When it comes to making progress in your cycling, it's a no brainer that you'll have to consider formalizing your training. But before you can do that, you'll have to learn the basics to head down the right track. Here are ten of the best to get you started, so try to incorporate two of these per week until you're ticking all the boxes. Let's get into it!
1. Kit up the night before
Try preparing your riding kit the night before. This includes everything you'll need, from clothing to bottles and food. That way, when you wake up you just need to eat, dress and go! This allows you a few precious moments of extra sleep as well as less fluffing about when you can't find your socks. It simply removes an excuse to go riding, and helps you focus on the task at hand - sticking to your new routine.
2. Plan your ride
Figure out where you want to ride, and regardless of your knowledge of 'training', at least try have some idea of what you want to achieve. Be it learning to pedal smoother or climb your nemesis hill faster - have a goal and work towards it. If you wake up at an ungodly hour and can't find your socks, let alone know where you're going... it all points towards you hitting the snooze button and missing out on some important motivation and training.
3. Include hills
The best advice you could ever take on board in cycling is to learn to love hills. It doesn't matter how fast you can conquer them... The benefits are there for the taking. Increased power output, increased heart rate capacity and an increased oxygen uptake, all courtesy of pushing your limits - more than you would on any flat road. Climbing hills is more of a mental problem for riders than it is a physical problem, so keep a strong mindset and just plug away at it. Try pedaling a little faster, say 95-105 rpm, to maximise your efficiency.
4. Focus on technique
Learning to pedal effectively is a great way to improve your efficiency as well as your power output further on down the track. A smooth pedaling motion is easy to achieve purely through practice, and is a greatly overlooked part of training in general. All the power in the world, but no technique? Use your easy riding days to work on your pedaling. Aim for 90-100 rpm and relax your upper body. Try to avoid bouncing on your seat while you pedal and you're onto a winner.
5. Cross training
Photo: Men's Fitness
Here's one to get you thinking! What activities could you do that aren't cycling related, but are beneficial for your cycling? Think 'cross training' and you'll get the idea. Consider dedicating one day a week to maintaining your upper body strength, or doing some squats or lunges to increase your legs' muscular strength for when you're riding. Cross training is a great motivator, as it allows you to do something slightly different while remaining focused on your main objectives. Mix it up, keep your training fresh and stay motivated! If you want to learn more on what you could consider for your cross training, comment below and we'll help you out with some ideas suited to your cycling.
Intervals are a great way of making your short rides worthwhile or your long rides more fun. They help you adapt to a higher heart rate, as well as increasing your body's lactate threshold and oxygen uptake. To do intervals on your ride, think along the lines of the following:
4 x 1min 90% RPE - which means "4 efforts of 1 minute each, at 90% of your Rate of Perceived Exertion".
As you improve, you could up this to longer efforts or more frequent short efforts. It's not rocket science, but makes your ride more productive. "Step Downs" are also good fun, whereby you do 1 x 5min effort @ 80% RPE, then after a 2 minute rest between efforts, you do a 4min effort, a 3min effort, a 2min effort and finally a 1min effort. By the time this is done, you'll have 15 minutes of intensity under your belt. Not bad!
The best thing you can do while training? Rest! This doesn't mean you can sleep in every day... Listen to your body and if you feel tired and worn down, rest! Once you figure out your limitations you can incorporate rest days to suit your schedule. Maybe make Monday your rest day after a weekend of riding. It helps your body recover and build, and it also gives you a sense of reward when you make it through your planned training rides. Savor your rest days, they're an important part of your progress.
If your training takes a turn for the better, you'll no doubt be doing longer rides. While on these rides, take enough food to fuel your time on the bike. A good rule of thumb is one piece of food for every hour of riding as an absolute minimum! For example, consider a muesli or energy bar after your first hour, and a banana in your 2nd hour, followed by those jelly snakes you saved for the final stint towards home. Fuel your engine, and you'll start gaining some results. Starving yourself gets you absolutely nowhere...
9. Strength efforts
Photo: Dan Barham
Strength efforts involve you riding in a harder gear to help you build your muscular strength. It effectively simulates climbing, without the need for a hill. To do a decent strength effort, you can start off doing easier but longer stints. Consider this as an option:
2 x 10min 70 rpm - which means "2 x 10 minute efforts at 70 rpm".
To do these, you'll need a cadence meter on your cycling computer. Heart rate isn't the focus here, so don't stress if you don't have one. Technique is very important, so focus on pushing down, and pulling backwards and up as you pedal. If you feel any discomfort or pain, stop immediately and consult a professional, as you could risk structural damage to your knees etc.
10. Be realistic
The final tip is to be realistic. Let's face it, there's way more going on in your life than you care to mention. On top of that, you're trying to fit training in. Be realistic about your limitations in life when you plan your training. Setting yourself out on a 4 hour ride before work probably won't last long, so don't set yourself goals you know you won't achieve. Get out there, ride your bike and have some fun!