By Wimpie van der Merwe

Many ‘would like to be serious’ cyclists often ask for training tips as an important event nears. Copying a program of someone else is not the solution, as it does not take individual differences into account. The solution lies in working out your own program by applying the following 10 principles and let your body, and the way it responds to training, be your coach. Remember you regulate the program and not vice versa. Never feel guilty if you adjust your program when you don’t feel like training. Define the reason why you are cycling, what goals you set yourself and the price you are prepared paying to achieve it. You will never become an Olympian by training a half an hour per day, but you can maintain a reasonable level of fitness. Once you determined your goal and know for sure that you are willing to pay the price, never shift your goal when having trouble reaching it. Rather adjust your training.

1. Train, don’t strain.

You should always feel capable of repeating the exercise when finished. Forget about having to feel like dead meat to know that you have gone out for a ride. That is the surest way of ensuring over training, even at a half an hour per day. Conditioning lies in the range of 60-75% of maximum heart beat. Applying this principle enables you to absorb the volume of work done and to keep on training up to the day before the race, where others have to rest and as a result do less hours and mileage in the saddle per week. The lower the intensity level the surer you are burning fat as an energy source.

2. Race to train.

Don’t race in training, unless you don’t have the opportunity of racing. Save all the energy for doing your best where it counts, and that is in racing. Here you do your lactic acid training by staying with the bunch over the climbs, making pace or breaking away when you decide to. A typical person who does not apply this principle is one who rides you off his wheel in training, but drops inexplicably in the races. If your cycling goals are high you will use races as stepping-stones to reach it. That will mean using the race as training, sacrificing race results as the goal, i.e. wheel sitting all the way to sprint at the finish, how tempting it may be. It does not mean you have to race like a moron. Win the race if you can, but you raced to train.

3. Listen to your body.

No written program takes the way your body responds to training into account. Therefore listen to vital signs to know where you are in your conditioning. Unfortunately, highly motivated people, in their striving for the goal, don’t read their bodies well and do too much too soon, just as unmotivated people would do too little training, having an alibi for not training. You need a more accurate way to determine the body’s response. One of the easiest and reliable ways is by measuring heartbeat. By following a simple routine every morning, taking you about three minutes, optimal training results will be ensured.

  1. On awakening lie for a few moments to wake properly. That will stabilise heartbeat especially if you woke with a start or with a nightmare.
  2. Resting pulse (RP1). Take your pulse for a minute.
  3. Knee bends. Every day, at the same rate, get out of bed and do 15 deep knee bends.
  4. Peak pulse rate (PR). Immediately take your pulse for 15 seconds.
  5. Resting pulse (RP2). Immediately start taking your pulse again 1 minute after you stopped the knee bends.

By making the following simple calculations you can determine what condition you are in:

[a]. The difference between RP1 and RP2 tells you how recuperated your body is. If both are the same, you have absorbed your previous training sufficiently and may repeat the next session with the same intensity. If RP2 is less than RP1, normally up to 4 beats difference, you have recuperated completely or your previous session had an insufficient load in intensity or volume. Depending on the difference, you can go bananas. If the difference is 2 beats more, take it slightly easier. If the difference is up to 4 more, only take a light ride, or what we shall call active rest. If you are 4 or more beats higher, watch out, you may have the first indications of a run down system, contracting some viral infection. It may too be an indicator of the lack of sleep, nutrients or dehydration. As soon as these indicators have been tended to, heartbeat turns to normal, sometimes even during the same day.

[b]. The difference between RP1 and PR will give you an indication of your level of conditioning, i.e. the ability to do the same work more efficiently or tell you something of the size of your heart, whereas the difference in RP’s will tell you a story on absorbing and coping with training. The fitter you become the lower PR should go. Doing your knee bend routine at the same tempo, will give you readings unique only to you. Keeping record of what you do in training and monitoring your physiological response this way, will tell you what works best for you.

[c]. The relationship between PR and RP2 will tell you how fitness is changing, i.e. how fast you recuperate to normal. You may have a situation of someone who through training has lowered his PR, but has a high RP2. This will be a fit, but tired person.

