Tradition runs deep in cycling. Despite countless advances in sports science, outdated and counterproductive beliefs about training and fitness are still commonplace in the peloton. In this post, we take a look at five persistent bits of old-fashioned cycling wisdom, and update our understanding with a more modern perspective.
Myth 1: Base training needs to be all long, slow, easy rides.
We love base training. It develops your aerobic system, builds muscular endurance, and reinforces good motor patterns, preparing your body for hard work later in the season. It also directly benefits your fitness, since cycling is heavily reliant on aerobic capabilities.
All of this to say, base training is an important part of getting faster, but it doesn’t require an old-school regimen of very long, easy workouts. This approach demands a serious investment of time, something most of us unfortunately lack. And even if you do have the time, it takes an incredible amount of discipline and self-control to train like this. Luckily, there is a better way—by targeting the aerobic system with slightly tougher, shorter workouts.
Sweet Spot base training is a great example of how this can work in a time-effective way. This approach also allows more flexibility to incorporate group rides or even early-season races, and more fun means more consistency. Coupled with the personalized adjustments of Adaptive Training, modern base training is one of the most effective and important ways to improve your cycling. Out with the old, in with the new.
Myth 2: Training is only productive when it’s hard.
Cycling culture celebrates the sport’s brutality, equating the ability to tolerate pain with a sign of strength. But it’s easy to conflate how difficult cycling can be with how difficult training should be. Too often, athletes assume that harder is better, but in many cases, the opposite is true.
To understand why, it’s important to realize that only through recovery that you get faster. Training puts the body under stress, stimulating adaptations and subsequent improvements in fitness. Apply too much stress or allow for too little recovery and your body won’t be able to make these improvements, and you won’t get faster. This is why the principle of minimum effective dose is so useful in training, using the smallest amount of stress possible to get the desired result.
There are also important physiological differences in how easy and hard workouts affect your body. Training plans are designed around this fact, and this means some workouts are intentionally easier than others. Make every workout hard and you’ll not only wear yourself down, but you might actually neglect developing important aspects of your fitness. There’s a time and place for hard training, but it isn’t every workout.
Myth 3: You need to ride the full distance of your goal event in training.
There’s a common belief that very long events require equally long training rides, and at face value, this seems like a reasonable assumption. But while specificity is important in training, it doesn’t mean you need to replicate your event’s duration. In fact, low volume training with workouts of 90 minutes or less can prepare you perfectly well for very long races, as many TrainerRoad athletes have proven.
This is because the type of efforts you do during an event matter much more than the event’s length. Very long races are almost entirely aerobic with some short surges at higher intensities, so a strong aerobic energy system is the ticket to success. This doesn’t require all-day workouts to achieve—it just takes smart, structured training that best utilizes whatever time you have available.
That said, a few longer rides in training can be useful to fine-tune non-fitness aspects of your performance. Fueling, hydration, and bike fit can all be significant factors in very long events, and short workouts might not fully reveal whether you’ve got them dialed in. But this still doesn’t require replicating your event—a 2 or 3-hour endurance ride can be all it takes to find what you need to improve, and that’s a lot less than tradition would have you believe.
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Myth 4: You need to identify your natural “rider type” and use this to guide your training.
We all want to be like the pros. Unfortunately, what’s best for full-time racers isn’t always best for amateur athletes, and the common concept of “rider type” is a perfect example. By this logic, every cyclist is genetically preordained to be either a sprinter, a climber, or an all-arounder, and training is designed to optimize these natural strengths. While this is how world-class athletes hone their skills, there are plenty of reasons why it’s not the best approach for you and me.
For one thing, it’s an incredibly limiting way to ride a bike. If you narrow your ambitions to only focus on one particular style of riding or racing, you restrict yourself from experiencing the full breadth of amazing experiences the sport has to offer. You also limit your perception of what you’re capable of, which can in and of itself hold you back. All sorts of cyclists succeed at the amateur level in all sorts of events, and if you keep your options open you’re very likely to surprise yourself.
Finally, this thinking overlooks your body’s incredible potential to improve and change. Sure, you may find yourself more naturally drawn to one discipline than another, but with the right training, you can develop any dimension of fitness you want. Pick a goal and go for it!
Myth 5: Losing weight will always make you faster.
Cycling culture has long been fixated on weight. Tales abound of athletes trying almost anything to cut a few kilos, and an unhealthy obsession with body type persists at all levels of the sport. But modern science lets us separate fact from fiction, and the truth of the matter is that in the vast majority of situations on a bike your weight is simply not that important.
The thing that matters most is power. Your ability to generate watts by turning the pedals is what pushes you forward, and most cycling takes place on rolling or flat terrain where overall strength is a serious advantage. In fact, on all but the steepest climbs, it’s mostly a combination of this power and aerodynamics that determine your speed; weight only plays a major role on long and steep ascents.
Still, many cyclists focus on the number on the scale. While losing weight through cycling can be great for athletes with legitimate health-related reasons for doing so, it can be counterproductive to others—a reduction in mass is often accompanied by a reduction in power. For this reason, it’s usually more productive to focus on making yourself healthier and faster than on making yourself lighter. Eat high-quality varied foods, fuel your workouts, and focus on consistent training. Your body composition will probably improve alongside your fitness and performance, and most importantly, you’ll get faster.