Cycling & Training Articles

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My columns are often focused on some way that you can optimize your training, often in terms of fitting it in, balancing the workload or analyzing your data. While those things are helpful for athletes with some training history, if you’re at the newer end of the spectrum, you may still be overwhelmed by the whole process, let alone the terminology. Chances are you got into endurance sports because there was some appeal, whether fitness, fun or something else altogether. You might find yourself frustrated trying to understand or figure out the best path forward. My advice: start with what’s simple.

There are certain undeniable necessities to endurance sports: a bike and helmet for instance, running shoes, access to some body of water (indoors or out), appropriate clothing for the given activity, etc. Beyond that, there are many other gizmos and accessories that can be added to the top of the pile--and they may well improve the experience--but aren’t absolute necessities. Cycling shoes are a good example. They are certainly nice to have and accessible enough...

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A common thread in many of our early-season workouts is Sweet Spot training. There are many benefits to this type of work, but the primary reason we include it is because it offers most of the benefits of threshold training while allowing for faster recovery over threshold work. Despite this, it seems many athletes find these workouts quite challenging, so this article will lay out what Sweet Spot is, what it does and how to get the most benefit from this type of training.

First, what is Sweet Spot all about? Training zones don’t have firm start and stop points; the top end of one range overlaps the bottom of the next. While the goal often may be to train in the middle of a target range, Sweet Spot is a bit different. You want to target the transition point between tempo and threshold. Different training models will express this differently, one says Sweet Spot happens at 83-97%, another recommends 88-92%. This variation is likely part of the confusion. Looking at these numbers, the average athlete can span a pretty large power range, 30-35 watts.

Rather than worrying...

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You may be wondering how you as a dedicated roadie can benefit from the sport of cyclocross. There are many reasons, some compelling, and some just fun!

Variety

The first great reason for a roadie like yourself to test out the cyclocross waters is simply because cyclocross is a great change of pace from the day to day road riding scene. Tired of hanging out with the same guys, meeting at the same coffee shop, and riding the same old road routes over and over? Cyclocross allows you to take a break from all that, and get to know a whole new group of cycling fanatics. It may also allow you to beat up on some of the strong men on the road who may not be quite as strong when the rubber leaves the asphalt. Cyclocross will also give you a new appreciation for those parks that you fly by in the peloton and barely even notice. Who'd have known that such a little patch of grass could cause such a world of pain?

Seasonal Motivation

A second great way that roadies will benefit from cyclocross is most...

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Endurance sports and competition require a lot of practice. The amount of time spent preparing for even a single event dwarfs the actual duration of the event. This huge volume of training is necessary, not only to develop the physical reserves to handle the demands of the event, but also to train the body in efficient movement patterns to maximize economy. When it comes to competition, it’s never quite the same as training.

While it’s certainly possible to prepare yourself to complete a century, a triathlon or even a 5k, when you begin to move along the spectrum from completing to competing (for the win, against your age group or even against your own previous performance), a more advanced skill-set needs to be developed. The only way to really do this is through practice. In mass-start bicycle racing--track, criterium, road, cyclocross and mountain bike--there is a lot to keep track of and the mind must be constantly alert. Focus can be narrowed a bit in individual competitions such as time trials, triathlons and running events, but achieving your best still requires a...

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Training consistently is one of most important components of sustained athletic growth.

However, it is the rare working athlete who can make it through an entire season without some interruption. For some athletes, planned vacations or work-related travel may get in the way, and figuring out a plan of attack in these situations is relatively manageable. The more challenging interruptions are those that creep up unexpectedly such as long days at the office, sudden trips, changing family obligations or illnesses and injuries. The goal of this article is to offer practical solutions to a few of the situations that can keep athletes from the consistent routines they strive for.

The easiest interruptions to deal with are those that you see coming. Planned trips offer a greater opportunity to organize trip logistics so that the impact on your training is minimal. If you know you will be spending some time away from your bike or a pool, you may be able to adjust your training ahead of time to include a bike or swim focus, allowing you to use the time away as recovery from...

