Smarter, Then Faster: Cycling Primers for the Upcoming Season

Longer days and warmer weather means you're able to get back on the road again, but don't overdo it--start out gradually to avoid injury.

With countless hours spent on skis, in the weight room and on the trails, you should be fit and ready for a great summer spent on two wheels.

Longer days and warmer weather mean it's time to begin passing more time on the bike. Before you jump into 300-mile weeks, though, let's review some strategies to remain healthy, and therefore go faster, for the upcoming cycling season.

Type A

I'm the least type-A person you'll ever meet. The only exception to my helter-skelter lifestyle was during my racing days on the bike. I tried to schedule and plan everything, down to rest, diet and travel. Scheduling your training and cycling helps avoid injuries, over-training and general mind-bending burnout.

There are numerous resources to help get a grip on how much, when and even where to ride. A knowledgeable coach is the best means to keep your training in order, but good coaching can cost a bundle and, truth be told, there are a ton of people out there coaching these days that, well, maybe shouldn't be.

Just because Jonny Rockets rode the Tour doesn't mean he's going to help you do the same. If you do decide on a coach, choose one carefully (get references), paying attention to his or her background and academic experience.

Being a relatively unsuccessful bike bum, I always relied on my own (meager) smarts and reading on the subject. For racing, my favorite book is Joe Friel's The Cyclist's Training Bible, available on or through VeloPress. Friel helps you break down the season based upon desired periods of ideal form and specific events. He also offers books for athletes over 50, triathletes, mountain bikers and ultramarathoners.

If you're relatively content with your own approach to cycling, then get a journal and, at the least, keep track of your training, sleep patterns, morning heart rates, diet and performances. It'll help greatly in deciphering patterns in your riding—what works, what doesn't, etc.

Day In and Day Out

Most cycling injuries, and certainly over-training, aren't due to single incidents, but usually prolonged periods of deleterious practices. Bike fit, diet, training volume or workout intensity can all be potentially damaging when they're ill-designed or poorly executed.

Bike fit is crucial to cycling health. Any pain—be it in the knees, back, hands, neck or butt—is a hint that something's not right with your position. Your bike should feel comfortable; anything less means you need a fit. Just like coaching, there are dozens of people these days doing "professional" fitting, but I'd caution you to check into a person's expertise and client list before shelling dough to have someone "fit" you.

Diet is critical for top-level performance. There's no secret: You need to eat fruits, vegetables and healthy sources of protein, but don't overdo it. Behind not getting enough fruits and vegetables, the most common endurance-athlete mistake is overeating. Try to keep it in check. Vitamins are a Pandora's box of controversy. Read up and do what you think is right. I always took antioxidants and, if I wasn't eating properly, then at least I took a multivitamin/mineral.

Once you've gotten a riding schedule figured out, stick to it—but only if it's working. Those of you pursuing other sports need to take a "big picture" approach to your training. Take into account all of your activities and, by all means, if you're feeling stale, flat, weak or burnt, take some time off sooner rather than later. Waiting until you're coming unglued will only mean a longer period of recovery will be needed. Listen to your legs and your heart—they don't lie.

A Few More Things

Upon a solid foundation of sane training, proper diet and reasonable bike fit, a few other therapies will help keep you healthy and performing your best. Each night after a Tour de France rider's stage, each rider receives a massage: without it the following day they would be less-than-happy. If you can't afford regular massage from a pro, then train yourself. You can do wonders on your own quads, calves, hamstrings and, with some creativity, even your glutes. Get in the habit. There are dozens of books on massage, so browse and get informed.

In addition to massage, stretching prevents injury and makes a cyclist more comfortable on the bike. At the very least you should be stretching your hamstrings, quads, calves, glutes and lumbar after every training session.

Hold your stretches for at least one minute, preferably two, and you'll see benefits within two weeks. Don't overdo it, though. Pain in any joint or excessive strain in the muscle is a warning sign. Learn proper form and pay heed to your body's feedback.

For those of you really looking to maximize your training, in any sport, then the double nap should be in your game plan. This is a tough one if you work conventional hours or have kids—in short, if you have a life. I, however, did not during my mediocre competitive cycling campaign and could nap at will.

You see, the body releases growth hormone as it's entering deeper sleep. If you can get yourself a 40-minute nap in the middle of the day, you'll sneak another dose of growth hormone (GH) in your 24-hour cycle. For those of you who don't read the papers, GH is the fountain of youth—leaner body mass, faster recovery and a stronger body await those of you who can sleep during the day.

Get in an early workout, grab 40 minutes of shuteye and reap the benefits. Just remember me when you're on the cover of Fit and Gorgeous magazine, eh?

In Concert

Cycling can be such a challenging sport, it really comes down to who works the hardest and smartest. All of the above, taken in concert, can greatly improve your cycling performance or (more importantly) your enjoyment of the sport. Don't be obsessive, but fit in what you can and discover what works for you. You'll be faster and happier in no time.

Reprinted, courtesy of Windy City Sports Magazine. For more articles and information for Windy City Sports, please visit

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