By JOSH HOROWITZ
Misconceptions and hard to kill old school attitudes can make it tough to convince some cyclists of the right training methods during the off season. The truth is, the off season is one of the most important times of the year to work on your deficiencies—and if you are mislead by the wrong training techniques, it can have a major impact on the success of the season ahead.
Let’s take a look at three of the most common off season training myths so you can train smarter this winter.
Training Myth #1: Riding a Fixed Gear Improves Pedaling Efficiency and Leg Speed
Fixed gear bikes are a great toy for tooling around town, cruising the beach, or propping up for all to see outside the coffee shop, but they have no place in a serious road cyclist’s training routine—unless your primary goals include riding on the velodrome.
1. When you practice high cadence training on your road bike, you’re forced to recruit muscle fibers that are necessary for quick contractions. On a fixie, the pedals are always spinning in perfect circles at very high speeds no matter how sloppy or inefficient your stroke is. Your muscles aren’t required to act—they’re really only required to react.
2. Riding a fixed gear is the exact opposite of riding PowerCranks. PowerCranks require your muscle fibers to fire throughout the 360 degrees of a pedal stroke. You’re required to push across the top, push down in the front, pull across the bottom and pull up in the back. Your pedal stroke may slow temporarily, but the muscular foundation becomes so solid that it only takes a few weeks of high cadence work on your road bike to turn the strength you’ve built on the PowerCranks into power.
3. Compared to a fixed gear, even on a regular road bike, your muscle fibers are forced to fire in a very efficient manner. At the very least, you’ll have the experience of pushing down and, to some extent, controlling the movement throughout the pedal circle. On a fixed gear, the bike is literally doing all the work for you. You’re really not teaching your legs anything but to get tossed around at ridiculous speeds. Think about a gym member who takes indoor cycling classes. They may get their legs whipped around in crazy circles at a cadence of up to 140 revolutions per minute (rpm), but have you ever seen them achieve this on a real bike? Trust me, it doesn’t translate.
Training Myth #2: Small Ring Only
This old school training philosophy is simple: Shift gears to the small chain ring on October 1st and don’t shift up until February 1st. The idea is that by keeping your bike on a small gear, you won’t be tempted to hammer the group rides or participate in the club sprints. It also emphasizes high cadence riding during the winter, which is supposed to result in a perfect pedal stroke by the time race season comes along.
The trouble is, it’s not going to help you all that much. Leg speed can be easily developed at any point in the season. You could even do a heavy load of leg speed training immediately before a high priority race. The reason is that it doesn’t tax your muscular system, your heart or your lungs. In essence, it’s really re-conditioning your brain.
What you can’t do at any point in the season is train strength. When you train muscular strength it will temporarily slow you down, cause fatigue and require several days of recovery. Can you think of a time of the year where quick recovery and road performance is not at all important? At what point in the season can we afford to destroy our muscles without worrying about getting hammered into the ground at the local race? Winter is the best time for a hard workout.
From this philosophy, the small chain ring gets tossed out the window during winter training. Instead practice pedaling at 70 to 75 rpm (ideally on PowerCranks) for the whole winter. Your legs will feel like blocks of cement and you’ll be struggling on the Friday coffee ride. Then, before your first race, you’ll do two weeks of high cadence work. When you’re standing on the podium, your teammates who saw you struggling two weeks earlier will be calling for a blood test.
Training Myth #3: Long Slow Distance
Long, slow rides have been the staple of winter rides for years. But if you’re a weekend warrior and you spend six hours per week training, does it make sense to spend half of your training time on a three-hour long slow weekend ride?
On the bike, especially when you have limited time, it’s important to get the most out of every second you’re on the bike. Cruising around at 16mph on a three-hour ride is junk miles for the majority of cyclists who are preparing for a season of racing.
Originally it was thought that since high stress training breaks down blood capillaries and since capillary density means more blood to working muscles, it’s advisable to avoid any high stress cycling in the winter so to nurture the growth of those capillaries.
However, there’s a new concept now in European endurance training. It’s called MP: Motor Pacing!
Sounds a little more intriguing than anything with the word slow in it, right? The concept behind MP is that it teaches your body speed and helps your muscles to fire at an extreme endurance intensity, just below anaerobic threshold. It’s a pace commonly referred to as zone 3, and the pros do it for up to six hours a day.
If you have a loving spouse who doesn’t mind driving along at 28 mph, three hours a day, causing massive traffic jams everywhere you go, then you’re all set.
For the rest of us, you can simulate this on your own. The challenge is the focus it takes to keep the pace just right. These rides are done just above endurance pace and just below anaerobic threshold. You must concentrate the entire time to make sure you don’t go above or below. Do these rides on your own with a heart rate monitor or power meter as your guide.