Today’s topic is Cycling Training. I have learned so much in the last year of triathlon training and yet I know there is still so much more to learn. One thing I have really struggled with is cycling. Today I wanted to share some of the little things I’ve changed in order to become a better cyclist.
***Disclaimer: I’m still no Lance Armstrong, but I have seen some major improvements in my rides focusing on these few things, I’ve gone from 10-11 mph to averaging 14-15 mph on an average ride and I hope that continues to improve.
1) GET A BIKE FIT. I cannot stress this enough. I know, I know I know, bikes can be expensive. Take it from me (the worlds cheapest woman) if you want to do any kind of decent cycling, you are going to need a decent bike fit. Why? Simply put, physical mechanics. If I could go back and slap some sense into my past triathlete self I would have done this from the get go. I didn’t want to spend the money or the time on a good bike so I went out and did what I do best. I googled and googled until I found the cheapest road bike that I could find. I knew I needed a good fit so I also googled information about what size bike suited me. The online store I purchased my bike from sold it to me as a 50cm (which is still a tad too big for me). When I took it in for it’s first tune up, the bike shop told me is was closer to a 53cm. It was way too big for me. My legs barely reached the floor, and if I stood up on the bike while at a stop, the top tube knocked me right in the lady bits. Not to mention my arms were WAAAAY stretched out during rides. I tried to convince myself that none of this mattered but it did. My feet and hands would regularly go numb and because the bike was too big and there was pressure on parts where there didnt need to be. My seat had to be in the lowest possible position so that I could reach the pedals. This also meant that I was using more of my quads when riding and that, in turn, lead to early fatigue. I’m no bike expert but since buying my new bike, I know without a doubt, that I was a total bone head to waste my money on a bike that didn’t fit me. No matter how cheap it was, it was a waste. I needed an expert properly measure my size, then to check my position on the bike, and make adjustments as needed. Today I ride on a 49cm road bike and I have been out on 40+ mile rides without a single thing going numb. My lady bits have also thanked me.
2) Upgrade to clip-in pedals. This one also took me a while to do. Not really because of cost but because I was afraid of getting stuck in them and falling over. (Honestly, that is a very good possibility when you first start riding in them) Clip in pedals are going to secure your foot to the pedal in the area of the ball of your foot. This positioning is going to change how you apply pressure to the pedal itself, making your pedal stroke stronger. I found that this was the easiest and least expensive change to make. Most entry level road bikes come with either pedal cages or clip-in’s. Be aware of what you’re getting when you buy. I asked for cages when I purchased my new bike because I had never ridden in clip-in’s. Later, after I was comfortable on the bike, I upgraded and took the bike out on a safe paved trail where I could practice stopping and going while clipping in and out. This was NOT something I wanted to do on the road with cars for the first time. After I was comfortable with clipping in and out, I started road rides again. I noticed right away that there was a clear difference in my pedaling. I climbed better because I was secured to the pedal and It even felt like my pedal stroke was smoother.
3) Speaking of climbing hills. DO IT. Practice your hill climbs! I feel like I’ve become a decent cyclist however, when I started riding with groups I was always left behind on the inclines. Why? Because I always rode on flat land or on the trainer. It fairly easy to ride all day long on flat ground but you need to know how to maximize your power uphill while minimizing the burn and fatigue. I try to incorporate a hill ride at least once a week into my training regimen on a regular basis. Currently I’m training for HIM Austin, which is known for it’s rolling hills. Most of my weekly long rides have been long and hilly for this reason. I’ve saved my regular rides for the weekdays. I’ve notice a huge change in my flat rides since incorporating those long hilly weekend rides. I will average anywhere from 16-18 mph on a standard flat ride these days.
4) Don’t get stuck in spin class or on the trainer. In the beginning I was so afraid to ride on the road. The thought of being next to giant cars on my little bike scared the bejesus out of me. Eventually I knew I had to do it. You can only simulate so much. There are a million things that come up during a ride, such as head winds (which suck by the way), mechanical failures, and even nutritional issues. If you want to become a better cyclist you need to push your limits and those limits only go so far indoors. For me, it made it easier when I joined my local tri club. They had organized weekend rides with lots of cyclist. I felt safe in the group and I also learned a lot about how to ride on the road. Today I’m confidant enough to ride with my group or on my own. The working knowledge I’ve gained helps me stay safe and train hard. I still ride indoors on occasion but I enjoy outdoor rides much more and I’m aware that as the seasons start to change, I will be forced indoors. Might as well enjoy the sunshine while I can!
5) Do interval work. When I do ride indoors I try to keep it short and make it worthwhile. For the most part, this is when I do my interval work. Interval work helps increase your speed as well as your VO2 max. which means you will be able to ride harder, faster, and for longer. Intervals on the bike are much like running intervals. You push yourself for a short period of time, followed by a period of (moving) rest and then you repeat until you feel like your going to die. This type of training is essential if you ever want to become a better cyclist. Excuse my french but it effing sucks and it hurts but my goodness does it work! I suggest wearing a heart rate monitor during these rides so that you can target your heart rate zones as well as using an indoor bike what has a cyclometer or your own indoor trainer equipped with one. You are going to want to see numbers. You can do this type of training based on perceived excursion (or how you feel) but I often find that at the end I’m feeling like everything is hard and I can barely hold a recovery pace. Having numbers like heart rate or cadence help me determine how much more I need to push even when I’m feeling tired.
6) Get aero bars. I put this one last for a reason. It should be the last thing you are worried about. You DON’T need aero bars to be a good cyclist. They are just icing on the cake in my opinion. However, if you are planning on riding longer or are training with higher mileage such as 40-50+ these bad boys sure do make the difference. Riding in aero position will reduce drag from wind and will also allow you to ride faster with less resistance. I’ve found that I can push a lot harder when in aero position without feel fatigued as quickly. When you’re out on longer rides for hours at a time, it’s really nice to be able to rest down on the aero bars and get comfy. sometimes you just need to change position and work different muscles for a while.
Priscilla is Dallas/Ft. Worth based nutritionist and blogger.