Michael Harlow writes: I hear it all the time: athletes don't understand why they aren't getting any faster when they are going the same moderately hard pace 4 days every week. Without a coach designing a structured program for you, this is the never ending crevice where most athletes find themselves. If you train at the same speed everyday, you will always ride at this speed - you are not training yourself to get faster, you are training yourself to ride at this speed. To grow, you must change up your speed through purposeful workouts. This article will lay down a set of rules to guide you through this process.
Plan - So, you want to get faster. How are you going to do this? You must have a plan! Take the time to analyze how many training miles your body and schedule can handle in a typical week, your strengths and weaknesses (opportunities for improvement), as well as what your main race or ride will demand of you. Be honest with yourself - where do you stand currently and where do you want to be? What do you have to do to get to this goal? Answer that and you have a plan!
Periodize - Now that you know what needs to be done to get to your goal, you need to lay out a plan of attack. Always start with technique, as it is the foundation of any program. Failure to establish this technique at the beginning of training will cap what you can achieve. Once this technique is established, you will want to work to build a solid base of mileage. Without this, an athlete will never be prepared to add intensity because he or she will not have the aerobic base to do so. Speed work can be introduced at a moderate level (below lactate threshold predominately) while building this mileage base but one must be careful not to add both speed and mileage at the same time, as this will increase the risk of injury. After the base is established, drop it slightly, and it is time to work on speed!
Monitor - If you are going to do speed work, you must be able to ensure that you are training at the proper intensity. There are many ways to do this via speed, perceived exertion, heart rate, and power. Of all these methods, heart rate is the most affordable as well as objective means to gauging this intensity. Though expensive, power training gives the most accurate representation of intensity and is used by most professionals in conjunction with heart rate. The important thing is that you establish training zones, know what physiological systems are developed by each zone, and choose speed training in these zones to target your weaknesses.
Break It Up - Realize that you are now training at goal race pace or faster. Since this is a goal pace, you will not be able to sustain them for your goal race distance. Interval training will enable you to break up the effort into small, manageable chunks designed around the specific focus you are trying to achieve. If you are trying to develop muscular endurance on the bike, you will do something like 6 x 5 minutes with 1 minute rest at goal 40K race pace or slightly faster. This will teach your body to hold your goal pace by developing the muscular endurance necessary to do so.
Recover - If you are going to start picking up the pace a few days/week (start with one to be safe), you will need to allow your body to recover most of the other days you ride. If you are going to go fast, you need to go slow - no more moderate riding! You can't go too easy - the whole purpose is to allow your body to recover from the intense ride and prepare for your next one. There is another component of recovery that is important to address as well: post workout recovery. If you are adding speed and exposing your body to a greater chance of injury, you need to recover smart after each workout. This means stretching, icing anything that hurts, and taking in the necessary nutrition to refuel your body. This is extremely important and should not be taken lightly.
A Primer On Group Rides - Group rides are an excellent, fun way to get in either a recovery or an intense ride, but you must make them work for you. If you need a specific ride (intensity or recovery), choose a ride that has this as its purpose. Then, make the ride work for you! Don't pull if you are on a recovery ride - sit back and draft. If you need intensity, pull when you need to work on your weaknesses (i.e.: if you need work on hills, take the pull when you get to the hills). Group rides are great, but you have to make them your own!
In this article, I have laid out the foundation for getting faster through speed work. It can get complicated, so a good coach can always help you choose which speed workouts to target given your weaknesses. Feel free to contact us at Endorphin Fitness to ask any questions you might have. With the proper intensity added to your training, you will develop the speed in 2007 that you never thought you had. Watch out training partners!!