Sign up for our newsletter

Train smarter, not longer

29 Sep 2021

There's no substitute for time in the saddle when it comes to improving as a cyclist, but it's how you use that time that really counts

Traditionally, it was thought that the more time you spent in the saddle, the better you’d be as a cyclist. The idea was that nothing compares to hours trained when it comes to racing and competing, and you’d be found out at the first sign of a shift in the gradient if you hadn’t been putting in the hard graft.

While this still rings true to an extent – you’re not going to be getting a KOM without practising hill climbs – there’s a difference between getting in the miles and training smart. And it doesn’t require the riding schedule of a WorldTour pro.

Making your training efficient

Training smart essentially means using your time in the saddle wisely. Going out for a casual 100km ride with friends is a nice way to spend a Saturday morning, but if that’s the only type of riding you do, it’s only going to get you so far when it comes to physiological adaptations and improvements.

While you’ll certainly have a solid aerobic base, you might still be left wanting when the pace picks up. And if you never change things up, you could even start to lose fitness as training stress goes down.

To counter this, you should look to train at a variety of intensities. This doesn’t mean turning those weekend rides into serious smash-ups, but instead shifting a portion of your training to focussed sessions that add some spice to proceedings.

If you’re thinking, ‘How can I fit these extra sessions into my already busy schedule?’, then you’re in luck. The beauty of training smart is that, if you’re not already doing it, the shift is quite a simple one – and can even be based on your current training load. By adding the likes of tempo blocks, interval training and threshold drills into your riding, you’ll start to work your higher aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.

This will not only improve your top end, but it will also boost your aerobic base in the process, meaning you’ll be able to hold the same pace on low-intensity rides for even less effort.

Training smart could be as simple as attacking some hill climbs on your long ride or holding a higher pace for a section of your pre-work spin. Alternatively, if you wanted to take your training up a notch, you could switch some rides from the road to a smart turbo trainer.

Not only do they make it easier to train more accurately at specific and predetermined intensities – boosting performance results in the process – but turbo trainers take away some of the negatives of training on the road, such as unpredictable weather, varying gradients and other road users. Whether you train indoors or out, this shift in trained-at intensities will leave you with performance improvements that wouldn’t have been possible had you stayed pootling around in zone 2.

Finding the right balance

If training hard is going to lead to such big improvements, you might be left wondering why you can’t ditch the long rides completely and take a shortcut by switching solely to high-intensity and sweetspot work. The key, though, is balance.

For example, a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session is beneficial because it is just that – high-intensity. It challenges you and your body to ride for short bursts at levels that you wouldn’t normally sustain in a longer block. A HIIT session is a great way of improving your VO2 max and threshold power in a seriously short space of time. But to get the most out of it, your body needs to be able to push beyond what’s comfortable, which isn’t physically possible if it’s still recovering from the last session.

That’s why training smart involves a smorgasbord of intensities that will help improve the breadth of your cycling ability. All of the various sessions fit together like a puzzle and complement each other to help build up your overall fitness efficiently and quickly. It also means that time-poor cyclists can still make for very competent riders – it’s just about maximising the time that you do have. 

The smartest way of training yet

Pulling together a training plan that does all of the above has historically been something that takes a bit of trial and error or the services of a qualified coach. However, the new Wahoo SYSTM Training app aims to make it as simple as tapping a button.

The app has a huge library of immersive cycling workouts that are personally tailored to you via the Four Dimensional Power® system developed by the Wahoo Sports Science Division.

Whether you’re preparing for an event or simply looking to build fitness on the bike, the Wahoo SYSTM training plan builder creates a schedule of workouts that will help you reach your goal, and the workouts update with your progress – meaning you’re able to squeeze progression out of every last second spent in the saddle, ensuring no wasted miles. Plus you can easily add in strength training, yoga and mental training to any training plan to keep yourself well-rounded.

So if you’re looking to take your cycling to the next level, but struggle to find more time to do so, start thinking about training smarter instead of longer.

• To find out how Wahoo SYSTM can boost your training, try now with a 14-day free trial