The benefits of wind tunnel testing

The fan behind draws air over the rider to test CdA at different wind speeds

When cycling, the biggest force that our body has to overcome at speeds above 20kph on flat terrain is air resistance, with the faster we go the more of a force it is we have to face. Even up climbs air resistance is still a very significant force that we have to overcome. For example, when cycling at 30kph on a flat road, the resistive forces we have to overcome are rolling resistance (~20%) and air resistance (~80%). As we increase to 40kph this changes to a ~10/90 ratio! The way we can reduce the impact of air resistance is to decrease our coefficient of aerodynamic drag (CdA). Cd itself is dimensionless and represents the friction/texture of the shape, while A is the frontal area (measured in m^2), and CdA is also presented in m^2 as a measurement. A 1cm wide cylindrical tube on a bike would have a lower drag than a 2cm wide cylindrical tube, but probably a higher drag than an aero profiled 2cm wide tube. So although generally a smaller Area equals reduced drag, the shape can alter this a lot so even with a large Area, the Cd may be lower. Likewise in certain scenarios a trip like structure can reduce drag with the correct placement.

So what does this mean for a cyclist? Well if a ride can reduce their CdA, then the speed that they can travel at any given power output will increase. It’s a complicated process to determine exactly by how much as it is a combination of air pressure, temperature, speed, CdA, weight and rolling resistance. But in practical terms, reducing CdA will make you faster. The faster you go, the more watts you will save for a reduction in CdA. However as air resistance/Drag increases at an exponential rate as speed increases, the speed gain you get will be smaller at higher speeds. The formula for Drag is below.

F_{D}=\frac{1}{2} \rho v^{2} C_{D} A

So FD = Drag, 𝜌 = density of air, 𝑣 = velocity, CDA = coefficient of drag. As you can see, as Velocity increases the drag increase by a squared factor. So if velocity was 2 then drag would be 4, if velocity goes up to 4 then drag is 16. It’s not quite this simple, but it gives you an idea of how drag increases so much. Think how easy it is to go from 10kph to 30kph on the road compared to 30kph to 50kph.

Sounds simple then, reduce drag, increase speed, easy peasy. Easy ways to do that generally include reducing frontal area by getting lower or narrower. However this needs to be balanced with capacity to output power while maintaining the position. Additionally, aerodynamics is a bit of an art and what may be traditionally seen as something that would reduce drag, does not necessarily mean that it will. To do that you need to measure it.

Position and equipment can be tweaked and CdA measured to see what’s fastest

How wind tunnel testing can help you

The wind tunnel is one place where we can actually test our coefficient of drag in different positions on the bike and get a reading of how many watts a change in position may save. In general, testing of this sorts can regularly help people save between 15-40 watts on their position, sometimes significantly more depending on the starting point.

The way the wind tunnel works is by drawing air over the rider by using a large fan behind them. The speed of the air can be increased all the way up to 60mph, however for each individual rider the wind speed can be tailored to the speed at which they will be competing. The Yaw, or angle to direction of the wind, can also be changed up to 30 degrees, to simulate crosswinds. The faster a rider goes, the less Yaw they will experience generally. A time triallist travelling at 50kph will experience a lower Yaw angle in a 5kph crosswind than a ride travelling at 40kph. However, testing different Yaw angles is very useful as it helps ensure that any positional changes will be faster in a range of environmental situations such as cross winds.

Yaw angles are particularly useful for those wanting to improve their position on their road bike. Generally speaking, velocity will be lower on a road bike than a TT bike, so the likelihood of experiencing greater Yaw angles is higher. Additionally although TTs are traditionally where people look to find aerodynamic gains, if you can be more aero on your road bike you will be able to travel faster for the same effort when out of the bunch such as in a breakaway. You will also be able to conserve more energy for the finale of the race, and you can also increase your sprinting velocity.

More details about how wind tunnels work can be found here.

The 3D capture to ensure position consistency between runs when testing equipment

Equipement testing

Another way a wind tunnel can be used is to test different equipment. It’s all well and good seeing that Helmet A saves 10 watts over Helmet B, but that doesn’t tell us very much. We don’t know what position the helmets were tested in, what speed necessarily, along with the fact that different morphologies can result in very different outcomes and drag from different pieces of equipment. What may work well for one rider may be slower for another. Wind tunnel testing allows you to select equipment with confidence knowing that it will result in your travelling faster for fewer watts.

A quick change of kit to see how one jersey or skin suit compares to another

How we test you

Our testing is all carried out at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub, however the process begins before you arrive there and doesn’t finish till well afterwards.

To start with, we have an initial consultation with you to determine what it is we want to test and how we will go about doing that. Let’s say Joe Bloggs is wanting to improve their time trial times for 10 and 25miles. Their speed for these ranges from 40-45kph and they want to get to a speed of 50kph for them. All their course are flat out and back. So straight away we know that the wind speed we want to test at is probably between 35-55kph to allow for headwinds and tailwinds on course altering air speed. Ona sporting course we may test lower and higher for speed on hills and downhills. We will also do several biomechanical and morphological assessments to determine if there will be any positions on the bike that will not be sustainable even with appropriate S&C work.

Next we will look at your position on the bike. Doing this allows us to assess any obvious changes that could be made and tested in the tunnel. Ideally these images will be from in a race so we can see if your position changes under duress or with fatigue. It’s all well and good finding the ideal position but it needs to be sustainable. We will also discuss with you if there are any equipment items you wish to test out, say helmets or skin suits. Fortunately the SSE Hub does have access to many different helmets so you can test which will work best for you.

Once we get to the tunnel itself, the bike will be set up and the testing programme will have been drawn up to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible and you get as much testing for your time as possible. Once the bike is set up, an initial run will be done and a capture of your position on the bike will be taken. This ensures that during other tests you can maintain position if testing equipment, or show you how the position has changed from run to run.

After the testing has been completed, we will then sit down and have a full debrief. We will talk you through what positional changes result in the lowest drag, while also being mindful of your biomechanical limitations. Any equipment tests done will also show us what the fastest pieces are on you. Even once you have gone home, the testing doesn’t stop. For those that are coached by us, we will implement specific sessions on and off the bike to ensure that power output and comfort in the new position are optimised. For those not coached by us, we will still give you recommendations of what to include as part of your training to optimise power and comfort.

Front could be lower, but a hamstring injury prevents that. We work within biomechanical constraints to produce a sustainable position

The bottom line

There are no two ways about it, wind tunnel testing is expensive. However the benefits from it can help save money in the long run. Being able to test and compare equipment helps prevent you from purchasing items which won’t make you faster. Additionally the drag reduction gains you can make will likely far outweigh the cost per watts saved than say a new frame or even set of wheels.

If wind tunnel testing is something you are interested in, please get in touch with us and we can get you booked into the tunnel and saving watts for a faster 2023 season!

Top tips to cut fat and maintain muscle

Optimal body composition is something that many cyclists seek. However, before we dive into some tips to help you achieve this, first and foremost this is NOT about weight loss. Weight loss is a broader subject as you can achieve rapid weight loss by not eating carbs and losing the associated water weight, but performance will then be impaired. Additionally, fat loss to an extreme reduces performance dramatically as well as being detrimental to health and wellbeing. This is why this article will focus on an overview of optimal body composition, promoting reduction in excess fat mass and maintenance of both muscle mass and bone mineral density. We also offer this service in more detail via in-depth dietary analysis, with a detailed follow-up report, as well as a nutrition coaching package to complement our other cycle coaching packages. So, onto the tips!