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The outdoor road season has finally arrived! Now that you've moved your ride outside, make sure you maintain your focus on safety! First a review…

1.Bike Check

2. Obey Road Signs

3. Head UP!

4. Communication is Key!

5. Ride Predictably And now for part two…

6. Respect Traffic

  • This includes all road signs and rules of the road
  • Ride single file (riding 4 or 5 across the lane upsets drivers in cars!)
  • Stay close to the right at all times
  • Keep groups small, 10-15 at most
  • Divide larger groups into two or three smaller chunks (makes it easier for cars to pass)

7. VQ Certification

  • 90 minutes to teach turning, getting in/out of pedals, bike safety, road safety

8. Stay within Limits

  • Bad decisions come from pushing limits too far (no oxygen to the brain!) and lead to dangerous situations
  • There will be plenty of time to push yourself hard later when you’re more comfortable

9. LSAP (Protocol for Group Rides)

  • When...
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The outdoor road season is quickly approaching! Maybe you’ve already gone for your first outdoor ride, maybe you’re starting to get the itch. Your ultimate goal? Safety!

1. Bike Check

  • Ideally, have your bike checked by a professional mechanic
  • If you’re taking on the bike check yourself, your goal is just to make sure everything is working properly
    • Drop your bike, listen for rattling sounds
    • Check tires for tread and air pressure
    • Ensure there is enough “meat” on brake pads
    • Are your skewers tight?

2. Obey Road Signs

  • Put your foot down at stop signs
  • Remain stopped until light turns green
  • Use your best judgment; some things cannot be avoided/adhered to but the traffic laws are there to protect everyone on the roadways

3. Head UP!

  • Don’t look at your wheel
  • Don’t look at the next bike’s wheel
  • Look ahead and you’ll avoid accidents!
  • Seeing what’s coming provides the ability to anticipate and avoid danger
  • Bonus:...
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I don't think there really should be such a thing for amateur athletes. To me, the off-season is about keeping your fitness, not losing it. After I finished my career as a pro cyclist, I still trained pretty hard in the spring and summer and thought I needed to take time off in the winter like I did when I raced professionally. I started to realize that the more time I took off, the harder and longer I had to work in the winter/spring to get myself back to where I was at the end of the season before. As I got older and trained less, I learned that I did not need a break from working out, but I did need something. That something ended up being quite simple. What I needed was a change!

Most of us do not do enough overall training volume to warrant taking time off. Now I know some of you are thinking, "I work out over ten hours a week all summer and I need a break". Yes and no. You may need a break from running, cycling or swimming, but you do not need a break from working out. While it's true that at 10 or even 15 hours a week you are working out a bunch, that is nothing...

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Training for any race or event goal is complex. There are some significant additional factors to consider any time you have a goal on your calendar that falls outside the traditional “season” for endurance sports. Depending on your location, the season usually begins in March or April and continues until September. For the sake of this article, we’ll consider anything outside of this time frame either off-season or out-of-season.

There is a crucial distinction between these two terms, and as a result, each will need to be approached differently. Off-season goals are those that are not central to your overall training and racing ambitions. In most cases, these goals simply fuel the competitive fire. Such goals are worthwhile because they make it easy to get a dose of high-intensity training without the psychological stress of an interval session. While it is important that your training be at a level to support your participation in the event, in general there is no need to make any modifications to your regular training routine.

Setting an off-season goal in an...

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At the end of a long season it is time to rest, recover and regroup. It’s time to transition off the road bike and onto the cross bike. It’s when I go back to the gym to work on strength, start running and skiing again and have more time to hang out with friends and family. It is also the time when, like other athletes at Vision Quest, I reflect on the season I’ve finished and set my goals for the year ahead both in terms of events and what parts of my fitness I am going to focus on improving. If weight loss is my goal, it is the perfect time to do it because I am not asking as much of my body as I do in-season (and with the impending temptations of holiday food, it’s always helpful to have a goal backing you up when turning down a second piece of pumpkin pie). This year I made the decision that once and for all I was going to lose those few extra pounds that I was lugging up climbs that my competition wasn’t.

