Cycling training by the numbers

From the beginning of this year, I've been more focused on my cycling training. With my new indoor bicycle mount, I was able to start cycling during the cold/rainy days.

Being a "geek" I also decided to learn the theory and focus on recording all the possible stats. There are several good articles that focus on CTL, ATL, TSB, but I wanted to rather share my own experience.

Gear, Devices and Software

I've always cycled a little. When I lived in London I had my first road bike for the daily commute. It cost just about £300 on Amazon for my first bike. After I've moved to the Hertfordshire and started enjoying road cycling more I have upgraded to Trek 1.1.

While my cycling equipment has been pretty basic, I have focused on performance data and planning using that to maximise my performance and make cycling more fun.

Devices

Most serious cyclists would use Garmin. I think it's a great device, but I have always been a big fan of using my phone as a cycling computer. There are some downsides, but also a lot of benefits. I always try to promote choice and standards. I am using Bluetooth LTE sensors together with iPhone 6s and occasional USB battery pack for longer rides, but this way I can use the best software for guidance and tracking.

I use Apple Watch (first model) which can now measure and actively transmit HR to iPhone's HealthKit making it available to all apps. Not a very reliable solution, sometimes it looses the reading and battery only holds for 5 hours, but it works 95% of the time.

The cadence sensor is another must-have, I've picked one from Wahoo for £30, accuracy hasn't been great but hopefully the firmware update I installed this morning would take care of that.

For indoor cycling, the speed sensor is also good, as it adds some realism to the exercises.

Software

I use 3 type of software - navigation, tracking and music. For the navigation, I have used TomTom in the past, but last 2 years I have switched to Komoot. I'm not sure why it's not being more popular in the UK, it has an amazing map (based on opencyclemaps), navigation directions and social features. Multi-point route planning can be done in the browser, on a big screen or directly in the app. Various pre-sets allow route planning for cycling with kids, road cycling or off-road. For comparison, Google Maps will give you always some type of one-fits-all cycle route.

Cyclemeter is a very powerful software, the best you can find really. Can't list all the great features here, but unique ones would be voice guidance for hitting your HR / Cadence targets, complex activity planning and historical stats.

Goal 1: Consistency

My first challenge was consistency with my training. I have looked in many places and settled on Today's Plan App. It collects data about your fitness, the amount of available time, habits and goals and creates a workout schedule for you. It's not just a simple repetitive workout, but a very enjoyable one, with a lot of variety, control over your load. It's a pleasure to follow the exercises and I've found that all the workouts would be very considerate to my level of fatigue.

(click to zoom).

This is my custom-configured dashboard where I make sure that I'm not pushing past my limits on exercise frequency.

Goal 2: HR(heartrate) Control

Once I managed to get my training consistently (4 times a week) my next goal was to learn how to control the heart rate. When you exercise, your heart can be beating faster or slower. Learning how to control the heart rate can be quite advantageous especially when you are not cycling on a flat road. For example, you may want to drop your HR before climb so that your muscles can store more oxygen and get you up without losing speed. Deciding on your target HR is also important when managing longer rides.

In addition to seing your HR for individual ride, the big picture is also very interesting:

(click to zoom). When I started my workouts I was mostly focused on endurance. My first ride I overworked myself because I managed my HR poorly. For my next 160 rides, I got a much better performance by having a better HR control.

Goal 3: Cadence

In the past, I would cycle in my highest gear but since I've got the plan and the sensors a lot of exercises have been focused on increasing rotational speed of the pedals (cadence). There are a number of advantages if you pedal faster. For me, it's a greater power control that also lets me control HR better, the ability to deal and recover from difficult climbs, etc.

Your goal is to never stop pedalling. Many would push it out then cruise while their muscles recover, but this way you loose a lot of energy and your average speed suffers. Flat road or indoor (or "cycle-master" in the gym) is a great way to train cadence.

The 80-90 rotations per minute are quite similar to the beats of DnB music, which helps a lot when exercising. Having consistent rotations helps you get over the difficult slopes if you keep cadence while shifting into the lower gear as necessary. If you plan the climb properly, you can output maximum amount of power without pushing your HR too high or killing your muscles.

Goal 4: Power and Energy

The amount of strength you put into pushing your pedals is the "power". Although I don't have a power meter I can now feel how hard I'm pushing. It's not always good to use your hardest push because in cycling sustain is much more important. When cycling in groups your goal is to save as much energy as you can by staying behind other cyclists and recovering before you push ahead of them.

Here is a typical scenario: you go at the speed of 27km/h fighting the wind and maintaining your HR at the lower end of your "threshold" zone (145bpm for me). You see a group of cyclists ahead of you doing 26km/h. Carefully judging the distance and your condition, you go into VO2 zone to catch up to them (160bpm, 100rpm). When you are caught up you stay within the 30cm gap and shift into higher gear to let your legs rest. Heart rate drops into Tempo zone (130bpm, 60rpm) and you stay like that for about 5 minutes. Before your HR slows down further make a push to get ahead of the group. You may either let them follow you or leave them behind. Try to maintain 30+km/h but slow down before to stay in your Threshold zone until you see next group.

Goal 5: Recovery

Being able to properly recover after events is important. I only have one bottle holder so sometimes I run out of water before reaching next stop (approx 35km distance). After the race is over, I keep a water bottle with me and make sure I can drink often, as my body absorbs the water back. It's important to plan how to get for a good meal after finishing a challenging ride. I am still trying to figure out what's the best way to deal with muscle soreness. After a few days rest I do a short cycling session, which always seems to go terribly bad but next day I'm back into action.

Goal 6: Don't overdo your exercises

Record and keep the history of your rides. I prefer variety on my rides, but I sometimes repeat my rides to see if I can beat the result. The reality is that during my training plan, I'm often carrying fatigue for the last few days of training. The results of the ride are not perfect, but that's to be expected. I still can't beat those old results on my most popular route:

If you prefer to train and ride with group/friends too, you should probably plan it in such a way, so that you don't over-burn yourself. Doing a proper pre-race regiment is very important and then your performance will be explosive on the event day.

Conclusion

If you are considering to do cycling more intensively, you'll discover that there is a lot of diversity, strategy, planning and enjoyment. There are ways to improve your bike by installing more expensive components, but there are also a lot of things you can do to maximise your own performance.

Follow me on Strava: https://www.strava.com/athletes/6086659