Regular exercise and varying intensities

The first part of this might seem obvious, but getting into a routine and following a structure of exercise will help with maintaining long term exercise habits. Doing more exercise has many beneficial effects on body composition. Firstly, exercise itself obviously burns energy, and body fat. Low intensity exercise burns a greater percentage of fats, while high intensity exercise uses more energy in a shorter amount of time and the excessive post oxygen consumption (EPOC) means that the body burns more fat for a longer period after exercise has been completed. Additionally, training can help increase the rate at which you can burn fat – and also the total amount of energy you are able to expend – during exercise. By promoting aerobic exercise adaptations, we become better at utilising fats as a fuel and also using it at higher intensities. Following a varied training plan/routine that balances intensities and durations alongside work and family life is a great way to help achieve optimal body composition. 

Sprint work can increase EPOC after a session

Timing of food intake

This is one of the smallest changes that can have the biggest impacts on body composition. The timing of what we eat plays a big part in how our body uses that food. For example, sugar has been vilified in the media and health market recently, but if you’re doing endurance or high intensity exercise, then sugars (simple easy to use carbohydrates) are vital to ensure performance and also recovery. So if you’re doing a training session, consuming sugar during that session is going to be a benefit. Fuelling properly in this way will also help you not to give in to cravings after exercise, thus reducing your total daily calorie intake. When we consume sugar during or immediately after exercise, it doesn’t end up as stored fat and goes primarily into the muscles and the liver, to ensure that we have a good supply of glycogen (energy) to use for our next training session. However, if we wait a few hours after exercise to consume sugars, less of it is directed to muscle glycogen and more of it is directed to fat stores. This is why timing of nutrition is so important for optimal body composition and something that we help educate our coached athletes in.

Cake and sugars can have their place, ideally in and around exercise

Limiting processed foods

This is a slightly complicated one as, during and straight after training, processed foods such as energy gels and recovery shakes are useful for performance benefits, recovery, and optimal body composition. However, in our regular day to day diet, it is beneficial to reduce the amount of processed foods we consume. Although heavily refined sugars, deep fried foods and anything with trans fats are the main culprits when it comes to processed foods, nuts, fruits, and vegetables can still be over-processed. Even if given the option between a smoothie/fruit juice and whole fruits, it is better to have the whole fruits. This is because when we break down the fruit into a smoothie or juice, we lose some of the fibre and the need for our bodies to put in as much energy into digesting it. The process of digestion uses a lot of energy, and fibre is good for keeping us feeling fuller for longer and also promoting good gut health. So, when possible, try and limit intake of processed foods as this will be beneficial for optimal body composition. One small caveat is for those with digestive issues, where more easily digestible foods help with individual gut health. Additionally, a rider in a Grand Tour won’t want to waste energy digesting, so fruit juice is a great way of getting essential vitamins, sugars, and fluids. This is why there is not really such a thing as ‘bad’ foods, just bad timing.

You can still eat foods you enjoy, but small changes to them can increase their functionality and benefits towards achieving optimal body composition

Strength training

This is another multifaceted way of improving optimal body composition. Firstly, increasing muscle mass has the benefit of improving performance and power output on the bike. This in turn means that we are able to use more energy on the bike by working at higher power outputs. We also use energy during the strength training sessions themselves. Maintaining and increasing muscle mass is another part of the equation for achieving optimal body composition. Another benefit of strength training is that muscle mass actually requires more energy to maintain so, if you increase your muscle mass, your daily metabolic rate will increase and promote greater levels of fat burning when at rest. Therefore, in addition to all the associated health benefits of Strength Training, it is also a very useful part of the journey towards us achieving our ideal body composition.

When doing resistance training, additional protein intake can help improve muscle growth

I hope this article has given you some useful tips to help you towards your ideal body composition and associated fat loss or muscle gain. There are a lot of non-sustainable fad ‘diets’ around which claim to be fast-track ways to lose weight. However, by following a suitable exercise routine, fuelling adequately with the right foods at the right time, and incorporating strength training, you can not only promote fat loss, but also muscle gain. This results both in improved performance and also optimal body composition.

Top-5 best value ways to make your bike rides faster

Getting faster on our bikes is something that most of us want to achieve. Obviously, optimising our training is going to be a sure-fire way to make us faster. Then we also have available the latest aero frames, wheels and skinsuits that will make us faster but for a premium price. However, outside of all that, there are a few great way to become quicker on the bike without breaking the bank, which is what we’re going to cover here.

Aero socks

Aero socks have become highly prevalent in the Pro Peloton over the last few years, and for very good reason! They offer one of the best ‘cost per watts saved ‘out of all the available aero kit. Some professionals are still reluctant to move on from the classic cotton socks, but the research data available supports the fact that wearing aero socks, which are often within the £25 mark, will save us a fair few watts across all speeds. Although not ‘free’ speed, it’s probably some of the best value extra speed that you can purchase.

Rule28 Aerosocks have set the standard for aero socks for a long time

Good tyres or inner tubes

When we cycle, we are having to overcome several forces: air resistance, gravity and rolling resistance. Air resistance and gravity vary with both speed and gradient, whereas rolling resistance remains a constant based on rider weight and surface. It presents a significant opportunity for improvement, and the way to do this is to go for faster rolling tyres or inner tubes. Tubeless tyres have taken the cycling world by storm and, for racers, the main gain is improved rolling resistance with puncture protection. The difference in rolling resistance can make for a couple of KPH speed increase between a fast tyre and a slow tyre. Although not cheap (with faster tyres probably costing £100 for a pair) the speed gains you can get are greater than the difference between your current frame and, say, an aero frame. For those without a tubeless setup, you can still optimise your set-up by opting for latex inner tubes. These are a bit more expensive than butyl but offer better punch-flat protection, lighter weight and much lower rolling resistance.

Narrower handlebars

Aero handlebars are obviously one way to get faster, but a pair of 38cm round bars will be faster than most 42cm aero bars. This is because, with narrower bars, we reduce the frontal profile of the largest drag incurring shape on the bike: our body. Some riders have gone to extremes with 28cm bars and even smaller, but the UCI has just set a minimum width on bars to prevent people going too narrow. An alloy set of bars that are 38cm or so will not break the bank at all and, although many people feel their bars need to be the width of their shoulders or else breathing is restricted, this is not the case. Handling is also not impaired and although some may feel their sprint leverage with their arms is reduced, plenty of track sprinters with far higher sprint wattages use narrower round tubed bars for the huge aero gains up for grabs. 

35cm bars are quite narrow but surprisingly easy to handle and very aero

Clean and fast chain

This benefit comes in two parts; to apply a good chain lube with lower resistance, we first need to make sure that our chains are kept nice and clean. One way of ensuring this is to purchase a chain with a wax lubricant already applied, such as the Graphene Lube from Absolute Black. For those wanting to go the full hog on their own chains, an ultrasonic cleaner can be used to clean the chain fully to avoid any contamination. After doing that, if you use a liquid wax lube, you can put the chain and some lube in a bag to leave that to soak in. Afterwards, hand the chain up and pour the wax back into the bottle. With quick links on chains, this is a process that can be repeated, although Graphene Lube can last for over 1600km! It’s a lengthy process, and the lube/wax can cost up to £100, but it will help your chains last longer (saving a bit of money); run a lot smoother (saving quite a few watts), and not require cleaning so often (as dirt doesn’t stick to wax the same way it does to wet lube).

