Having a cycle training plan that both works and fits the individual is a dilemma for all cyclists. Essentially we are all uniquely different, and with this comes equally unique needs that should to be considered in any proper training plan. The ability to account for this ‘uniqueness’ is perhaps the most important of training principles. It is commonly referred to in Sports Science jargon as the ‘Principle of Individualisation’. Arguably it is the most important training principle to be adhered to in training.
In getting started the immediate consideration should be recovery. This may sound a little at odds to what some may immediately assume, given the well documented benefits that we know come from exercise, and the issues of not getting adequate levels of physical activity. Our immediate inclination is to more times than not immediately start considering the training work, asking such questions as “how many times do I need to ride a week?” and“ how many km’s?” etc. However, what we need to understand is that fitness is the result of the physical work you do coupled with the recovery you obtain within your lifestyle. Or to put it more bluntly without adequate recovery you will essentially be inhibiting your ability to adapt to your training rides (the work) and improve.
So the key to getting on track is starting at a level that allows you to adequately cope with new demands. Given many of us consider ourselves as being ‘time-poor’ and under pressure, there is a real danger of robbing ourselves further recovery behaviors like quality sleep, rest, and nutrition which we require for optimal health and fitness. Far better to ride the optimal km’s you can cope rather than attempt to fulfill the requirements of a program that is significantly unbalanced to your essential needs. The important thing is that you are making progression, and enjoying the process. If you are tired and sick, you won’t be achieving either.
The types of rides also need to work for the individual if the program is to be sustainable. Recently I read an article on former French professional cyclist’s Sandy Casar. Renowned for being a dope-free rider throughout the distasteful EPO era, he was considered to be one of the most talented riders in the Pro peloton. The article referred to his training preference to ‘just ride’ in his favorite locations, rather than perform specific interval work. Certainly from a performance point of view I can only imagine the frustration his coach must have felt in his efforts to add a bit more power to Casar’s already impressive engine. At the same time I can appreciate the important human element in Casar’s situation. He was a guy that was drawn to the activity for reasons outside of purely needing performance results. I would argue if that is the case (and I would think would be the case for the majority of us), it should be honored in your training plan, particularly if it is to be sustainable.
At the same time if you have performance ambition, for example ride a Gran Fondo with a bit of panache or ride the French Alps, then the program should provide opportunity to prepare for the goal in mind. If completing a Gran Fondo is the target, then a series of long rides with progressively increasing demands would be a good fit. Likewise if the French Alps is on the calendar then find some local hills and progressively increase the demands of these sessions. And by the way, don’t be deterred by not having climbs on your doorstep anywhere near the magnitude of the French Alps. Former Belgium professional cyclist Lucien Van Impe – considered by many to be the greatest climber in the history of the Tour de France was born and breed in the flattest area of Belgium. So how did he get so good at climbing? He simply found his best local hill and would repeat it over and over again!
The program should also recognise the body on the bike. Interesting many of us cycling tragic types tend to show significantly more care and affection for our own bikes than for our own body’s. I would argue the body is more important. Riding free of tightness and pain can only add positively to the riding experience. Further, and more concerning if you wish to have a sustained cycling career, neglected for long enough it is possible for an injury to become a condition that permanently stops you riding. Given this scenario programming should provide direction and opportunity for self-management initiatives, like periodic massages, spa baths, stretching etc. Again it can only add to the overall cycling experience and positive benefits to the person.
Next article I will present a program for an individual coming to Italy with us this year. The program will draw from the points above, providing a detailed plan based on an individuals needs.