How to Improve Your Cycling Performance
In my new year's resolution was to double down and make 2016 my year to have a great cycling season. You know, 'get serious'. The motivation came from two cyclocross seasons of getting my ass kicked. I think many cyclists have experienced that feeling, it is not fun.
So I woke up on New Year's Day 2016 and went for a ride. Then the next day I went for another ride and the next day and so forth. Training consistently was my first goal and I knocked that out in January - I got back to being a cyclist, just like you. As I look back on 2016 and the 4 years since then, I more than accomplished my goal to have a 'great season' and as a coach I want to tell you how I transformed my cycling so you will know how coaching can help you for 2020 and beyond!
Here are 8 next level approaches to your training that will help you improve your cycling:
#1 Consistency: I made getting on my bike a daily priority, whereas before I let work, kids and weather be an excuse. 1 hour a day Tues/Wed/Thurs, indoors or out. We've since adopted the phrase "FtFP" which is like Velomanti's Rule #5, HTFU. Here FtFP means Follow the F&*#'ing Plan. 100% of our athletes report back that having a plan to follow helps them get on the bike and accomplish their workout each day. Having a coach to hold you accountable to that plan and consequently those goals is also next level.
#2 Zwift: speaking of indoors, I hadn't trained indoors in years. Maybe it was that 4 hour roller session I did as a youngster that scarred me? Enter Zwift. Try it, its fun and you'll no longer use weather and daylight as an excuse. Zwift enables you to #FtFP. Last winter was the first winter in a long time where if it was sloppy cold outside or I couldn't ride till after dark due to work, that I would move onto plan B and get on the KICKR and Zwift. Fun and productive, 1 hour: one and 'dun' where I whole heartedly went for KOMs, rode hard and made a lot of sweat, aka TSS. Exporting your workout from TrainingPeaks to Zwift is incredibly easy and straightforward, we've documented it over in our athlete support forum.
In January I established consistency and in February Zwift enhanced that consistency. By March, I stepped it up group rides. And you know what, this is where my training an goals became F-U-N.
#3 Group Rides: by March I had 2 previous months of fitness to propel me on the group rides. I also had the cyclocross season in my back pocket where the fitness carries over. This gave me the ability to not just hang on, but to take pulls and ride harder without having to worry about getting dropped. You know what's not fun? Hanging on for dear life on a group ride. You know what's 'funner'? Going faster. Improving is fun. During these group rides, I was able to generate more TSS, raise my CTL higher and higher all the while having F-U-N. Hard as heck, shattered afterwards but Fun with a capital F. I kept going and the training snowballed from consistency, Zwift and the group rides.
#4 CTL: Speaking of CTL , I took mine from 22 on 1/1/16 to 113 on 6/23/16 (2 weeks prior to my first A race). This was all made possible from 1, 2, & 3 and of course sweet spot training. We've since podcasted on using the performance manager chart to build a big aerobic engine as well as manage your training load - TSTWKT is truly a next level approach to your training.
#5 Winning in the Grocery Store/ Kitchen: I've always eaten well but I knew eating better was key to my performance and the lofty goals I had set. Better nutrition was going to help me lose weight, fuel my workouts and help me recover better. Back in my younger days I used to race at 148 - 154 lbs but over the 10 yrs since my 'retirement' the weight had crept up. So I resolved to eat better on January 1st, 2016. I ate more veggies and started cooking more. I also cut sugar completely out of my diet and cut back on beer. The sugar was easy; the beer was tough. But there's 3-500 empty calories in every beer and going down to a few a week instead of 1-2 every night made a weight loss relatively easy. Oh and I started planning out my meals and cooking more, thus paving the way for what would be a major theme within our coaching philosophy: which was a relief. Athletes - I encourage every one of you to get more in tune with your nutrition by going to the grocery store yourself and cooking your own meals. It will be such a phenomenal shift in the way you eat, that you can't help but get faster.
