There is only so much progress you can make in your quest for cycle fitness simply by riding further and for longer.
At a certain point, your training will need to become more structured and specific, if you want to maximise your performance at whatever cycling challenge you have set yourself (and by ‘your’, I of course mean ‘my’).
In this post I will identify the resources that you can use either to find a suitable training plan (be that prêt-à-porter or bespoke) or, alternatively, to learn the fundamentals of training, such that you can attempt to build your own.
As some of you will know, my main event this year is to participate in the inaugural RideLondon-Surrey 100 in early August. My training to date has been ok-ayy (said with a little hesitation as the Grimpeur attempts to persuade himself that it has).
I’ve got to the point where I’ve been able to cycle 100km (including the two main RideLondon climbs) and complete a hilly 65km sportive containing more than the total ascent in RideLondon.
After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake – Elvis Presley
It is clear from each of these ‘data points’ that I am not ready for RideLondon yet (at least not if I want to avoid a comedy pratfall on the Mall as both quads cramp into cataclysmic spasms).
In recent weeks, moving house and assembling Ikea furniture has unfortunately taken priority over bicycling my new environs.
With my wife starting her new job and the consequent resumption of my role as Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to our two children, my training needs to be organised and efficient if I am to stand any chance of actually doing any.
Finally (I do apologise for this lengthy preamble), on 12 May, it will be 12 weeks until the event. From looking at training plans in the past, 12 weeks is a common programme length. So, by doing my research now, I have time to find something appropriate and do a little more preparatory riding before I start.
So where is this information of which you speak?
Since you’re likely to be connected to the internet as we speak (or rather, as you read), it makes sense to start with a quick search.
For me a day without training is like a day without eating –
Andrew MontgomeryHaile Gebrselassie
It is impossible to say definitively, but my sense is that there is more information available on the internet that helps you to understand and build your own training programme, than simple off-the-shelf training plans for a given distance or event type.
The problem with the DIY approach is knowing where to start and what to believe. The following articles look sensible and provide a helpful starting point:
Building a training plan – Cycling Tips (an Aussie cycling blog)
How to Create Your Training Program – Manukau City Veterans Cycle Club (in NZ – not exactly sure how I arrived at this one…)
For a more comprehensive resource, looking at cycling fitness from a variety of angles, you can’t go too far wrong with the Bicycling website.
Strictly speaking, Bicycling was a magazine first and should therefore go in my next section, but the website is so comprehensive that it deserves to be mentioned as a major web resource.
If you are looking for a prepared training plan (either to follow or to adapt), the British Heart Foundation (organiser of many a charity bike ride in the UK and beyond) has three programmes on its cycle training page, with the Advanced one looking most suitable for something along the lines of RideLondon.
Training information can also be found in dedicated cycling magazines and sometimes in publications with a broader focus (i.e. fitness in general or ‘outdoors activities’.
Where Cyclist touches upon the subject of training, it tends to do so thematically or in relation to a particular aspect of training (for instance, the use of ride data or the importance of post-ride nutrition), rather than providing more generic ‘how to’ guides. This approach is ideal if you want to get into real detail; less appropriate if you want straightforward, easy-to-follow advice.
Procycling doesn’t even pretend to suggest that the reader is capable of the feats performed by the professional riders within its pages. It’s probably right.
With a more direct cycling fitness focus, in the UK, we have Cycling Fitness and Cycling Active, which you can go and peruse in the newsagent of your choice.
When it comes to fitness, both magazines have to battle with the ‘Mens Health Paradox’ – the fact that developments in sports science really don’t occur on a monthly basis (well, they do in secret, at a velodrome in Manchester). Hence, training programmes and fitness guides are recycled and reworked frequently. If you’re lucky, you might find that this month’s edition serves all of your training programme needs and you don’t need to buy another copy in the future.
Finally, I should mention the venerable Cycling Weekly (in the UK). I haven’t bought a huge number of the former, but it’s clear from seeing the front cover on the magazine shelves that cycling training and fitness are regularly-featured topics. In particular, I have particularly liked the articles where they focus on the training progress of readers with differing fitness levels and cycling objectives.