This chain may look dirty, but it’s been cleaned and had GrapheneLube applied

Focus on position

The final one is a very simple one: focus on your position. Most of us tend to ride in quite an upright position as that’s likely what’s comfiest. However, getting into a more tucked-in position on the bike is probably one of the easiest ways to go significantly faster without spending a single penny. The more time we spend riding in that position, the more we become adapted to it, meaning that power output won’t be compromised and we will feel more comfortable. You can improve this even further by focussing on a few strength and conditioning exercises to compliment your aero position and ability to hold it. 

Trying to keep a low body position, even with being significantly taller than the other riders here

So, there we have it: our Top-5 best value ways to get faster on the bike. Let us know if you’ve tried any of these or if you’re going to try some of them out in the New Year!

Success Story: Paul Jones – Recovery from hip replacement

Paul is a rider I started working with in September 2021 with the initial goal of Project 20:59, to get his 10 mile TT time under the 21 minute mark, with a current PB of 21:59 on the Tring F11/10 course in 2018. We set about working towards this goal, and made good progress throughout the early part of 2022, but then Paul required a hip replacement in June this year.

Hip replacement number two on the left (right hip)

This set training back significantly as for the first 2 weeks, Paul was limited to walking on crutches and could barely turn the pedals when we started the road to recovery. He started off by setting his FTP/CP at 50 watts, down from the 322 watts it was before the operation! After another 4 weeks, Paul was able to start riding outdoors again, which in his words “felt great being outside but awful as I had absolutely no power or fitness. I pushed on with Zwift sessions and riding with friends but I was making little progress, even riding at their Z2. I was constantly in the red and making myself ill, trying to hang on to a wheel! I was getting frustrated, demoralised and going nowhere.”

It was at this point that recovery had progressed enough that Paul and I were able to start programming training sessions again. We looked at where he was currently, where he had been, and where he needed to be going into 2023 to still hit his targets. The biggest thing, was getting Paul to reel it in. Being as committed as he was to get to that fitness back again, he was working a bit too hard when needing to go easy, and not hard enough when needing to go hard. Since then, we’ve taken a more structured approach, getting in the lower intensity longer duration and recovery sessions, alongside the harder efforts. “Training has been great, structured and constant feedback on how I have done after every session, best advice was to stick to plan and stay in zone, read the clear instructions for each workout and follow them.”

Since sticking to this structured routine with the right sort of training, but equally important the right amount of rest, Paul has got his FTP back up to 296 watts just 6 months after his hip replacement with the majority of those improvements coming in the last couple of months!

Important to spend time on the TT bike with TTs being the main goals

The important thing to highlight here is that progress is not a quick process, and it cannot be rushed. It’s easy to think that you need to catch up on lost training time and cram too much in too soon. However this is sure-fire way to hit burnout and injury, as ramping up intensity or volume too high too quickly results in huge levels of fatigue that will affect performance significantly. Training adaptations and fitness are the result not only of training stimulus, but adequate rest to facilitate the adaptations occurring.

This is why it’s important to look at the whole picture. For Paul, he works a busy job during the week and has had a hip replacement. This means that more rest is required between sessions than for someone who has a lighter work schedule, or isn’t recovering from an intense surgical procedure. The plan has to change sometimes, for example when work means that a session cannot be completed one day. But rather than add the session later in the week, we look at how we can adjust the next few days to accommodate the efforts, or remove them and adjust the remaining sessions in the week to maintain most of the training load while taking into account additional fatigue and stress caused by work events.

What’s next for Paul? We’re going to keep working throughout the winter and into 2023 with the goals of smashing his 10 mile TT PB (and hopefully achieving project 20:59), complete a 50 & 100 mile TT, and qualify for the World Gran Fondo champs in Scotland!

Winter cycling tips

The holiday period is approaching, so we probably have a bit more time to ride than usual. Additionally there are challenges such as the Rapha Festive 500 that people may want to target. But riding in the winter has a few big key differences to riding in the summer. As the temperature drops, there are several considerations to be made to make sure your winter rides are as comfortable and safe as possible.

High visibility is important in low light conditions

Kit

First off, we need very different levels of cycling kit. Although as we cycle we generate heat, we are very good at losing that heat via sweating and our breath. This is why even when wrapped up very warm, the moment we stop we get cold quite quickly and it takes a while to get going again. So here are some key items of clothing to have when the temperature drops to 0-5 degrees:

  • Bib tights – thermal lined and possibly with water resistance. Cold shins are not fun; you can also get bib tights that extend higher up your torso and back for added core warmth.
  • Base layers – A good thermal base layer makes a huge difference, as they trap heat in but can also let heat escape if you unzip the outer layers. High necked ones are ideal for deep winter and you can even get windproofed ones.
  • Jerseys/jackets – A hardshell jacket is great not just for keeping heat in, but for keeping the elements out. The zipped front also means that if you do get too hot, say on a steep climb, you can cool down controllably.
  • Gilets – Usually quite packable and offer some added protection for your core while being easily removable. A good essential to keep in a pocket or start your rides in.
  • Packable waterproof – A packable waterproof is my go-to piece of kit for most rides outside of the summer. They can be packed away very small and keep the wind and rain out. When conditions get wet, they are the best piece of kit for keeping your core toasty.
  • Headwear – a thermal cap, a buff, or a skull cap are all good ways of keeping your head warm, along with your ears and neck. Your breath is another way you lose heat so covering your mouth and nose when very cold can really help trap some heat in.
  • Gloves – our hands have a lot of nerve endings in them, so keeping our hands warm can really help keep the perception of cold down. Going a size slightly too big can help as that will give a layer of air around our hands for added insulation.
  • Overshoes – socks should really be the same all year round, as thicker socks can change the fit of a shoe. So good overshoes are the way to keep our feet warm. Another trick is taping over any shoe vents.

My advice for working out what kit option is right for you, is to make sure that when you are outside and standing still, you feel comfortable but not overly warm. This way if you do stop or slow down you will hopefully be warm enough, but when you’re riding and generating heat you won’t get excessively warm. 

Layering up is a great way to be prepared for changing weather conditions

Nutrition

The next thing to consider with winter riding is nutrition. In the cold it can be harder to remember to drink, as we ideally don’t want to be drinking something cold, which our bottles will become after a short while. Insulated bottles can help big time with keeping drinks warm or at least room temperature. Also worth taking into account that if you drink less and usually get your fuel from drinks, you will need to eat more solid foods. Keep your pockets nice and stashed, always better to take too much and not need it, than not enough and need it. Ideally still aim for 500ml of fluid an hour, as you will still be producing a lot of heat when riding and likely sweating a fair bit. Carb intake will depend on how much you use personally at different intensities, and also depends on how long the ride is. Aim for a food item an hour on longer rides, and that plus a gel if more intense. 

Logistics

Firstly, if the temperature drops below zero overnight, it is usually safest to stick to riding indoors and not risking it. It only takes a small patch of ice to result in coming off your bike which isn’t going to do any favours. If the temperatures aren’t as low, it is still worth planning your route to avoid smaller narrower lanes as these often will have small pockets of colder areas where ice may have formed. Best to stick to larger roads that get gritted as these will be free of ice. Just remember to clean your bike afterwards as the salt is corrosive to your frame and components. 

