Giving the Game Away!?
As we approach a quieter part of the season I thought I would knock out a post about unlocking the principle behind effective training for those who may be experiencing training stagnation. Perhaps a few people may read this, those that tend to be efficient and productive and like to get from A to B with minimal fuss, or without any disruption, but also enjoy the journey and plan for another one. This may mean they are already implementing sound scientific coaching practice, or are just in time to avoid a wasted journey….others will continue with their own game, oblivious of the end result, whether that is right or wrong for them, only time will tell.
When a new clients signs-up with me, there is an important checklist to tick-off before implementing a custom programme:
Understand historical and recent training background
Establish the current training routine and expendable training time
Profile athlete performance (physiological testing) and define strengths, weaknesses in terms of event/ discipline.
Highlight work/ life events and future interruptions to training
Set realistic objectives for commitment and scope of training/ timeframe.
….only then should a coach or practitioner start to think about applying training principles to the client, and a pertinent training structure…of session type, stress, and recovery prescribed for optimal adaptation. The majority of recreational cyclists and even runners approach me after they have maximised their ability to progress any further with the sort of training they are doing or are progressing too slowly. Their training generally resembles random sessions of smashing it every weekend without any planned forecast of ability to recover or even factor in short beneficial sessions; core exercises, stretching and mobility and strength maintenance where necessary as part of a specific phase. This often leads to a vicious cycle where further poor performance is mistaken for under-training, and so perpetually continues….
Separate your Training Sessions
Understanding harmonised structure is crucial to allow stagnated and frustrated cyclists achieve desired results once more, and pull themselves from a ‘hole’ they might find themselves in or only just maintaining fitness….club runs or social training rides shouldn’t be a sufferfest….if they are you are generally training too hard for your ability, to someone elses ability or something is fundamentally wrong (lack of recovery from the last heavy training ride, which will massively extend the need to recover even further). Huffing and puffing is usually a sign that your breathing (cardio-respiratory function ) is misaligned with the metabolic economy and power of your muscles. Recreational athletes often do not resolve this in their training (also goes for runners). Training muscular endurance is easily separated from training oxygen delivery, but many people do not do this.
What many performance coaches or training apps won’t tell you is the scientific principle to improve rapidly towards more comfortable ability, productive rides and enjoyable cycling (or running)…rather than most rides or runs being a dreaded slog. Read my complimentary PDFs on optimal intervals, nutrition and Over-Training for a great start to improving your approach to beneficial training and metabolic health, not brutal training…before self-prescribing or designing your own programme.
Everyone knows best?
This is all very feasible, assuming you are able to objectively apply those principles to yourself. Knowing what the principles are, alone, isn’t good enough though, and is why I’m happy to share my ‘general’ strategy openly to self-coached and practitioners alike, because case-by-case ‘general’ very much becomes personalised and unique…there isn’t a standard template to follow or copy.
Anyone who suggests what training you should be doing is BS’ing you..100% because they have no idea unless they know your background as an athlete, rider, working life and stress, and what you want to achieve….pseudo-scientific journalism typically relies on just anecdotal evidence of what may work for them, or what they think event demands require without consideration of physiology, or what they may hear is a common strategy amongst their friends, or even what a traditional coach may dubiously apply to many of their clients without consideration of their individual nature. N=1 is a rule, not an exception.
I base my clients results off focusing on lactate threshold training and improvements in kinetics…which crucially translates to performance improvements (big mountains, short steep hills and fast races being typical objectives) for the majority of endurance sports, intricately synchronising anaerobic capacity with aerobic power. But it doesn’t stop there…we all know that one parameter doesn’t define the type of rider we are or want to become (although lactate threshold profiling is far from a one-dimensional biometric, unlike the made-up surrogate commonly known as FTP, which has no physiological grounding). This is slowing becoming more apparent to users as they fail to achieve the improvements they have expected after months if not years of training, rather than understanding strengths and weaknesses above threshold which provide a much more complete rider profile. Critical power is now commonly known to qualitatively and quantitatively define an individuals cycling capacity, and is the main feature of many popular automated training platforms; Golden Cheetah, 4DP etc. Of which I am close to completing my own interval session application calculator here for productive cyclist to take advantage of robust exercise science and the well established Critical Power model.
However, it is the combination of biometric data such as heart-rate, blood lactate and power from Lactate Threshold profiling along with more relevant functional parameters from Critical Power, such as the anaerobic work capacity that really provide the tools for cycling improvement without the need for months of trial and error or wasted training time, which is precious not only to a new entrant who may be younger and initially fitter, but also a veteran who would respond to training better, the sooner their approach is changed.
What really matters?
Critical Power and Lactate Threshold tend to be mutually exclusive….as you train one, you exclude or ignore the necessary training for the other. This was confirmed to me during one of the BASES Training with Power workshop with British Cycling and English Institute of Sport. Long term real improvements come from both, where anaerobic capacity is optimally synchronised with an aerobic ceiling (the greater stress placed on Type II anaerobic fibers needs to be relieved by Type I aerobic, less fatigue-able fibers through lactate usage and buffering). There is a physiological link between the two which determines performance, relieves cardio-respiratory stress and utilises muscular endurance under metabolically healthy conditions where fat and glycogen are used appropriately, depending on the intensity.
This is ultimately what I call cycling health ‘homeostasis’. Disruption of hormones, loss of muscle mass, lack of energy or ‘normal’ power, typically signifies that an individual is not in balance and should seek to correct the reason for that (sleep, stress, nutrition and strength) before continuing with a challenging training routine. As an exercise physiologist who likes to work with challenging cases, I often see cyclists who approach me, reporting a similar scenario for themselves. Re-structuring and customising training is usually a welcome relief, and clients find themselves with significantly more time to commit to recovery and enjoyment outside of work, without being a slave to the bike. It really can be that simple and not a chore, so you may not want to share this with your competition…..but in the name of fair sport, please do ;-).
Safe summer riding!