Reached that dreaded plateau? Might be time to change it up
You all know that feeling, the alarm goes off and you know you have to get up and ride...."gotta stay ahead of Wayno". But you also know that you are playing a bit of "Russian Roulette", just cannot predict how you are going to feel. "Felt awesome last Wednesday" but most days are a real struggle and it has been ages since you set that Strava PR on Springers.
So what's up? You are training hard right? Doing all the things you usually do and just 3 months ago, you were not only better than you are now, but almost every ride was great. So why are you no longer feeling the love and how can you get the mojo back?
One of the most common errors cyclists (and most endurance athletes) make is to do the same type of riding, week in / week out for long periods of time. To make things worse, this riding is almost always too hard. Now I have said this many times before, "riding at threshold is the LEAST effective way to boost threshold". In Exercise Science, the term "load cycling" is often used to explain the mysterious processes of "stimulus / stress / recovery". Essentially load cycling means that training loads (volume, frequency, intensity) are continuously varied to allow the body the best opportunity to regenerate. Too much load, not enough variation and nowhere near enough recovery will put any rider in a hole. Sound familiar?
We also know that no endurance athlete can perform at their best without a big aerobic capacity. The truth is, that riding at your limit erodes your aerobic system and the only way to build it back up (or slow the decline) is to do some riding with an aerobic load. Here is the crunch: if you almost always ride hard, you WILL reach a point where aerobic capacity is so poor that performance will actually start to decline and when this happens, there is no way back except to rest and then begin a block of pre-dominantly aerobic cycling. If your aerobic capacity has fallen to very low levels, this may mean riding VERY slowly, which most cyclists find it nearly impossible to do (especially blokes).
So we are back to load cycling (you knew we would come back) and if you are strategic about your training, you just may avoid falling into the pit. Be smart about your riding, race your buddies when it counts and pick your moments to go hard. But make sure you mix it up, cycle your loads, and you can look forward to consistent (upward trending) form. The MOJO is back!
If you would like to try some of these strategies with BBL coaching, we would love to hear from you.
So which technique is best, and can that question even be answered?
I know a few cyclists (in fact it is probably the majority of cyclists I know) who struggle with riding out of the saddle. Now this may be because it just does not feel right or could be that he/she once read that seated riding is more efficient or it is even quite possible that, as late-comer to cycling, they feel "out of control" and unbalanced when riding out of the saddle.
If you find standing technique unsafe and/or unstable, you should consider spending some time with a good technical skills coach who will be able to give some guidance about balance and connection with your bike. Countering bike movement with a fluid (counter-active) body motion is the key here and takes a little time to master.
For others, it is more a matter of being mechanically efficient, whether you are in the saddle or out. We have all been told at some point about "pedalling in circles", that magic trick where you are able to apply significant drive force to the pedals at all points of the circle. Most cyclists understand (at least the theory anyway) this and can apply elements of when seated on the bike. But once standing they usually default to a stomping motion that all but completely destroys any notion of a through or up-stroke. These riders will feel more efficient in the saddle and fatigue quickly when they stand.
When next out riding, watch the rider in front, especially when they stand up. Do they "bob noticeably up and down, or worse still, seem to almost lunge from pedal to pedal? The key to efficient standing technique (just as it is whilst riding in the saddle) to to improve pedal smoothness (pedal in circles). Focus more on the up and through stroke when standing, come smoothly "over the top" and try to de-emphasise the downstroke. Here is a little drill: head out to your local climb, ride it in a bigger gear than you otherwise would. REALLY focus on the upstroke (almost pulling your knee to your chest) and come smoothly over the top. Try to keep your hips from bobbing excessively up and down. With the rise in popularity of power meters, we have been able to measure pedal smoothness improvements in standing technique and many of our riders have become quite good at riding out of the saddle.
If you are a rider that usually notices an increase in Heart Rate (for the same climbing speed / power output), chances are, you are less efficient. Improving your standing technique will give you more options and variation as a rider and maybe just improve your performance.
Please feel free to contact us at Bubba's Bikelab if you have any questions about this or any other cycling matter.
Brian Bubba Cooke
Exercise Physiologist, coach & cycling tragic for 30 years. Love the freedom, reward and sense of achievement that one can only experience in our amazing sport.