Another part of logistics is the timing of the ride. Riding early morning in winter is usually colder with more chance of ice; we also have the issue of low sun and that reducing visibility both for ourselves and other road users. Better to time your rides (if you can) to be around the middle of the day.

Finally, stopping time. When we cycle, for every unit of energy that goes to forward momentum, about 4 units go towards generating heat. This is why we get hot very quickly when exercising. When we heat up, our body wants to remove the excess heat by sweating and generating moisture. This system is very efficient at heat loss, which is good mostly. However once we stop moving, we stop generating heat, but we still have moisture on our skin that is being used to transfer that heat away from us. In winter this happens very quickly as the temperature gradient is larger. Limiting our stops to very quick ones will help reduce the amount of heat we lose when stopped and keep us more comfortable on the ride.

Safety

By virtue of the days being shorter, safety is another option to consider. Due to scheduling and time available in the day, it is likely that we will be riding when there is reduced light or low sun. This means it is important that we make ourselves as visible as possible. It is the responsibility of other road users to be aware and see us, but it is better to be safe and cautious than righteous and not safe. Cyclists are smaller road users and can be more difficult to spot in challenging light conditions.

So first off, visible clothing. Yes, black and dark kit have long been viewed as stylish, slick and fast options, but when light is low it isn’t sensible to be riding around in all black. Most pro teams have training kits for their riders that are higher visibility. Orange or yellow are great choices as they stand out against most backgrounds. You can also get kit items that reflect when car lights hit them.

Next off are lights. A flashing rear light is essential as it makes you a lot more visible to other road users, especially with the flashing. The Garmin Varia is a very good option as the inbuilt radar alerts you to approaching traffic. Front lights are also worthwhile even during day light hours. Though we don’t need them to see, they can be very helpful for helping car drivers coming out of side roads to see us. At the end of the day none of this helps stop stupid road users, but it does prevent giving them any sort of excuse. People riding bikes have as much a right to be on the road as any other road user.

Hopefully these tips will help make your winter training rides more beneficial, comfortable, and safer. Let us know any extra winter riding tips that you have!

5 ways to get faster on the bike

In this post we’re going to cover 5 basic tips to help you get faster on the bike. Some of these may seem obvious, but more often than not the basics get neglected. Optimising how we perform the basics can lead not only to multiple marginal gains, but fairly massive gains too!

Train smarter

Training is obviously one of the best ways that we can get faster on the bike. If you don’t train, you won’t get faster. However, optimising the way we train is what will make the biggest difference. It’s all well and good reading the literature around training and trying to apply this theories and methodologies to our own training, but each of use are individuals, and the optimal training will be different to what it is for someone else. 

Let’s take for example a professional rider (A), a keen amateur with part time work (B), and an amateur working full time and with a family (C). Rider A can train large volume with maximal recovery due to having both more time to train and rest. If rider B or C attempted to match that volume, they would burn out and hit a state of over-training (under-recovering). Additionally, B and C likely have different goals. A is targeting stage races and events lasting more than 5 hours with surges. B is targeting 3 hour road races, and C is targeting 1 hour crits. Each event will require different training.

So tailoring training to both availability of training time but also resting time is incredibly important. Any training plan you make needs to be sustainable, even if that means progress may not happen as quickly as a fast track plan. Fast track training is like fast track weight loss, short term gains than can hinder the overall long term gains which will have a higher net gain. It is also very important to train for the events you are aiming for, as that will dictate how you should be training. 

Another important consideration is the rider’s physiology. It’s a fact that as you get older, your ability to recover as fast is reduced, so the rate of build in training needs to be lower, and greater recovery taken into account. At the other end of the scale, younger riders can recover quicker, but generally will not have as good endurance capacity, so volume needs to be controlled. Taking into account individual rider capacity is also important as one rider may be able to do 80% of their Critical Power (CP) without going above the first lactate threshold (LT1) while another rider may exceed LT1 at 70% of CP, so endurance sessions need to be individually tailored.

Train smarter not harder

Bunch handling skills

For those of us doing any sort of bunch event, learning bunch handling is an incredibly important skill. It will allow you to travel faster while using less energy! A lot of this comes down to confidence in your own handling, but is also something that we can offer you advice on and why we are big fans of integrating group training sessions into your training plan.

The local club rides are probably the best place to start with honing your bunch riding abilities. Riding in a group, you can become more confident in following the wheel of the rider in front of you. Riding a couple of meters off the back of the rider in front can result in you using a lot more energy than if you are within a meter of their rear wheel. Riding in closer proximities is also essential for feeling confident when riding within a bunch during a road race when travelling at speed. It can also be helpful following other riders when descending, as if they are confident in their capabilities, you can follow their wheel and gain confidence in your own ability to corner faster. It’s amazing how far a bike can lean and stay planted when you corner correctly!

Once you’re comfortable with the more endurance pace club rides, you can move onto race pace rides. These help you hone the skills you’ve learnt at speed while also acting as a nice little race simulation in training. They also often include more focussed bunch riding dynamics such as ‘through and off’. When done well, this can increase the speed a bunch of riders are capable of by a huge amount! Essentially two lines of riders travel at a set speed/pace (for the sake of this example it is a flat windless road) with line A (through line on the side without wind) travelling slightly faster than line B (off line on the side the crosswind is coming from). So A may be travelling at 40kph while B is at 35kph. So our Rider is in the A line going at 40kph, they pull over to the B line and ease off the power and let the air resistance slow them down so that they come into B at about 35kph and slot in front of the rider who was leading B. Our Rider then saves energy while in the B line for as long as they are making an effort in the A line. Once the final rider of the A line passes, the Rider must accelerate up to 40kph and straight onto the wheel of the rider in front of them in A. They can then save energy still in the wheels, until they hit the front where they need to do maybe a 10sec efforts. The process then repeats, and the Rider has made 5 seconds of effort to accelerate and 10 seconds of efforts in the wind, the rest of the time they have saved energy by being in the wheels. So the whole group will be travelling at the pace every rider has had to do for 10 seconds at a time, making it very efficient!

Being able to save more energy when riding in the bunch helps ensure you’ve got more left in the tank for the finish or a big attack

Fuel properly

Nutrition Periodisation is the fancy term, but timing and quantity of fuel intake makes a big difference. Again, fairly basic, but can often be done incorrectly or sub-optimally. As covering this whole topic would need a long post of it’s own, we’re going to focus on carbs before, during and after exercise. 

Before a ride, even if just an endurance one at a lower pace but a longe duration, it is still important to consume carbohydrates as even at an easy endurance pace we are likely still using carbs along with fats, and not consuming enough of them during the ride means we have to play catch up afterwards which is not as efficient, or we are not topping up our muscle glycogen stores for the training the next day. Unless you’re doing specific low carb low intensity training, something that should be limited, then carbs before training will be better for performance, recovery, and overall energy availability. 

During a ride, the amount of carbs required depends on both the duration and the intensity. If less than 90 minutes then generally no exogenous (carbs consumed externally not from muscle glycogen) are needed, but exceptions apply depending on the individual. If doing longer duration or higher intensity, then exogenous carbs will need to be consumed. The amount of carbs required depends on biological sex, menstrual phase, gastrointestinal (GI) tolerances, temperature, altitude and a multitude of factors. For example, when it is warmer we use more carbohydrates, same with higher altitude. Women use more carbs during the follicular phase and more fat during the luteal phase. People with a higher GI tolerance can consume up to 120+g of carbs an hour, whereas those who haven’t done GI training will maybe only manage 40g/hr. 

