If you think fancy gear is the only thing that's going to help you score that PR, think again.by Jordan Blanco
Planning to do a century ride? Don't want to get dropped on the local group ride? Take a look at these simple and effective tips from experienced cycling coaches to get you fitter and faster on the bike this season.
Hire a coach
It's hard to be honest and objective about your own training, so if you're committed to improving your cycling this year, consider hiring a coach. "A good coach will be objective and honest with your training, your goals, your progression and expectations," says Derick Williamson, founder and owner of Durata Training. He adds that in simplest terms, a coach will help you create a training program that allows you to reach your athletic potential.
Testing your lactate threshold, a commonly used performance marker, is not only a great way to track your progress this season, but it will also help you and/or your coach tailor workouts specifically to increase your sustainable power on the bike. USA cycling certified coach Rebecca McKee says is a firm believer in blood lactate testing for her athletes. She says she uses the data as "another tool to understand my athletes and the energy systems they are utilizing in their workouts."
Make hills your friend
Riding your bike uphill is one of the best ways to build strength and become fit on the bike. McKee recommends doing three to four repeats on a 10-minute hill, taking recovery as you ride downhill. She recommends keeping your cadence between 65 to 75 rpm, looking for an average of around 70 rpm.
Dial in your skills
Staying with the pack on the local group ride is not just about fitness and power production but also requires you to ride your bike well. Williamson notes that many athletes ruin their economy because they have poor handling skills such as braking too much, picking poor lines through corners, and timid descending. He recommends seeking out a qualified coach to work on basic and advanced drills to develop your handling skills, while gaining confidence and efficiency in the process.
All of McKee's athletes spend time strength training to boost their cycling abilities. "Cycling involves lots of repetitive motions with the large muscle groups (glutes, back, quads, and hamstrings), so it's important to include functional training for the smaller muscles that take over when those larger muscles become fatigued," she advises.
Watch the scale
"Power to weight" is an important metric when it comes to riding bikes—especially if you want to be able to ride fast uphill. While you can spend time and money looking for the lightest equipment around, you should not neglect the person in the saddle. "Before you spend a lot of time trying to become faster on the bike, take a step back and look at your weight, your diet, and how you fuel your engine," McKee says. She sees clean eating as a critical lifestyle change for anyone seeking improvements in athletic performance. "If you are fueling your gas car with diesel, you won’t get very far," she adds. "Your body is an engine and you need to feed it the right fuel hydrate it right."
How well you ride your bike can be a question of how comfortable you feel. Shifting around on your saddle, an aching back or sore shoulders could be a sign that your bike does not fit you well, and a poor bike fit could be holding back your performance. "A good bike fit is not only about comfort and injury prevention but also could improve power production and efficiency," says Williiamson. A good bike fitter will review your personal biomechanics and ensure that you are appropriately recruiting and firing all muscles involved with powering the bike. Williamson adds that a good fitter can also help improve other performance aspects, such as aerodynamics and the handling characteristics of your bike.
Pro tip → Thinking of a new bike? Find a fitter that will have review you on your current bike or use a size cycle to dial in your fit coordinates and offer you a data driven recommendation of which frame will fit you best.
Do more work
While you may think "doing more work" simply means riding your bike more, Williamson prefers to think of it as "increasing overload." "As we adapt to training stress, to improve further, we have to increase the overload," he explains. He offers three ways of doing this: increasing the frequency that you are riding, increasing the intensity in the sessions, or increasing the time that you are riding. "Overload always needs to work toward your event and performance-specific demands," he says, "so ensure your overload incorporates specificity to your individual goals." While doing more work provides the stimulus, athletes should not forget that recovery is what really seals in the adaptations. Williamson advises athletes to "respect recovery in order to enjoy the improvement in fitness."
Looking for an event to target for your new-found bike fitness? Check our listing of VELOTHON events and sign up for one today.