Coach Dec / Jan 2020: The secret to Improved Performance

Cycling is one of the few sports where we can purchase speed. Lighter bikes, dual suspension, carbon fibre wheelsets and correct nutrition practices can all result in faster speeds. However, the biggest change to your performance will come from your preparatory training. The 2020 South African mountain bike season is fast approaching, and the first quarter of the year has three of the biggest races in the country, namely,
the Attakwas, Tankwa Trek and the Cape Epic. Recreational riders compete on the same route as the world’s top professionals. The training practices will be as different as the participants, with some cyclists making these races the focus of their seasons, while others may be more focused on events later in the year. Whatever your current level of performance, well-structured training can help ensure that you perform on the day.

Training will require time, which is a rather precious commodity for most of us. Long rides on the weekend mean time away from our families. Early morning sessions ensure that we aren’t late for work, but result in less sleep. These are tough sacrifices to make, so you want to know that this time isn’t wasted and you are getting the most out of your training. The performance continuum at an event like those listed above is large, with the winners finishing hours before the majority of the field has crossed the line. No matter your level, your training should be well-structured and individualised, whether you are looking for a 1 % improvement or a 30 % improvement.

Sadly, there is no one-size fits all training programme which will guarantee success for all individuals. However, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that your training is beneficial and will bring you closer to achieving your goals. No matter your current performance level, or the time you have available to
train, intelligent training can result in noticeable gains. Novices should look at focussing on the areas which will result in the biggest gains while more advanced or experienced riders should focus on refining their training. A well-structured training programme consists of different periods or phases which target specific areas of performance. These phases are often referred to as mesocycles or training blocks in the training literature. A programme should begin with very general conditioning sessions aimed at improving general fitness. The volume of training (time spent on the bike) should increase steadily over the first few weeks
of training till the maximum is reached. Once the maximum volume has been reached, it should slowly decrease as the intensity of the sessions increases. Do not make the fatal error of trying to include high volume and high intensity in the same session. In addition, the closer you get to the event, the more specific the training sessions should become to that event. It is often a good idea to include other races as part of the training programme to help sharpen up your fitness and skills.

Monitoring intensity is a critical component of training and ensures that you are training correctly. Previously, weekly distance (kilometres covered in training) and hours spent training have been used to quantify training. However, failing to monitor intensity could result in under performance through training
too hard or too easy. There are numerous methods to quantify intensity, with the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) being the most simple and affordable. Intensity is rated on a scale of 0(rest) to 10 (maximal effort). RPE has been used with some success, but it is important to be aware of the factors that could influence your perceived exertion. Caffeine, environmental conditions (high-temperature and humidity) and intermittent vs. continuous exercise have been shown to influence RPE.

Alternatively, heart rate has been used to monitor training intensity since the ’80s and the affordable nature of heart rate monitors has made them common training tools. It is recommended that you perform a maximal incremental exercise test at a recognised sports science institute to help determine your personal
training zones. Training according to specific training zones, which are based on your physiology will improve the quality of your training. Similarly to RPE, heart rate can be influenced by external factors such as fatigue, environment (heat), caffeine and illness. These factors do affect the reliability of heart rate data,
but heart rate is still a very effective tool for monitoring training intensity.

The most direct measure of cycling intensity is power output. It is not influenced by external factors and cycling is one of only a handful of sports where power output can be measured during both training and racing. Power meters have become increasingly more affordable and, as a result, their popularity has increased among cyclists of all levels. If you are a more experienced cyclist looking to monitor your progression, then I would strongly recommend that you consider investing in a power meter. Apart from
monitoring intensity during training and racing, power is a great way to monitor progression.

I would like to wish you well with your preparations for the 2020 racing season. I hope the hard work you put in to your training results in the performance you were expecting.

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