After a ride, carbs are again required. We all know protein post workout is needed for muscle and tissue recovery/turnover, but consuming with carbohydrates can help the effectiveness of the protein consumed as well as resulting in the carbohydrates being directed to muscle stores as glycogen than being stored as fat. This is because post exercise the insulin response is different to at rest, so the transport and use of carbohydrates is different. Generally a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein is ideal for recovery, but this will vary for some people.

Fuelling your training properly is an easy way to make quick gains

Strength and conditioning

We’ve seen this more recently, with pro cyclists hitting the gym over the winter. But there are gains to be made by incorporating S&C work all the way through the year. It is also important to make sure that you are not doing too much or the wrong sorts of exercises at the wrong time at the gym.

S&C has been shown to increase both the maximal power output of cyclists in sprint performances, as well as improving time trial performance and time to exhaustion. There are several ways these benefits occur, with greater neuromuscular recruitment for sprint performance, as well as improved Type 2 fibre usage during endurance so reduce the onset of fatigue, to improving the functional range of motion that you can output power (think the top of the pedal stroke traditionally being the ‘dead spot’). 

It is important though to do the right amount of work at the right time. As S&C work when you start is a new stimulus, you will almost certainly experiment delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is also why keeping it all year is helpful in that DOMS will not be an issue if you train right. It is also common for cyclists to do too much too soon. Cyclists are very strong aerobically and also muscularly when contractions are concentric (force being produced when the muscle is shortening). Where cyclists are not as strong is during eccentric contractions (force produced while the muscle lengthens), in bone density more often than not, and ligament & tendon strength. So going straight into plyometric work will almost certainly result in injury, and heavy strength work with a long eccentric phase can damage the muscles. 

A fear for cyclists when doing S&C is also muscle growth. If muscle growth was as easy as they think, body builders around the world would be envious! In reality, building muscle is not an easy or straightforward process. It requires a large intake of protein, a calorie surplus, and training the right reps at the right rep range to the right level of fatigue. For cyclists, the rep range worked at will often be higher with a lower weight for range of motion and stability work, or it will be higher weights at lower reps for strength, or low weight at low reps with high speed for power. The same exercise done in different ways can result in very different results!

S&C work has the potential to help power output and reduce the onset of fatigue

Aero position and clothing

As cyclists, the biggest force we have to overcome when riding pretty much all the time is air resistance. On the flats at most training speeds maybe 80% of our effort goes to overcoming air resistance on the flats, at race pace it’s more than 90%! Even on climbs up to 5% gradient it makes up a lot of what we have to overcome, and aero savings without adding weight will still save some time on gradients above 5%. So by decreasing the impact of air resistance on us, we can increase out speed significantly for the same power output!

Although aero frames and wheels will save you watts and increase your speed, the bike as a whole only makes up about 20% of the total drag that you experiment, the other 80% comes from your body, so focussing on making that a aerodynamic as possible will result in the biggest gains! 

Position on the bike makes one of the biggest differences. We can see it in the way riders race now that they have narrower handlebars to make them narrower, and will ride with their forearms horizontal on the tops rather than straight armed as this has been tested in the wind tunnel to be faster. However riding in that position needs to be sustainable, which can be achieved by spending more focussed time during training riding in that position, and also doing specific S&C work to improve muscular weaknesses that are reducing your ability to maintain and sustain and aerodynamic position. Another factor to consider is that even if you go for a super slung out low pro position, you may not be able to produce as much power so the watts/CdA equation doesn’t change or gets worse. Again, training in the position and S&C work to help eliminate those issues reducing power output can help, but sometimes biomechanical constraints are too much and the right balance of power production and drag reduction need to be achieved. 

Next up we have aero clothing. Nowadays in races pretty much everyone is using aero socks and aero jerseys/skinsuits. Some purists call this sacrilege but at the end of the day, it is undeniably faster. Choosing kit that fits closely to reduce the amount flapping in the wind will help save watts, but also making sure the kit isn’t too tight. Once a skinsuit is too tight, it changes the surface texture of the fabric, which in turn can increase friction and therefore increase drag from the rider. This is why getting the right size in kit is very important, and going for the smallest shrink wrapped size possible isn’t necessarily going to make you faster! It is also worth considering that different skinsuits may be faster on different people. Fortunately, if you want to test either your position or different aero clothing to see what is fastest on you, you can get wind tunnel testing done with us at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub.

Aero clothing can make a huge difference to speed!

So there we have it, 5 sure-fire ways to make you faster on the bike, and at ATP Performance, we specialise in supporting you across every one of these points. From programming individualised training programmes designed specifically around you, to offering equipment and bunch riding advice and testing to maximise energy saved while riding. Drop us a message if you’re interested in coaching, wind tunnel testing, or would like to find out more.

Should cyclists do cross training in the winter?

So by cross training, I’m going to define that as any cycling that is not your primary discipline (think roadies doing MTB) and any off the bike training that is not S&C (as that should be done all year round ideally). Cross training is often a way to mix training up, keep up enjoyment levels, or a means of avoiding cycling in wet, windy and wintery weather. There are several common ways that cyclists try to include cross training as part of their winter training, and we’re going to cover the pros and cons of several of them.

Other forms of cycling

For us roadies, we often stick to just road riding and time trialling, maybe the odd bit of gravel. However, there are many other cycling disciplines that can be very beneficial to road race performance. Although gravel is technical, it doesn’t quite match MTB, either XC or Downhill.

Doing some MTB work can be great for several factors linked to road riding. Firstly, technical skills. Look at Tom Pidcock, Peter Sagan, and MVDP, all great MTBers with some incredible bike handling and control on the road. Another big benefit is smooth pedalling as on loose or slippery surfaces, delivering power smoothly is essential so a more efficient pedalling stroke can be developed for the road as well. There are similar benefits from doing CX as well, but CX also really works the lung busting hour of pain and high power capacity, as well as providing a fun competitive event for over the winter.

BMX is another aspect of cycling that is less often used in cross training by road riders but has some great benefits. For example, BMX riders often have some of the highest peak power outputs of any cyclists, sometimes besting track sprinters! The combination of high torque and very high leg speed at the starts means huge power delivery and pedalling efficiency. There are also many benefits to bike handling skills for doing BMX, even if just for tricks and fun.

Track cycling is another useful cross training tool to include when track isn’t your main focus. From helping develop a smooth pedalling stroke, to also improving your ability with bunch handling in a close environment. Then we have the events themselves which can scratch our competitive itch, while also being great training sessions with a lot of focus on very high end performance from maximal aerobic power and upwards.

An added bonus of these disciplines is also avoiding icy conditions on the road, or in the case of track cycling, avoiding all wintery weather and not having to spend so much time cleaning bikes. Obviously you need the facilities near by and also the equipment, but all of these other disciplines of cycling offer great ways to vary training throughout the winter.

