I’ve been getting a number of e-mails with variants on the same questions, “My Strava times are getting worse. How can I train better to go faster?” Or “My Strava times are worse than my buddies. What can I do?”
In the past week I’ve done four of my favorite rides:
- Climbed Berthoud Pass (11,307 ft.) in Colorado – a favorite ride with my buddy John Elmblad. It took us about 1:30 to climb about 1300 ft., not counting stops to look at the waterfall, check out the old one lane wagon road and admire the snow-capped Rockies.
- Climbed Flagstaff in Boulder, CO (5,328 ft.). I climbed 1000 ft. in about an hour. The time mattered because thunder storms were building. Just as I got to the top the storm moved in and I had to decide: put on my jacket or start descending immediately. I skipped the jacket and got back to the car just as the hail started.
- Rode the Olde Stage loop in Boulder. Roads named Olde are invariably tough. I suffered up the crux of 15% for about 10 minutes After the top I enjoy the sinuous descent.
- Rode to Jamestown with John, a favorite ride of ours. We chatted all the way and it takes about 1:15 to 1:30. The time only matters because we wanted to get to the Merc for breakfast before it closes.
If I were using Strava it would tell me how fast I rode each segment of each ride compared to how fast I rode it previously. But who cares? How did I feel physically – the best benchmark of my fitness – on Flag I was working very hard but wasn’t in my lowest gear the whole way (unlike Berthoud!) And how big was my grin?
“An athlete should do the least amount of properly timed, specific training that brings continual improvement.” – Joe Friel, The Cyclist’s Training Bible
What does this mean?
Least amount. A rider gets stronger while recovering off the bike, not when riding. Almost every rider will improve more if he ride less and recovers more. Strava records each ride and keeps track of how many miles you ride … and the temptation is simultaneously to keep increasing your volume and reducing your times.
Properly timed. A rider will improve more by changing the types of riding through the season rather than just riding more of the same. Here’s the phase plan with four phases I use with my clients.
- Base: Build an aerobic base.
- Recovery break
- Build: Improve power.
- Recovery break
- Peak: Train specifically for a rider’s main season or planned event(s).
- Taper: Recover fully.
Specific training. A rider will improve more if he rides different kinds of miles at different times of the year.
- Base: Ride lots of conversational miles. Strava may tempt you to go faster than a conversational pace. However, important physiological adaptations take place when recovering from a conversational ride, adaptations that don’t take place if you ride harder.
- Build: Ride harder miles, especially sweet spot miles. Sweet spot training is the optimal way to build power. If you ride harder tempted by Strava’s emphasis on speed you won’t increase your power as much. And despite Strava’s cumulative log, ride fewer total miles for more recovery from the harder riding.
- Peak: Ride the specific kinds of miles similar to his main season or planned event(s).
- Taper: Ride much fewer miles.
With Strava the temptation is year-round to try to increase volume and increase intensity at the same time. Doing too much too hard often results in performance declines like in the e-mails.
Continual improvement. This doesn’t mean getting faster on every ride. It means improving on a few specific rides, getting faster on the same course(s). This could be a particular training route, or a solo time trial, or riding faster with the club’s A group. Strava records how fast a rider does each ride (and each segment of a ride!) The riders in the e-mails at the beginning are asking how to improve their Strava times plural. A better question is “How do I improve my Strava time on my X ride?”
Strava is a good way to record various data, which can be used to improve, e.g., during your base. How many miles did you ride compared to a previous period. Depending on your experience you can increase your miles using the following guidelines. The more years you’ve been riding the faster you can increase your volume.
- Week to week increase weekly volume by 5-15%.
- Month to month increase monthly volume by 10-25%.
- Year to year increase annual volume by 10-15%
Because Strava records segments you can also use it for certain kinds of intervals, e.g., all out hill repeats. Can you go faster and farther on each repeat?
Strava used correctly can be an excellent training tool. Just don’t get sucked into more, more, more and faster, faster, faster.
How to train
- Is It Necessary to Build an Aerobic Base
- How to Do Endurance Training Effectively
- 12 Mistakes Endurance Riders Make
- 6 Kinds of Intensity Training: Which One Is Best for You?
- How Cyclists Should Approach Intensity Training for Maximum Benefit
- Intensity Done Correctly Produces Results
- Sweet Spot Training for Every Rider
- Sweet Spot Training for Every Rider pt. 2
- How to Incorporate Sweet Spot Workouts into Your Training
Endurance Training and Riding bundle includes:
- Beyond the Century I describe training principles and different training intensities and how to integrate these into a season-long program of long rides. These principles also apply to shorter rides than centuries.
- Nutrition for 100K and Beyond I teach you what to eat before, during and after rides;
- Mastering the Long Ride I teach you the non-riding skills you need to finish your endurance rides.
The 49-page Endurance Training and Riding bundle is only $13.50.
Intensity Training Using Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter to Maximize Training Effectiveness I explain in detail your physiology, which type(s) of intensity training is right for you, whether RPE, heart rate or power is best for you and how to do intensity training . The 41-page Intensity Training is only $4.99.
- You can download from my website a spreadsheet to determine your training zones.
Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance I explain the importance of recovery and gives you 10 different techniques illustrated with photos to improve your recovery and riding. The 16-page eArticle Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance is $4.99.
- In Your Best Season Ever, Part 1 I explain how to improve, by doing: The right kinds of workouts → At the right times → In the right amounts → Resulting in continuing progress. I walk you through how to create your own specific, personalized training plan and then get the most out of your training.
- Your Best Season Ever, Part 2 takes what you’ve learned in the first article and builds on it. I teach you how to peak for your own key event. You will learn how to: Analyze your event; Develop specific training objectives; Create and test a personal strategy; Train for peak fitness; Learn what you should eat, and when; Select the optimum equipment; Learn mental focus; Taper so you are fresh; and Control how you ride your event.
The 71-page Your Best Season Ever 2-Article Bundle is only $8.98.
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 over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.