What is the most important aspect of training? Is it nailing the fundamentals? VO2 max intervals? Squeezing out every marginal gain? I’d argue each of these has validity but the king and queen of them all is consistency. Cycling is a highly aerobic sport and most of the training adaptations simply take a lot of time. Training plans may argue that you can smash your way to fitness in just four weeks, and while there certainly are adaptations that can occur on this timeline, longevity in the sport with functional adaptations can take months and even years of consistent training.
So what does consistency look like? Does it mean never taking a day off of training? Consistency looks different for every athlete depending on the goals of that athlete. Athletes should approach any season with short term goals, possibly looking at different races to be in peak form for, as well as long term goals that take the next 3-5 years into account. Goals don’t always need to be race or performance oriented either. Building in process goals that help you hone your craft, whether being a racer or not, can be a great strategy for long term improvement and enjoyment in cycling.
There are many factors that can affect consistency in training for a sport like cycling. I want to delve into a few that can make or break long term improvements. First and foremost is enjoyment and mental health. If you aren’t enjoying the training or if it feels like a sacrifice, it will not be sustainable. Another important factor is injury prevention, if you are injured, you can’t train. The last factor I want to touch on is overtraining or nonfunctional overreaching, where recovery isn’t promoted enough and illness becomes an increased risk.
For some reason enjoyment in training doesn’t get touched on very much. Cycling is a sport that tends to attract masochistic personalities and the saying “no pain, no gain” is taken to heart. The idea is that if you aren’t thrashing yourself on the bike, you aren’t making progress. This mindset can be short sided and lead to mental burnout, especially in a year such as 2020 where there were no events to target. Consistent training needs to consider sustainability. Does every workout feel like a chore that needs to be done in order to tick a check in the box. Ask yourself why you are training and decide if it is sustainable or not. Working towards maximizing enjoyment within the process will do wonders for consistency and lead to long term success. Enjoyment in the sport will look different for each individual, so it’s important to work with a coach to figure out what that may look like for you.
Another major hindrance to consistency is injury. If you are injured, you can’t train. Injury prevention is highly unrated and often doesn’t get much attention til after the injury has occured. Of course some injury is just about unpreventable such as crashing, but every good training plan should have some sort of overuse injury mitigation plan. Cycling can be very one dimensional and neglect other important aspects of health. Incorporating different movement patterns, such as cross training with another sport or adding in gym work can be very beneficial. Working on pedaling form, bike fit, and mobility can pay dividends in a season primarily full of intense cycling. Adding in a strength program is an easy way to stay on top of things. Working on the posterior chain of muscles, those that don’t work as much as the frontal muscles on the bike is very beneficial for adding even strength and preventing muscle imbalances.
Gym work will also strengthen tendons and improve bone density. Giving pedaling form and alignment some thought will also pay off in the long run. Making sure your bike fit is dialed and you are able to activate posterior muscles, such as the glutes on the bike is very important. This takes some strain off the knee extensors such as the quads, that otherwise could lead to a knee injury if overworked. Strive for a healthy, mobile body and you’ll find long term improvements without the need to take time off every year for chronic overuse injuries.
The last factor that can disrupt consistency is toeing the edge of overtraining, or nonfunctional overreaching. Having to take prolonged breaks from training due to illness or extreme bouts of fatigue can put a damper on preparation for an upcoming race or event. Training without adequate recovery will make you immunosuppressed which can be a surefire way to illness if exposed. Getting sick multiple times over the course of the year can add up to over a month of missed training. Working with a coach and picking up on cues from your body to gauge how much workload you can handle on a day to day basis is really important for longevity.
Progress in training is made over the long run, over the course of months and years. When it comes to effective training, consistency is king. Paying attention to mental health and enjoyment of the sport will lead to healthy habits that will promote consistency in training. Focusing not just on fitness, but injury prevention in the sport will equip your body with the tools to survive a hard season of training. Lastly, don’t be afraid to scrap one workout in the name of recovery, missing one session is better than digging a fatigue hole that will lead to missing multiple sessions. Each day of training is a drop in the bucket, take a long term approach, be consistent and success will follow.
About the Author: Taylor Warren’s journey into the world of bikes started back in 2009 when he would join his dad once a week to cross train on the West Orange bike path in Orlando, Florida. In 2015, Taylor earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science with a focus in Sports Medicine at Colorado State University while competing in collegiate racing on the road and track, rising to the rank as Category-1 racer in both disciplines. After graduating school, Taylor raced professionally on the road with the Colorado-based team, the 303 Project. Today, Taylor calls San Diego home where he works in a bike shop performing bike fits, trains to meet the demands of the US Pro Road Tour calendar, and applies the latest sports science to the athletes he coaches including himself. At the core of his coaching, Taylor believes balancing life demands with the eustress of training, while keeping the process fun, is the key to progression and a lifelong passion for health and fitness. Learn more about Taylor Warren.