Have you ever wondered how that riding buddy of yours always smokes you on climbs, or seems to have an extra gear in his or her legs compared to you? It could be that they are just genetically more gifted, but it is much more likely that it is how the train. Genetics really come into play when you start to separate the professional caliber riders from the really strong amateurs. Here are three ways to change how you approach training to make the jump to the next level in your riding ability.
The most important change you can make is to be consistent in your training. Consistency is arguably the most important factor in your endurance sports training. There is an old adage that says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in something. Consistency is the only way we can hope to achieve anything close to 10,000 of practice. In addition, if you are inconsistent in completing your prescribed workouts, you can’t consistently increase your training load, which is required to improve as an athlete.
Another key component of your training to revisit is how you vary your efforts. I see many endurance athletes just going out and doing the same workouts every day at the same intensity (which is usually zone 3). These athletes tend to be in pretty good shape, but have been at the same level of fitness for quite some time. Training like this will result in improvements for novice athletes because it builds aerobic fitness well. However, once an athlete reaches a certain level, improvements will likely slow or stop. In order to improve, this type of athlete needs to perform specific training, usually across each energy system. The hard days need to be very hard and the easy days have to be easy to promote recovery. For example, an athlete could do dedicated blocks of training focused on improving his or her neuromuscular adaptation. After that they may then work on anaerobic capacity and anaerobic endurance. They could also focus on training right at their lactate threshold. Performing testing across all of these varying time intervals can shed a lot of light on where strengths and weaknesses lie and where you should devote some additional time. The first step in this process is to build a power profile. For the purposes of this article, I won’t dive into the details of how to do this. However, if what I described above sounds like you, then please read more about power profiling here (http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/power-profiling).
The last component that endurance athletes need to consider to reach the next level is strength training. Almost, if not all, elite endurance athletes incorporate strength training into their overall program. The amount and nature of that training varies throughout the year from being a focus in the offseason, to maintenance more during the competitive season. Regardless, it is present throughout. Strength training enables you to increase your power by building lean muscle mass. Its greatest benefit may be that it increases your economy. In other words, it requires less output to maintain a certain effort because you are more efficient at doing so.
Strength training also makes you more a more resilient athlete, which helps a ton with the ability to remain consistent with your training. In addition, and this is of particular importance for cyclists, strength training helps to maintain bone density, which can be lost through extensive cycling training. Runners tend to not have this problem to the same degree due to the weight bearing nature of their sport. However, runners still benefit a great deal from strength training.
The three changes mentioned above apply to all endurance athletes. Here’s a bonus 4th for mountain bikers in particular. Improve your technical abilities. Minutes can be made on long downhill sections of races if you are a strong descender. I recall a race I did in Crested Butte on some trails that I’d never ridden before. It was a 40 miles long mountain bike race with some long climbs followed by long downhill sections. I recall catching and passing riders on the climbs, only to give up those gains on the downhill sections because I didn’t know the trails and was riding the downhill sections very conservatively. A rider with weak technical abilities will tend to ride in the same conservative manner, and cost him or herself what is essentially free time!
I hope this sheds some light on some areas of your training that you can change to take the next step to improving your riding ability. Stay consistent, vary your training, incorporate strength training and improve your technical skills and you will notice incredible performance gains. Happy riding!