By Martin Sigrist
Take away: “Every performance related ride should have three clear objectives, improving power, improving mental strength and reinforcing perishable skills.”
A while back I made a comment on an RBR article saying that it is just not true that the older you get the worse you get. Lars got in touch and I’ve since contributed a few articles expanding on that thought along with the related topic of how important strength and mobility training are at all stages of life.
I’d like to introduce a new topic, one that underpins both the above.
It’s addressed to those who have performance related cycling goals, to become the best that they can be. It should also be useful for those who want to be lifelong athletes taking on the ultimate race, against Father Time.
The essence of this topic is that how you train is crucial. While training requires power zones, workouts and intervals there is a lot more that can be done, both to make these essential components more effective and add new aspects as well. These will help not only make you fitter but also help when the going gets tough in a challenge that may be a lifelong goal.
These additional factors share three things in common:
- They complement existing training. They are not a replacement, they are intended to build on it acting as multipliers so that every hour spent training yields more benefit.
- They are new. Some completely so, others not are not common.
- They work.
It’s a specific example of the last point that convinced me to share my thoughts about this.
Last weekend I had planned an “hour of power”, 60 minutes close to FTP. This is a hard session but a great way to build fitness especially if, like me, your goals include long hard efforts like mountain climbs or longer TTs.
I thought I’d use the opportunity to try out some advice I was planning to write about, summarized in the “take away” above. As well as setting a power goal I set myself the mental goal of breaking the effort into chunks of 5-10 minutes, just taking each one at time. I also “tricked” myself by changing my power zones so that the color of my display at FTP appeared as if I was doing 10 watts or so less. Then I stacked a “perishable” skills goal of focusing on my pedaling, nothing complicated, just letting my focus shift from muscle group to muscle group, switching when I felt like it and whenever one area started to hurt shifting to attention to another.
The result was beyond my expectations. I not only hit my power target but set a new lifetime best of 311 watts, a figure that puts me amongst the world’s best over 60s and one that most 20 year olds would be happy with. It wasn’t just the number but the way I managed it that pleased me. It means my fitness in the area that I most care about is at a lifetime high, there should be more to come and I have a routine I can trust to help me get even better.
This last point is the point of this article and why I want to do more in a similar vein.
Most training advice about workouts deals with outputs, such as power or zone targets. Few deal with how you actually achieve these. Those that do tend to be at quite a high level and not specific to cycling, such as using mantras or positive thinking. There is nothing wrong with these but they are hard to sustain for an hour or more. Often much more.
While your legs might appear be the ones that determine how long and how hard you go they do not work alone. What’s going on inside your head can have a huge effect on performance.
It is just common sense to use the time spent while training to ensure that your thoughts make a positive contribution to performance. Workouts should be used to train the brain as well as the legs. Not doing this is not only a missed opportunity, nature abhors a vacuum, if it is not being useful the mind can become hinderance.
I really would recommend that anyone who is training with the goal of getting better sets themselves the goal of always stacking targets when doing workouts. So aim to do more than just hit power interval targets.
Power + Mental + Perishable is an example. The details will depend on the workout but having something to think about as well as just staring at target watts and a timer may well, if nothing else, make hitting the power target easier. But it could well do more. Mental strength and skills are vital but what works varies from person to person. So it makes sense to use the opportunity of a workout to test different approaches, find one that suits, then practice it. Perishable skills are equally critical. Losing form just makes everything harder, so it makes sense to spend time making them resilient so they function as well after 5 hours in the saddle as when you are fresh.
Having introduced this topic, in future weeks I will expand on it and introduce more elements. Each will be of a similar format, a key takeaway followed by some thoughts on why it is important.
Over time this will build to a menu of options and ideas to make training both more fun and more effective. I believe this approach can work to make you better because it’s worked for me. That’s not to say all will work for everyone, since people differ. But I hope some will work for some.
Now among the world’s fittest sexagenarians Martin Sigrist started riding on doctor’s orders in 2005 and had to push his bike up his first hill. Next year he soloed the Tour de France. He has since experienced every form of road cycling from criterium to ultra endurance. His ongoing mission is to use the latest in science and technology to fight a, so far successful, battle against Father Time.
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