Body weight is the number we’ve all been conditioned to look at. It is the metric which traditionally tells us if we are getting fatter or thinner. It is the number...

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For the last three months, Vision Quest members have been participating in the first annual VQ Off-Season Challenge (OSC). I am happy to report that it was a huge success on many levels.

For many endurance athletes, the off-season can be a confusing time. Some athletes need a big rest--physically, mentally or sometimes both. Others don't need much rest at all. This might stem from different physical needs like healing or needing to build strength. All of us need to focus on body composition and the off-season is a great time for this. Needs vary from athlete to athlete with some needing to build muscle, some needing to lose fat and others needing a combination of both. Then there are the athletes who have low bone density and need more weight-bearing activities. I think it is safe to say that everyone can improve something as it relates to body composition. Since this is the one thing we can all work on, we decided to do a challenge around it and thus, the Off-Season Challenge was born.

All the participants started the journey with a Dexa Scan in October. A Dexa Scan...

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Depending on the type of rider you are and your training background, group rides may make up a large component of your riding at certain times of the year or they may be something completely foreign to you. In the past, we have talked about the advantages and disadvantages of including group rides in the training program for more seasoned riders. Here we will offer some tips to help newer riders find an appropriate group and learn how best to fit into that ride.

If you have never been on a group ride before, you may feel intimidated by the size and speed of the group which may resemble organized (or unorganized) chaos. There are two basic patterns you will encounter on any group ride: 2x2 and rotating paceline.

Riding 2x2 is most practical for lower speeds up to about 22 mph. Two leaders ride side-by-side with the rest of the group lined up side-by-side behind them. The leaders pull for 2 to 5 minutes before pulling off to the outside of their lines and drifting to the back of the group. Simultaneously, the next two riders in line...

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By this time of the season, most of you are probably thinking, “I don’t want to do another CompuTrainer workout”. Unfortunately, the reality is that we have at least another month and quite possibly two during which most of us will be relegated to riding indoors or not at all. Over the years, we have had lots of questions about why things are the way they are during indoor rides, and oftentimes the answer is something simple that has just slipped through the cracks. Other questions persist because certain elements of CompuTrainer function are counterintuitive to normal riding. Our objective here is to bring those items out in the open so that everyone can get the most of their indoor workouts. First, I offer a few points of background information simply to establish context. There are essentially five options you have when riding a VQ CompuTrainer, two manual modes and three connected to the computer. The two manual modes are PROGRAM and ERGO modes. Computer-controlled workouts include Courses, Multi-rider Workouts and ERG Videos. A brief description of each...

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The lure of a century or 100-mile ride captures the heart of many cyclists. The first one you complete is always a special achievement, and thereafter the goal is often to finish faster and faster. We all know that the fitness progression is not a continually upward trend. It comes with spurts of improvement and plateaus of performance that can become demoralizing. While it’s nice to see the fitness increasing, you don’t always have to look at your fitness level as the sole indicator of performance. Here are some tips to help you shave time off your century without changing your fitness level.

Finding a good group is the fastest way to a quicker finish because it instantly makes the ride 30% easier. However, finding the right group can be a challenge. Even moving fast, a century is a long ride. So you want to be careful not to overextend yourself in the first hour only to find yourself depleted in the last 20 miles. The ideal group should move at a pace close to your fitness level, ride predictably and keep the pace very steady. Faster and more chaotic groups not only waste...

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Most have likely encountered the term “FTP” in training parlance. The acronym stands for Functional Threshold Power and refers to maximum effort you could produce over an effort of roughly one hour. In comparison to a laboratory blood lactate test, FTP is a representation of work you can actually do, rather than analysis of physiological markers that correspond to a certain level of performance. FTP is commonly assessed indoors or outdoors through the completion of a 20-minute test. Because sustainable power for this duration will be higher than a full hour, the 20-minute test value is reduced by 5% to determine your FTP training value. The testing process is much maligned because, quite frankly, it’s not very fun. There is a lot of suffering if you are going for a truly maximal 20-minute effort, in both a physical and emotional sense. Many athletes are also reluctant to lay all their cards on the table. Particularly during the off-season when fitness is a bit lower, it can be disheartening to do your best and get a number that’s less than it has been in the past. Removing the...