Swimming

Swimming is a useful exercise for cyclists, as if you’re not doing it as your sole sport you are not going to develop huge back and shoulder muscles from a couple of swims a week. What you will improve is aerobic performance and your breathing ability. Swimming requires large breaths to be inhaled and exhaled very quickly, which helps work your respiratory muscles and can improve their resistance to fatigue. Add to that the fact that swimming involves no impact so there are no eccentric contractions and you get reduced chance of injury and DOMS compared to say running. It’s definitely a useful exercise to include if you want to mix up your training over the winter while still looking to improve aspects of your cycling.

Running

This is a very common one for cyclists in the winter, but it needs to be done carefully. The problem is that cyclists are aerobically very very capable. Muscularly, not so much. Cyclists spend almost all their time doing concentric muscle contractions, pushing down to create force, and very little time doing eccentric contractions, where muscles shorten due to external force such as landing from a jump. Eccentric contractions are great for strengthening muscles, however they also lead to greater DOMS and if you are not properly conditioned you will get injuries. So a very aerobically fit cyclist can likely run a marathon very happily, 4 hours isn’t that long for a cyclist after-all. However, muscularly they will get injured, often badly as their body will likely not be conditioned to deal with the impact and eccentric load. This means the key to including running alongside cycling is to start very easy (think 1 mile run at a low HR) and build up very gradually. 15 minutes of running will put more stress on your body than 1 hour of riding even at the same heart rate. It is also important to do this alongside S&C to make sure your body can deal with the loads experienced when running.

Walking/hiking

Like running, but far less impact or chance of injury. Walking and hiking are actually better than many would think for cycling performance. A big issue many cyclists have with low intensity long duration training is that they work too hard. Walking and hiking can often elicit a heart rate that is in the right physiological zone and quite a steady continuous effort. A long hike for example will be effective endurance training in the winter without the risk of injury associated with running.

Team sports

Sometimes, the cross training you might want to do might not be traditional aerobic exercise, and you might want to do some football, rugby, or other team sports. As team sports like these often require running, changes of direction, and in some cases contact, like running it becomes essential that the body is well conditioned and you start off very lightly. Cyclists often do not have very strong hamstrings and both football and rugby are notorious for resulting in hamstring injuries if players aren’t well conditioned. It can still be fun and a very useful sporting activity to keep fit in the winter, but it is essential that you make sure you are well conditioned and not over doing it.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, most benefit in training will be gained from actually cycling, as it is the most sport specific training if cycling is your goal. S&C is essential for building up increased strength and power too along with injury prevention, but needs to be done in the right way and correct volume. However people often like to mix up their training in the winter, try something new, or scratch the competitive itch. This is where different forms of training can be really useful for motivation and fun, while still helping you towards your goal of being a better cyclist. However cross training needs to be balanced and implemented in the correct way, both to increase the benefit directed towards cycling, and also to reduce the chance of injury.

What is Fatigue?

Different types of fatigue and how to combat them

We are all familiar with the feelings of fatigue in whatever form they strike: be it by the end of one of a very long endurance ride at a solid Zone 2 intensity; or when we are attempting that final 5 minute maximal aerobic power effort and our legs are screaming at us to let them stop. But there are many different types of fatigue and understanding what they are can help us combat them and reduce the onset or impact of these various fatigues.

Hydrogen ions (recovery)

The first one that we are going to talk about, and the first of the peripheral fatigue mechanisms, is one you would’ve likely heard referred to as lactic acid build-up. However, this is quite a misleading title as lactate is not something that directly fatigues us and, in fact, is something that our body uses as fuel during efforts and can be converted into pyruvate which is then used to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which we know to be the energy source of all bodily functions. The real culprit of fatigue here is something that comes with that lactate production: hydrogen ions. Increased levels of hydrogen ions (H+) create a more acidic environment within the muscles. This, in turn, results in something called ATP hydrolysis, which is the process of ATP being split into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and inorganic phosphate (Pi). This happens because the enzyme that causes ATP hydrolysis (ATPases) does not work as well in an acidic environment. This not only impacts on our ability to utilise the energy available in the ATP we create from substrate utilisation, but also our capacity to produce muscle contractions.

We can reduce the negative effect of H+ by improving our buffering capacity. This can be done by using supplements, such as beta-alanine or bicarbonate of soda. Another means of reducing H+ is to improve our ability to utilise fats as fuel at higher intensity, which reduces the production of lactate and H+ that come with it due to carbohydrate metabolism. As H+ production increases exponentially above the physiological turn point Critical Power, increasing our Critical Power through training will greatly help in reducing the fatigue effect of H+ at certain power levels. This is why when H+ levels do get so high that they cause fatigue, the best thing to do is to reduce the intensity, which then enables you to clear the hydrogen ions faster than you are producing them.

Inorganic phosphate (recovery)

Another cause of peripheral fatigue (and usually the one that leads to the pain we feel in our legs) is something called inorganic phosphate. This is produced in especially large quantities when we suddenly go from perhaps a very low intensity to a very high intensity. For example, during sprints or micro intervals. Inorganic phosphate is produced during ATP hydrolysis and also when using the phosphocreatine pathway to produce energy, which occurs during very high intensity or the initial uptake of high power. So, when you go from 40 W to 400 W in your micro intervals, the phosphocreatine pathway is how we initially uptake that power. Or, even when starting an endurance ride, the initial energy system working will be the phosphocreatine one, with the aerobic system is kicking in shortly afterwards. This also explains why we feel more fatigue when we have a lot of changes in pace, such as in a criterium or after conducting micro intervals. The production of inorganic phosphate leads to a reduced cross bridge capacity within the muscles, which is how we produce our power by contracting and releasing the cross bridges (see sliding filament theory). It also reduces the potential power from each cross bridge, resulting in a double whammy of power reduction. 

We can reduce the impact of inorganic phosphate by pedalling at an easy intensity after the repeated bouts of exercise that produce it or immediately after a large sprint. Studies have found that stopping peddling completely keeps the inorganic phosphate levels high and reduces our capacity to perform sprints again. So, in races, it is a good idea to reduce the amount of surges that we do as that will reduce the inorganic phosphate production. In training, after doing a high intensity sprint, it is important to remain pedalling at a low intensity rather than stopping pedalling entirely.

Muscle Afferents (recovery)

Our body is incredibly clever, and we have parts of our muscles called Afferent Fibres. These afferents play a very important role in exercise as they monitor the state of the muscle and interact with the central nervous system (CNS). The afferents we are concerned with here are Group III and IV as they mediate cardiovascular and ventilatory reflexes. Essentially, they help regulate the CNS to control some degree of blood and oxygen delivery to the working muscles. They are essential, as studies have found that blocking these receptors from signalling the CNS reduced the blood/oxygen delivery to the working muscles by reducing blood flow and also pulmonary ventilation. However, they also play a role in Central Fatigue and are linked in a way to some of the peripheral fatigue mechanisms (H+ and Pi). Up to a certain critical threshold these afferents assist in muscular contractile performance and delivering oxygen to the muscles. However, once this threshold is crossed, the afferents provide inhibitory feedback to the CNS to reduce the central motor drive, basically our voluntary capacity to produce greater muscular force is reduced. The suggested reason for this inhibitory feedback is to limit the body from spending time above this critical threshold and producing excessive peripheral fatiguing metabolites. This is to try and protect the body and muscles from associated damage due to these metabolites. Studies have tested with inhibiting the afferents above the critical threshold, and although blood oxygen levels were slightly reduced, this negative affect was outweighed by the increased central motor drive. In the test, cyclists were able to perform at a higher power output over a 5km time trial than those without afferent inhibition.

