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Coaching Cycling

Want to bike faster? Three easy tips

For most cyclists, and in that I include Duathletes and Triathletes, the most basic but fundamental question is, “How can I get faster on the bike?” There is a wealth of information and “training plans” available online – but honestly most are far too over engineered and just too complex for the average busy athlete that loves sport as a hobby but also has a life to lead! With all that in mind, here are my top three tips for how to be faster on the bike.

For most cyclists, the most basic but fundamental question is, “How can I get faster on the bike?” Beginner and more experienced cyclists and even duathletes alike are always asking this question of themselves.

But tackling how to bike faster from a training standpoint means that you need to address the absolute fundamentals of what an athlete needs in order to progress. These might not be “super sexy” as bragging about some “killer session” and working so hard you nearly cried (really?!?!?!?), but they do work and in my opinion are the corner stones of any sensible training program. If you want to improve rather than brag at the local cycle club or on Facebook, then these three tips are for you.

Train Consistently

If you only do ONE THING, make it this one.

The absolute fundamental to any sports training is consistency. If you want adaption and improvement in your performance, then this is the key. Riding for 45 minutes to an hour a day has much greater benefit than cramming all of your training into one or two days of the weekend. This is because consistency creates a progressive training load which is required to adapt and get stronger. Training intermittently and too hard can cause “detraining” to occur between training sessions (the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve), and an amount of overload on the body that is excessive and will mean you can’t recover quickly enough to ride the next ride usefully.

Don’t forget the importance of motivation in finding consistency. Try to make rides fun and enjoyable. Add variety and work towards goals progressively. Even think about the words you use in your head – I think about rides not workouts… Because I like riding my bikes! When training becomes a chore and ceases to be fun, the chances of missing rides / workouts / training sessions increases dramatically.

Train with a plan

Any plan will do! Think about it… yes you need a plan, but why?

The cyclist who leaves the house on their bike without a purpose will be limited in their potential to improve because they will be riding with no purpose! But MUCH more importantly if you follow a plan an it says to X then you are drastically more likely to do X. Without a plan X will probably not happen, in fact nothing will happen, you will skip the ride till “another time”. A plan can be as simple as this week I am going to ride for 5hrs. One ride of 2hrs on a Saturday and three one hour rides in the week. Tick them off as you do them. Result is you will do four rides in a set structure and you will have started to develop your training consistency.

Once you are doing something consistently, you can then refine the content of what you are doing. Again, keep this super simple! The fundamental in programming a training plan is the ideal of progressive overload. That means this week I will do “10%” more than I did last wee. I will do this for three weeks and then in the fourth week I will reduce the load significantly to allow for adaption and full recovery. In the early days the “what” to increase is less important – it could be total time, it could be number of sessions… You are seeking to build a habit. Once this is engrained then you can become more sophisticated in the “what”, but truthfully for many athletes this is purely to motivate them and keep them engaged. It’s the illusion of “training like a pro” because they have a really complicated sounding workout with lots of numbers and acronyms!!

The irony is that “training like a pro” actually means BE CONSISTENT. A pro athlete will do “it” every day, even on the cold rainy ones and when they frankly can’t be arsed! What they do has structure of course, but mostly because it has to be progressive and if you don’t have tangible measurable “things” it is hard to ensure the programme is actually progressive.

Invest in a power meter

Continuing with the idea that making a programme progressive means using measurable metrics leads into what can you usefully measure. Of course time on the bike and distance are good starting points, but ultimately the metric that matters if are worried about speed (see title of this blog!) is your power output. And for that you need a power meter.

Without doubt training devices like power meters can help you train smarter, but only if you are going to ride your bike consistently in the first place. But once that is a given, then power meters add huge value to your existing heart rate monitor and the two data streams complement each other perfectly. The adoption of power meters, albeit not a cheap bit of kit, have really transformed cycle training in terms of something meaningful and consistent to measure without the inherent delay associated with HR. More watts, assuming weight and aerodynamic drag remain consistent, equals a greater speed. It can bring progression into your training that you will hugely benefit from, by defining realistic wattage goals for the incremental improvement that the human body undergoes. Power meters can quantify your performance.

The caveat here is that by relying too much on power data, you can lose “feeling” of training and performance. Most people are familiar the “Rate of Perceived Exertion” (RPE) developed by Borg – a number scale (from 1-20) that you use to describe your level of exertion. This is often simplified to the “simplified Borg Scale” which is (1 to 10) where 1 is sitting on a sofa and 10 is imminent death. Despite power meters, this is still an important gauge in training – how did it/do you feel? When you learn your body’s sensations you create body awareness and can “listen to your body”. This means you can train at the levels at which you know you can maintain, and you are not dictated by the number on the screen in front of you. In many ways learning train and race on feel is a level of sophistication above using a power meter. But it is VERY hard to learn to do and requires MUCH practice.  

Riding your bicycle faster is not rocket science

So these are the three basic elements to getting faster on your bike – the basis upon which any training program should be structured. It applies to the beginner athlete all the way up to the most experienced athletes. Never forget these time-tested fundamentals in your training program – and you will definitely get stronger and faster on the bike.

If you would like to talk about how to apply these principles to you, and what your training might look like then get in touch and I am happy to help. Coaching doesn’t cost as much as you might think!