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For most athletes, we’re now in the “off-season” timeframe. This part of the year is often characterized by less focused training, a less rigid diet and the accompanying loss in fitness and increase in weight. Many are also procrastinating on the start of their indoor training in the hopes that summer will swing back through for one last blast before we succumb fully to the icy chill of winter.

Robbie has talked in the past about how most working athletes don’t really need time off in the off-season because the load they accumulate over the course of the season just isn’t enough to really require a physiological break. Significant losses in fitness can take place in as little as two weeks without training. In a month, fitness can be reduced 20%, and it’s a very precipitous slide from there on. The further fitness drops, the longer it will take to return to your former glory.

While it may be true that most of us don’t really need a full break, a phenomenon I’ve often observed over the years is that even highly motivated athletes hit a bit of a wall around this time of...

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Throughout the year, but especially during the off-season, you hear Robbie and me talk about setting reference points. We are often talking specifically about supermax testing, which comes around every 8-10 weeks. But if you have a power meter on your bike, every single ride you do becomes a reference point. This doesn’t mean you always have to be working at your limit, but most workouts have something to offer if you’re willing to spend a few minutes a day on post-ride analysis. If you don’t, you might be leaving something on the table in terms of your development as a cyclist, not to mention only getting a small portion of the value out of an expensive power meter.

It’s true that the key reference points everyone should know are those associated with each energy system. We often look at peak sprint power, 4-minute power for the VO2 system, 20-minute power for the threshold system and a steady 3-hour ride for aerobic fitness. These values are useful not only for measuring fitness gains in each system over time, but also as anchor values that will help you make an educated...

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Mechanical advantage: the advantage gained by the use of a mechanism in transmitting force; specifically: the ratio of the force that performs the useful work of a machine to the force that is applied to the machine (from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

The bikes we ride are full of mechanisms designed to increase mechanical advantage. From the balance that comes from the gyroscopic effect of a spinning wheel to the levers that help to manipulate our body’s actions on both the pedals and handlebars, the bike is all about making it easier for us to move faster. More important than anything else is the advantage we are afforded by our gearing.

Apart from fixed-gear and single-speed bikes, most bikes will have a range of gearing options divided amongst one to three front chain rings and an ever-increasing number of rear cogs. Shifters come in many shapes and sizes: combined shifters and brakes on road bikes, downtube shifters on old road bikes, bar ends on time trial bikes and handlebar shifters on mountain bikes. Shifting can be mechanical or electronic. No matter...

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Take your pick of cliché statements from motivational posters. In order to improve athletic performance, you have to exceed your previous limits to induce new change. But by how much do you need to exceed those limits? Put another way, how much should it hurt? The stimulus for growth can come from time, intensity or frequency of training. This is only the stimulus. Real growth occurs during recovery as the body responds to the stresses that were placed upon it in an attempt to gird itself against future assaults. If the stimulus imposed is too drastic, or rest is inadequate, you will overwhelm the body’s ability to respond and adapt.

In this article, we’ll take a look at this response on both the micro and macro levels.

Starting small, what should your daily workouts feel like? There is clearly a vast difference between an endurance workout and an intensity session. At low intensities, fuel availability is often the primary limiter. If you persist long enough, muscular fatigue may set in, but it’s likely that in most cases you’ll become bored before this point. An...

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As summer approaches and I look around at the dwindling bikes and empty CompuTrainers at VQ Chicago, I’m reminded of the words “commencement” and “culmination”. It’s so much like students leaving the classroom in anticipation of what lies ahead this race season. Our little VQers are gussied up in shimmering VQ Gear to head out into the oppressive heat of our Chicago sun, swim at Ohio Street Beach and ride the open country roads. The elements are begging almost as if they too have been waiting for VQers to take what they learned inside and see if they have what it takes to flatten those hills. This is also my time to reflect and see if my Functional Training students have learned anything during our short Fall/Winter/Spring seasons. In FT, we also modeled the cycling phases of Climbing, Endurance, Power and Strength. We train and we train, sometimes without looking at the benefits gained by the most overlooked aspect of endurance training: strength training (or in our case, VQ Functional Training). I know better than most that you can’t strength-train your way into a triathlon...

