4 Key Training Principles for Cyclists

4 Key Training Principles for Cyclists

Developing a successful training program is a relatively simple process when you merge four key principles: periodization, progressive overload, specificity and individuality. This article describes these principles and offers tips that will help you maximize the effectiveness of your training.

Periodization is the process of dividing an annual training plan into specific time blocks, where each block has a particular goal and provides your body with different types of stress. Some periods of training are harder and some are easier to allow for recovery. Periodization also develops different energy systems during various phases of training. Most importantly, periodization is the best way to promote the training effect, which consists of changes in your cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal systems that result in greater speed and endurance on the bike.

A basic premise of periodization is that training should progress from the general to the specific. For example, many annual training programs for competitive cyclists include four stages: endurance, intensity, competition and recovery. The endurance period is the most general of these stages. During this training phase, cyclists focus on enhancing aerobic endurance and increasing general strength. This often includes off-the-bike activities such as weight training. As cyclists progress to the intensity phase, more time is spent on the bike performing workouts that simulate race conditions such as high-intensity intervals. Of course, the competition phase involves racing, the most specific element of training possible. The primary goal of this phase is to peak for key races and events. Once the competitive season has ended, cyclists enter the recovery stage where training activities once again become more general (e.g., cross-training workouts such as running or swimming that aid recovery). Each of these phases elicits varying degrees of stress on the body’s energy, cardiopulmonary and neuromuscular systems, which helps facilitate performance improvement.

Progressive overload is the process of gradually increasing stress to the body’s cardiopulmonary and muscular systems over time to stimulate physiological adaptation. This is achieved through the effective application of the F.I.T.T. model (frequency, intensity, time and type). For example, to develop your aerobic endurance, you may start with a long ride of 20 miles and increase the distance by 2 miles each week until you can comfortably ride 40 miles. In this instance, you have improved your endurance by progressively overloading time. Similarly, you can improve your speed on the bike by progressively overloading intensity. For example, you could do intervals at 85% of your maximum heart rate. You might begin with five, 3-minute intervals with 4-minutes of easy spinning between each hard effort for a total of 15 minutes of high-intensity riding. You could then add 30 seconds to each interval per week (a total of 2.5 minutes added per week). Four weeks later you would have increased your high intensity riding to 25 minutes.

Specificity simply means that your training program should resemble the activity you want to perform. While cross-training is great after the race season, the best way to improve your cycling performance is to ride a bike. Likewise, specificity applies to the type of riding you want to emphasize. For example, if you want to ride long distances, then your training regimen should include a lot of long rides. If you want to ride really fast, then your workouts should include a lot of high-intensity training.

Individuality refers to the fact that your training program should be uniquely suited to your goals, strengths, weaknesses and life constraints. As you are probably aware, there are dozens of cycling books and magazines that offer hundreds of training programs and workouts. While these are helpful resources, none are designed specifically for you. They don’t take into consideration your unique traits, barriers and goals. To maximize your cycling performance, you must create a training regimen based on your specific needs and constraints.