How does a dedicated, competitive racer fit training into a 9-5 life (40 plus hrs. at work, kids, spouse, pets, life’s daily duties…)
This is one of the most common dilemmas that I face as a coach. I feel that everyone should make the most of the time that they do have to dedicate to training, but it becomes even more critical when one is juggling many balls.
Some key areas of training methodology that will help assure an athlete with a limited training time budget is training with the greatest effectiveness are; consistency, balance, fitness fundamentals, and nutrition.
Consistency in training is important to assure that fitness continues to progress. Consistency means that getting sick, overtrained, or being too busy does not interrupt your training. Losing a week of training can set you back a few weeks in progression. I’ve found that the “less is more” concept works well for busier athletes. It’s better to train a bit less and stay healthy, than to try and train too hard or too often and miss training due to injury or illness.
Some ways to help assure that your training is consistent is to make every 3rd or 4th day a recovery day, or day off, and every 3rd week a recovery week. A recovery day means reducing the training stimulus to a level that seems too easy. During a recovery week you should reduce the overall training load.
Some athletes travel for work and are unable to take their bikes with them. It’s important to maintain some form of training. It could be running, or riding a stationary bike in a gym, and weight training. A travel week might be a good time to schedule a recovery week. I also schedule recovery weeks for times that athletes know they will be busier than usual. For instance, the week from Christmas to New Years is a bad time to try and cram in a lot of training.
Train indoors during the winter. It tends to be more convenient and takes less time overall. An indoor ride of 1:30 is equivalent to riding outdoors for 2 hours. When you’re riding indoors you’re not interrupted by traffic lights, rain, darkness, cold, etc. You may have to lock yourself in the basement so that the kids do not interrupt you.
Train first thing in the morning. This assures that your workouts get done and you won’t feel the pressure of missing your training if you have to work late, are tired after work, or have family obligations at night. I have an athlete that can actually get in 3 hours of training before the rest of his family is out of bed.
In order to understand how to maintain balance you need to realize that work and other obligations can take their toll on your body’s ability to recover, and therefore gain fitness. You must be sure that you can get at least 8 or more hours of quality sleep every day. Sleep is when the body does its healing and rebuilding. Therefore, it’s during rest that you gain fitness. Rest does not mean falling asleep at your desk. Training applies the stimulus, or stress, that the body makes adaptations to that result in increases in fitness. Without adequate recovery and rest the body will not be able to make the necessary adaptations and you will gradually lose fitness, become more and more fatigued, and eventually injured or overtrained.
Working, sitting in traffic, or chasing twin two year olds around all day are all forms of stress that take their toll on the body’s physiological systems. That additional stress requires additional recovery. If you have a tough week outside of training, then it may be best to reduce training a bit that week to maintain balance. I tell athletes to try and keep their life as simple as possible. If you’re planning on dedicating yourself to racing next season, then this may not be the year to add any additional obligations like volunteering to work on the PTA or coach the neighborhood baseball team.
The most important, and least stressful type of training involves focusing on the development of fundamental fitness elements. These elements include endurance, strength, and efficiency.
Endurance workouts are done at lower intensities (10-30 beats below threshold heart rate, or moderate paces that allow you to carry on a conversation) and are used for general endurance base development and maintenance. The purpose of endurance workouts is to strengthen slow twitch muscle fibers, improve glycogen (stored carbohydrates) conservation, enhance the oxygen delivery and utilization systems, and teach muscles to burn fat. Endurance is one of the most important fitness elements and a solid endurance base needs to be established prior to introducing high intensity training. Endurance training should continue throughout the entire training year.
Strength is the ability to overcome resistance: such as pushing down on the pedals. Strength workouts are intended to improve the ability to overcome challenges such as hills and wind. With the development of strength comes muscular economy. Strength training starts with weight training and progresses to cycling specific workouts. When the slow twitch muscle fibers are strengthened faster paces can be obtained at lower levels of exertion while sparing glycogen. With more strength you can actually push down on the pedals harder which will enable you to ride and climb faster.
Efficiency workouts are intended to improve muscular coordination and efficiency, and ultimately economy. Efficiency workouts are usually done with light resistance. They could include drills such as leg speed, form sprints, or single leg pedaling on a stationary trainer. This aspect of fitness can, and should be improved with regular training. By improving your efficiency you’ll be able to ride faster and longer with less energy expenditure.
Nutrition is one of the most important and neglected aspects of training. In order to stay healthy and gain fitness the body needs a constant, adequate supply of appropriate nutrition. The greater the demands you place on your body, the stronger your immune system needs to be. If you continue to break down your body through training without providing it with the nutrition that it needs you’ll eventually get fatigued, sick, or injured.
Athletes need to eat before, during, and immediately after training and racing. These calories are in addition to what they would normally eat on a non-training day, and are necessary to maintain energy and health.
I’ve had athletes come to me for help that have had problems with reoccurring injury, illness, and fatigue and I’ve found that they are usually training too hard too often, not eating enough high quality, nutritional foods, and not getting enough rest. They usually have spouses, kids, jobs, school, and a list of other obligations in their lives. By having them follow the basic ideas outlined above, I’ve been able to help them realize greater fitness and enjoyment form their cycling. The first step is to be realistic. Be thankful for all the things that you do have in your life and add cycling to enhance it, not tear it apart. And sometimes, less is more.