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We all ride bikes for different reasons, but mostly for the experience of riding them outside in great weather. With the outdoor weather looking really pleasant, it’s tempting to leave the trainer behind and start doing all of your training outside. Regardless of your goals, continuing to include a ride on the indoor trainer once a week is beneficial to continued forward progress. Here are a few reasons you may not want to put that trainer tire too far out of reach:

  • Trainers are more specific: most people have to deal with intersections and variable terrain outdoors, which can make sticking to workout goals challenging. The trainer allows you to dial in your resistance perfectly.
  • Trainers are quicker: as a result of the increased specificity and lack of coasting, you can fit the same workout into a shorter timeframe. With longer rides, two hours indoors is comparable to a three-hour outdoor ride.
  • Trainers are safer: some athletes’ schedules put them outside in the dark or at times when traffic is...
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The leaves have fallen, the days have shortened. It’s time to face facts: we’re in the throes of winter.

Cyclists especially may experience a bit of dread at the thought of climbing back onto the CompuTrainers. Triathletes could be a little better off since runs and swims are less affected by weather and light, but they still might question how they’re going to deal with their cycling workouts. By incorporating a few tricks into the winter routine, all athletes should be able to continue training effectively through the colder months and come into the spring season ahead of the game.

One of the most important and often neglected components of endurance performance is movement efficiency. Being the most powerful athlete in a race won’t get you anywhere unless you are able to effectively translate that power to forward speed. The repetitive nature and single-plane movements of endurance sports tend to lead to overuse injuries and lateral muscle weakness and instability. Including two or three weekly functional training classes in your program will help to increase...

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Among exercising individuals, there are basically two types of people: those who are training for some defined goal at a designated future time and those who are merely exercising with a focus on fitness and health rather than performance. There is nothing wrong with being either one of those people, but it is necessary that your training habits align with the camp you have assigned yourself to.

First, let’s define just what is meant in each instance. Training is a purpose-driven endeavor aimed at a specific target and normally both highly rigorous and highly regimented. Working out, on the other hand, is characterized by a more casual and less focused approach to exercise. It is impossible to establish an objective criteria stipulating where we draw the line, as the distinction is more about attitude than volume. It is quite possible that someone who only “works out” exercises more frequently and with greater vigor than another person “trains.” How is this possible, you might ask?

A beginning athlete may be earnestly pursuing his/her first goal, whether it is a bike...

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“Learn to listen to your body.” This is an important training concept at Vision Quest Coaching. What does it mean and in what context is it meant to be used?

Training requires the introduction of a stimulus to the energy system or systems being trained. Generally, this is in the form of an interval of work of various lengths and intensities depending upon the goal. An example: if strength is being trained, a common workout would be 4 intervals of 10 minutes each within a specific power range, pedaling at 50 to 60 rpm, with the low rpm being the key. This is our familiar interval SE.

Further, we know that we cannot train with intensity every day, that the recovery days of no training and/or easier training allow the muscles to rebuild and regenerate to become slightly stronger than before the interval. Train. Recover. Train. Recover. There is only so much intensity that can be exerted over a given period of time. There can be no real training gains without recovery.

But we do not train in a vacuum. We work, we have families, routines become interrupted, we catch...

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With a packed holiday schedule fast approaching, many people may be finding themselves stretched for workout time. Establishing a consistent routine is essential for those with busy schedules. Even for the busiest among us, there are usually 30 to 60 minutes available at some point during the day where we may be able to sneak in a quick ride or run, or some dynamic strength work. If you are traveling, establishing a routine may be more challenging in an unfamiliar setting. Regardless of your situation, here are some tips to ensure you’re not losing ground:

