Category Archives: Pedaling

The Predictive Power of vV·O2max

This excerpt is from the book, Running Science. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

To begin to comprehend the lack of predictive power of V·O2max in contrast to that of vV·O2max, consider an extremely well-trained runner who happens to have large, clunky feet. Such a runner will tend to have a high V·O2max because of the demanding training he or she has been undertaking, and the clunky feet will add to V·O2max, driving it higher compared with a similarly trained runner with small feet. Having to move those large feet down the road at high rates of speed will call for extremely high rates of oxygen production. However, large feet will not make the runner competitive; in fact, they will cause this runner to reach V·O2max at a rather modest speed since so much oxygen is being used to move the big feet along. Thus, this runner will have a high V·O2max but relatively poor running economy, and thus a moderate vV·O2max and moderate performances. As usual, vV·O2max will be more reflective of performance potential than V·O2max.

This big-foot scenario is an extreme example of why vV·O2max predicts performance quite well. It is important to bear in mind that the same situation prevails for runners in general who have modest to poor running economy for reasons other than big feet. Such athletes might have high levels of V·O2max. If running economy is subpar, however, any particular running speed will elicit an unusually high rate of oxygen consumption, and V·O2max will be reached at relatively mediocre running speeds. Thus, performance potential will be below what might be expected from the determination of V·O2max alone.

The power of vV·O2max to predict performance is illustrated in a study carried out at Lynchburg College in Virginia in which 17 well-trained distance runners (10 males and 7 females) underwent physiological testing and then competed in a 16K race. Laboratory tests determined V·O2max, vV·O2max, running economy, percentage of maximal oxygen uptake at lactate threshold (%V·O2max at lactate threshold), running velocity at lactate threshold, and peak treadmill velocity. The Lynchburg researchers found that among all the measured physiological variables, vV·O2max had the highest correlation (r = –.972) with 16K performance, while %V·O2max at lactate threshold had the lowest correlation (r = .136). Overall, vV·O2max was found to be the best predictor of 16K running time, explaining all but just 5.6 percent of the variance. The Virginia scientists concluded that vV·O2max is the best predictor of endurance-running performance because it integrates maximal aerobic power with running economy.

In a separate study carried out at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts, 24 female runners from four different high school teams competing at the Massachusetts 5K State Championship Meet were tested in the laboratory. These tests revealed a high correlation between vV·O2max and 5K performance (r = .77). In contrast, the correlation between V·O2max and 5K speed was lower, and running economy at a slow velocity (215 m per minute) was poorly correlated with 5K outcome. Note that economy at race-like speeds is predictive of race competitiveness, while economy at slow velocities is not necessarily linked with racing capacity (another argument against conducting a lot of training at medium to low speeds).

In a classic study carried out at Arizona State University in Tempe, vV·O2max was found to be a primary determinant of 10K performance in well-trained male distance runners. Among these runners, the variation in 10K running time attributable to vV·O2max exceeded that due to either V·O2max or running economy.

Impact of Training on vV·O2max and Running Economy

French researchers Veronique Billat and Jean-Pierre Koralsztein have concluded that vV·O2max predicts running performances very well at distances ranging from 1,500 meters to the marathon. They also noted that vV·O2max has similar predictive power in cycling, swimming, and kayaking; of course, vV·O2max would have to be determined for each sport since running vV·O2max does not carry over to other activities. Billat and Koralsztein also discovered that training that emphasizes intervals conducted at vV·O2max can be extremely productive for distance runners.

In one study, Billat and Koralsztein asked eight experienced runners to take part in 4 weeks of training that included one interval session per week at vV·O2max. The athletes specialized in middle- and long-distance running (1,500 m up to the half marathon), and their average V·O2max was a fairly lofty 71.2 ml • kg-1 • min-1. This program included six workouts per week, including four easy efforts, one session with work intervals at vV·O2max, and one session at lactate-threshold speed with longer intervals. Total distance covered per week was about 50 miles (~ 80 km). Over the 4-week period, the runners’ weekly training schedules were formatted in the following way:

  • Monday: One hour of easy running at an intensity of just 60 percent of V·O2max.
  • Tuesday: A 4K warm-up and then vV·O2max interval training consisting of 5 × 3 minutes at exactly vV·O2max. During the 3-minute work intervals, the runners covered an average of 1,000 meters (.62 mi; their vV·O2max tempo was 72 seconds per 400 meters). Recovery intervals were equal in duration (3 minutes), and the cool-down consisted of 2K of easy running. Overall, the workout was a 4K warm-up, 5 × 3 minutes at vV·O2max, with 3-minute easy jog recoveries, and a 2K cool-down.
  • Wednesday: 45 minutes of easy running at an intensity of 70 percent of V·O2max.
  • Thursday: 60 minutes of easy running at 70 percent of V·O2max.
  • Friday: A session designed to enhance lactate threshold composed of a warm-up and then two 20-minute intervals at 85 percent of vV·O2max; for example, if vV·O2max happened to be 20 kilometers per hour (5.55 m per second), the speed for these intervals would be .85 × 20 or 17 kilometers per hour (4.72 m per second). A 5-minute, easy jog recovery was imposed between the 20-minute work intervals, and a cool-down followed the second work interval.
  • Saturday: Rest day with no training at all.
  • Sunday: 60 minutes of easy running at an intensity of 70 percent of V·O2max.

After 4 weeks, the results were amazing, to say the least. Although maximal aerobic capacity (V·O2max) failed to make any upward move at all, vV·O2max rose by 3 percent from 20.5 kilometers per hour to 21.1 kilometers per hour. In addition, running economy improved by a startling 6 percent. This enhancement of economy was probably behind most of the uptick in vV·O2max since it lowered the economy line on the graph of oxygen consumption as a function of running speed and thus pushed vV·O2max out to the right for the French runners.

After the 4 weeks of training, lactate threshold remained locked at 84 percent of vV·O2max. However, since vV·O2max was 3 percent higher at the end of the training period, running velocity at lactate threshold had also increased by a similar amount. Most of the key variables associated with endurance performance—vV·O2max, economy, and lactate-threshold speed—had advanced in just 4 weeks.

The 6 percent gain in economy associated with vV·O2max training was particularly impressive. A handful of training manipulations have been linked with upgraded economy, and the gains in economy have usually been far below the one documented by Billat and Koralsztein’s research. A classic Scandinavian hill-running study (see chapter 25) detected only a 3 percent increase in running economy, even though the hill training was conducted for three times as long (12 weeks versus the 4 weeks needed by the French runners in Billat and Koralsztein’s study). Similarly, improvements in economy associated with strength training have usually been in the 3 percent range, also after fairly long periods of training. It appears that vV·O2max training can work economy magic in as little as 4 weeks, especially for those runners who have not carried out vV·O2max work previously.

Developing a plan for training for a triathlon

I own most of the “Anatomy” series from Human Kinetics. They are well illustrated, easy to understand, to the point, and all-around excellent references. Now this new one is offered as an eBook.

This excerpt is from the book, Triathlon Anatomy eBook. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics

Training Plan development

There is a lot of science behind optimal training plan development for triathletes. As multisport
participation becomes more popular, the research literature on best practices and training methodologies expands at a staggering rate. Although the science of effective training is certainly important, so is the art of developing a training plan.

Triathlon coaching has been an area of explosive growth over the past decade. A range of professional triathlon coaching certifications is now available, and scores of coaching companies, large and small, have sprung up to meet the growing demands of this burgeoning field. Developing a multisport training plan can be daunting, and as athletes attempt to train effectively for three sports, they discover that a knowledgeable coach can save them time and headaches by shortening the learning curve. But although coaching does involve the science of training, it’s also important not to neglect the art of training an athlete. After all, if human performance improvement was as simple as adding 1 and 1 to equal 2, everyone would be getting faster and competing at a similar level. The truth is that each athlete is an experiment of one, and a good coach will discover the balance of training in order to help the athlete reach his goals while remaining healthy and injury free. Hence, the art of training.

In many ways, a triathlon coach is like a chef. Every chef has access to common ingredients. It’s how they mix, prepare, and then present the ingredients to create the dish that matters. And let’s face it: Some dishes are great while others are not so great. It’s the same with triathlon coaching and how the coach works with the athlete, addressing individual strengths and weaknesses in order to develop the ideal program for achieving goals.

Let’s begin our discussion of developing a training plan by exploring the basic ingredients that all triathlon coaches have at their disposal. Planning and strategic oversight of a program are important, and when it comes to designing a training plan, the first step is to determine your ultimate goal for that season. We’ll call this your A race. Next, you’ll need to determine races of lesser importance you’ll use in order to gain competitive experience and develop your race legs. Many elite athletes use these B and C priority events as hard training days to race themselves into shape, both physically and mentally.

