"Some days are diamonds, some days are stones . . . but they can both be good training days!”
My thirst for the science of performance in my career grew as I slowly climbed the ladder of professional cycling. I gathered information from any literature I could find and, more importantly, through questioning some of the best cyclists and coaches in the world.
Out of this 'mash' of information, I tried many types of training, workouts and diets. This got pretty crazy at times.
There was the extreme but good: doing unheard of amounts of zone two training in the Borrego desert; standing for entire reps of Magnolia (Boulder’s steepest col); nutrition-packed smoothies for recovery; or using a sauna to adapt to hot climates. There was the bad: motor pacing over yonder and back, up climbs and over roads high above the front range; smashing out TT workouts in a barn while sucking on an oxygen mask at 10,000ft; attempting to maintain output while building blood cells during an altitude camp before a USA Pro Cycling challenge. Then there was the just plain ugly: riding with a plastic raincoat under thermals to prepare for a humid Tour de Georgia, or cutting my post-season break short in order to 'get ahead' for the next year.
By the end of more than 20 years in cycling, I defined some solid personal beliefs about cycling performance and distilled these golden rules for training.
Consistency. The absolute most important rule of training in a word: Consistency. You will make incremental progress if you do quality sessions on a regular basis. Pros get better because they are out there day in and day out.
Do the work. If you are tired, ease into workouts. Use the first rep or set as a warm up to progress from, but do the work. There was a time when I was bummed when a workout was not perfect. A wise rider asked me, “Did you do the work?” – the answer was yes, and I got stronger from it. It is easy to crush it when you are feeling amazing, but the other days make the difference. Some days are diamonds, some days are stones . . . but they can both be good training days!
Respect your limits. Take what your body gives you that day . . . if it gives it to you, take it . . . test limits, but respect them. It is necessary to work near your limits to improve. But these limits fluctuate day to day, so take the watts when they are there.
Listen to your body. Algorithms and graphs have revolutionised the way we train, but never let them trump the old school advice of 'listen to your body'. If you are really tired, don’t let numbers tell you otherwise.
Build your base. Your aerobic engine or ability to do work with oxygen determines success; it’s the water line that your ship sits in. Everything is easier when you are aerobically fit. When the guy next to you is breathing hard and you are not, you will win. While training under Inigo San Milan, a brilliant coach and physiologist, I managed a third place in a seven-minute prologue without training above zone two (a hard but steady endurance pace). This is just an illustration, but you get the idea.
Rest completely. Ironically it is easy to build fatigue and hard to unload it. You can easily carry fatigue forward by not riding easy enough. It is like the body has on / off switch, and you need the off position to snap back from hard work. Ride on the bike path… alone. Max Testa, another outstanding coach, would say: “You have great fitness, but your fatigue is masking it right now."
KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Weight training and stretching are best kept simple, streamlined and habitual. You are much more likely to stick with these things if they are in a simple format and become part of your routine. I finished training, rolled on a foam roller and stretched for only 5 or 10 minutes. But I did this every day, no exceptions.
Don't fear the repeat. Repetition is a necessary evil for training, accept it. Sure, you can build variety into programs. But it is necessary to stress a system frequently to get adaptation. Get used to those Lactate Threshold repeats!
Go big! Once you have all these concepts working for you, do some 'massive' days! If recovery is adequate this can be the difference between good form and great form. During the end of my base building period in sunny Arizona, I would throw in some seven-hour zone two days. I treated these as adventures, picking out a route reaching some far away destination. For a build period, this would mean adding a rep or two to a session of Lactate Threshold (near your maximum sustainable power). Obviously you have to use some common sense here, but if you never test your limits, you will never find them!
Chris Baldwin recently retired from professional racing after 15 years. His results included two national time trial championships, a Pam Am games silver medal and top placings in many stage races. There was a long stretch when Chris was a threat for the win in virtually every race he started. Chris was a member of Bissell Pro Cycling, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling and OUCH Pro Cycling teams. Chris is currently a cycling and triathlon coach with Day by Day Coaching, and is qualified as a USAC Level 2 Cycling Coach (USA Cycling) and a Training Peaks University Certified Coach.