The way to overcome this afferent feedback induced central fatigue, is to reduce intensity and decrease Group III/IV stimulus. Once that critical threshold is passed, the cascade of fatigue mechanisms, both central and peripheral, increases until intensity is reduced. We can increase the threshold at which the afferents start to provide inhibitory feedback the same way we can reduce the presence of H+ and Pi, by increasing the physiological turn point known as Critical Power.

Substrate availability (carbs)

Another form of fatigue comes from substrate availability. Simply put, this means having the fuel available to conduct the work. Higher intensity work requires carbohydrates in order to complete it, but our carbohydrate stores are not indefinite. With our muscles and liver saturated in carbohydrates (muscle glycogen when it’s in the muscles), we have perhaps enough carbohydrates to fuel 90 minutes of high intensity exercise. This is why consuming carbohydrates is vital to allow for prolonged high intensity work. When we do not consume enough carbohydrates, we are unable to complete exercise at higher intensities, as even with a lot of fuel in even a very learn person’s fat stores, fat metabolism requires more oxygen to break down than carbohydrates so can’t be done when oxygen demands are very high such as high intensity exercise. This means the only way that we can continue to exercise is to reduce the intensity dramatically. This is likely the feeling you will have encountered if you’ve ever suffered the dreaded bonk. Your legs go heavy and there is no intensity that you can produce other than one that is essentially just turning the legs very, very easily.

Fortunately, this one is probably the easiest form of fatigue to combat. We simply must ensure that A) we’ve consumed sufficient carbohydrates in both the day leading up to, and on the morning of, exercise, and B) for exercise sessions longer than 90 minutes that we consume carbohydrates during the session as well. The amount of carbohydrates that you can consume depends on your ability to process them. Traditionally, we’ve been told that 60 g an hour was the maximum we could consume. This then increased to 90 g an hour when a mix of fructose and glucose was consumed. Nowadays it is considered that up to 120 g of carbohydrates can be consumed per hour when mixing different carb sources –  as long as our gut has been trained to deal with the high carbohydrate load. It’s important to consume the carbohydrates before we feel that we need them. Once we hit the point of fatigue due to lack of fuel, it’s too late as the time required to get the carbohydrates into the working muscles means we’ll have to spend a period of time working at a very low intensity in order to recover. For those just starting out with carbohydrate fuelling, it’s best to start with maybe 40-60 g an hour. After that, you can train with increasingly higher carbohydrate loads to improve your body’s tolerance to carbs and ability to utilise them.

Heat fatigue (a good fan and cooling of the hypothalamus)

Heat fatigue affects us in several ways. The main one we’re going to talk about is heat production itself and how that affects both the muscles’ ability to contract and also our ability to utilise fuel sources. When we work in hot environments, we become less able to use fats as fuel and more reliant on carbohydrates, which itself causes greater hydrogen ion production and therefore quicker onset of fatigue. The big issue with heat is when it affects our core temperature as, when that increases, a lot of enzymes in the body are unable to function properly and we therefore lose certain functions such as the ability to break down fuel.

The other way in which heat causes eventual fatigue is by dehydration. When we become dehydrated, we experience a reduction in our salt balance as salt is required to move water from within the body to outside the body to allow evaporation to cool us down: this is essentially sweating. With salt levels reduced (often called electrolytes), we lose some of our signalling capacity which is how our muscles contract and release. You may feel particularly bad cramps after being dehydrated, for example when your calf muscles tense up without any conscious intention to do so. This happens due to electrical signals not been passed properly to the muscles, and all muscle cross bridges by nature are contracted, hence why rigor mortis occurs in bodies. We actually release the muscle cross bridges with energy so dehydration, often accentuated by heat, can cause cramping by failure to release – or relax – the muscles.

There are various ways to reduce the impact of heat fatigue. One method is heat acclimatisation which essentially involves training in a hot environment more regularly and increasing our ability to sweat in order to reduce body temperature. Additionally, it has been found that making sure the hypothalamus section of the brain is cool has a significant effect on body temperature. An easy way of doing this is by putting an ice pack on the back of your neck. Ensuring that you have a good quality fan in your turbo room, as well as maybe a dehumidifier, will also go quite a long way to reducing the impact of heat on your performance. Another very simple way to combat dehydration is not only to consume enough water but also to ensure that enough salt is being consumed. This is hard to get exactly right unless you have your sweat tested for the amount of salt per millilitre and then also have your sweat rate tested. However, the amount of salt required is often higher than you would expect when exercising hard in the heat. 

Hopefully you found this piece interesting. Let us know any stories of how fatigue has really hit you and how you combatted it.

This article only scratches the surface of what fatigue mechanisms exist within the body. For more information on different types of fatigue, there is a very comprehensive scientific review out there: Allen, D. G., Lamb, G. D., & Westerblad, H. (2008). Skeletal muscle fatigue: cellular mechanisms. Physiological reviews.

Should cyclists do Strength training?

Short answer, yes! But what are the benefits of Strength and Conditioning for cyclists? Let’s dive into some of them and investigate further…

Power

This is probably the most commonly-suggested reason as to why cyclists should include Strength and Conditioning (S&C) as part of their training plan. There have been countless studies looking at how S&C helps increase cycling power, but it will probably surprise a few people to hear that the power benefits lie beyond just sprint performance. There’s no doubt that, for track or road sprinters, lifting heavy and fast helps with the generation of force and results in an increase of fast twitch muscle fibres (Type 2B or Type 2X or Fast Glycolytic fibres) which are capable of producing large amounts of power quickly. But a lot of research has found that S&C also improves power output during time trial events where oxidative muscle fibres are the main producers of force, as well as increasing overall speed/performance. Some weight focussed cyclists may be worried about building muscle and gaining weight, but when it comes to leg muscle, increased quadriceps cross-sectional area has been linked closely with increased power and performance, as can be seen in the study by Vikmoen et al., 2016 (see references). So, although weight might go up a fraction, the W/kg equation will likely remain the same or increase and, if it remains the same, then performance on the flats and downhills will improve while uphill performance remains the same.

Efficiency and Economy

Another big why cyclists should do strength and conditioning is efficiency and economy. Economy relates to the amount of power you can generate at a given percentage of your VO2max or oxygen consumption, a little like your miles to the gallon. Efficiency relates to the amount of work you can generate for a given energy expenditure. So, if you are using 2 litres of oxygen per minutes (the average for untrained women) and producing 150 watts, S&C could improve your economy and increase that power to 160 watts for the same oxygen consumption. If you are expending 4000 kilojoules of energy an hour, but only 800 kilojoules of that is going to the pedals, you have an efficiency of 20%, fairly common in road cyclists as we generate a lot of excess heat energy. However, if you can put down 1000 kilojoules to the pedals, your efficiency increases to 25%. Studies such as Sunde et al., 2010 have shown that S&C training can increase both cycling economy and efficiency.  

Time to Exhaustion

As a result of this improved efficiency and economy, another area found to be improved by S&C is the time to exhaustion (TTE). This is often referred to as the time it takes to not be able to continue exercise while performing at a steady state, be that FTP (not our favourite measure), Critical Power, a set percentage of VO2max, or Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS) etc. So, let’s say you did an FTP test and you held 300 watts for an hour, your TTE would be 60 minutes. Studies have found that after an intervention of S&C training alongside cycling (compared to just cycling), TTE does increase. This is supported by Sawyer et al., 2014, who attributed it to an increase in Watts Prime (W’) but interestingly did not find an increase in CP in their participants. However, with a static CP and a higher W’, the TTE will be decreased and ability to maintain powers about CP will increase.