Once the race schedule is mapped out and the commitment is made, it’s time to start developing your plan, working backward from your A race and using the principle of periodization. Your training ingredients include the variables of intensity, duration, and frequency; the mixture of these components will enable you to develop an effective plan.

For a more nonlinear approach to periodized training, focus on certain energy systems for periods of 4 to 6 weeks, while also incorporating training intensities to bolster other systems simultaneously, because no one energy system is developed at the exclusion of others. For example, an aerobic base development phase will also include some bouts of short, intense work that targets the anaerobic energy system. This makes the transition to a more specific block of hard training much easier while lowering the risk of overtraining and injury.

In addition to cardiorespiratory and sport-specific training, most coaches and athletes now agree that supplemental strength and flexibility training is crucial for enhanced performance and, more important, long-term health and well-being. Supplementary resistance work should be done year-round using a selection of exercises found in this book, with an approach that complements the seasonal training needs of the athlete. For example, when an athlete is in season, the focus of a strength training routine is mostly maintenance and injury prevention. On the other hand, during the preseason, the training focus is more on developing strength and a biomechanically sound foundation.

Table 3.1 shows a sample preseason program used by a beginner to intermediate-level triathlete with one to three years of experience who is preparing for an Olympic-distance triathlon. The emphasis is on aerobic base and basic strength development, with a total training commitment of 10 to 12 hours per week.

From this example, you’ll notice that each sport discipline is trained at least three times during the week in addition to three strength training sessions. Athletes should perform sport-specific training before strength work in order to ensure good form and enable solid development of technique. Muscles that are tired because of resistance training can foster poor movement patterns when swimming, cycling, and running, impeding efficiency and wasting energy.

With such a wide variety of strength training exercises from which to choose, it’s imperative that you have a focused strategy for continual improvement. Using the expert help of a coach or certified personal trainer, choose from the recommended exercises in this book to create a plan tailored to suit your individual needs.

A Woman’s Metabolism

This excerpt is from the book, Running for Women. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics

Metabolic Differences

Metabolism refers to all of the energy-requiring chemical reactions occurring inside your body. At any

one time, trillions of reactions are going on inside of you, including the growth of new tissue, muscle contraction, and the breakdown of food for energy. The resting metabolic rate—the amount of energy needed during resting conditions—is lower in females because of their smaller body mass and muscle mass. When you run, your metabolic rate increases dramatically because of the increased demand for energy. The faster your metabolic pathways can use the available fuel to regenerate energy for muscle contraction, the faster you will be able to run any race.

While your nervous system controls your body’s faster functions, like the initiation of reflexes and movement, hormones control the slower functions, like the regulation of growth and metabolism and the development of reproductive organs. Much of metabolism is under the direction of hormones, which act as conductors, initiating signals that lead to the transportation and use of fuel. And the two predominant fuels for running are carbohydrate and fat, which provide energy on a sliding scale. At slower speeds, your muscles rely more on fat and less on carbohydrate, and as you increase your running pace, the energy contribution from fat decreases while the energy contribution from carbohydrate increases.

Carbohydrate Metabolism

The hormone insulin is responsible for carbohydrate metabolism. Consuming carbohydrate elevates your blood glucose concentration and increases insulin concentration. The increase in circulating insulin, which is secreted from your pancreas, stimulates specific proteins to transport the glucose from your blood into your muscles, where it is either used for immediate energy by your cells or stored as muscle glycogen for later use. Males typically have more glycogen stored in their muscles. Longer races like the marathon are limited, in part, by the amount of stored glycogen. Therefore, the lower muscle glycogen in women’s muscles can partly explain why they cannot run marathons as fast as men.

Research has shown that men also are more responsive to carbohydrate loading than women. In other words, women do not increase muscle glycogen as much as men in response to consuming more carbohydrate in their diets. However, some of this research is clouded by the fact that women consume fewer total calories than men, so the lack of glycogen storage may be due to a lower caloric or carbohydrate intake by women rather than an inherent sex difference in the ability to store glycogen. When women increase their total caloric intake as they also increase the amount of carbohydrate in their diets, they increase their muscle glycogen content by a similar amount as men. From a training perspective, while men simply need to increase the percentage of their calories coming from carbohydrate in order to carbo load and store more glycogen, women need to also increase the total number of calories in their diets to get the same effect.

