Stephen S. Cheung, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Dalhousie University
Christmas is fast approaching, and most of us are probably hoping (or actively hinting to Santa, family and friends) that the latest techno gadget will be waiting for us underneath the tree on Christmas day. The bicycling industry is a big-bucks industry, and its marketing goal is to convince you that the path to fitness and better race performance is through buying the latest and greatest. But is that gold-plated Giant going to propel you to the top of the podium? Just like that twinge of guilt as you reach for that extra cup of eggnog, you know deep down that fitness can only be earned through smart training. Hey, there’s a reason why a clichй is a clichй, and that’s because there is a big kernel of truth in there! As you’re making your resolutions this year, make this the season that you resolve to not only train but to train smart.
How do I define smart training? I define it as consisting of three critical components: 1) clear and realistic goals; 2) self-knowledge; and 3) making every training minute count. Let’s take a look at each of these components:
Clear and realistic goals
The very first thing I ask athletes is to tell me their goals. Without goals, training loses focus and it becomes very easy to lose motivation, especially during the long winter. Your goals can be as simple as wanting to lose weight or as ambitious as turning pro in two years. Your long-term goals must stretch you to your limits yet be realistic given your abilities, training history, and time commitment. If the goals are set too high, then you’re not going to commit to them because you know deep down that they aren’t realistic. Goals should also be very specific so that you have a clearly defined target. These goals can be race goals (e.g., top 3 at District RR Champs) or performance goals (e.g., attain a lactate threshold of 350 W by July 8, 2003).
The second thing I ask athletes is to walk me through their training diaries. We discussed the critical role of self-knowledge a couple of articles ago when we went through some of the important information that can be found within your training diary. Make a resolution to maintain a training diary beginning this year. My personal favourite is the Crosstrak (www.crosstrak.com) training diary software, but I don’t really care whether it is software, a custom spreadsheet, tables, or even just writing in a blank logbook. The important thing is that you log your training and that you can interpret it. Some of the important things you should consider logging besides your workouts include sleep and dietary pattern and quality, along with mental state and periodic recording of your resting heart rate and weight. Also, it is very useful to log both your intended and actual workouts so that you can check for ideal versus realistic training patterns.
Making every minute count
The worse thing I hate to see is an athlete stepping out the door with no rationale for their workout that day. If you do that, then you’re an addict and not an athlete. This applies equally whether you are a professional whose sole job is to train or if you are a busy professional who has to shoehorn cycling in between work and family commitments. From the above two parts, you should know exactly what your strengths and limiters are, and also what you are aiming towards this season. You must now set up a plan that is custom-tailored for yourself, based on your own physiology and your targets. Too many of us keep training our strengths and neglect our limiters. For example, if most of your races are crits and you keep getting dropped in them, why are you spending all your time riding big mountains?
The off-season is terrific because all things are possible and we all win every race on our schedule. Now is the time to make a concrete plan towards making those dreams a reality. I’ll be writing in future articles about specific components of a well-designed training plan. Give me an email if there are any specific training questions you want me to address in 2003, and have a great holidays!
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He has been an avid roadie since beginning university in the mid-eighties, and still has non-indexed downtube shifters on his winter bike and wool jerseys hanging in his closet. He can be reached for advice or comments at email@example.com