Bicycle Network: Skill Up
Increasing your aerobic endurance is the key to tackling an endurance event
Meet Lynn Gunning, your fitness trainer for Endurance events. Lynn is an exercise physiologist who has worked with the Road Cycling Team at the Australian Institute of Sport.
For anyone tackling an endurance event, the emphasis of training should be on aerobic endurance.
Aerobic endurance or 'staying power' is a measure of your cardiovascular fitness. Your ability to continue cycling is limited by the capacity of your heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. The more efficient this system is, the more oxygen will reach the muscles and the more work you can do.
How to increase aerobic endurance
Long distance rides of 30-150km (depending on your fitness level) are the most popular ways of improving your aerobic endurance. Long rides can improve your efficiency, both in terms of your ability to use oxygen and also to utilise body fat as a fuel. These rides are at a lower intensity, less than 75% of your maximum heart rate (HRmax), and can last from 60 minutes to several hours. If done in a group, this provides an opportunity for you to vary your work capacity, depending on where in the bunch you are sitting, or to "rest" at the back if you're hammered. The "talk test", being able to chat to your fellow riders without gasping for air, is a good way to make sure you are still working below your threshold - and you can catch up on some gossip at the same time.
Maximum heart rate (HRmax) and training zones
Your HRmax is your highest recorded heart rate. While athletes work this out by completing a test to exhaustion and recording their highest heart rate (HR), most people use the "220 minus your age" formula.
For example, if you are 40 years old, your estimated HRmax would be
220 beats minus 40 = 180 beats per minute.
Once you have an estimated HRmax, you can then calculate target HR ranges, or zones, for training. For long rides you want to work at less than 75%. Using the above formula, your range would be:
(220 - [your age] ) x [HR zone e.g. 75%] or 220 - 40 x 0.75 = 135 beats
Therefore, you would want to be riding at an HR below 135 beats per minute.
The anaerobic threshold is the point at which blood lactate or lactic acid starts to accumulate. Anaerobic means "without oxygen" and is basically the point at which you are working too hard for your body to use oxygen as its main fuel source. As a result, lactic acid is the waste product produced.
Accumulation of lactic acid normally occurs at around 85-92% of your HRmax, and is best described as the "jelly legs" feeling you get when you try to push yourself really hard. An active recovery (i.e. spinning your legs against a low resistance) is the best way to remove accumulated lactic acid.
Faster rides make your heart, lungs and muscles stronger and more able to cope with additional work. Putting your cardiovascular system under stress, at around 75-85% of HRmax, leaves you puffing hard. This is the progressive overload principle. Harder sessions tend to be shorter (15-45 minutes in duration), as it is difficult to sustain high-intensity workouts for long periods.
Interval training, or completing repetitions over a short distance, is a good way to improve your fitness and to improve your lactic acid tolerance. For example, find a 5km loop and aim to do four repeats of this circuit. Roll for half a lap to recover between repeats. This will allow your heart rate to come back down and enable any accumulated lactic acid to clear from the blood stream. The total training distance for a session like this would be around 27.5km, which is very achievable for most cyclists. As you get stronger and faster you can increase the number of repetitions, increase the target time per lap or try doing longer repetitions. You could also vary the location of the loop, adding hills for strength or trying a flatter option when you are aiming to increase your speed.
Strength training is often achieved via hill work. Training over hills is a great way to build leg strength and provide an additional load to the body. It is important when choosing hills that you look for a moderate slope and learn to work your gears. Too steep a slope means that you will have to grind away, even in your easiest gear, in order to stay upright. Trying to go up hills in too high a gear will result in rapid accumulation of lactic acid and subsequent fatigue. It is better to try and keep the legs spinning at a higher cadence to reduce the build-up of lactic acid.
Your training schedule
To prepare for an endurance event, you should try doing two to three long rides of 60-120 mins per week, plus an intensive ride such as an interval session. Mountain bike riders or those undertaking the Alpine Classic should include at least one specific hill session.
For a long-distance event, six months is a good preparation time. This is dependent on your fitness level and training history. If you are starting from a very low fitness base, you may require a longer preparation of up to nine months, setting smaller milestones along the way. If you already have a good endurance base, you can get away with three months of specific preparation.
When you start training, the distance and intensity of the rides are less. You need to establish a base level of fitness and then increase the intensity by either increasing how hard you are working or how far you are riding. You may start with a two-hour ride, a one-hour ride and a harder 30-minute session. Then, as your fitness improves, add an extra 30 minutes to your longer rides and try to gradually increase the intensity of your short session. After four to six weeks, depending on your available time, you may wish to add an additional shorter ride. It is important to focus on maintaining good technique throughout the long rides and learning how to ride at a high cadence to train the slow twitch fibres and conserve energy.
It is also very important during your training to get used to eating and drinking while riding. Trial using sports drinks, eating bananas or taking in carbohydrate gels. Maintaining adequate hydration can help improve performance.
Warming-up and cooling down
A good warm-up gets your body ready for action. It increases blood flow and thus fuel to the working muscles and increases their temperature, which can reduce the risk of injury. This is particularly important if you are riding early in the morning, when temperatures can be very low. Remember to wear lots of layers so that as you warm up, you can remove excess layers.
Your cool down is the start of your preparation for your next training session. It is the opportune time to rehydrate and refuel for your next session. The hour following exercise is the best time to replenish the glycogen stores in your muscles. It is also the ideal time for removing any lactic acid that may have accumulated during the session. Spinning in an easy gear is a great way to clear lactic acid. Stretching can also help reduce muscle stiffness and maintain joint mobility. Some active stretches are also a good way to free up the body after long periods of time in one position in the saddle.
Training for the time-poor
High-intensity riding can be a solution for women who need to boost their fitness, but don't have much time to train. Try a short, sharp weekend ride of 45 minutes and a short mid-week hit-out of 30-45 minutes.
Commuting to work is also a great way to keep up your base kilometres. Try taking your bike to work and doing two 30-45 minute rides immediately before work, or at lunchtime. City workers in Melbourne can also take advantage of training loops like Kew Boulevard, Albert Park or Beach Road
Rest and recovery
If you don't allow sufficient rest between sessions, your body may become increasingly fatigued and start to break down. You may become overtired or more prone to illnesses such as colds and flu.
Between training sessions, the body needs time to replace glycogen stores in the muscles, rehydrate and repair tissue. It also needs time and nutrients to build muscle. Adequate sleep and recovery time allow for all the growth and repair to occur so that you arrive at your next training session rearing to go.
As you get closer to race day, it is important to reduce your mileage and intensity of training to allow for enhanced recovery. This is also the time to concentrate on optimal hydration and fuelling up with carbohydrates. While it is important to stay on the bike to maintain your "feel", your distance and intensity of effort should decrease substantially.
Cycling around your menstrual cycle
Periods can be a pain at the best of times, but they shouldn't put you off the bike. If you have very heavy or painful periods, you may need to experiment with how long you can ride for and how frequent your stops need to be. Tampons are usually the preferred protection method, as pads can chafe. Try to choose a seat that does not put extra pressure on your genital region. Normally broader seats help, as do seats with a hole in the middle - though as everyone's body is different, you may need to experiment. Find a good bike shop and try out some different seats till you find one that suits you best.
What if you're feeling crook on the big day?
Always seek medical advice if you are ill. If you have a viral infection it is best to avoid endurance events. There'll always be more races, but you only have one body - so look after it!