Because carbohydrate is the predominant fuel source during running and the only fuel source at speeds faster than acidosis threshold, research has focused on how the hormonal differences between men and women affect insulin and alter carbohydrate metabolism. Most research has found that women use less carbohydrate than men when exercising at similar intensities.

When you finish a workout that severely lowers your muscle glycogen content, it’s important to replenish the carbohydrates so you can resynthesize more glycogen to be prepared for your next run. In fact, refueling nutrient-depleted muscles is possibly the single most important aspect of optimal recovery from training and racing. Scientists first discovered in the late 1960s that endurance performance is influenced by the amount of stored glycogen in skeletal muscles, and that intense endurance exercise decreases muscle glycogen stores. The faster you can resynthesize muscle glycogen, the faster your recovery. Research has shown that the rate of glycogen synthesis in the first few hours following a workout (the time when you are best able to store glycogen because the cells are most sensitive to insulin) is similar between the sexes. This suggests that recovery rates between males and females are similar, at least the component of recovery affected by the resynthesis of fuel.

Fat Metabolism

As a consequence of not using as much carbohydrate during exercise, women rely more on fat than men. Indeed, it has been estimated that women use about 75 percent more fat than do men while running or cycling at 65 to 70 percent V·O2max. Women get about 39 percent of their energy from fat during exercise at 65 percent V·O2max, while men get about 22 percent of their energy from fat. However, the percentage of energy derived from fat varies significantly from person to person because factors such as training status, muscle fiber type, muscle glycogen content, and mitochondrial density all play a role.

While it is difficult to tease out the exact reasons for the difference between the sexes in the metabolism of carbohydrate and fat, it appears that estrogen is at least partly responsible. Research done on rats has shown that when male rats are given estrogen, they deplete less glycogen during exercise; the concentration of fatty acids in the blood increases, suggesting a greater availability of fat for energy; and they can exercise for longer periods before becoming exhausted. Increasing the amount of fatty acids circulating in the blood favors their use by muscle during exercise, resulting in a decreased reliance on muscle glycogen and blood glucose, thus delaying glycogen depletion and hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and postponing fatigue.

This switch in fuel use to a greater reliance on fat at the same running speed also occurs from endurance training. Training enhances fat use by increasing the mitochondria in your muscles, allowing for more aerobic metabolism and the sparing of muscle glycogen. This shift in the energy source for muscular activity is a major advantage in delaying the onset of fatigue in running events that are limited by the availability of muscle glycogen—marathons and ultramarathons. Because humans’ carbohydrate stores are limited, the difference in metabolism between the sexes may give female runners an advantage for very long endurance activities, during which there is a greater need to conserve carbohydrate and a greater use of fat because of the slower pace. In 2002 and 2003, Pam Reed showed that science may be on to something, by winning the 135-mile (217K) Badwater Ultramarathon, beating all of the men. In shorter races, however, when there is a greater demand to generate energy quickly for muscle contraction, relying more on fat will slow the pace because energy is derived much more quickly from carbohydrate than from fat.

Protein Metabolism

The third macronutrient, protein, is often neglected in metabolism because it accounts for only 3 to 6 percent of the amount of energy expended while running. Rather, protein is used primarily for other things, such as building, maintaining, and repairing muscle, skin, and blood tissue, as well as aiding in the transportation of materials through the blood. Protein can be thought of as your body’s scaffolding and cargo. However, it can be used for energy if inadequate amounts of fat and carbohydrate are available because the body’s requirement for energy takes priority over tissue building. Although the amount of protein you use for energy may be small, even a small contribution to your daily run may be large if you run a lot and run often.

Exercise increases the use of amino acids from protein breakdown, and the amount of amino acids that your muscles use is inversely related to the amount of glycogen in the muscle. When glycogen is abundant, muscles rely on glycogen, but when glycogen is low, muscles begin to rely more on amino acids. Research has shown that females use less protein during exercise than do males. Because endurance-trained females use less muscle glycogen and rely more on fat than endurance-trained males, protein breakdown seems to be inhibited in females by virtue of the greater muscle glycogen.

Why a triathlete’s most important tool is not a physical trait

This excerpt is from the an upcoming book author of Complete Triathlon Guide. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics

Regardless of their differing levels of knowledge and experience, success for all triathletes begins with the planning process. In the forthcoming Complete Triathlon Guide (Human Kinetics, May 2012), USA Triathlon says that planning helps you identify clear goals, understand your current level of readiness, and establish an accurate training regimen. Planning also requires you to take a realistic look at your current position on a frequent basis throughout the season, acquire new information, and then make decisions on the way you are going to train.

