One of the primary aims in our sport is to improve. We wish to improve in our fitness, results, and positive experiences on the bike. These changes can range from minor adjustments to a massive overhaul, but the common denominator is to see what has or has not worked, and then to try to improve on them. Great athletes are always looking for new methods, or even slight tweaks, to their training and routines to make themselves better.
One notable example is Tiger Woods. He is clearly one of the greatest golfers of all time, yet during the past 10 years, he made it publicly known that he was trying to change his swing. Why would a guy like this, with all his success, change the core element of his game? Because, as he simply put it, "I want to get better."
All athletes reach plateaus in their fitness. I'd like to suggest some modifications you could try that might help you break through the fitness plateau you are in. At this time of year, the excitement of a new season provides big motivation, but what do you do with that motivation to actually make improvements? Let's review a few things you might try changing, and how they can help you to get to the next level of fitness or become more competitive within your racing category.
Nothing can substitute for additional time on the bike (volume). There have been multiple studies over the past few years proclaiming the benefits of high intensity training, and there is no doubt that this is a useful method to achieve some types of improvements. Despite the benefits of this approach, increasing the number and quality of miles is an inevitable necessity for long-term success.
Increasing volume helps athletes to become better bike racers for multiple reasons, which I will detail in a moment. The many positive aspects of increased volume help riders to become more consistent in their performance throughout the year. The benefits of increasing time on the bike are maximized when you:
? Choose the correct length of ride: Different levels of athletes have different needs for ride length. If you are training for double centuries, or participate in races of 100 miles or more, then you need to have a ride length that roughly approximates these distances. In fact, for racing, there's a strong argument to occasionally ride for lengths of time that are perhaps 50 percent more than your races (e.g., if your 100 mile race takes four hours, then you might wish to do the occasional 6 hour ride).
But if your target goals are not quite this lofty, then you should choose distances/times that are more appropriate to your goals. General rules of thumb: for recreational riders, you should be able to ride 75 percent of the distance of your goal before attempting the goal; for racers, you should be able to ride (at less than race pace!) 50 percent greater time than the time it takes for your longest race.
? Ride volume in a way that is consistent: When one rides in a big, diverse group ride, where you have everyone from Cat 1's through recreational riders, it is very hard to get the necessary volume at the correct intensity. True volume riding is done in the correct endurance zone, generally, something around medium endurance (while there are various terms for this level of output, it is generally around 3-6 on a 10-point Rate of Perceived Exertion scale), with good focus, limited stopping and steady intensity. Spiky intensities are often the outcome of larger group rides, and this tends to be less productive when you are trying to effectively increase your volume.
For example, one of the simple things I look at in a power file for this type of ride is an average power that is very close to normalized power (or a VI—variability index—that shows how peaky the ride was). If you do your volume riding in a group, try to keep the group to a limited size with people that are either at a similar fitness level to you, and/or those who are willing to share similar goals for the ride.
? Increase volume slowly: Volume increases must be done slowly and sometimes over the course of years. If you choose to ramp up your volume, it can generally be accomplished by increasing your time on the bike about 10 percent a month, with at least one of the weeks during that month being a "recovery" week where you spend somewhat less time than normal on the bike. Being conservative with slower steps is the best way to go about increasing your volume over time.