Cycling is not quite as easy as it seems. That’s precisely why an increase in speed can be achieved with a few targeted exercises and forms of training.
Can you play the drums? Most people will probably answer no – although anyone can just hammer away at it with their sticks.
Can you ride a bike? Every 6 or 7 year old will answer yes.
Although just sitting on it and pedaling doesn’t really have anything to do with the sport of cycling, because the movement of cycling is much more than a simple up and down movement of the legs, even if this is hardly visible to the naked eye. In addition, cycling really fast requires patience and time. According to experts, it takes about ten years for a racer to reach its peak performance. It is not for nothing that most successful racers are not 19 or 20 years old, but all around 30, at least in racing cycling. The term cycling, however, does not automatically mean road cycling as it did 15 years ago, but has changed massively. Younger sports like mountain biking or triathlon have changed the requirements and led to the need to apply different training principles.
In road racing, a race lasts several hours, whereas in mountain biking it only lasts around 1-2 hours. In addition, a race on a road bike usually starts relatively leisurely and the pace only intensifies towards the end.
In a mountain bike race, on the other hand, the pace is full from the start, and shortly after the start it is even especially fast in order to secure a good starting position. A biker will therefore not be able to avoid including high-intensity loads in his training, whereas the fat metabolism is of decisive importance for road cyclists. This is improved with long training sessions in low intensity ranges. This is also the reason why the successful racer is usually older than the mountain biker, as the training of the fat metabolism takes longer than the ability to maintain a high speed over shorter distances.
Once again, it’s a different story in triathlon. In the long distance, the athletes also sit in the saddle for a long time, but they ride at a constant rhythm that they can determine themselves. And also in the short distance there are hardly abrupt speed increases knowing about the following running course. This results in the following requirement profiles:
- Road cycling: high training of the fat metabolism; ability to perform frequent (mostly not self-determined) rhythm changes in the short term; power-saving riding in a group (slipstream); high speed on hills.
- Mountain bike: Ability to ride at a constantly high intensity from the beginning (in races shortly after the start at maximum speed); good riding technique, good climbing skills (mostly in bike races many meters of altitude are ridden); riding in the red zone (maximum pulse), low body weight.
- Triathlon: High and constant basic speed over a long period of time is necessary; economical riding, speed (sprints) is not decisive; climbing skills are also not decisive, since the courses are mostly flat.
Consequences for training
Of course, the different requirements also have an effect on training. For road cyclists and triathletes, long and low-intensity training is crucial in the build-up phase. A good mountain biker also needs this basic training, but shorter and more intense training sessions are also required.
As the season approaches, more intense training is required everywhere. Road cyclists and mountain bikers prefer constant changes of rhythm and intermediate sprints, while triathletes require a high tempo over a shorter period of time. The proportion of high-intensity training is highest for the mountain biker, followed by the road cyclist; for the triathlete, such forms of training are less necessary.
However, the following applies to all: more than half of the training always takes place in the low-intensity range and intensive training requires sufficient recovery time in which the body can get used to the increased load. The magic word in the implementation of the various forms of load is “variation”. In other words, don’t always ride the same lap at the same pace, as many hobby riders still do, but rather variety in both duration and intensity is called for.
Riding in a group can bring decisive advantages. When you ride alone, you always ride at the pace that suits you. In a group, however, you have to adapt to the others and perhaps ride up a mountain at a pace that you would never do alone. And that is enormously important. The motivation aspect also speaks for the group. In the group, you can talk to each other and suddenly two or three hours have passed, whereas training alone seems much longer. If you always train alone before the season, you run the risk of being burned out in terms of motivation during the season.
Also a very crucial point in the question of speed in cycling takes the pedaling technique. Mastering pedaling technique, for example, how skillfully we master a descent, leads to an affirmative answer to the question posed at the beginning, “can you ride a bike?” but has little influence on performance.
Pedaling technique refers to the coordination of the muscles involved in the pedaling motion, i.e., how smoothly, roundly, and efficiently we can cycle as long and as fast as possible. Pedaling technique is a somewhat misleading term here, because the common belief that all you have to do when riding a bike is pedal has long been outdated. Even the expression “today I had a lot of pressure on the pedals” does not do justice to the movement when cycling, because the leg muscles are not only stressed with pressure – i.e. pedaling – but a good rider must master much more complex movement sequences than it appears visually.
The art here is to postpone fatigue thanks to the greatest possible variety of movements. If we always perform the same pedaling motion, we will tire much faster than if the variety of movements allows us to bring new motor units into play when we tire. In other words, each variation of movement also leads to a change in the interaction of the muscles involved, making them less likely to fatigue. The following tips will help you achieve the greatest possible variety of movement and optimally vary your training:
Tips for optimizing your workout
- Vary the intensity of your workout. Ride with a partner or in a group every now and then. This will force you to adopt the rhythm of others and not just ride through your “tramp”.
- Do bike rides of varying lengths and intensities, not just a long one on the weekend.
- If you participate in races, you need to pace yourself for motivation. If you push through every training session hard as nails in wind and weather during preparation and at the beginning of the year, you’ll have motivation problems sooner rather than later and feel burnt out. It’s better to skip a training session if you don’t feel like it.
- Ride hands-free! If you can find a road with little traffic, try riding freehand in variations. You will notice how all your concentration immediately shifts to your legs without compensating movements on the handlebars. A gentle uphill stretch is best for this. Riding in an upright position uses more of the rear leg muscles, while riding with the upper body bent over and leaning forward uses more of the front thigh muscles.
- Ride your bike or gravel on surfaces with poor traction such as wet grass, loose gravel or mud. This will help you “feel” the appropriate use of power at the right moment.
- “Feel” the pedaling motion. Imagine a pedal rotation as a circle and try to guide the pedal with your feet in the largest possible circle. Always with constant pull/pressure – no gap. Or try not to feel the pedal on your feet at all, as if there were an air cushion between your shoe and the pedal.
- Change the riding position fluidly, so slide a little forward or backward on the saddle, with the upper body more or less bent, etc. Vary the angles in the joints and thus the use of the muscles involved.
- Downhill, never stop pedaling, or your legs will be “closed” and “heavy as lead” at the start of the upcoming climb.
- Vary not only the duration and intensity of the workout, but also the pedaling cadence (ride high cadence in between!).