According to Sharone Aharon, a contributor to Complete Triathlon Guide, the gold standard of developing an annual training plan and avoiding the pitfalls of poor planning is periodization. This refers to dividing a certain amount of time, in this case the training year, into smaller, easier-to-manage phases. The most common periodization refers to three segments of time that repeat themselves and differ by size:

1. Macrocycle. This is a long stretch of training that focuses on accomplishing a major overall goal or completing a race. “For example, if the Chicago Triathlon is your most important race of the season, the time from the first day of training at the beginning of the season until that race will be considered your macrocycle,” says Aharon.

A macrocycle is then made up of several small- and medium-size phases and covers a period of a few weeks to 11 months. For most athletes, especially beginners, a macrocycle covers the entire racing season, focusing on one big race for the year and the development of their basic physical and technical skills.

2. Mesocycle. This is a shorter block of training within the macrocycle that focuses on achieving a particular goal. It usually covers 3 to 16 weeks and will repeat a few times, each time with a different training objective or goal. Coaches often use three mesocycles, or phases, within the annual training plan: preparatory, competitive, and transition.

The preparatory phase establishes the physical, technical, and psychological base from which the competitive phase is developed. The competitive subphases are dedicated to maximizing fitness for ideal performance; coaches refer to these as build, race, or peak phases. The transition phase, finally, is the rest and rejuvenation phase in between training cycles or seasons. “Keep in mind that the level of the athlete will also influence the length of each phase,” Aharon comments. “A beginner most likely will have a very long preparatory phase, up to 22 weeks, to develop a strong foundation that will enable him or her to endure the load of progressive, more advanced training.”

3. Microcycle. This is the basic training phase that repeats itself within the annual plan. It is the smallest training period and is structured according to the objectives, volume, and intensity of each mesocycle. The microcycle is probably the most important and functional unit of training, since its structure and content determine the quality of the training process.

A microcycle can last for 3 to 10 days but typically refers to the weekly training schedule. “The progression of the microcycles within the mesocycle has to take into consideration the important balance between work and rest,” stresses Aharon. “Too much work without appropriate rest will lead to overtraining and injuries. On the other hand, too little work with too much rest will lead to underperformance.”

Understand the Training Principles

Daniels’ Running Formula, now in its second edition, is still one of the best books on running available. It contains five running plans, each can be customized for you. From 800M to a marathon, you can not go wrong with this book. It’s also available as an ebook.

The following is an excerpt from Daniels’ Running Formula. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

Click here to view the pdf, “Understand the Training Principles”.

Cycling expert explains strategies for getting faster

This is an excerpt from Cycling Fast. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

“Climbs and descents make or break cycling races, according to cycling coach Robert Panzera. In his upcoming book, Cycling Fast (Human Kinetics, May 2010), Panzera covers hills and all elements that can make a cyclist faster, from conditioning to nutrition and key skills.

Panzera says even small climbs make a difference the closer a cyclist gets to the finish line. ‘Climbs are additive, meaning a 200-foot gain in elevation may not seem like much in the first few miles, but near the finish, it can seem like a mountain.’ He advises cyclists to take special note of hills toward the end of the race because these hills split the race into two groups—the leading group going for the win and the chasers trying to pick up the remaining places. In Cycling Fast, Panzera offers 10 tactics for managing hills and staying in the lead:

  • 1. Be near the front for corners that are followed immediately by hills. ‘This helps you prevent being gapped,’ explains Panzera.
  • 2. Shift to easier gears before approaching hills. ‘This prevents dropping the chain off the front chainrings when shifting from the big front ring to the small front ring,’ he notes. “Quickly go around riders who drop their chains.”
  • 3. Close gaps on hills immediately, but with an even, steady pace. ‘Once the group starts riding away on a hill, it is nearly impossible to bring them back,’ Panzera warns.
  • 4. Keep the pace high over the crest of the hill, because the leaders will increase speed faster than the riders at the tail of the group.
  • 5. Relax and breathe deeply to control heart rate on climbs.
  • 6. Dig deep to stay in contact on shorter climbs. ‘Once a group clears the top, it is difficult to catch up on the descent,’ says Panzera.
  • 7. On longer climbs, ride at a consistent pace that prevents overexertion.
  • 8. Always start climbs near the front. If the pace becomes too fast, cyclists will be able to drop through the pack and still recover without losing contact with the pack.
  • 9. Hills are a good place to attack. ‘Know the hill’s distance and location in the course before setting out on an attack or covering an attack by a competitor,’ advises Panzera.
  • 10. Try to descend near the front, but not on the front. Being near the front, as opposed to the back, gives cyclists a greater probability of avoiding crashes.

