Since he started coaching endurance athletes back in 1992, Troy Jacobson has been widely considered one of the top coaches in the United States for single sport and multisport athletes alike. His success has helped to revolutionize multisport coaching and has brought the profession of 'online coaching' to an unprecedented level of acceptance.
Does More Saddle Time Equate to Faster Bike Splits?
How to get faster and still keep your job and familyBy Coach Troy Jacobson
One of the more popular questions posed by triathletes of all levels is “how do I get faster on the bike?” The answer is simple… train consistently, train hard, follow a progressive training regimen, eat a high performance diet, recover judiciously, stay healthy and you’ll likely get faster. Simple, right?
Ok, it’s not that simple really. It’s actually quite a complex equation that varies from person to person according the Principle of Individual Differences. We all respond differently to training and a ‘one size fits all’ approach rarely works. With that said, there is one thing that most age group triathletes can do in order to ride stronger and faster and that is to… (Drum Roll Please), Ride MORE!
So let’s begin our discussion by narrowing down our target athlete for this article. I’m going to address the typical (if there is such a thing) age group triathlete who is juggling a busy life (family, career, etc.), comes from an athletic background other than competitive cycling and has an ambitious schedule of multisport training and racing. Realistically, this age group triathlete has between 10-15 hours per week to devote to training and incorporates training for three sports (plus perhaps supplementary strength training, flexibility training or otherwise) into that block of time. Desire to get faster and their dedication to do so is NOT a limiting factor, but time to spend on the saddle is.
If we look at the elite cyclist or triathlete, time and genetics are on their side. Simply put, they have the tools (genetics) and the opportunity (time) in which to develop their abilities and near their potential. Add a little bit of motivation in there and you have a recipe for the development of a superb athlete capable of achieving the highest level of human performance on the bike. These athletes devote many hours to practicing their craft and nearly as many hours recovering from their hard work. So how can we, as age groupers, learn from the pros?
First, let’s peek behind the curtain and see what they do in order to develop their talents. We’ve all seen NIKE’s commercial with Lance from several years ago where he says something to the effect of, “What am I on? I’m on my bike 6 hours a day. What are you on?” http://youtu.be/MIl5RxhLZ5U
While 6 hours per day of riding is probably a slight exaggeration, it’s probably not too far from the truth for athletes at the highest level to commit that amount of time to training, at least during critical training phases throughout the year.
Overall volume of training is a critical factor in terms of developing one’s aerobic engine (cardiovascular and supporting functions) and muscular endurance. When higher workloads are placed on the body (The Overload Principle) in controlled incremental doses and followed by adequate recovery, the body responds by adapting to that additional stress by getting faster and stronger. It’s noted that pro cyclists, during certain periods of their annual training cycles, will ride 30-40 hours per week, equating to 400-600 miles of aerobic endurance training. World class swimmers, even those who compete in short events lasting under 1 minute in duration, will do double workouts daily, adding up to over 60,000 Meters per week. And World Class marathoners aim for weekly totals upwards of 120-150 miles per week. So, taking the very best in the business as examples … volume is important. If you can train more, the result will likely be increased fitness, at least to a point.
Elite triathletes take overall training workloads to the highest level, training in all three sports to accomplish 30+ hours per week. It’s fairly common to hear of the world class Ironman athlete, for example, to maintain a training schedule of 20-25K of swimming, 300-400 miles of cycling and 60+ miles of running each week during a ‘build’ phase of training. That’s a ton of training stress on the body, but also a requirement in order to compete at the highest levels…especially if the goal is to do well at long course triathlon events like Ironman.
Translating the pro experience
So, how do we ‘mortals’ use this example set by our gifted friends at the elite level? Quit our day jobs, move to Boulder or Tucson, land a major sponsor and train full time? Stop dreaming … it ain’t gonna happen. Since time is the limiter for most, age group athletes need to maximize every workout by training smart. Furthermore, even if you could ‘ride lots more’, it’s quite likely that most of us would get overtrained and/or injured due to biomechanical inefficiencies and inability to handle the increased workloads. In other words, it’s not recommended that you follow the training regimens of the top pros, unless you want to end up in the gutter. I know of a couple examples where even top Ironman distance triathletes pushed the bike volume too high and ended up developing chronic fatigue syndrome, shingles or other health problems related to overdoing it. There’s always a point of diminishing returns where high training volumes work against you, not for you. That’s why a combination of quality training and aerobic training yields the best results when time is the primary limiter in the performance equation.
From my experience both as a former elite level competitor and as a long time tri-coach, I have come up with a list of strategies for the age group athlete to consider when trying to boost performance on the bike while limited by time.
Leverage these tips to help you become a stronger rider. Remember, volume matters in your quest to ride faster, but so does having a strategic approach to your training with a blend of quality work and aerobic training. Train smart and you’ll achieve your goals.
A former pro triathlete, Coach Troy Jacobson posted the day’s fastest bike splits at Ironman Canada and Ironman Florida in the late 1990’s. The Official Coach of IRONMAN, The Head Tri Coach for Life Time Fitness and the creator of the Spinervals Cycling Video serious, learn more at www.coachtroy.com
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