And on that note, why is fast descending important at all? Good question! Firstly if you are reading this you are reading the BBL newsletter. Maybe you have ridden with Bubba and the crew before or maybe you haven’t. Either way you will know that BBL like the hills, and what goes up must come down! We love to share these journeys out in the hills with likeminded people but we need to be safe, and cornering at speed is safer than cornering slow and on the brakes. You have done the hard climb so you should enjoy the descent, and to feel the flow and the freedom of a beautiful corner… well isn’t that why we go up?! Not only is it awesome to feel the flow, it’s also important to be able to descend with the group especially on a long ride so everyone else is not waiting.
So where do we start? Well remember when you learnt to drive a car? You didn’t jump on the race track straight away or in a rally car and take corners at 80km per hr… or did you?! Probably not, unless your some kind of super human freak! Generally we started off learning slow, with the L plates clearly displayed and an upright alertness to think through every step as we were scrutinized by our coach! Some of us may have had a more natural instinct towards it however we all started slow. Learning slow allowed us to train the brain and eventually program our brain to drive for us. It became automatic, and those slow skills translated to better control and reflexes when driving fast.
This is the same on the bike. We need to learn slow and steady, which will translate to more control when you are riding fast and on steeper terrain. It will become automatic and instinctive. With many riders this skill is skipped. We get all excited as we decide to buy a new bike, maybe our partner or friends are riding, or maybe we run and decide we wan to do a triathlon and need a bike. So we buy the bike, helmet, the shoes, the pedals and the kit and just start riding. We ride straight, we get stronger and faster and before you know it we have great power and speed and no bike handling skills leading to the majority of crashes that occur. We should be a bit smarter than that.
You can get a coach to help with your cornering and descending skills. You can also do some drills at home. Firstly find a quiet road or park or maybe your driveway or garage. Here are some drills that you can practice remember to stay relaxed and look where you want to go!
It’s important to think about what cycling means to you and why you are doing it. It’s a sport that requires a lot of your time and hopefully something you can enjoy well into your old age. Its important that we stay safe so we can enjoy it for a long time, so spending the time to address your motor control skills will pay a huge reward for your future in the sport. And remember… this bike thing is supposed to be fun! Yes it can also be challenging, but the reward at the end of the day far out ways any suffering!
I can hear the words as clearly today as when they were first spoken in 1985 (yes I am that old); "if you don't test the athlete prior to building the training progressions, you are wasting both your time and that of the athlete". I was in my first year of an Exercise Science degree and those wise words were delivered by the wonderful Professor Frank Pyke. Dr Pyke was an imposing character and carried a reputation in our field like few others. That strongly-delivered message from 32 years ago has been validated many times and shaped my approach to coaching ever since.
It may be stating the bleating obvious, but all of us humans are different and in so many ways. One of the "ways" is physiology and the response we are likely to have to any form of training. The fact is that no two cyclists respond in the same way (or at the same rate) to a block of training, this is the case even if both riders have exactly the same FTP. It is equally true that the ONLY way to even get close to predicting how a rider will respond to training and what type / amount of training to which he/she is best suited is to TEST. Which brings us back to Dr Pyke.
Testing is the cornerstone of any effective training plan and without testing, training sessions are based on a guess (an algorithm is just a fancy way to make an educated guess). Lack of testing is the main reason that some cyclists do well with certain types of training and others do not. Sports scientists test athletes before implementing training in order to both set a reference level for performance and to identify key elements of physiology on which the training is based. Different results yield different plans.
To get the most out of your training you (or your coach) will need:
Without these elements your training is based on a guess, no matter how educated that guess may feel.
Consider whether one, or more applies to you:
As the wonderful Professor Pyke (rest his soul) once said, "if you don't test, you are wasting both yours and the athlete's time".
Get tested now, be smart and stop trying to buy, or short cut, improvements in your riding performance.
Enjoy your ride
Reached that dreaded plateau? Might be time to change it up
You all know that feeling, the alarm goes off and you know you have to get up and ride...."gotta stay ahead of Wayno". But you also know that you are playing a bit of "Russian Roulette", just cannot predict how you are going to feel. "Felt awesome last Wednesday" but most days are a real struggle and it has been ages since you set that Strava PR on Springers.
So what's up? You are training hard right? Doing all the things you usually do and just 3 months ago, you were not only better than you are now, but almost every ride was great. So why are you no longer feeling the love and how can you get the mojo back?
One of the most common errors cyclists (and most endurance athletes) make is to do the same type of riding, week in / week out for long periods of time. To make things worse, this riding is almost always too hard. Now I have said this many times before, "riding at threshold is the LEAST effective way to boost threshold". In Exercise Science, the term "load cycling" is often used to explain the mysterious processes of "stimulus / stress / recovery". Essentially load cycling means that training loads (volume, frequency, intensity) are continuously varied to allow the body the best opportunity to regenerate. Too much load, not enough variation and nowhere near enough recovery will put any rider in a hole. Sound familiar?