Panzera also advises noting all the descents before a race begins. ‘Long, straight descents may require work to stay in the draft, and twisty or narrow descents may require technical skills,’ Panzera says. ‘If the descent seems technical in review, it will definitely be technical at race speeds.’

Cycling Fast covers the latest information on new high-tech racing frames, training with a power meter and heart rate monitor, and coordinating tactics as part of a team. Readers can learn how to periodize training and use the numerous tips, charts, and checklists to maximize effort.”

Triathlon Training DVD series

I’ve reviewed this DVD series, “The Ultimate Training, Technique, and Strategy Series for Triathletes” and recommend you check it out. Most are taught by Clark Campbell, former Professional Triathlete and University of Kansas Swimming Coach.

The Bike, The Run, The Swim DVDs will take you through the nuances of technique and then go over detailed training plans in depth.

“The Core Strength: Pilates for Triathletes” is a superb teaching of core strength taught and flexibility by June Quick, Certified Pilates Instructor, licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Stanford University Swimming consultant. She explains the movements that are demonstrated by a beginner and pro triathlete, how to make some more advanced movements when you’re ready, and pre-hab to prevent common athletic injuries.

If you’re new to triathlon and learn better visually, this is the package you want. It’s like having a coach start you out. If you’ve been around the track a few times, pun intended, you may still pick up some technique and training pointers.

Championship Productions forwarded these to me for review and I’m glad they. I had not heard of them but these are some really good training resources.

Rules of Training

For many, this is the season they rest or maybe you’re thinking about racing next year.  If you’re coming off a long rest or starting here are the “Cardinal Rule of Training” excerpt from Joe Friel.  Although this excerpt is about cycling, the principles apply to fitness in general.  This excerpt from Cycling Past 50 is reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.

“Since 1971, I’ve trained and coached athletes in a variety of sports
with abilities ranging from beginner to professional. Some became
national- and world-class competitors; others achieved less impressive,
but no less important, personal goals. All improved their physical
abilities in some way.

I don’t know who learned more – me or
them. My lessons came from observing how small changes in training
brought big results. Some riders obviously had a lot of potential when
they came to me. They were highly motivated and did challenging
workouts, but for some reason they weren’t getting all they could from
training. At first this was perplexing. How could athletes with such
great potential achieve so little? After years of reviewing hundreds of
training logs, I began to see patterns and understand why a person with
latent ability was not coming close to attaining it. He or she was
breaking one of what I call the Cardinal Rules of Training.

matter what you want from riding, there are three rules you must obey.
Breaking any of these means, at best, limited improvement, and, at
worst, overtraining and loss of fitness. The Cardinal Rules of Training
are as follows:

  • Rule 1. Ride consistently.
  • Rule 2. Ride moderately.
  • Rule 3. Rest frequently.

These may seem overly simple. Sometimes, however, the most
important things in life are the simplest. Such is the case with

Rule 1 is based on the premise that nothing does
more to limit or reduce fitness than missed rides. The human body
thrives on regular patterns of living. When cycling routinely and
uniformly progressing for weeks, months, and years, fitness steadily
improves. Interruptions from injury, burnout, illness, and overtraining
cause setbacks. Each setback means a substantial loss of cycling
fitness and time reestablishing a level previously attained.
Inconsistent riding is like pushing a boulder up a hill only to see it
roll back down before reaching the top – frustrating.

who violate the first rule of training are usually frustrated. The
solution to their problem is simple: Train consistently. “Okay,” they
say, “but how do I do that?” Good question, and that leads to the other
Cardinal Rules. The second Rule, ride moderately, is the first step in
becoming more consistent. This one usually scares highly motivated,
hard-charging cyclists. They can see themselves noodling around the
block in slow motion and not even working up a sweat. However, that’s
not what moderate means.

