The peak of Winter is over and cyclists’ thoughts start turning to the coming racing season. The biggest road race in the second half of the year in South Africa is the 947 Classic around Joburg. Leading up to that there are regular road races around the country as the season builds towards a peak in November. It is still cold and dark, and the morning roads are always congested, so most cyclists are spending their time indoors utilising technology like the Concept2 BikeErg to get their sessions in during the week, and heading out onto the quieter roads on the weekends.
If 947 is your main focus for the remainder of the year, now would be the time that you would be performing the traditional, ‘Base Phase’ of your program. The old fashioned way of laying the foundation for the higher intensity training to come, would be LSD, or long slow distance. This is tough to do indoors as it is simply, boring. Fortunately the approach to the first phase of training has changed and this is much more stimulating than simply churning out mindless, low-intensity hours. It is also perfectly accomplished riding indoors.
Now is the time to build our aerobic foundation. Using simple terms, we are getting fit enough and durable enough to perform the more intense training that comes in the next phase of training. So most of our training during the first eight weeks should be conducted at between 65-75% of your maximum heart rate. Using the powermeter on the BikeErg, you would want to establish or estimate your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and then most of your work during this phase would be in a range of 55-75% of that number.
In order to make indoor training more interesting and stimulating, it is best to break your sessions up into intervals. When we mention the word ‘interval’ most cyclists will assume this suggests riding hard, or ‘flat-box’, as cyclists call it. This is not what we are doing now. For that kind of training to be most effective we have to first lay our foundation and besides, training too hard now, will result in us peaking a long time before 947. We want to gradually escalate our effort through the training program so that we are at our best at the correct time.
Zone 2 Training
The intervals we are going to be doing in the ‘Base Phase’ should stay within the 55-75% of FTP, or ‘Zone 2’ as it is known by most. In the first few weeks we start with the intervals at the lower end of this zone and recovery periods around 50% of FTP or 55-60% of maximum heart rate. As our fitness progresses through this phase, instead of increasing the intensity of the intervals, we increase the intensity of the recovery periods with the aim being – by the end of the phase, we want our interval intensity to be in the upper levels of ‘Zone 2’ and recovery levels in the lower end of ‘Zone 2’. While we gradually progress like that, we also should be gradually increasing the length of our intervals, while reducing the duration of the recovery periods.
While we are building our aerobic engine, we should also be working on pedalling form and technique, and specific muscular strength.
When riding in a bunch, it is useful to be able to respond to accelerations and decelerations by changing cadence instead of constantly going through the gears. Riding in a heavy gear, pedalling slowly, makes it harder to respond to changes of pace in the bunch. So we want to improve our pedalling efficiency with the aim of being more comfortable at a faster pedalling rate. Higher cadences need to be trained. So another form of interval session that we can incorporate into this phase is changes of pedalling speed, a metric also measured by the Concept2 BikeErg. Performing longer intervals in the low to middle of ‘Zone 2’ but alternating periods in different cadence zones is not only an excellent session that develops your aerobic condition but also develops your pedalling form and efficiency.
The BikeErg has the same flywheel and Performance Monitor as our Concept2 Indoor Rowers and SkiErgs, bringing to cycling the strengths and features we’ve previously brought to rowing and cross-country skiing.
Working on muscular strength indoors on the BikeErg is also easy. Again, we want to keep the majority of our work in ‘Zone 2’. Using the same approach of intervals and recovery periods, we will add resistance, lower our cadence and focus more on the muscular effort in moving the pedals. Concentrating on applying pressure smoothly to the pedals and holding good form on the bike, we will build strength in the pedalling muscles, including the smaller groups that come into play on the less dominant parts of the pedal stroke. Combined with the higher cadence work that we are doing, this will significantly improve our pedalling form and technique.
During this phase, as in all training phases, we should have recovery days where we allow the body to assimilate the work that we have done. However, because we are staying in the lower aerobic zone, our recovery from these kinds of sessions is generally quicker than it would be when we start hitting the higher efforts. So consecutive ‘harder’ days will be possible during this phase, especially as we progress through the weeks and our body responds.
The weekends should be used for getting out on the road and here we can roll out in the more traditional ‘Base Phase’ manner. Some nice, easy rides in groups should be done, gradually increasing the time on the bike as the weeks pass. Here the focus is enjoying being outdoors with our mates, working on our bunch riding skills but saving the racing energy for later on in the training progression. One or two harder efforts should be included in these rides, in the second half of this first phase but they should still be limited to no more than 10-15% of the ride’s duration. As mentioned before – going too hard too early means we are going to be too good too soon.
Enjoy being back on the bike!