The understanding of physiology and biomechanics has transformed the training landscape for cyclists, allowing for more targeted and effective training methods and making cyclists way faster on bikes.
This has been achieved through the incorporation of periodization, specific workouts targeting different energy systems, and the development of individualized training plans. These advancements have played a crucial role in boosting endurance, power, and overall performance.
Periodization is a systematic approach to training that involves dividing the training year into distinct phases or periods, each with a specific focus. These phases typically include the base phase, the build phase, and the specialized phase. By varying the intensity, volume, and focus of training throughout these periods, cyclists can optimize their performance while minimizing the risk of overtraining and injury.
Cycling relies on various energy systems, and understanding how to train each system effectively is essential for maximizing performance. The three main energy systems used during cycling are:
- Aerobic energy system uses during low to moderate-intensity activities that are sustained over a longer period of time, such as jogging, cycling, or swimming. This system requires oxygen to produce energy and uses carbohydrates and fats as fuel. The aerobic energy system is highly efficient and can produce energy for hours, but it takes longer to produce energy compared to the other energy systems.
- Anaerobic energy system uses during high-intensity activities that are short-lived, such as a VO2 max sprint. This system does not require oxygen to produce energy and uses stored energy sources, such as glycogen. The anaerobic energy system is less efficient than the aerobic energy system. It produces energy quickly but only for a short period of time.
- ATP-CP energy system uses during very high-intensity activities that are short-lived, such as a 500-meter sprint before the finish line. This system does not require oxygen to produce energy and uses stored ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and CP (creatine phosphate). The ATP-CP energy system is the most immediate source of energy and produces energy very quickly, but only for a few seconds.
To optimize training, cyclists use training zones based on their physiological responses to exercise. These zones help guide the intensity of workouts and ensure that the appropriate energy system is targeted. Commonly used training zones include:
|Training Zone||Description||% FTP||Duration||Calories Burned (Approx.)|
|Zone 1 – Active Recovery||Low-intensity exercise used for recovery and promoting blood flow without accumulating fatigue.||<55%||Hours||300-500 calories/hour|
|Zone 2 – Endurance||Moderate intensity training that builds aerobic capacity and enhances fat metabolism.||56-75%||Hours||500-800 calories/hour|
|Zone 3 – Tempo||Moderately high-intensity zone that improves aerobic power and lactate threshold.||76-90%||30 minutes – 2 hours||700-1000 calories/hour|
|Zone 4 – Threshold||Intense efforts just below an athlete’s sustainable maximum pace.||91-105%||10-60 minutes||800-1200 calories/hour|
Zone 5 – VO2 Max
|Intense intervals targeting maximum oxygen consumption.||106-120%||3-8 minutes||900-1400 calories/hour|
|Zone 6 – Anaerobic Capacity||High-intensity intervals targeting the anaerobic energy system.||>120%||30 seconds – 3 minutes||1000-1600 calories/hour|
By training in specific zones and targeting different energy systems, cyclists can elicit physiological adaptations that enhance their performance across a range of intensities and durations.
The relationship between strength and power in cycling is complex, and there is an ongoing debate among experts about the extent to which strength training can help cyclists develop more power. While some studies have suggested that strength training can improve cycling performance by increasing power output, others have found little to no correlation.
One reason for this lack of correlation may be that cycling is primarily an endurance sport, and the physiological demands of endurance sports are different from those of strength sports. While strength training can help improve muscle strength and power output in strength sports, it may not have the same effect in endurance sports like cycling, where the primary determinant of performance is the ability to sustain sub-maximal power output over a long period.
However, some experts argue that strength training can still be beneficial for cyclists, particularly in terms of improving core stability and control during acceleration on the pedals.
Additionally, some studies have suggested that strength training can help improve the efficiency of the neuromuscular system, which could lead eventually to improved power output in cycling. By improving the coordination between the nervous system and the muscles, cyclists may be able to generate more power with less effort, resulting in improved performance.
Nutrition and Hydration: Fueling Cyclists for Peak Performance
Cyclists are advised to consume a balanced meal containing carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats a few hours before a ride to provide the necessary fuel and nutrients. Specifically, focusing on carbohydrates is key as they are the primary energy source for endurance exercise. Recommended carbohydrate intake before a long ride is around 3-4 grams per kilogram of body weight to maximize glycogen stores.
During the ride, regular intake of carbohydrates is vital to maintain glycogen stores and delay fatigue. The recommended carbohydrate intake during exercise is approximately 30-60 grams per hour, depending on the intensity and duration of the ride. This can be achieved through the consumption of energy gels, bars, or sports drinks specifically formulated for endurance athletes.
