The bulk of this article originally ran during the 2002 and 2003 holidays, but it’s always good to be in your face about some things! Plus we’ve added some new info and also a section about what to expect from Toolbox in 2005 at the end of the article
If we have been good little cyclists over 2004, then chances are that the latest trick gadget was waiting for us underneath the tree on Christmas day. The bicycling industry is a big-bucks industry, and its marketing goal is to convince you that the path to fitness and better race performance is through buying the latest and greatest. But is that gold-plated Giant going to propel you to the top of the podium?
Just like that twinge of guilt as you reached for that extra bowl of eggnog, you know deep down that fitness can only be earned through smart training. Hey, there’s a reason why a clichй is a clichй, and that’s because there is a big kernel of truth in there! Make this the season that you resolve to not only train but to train smart.
How do I define smart training? I define it as consisting of three critical components: 1) clear and realistic goals; 2) self-knowledge; and 3) making every training minute count. Let’s take a look at each of these components:
Clear and realistic goals
The very first thing I ask athletes is to tell me their goals. Without goals, training loses focus and it becomes very easy to lose motivation, especially during the long winter. Your goals can be as simple as wanting to lose weight or as ambitious as turning pro in two years. Your long-term goals must stretch you to your limits yet be realistic given your abilities, training history, and time commitment. If the goals are set too high, then you’re not going to commit to them because you know deep down that they aren’t realistic. Goals that are easily achievable also do not motivate because they don’t challenge you, so it’s important that you think through your true goals.
Goals should also be very specific so that you have a clearly defined target. These goals can be race goals (e.g., top 3 at District RR Champs) or performance goals (e.g., attain a lactate threshold of 350 W by July 8, 2005). Once you have these primary goals, you can then develop specific steps to get there, such as key milestones along the path to success (e.g., attain a lactate threshold of 335 W by June 1, 2005). These goals might (will!) change depending on a number of factors, but it’s still an important mental exercise to state clearly your intentions.
The second thing I ask athletes is to walk me through their training diaries. We discussed the critical role of self-knowledge previously when we went through some of the important information that can be found within your training diary. Make a resolution to maintain a training diary beginning this year.
My personal favourite is the Crosstrak training diary software, but I don’t really care whether it is software, a custom spreadsheet, tables, or even just writing in a blank logbook. The important thing is that you log your training and that you can interpret it. Some of the important things you should consider logging besides your workouts include sleep and dietary pattern and quality, along with mental state and periodic recording of your resting heart rate and weight. Also, it is very useful to log both your intended and actual workouts so that you can check for ideal versus realistic training patterns.
Making every minute count
The worse thing I hate to see is an athlete stepping out the door with no rationale for their workout that day. If you do that, then you’re an addict and not an athlete. This applies equally whether you are a professional whose sole job is to train or if you are a busy professional who has to shoehorn cycling in between work and family commitments. From the above two parts, you should know exactly what your strengths and limiters are, and also what you are aiming towards this season. You must now set up a plan that is custom-tailored for yourself, based on your own physiology and your targets.
Too many of us keep training our strengths and neglect our limiters. For example, if most of your races are crits and you keep getting dropped in them, why are you spending all your time riding big mountains? Another big mistake is just going with the flow of what the group is doing that day. Don’t get me wrong, cycling is a terrific social activity, and one of its biggest joys is the group ride. However, while you don’t want to be the cycling equivalent of the nutty hermit, you also need to do YOUR training!
We’re looking forward to another fun and terrific year here at Toolbox. I, along with Frank Overton and Bruce Hendler, will continue to bring you the latest science shaking the world of exercise science and cycling in an accessible, practical, and entertaining package. We also have some other exciting plans for the coming year:
• We have done this in some degrees previously, but we will continue to develop multi-article themes, permitting us to explore ideas in greater detail and from different perspectives. For example, we will be delving into various issues involved in optimizing time trialing, from positioning to pacing to psychology and of course specific training and physiology. If you have ideas for particular themes that you would really like us to tackle, please send them to me!
• The Toolbox gang is in the planning stages for a first-ever Pez training camp, where we will definitely be putting science into action to make you a better cyclist. Stay tuned for details!
Here’s to a great 2005!
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and he resolves to gain less weight than Ullrich over the winter! Stephen’s company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports, and he will be organizing a training camp in Switzerland in May 2005. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at email@example.com.