All these dietary changes took me from 168 to 158 lbs by Memorial Weekend and I felt great, setting Strava PR's because my power to weight ratio was way up. Overall, I lost a little less than 2 lbs per month for 5 months. Not dieting per se, just cleaning things up. Better food choices an eliminating empty calories. Basically practicing what I've always preached as a coach here. My threshold power was up too and my confidence really began to sky rocket. Then during the Tour inspired by Chris Froome, I took my diet and weight loss to the next level:
Winning in the Kitchen: under cut my daily caloric requirements by 250-500 calories per day. Basically, I ate a ton of fish, veggies and salad + some carbohydrate the night before hard training rides. In July and August I went from 158 to 150 lbs, super lean and was absolutely crushing it on the bike. I started intervals in August so my power went up even more buoyed by the CTL I built up thru June. Less on the denominator and more on the numerator = significant power to weight improvement. Like back to where I was 10 years ago when I was racing NRC's at the professional level. I don't recommend trying losing weight during your season but remember, this was pre-season for me at the time because the cyclocross season was yet to start. To recap, I lost another 8 lbs (ontop of the 10 lbs by Memorial Weekend) and went from 12-14 % body fat to roughly a 5% lean, mean, cyclocross racing machine . 18 lbs total since January - had to buy a new belt!
Not surprisingly the cyclocross season went well and I had the season I've always wanted to have. Hanging out after the races and swapping war stories. I podiumed in my first 6 race weekends, winning one race and nearly missing out on 2 other 'w's'. Wow. New year's resolution complete.
#6 Yoga I had taken yoga classes in years past and remembered how good I felt after the classes and how it helped with proprioception for better bike handling. So I started again and sure enough, it was helping with my recovery (like stretching) and I started handling the cyclocross bike better especially leaning the bike over in the corners. I started with YogaGlo on the iPad at home and then upgraded to studio classes. At first once a week then up to 2-3 times per week, primarily on my off days when I had a recovery day on the bike. Along the way I found my 'breath' and when I was doing intervals for 'cross, I could literally slow down my breathing and 'relax' during the interval and in the race. Yoga is like moving meditating for me (just like riding) and the benefits spilled over to my mental toughness during the races.
#7 Strength and Conditioning: I enlisted the help of a personal trainer to put me thru the paces in Sept and October. I saw amazing gains in my explosive power which I put to use with the accelerations I needed for cyclocross. It was all about getting the glutes engaged and utilizing this muscle group for power production. This year (2017) I'll integrate this work + squats, hip thrusts & plyometrics into my cyclocross off season Feb/Mar and then again July/Aug - earlier than this past year so I can recover and still deliver the power on the bike.
What else? Sleep. Oh yes, sleep - the best recovery aid there is.
#8 Sleep. Best recovery tool in the business. Everything else is secondary. In 2015, I got a Fitbit with my daughter for Christmas and what I found most helpful was tracking my sleep hours. 8 hours a night and I'm good, nine and I'm gold. 7 and I feel it and 6 or less and I'm absolute garbage the next day. Since that Fitbit in 2015, I've upgrade to using the Whoop which is a 24/7/365 wearable device that records my daily strain, my HRV and sleep to measure my recovery. Big data type of stuff but the Whoop distills it all down to a daily recovery score: red, yellow, or green that helps you adjust your lifestyle and training load in order to keep recovery (and keep getting faster).
Lastly: all the stuff you already know: intervals, motorpacing, training hard, life balance and working on my cyclocross skills with our annual cyclocross camp. Overall I mostly trained 8-12 hour per week with the occasional overload 14 - 16 week before a regeneration block. I did do one 20 hour week over the Memorial Day long weekend.
I made some mistakes along the way because I was self coached but I have the data and experience that I'm going to correct and use to my advantage in 2017.
#1 Not raise my CTL so high by Memorial Day (I was 109) - rather a more gradual ascent this winter and spring. And that means less forcing training days and more time snowboarding over the winter. I was pretty cooked from training so hard in June that I didn't quite have the snap for my A race that I had in May. Patience - it takes time and consistency. As I age I may set a CTL of 100 as the high end of what is good and beneficial to my goal events.
Coaching is so much more than a training calendar and power files. Its a relationship with an expert invested in your goals ready to share their experience to help you. Granted a well thought out scientifically designed training calendar and power based training are fundamental but the 9 items I described above are next level. Its like the home depot commercial, "You can do it, we can help". It takes time and it was hard but ho. lee. moo. lee. it was worth the effort and every single bit of TSS. And the podiums.
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