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
- 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
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.”