by Andrew Randell and Steve Neal of The Cycling Gym
We hope everyone is healthy and safe. As we write this, the City of Toronto is in an emergency situation. Our gym has been closed for the past two weeks and we don’t know how the coronavirus pandemic is going to unfold.
Whether you’ve been able to ride outside or inside, the situation does present an interesting opportunity. The cycling season we had all been planning for throughout the winter disappeared. Events were cancelled and throughout the spring travel was restricted. There was nothing pressing that we needed to be fit for. So why not take the time to build that aerobic base that we are always talking about? None of us ever feel like we have the time to do it, but here we are with the perfect opportunity.
Building your aerobic base will mean spending plenty of time at endurance and tempo efforts. You may think you know how to do these efforts, but in all likelihood you are doing both too hard. Most riders we work with have a perceived exertion that is skewed. When they are doing an effort with their heart rate up at 85 per cent or higher – what we would consider hard – they rate it as a seven out of 10. They expect their rides to feel like this. All they have experienced is the club ride and local spinning studio. Both of these places will have you riding at threshold all the time.
“Watch your heart rate increase slowly throughout the ride. If you get to 75 per cent, back off the effort.”
Your endurance rides should be done at 60 to 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate. These rides should leave you with little to no muscular fatigue. At first, in order to ride at this heart rate, you will need to do these rides on the flats. Keep a comfortable cadence and watch the heart rate. Don’t peg it to the top of the zone right away. Pick an effort that is manageable and that you think you can sustain. Watch your heart rate increase slowly throughout the ride. If you get to 75 per cent, back off the effort.
Once you are a bit stronger, then you can start incorporating some rolling terrain into your rides. These routes will give you the chance to work on riding at a variety of cadences. On the hills, to keep your heart rate at less than 75 per cent, you can turn the pedals at a very low cadence, the legs under a bit of tension. Then on the flats, start to ride while spinning the pedals at 90 r.p.m., and even at 100 r.p.m. for stretches, all while the heart rate is well under control.
As you get better at the endurance, toss some tempo efforts into the ride. These are done at 80 to 83 per cent of maximum heart rate, typically with the legs under some tension on a bit of a heavier gear. Build the time you can ride under tension, keeping the cadence stable.
Then to spice things up – as many will say that this type of training is boring – use Zwift to do a race every two or three weeks. This ride will be a chance to really put in a hard effort and to see how your fitness is changing. You might be surprised at the improvements you make without having buried yourself in training.
Focusing on more endurance and tempo will certainly allow you to be amazingly consistent. It will lower your fatigue levels and let you train day in, day out without missing or failing at your training sessions. It should also help ensure your immune system is in good order to keep you healthy. Keep well and we’ll see you at the virtual races.
Finding your maximum heart rate
A good way to determine your maximum heart rate is to do a five minute time trial effort while wearing a heart-rate monitor. This ride is all-out: you are looking to cover as much distance as possible in the five minutes. Going hard will push your body and get you to your maximum heart rate.
This story originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of Canadian Cycling