We also know that no endurance athlete can perform at their best without a big aerobic capacity. The truth is, that riding at your limit erodes your aerobic system and the only way to build it back up (or slow the decline) is to do some riding with an aerobic load. Here is the crunch: if you almost always ride hard, you WILL reach a point where aerobic capacity is so poor that performance will actually start to decline and when this happens, there is no way back except to rest and then begin a block of pre-dominantly aerobic cycling. If your aerobic capacity has fallen to very low levels, this may mean riding VERY slowly, which most cyclists find it nearly impossible to do (especially blokes).
So we are back to load cycling (you knew we would come back) and if you are strategic about your training, you just may avoid falling into the pit. Be smart about your riding, race your buddies when it counts and pick your moments to go hard. But make sure you mix it up, cycle your loads, and you can look forward to consistent (upward trending) form. The MOJO is back!
If you would like to try some of these strategies with BBL coaching, we would love to hear from you.
So which technique is best, and can that question even be answered?
I know a few cyclists (in fact it is probably the majority of cyclists I know) who struggle with riding out of the saddle. Now this may be because it just does not feel right or could be that he/she once read that seated riding is more efficient or it is even quite possible that, as late-comer to cycling, they feel "out of control" and unbalanced when riding out of the saddle.
If you find standing technique unsafe and/or unstable, you should consider spending some time with a good technical skills coach who will be able to give some guidance about balance and connection with your bike. Countering bike movement with a fluid (counter-active) body motion is the key here and takes a little time to master.
For others, it is more a matter of being mechanically efficient, whether you are in the saddle or out. We have all been told at some point about "pedalling in circles", that magic trick where you are able to apply significant drive force to the pedals at all points of the circle. Most cyclists understand (at least the theory anyway) this and can apply elements of when seated on the bike. But once standing they usually default to a stomping motion that all but completely destroys any notion of a through or up-stroke. These riders will feel more efficient in the saddle and fatigue quickly when they stand.
When next out riding, watch the rider in front, especially when they stand up. Do they "bob noticeably up and down, or worse still, seem to almost lunge from pedal to pedal? The key to efficient standing technique (just as it is whilst riding in the saddle) to to improve pedal smoothness (pedal in circles). Focus more on the up and through stroke when standing, come smoothly "over the top" and try to de-emphasise the downstroke. Here is a little drill: head out to your local climb, ride it in a bigger gear than you otherwise would. REALLY focus on the upstroke (almost pulling your knee to your chest) and come smoothly over the top. Try to keep your hips from bobbing excessively up and down. With the rise in popularity of power meters, we have been able to measure pedal smoothness improvements in standing technique and many of our riders have become quite good at riding out of the saddle.
If you are a rider that usually notices an increase in Heart Rate (for the same climbing speed / power output), chances are, you are less efficient. Improving your standing technique will give you more options and variation as a rider and maybe just improve your performance.
Please feel free to contact us at Bubba's Bikelab if you have any questions about this or any other cycling matter.
Without quality rest, you are going nowhere....FAST
Most riders these days understand the importance of recovery. Many will obsess about utilising their "30 minute windows", tuck into protein shakes and injest pre-weighed portions of carbohydrates. Most have read the script and rely on this post-ride ritual to ensure they will be able to rip out some more Strava PRs again tomorrow. Whilst post-exertion re-fueling is important, there is a LOT more to recovery than protein and pasta.
When a cyclist trains, each ride creates some stress (in most cases this is good stress) in the body. When repeated, the stress stimulates adaptation within the bodies physiology producing biochemical, hormonal and even anatomical changes. These adaptations are felt as increased fitness; speed, power, endurance etc are improved in accordance with the type of riding performed. Sounds great (and fairly simple) doesn't it? Well (as always) there is a catch; ALL cyclists require periods of relative rest (lower to MUCH lower training loads) in order for this adaptation to occur. If stress continues for too long (without planned rest periods), the adaptaive process is significantly impaired and the rider will start to go backwards....bingo.....over-trained. The strange-sounding paradox is that "your body gets fitter / stronger / faster, WHILST YOU ARE RESTING and NOT whilst training". Of course the training has to be performed first and training HARD is critical.
The key to to know the optimum ratio of work to rest and then build a training structure around this knowledge. Riding experience, age, gender and physiological profile, are all part of this complex story. A good coach or some smart research will be worth the money/time investment and almost certainly save every rider many hours of wasted effort. Do yourself a favour and get tested, or at least discuss these things with a coach. You will save many hours, almost certainly some $$ and start to see some results that will NEVER come with repeatedly beating yourself up.
Building endurance fitness takes time, effort and patience. There is no doubt in my mind that rest is the missing element for most amatuer riders. Getting the correct ratio of training load / duration / rest is priority one, without it, you are heading around in circles.
If you would like some more information regarding this or any other coaching topics, please contact us at Bubba's Bikelab
Brian "Bubba" Cooke
Exercise Physiologist, coach & cycling tragic for 30 years. Love the freedom, reward and sense of achievement that one can only experience in our amazing sport.