No matter how fit and skilled you are as a bike rider, you probably wouldn’t mind 10 per cent more speed, wattage and comfort on the bike. Top racers want more victories, while leisure riders want more long days with great conversation. For new cyclists, getting faster is easy: ride more, anything works. As we gain fitness, each additional percentage of improvement is harder to gain. For most of my clients, and likely for you, it’s not a genetic limitation that causes fitness to stagnate. Rather, it’s a limit on how many hours you can devote to riding among other life commitments. Since you can’t ride for more hours each week, you must start thinking about training differently to unlock the 10 per cent between you and your goal performance.
What do you see when you watch a race start, a hard hill climb, an attack or a final sprint? You see riders out of the saddle. How often do you practise that type of pedalling and athletic explosiveness? This technique is the key to getting to the singletrack ahead of a slow rider, to climbing faster, making a breakaway or crossing the finish line first. Riding out of the saddle will even help you ride comfortably for more hours by giving your butt, and seated pedalling muscles, a break.
Eat a variety of foods and make vegetables a big part of your diet. A poor diet will affect energy production, cognition, reaction time, recovery, sleep and, yes, your power to weight ratio (even if you do more suffer-videos). Start with habits and easy substitutions. Have a bedtime tea instead of dessert, sweet potatoes instead of white pasta and a veggie omelette instead of sugary cereal. You can eat everything, but ensure you eat primarily the foods that will make you healthy and fast.
Turn off screens
Without fail my busy cyclist clients are pushing the limits of what they can do during their waking hours. Busy people rarely want to sleep more. If you can’t find a way to sleep more, try increasing sleep quality. Stop eating an hour or two before bed. Instead, spend that period winding down in dim light (perhaps with a loved one).
Write down everything you are thinking about and take an extra step by scheduling when you will work on those things. Set out clothes and gear for the next day. Avoid bright lights and screens, not just to keep away from the melatonin-suppressing beams, but to avoid getting stressed by someone’s ill-timed email. It can wait till the morning. Limit watching TV to earlier in the evening, before your wind-down routine. Set up a timer on the TV, which makes it more inconvenient to binge-watch an entire series on Netflix. On weekends, boost your training adaptations by napping for 30 minutes after your big workouts.
Boost your explosivity
I used to hate starts and sprints, so it took me more than 10 years to win a provincial mountain bike race even though I had enough fitness to do it. Even if you only race long-distance events, you need to be able to activate your cycling-specific muscles explosively for climbs, starts, sprints and attacks. This activation also boosts your endurance, especially as you start to fatigue. Include a set or two of very hard, five-to-20-second sprint efforts both standing and seated, year-round. If you are free of injuries, seated, low r.p.m. efforts of one to two minutes can be hugely performance-boosting, especially if you struggle with climbing or struggle if your cadence goes below
90 r.p.m. Strength training off the bike will ensure you are strong and will help minimize injuries, and improve your on-bike performance.
Work on skills
Unlike most other sports, cyclists generally don’t get coaching to improve their cycling skills. Masters swimmers do drills constantly and very often with coach supervision. What would happen if you took a similar strategy with your cycling? Consider what has limited you in the past and how you can improve it with coaching and drills. Common areas to develop are cornering, pack riding, aerodynamics, bunny hopping, riding no-handed, standing up and braking.
Don’t suffer every day. Just because you have limited training hours, it doesn’t mean all your training should be moderately hard. Ride easy most days; ride long when you can. Ride with a purpose and with intensity twice a week, on days you’re very rested and not stressed. If you only have one low-stress day, then do one very hard day and ride easy, focused on skill, co-ordination and endurance building, the other days. You will be amazed with this approach, if you commit to it.
To gain that last 10 per cent improvement you need to reach your goal, train your limitations specifically by maximizing your skills, tactics and event specific fitness. Think about bike riding as more than just pedalling; train and recover in a way that boosts your health and wellness.