Editor’s Note: Premium Member Art V. wrote in using our Ask RBR a Question feature. Art wrote: Due to an injury, I’ve been off the bike for almost a year. All medical issues are history. How do I get back into riding and make sure I don’t over-stress tendons etc? Just ride and build up mileage slowly? Or can I mix in one day of hill work in the beginning weeks?
The question isn’t whether you can mix in one day of hills a week but whether you can mix in one day of intensity a week. Riding hills is just one form of intensity.
After a year’s layoff (wow, that’s too bad!) as you know you’ve lost muscle strength, but also your tendons and ligaments aren’t as strong. Injuries to tendons and ligaments are almost always overuse injuries (unless you crash). If you go hard too soon you risk injuring your connective tissue again.
In a previous column I have described the five different ways that you can change the overload to get fitter: How Much Should You Train?
Increasing the intensity is the one way you shouldn’t increase the overload. As you know, you need to ramp up the volume – increasing by only 10 – 15% / week is a safe rate of increase.
Coming back from time off the bike, you can add volume with lower risk of injury if you do it by increasing the frequency rather than trying to increase the duration of your long ride(s). If I want a client recovering from an injury to ride four hours, instead of four 1-hour rides, the client will do six rides averaging 40 minutes each. For example, two 60-minunte rides, two 40-minute rides and two 30-minute rides.
An even more conservative approach is to do split workouts. Instead of a 60-minute ride, ride for 35 minutes in the morning and then 25 minutes later in the day. The slightly longer ride is first because you’ll have had more time to recover overnight and you only have part of a day to recover for the second ride. Listen to your body, and if you feel at all tired, don’t do the second ride.
Doing more, shorter rides allows you to increase the volume faster than if you do fewer, longer rides.
Riding fitness comes from aerobic capacity (how much blood your heart delivers to the working muscles) and muscle strength. Your muscles are composed of many fibers, and the more coordinated their firing, the more power you’ll deliver. It’s like having your engine properly tuned. You can improve the neuromuscular firing by doing high-cadence, low intensity drills. Do all of these in a low gear so that you are never breathing hard:
1. One-leg pedaling.
- Rest your right foot on a box or something similar and pedal with the left foot for 30 seconds.
- Put your right foot on the pedal (don’t bother to clip in) and pedal for 30 seconds.
- Do several reps of left foot / both feet and then switch to right foot / both feet. Try to increase the time / rep by 5 seconds or so a week.
2. Builds: start at a comfortable cadence and each minute increase by about 10 rpms to the highest cadence you can ride at without bouncing in the saddle.
3. Accelerations: start at a comfortable cadence and over a minute increase the cadence as much as you can without bouncing in the saddle.
4. 20- to 30-second sprints with plenty of recovery in between.
These increase from No. 1 to No. 4 in the stress they put on your muscles and connective tissue.
Learn more from my eBook Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling. It’s a workbook with a series of progressive exercises to learn to:
- Relax: any sort of mental tension translates into physical tension, which interferes with smooth functioning of the muscles. You’ll spin better if you are fully relaxed.
- Focus: You can do more of any activity if you focus 100% of your attention on that activity.
- Be confident: How to develop personal images and words that help you to ride stronger.
- Deal with the mentally tough times that crop up on many rides.
My left leg was crushed by a truck in June 1989. It took a year, but I built back up to riding a century. After another year I could ride the 1200K Paris-Brest-Paris. Then in 1992 I set a course record at the 1200K Boston-Montreal-Boston. And in 1993 I won the Furnace Creek 508 RAAM qualifier.
Be patient, listen to your body and you’ll come back, too!
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.