The dead of winter is upon us, as January has just hit its halfway mark. This is the time of year for trainer rides and Strength Training; for sharpening your mental abilities as much as you are your physical abilities. But with all the changes in the approach to training for Cycling, what should you actually be focusing on RIGHT NOW, if the meat of your season falls in July-August?
There are many variable that one can look at when trying to answer this question, but we're going to look at the ones that can have the biggest impact on your season:
1. On-bike workout focus
2. Strength Training
3. Racing-Weight Game Plan
1. On-Bike workout focus
Have you ever tried riding on ONLY the trainer for more than 3 weeks in a row?
It's mind-numbing, and can really push you to your mental limits (here is where I want to give mad props to those living in Minne-Snow-ta, and other heavy snow-precipitation areas), as not only is it as fun as having your cavities filled, but it also can topple a great fall base period.
So how do we keep on track?
For the serious cyclist out there, the base period should take up 10-16 weeks of the training year. Why? Because the broader and deeper (deeper is pretty key here!) the base one builds, the higher fitness which one can build on top. That being said, we mustn't ONLY focus on endurance (breadth), as we also need to work on our major weaknesses within the base time of the year. For some of you this may be 3 minute VO2 Max efforts, and for others it may be 8-10 second sprinting abilities...
This is where I've broken a bit with more "traditional" coaching philosophies for my non-professional/non-elite riders and Triathletes, as we will absolutely do baseline Lactate Threshold (zone 4) work, as well as start to build a better platform for energy systems that the specific athlete may have struggled with the past 1-2 seasons.
Yes, my professional riders and triathletes will do this threshold and other higher-energy system work, but we'll save that for another day, as that is a whole other level of training.
"Width is cute, but depth is everything."
- Gary Vaynerchuck
Yes, you read that correctly, there IS intensity in base. After all, the whole point of base is to get you up a few levels from where you currently are, so we can build even higher. And that means diggin' your fitness well a bit deeper AND wider.
Now, that being said, this addition of intensity, does NOT come at the expense of longer, strictly endurance rides, as those are absolutely integral. But, it does mean that for most of those athletes who are training 3-4 days mid-week, that 2 of those day will be high intensity, and somewhat shorter rides, to allow us to punch the specific energy system up.
Take home: January is a fantastic time to start thinking about which energy systems were not up to par last season, and to begin adding in 2x a week SHORTER workouts, with those as a focus.
10 years ago, when I started Human Vortex Training's studio at Big Bang bicycles, riders literally laughed at me when I told them they needed to do off-bike strength training in order to perform better on the bike.
Thankfully the mentality towards strength training has changed, and riders finally understand the importance of PROPER and APPROPRIATE strength training in boosting performance.
While "CrossFit Endurance" seems like a nice start- it is very trendy and the "it" thing to do right now- it is not the best option for 90%+ of you....Nor are the specialized weight machines at the gym.
Teaching you how to actually MOVE and feel HOW you are supposed to move, should be done using free-weights, barbells, resistance bands, & bodyweight for the first few months. For many of you reading this, this will (usually) mean your ENTIRE first year of strength training.
The focus of your first few weeks of strength training, should be on learning what movement deficits you have, and learning the dynamic warmups (You can see examples of dynamic warmups on my YouTube Channel, such as Healthy Cycling Series™ #5 Lunge Reach Twist Psoas Stretch, and Healthy Cycling Series™ #6 Wall Hip Flexor Warm-up) along with movements that will help you being to "wake up" the body to move more properly.
And while Box jumps and Plyometrics are a lot of fun, look super cool, and DO have a proper place in a cyclists off-bike training program, your first few months of strength training is NOT it. Instead, what we want to do, is make sure that you prepare your body to handle these forces by shifting the joints into better alignment by strengthening weaker muscles, so they (muscles) can do their jobs of protecting and moving the joint.
Take home: Start strength training with learning how to do the 5 basic human movements, with great technique, and learning dynamic warmups/movements to help you shift back towards better joint balance/health, especially at the hips and shoulders!
The 5 basic human movements we want to focus on are:
2. Hinge (deadline, Kettle bell swings)
5. Press (overhead- this one you need to be very careful of, as most cyclists have poor shoulder mobility/stability overhead)
And of course, learn how to use the obliques in their strongest role- aiding in the transfer of power, by locking the hips and ribs together. (You can do side-bends and sit-ups, but please, it won't improve your sprint).
3. Racing Weight game plan
For those who are just getting into the whole "racing weight" scene, or those looking to find a "better" racing weight for this coming season, there a few things you should keep in mind.
In order to "get" to an ideal racing weight for the peak of your season, you should be coming UP from that weight in the fall/early winter, by about 6-10 pounds (Yes, you read that correctly). However, this really only applies to those who lost 4-10 pounds for their peak the previous season. If you did not lose weight into your peak the last season, then you can skip the weight gain part.
This is absolutely vital to allowing you to recover from the past season and prepare for the stress of the next season for a few reasons, as body fat serves a number of purposes in the human body that allow for normal, and sport performance. These reasons are:
A. Fat serves to allow us to regulate our hormones better
B. Fat is simply energy reserves. A pound of fat =3,500 calories in storage.
And on top of these very vital reasons, by putting on a few (less than 12!) pounds, one is also providing the body with the essentials to repair damage done to the body by the last season of racing.
One last thought on this topic, and one that must be made 100% clear-
IF you are carrying around more than 10-12% body fat (this "looks" fatter than many of you may realize, as mainstream media has us thinking that 5% body fat is "normal"), then this rule of putting on a few pound over your last seasons racing weight, does NOT apply to you, UNLESS you dropped down to 6-8% body fat, in which case, you should ONLY put on enough weight to get back up near your starting point.
For the average racer, who has a 9-5 job, and trains regularly to be competitive, holding a body fat around 10% +/- seems to be ideal as a starting point, as any more than 10% body fat can put a serious damper on your season, and really weigh you down (literally).
In my own practice, I've found that riders who start the season around 10% body fat, and who eat well/clean in order to properly support their training and performance, tend to see, with a few small adjustments to the food intake TIMING and meal composition- a drop of 2-3% body fat through the build portion of their season.
This brings them to the meat of their racing calendar having a great life balance, as well as in fantastic shape to crush it.
If you're looking for specific questions, have been stymied by the complexities of getting down to your racing weight, or you simply want someone to guide you on this part of your journey, then you should seek out a Registered and Licensed Dietician to help you.
Take home: If you got down to being that "skinny fast guy" during your peak last year, trying to hold that weight year-round can be extremely detrimental to your performance, and long-term success. If you raced last year and went rom 16% body fat to 10% body fat, you should look to maintain that body fat % through base, and slowly get down to a leaner, yet sustainable number, through your build phase.
*NOTE* Healthy body fat %'s are HIGHER for females.
Bottom lines for January Training (for a July-August peak):
1. Intensity is a GOOD thing, as long as it is the right amount, at the right time, and in balance with the pure endurance rides that are appropriate in duration (mileage/distance) for your upcoming seasons demands.
2. Strength Training is great- but make sure you're learning HOW to move first. Save the plyometrics for the spring, after you've gotten a better balance at the joints, and have addressed your major movement issues.
3. Now is the time to start thinking about your ideal racing weight for the season, and beginning the process of slowly getting leaner, as you increase your strength and prowess on the bike.