Way back in the March 2017 issue of VeloNews, Caley Fretz wrote about Andrew Talansky. Talansky raced for Cannondale-Drapac that year, which was his final year as a pro cyclist. His biggest cycling victory was the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné. After his retirement from pro cycling, he went on to become a successful pro triathlete, and still competes today.
Fretz wrote, “Andrew Talansky has spent his career chasing perfection. … In order to beat the world’s best, Talansky needs to be perfect. He doesn’t have the talent to overcome mistakes. … Everything has to go right when [his] engine is just a little bit smaller than the best.”
Team General Manager Jonathan Vaughters elaborated: “Fundamentally, he’s very perfectionist about every detail. He has to be because he’s not the 95 VO2 max rider. He’s not this massive world-beating physical talent. In the races that he’s won, or has done really well in, he’s been able to optimize every last little detail.” [Emphases added]
If you’re reading this column you’re probably similar to Talansky. You’re not naturally gifted — if you were (and maybe a few decades younger) you’d be racing the Spring Classics! But, just like Talansky, you, too, can improve by paying attention to the details. Here are three ways based on current research that you can optimize your training to become a better cyclist.
Train in the Sweet Spot
Overload + Recovery → Improvement
This is the basic principle of training. You ask your body to do more than it usually does and, if you allow it to recover, you get fitter. This principle applies whether you’re training for pure endurance, a mix of sustained endurance and some power, or a combination of relatively short-term endurance and maximum sustained power.
The harder you ride, the more you overload your muscles, and with enough recovery the faster you get fit, right?
The amount of very hard riding that you can do is significantly less than efforts that aren’t so hard. Further, with very hard riding you need disproportionately more recovery. So you’re better off using your riding time to optimize the amount of hard work you do, which helps you optimize your recovery time – which leads to faster improvement.
I’m talking about the concept of the “Sweet Spot,” which balances overload and recovery to produce the optimum total overload.
Training in the Sweet Spot is the best way to improve your sustained power. The Sweet Spot is above a brisk conversational pace. You can still talk but only in short phrases. Your legs are talking to you but you don’t feel the burn. If you use electronics it’s 93 – 97% of your Lactate Threshold (LT) and 88 – 94% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
In the spring, most of your riding should be for endurance at a conversational pace, 69 – 83% of LT, 56 – 75% of FTP. You can go a little harder on hills, but still should be able to talk but not whistle. Add a Sweet Spot workout once or twice a week — just don’t overdo it!
You can download a spreadsheet to calculate your own training zones from my website.
Give Yourself a Roller Massage
Current research shows that massage improves muscle recovery faster than stretching. At a cellular level, massage turns off the genes associated with inflammation, thus relieving pain, and turns on the genes that produce new mitochondria, which is where the actual production of energy occurs inside cells.
The easiest way to manipulate your muscles is to roll your muscles out using a specially designed roller. I use the Tiger Tail Muscle Massager available from REI. Other brands also work. (Here’s a RBR Review of rollers.)
Roll it on a muscle, for example, your right quads. Push down harder when rolling toward your heart and not as hard rolling back to your knee. With each successive rolling, push down harder so you go deeper. Do 5 to 10 reps on each muscle.
If you have a particular sore spot, e.g., around your knee, you can do short rolls on the affected area. To help with these sore spots, use the roller several times a day.
Your body constantly burns energy, but you only replenish your energy stores when you eat. Dan Benardot, Ph.D., is a registered dietician, Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and nutritionist for Olympic teams. In Advanced Sports Nutrition he recommends eating at least six times a day to stay in energy balance. You should eat so that at any time during a 24-hour period there are no large differences between calories consumed and calories burned.
Here’s an example assuming you burn about 2,700 calories in 24 hours and go for a 90-minute ride after work:
Meal Calories Consumed
- Breakfast: 500 – 600
- Mid-morning snack: 300 – 400
- Lunch: 400 – 500
- Afternoon snack: 350 – 450
- Ride: 150 – 250
- Dinner: 350 – 450
- Evening Snack: 250 – 350
Note that the meals are small, snacks are substantial. The quantities decline over 24 hours because in the morning you are making up for the calories that you burned overnight.
The basis of the nutrition plan is energy balance; i.e., within a span of a few hours the calories you consume equal the calories you are burning. Energy balance supports better training than if you ride yourself into energy deficit. Energy balance helps with weight management, too — if you run a significant deficit, your body may think you’re starving and store calories as fat.
Recommended eArticles and Bundles
The bundle includes these titles:
1. How to Become a Better Cyclist: The Six Success Factors – Over 25 pages.
2. Your Best Season Ever, Part 1: A 32-page eArticle on how to plan and get the most out of your training published in 2015.
3. Intensity Training: A 41-page eArticle with the latest information on how to use perceived exertion, a heart rate Monitor and a power meter to maximize training effectiveness
4. Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance: A 16-page eArticle with 10 different recovery techniques illustrated with 14 photos. Published in 2011.
5. Eat & Drink Like the Pros: A 15-page eArticle of nutritional insights from pro cycling teams. It contains a dozen recipes for you to make your own food and sports drinks. Published in 2011.
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.