Tuning Your Body - Cycling Magazine

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Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Tuning Your Body

Tuning Your Body

FIRST LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT TRAINING IS AND ISN’T. FOR many beginner riders, the simple act of riding a bike may seem like training. It’s true that getting out and spinning the pedals—however hard or fast or leisurely—is indeed exercising, but it’s not really training. Other new riders think it means pushing yourself as far and hard as you possibly can every time you ride. This is a speedy way to get injured or burn out, fast, and it’s not training either. Beginner riders also tend to frame the idea of training with fitness, but most times you’re on the bike you’re contributing to your well-being. Training is a lot more involved than just staying fit.
Training, at its root, means focusing, planning, and paying attention to specifically target-building your body’s ability to adapt. At the top, professional riders are training all the time—literally. When a rider decides to go pro, it’s a little like deciding to sign your life over to someone else. During their season (which runs between 10 and 11 months of the year), professional riders will have coaches, doctors, nutritionists, physiologists, and an entire staff of people telling them exactly what to do each day.
“Okay, so they have to go ride their bikes all day,” you think. “That doesn’t sound like such a big deal.” But for them, training not only dictates their riding and how that time is spent on the bike. It also touches every other part of their life as well, including how much to eat and when, how much to sleep and when, how much to walk or do any other movement off the bike and when to do it—down to each calorie and minute of shut-eye and weigh-in on the scale, down to the days and minutes riders will officially be “off.” Yes, this also includes their romantic and personal lives. There is no such thing as leaving work at the end of the day because their job is 24 hours day, 7 days a week, and affects every facet of their lives. Training at this level is a total life commitment, because it is a career where the workers are attempting to be at the absolute top of their field and concentrating every part of their day toward that goal.
Thankfully, training for the amateur cyclist is a lot easier, because it mainly involves following a plan only for your time on the bike, with a little tweaking of your life here and there. You get to decide what time of day you’ll do it and how you’ll spend the rest of your day around it, including what, how much, and when to eat, drink, and sleep—though there are recommendations on how to maximize those, too.
In the end, a training plan is designed to tune your body for a certain end goal. That can be as vague as “becoming a stronger climber” or as specific as getting your best result at a particular race or ride. Either way, it’s a concentrated effort to improve that is scientifically structured for you to succeed. Working toward a goal and meeting it can be one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.
If you follow a training plan, you will see improvements and get results. Every day you’ll be extra motivated to ride because your mindset will switch from thinking about what kind of ride you want—or if you even want to ride that day—to checking in on what’s on the schedule. Following a plan also gives you the chance to fully flesh out what success will look like for you, which is very helpful for achieving your goals. Off the bat, you know that there is a beginning, middle, and end to what you’re doing. It’s an adventure to tick off your highs and lows of how each week (and your body) shapes up and a countdown until the big day arrives.

Riding Hard vs. Riding Smart

When you were a kid racing your friends through the neighborhood, it was easy to see how to get faster—just grow a few inches and always pedal harder. As adults who have bigger goals, the childhood “pedal harder” method is pretty much a bust. But many people cling to it as a sure thing while never really hitting their full potential, which sounds a little backward. How can pushing hard keep you from attaining better results?
Much like nutrition, it’s all about quality over quantity. Over the years, physiologists have spent countless hours studying what can optimize your body’s output to get the best results. They have found that there are times to put the pedal to the metal, to go steady, or to soft-pedal and enjoy the day. Sometimes getting off the bike—or picking a different activity altogether—makes you stronger in the saddle overall.
This often involves daily, weekly, and monthly cycles with periods of stress, rest, and then allowing your body to adapt. To rebuild, your body must have periods of low stress—whether that’s physical or mental. Rest and exertion must each be held in a delicate balance, and in training both hold equal weight.
This is common throughout every training cycle. In a given ride, you may stress then rest. Most weeks, you’ll have stress days, easy days, and rest days. Monthly, you’ll have 3 weeks of building through progressively challenging workouts, then a week of easy pedaling to allow your body to rebuild.
Half of the work is pushing yourself, and the other half is letting yourself recover. How is recovery work? The number one way most riders sabotage their training is by doing too much. On a day you feel fresh and frisky, it will be challenging to go slow or not ride at all. If you’re sick or life gets in the way of your training plan, you’ll want to go harder to make up for it. Both of these are easy traps to avoid if you remember that going harder than your workout recommends is almost never helpful. Respect that your body needs quality time to repair and build, so you can hit your next goal even stronger.
Your long-term training will likely happen in seasonal cycles as well. You might follow an 8- or 12-week plan, hit your mark, then decide to take some time off from training before setting off toward the next goal. Some people only train once a year, others love it so much they train year-round—of course, with a few select months of rest.

Getting in the Zone 

Beyond tracking your efforts, you’ll also need to follow a structured training plan. We’ve talked about the rest and rebuild cycles and how to track your efforts. To put them together, you have to aim your efforts into particular zones for designated amounts of time during your ride. These zones are the first part of the building blocks that will help you to optimize your rides if you’re using them as workouts toward particular targets.
In most training plans, your daily workout is divided into either a description of a zone or some technical training terms. Here’s how they break down.
RECOVERY: This is the pace you should be at on rest or easy days. This is a breezy, unchallenging pace that most riders have a hard time staying in because it’s that slow. It might involve very light pedaling and a lot of coasting. Recovery gives your body a chance to rebuild.
ENDURANCE: This is a pace you could cruise along at for a whole ride without hurrying. Your body is getting into an aerobic intensity, but it’s never a ride you’d describe as hard or challenging. This is the effort you could do for a long haul while holding a conversation. This is the “fat burning” zone, though you’ll burn more when you combine it with harder efforts.
TEMPO: A somewhat hard effort. Like going from a slow jam to rocking out, you’re picking it up a bit. Your heart is starting to beat faster, but it’s a little more stilted. You don’t feel like you’re going too fast, but just a little harder than you’d normally feel comfortable cruising along at. You couldn’t hold this pace forever, but you could for a while—similar to how you might feel on a long, not very steep climb, or if you were riding with someone who was just a little bit faster than you. This pace helps you grow your aerobic capacity, which is the base on which you get stronger and faster.
RACE PACE: Even if you don’t race, this is how fast you’d go if you did. This is what you think of when someone says “go hard.” This is a focused, intense effort during which you should start to feel your legs burning and you’re reaching the edge of what your body can do for any length of time. You won’t be able to talk much, if at all, at race pace. Afterward you feel glad you backed off. Just like tempo builds a base, this expands your body’s capacity to make accelerations and hold on when the riding gets fast.
MAX EFFORT: This is the all-out effort. You won’t be at this pace for very long (usually 10 to 15 seconds) because it works best when done in very short bursts. While there you’ll be sucking in air, your heart will be pounding, and you’ll likely be in what cyclists describe as a “pain cave.” Thankfully, not only is it quick, but you also get a lot of bang for your buck. These efforts help you burn fat, build muscle, and increase power and speed.

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