  • Get functional: a high-quality dynamic strength and stability routine can be completed in a very short time. Even if you only have a few minutes here and there, squeeze in a few exercises each time you have a break.
  • Be specific: if time is short, make your workouts count by focusing on something specific during the entire session: leg strength, pedaling skills, running form, swim stroke.
  • Work together: if traveling or vacationing with family, plan outings where you can spend time working out together....
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At Vision Quest Coaching, we’re all about objectivity. When introducing new features, products and services, we’re constantly looking for tools that can help reduce the guesswork and offer up “hard” details. At the same time, the objective answers aren’t always as cut and dry as we would like them to be. Training comes with a constantly changing landscape, and, as coaches and athletes, we should always remain mindful of the subjective details that add context to our objective numbers. A classic example of this is our Functional Threshold Power testing. The dreaded 20-minute test is used as a reference point for fitness and performance. This makes it useful as a starting point for applying training load, both indoors and outdoors. Changes in 20-minute power also provide insight into changes in fitness. Many athletes have unhealthy emotional connections to “their numbers,” and this can lead to elation or dismay depending on the outcome of the test.

The reality is many factors, apart from fitness, can alter the test result. Some of these include proximity of the last hard...

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As most of you are currently toiling away on the trainers, something that might be on your mind is a training camp. Maybe you are signed up for one already, are contemplating signing up or have been part of one in the past. There are many reasons to do camps, and they can be a great option for all types of athletes. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the different camp options and how to use them to your advantage.

What is a “camp”?

What we’re really talking about here are training blocks. A block can be any period of consecutive training days, usually three to five days, and somewhat longer than your typical rides. The training stimulus of each individual ride is amplified by the cumulative nature of the stress and fatigue that happens within the block.

This brief period of overload can be a useful way to jump-start your season by taking your fitness to a new level. Thinking in terms of training load for those familiar with that concept, acute training load (ATL) will increase rapidly in response to training and chronic training load...

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Math is great. Most of us probably take for granted how important it is in our daily lives. Behind all of our fancy cars, computers and mobile devices are complex equations designed to make our lives simpler.

However, when it comes to training, that basic math doesn’t always tell the entire story. It’s convenient to reduce training and performance down to formulas and percentages. Train your endurance system at 65% of threshold. Keep your fueling up with 200-300 calories per hour. An aerodynamic helmet will take 3 minutes off your Ironman bike leg. Sleep 8 hours per night to be fully recovered. These simplistic generalizations are helpful, but don’t tell the entire story.

In truth, every individual is unique. Different physiologies impact the optimal way each person should train, what the fatigue profile looks like, how the athlete should eat and how much recovery is needed. The huge anatomical variations also play into this uniqueness. How large? How dense? What is the range of motion? Let’s go back to the math. With enough variables and a suitably complex...

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Training consistently is one of most important components of sustained athletic growth.

However, it is the rare working athlete who can make it through an entire season without some interruption. For some athletes, planned vacations or work-related travel may get in the way, and figuring out a plan of attack in these situations is relatively manageable. The more challenging interruptions are those that creep up unexpectedly such as long days at the office, sudden trips, changing family obligations or illnesses and injuries. The goal of this article is to offer practical solutions to a few of the situations that can keep athletes from the consistent routines they strive for.

The easiest interruptions to deal with are those that you see coming. Planned trips offer a greater opportunity to organize trip logistics so that the impact on your training is minimal. If you know you will be spending some time away from your bike or a pool, you may be able to adjust your training ahead of time to include a bike or swim focus, allowing you to use the time away as recovery from...

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By their very nature, most cycling group rides are an exercise in chaos, hopefully a controlled chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Riders of different goals, backgrounds and fitness levels come together and are probably all looking for something different out of the experience. Often, there is no clear-cut outline of “what” the ride actually is, which is why factions can sometimes form in these groups. Under dire circumstances, splinter groups move away in different directions and the original group dissolves from lack of attendance or interest.

The way to avoid this is by establishing defined objectives for the designated audience. If you’ve been reading our newsletters for a while, you may remember Robbie talking about group rides a few years back and who really benefits from them. On the average group ride, the fastest riders don’t get much benefit because they’re never pushed hard enough to really experience any growth. The slowest riders likewise don’t get much out of the ride because they’re so busy just hanging on that they can’t actually participate in the group...

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