Hydration is equally important, and cyclists should aim to consume fluids regularly, aiming for 500-1000 ml per hour, depending on factors such as temperature and intensity. Including electrolytes in hydration, beverages can help replenish essential minerals lost through sweat and improve fluid absorption.
After the ride, a combination of carbohydrates and protein is recommended to replenish glycogen stores and support muscle recovery. Studies suggest that consuming 1.2-1.6 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight within the first 30 minutes of completing exercise can enhance glycogen synthesis.
Aerodynamics and Equipment to Get Faster on Bikes
The collaboration between scientists and engineers has revolutionized aerodynamics and equipment design in cycling, leading to remarkable improvements in performance.
Modern bike frames, constructed using lightweight carbon fibre composites, have revolutionized the industry by offering exceptional strength and stiffness while minimizing weight. Compared to traditional steel frames, carbon fibre frames can be up to 40% lighter, allowing cyclists to exert less energy to propel their bikes forward. For instance, a high-end road bike built with a carbon fibre frame may weigh around 7-8 kilograms, whereas older steel frames could weigh upwards of 12 kilograms or more.
Modern carbon fibre wheelsets can weigh as little as 1-1.5 kilograms, compared to older alloy wheelsets that could weigh around 2-2.5 kilograms or more. These weight reductions, when combined with enhanced aerodynamics, allow cyclists to achieve higher speeds while expending less energy.
Moreover, advancements in drivetrain systems have led to more efficient power transfer and smoother gear shifting. Electronic shifting systems, such as Shimano Di2 and SRAM eTap, offer precise and instantaneous gear changes, improving overall efficiency and reducing energy wastage.
Additionally, aerodynamically optimized components like handlebars, stems, and seat posts further contribute to reducing drag and enhancing performance.
Training Monitoring and Data Analysis
The advent of wearable technology and sophisticated data analysis tools has revolutionized the training and competition landscape for cyclists. With the introduction of power meters, heart rate monitors, and GPS devices, athletes and coaches now have access to real-time performance data that plays a vital role in optimizing training and improving performance.
One essential concept in cycling is Functional Threshold Power (FTP). FTP represents the highest average power output that a cyclist can sustain for an extended period, typically one hour. It serves as a benchmark for setting training zones and measuring improvements in endurance.
LTHR, on the other hand, refers to the heart rate at which the body transitions from aerobic to anaerobic energy production and is crucial for determining the intensity at which lactate begins to accumulate in the muscles, helping athletes gauge their effort levels during training and racing. . By determining and training within specific heart rate zones based on LTHR, cyclists can optimize their training and improve their ability to sustain higher workloads.
Moreover, heart rate variability (HRV), which measures the variation in time intervals between heartbeats, is gaining recognition as an indicator of an athlete’s overall well-being and readiness for training or competition. By analyzing HRV, athletes can fine-tune their training schedule and ensure optimal recovery. These data-driven approaches, encompassing FTP, LTHR, and HRV, have revolutionized training methodologies, providing cyclists with precise performance analysis and actionable insights for improving their performance on the bike.
Moreover, by monitoring training load, athletes can balance the stresses of training and recovery, optimizing their fitness and reducing the risk of overtraining and injury. This includes tracking metrics such as training volume, intensity, and duration to ensure a progressive and appropriate training stimulus.
Alongside load, monitoring fatigue and fitness levels becomes essential. Fatigue is the acute decrease in performance due to accumulated training stress, while fitness refers to an athlete’s overall level of physical conditioning. By analyzing these factors, athletes can adjust their training plan to address fatigue and promote recovery, ensuring that they are in peak condition for important races or events.
Performance Improvements in Cycling: Notable Statistics
Speed Records: The average speed of professional cyclists has significantly increased over the years. For example, in the Tour de France, the average speed of the overall winner has risen from around 25 km/h in the early 1900s to over 40 km/h in recent years.
Time Trials: Time trial performances have shown substantial improvement due to advancements in aerodynamics and training techniques. For instance, the world hour record, which represents the farthest distance an athlete can cycle in one hour, has been consistently broken, with the current men’s record standing at over 56 kilometers and the women’s record at over 49 kilometers.
Power Output: The development of power meters has allowed for precise measurement of cyclists’ power output. Elite cyclists can sustain average power outputs of 6-7 watts per kilogram of body weight during intense efforts, showcasing the increased physical capabilities of modern athletes.
Conclusion: Faster on Bikes
The combination of training advancements, nutrition strategies, technological innovations, and sports science research has propelled cyclists to unprecedented levels of performance. With each passing year, athletes continue to break records and push the boundaries of what was once deemed possible.