By Martin Sigrist
Takeaway: It is possible to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, at least when you are doing workouts. This can be done by trying to accomplish many objectives in the limited time available, as opposed to just one or two. This does not detract from workout quality. To the contrary, the objectives complement each other so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Most essentially, your workout is preparing not just your body for the challenges ahead, but also your mind and other aspects that are vital if you are to succeed.
The traditional approach to workouts is to concentrate on improving physiology, usually by focusing on one particular training zone. So a workout may be high intensity or low intensity or perhaps endurance, threshold, VO2max, tempo or a combination of these.
Other elements such as bike skills or nutrition can be included, but often only as an afterthought and not as a prime objective.
While this may lead to becoming better, it represents a wasted opportunity and even the physiological gains may be sub-optimal compared to what might otherwise be achieved.
Instead, time could and should be put to more productive use, trying to improve all aspects that contribute to performance not just one or two.
This can be done by “stacking” workouts. They can have many objectives, which complement each other so the quality of none is compromised.
This is the approach I have taken throughout the 15 years or so I have been training on a bike. I believe it is the key reason why I have managed to keep improving as I get older, reaching world class levels of performance and why I continue to enjoy and look forward to training hard and getting yet better.
This is not rocket science. It is just plain old common sense, reflected in the saying that it’s a good to try to kill two birds with one stone. Away from sport, in the real world of business where competition can be a matter of life and death companies that can add value to what they do and increase their productivity by finding ways to do more with less more smartly are the ones that prosper and thrive.
The goal is, if you like 360 degree training, to bring an athlete to the position where at the end of their training cycle they can be sure they have addressed all areas, done all they could have done to become the best that they could be and believe firmly that they will succeed in hitting their target.
Just becoming fitter and raising your power zones is not sufficient to reach this goal.
On first glance this approach may be seen as degrading training by overcomplicating it, requiring yet more time or being in denial of the central importance of improving physiology and power.
In fact, the opposite is the case.
Physiology is still central. It sets the timeline in terms of periodisation, determines the details of when exactly workouts will take place and what form they will take in terms of intensity and duration.
Stacking builds on this foundation. It’s a simple process that adds layers that help develop the other aspects that are needed to be successful.
But it does more than that.
These additional aspects are included not for fun. They are there because they are essential to performance in a future event or challenge.
For this reason they also improve the quality and enjoyment of the training process which in turn leads to physiological gains being more rapid and higher watts.
The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. The extra objectives act as force multipliers, improving the quality of what is already there.
How exactly this happens will hopefully become clearer over the next few articles as I present the details of “stacking” and provide some examples.
For now I will give a simple example as illustration.
One element that should always be stacked into a workout is preparing to deal with the internal imaginary “enemies” I have mentioned in previous articles. Not all every time, just focus one or two per session. You won’t beat them by hoping all will be alright on the day and they are not impressed by how many watts you can produce. The best way to find ways to defeat them is through practice during workouts. Even failing leads to progress provided you learn from your mistakes.
Suppose that a workout aims to improve how pain is managed as an objective. Maybe it’s incorporated into a VO2max session where the intervals hurt. Imagine that a rider finds a means to push just 5 seconds longer through their own personal pain barrier than they would otherwise have done, say by imitating Jens Voigt and shouting at their legs to “shut up” when they think they must stop, so forcing just a few more turns of the pedals.
Over the course of the full session, they will have accumulated up to a minute more total time in the target zone than they would otherwise have done. Moreover that minute will be at the end of the interval, the period which generate most stress and therefore most adaption. This should, if the training plan is well designed, lead to more improvement more quickly.
Now when it comes to their event, if it has a short climb that pushes them into their VO2max zone they will get up it more quickly because their watts are higher and they also know a mind hack that works for them if their legs feel as if they are cracking just short of the top. In both ways they will be better than if they just simply ticked the boxes and followed the cookie cutter formula for doing a VO2max workout, literally mindlessly, concentrating on interval duration and a watts display.
It’s possible that some training guides suggest doing something like this every time you do a VO2max session. I can’t say though that I recall reading them.
They just tell you to do the watts.
My advice is go further, think constantly not just of watts but also “how to do the watts”.
The cost of adding the objective such as deciding to work on pain management while doing a VO2max interval is negligible, just a few seconds of planning.
The benefit could be huge, the value of every minute spent is multiplied many times resulting in, as in the example, real paybacks like higher VO2max and belief that you can handle pain when it hurts most.
Stacking just makes common sense and why it is something you should get into the habit of doing every time you get on a bike with the intention of getting better.
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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