Finally it looks like the worst of the winter is behind us (at least that’s what we hope). As the evenings start to draw out and the temperature rises, it’s amazing what a little blue sky can do for your motivation! With spring in the air, we’re now going to look at five points to consider when building your form as the season starts to bloom.
From base miles to interval training, all-important recovery sessions to the demands of event day, there’s much to consider to ensure you meet that looming date on the calendar in peak condition, but a methodical approach can help make the most of your time in the saddle. Read on for our simple steps to build your form as the sportive season begins in earnest.
From base miles to interval training, all-important recovery sessions to the demands of event day, there’s much to consider to ensure you meet that looming date on the calendar in peak condition.
With some of the heaviest rainfall and worst flooding the UK has ever seen, you’ll be forgiven for being a few miles short of your winter goal at this point in the year. Don’t panic; it’s a long season and there’s still plenty of time to get yourself in shape to reach your objectives. As a basic rule of thumb, it takes about a third of the time to maintain fitness compared to how long it takes to build it, so even if you’ve just been ticking over, dodging cloud bursts, you still won’t be starting from scratch.
Building a good foundation really is the key to consistent fitness so it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s more important to start the season slower and build form gradually than jump the gun and start smashing out intervals in a panic to try and find the fitness you desire.
It’s more important to start the season slower and build form gradually than jump the gun and start smashing out intervals in a panic.
While you may see short-term gains with this approach, in the long-run you’ll be over-stressing your system, which could lead to fatigue, low immunity, and reduced quality of training.
Be realistic with your current level of fitness. If you’re working to a specific goal, like a big sportive for example, then plan your base rides to gradually build towards this in a systematic and well thought out way, remembering not to forget the importance of recovery. If time and budget allows, a good way to kickstart your engine after a period of hibernation is to look at a cycling holiday in warmer climes.
Southern Spain, Majorca and the Canary Islands are frequent destinations for the professionals.
Southern Spain, Majorca and the Canary Islands are frequent destinations for the professionals and a hit of vitamin D while exploring new roads can be a real boost to your motivation. Use this extended time on the bike to concentrate on your nutrition, equipment, and technique as the foundation starts to grow.
In its simplest form, interval training is designed to stress your system at a higher level than you are used to working at, interspersed with periods of recovery. It’s this continual cycle of high intensity, recovery, high intensity, recovery that gradually increases your body’s ability to process lactic acid, utilise oxygen more efficiently, and in turn increases the power that you are able to produce at your functional threshold – the maximum level that you can sustain before you go deep into the red and your body crosses the line from working aerobically to anaerobically. Ultimately, increasing your aerobic capacity will enable you to ride faster for longer.
While interval training sounds like an absolute winner, there are a few key points to note before you start. Firstly, ensure that you have a solid endurance base to work from and make an honest assessment of where you are physically, your goals , how much time you have available and the main areas you need to improve upon – for example, explosive power for sprinting, or functional threshold power for long sportive ascents. If you have a very specific goal then try and be as specific with your interval work as possible.
There are a multitude of different interval sessions and techniques that have been established over the years, so it’s important to look for the right session to bring your form on in the right way.
There are a multitude of different interval sessions and techniques that have been established over the years, from very short sprints over just a few seconds to longer intervals of 20 minutes or more, so it’s important to look for the right session to bring your form on in the right way. As sessions are shorter, it is generally easier to fit them into a busy schedule, giving a sense that you’re getting more bang for your buck in training.
It’s crucial to listen and learn from your body. Intervals are all about quality not quantity so you need to commit to the session and give it everything ensuring that you have adequate time to recover in between. Although they can be carried out on the road, often the controlled environment of the indoor trainer can be more suitable so that you can put your head down and focus on nothing but the job in hand.
With a busy lifestyle, recovery is often the ingredient that is most easily overlooked when it comes to cramming in everything else, from work to training to family time and beyond, yet it’s only when you give your body a chance to fully recover that it is able to become stronger from the training loads that you have been putting on to it. Failure to factor adequate recovery time into your weekly schedule will see your form plateau and gradually decline. Adopting the mindset that recovery is a continual process will ensure that you’re always thinking about how to maximise the return on your training investment.
Start your recovery while you’re still on the bike, using the last 15 minutes to gently warm down. If you absolutely have to sprint for the last village sign like it’s the finish line on the Champs-Élysées then go for a little spin around the block afterwards to clear the lactic acid in your muscles before stepping off of the bike.
Start your recovery while you’re still on the bike, using the last 15 minutes to gently warm down.
Prepare your recovery nutrition in advance so that you can consume it within 20 minutes of finishing training when blood flow is increased and your body is more receptive to replenishing depleted glycogen stores. To maintain flexibility think about incorporating a regular stretching routine into your training, not only does this relax the mind and body but it’s useful at keeping your muscles supple to prevent injury.
Without doubt the absolute number one element of recovery is sleep. This is when your body really has the chance to repair and recharge.
Don’t be afraid to include recovery days or weeks into your routine. Without doubt the absolute number one element of recovery is sleep. This is when your body really has the chance to repair and recharge. Even missing out on just a few hours here and there can have a serious impact on your training and general wellbeing so never underestimate its importance.
As you get closer to your goal you’ll want to be sure that you’re in the best physical and mental condition possible so it’s important to taper back on your training at the right time so that you’re recovered and raring to go. Try to structure your training into blocks, typically this may consist of three weeks of progressive training load (including endurance, intervals and recovery) followed by one week of low volume and intensity. Build these blocks so that you’re gradually increasing the training loads during the three-week “working” phase, keeping an overall eye on the date in the diary when you need to back off and start your taper.
Everyone is different so there is no set rule on tapering that will work for everyone. Often it’s based on experience and common sense. Over time you’ll understand how long you need after training before you feel recovered again so this is a good place to start. A good taper period will reduce the overall volume and intensity in the run up to the event but may include some short sharp intervals to wake the system up and keep your legs from feeling heavy on the day.
Everyone is different so there is no set rule on tapering that will work for everyone. Often it’s based on experience and common sense.
If you need to travel to the event then factor this into your taper period, it’s amazing how much this can take out of you. Eat well but don’t go crazy, since you’ll be riding less during the taper phase you’ll need less calories and, once again, sleep is king!
After all of the hours, weeks and months that you’ve dedicated to training, your final preparation will be important in making sure that you’re in the best possible shape on the day. It’s natural to feel excited and nervous all at the same time as the adrenaline starts to build.
Prepare as much as you can in advance. This should include a final check over of your bike, spares and kit. Don’t leave anything to chance.
Prepare as much as you can in advance. This should include a final check over of your bike, spares and kit. Don’t leave anything to chance. Make a plan and write it down so that you know exactly what time you need to get up, eat breakfast, leave for the event and be on the start line. There’s every chance that you’ll feel like you haven’t slept well the night before. Don’t worry, it’s the sleep in the week leading up to the event that is most important.
Stick to your plan. Remember what you have done in training and have confidence in your ability. If there are riders going past you faster than you’re comfortable with, don’t get caught up in the moment and be tempted to push harder than you know you can sustain. Riding a controlled and well paced event will see you finishing stronger and in a better position than hammering out the first hour and then hanging on for dear life. Stay focussed on your nutrition, eating and drinking every 20-30 minutes. Although it could be tempting to try a new gel or energy bar that you may find in your sign-in goody bag, hold this back and test it next time in training first. The most important thing is to stay relaxed, enjoy the experience and don’t forget to smile when you see the photographer!
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