If you want to be a good cyclist then you need to ride, lots – Eddy Merckx.
It’s only natural that the terrain you’re most likely to ride on will be what’s on offer straight from your front door. Mixing up routes will not only keep you mentally fresh but will help to give you a base of all-round conditioning that can come in very useful when riding events on unfamiliar roads both in this country or even abroad. With this in mind we’re now going to look at six different training loops to bring on your cycling as British Summer Time finally arrives.
If you want to be a solid all-rounder then you have to look beyond your strengths and be prepared to train your weaknesses as well.
If you’re training for a sportive then there’s a very good chance that you’ll encounter a few killer climbs along the way, such is the good nature of event organisers to want to really test the mental and physical reserve of those that sign on the dotted line. With good preparation hills should not be something to be feared but respected and embraced. Knowing the difference between what an 8 or 15 percent gradient feels like will prepare you in advance and give you the confidence to know you’re capable of conquering it.
Despite the length and frequency of the hills on your route – they may be short power climbs that you can practice punching your way over out of the saddle, or longer ascents that are good for refining your technique and efficiency in the saddle – it’s important to find a pace that you can sustain to the top.
Consistency and sensible pacing in the hills is what counts as does suitable gearing to ensure you can keep the legs turning in circles no matter what the gradient.
It’s easy to start out by thrashing your way up the first one only to feel like gravity has doubled by half way.Consistency and sensible pacing in the hills is what counts as does suitable gearing to ensure you can keep the legs turning in circles no matter what the gradient. Be prepared to average a lower speed and reduce the overall distance of your route accordingly to take this into account, and remember, what goes up must (eventually) come down so use this time to relax, recover and prepare for your next ascent.
Let’s face it, we all want to go fast. It’s one of those magical moments when the conditions are right and you feel like you’re flying along. For the most part building momentum to be able to maintain your speed will be better achieved on flatter roads so look for a route that stays away from the elevation and, very importantly, off of busy roads that sometimes look enticing for those looking for all out speed. Normally the sheer volume of traffic on these main roads is enough to tick the “don’t try this at home” box.
When focusing on your flatter routes you may notice a change in your position as you lower your body to become more aerodynamic. It’s not uncommon to push a slightly larger gear too, using your glutes and lower back to really generate the power and get the gear going. Concentrate on turning your legs over smoothly, keeping your upper body relaxed but stable. Whilst a time-trial bike can certainly bring advantages to your overall speed remember that the largest influence when it comes to aerodynamics is your body so it’s often more cost effective to try and hone your position first before raiding the piggy bank for the latest aero kit.
When focusing on your flatter routes you may notice a change in your position as you lower your body to become more aerodynamic. It’s not uncommon to push a slightly larger gear too, using your glutes and lower back to really generate the power and get the gear going.
The unfortunate thing that most cyclists encounter in the UK are heavy or “dead” roads unlike the smooth Tarmac in Europe that can easily have you zipping along a lot quicker than back home for the same effort. Don’t despair, if you train on these roads all the time and the opportunity comes to ride in Euroland then you really will be shifting, and if you don’t get the chance to ride abroad you’ll be as strong as an ox so let’s make UK roads a win-win situation. Yeah?
Planning a route with varying terrain is perfect for all around conditioning, giving you a taste of the hills and flat whilst providing more than one area to focus on during the ride. Loops of this nature often make up the majority of your training and can, in some respect, offer the best return on your time in the saddle as you’ll be using a whole host of riding positions, techniques and muscle groups throughout the workout.
Depending on what you’re specifically training for, the trick to getting the most out of a ride like this is to know where to push and where to recover so that you can do the bits you want to do hard and still go the distance.
The trick to getting the most out of a ride like this is to know where to push and where to recover.
The good thing here is that even if you are limited on your selection of roads, you’re able to get a number of different training sessions done from one circuit. For example you may focus on speed and the flatter sections of the route on one day and hills on the next. Ride the circuit in the opposite direction and it’ll feel completely different again. Sometimes it’s just about being a little creative to help keep your ride fresh.
The Long One
Naturally on longer rides you’re likely to encounter elements of flats and hills. Whilst you can still use these circuits in a similar fashion to a regular mixed terrain ride also consider that with the extra distance you may need to back off the pace a touch. As your fitness builds throughout the season try tagging on an extra loop or hour in the saddle that will increase the overall length of your ride whilst also keeping you relatively close to home. As you venture further afield, check in advance where you’ll be able to fill bottles and replenish stores so that you don’t have to take everything with you.
Long rides are excellent for building your endurance and base fitness as well as seeing how your body copes with fluid and food intake after several hours. Frequently incorporating long rides into your training schedule will help to improve your efficiency, meaning you’ll not only be faster for the same effort but you’ll find that you’re body starts to become more effective at utilising your fuel and you’ll be able to ride further without feeling as hungry.
Frequently incorporating long rides into your training schedule will help to improve your efficiency.
Remember that it’s often better to focus on time in the saddle rather than distance, so build your long rides up slowly over a period of weeks and months. This will gradually put the building blocks in place and give you confidence at being in the saddle for the same amount of time that you estimate your biggest event to be. If possible try to find a training partner or teammate of similar ability to ride your longest routes with. Not only will you be able to help each other by sharing the workload but a good conversation and catch up is a brilliant way to pass the time as well.
The Virtual Loop
Such are the delights of modern technology, on those occasions where you can’t get out the door but still want to get the hours in then an indoor trainer could be a good solution. Although you won’t be able to simulate exactly what you’ll find out on the road in terms of gradient and position on the bike there are options out there that will help you get pretty close.
Using training videos and following what’s happening on screen is one way to simulate the open road, pacing yourself against other riders or the terrain whilst focussing on your gearing, cadence and position on the bike.
Using training videos and following what’s happening on screen is one way to simulate the open road.
Taking it one step further a Virtual Reality equipped turbo trainer allows you to compete against others online or tackle some of the most feared and famous terrain in the comfort of your own home whilst resistance adjusts accordingly depending on what you’re facing on screen.
As your training progresses and you do more and more hill, speed or mixed terrain rides don’t forget to listen to your body and factor in sufficient low load and recovery rides. After a block of structured and progressive training there’s absolutely nothing better than just heading out for an hour with the summer sun hanging on the horizon and nothing more in your head than simply enjoying the ride.
Keep to a low gear, spinning your legs to help remove any lactic in your muscles whilst helping them to remain supple. Stay away from the hills if you can so that you can keep a gentle and consistent level of exertion. The best recovery rides often feature a coffee and cake stop at mid point. Whilst the route should be short and relatively flat the real importance of a good recovery ride is exactly that, to bring your body back around and prepare it for the next block of training.
The best recovery rides often feature a coffee and cake stop at mid point.
Try not to get carried away even if it’s a beautiful day. The importance of well structured and frequent recovery rides should never be overlooked.
Whatever your training and focus for the year remember to have fun and to enjoy your time on the bike.
If you need further help or advice then feel free to contact me on Twitter @cottydale.
Ride safe all!
Do you have a specific question?
Send me a question using the form. I will do my best to answer.