4. The overload principle.

The only way to assure an increase in fitness and prevent stagnation is to intelligently alter the three variables, time, distance and intensity in training. By adjusting them, the body learns to develop physiologically and chemically. The art is to know at what rate to increase them. Because your body is unique no training program can be the same. Your body is the coach and using the mentioned monitoring, you will create your own parameters for increases. You measure distance with the bike computer, time with a stopwatch and intensity with a heart rate monitor. Unfortunately, the body does not remember mileage, only hours spent at a certain intensity. Thus, forget comparing distance with teammates. Hours in the saddle at a certain intensity, is a better option. The type of event you are preparing for will determine which of the three will receive preference, e.g. preparation for a stage race, with a high demand on stamina (time and distance), or a track event (intensity).

5. Balancing work and rest.

For the body to fully absorb work done, it needs proportionate rest. This means you can’t train the same everyday. If you can, it means you are not applying the overload principle and are possibly stagnated in your form already. Alternation between hard and soft, short and long rides, on a daily basis, will ensure the optimal variation. Measuring your pulse will prevent you from overdoing it. Fitness will only come when you have rested enough. This does not mean being idle. It supposes active rest too. As you structure hard and easy days, you can structure training cycles of hard and easy weeks.

6. Train hard, race easy.

This is not in conflict with the warning against straining. You just can’t expect to race at 45 kmh when you train at 25 kmh or to race a 250 km race when training only a limited amount per week. You have to condition your body to do what you aim at, even if it means converting a race into a training session. Prepare yourself in advance for any situation that may arise in a race. By simulating it in training you don’t fear the unknown any more. E.g., can you go on a lone break and keep the pace? Can you make pace on the climb and put the opposition under pressure without blowing yourself’? Can you maintain a pace of 50 kmh for 2 or 3 kms and then have some reserves to hook onto the back of what’s left? If you can in training, the chances are good that you will in racing. The real benefit I believe is that you can relax more and approach the race with confidence and a positive attitude.

7. The chain is as strong as the weakest link.

This is very true of your cycling too. Develop your strong points, but never neglect the areas you are weak in, or else you will flunk the test every time you are tested in that area. E.g., becoming the best of sprinters and not being able to climb, means you will be dropped on the climb and sprint for last place. Becoming the best climber, but have no time trialing ability, means you will be ridden off in the gutter in the side winds. Don’t forget the upper body and gym training either. Acceleration is not determined by the strength in your legs alone, but in the shoulders and biceps too. Fatiguing can be delayed when general muscular endurance in the upper body and core is improved too. Find out for yourself how your cycling profile looks like.

8. Approaching training like building a pyramid.

The pyramid consists of three layers: stamina, power and strength, with stamina as the base. You are continuously building at all three levels, e.g., training at 25 kmh will develop stamina for a certain distance, power to cope for that particular speed and the strength to ride at 25 kmh. Now you can fill in your own desired speed. The aim is to have a high as possible peak for the pyramid. The peak depends heavily on the broadness of the base. This means that speed has a direct relationship with the basics, stamina. Without it the house will come tumbling down. You can never make a mistake by returning to the basics. As a serious cyclist you invest heavily in stamina for years. The interest received is in the form of prolonged peaking, something you can really only accomplish a few times in a year.

9. Peaking.

You can be physically the best-prepared cyclist, but reach the important race in a tired state. If you don’t know how to peak properly you will arrive at the event in a state of either over or under training. Peaking is an art. It is sculpturing a program in such a way that a person can reach 100% of his ability at a desired date. In a sense peaking is dependant on the individual. Broad outlines are given where-in one has to find the solution. Two weeks before the important event your program should have climaxed in volume and intensity. From there super compensation has to be enforced. It is reaching the brink of over training and forcing the body into a state of rest to super compensate. Work volume is reduced to about 75% of the average done in a week. In the second week it is reduced to between a third and a half of the average. Work intensity, during both weeks, stays at a maximum of 75% of the intensity at which the distance normally would be covered. Normally the day before race day will not be the rest day, but two days before will be. This is to ensure that you have one day spare, in case you need that extra day of rest. During peaking don’t alter your diet. Don’t suddenly go for pasta parties if you hardly ever eat pasta! The food you train on is the food you race on. Don’t burden your body to suddenly form a new enzymatic profile to cope with a different energy balance. It normally takes two weeks to adapt to a new diet. If you want to use a special kind of energy drink for the event you should have used it in training already.

10. Paralysis by analysis.

You can become so involved in analyzing your program and yourself that you never get to the job of implementing it. If in doubt, basics are the answer: mileage and hours in the saddle. You will never make a mistake in doing the basics. Many a cyclist achieved success, not because they had fancy training programs or coaches to advise them, but because they stuck to the basics.