Position

Another key point relating to performance is position, specifically with regard to aerodynamics. We see a lot of the pros in some amazingly aerodynamic positions that look near enough contorted, and yet they are still putting out large amounts of power with a very reduced hip angle and a lot of pressure on the shoulders and triceps. This is where a full body approach to S&C is very important, as to maintain these very fast and efficient positions, a great amount of core (trunk) strength and stability is required, as well as a good functional range of motion in the hip, and not having a tight posterior chain or even back and shoulder muscles. 

Injury Prevention 

Another issue that cyclists can encounter if they don’t do S&C is injuries. We’ve heard of overuse injuries, imbalances, muscle tightness, or even joint issues. Correctly prescribed and properly performed S&C can help to prevent these, as it enables us to strengthen the tendons and ligaments concerned in order to avoid damage to them, as well as to the muscles themselves. When we stretch out not just the tight muscles but also the rest of the muscles along the chain (a tight shoulder can lead to referred pain in the back of the knee), we can increase joint stability and strength by ensuring the muscles around them are strong and functioning properly (shoulder, hips and knees are a common one for this). S&C is particularly good for this as cycling doesn’t necessarily work the muscles which need to be strong in order to reduce chances of injury. Additionally, cycling is a concentric exercise (muscle shortening), whereas eccentric stimulus (muscle lengthening) has been found to be even better for strengthening muscles. 

Long Term Health 

Finally, we have probably the most important one and the reason why everyone should be doing resistance training or S&C. As cyclists, we don’t experience much impact exercise; it is also a weight limited sport where disordered eating is common. A negative impact of both of these is decreased bone mineral density, which can result in the early onset of osteopenia or osteoporosis. Strength training significantly improves bone mineral density as well as increasing muscle strength, which is very helpful for maintaining proper posture, supporting the bones to reduce the chances of them getting damaged, and maintaining a higher metabolism. Another benefit of this is that, in the long term (decades), performance will be better maintained and/or the rate of decline of the performance will be heavily reduced. 

So, if you’ve read this and think you’d benefit from including S&C training alongside your on-bike training, please get in touch as we can offer you full S&C programming, tailored to your individual needs, to help facilitate maximum performance gains and assist with injury prevention. 

References

Vikmoen, O., Ellefsen, S., Trøen, Ø., Hollan, I., Hanestadhaugen, M., Raastad, T., & Rønnestad, B. R. (2016). Strength training improves cycling performance, fractional utilization of VO2max and cycling economy in female cyclists. Scandinavian journal of Medicine & Science in sports26(4), 384-396.

Sunde, A., Støren, Ø., Bjerkaas, M., Larsen, M. H., Hoff, J., & Helgerud, J. (2010). Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(8), 2157-2165.

Sawyer, B. J., Stokes, D. G., Womack, C. J., Morton, R. H., Weltman, A., & Gaesser, G. A. (2014). Strength training increases endurance time to exhaustion during high-intensity exercise despite no change in critical power. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research28(3), 601-609.

Session of the week #6: 1 on:1 off – a balanced first introduction to structured training 

Original article and downloadable session available here.

Do if… you want to start including intervals into your rides for fitness gains

Ready to get fit through cycling? This cycling workout is great for both those first dipping their toes into structured training, as well as seasoned athletes looking to build up their fitness again after a long time off the bike for whatever reason. 

For everybody, there is the temptation to jump straight in with the most brutal workout you can find – start as you mean to go on, right? But really, that just spells a one-way ticket to common cycling injuries, ironically leaving you with more time off the bike. 

This cycling workout will get you working, expanding good levels of energy and stimulating those signals which tell your body that these muscles are being used. At the same time, this workout isn’t so intense as to risk any strains, here we’re building the foundations of fitness in the right order.

So, what’s in store? We’ll be starting off with a 10 minute warm-up followed by five one-minute efforts at threshold, each followed by one-minute really easy pedalling. After that first ‘block’, it’ll be five more minutes of recovery and then repeating that one-minute ‘on’ / one-minute ‘off’ block.

You should feel your legs working in the efforts, but it shouldn’t be anything like an all-out sprint for the line. Think about the kind of intensity you’d be putting in when cycling into a hard headwind or up a long – but only moderately steep – hill.

For those using and training with a power meter or heart rate monitor and who know their training zones, you’ll know what constitutes a Threshold – or Z4 – effort. But you can just plug your FTP or Critical Power (CP) into this session and it’ll work out all the numbers for you. 

But be warned: if you are coming back from a long time off, your numbers are likely going to be very different to what they were. And jumping straight in with an FTP test as your first time on the bike isn’t a particularly pleasant way to get going – best build yourself up training on feel just initially. 

SIMPLY EXPLAINED

For those of us who have just started riding, all these numbers and power thresholds can be quite daunting. If you have acquired a power meter, you might not have done a power test yet, or even know how to! Although it is beneficial to have done a power test before doing these sorts of efforts, they can still be done using the power that you know you can maintain for a local 10 mile time trial. If you haven’t done one of those, you can do this cycling workout at the power that you can maintain for a 10 minute climb, with a reduction of 10 to 20 per cent.

For those without a power meter, you can use heart rate but, to make sure that the efforts are consistent, you can track your average heart rate during each minute and try and keep this the same. Your heart rate will increase during the efforts but you want to make sure you are not hitting your max heart rate. Essentially, you are looking for each effort to be around the same average heart rate and also the same peak heart rate.

For those without a power meter or heart rate monitor, you can do this based on RPE. It can be a bit difficult to gauge what the effort feels like as this effort sustained for 20 minutes will feel a lot harder than sustained for one minute. A good rule of thumb would be that each one minute interval feels like a seven out of 10. So, it is a hard effort, but one that feels like it would be easily sustainable for longer than the one minute.

The benefits to this cycling workout are various. It does produce a training stimulus due to having to start the effort, have a short break, and then start another effort – a bit like doing micro intervals but on a slightly larger scale. You can read more about some of this benefits in the explainer to a 20/40s cycling workout. For the most part though, the session presents a good opportunity for people to begin adding intervals and structure into their training.

GOLDEN RULE

Don’t start the first effort too hard or, by the time you get to the later effort, it will feel too difficult. Pacing can be a tricky thing to learn in the early stages and it might be that the first few times you do the session, you do the first couple of efforts too hard. However, the more familiar you become with judging your own internal sensations whilst riding, the better you will get at pacing your efforts without using either heart rate or power. 

SUNNY OUT? HOW ABOUT…

For riding outdoors, this cycling workout requires a little thoughtful planning as it involves quite a long period of alternating focused effort and rest. There are several ways to approach this. The first is to find a 10 minute section of flat or rolling road that doesn’t have any disruptions like tight corners, junctions or traffic lights. You can do your one minute of threshold and then your one minute of rest easily as, on the flats, you can rest properly. You then need to repeat this five times in total to do one effort block. The rest between effort blocks can be extended slightly to suit your needs.

The other way of doing the cycling workout is to do it on a climb that is 10 minutes long. This can be a bit more difficult as the rest period is going to be harder because you will need to push out more power on the climb than you would on the flats. However, it is still possible to complete the workout this way.