by Peter Wimberg
Looking for the most helpful cycling training tips that will really make a difference in your riding? I’ve had the benefit of almost 40 years of riding with 22 of those years racing and 12 of them training athletes one on one and also presenting clinics and teaching group classes. I’ve learned a lot about what has worked for me and other endurance athletes in making the most of training time and subsequently achieving goals. Are these tips open to debate? Of course. And for that reason, I look forward to your thoughts.
1. Weight training should be part of your training and should be year-round.
Endurance athletes have to get past the idea that strength training is somehow going to make them slower or heavier. Studies show that neither will happen but we will switch fat for lean tissue. Strength training is also critical to cyclists (and runners) who specialize in using select muscles in our sagittal plane (right-left) in less than full ranges of motion. A properly designed program will have you working outside this plane and in extreme ranges of motion. Strength training will prevent the muscle imbalances caused by many hours in the saddle with closed hips and that ten pound melon that we call our head leaning over the bars that places stress on our back and shoulders.
Strength in the off-season only is really a waste of time. Its take several weeks to get acclimated to this training and the benefits are gone a couple of weeks after we stop. It’s better to give up an endurance ride or two and keep two sessions of at least thirty but ideally sixty minutes in your weekly schedule.
2. Static stretching never, dynamic stretching forever!
The difference between a static stretch and dynamic is that the static has no movement while the dynamic has movement. Consider the difference between bending over and touching your toes versus doing a slow but deep lunge as you move across the floor. A static stretch actually decreases blood flow while a dynamic stretch increases it. When I see an athlete doing static stretches before a race I always hope they’re in my bracket. Nothing like tearing cold muscle fiber before a race! The same full range of motion noted in number 1 is critical here.
When stretching, use deep squats, lunges, upper body rotations, etc. I start every strength training session with weight free or very light weight exercises designed to get our muscles ready for the weighted exercise just ahead. Static stretches before or after a ride simply do not prevent injury or assist with the delayed onset of muscle soreness. Other than improving range of motion, which is also accomplished with dynamic stretching, the static stretch has little benefit. If you insist on using them, only do it after your workout. I am in favor of Yoga and Pilates as they provide plenty of dynamic movement.
3. If you live in an area with winters that don’t allow efficient outdoor training, you really have to get used to the indoor trainer.
I’m convinced most of even the most ardent opposers to this could still get in an hour of good training a few time per week without going too crazy. I actually enjoy the indoor trainers, as odd as that may seem. I’ll even knock off a few indoor centuries over the winter. I’ve read about some professional triathletes who live in northern climates who regularly spend five plus hours on the bike.
The key in my opinion is to have the proper distractions whether its music, a movie, books, etc. When not deep into an interval, I need something to occupy the time. I’m usually just concentrating on riding in the designated wattage zone. While I don’t use them, the options with training apps like Zwift and others should be more inviting that ever for entertaining indoor training. And, it can be some of your most efficient and easily comparable training given the controlled environment.
4. Speaking of training, make your hard days hard and your easy days easy.
Sounds simple but having worked with athletes now for twelve years as a coach, I see just the opposite. Athletes are afraid of the pain of riding really hard and they think going too slow or easy is taking a step back. I’ve been on group rides where I want to ask the group to either pick up the pace and go after it or slow it down so we can talk. Riding in that very mediocre zone will make for a very mediocre rider.
5. Off days / recovery days are the most important days in your training.
And a recovery day isn’t recovery if you head out and decide to go after a Strava segment. Its ok to ride really easy! Or, even take a day off and skip training altogether. More isn’t always better. Learn to relax every so often.
6. It’s critical to train specifically for your event.
My specialty is the individual time trial, so drafting in group provides little benefit. If you need a big sprint preceded by a three to four minute steady state, build your training around those power profiles. If you’re going to do a two hundred mile ride, I wouldn’t settle for my longest ride being one hundred. You or a good coach need to evaluate your goals, assess the demands needed to reach your greatest potential, and design a plan that will give your best chance of success.
7. Training alone is necessary.
Seems simple enough but I’ve coached plenty of athletes who truly can’t do a ride alone. It’s very unlikely that your ride partner(s) have the same goals as you. I don’t assign many intervals based on them workout being done in a group. Self-motivation is important. Being able to challenge yourself and push yourself to meet and surpass previous goals can be the difference between you and your competition.
8. Peaking is an art.
We need to learn how to peak for no more than three key events each year. When peaking, we want to reduce volume but maintain intensity. Reduce volume — I know, it is counterintuitive for endurance athletes. But it is truly necessary for your best effort. And, it’s tough to be at your absolute best for all thirty of the races you’ve scheduled. Pick your A events and tailor your schedule so that you peak for them.
9. Don’t skimp on a good bike fit.
You should have a qualified bike fit specialist check your position if not every year at least every other year. Our body will change from year to year, and even month to month during the season. I start the season with my saddle height slightly lower than it will be once I’m into the heat of the season. I also know that with age things change.
A thorough bike fit will test range of motion throughout your body. As we know, just a little change in saddle height or bar stem length can make a huge difference. Don’t make the change just because someone on your group ride said you should. We’re all built differently. Get it checked by a pro before you make big changes.
10. We need to make the most of what we have.
It’s easy to get caught in numbers. There are some forums out there where you can join in on the endless discussions about Normalized Power, Average Power, Intensity Factor, CTP, FTP, ATL vs CTL and on and on. I love training with power and love the data but in the end we need to realize that our VO2 is likely about 95% as good as its going to get in that its 50% genetic and 50% trainable (I’m assuming most of us are training pretty well), but we can get the most out of that engine by training our lactate threshold.
I like the analogy of two car drivers, one with an off the showroom floor Toyota and one with Corvette Z06. If the driver of the Corvette doesn’t know how to handle that car, the Toyota driver can completely school him in a race. What we’re born with can be a huge benefit, but not if we don’t train it. The athlete who gets the most out of what they have can have great success in their sport.
My goals have always been to ride for a long time, do well in my races, and stay healthy so that I can enjoy all of the things I like to do when I’m not on the bike. I hope these tips help you as they have helped me.
About Peter Wimberg
Peter Wimberg is a USA Cycling Level 1 Power Certified Coach, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, USA Triathalon Coach and owner of Wimberg Bike Coaching LLC. He provides training programs for the beginner to the advanced cyclist, using the S.M.A.R.T. principle. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed training goals.