I am a massive fan of books generally. In the non-fiction/educational niche, a successful book tends to be comprehensive, leading the reader logically through the different aspects of the topic.
I own a single cycling-specific training book – one by Chris Carmichael that describes Lance Armstrong’s training programme (though it does seem to miss the odd detail out). Since the book identifies Armstrong’s high cadence as the source of his competitive advantage, it is probably wise that we move swiftly on.
Joe Friel is a highly-regarded coach and author. I already have his Triathlete’s Training Bible from the time when I misguidedly felt that a ride could be improved by swimming in a lake beforehand and going for a run afterwards (and I may still do another triathlon – I’d like to bring the average cost of my wetsuit to below £50 per swim).
The Triathlete’s Training Bible is excellent, delving deep into training theory and how to structure your training to peak at one or two ‘A’ events per year. I have every reason to believe that the Cyclists Training Bible and The Power Meter Handbook will be just as good (note: not affiliate links).
If you’re looking for a book that provides proven weight loss and fitness results, then Velopixie (who lost 72lbs in 12 months) has recommended to me two books by Matt Fitzgerald: Racing Weight and Racing Weight Quick Start Guide.
In the Velopixie’s own words, the latter is a
follow up book to the more comprehensive Racing Weight and provides a combination of nutritional and training advice for endurance athletes, including specific content for cyclists. The book contains both training plans and diet plans, making the job of interpreting the information that was contained within the original Racing Weight book much, much easier … Racing Weight was probably the reference work that I used the most last year (and still do) in relation to understanding nutrition for endurance and fueling training sessions.
The uber-solution to finding your optimal training programme would be to hire yourself a coach. Traditionally this would have needed to be someone in your local area that you met with in person in order to plan and execute the training plan.
It’s all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you’re properly trained – Queen Elizabeth II (apparently)
In the modern age it is not so simple. Using the internet and smartphones, as well as increasingly affordable power meters and other ride data recorders, coaching can be conducted remotely. In many cases, the coach and the athlete do not even need to meet (or indeed be on the same continent).
In addition to dedicated one-to-one coaching, coaches can provide a range of remote training packages, priced at different levels based on the amount of contact with the athlete.
The internet has provided further benefits. In addition to providing dedicated coaching, membership websites allow communities of athletes to train together and motivate one another, even if physically they are miles from one another.
I am not yet at the stage where I have explored hiring a coach, so I am afraid that I’m unable to provide any recommendations, beyond going to the website of the relevant national body that regulates coaches in your country (like this one, for British Cycling). If you have any recommendations, I would be delighted to hear them – let me know in the comments section below.
We’ve already mentioned the august Manukau City Veterans Cycle Club. For those of you not fortunate to live in or close to south Auckland, I understand that there are cycle clubs in other parts of the world that you can join.
As I am not a member of a cycling club, I’m not exactly the right person to comment on what they can and cannot offer you in terms of training programmes and advice.
If I’m honest, the idea of joining a club intimidates me somewhat. However, the rational side of my brain is aware that most (all?) cycling clubs are welcoming and inclusive. Joining one is likely to increase my volume of cycling and give me access to the combined training expertise of the club hive mind. Many have trained coaches (of the human variety rather than a Sky team bus).
So what will the Grimpeur use?
For the cyclist looking to put together a suitable training plan, there is a wealth of information available. The challenge is know what to believe (and implement) and what to dismiss.
On my side, my initial approach will be to use a combination of web-based resources and books (with the Cyclist Training Bible and Racing Weight being right at the top of my ‘to buy’ list).
In the slightly longer term, I intend to join a cycling club here in sunny Derbyshire, in order to tap into the expertise of more experienced cyclists in the area.
What about you?
How do you put together training programmes? Do you have a coach and would you recommend one? Is there a source of information that I have left out?
Let me know in the comments box below.
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In the meantime, safe cycling.