Do you train too hard?

By March 24, 2016 Cycling

I misinterpreted my coach’s training instructions which read:

20 mins warm-up

10 x 4 min zone 3-4

5 x 2 min zone 4-5

2 min recovery between each interval

In the last 1 minute increase power up to maximum

20 min cool down

I increased the power up to my maximum effort for all 15 intervals. Safe to say it was a tough session and I was slightly jaded when returning to work in the afternoon! “Lee, only you would read it like that” said Louise. Indeed my coach confirmed that it was only the very last 2 minute interval in which I should ramp the power up to maximum. I often hear commentators during professional races claiming that a certain rider is a “hard trainer”, Aru of team Astana is one of those. Do some cyclists train a lot harder than others, even at a professional level? How hard should we pseudo-pro’s actually train?

According to Joe Friel in the Cyclists Training Bible (which is by all accounts the best cycle training book out there) a great performing rider is the sum of natural talent + training + environment + support (family etc). There is always the rider who seems to do well in races with apparently minimal preparation, he or she has more talent. Then there are riders like me who train really hard and struggle to win! I like the formula because it gives me lots of excuses as to why I will never be a professional cyclist!

I enjoy putting a lot of effort into my training. When I arrive at a race I want to feel like I have done everything I could to be in the best form – to have the best chance of winning. I like being tired after a hard workout, knowing I deserve my chocolate recovery shake and pasta meal. In the past, when my coach gave me intervals at zone 3-4 I would inevitably aim at zone 4, at the upper end of the range. This goes completely against the social norm theory of “showing off”. There is me, on my bike, on my own, with my power meter measuring what I do (to be uploaded into Training Peaks for my viewing only) and pushing myself to levels beyond what I actually need to do. This phenomenon must be unique to cycling, I know there are loads of cyclists just like me out there.

But is this the right way to train? When Joe Friel coaches a rider and they train over and above his plan he quickly corrects it or the relationship comes to an end. His reasoning makes sense; if it is an easy ride, it is to recover for a harder session tomorrow. If you go too hard on the easy ride you will not be able to go as deep on the hard session. The better you get the harder and easier you need to ride. Having spoken to several professional riders about this, they agree. One said that in a race they spend most of the time “cruising” in the bunch, probably in zone 1-2. They need to be able to easily sustain 6 hours of that without burning up energy supplies. But when they make their move, they cannot look back. It needs to be an all-out effort to escape the bunch. Dan Martin’s win on La Molina climb in stage 3 of the Volta Cataluña 2016 is a perfect example. He sat in the bunch all day, watched the attacks, maintained a good position near the front but let others chase. Then 1 Km from the top – BOOM – a standing, high power surprise attack to almost sprint power levels. He put everything into that 1Km and it paid off. So, shouldn’t our training imitate this race requirement?

Sticking to a tight training plan has other benefits. If you train smarter you can probably achieve the same in less time, this is a big plus if you are balancing a full time job, family and social commitments. If you know exactly what you are doing and when you can plan carefully your agenda and stick to it, giving a winning sense from each workout.

I have been trying to train smarter this year. When my coach says spin for 2 hours I spin for 2 hours. On the hard intervals I push myself, but stick to the instructions. Rather than going all out on the intervals from the first one I try to build them up so that I finish every workout. I have learnt more about the powers that I can sustain and for how long. The easy rides are an opportunity for a group ride or to enjoy the scenery. This balance of hard and easy, tough and enjoyable is maintaining my enjoyment of cycling and at the same time I am getting stronger. Let’s see if it pays off in some races.

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