Moderate riding is that level of
training to which your body is already adapted, plus about 10 percent.
For example, if the longest recent ride is 40 miles, then a reasonable
increase is to 45 miles next week. That’s moderate. A 60-mile ride
would not be moderate and could lead to something bad, such as an
injury or overtraining that forces several days off the bike and a
lapse in consistency. Another moderate change is steadily progressing
from riding flat terrain to rolling hills, to riding longer hills, to
riding steep and long hills. Going from riding on the flats to steep,
long hills is not moderate.

Consistent riding also requires
frequent resting. That means planning rest at the right times, such as
after challenging rides or hard weeks. Chapter 7 discusses this
misunderstood concept in greater detail. Rest taken in adequate doses
and at appropriate times produces consistent training and increased

Even though the Cardinal Rules of Training are basic,
if you follow them, fitness will improve regardless of what else you do
on the bike. They are deceptively simple to read about; incorporating
them into training is a different matter. At first, it may be difficult
to ride moderately and rest frequently. Keep working at it. Old habits
are hard to break. When you initially train this way, it’s better to
err on the side of being conservative with moderation and rest if
you’re a rider who has frequent breakdowns and missed workouts. With
experience you’ll become better at determining what is right for you.

Although what we have discussed so far came strictly from experience,
the following basic components of training come mostly from science.

F.I.T. for Riding
Even though moderation is necessary, it’s obvious that a portion of
your riding must be somewhat stressful to cause a positive change in
fitness. Moderate stress comes from carefully manipulating three
workout variables:

  • Frequency – how often to ride
  • Intensity – how hard to ride
  • Time – how long to ride

The first question to ask
at the start of a week is, “How often should I ride?” Training to race,
for example, in the United States Cycling Federation’s national
age-group championship, requires a different response to this question
than if the goal is general health and fitness. The higher the goal for
ultimate performance, the more often you need to ride.

Potential is an elusive concept: an ability that is possible but not
yet realized. None of us ever knows how close we are to our potential.
We do know, however, that getting there demands many sacrifices, one of
which involves being on a bike several times a week instead of sitting
in front of a TV nibbling on potato chips. When it comes to frequency,
there are suggested minimums and maximums, depending on goals. If your
reasons for riding are strictly health and basic fitness, the minimum
number of rides each week is three. This assumes you ride only and
don’t cross train. Because training in other aerobic sports has a
cardiovascular benefit, you could get away with riding less frequently
and still improve the most basic elements of health and fitness.

Other than achieving high levels of fitness, another frequency issue is
how to get in shape the fastest. When first starting to train on a
bike, five or six rides each week will cause the most rapid change in
fitness. Scientific research shows an increase in aerobic capacity, one
measure of fitness, of about 43 percent for novices training this
frequently. Three to four rides each week bring a 20- to 25-percent

If you already have a high aerobic capacity from
many weeks of consistent training, all you need to maintain it is four
rides a week. High-performance racers, however, usually ride five to
seven times a week.

of training frequency and time, the single most critical training
variable is how hard and fast you ride. There are several ways of
measuring intensity. The one you’re most likely to have available is
heart rate. The greatest changes in aerobic capacity come from training
at high heart rates, in excess of 90 percent of maximum. Although the
highly motivated athlete often seeks such benefits, frequent training
over 90 percent of maximum heart rate obviously violates the Cardinal
Rule of moderation and will eventually lead to inconsistency and loss
of fitness.

The key to cycling intensity is knowing when to
ride at higher heart rates and when to slow down. So, 90 percent plus
is the high side, but what about the low end? Riding less than 50
percent of maximum heart rate has little or no impact on aerobic
fitness. Such low-effort riding is of little physiological value
except, perhaps, for recovery.

Getting intensity right is the
trickiest aspect of training. Later, this chapter will teach you how to
use a heart rate monitor, and chapters 5 and 6 will pull all pieces of
the training puzzle together with suggested routines based on riding

The duration of your rides is
the second most effective variable in improving fitness. In fact,
there’s good reason to believe that longer, slower workouts are
equivalent to shorter, faster training sessions in improving aerobic
capacity. Because lower intensity workouts are easier on the body, most
athletes and coaches recommend building a base of endurance with long,
steady rides before starting to do high-intensity workouts, such as
intervals, later in the training year.

The length of your
rides depends on what you’re used to. In your first five years of
cycling, you should be able to increase riding mileage or time by about
10 percent over the previous year’s volume. However, if you’ve ridden
for several years, there’s a limit to how many miles you need to
improve. Through experience, you may have already discovered that limit
– due primarily to an inability to recover and go again.”