by Stephen Cheung

In an ideal world, we would all have as much time as we’d like to ride our bikes and train. In the real world, however, there’s work, family and other commitments to juggle. The less time we have to ride, the more important proper planning and smart training become. With our time constraints, we lose the ability to cover up training deficiencies by massive amounts of volume and aerobic fitness.

Professionals will train 20 or more hours a week putting in a large volume of endurance-level riding to build up a very strong and deep base of aerobic fitness. In contrast, many training programs for amateurs are based on eight to 12 hours of riding a week, cutting out most of the aerobic volume while keeping the intense work relatively intact.

There are times, though, when we are faced with even less riding time: maybe a couple of hours during the week with a longer ride on the weekend for a total of five hours a week. That amount of riding will probably keep you off the podium. But what if you simply want to keep up on the group hammer rides and not be totally gassed? What can you do?

There is a fine balance needed as training time is decreased. When you cut down on endurance training, your aerobic base loses its depth and strength. This change, in turn, decreases your ability to benefit from the highly intense training. At the same time, your risk of overtraining is increased because of your decreased ability to recover and adapt. So, do not try to cram hard riding into every ride to make up for limited riding time.

Improve your pack riding skills

Make the most of what you have by being as economical as possible in the pack. Too often, I have seen strong and fit riders waste a lot of energy by not drafting efficiently and spending far too much energy sitting out in the wind. The more comfortable you are at drafting smoothly and sitting in a pack, the less energy you waste. Take a learn-to-race course even if you never intend to race, and practise bike handling drills and drafting with a trusted friend or in low-key group rides.

Go long

If you have a little bit of time on both Saturday and Sunday to ride, is it better to ride an hour each day or put together a single long ride? The less overall time you have, then the more important it is to prioritize a single longer ride. The shorter rides during the week will provide you with intense training, but it is hard to replace the distinct metabolic and muscular stimulus from a long endurance ride.

Quality intensity

Your weekday rides will be short, but should focus on intensity and intervals. The actual intervals will depend on your weaknesses and the areas you want to improve. In contrast, don’t waste time on your strengths. For example, you need to keep up on the climbs to even be there for the townline sprint, so work on the climbs. As an added bonus, the interval work will still provide a strong aerobic stimulus to improve your overall endurance.

If you have an hour during weekdays, then warm up for 15 minutes at a steady endurance pace. Mix in two to three one-minute efforts at low intensity but maximal cadence to loosen up the legs and drive the heart rate up. Follow up with a main interval of 30 to 40 minutes, and then cool down by riding easy for the final five to 10 minutes.
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