Despite being a big rider in the peloton, “Miguelón” or “Big Mig,” won the Tour de France from 1991 through 1995, the fourth, and last, to win five times, and the only five-time winner to achieve those victories consecutively. He won the Giro d’Italia twice, one of seven racers to achieve the Giro-Tour double in the same season. Miguel Induráin was 6 ft. 2 in. tall and his racing weight was 80 kg (176 lb.)
Compared to the peloton he was a big man and you may also be big compared to your buddies. How can you ride well like Big Mig?
In 2003 Sir Dave Brailsford, a former amateur cyclist, took over as the performance director of British Cycling. He used an approach called the aggregation of marginal gains. Under his leadership, the cycling team won eight gold medals in Beijing Olympics, another eight in London and six in Rio on the track and road. Brailsford took over, the British had won just two cycling golds in an Olympics. The aggregation of marginal gains also produced Sir Bradley Wiggins’ and Chris Froome’s Tour de France successes.
Most roadies just ride (it’s fun) rather than training effectively and working on the following. Any one of these will help you just a little and by aggregating the improvements you’ll become a much better rider than most roadies.
Train Less and Train Smarter
When a new client starts I ask for two years of training history before I start writing workouts so that I understand the volume the rider is used to doing. Then when I start writing workouts the client is surprised that I program less. One client remarked, “You had me riding less and doing the right rides.” I have my clients ride different workouts for different purposes; these workouts are done at different intensities to bring about specific physiological changes. The riders improve more than by just riding lots of miles.
Improve Your Riding Efficiency
Efficiency is defined by the work done related to the energy expended. You want to ride faster for the same amount of energy expended. Here’s how:
- Get a bike fit. I’ve been to the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine with clients many times for bike fits. One client increased his power by 5% just by getting a proper fit.
- Engage your glutes (and not your calves and hamstrings). Almost all of the power is applied over the top and downward portion of the pedal stroke. You’ll get more power if you engage your glutes (butt muscles) in addition to your quads. To get the feel on using your glutes, at the top of the stroke imagine you’re pushing your knees toward the handlebar or kicking a soccer ball without using your quads at all. You should feel your glutes firing. Your calves and hamstrings don’t provide any power, so don’t try to ankle a lot – you’re just wasting energy.
- Strengthen your core. Your legs are like levers and your core is the fulcrum. If the fulcrum (core) is moving you’re dissipating energy rather than using it. Strengthening your cores means strengthening the deep muscles that encircle and stabilize your core like a girdle. Crunches don’t strengthen these muscles. My website has a core strengthening program here.
- Engage all your muscle fibers. A muscle, e.g., your glute, is comprised of a number of motor units, which are bundles of muscle fibers. Each motor unit has a nerve to transmit the message from the brain to the fibers to fire. Imagine 8 people in a boat rowing competitively against other eights. The coxswain is calling stroke, stroke, stroke. However, if all 8 rowers in the boat don’t stroke with their oars at exactly the same time the other boats will beat them. Your muscles are the same – their firing isn’t naturally coordinated. You can improve the your muscle fiber coordination with sprints, which demand maximum power. During a ride throw in two or three 30-second sprint with at least five minutes recovery between each and more recovery is fine.
Increase Your Power
- Lose weight. You already know this.
- Increase your VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can deliver to your working muscles. More oxygen means your muscles can work harder and produce more power. VO2 max workouts are hard: 2 to 4 reps of riding very hard for 1 to 3 minutes with 2 to 6 minutes recovery between each rep. (Recovery time is twice the very hard time) Start with 2 or 3 reps of 1 minute each with 2 easy minutes between each and gradually build up. By Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) it’s an 8 on a scale of 1 – 10 (you’re not quite sprinting); over 105% of Lactate Threshold (LT); 106 – 120% of Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
- Do Sweet Spot workouts. Sweet Spot workouts are the optimal way to increase the power of the muscle fibers themselves. The harder you ride the more overload you put on your muscles; however, you also need more recovery so the cumulative overload on your muscles during the workout decreases. The Sweet Spot is the range where you get maximum cumulative overload on your muscles. It’s an RPE of 4 – 5 (you can still talk in short phrases), 93 – 97% of LT; 89 – 94% of FTP. A workout is 3 to 6 reps of [4” – 8” in the SS and 2” – 4” recovery between reps]. Start with 3 or 4 reps of [4” in the SS and 2” easy. The time in the SS should be about twice as long as the recovery riding. If you don’t like structured intervals mix up riding harder in the SS and recovery riding in approximately a 2:1 ratio of hard:easy.
Learn to Climb
On a flat road aerodynamic drag accounts for 70 to 90% of the energy expenditure. As a big rider you have an advantage. Although your frontal area is bigger than another roadie just given your size you have significantly more power.
- Except during the off-season climb each week. If you don’t have a long climb use short climbs by doing hill repeats or climbing successive climbs. No climbs? Ride into the wind.
- Quiet your upper body. Some riders rhythmically move their shoulders side-to-side or even rock their bikes side-to-side as they climb. This wastes energy that you could put into the climb.
- Stay seated. This is around 10% more efficient than standing.
- Keep your revs up. Drop your gears to a level that allows you to keep a cadence of approximately 70-80 rpm.
- Ride tactically. As you approach a climb position yourself near the front of the group and then during the climb gradually fade back.
- Up and over. Some riders immediately shift down to their climbing gear at the base of a climb. Without spiking your heart rate, work you way down through the gears in the early part of the ascent. Then as you approach the top pick up your speed just a little and continue to accelerate until you reached your desired speed on the descent.
By working on many of the above you’ll become a better rider than those skinny roadies!
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- Part 2: Peaking for and riding your event. I teach you how to peak for and ride specific events. I use several examples from which you can develop your own plan to peak for and ride your personal event. The examples are a challenging club ride, a 100K, a hill climb or time trial and a century. My 37-page Part 2: Peaking for and riding your event is only $4.99.
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Great article Coach Hughes!
On point number 2, after a hard ride, everyone I know feels it in the quads, but never the glutes.
Is there a good on bike/trainer exercise for training the glutes?
Peter Leiss says
All good points John.
Big guys can climb it takes work and as I tell those ask the only way to improve your climbing is by climbing. The bonus is the descent afterwards
Aerodynamics are really important for big guys its quite amazing how much less effort it takes when I get low and aero to go the same speed or faster. All the bling aero parts, frames and wheels mean so much less for big guys as the position yields way better results and costs not so much.