From the vaults! This interview is from an early RBR newsletter more than a decade ago and was never published on the site. It’s still just as relevant today, so we’re running it now.
Joe Friel is one of America’s top known cycling authors. He has written several renowned books, including The Cyclist’s Training Bible and Fast After 50. A top coach for many years until he retired, he worked with elite and recreational cyclists as well as triathletes.
We’ve known Joe for many years and have always been impressed with his systematic, careful approach to coaching.
Q: Why are structured training plans better than a “ride like you feel” approach?
JF: The purpose of training is to reach peak form and fitness for certain key events, the “A-priority” events. Training haphazardly is less likely to produce this peak than structured, periodized training that is based on your unique limiters, lifestyle and event schedule.
I’ve found that training “how you feel” usually means you don’t know what you want to accomplish. It’s just “playing on a bike,” not training.
Q: You’ve written that “an athlete should do the least amount of specific training that brings continual improvement.” That’s great news for roadies who don’t have much time to train, but it sounds too good to be true. Can you explain?
JF: There are three major variables that comprise what we call “training” — duration, frequency and intensity. When combined, we call these first two “volume.”
Many studies in several sports have shown that intensity, not duration or frequency is the key to peak performance. This doesn’t mean that volume is unimportant. It’s just less important than intensity.
Q: Are riders doing it wrong if their main focus is logging miles?
JF: Riders who gauge their training progress only on how many miles they put in weekly (volume) are missing out on the real key to success — intensity. And it doesn’t take a lot of intensity to produce peak fitness. Until a rider begins to focus on intensity, he or she won’t realize full potential in the sport.
Q: Can you give your best three tips for masters cyclists?
JF: In their order of importance, the keys to success when past age 50 are:
—Allow for adequate recovery. You can do fewer high-quality workouts in a week than a young rider. Make sure you choose the right workouts so time isn’t wasted.
—Continue weight training year round. Older athletes seem to have more trouble gaining and maintaining muscle strength.
—Be careful with your diet. At 25 you could make dietary mistakes and get away with them. By age 50 you need to know what is best to eat and when. Your body is no longer able to fake it. The diet should be focused on vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish and poultry — not starch, sugar, processed foods and diet pop.