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Efficient training for the time-strapped

Posted on August 16 2017

Last training blog I posted here was about setting goals for future races, and I brushed over some basic training to get me there. This post is about developing strength and aerobic capacity, generally the ‘base’ part of the season that sees riders hit their biggest mileages, on a time budget.
Most of my training programs and coaching is for the everyday rider; hey, it’s mountain biking after all, ‘pro’ mountain biker isn’t really an occupational choice here in Australia! As such I work around the athlete's work and family commitments, really trying to squeeze good quality out of time on the bike. This can provide some challenges, but I think that my personal situation is probably the most challenging; juggling shift work (all 12-hour shifts) and family and coaching and training. So it can make other people’s commitments seem quite straightforward!
My own experience has also meant that I have fully experienced fatigue and its effect on riding and training. It’s huge. It’s bigger than you could ever imagine, and something you can’t really explain unless you have tried to ride after a 60+hour working week that finishes with two night shifts. In a way I think this is an advantage for my coaching. I see many cyclists, namely a lot of new roadies, who are coached by ex-road professionals. They may have been riding for a year and shown a bit of panache, and continue to study and work while they train. Many coaches can overload these athletes as they still have a lot of ‘recovery’ time, however study and work still takes it out of you! It would be ludicrous to put a junior roadie on 20hrs/week training in the first year of riding, so why should it be done to an open or masters rider? 
Aerobic fitness is the cornerstone and most important part of any training program, and really sets the foundation to build upon to maximise speed at the pointy end, so for those who are struggling to try and fit 15hours a week in with everything else, I can offer some good tips.


  1. Riding time is pedalling time
Pros ride a lot of km’s. They do not indulge in the smashfest of the commuter cup, and a majority of hours will be spent in endurance and tempo zones clicking it out at a high cadence. For the time poor, especially during road sessions, every pedal stroke is sacred. For god’s sake don’t stop pedalling. Crested a hill? Pedal down the other side! Riding in a bunch? Sit near the front and keep the legs ticking over.
Obviously this becomes more difficult with the stochastic nature of the mountain bike and the training required for off road racing, but for the endurance road sessions, don’t stop pedalling!
  1. Specifics
Most training programs will begin like a cake, you get the biggest, bottom layer of aerobic fitness and strength done early, and you maintain that while you pop on so power and ice it with speed. Not the drug, the physics concept.
Despite this, you can still work some specifics into base and early season work. For the time poor XC or 'cross racer, with a target race time of 45/90mins, I would question the value of going and doing 6-hour road rides. Sure, if you’re pro then go for it, but if that’s most of your weekly training time I would argue that 6hrs on the bike could be spent better, perhaps 1x3hr mainly aerobic/tempo road ride and 1x3hr mountain bike ride, featuring some hills at a lower cadence for strength. You can hit two birds with one stone that way; perhaps start the longer mountain bike session with some skills and single track while fresh and then some strength efforts mid session.
Add a few other mid-week rides to the mix and you’re well on the way to some solid weeks of efficient training.
  1. Do what you can, when you can
As touched on with the last point, small amounts more frequently can gain much better results than a couple of big days training. Don’t write off the commute! (though some days it’s better to avoid the ‘commuter cup’ as good training requires training stress AND rest. Many athletes come undone when ego’s rule on the bike path, then wonder why they’re so tired).
Got an early finish at work? How about an ergo? A quick skills session? Whack some VO2 efforts in? Look for windows of time and ride accordingly!
  1. The value of recovery is huge

Recovery is more important than you could ever believe. Most athletes wouldn’t blink an eye at a ten hour week, but for some people even ten hours can lead to overtraining. Training programs need to account for the ‘human’ factor and plan proper recovery time in accordingly. Doing 8hrs in one weekend followed by 12hr shift on your feet is not good recovery. There is so much to be said for a good diet, a good night’s sleep and a bit of stretching.


  1. Early season strength

On the bike strength is of utmost importance, especially for mountain biking where gradients can reach past 30% and bike-fucking at 30rpm is a common practice. Non-sexual bike-fucking, that is. That’s the nature of our awesome sport, we ride up climbs at threshold, dipping into VO2 zones to clear objects, then somehow navigate down rocks and chutes while our hearts are beating away at a million miles an hour. Strength training both on and off the bike is paramount for the mountain biker or cyclocrosser, but for strength gains to be made, excellent recovery is paramount (see a theme here?) as Growth Hormone is released in a circadian rhythm (different times of the day) of which night time and sleep are of utmost importance.

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