Monthly Training Tips
Whether you’re a first-timer wanting to make sure you’re ready, or a repeat rider wanting to come to the ride even more ready, we’re here for you. Below is some training advice from Steve Schulz, Cycle Oregon’s Ride Director, who also has a long background in fitness and adventure training. This is a general approach that provides a good framework for your training.
March: Base Fitness
So you’re going to join us for this year’s ride – congrats! September is a long way away at this point, right? Well, not really, when it comes to getting your fitness ready. You should be getting a baseline fitness plan started now. Starting this year with a good foundation will be the key to a successful Cycle Oregon experience. At this point, your training should consist of two to four days a week of cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness. While biking is an ideal cardio activity, at this time of the year you don’t have to be bike-specific; it can be pretty much anything – running, swimming, fitness classes – just some sort of prolonged activity that challenges you at least moderately. Depending on your fitness level coming into the month, this could be anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes in duration.
In addition to your aerobic activity, now is also a good time to implement a strength training and flexibility routine. A full-body strength training program twice week – and at least that many days of stretching each week, too – will start getting your body ready for the months of training ahead.
Hopefully by now you have several weeks of base fitness in, and are ready to start hitting the road. With breaks in the weather (and even if there aren’t breaks!) it’s time to get outside and on that bike. If you just can’t “weather” the weather, you can use a bike trainer/roller or join a spinning class. You should be shooting for three to four rides a week (spinning classes and indoor training sessions count).
Now is a great time to start working on your cycling posture. Your body may have changed since you’ve been on your bike last (for some of you it may have been at the end of Cycle Oregon last year!). You may feel a little different on the bike; things tight where they weren’t before, saddle not as comfortable as it used to be, etc. Think about keeping relaxed on the bike, with a flat back, open chest and knees tracking straight. Regularly change your position slightly, and do some on-the-bike stretches.
At this point you should be in full cycling mode. If you’ve been working on your aerobic base, strength, flexibility and posture, you’re well on your way. Now is the time to get efficient on that bike. In the months to come you’ll be pushing things a bit harder, so you want to make sure you don’t do that pushing with bad habits. If you develop maximum efficiency on the bike, your entire body – and your riding – will benefit from it. The key things here are your pedal stroke and cadence. Most of us can use work in these areas – even if we’ve been cycling our entire life. If you’re now riding four days a week, which ideally you are, you should work on these areas at least two of those days.
Your chain ring is in the shape of a circle – and your pedal stroke should be, too. Think about making a circle as you move through your stroke, not just pushing hard on the downstroke, which is very common. Unfortunately, if your pedal stroke consists only of the downstroke, you’re not efficiently utilizing the biggest muscle in the body (that would be your gluteus maximus – you know, the thing you sit on…). Its job is to extend the leg. While this happens a bit when you “push down,” unless you’re thinking about it you won’t typically engage it enough to help. If you focus on following through the bottom of the stroke and then consciously pulling up, you’ll engage not only the glutes but the hamstrings as well, resulting in a much more powerful stroke. Try some single-leg pedaling drills to find your weak spots and then work on them.
An efficient cadence is between 80 and 100 rpm (measured by how many times one pedal completes a circle each minute). For some this is easy, while for others it’s quite challenging to maintain a cadence this high. Start with an easy gear and work on staying in this range. Not only will your energy systems work better, but your knees will thank you!
June – Strength
After working on efficiency in your training last month, you should have a much improved (or maybe just refined) pedal stroke and cadence. Now it’s time to build the rest of the house.
One of the most common challenges you hear from cyclists is climbing. Fortunately there is a great way to get better at this: go climb some hills! I’m not saying you need to go out and find the biggest hill in your area and ride it every day. What I’m saying is that it’s time to include hills and rollers in your training. If you’re riding four days a week, two or three of those days should include some hill climbing. Find a route in your area with some hills and go work on your climbing. Only have one hill? Do hill repeats. Trust me: The more you work on this, the happier you’ll be at the top of any climb you do. And while you’re ascending hills, think about your gearing. Start finding the gears that work for you, keeping in mind that you should be trying for a climbing cadence of at least 60 rpm if possible. Keep your body relaxed, your chest high and open, and your stroke consistent.
July – Benchmarks
It’s roughly two months until Day 1 of Cycle O! Are you where you need to be in your training? Here are some benchmarks you should be hitting at this time:
1) You should be riding between 100 and 200 miles per week, depending on your riding level. If you aren’t there yet, look at your schedule and see how you can rework it to get this mileage in.
2) You should be getting in four to six rides per week.
3) You should have at least one long ride a week, and preferably two. This is different for everybody, but suffice it to say you know if you aren’t getting this in! While you may feel that you can easily conquer a 60-mile flat route, 60 miles against a headwind is a whole different ball game. (So get out and try to ride in the wind!)
4) You should have at least two good climbing rides per week. You should be working on your climbing and descending skills, and you should be comfortable in your gearing. Now is a good time to find a big, long hill and see how you do. Periodically re-ride this route over the next couple months and see how you’re improving.
If you’ve followed this plan over the past few months, you should be feeling pretty good by now. If you haven’t, well, it’s not too late! Start putting it into play now and work hard the next two months.
August – Putting it All Together
Since March we’ve been talking about some of the pieces that will make this your most successful Cycle Oregon ever. If you’ve been following along, you should be in great shape. So we have a month left – what should you be doing now? Putting it all together. The cycling-specific pieces – cycling, posture, pedal stroke, cadence, strength, gearing – should be meshing together. Now it’s time to put a little punch into it; you need some power. Why? Imagine running out of juice 20 yards from the top of the hill, or not being able to push through that roller, or taking the switchback into a 15 percent grade, or not being able to catch your buddy who just yelled out “Last one buys!” as he took off for the finish. Power = speed + force (strength). With a little power training you can teach your body to have a little left in the tank for when you really need it. Do some power drills – out-of-the-saddle work, sprints, power cadences – a couple days a week to ensure you can pop over the top of that hill, and you’re not the one who has to buy.
September – Ready, Set, Relax
Hopefully you’ve done the work and are completely ready for a week of fun. However, if you haven’t put in the time, the last week or so before Cycle Oregon is not the time to do it. Where you’re at is where you’re at. The last week prior to CO should be your tapering week. Ease your mileage back to almost nothing. Maybe a neighborhood ride, a coffee ride with friends – something with minimal impact. Your body needs to rest and recover now. You want to be fresh and ready to go. You’ve done the work, now relax. Get ready to have the best week of your riding season. See you on the road.