What's Cool In Road Cycling

Be Your Own Coach I: The Basics

Toolbox has always been about bringing scientific concepts from the lab out onto the open road. However, no matter how well-educated one becomes in the science of cycling, applying it still is best done through the conduit and guidance of a coach. We kick off a series on the basics underlying coaching, whether it’s self-coaching or with a professional…

Building a Mystery
There have been numerous books written over the years that twists cycling training into gnarled knots made of numbers, calculations, complex biological explanations and secret formulas with x’s and y’s. And now with the advent of the power meter, those training books have an even great opportunity to quantify and complicate cycling training.

Now this might seem strange coming from the keyboard of someone who makes a living as a coach, but IT’S NOT THAT COMPLICATED. Now this is of course not to say that having a coach can’t be immensely beneficial. Since starting Liquid Fitness 6 years ago, I’ve coached over 100 cyclists at all levels including numerous state champions and national medalists, but do you want to know a secret? I still have my own coach.

Coach a Coach?
He’s the same coach who brought me up from a Cat 4 to a Cat 1 and I’ve been with him for nearly 10 years. He offers a distinctive, objective observation of my training, gives me someone to bounce ideas off of and perhaps most importantly, makes me accountable to someone so I am less likely to skip workouts. Could I coach myself? Of course, but our relationship has been important to my success as a racer and as a coach and there is no reason to give that up.

However, even those who are serious about improving may not be able to afford a coach or would even want to be constrained to a strict training program. For many, downloading data and checking in every day with a superior can make cycling seem too much like work. Unfortunately, there is so much information out there (much of it too complicated for the average cyclist) that self coaching can be a confusing and daunting endeavor. This 4 part series will attempt to break down the mystery behind cycling training and simplify it so that anyone at any level can get more out of their training.

Coaching Series Outline
One warning before we start. I’m going to make it as easy as possible, but there is still some work you will have to do. 99% of that work involves paying attention to and tracking how your body responds to training. If everyone was the same, I could write you a training program right here and now and you’d all have pro contracts by the end of the year, but that’s not the case. You must learn to listen to your body!

In this first article, I’ll start with the basics of setting up a training schedule. Keep in mind that I will be writing very much in generalities here. The whole idea is to break down the information to a basic level so that you can then digest it and modify it to fit your goals, your experience and the way your particular body responds to training.

Let’s start with setting up your basic weekly and monthly schedule. In the next article, we’ll delve into dividing the training year into sections and the types of workouts you should be doing during each time period. In the last two, I’ll sort through some of the most frequently asked questions I get asked as a coach such as ‘What do I do if I miss a day of training?’ and ‘Should I ride when I’m sick?’

I’m assuming most of you are at least somewhat familiar with this term, but basically it is the idea that in order to reach peaks and avoid plateaus, an athlete must vary their training throughout the year in accordance with their season’s goals. There are really just 2 basic things you need to know about periodization training and I will state them as simply as possible.

1) Fitness improves during recovery from training stress or overload as your muscles, heart and lungs repair themselves.

2) If you do the same type of training for too long, the body will become efficient at that type of training to the point that the training will cease to cause stress or overload to the body.

Of course there’s much, much more to it than that, but if you know those 2 simple facts, you are well on your way to becoming your own coach. Now I’ll break those two rules down into a little more detail.

Yin and Yang of Effort versus Recovery
You must cause damage to your body and then give it proper recovery in order to increase your fitness. In order to maximize results, you need to find the optimal amount of overload and the optimal amount of recover time for your particular body. Too much overload leads to overtraining and too much recovery will yield less than stellar results. This rule begs several questions and applies on several levels. First, on a daily basis, (e.g., how many intervals should you do and how much recovery do you need between intervals?). Then on a weekly basis (e.g., how many days of intensity per week do you need and how many recovery days do you need?). And then on a monthly basis (how many weeks of intensity can you do before you need a week of recovery?). The response to these three questions things depends completely on the individual rider and the type of training that they do, but here are some basic guidelines to help you figure out your own limits

Now I’m going to make several generalities. These recommendations are starting off points that you can use to launch your own training program.

1) On average, most riders can handle 3 days of intensity per week. Some can only handle two and others can handle 4. Remember, more is not always better!

2) On average most riders can handle 3 weeks of progressing intensity before needing a rest week. Some riders can only handle 2 and others can handle 4 or 5.

3) On average, the body starts to become efficient and ceases to adapt after 2 to 4 weeks of the same type of training.

The Work of Assessment
So you might be thinking, ‘well this doesn’t really help me much, how do I know which type of rider I am?’ This is where that “work” I mentioned before comes in. You will have to test yourself and keep a journal to find out what works best for you. As you begin to test your abilities and your limits, follow the basic rules laid out below.

1) You should be able to do all your intervals during a given workout without losing significant amounts of power. If you notice a significant drop in power or Critical Distance, then it is probably time to wrap it up.

2) The same applies to your weekly load. You should be exhausted by the time you get to the last interval session of the week, but not to the point where you can’t complete the session.

3) Each week of your training cycle should become progressively harder either in intensity or mileage or both. If you have to pull back before the end of the cycle, you probably started the first week too hard.

4) By the last interval of the last day of the last week of a training cycle, you should be utterly wasted. This is called overload. It is different than overtraining because of rule 4.

5) However long you decide to make your cycle (whether it is 3 or 5 weeks long), you should be able to recover from it in 3 or 4 days. By the end of your 7 day recovery week, you should be climbing the walls feeling rested and itching for intensity.

For some of you, this may all seem like pretty basic information while others might be left even more bewildered and confused about training than when we started. However, I hope that you all got at least a basic understanding of how the body works and why it is so important to understand the signals and signs that your body is constantly sending you. No matter what, you are probably left with a lot of questions. What constitutes intensity? How many intervals should I do? How long and hard should my intervals be? What constitutes a rest week? All of those questions will be addressed in the next episode of this series.

In the meantime, try to apply some of these concepts to your current routine. If you’ve been doing the high intensity group rides 6 days a week for the last 3 months, take a week away and just ride easy or take some time off the bike completely. After a recovery week, slowly start adding some intensity. In the first week back, do two of the group rides. In the second week do 3. On the third week, do the rides hard and add in a race. See how you feel. Observe the differences in your strength and speed and WRITE IT ALL DOWN! Then next month when I write about specific types of training and intervals, you’ll already have an idea of how you want to structure your training.

Concept of Power III: Critical Distance

About Josh:
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services check out contact [email protected] or check out his website at

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