeable with age and some riders are more bothered by it than others. I'm not aware of any shortcuts to avoid it - just listen to your body and don;t push too hard or your injury rate will go up