Minimize to Maximize Your Training

By CTS Coaches Adam Pulford and Jim Rutberg

With all the commitments, training programs, fads, fades, and flats that come your way, how can you get the most out of your time on the bike? Whether you are the recreational cyclist with a busy life schedule or the racer who wants to hone in on the specifics that can take you from the back of the pack to the podium, tune in to these time tested principals that can minimize wasted efforts, maximize the impact of your training, and help you achieve your goals more efficiently.

The M&M Principle
It’s a concept I call the M&M Principle. Now, before you get too excited by thinking that the secrets to success in cycling are found by eating little chocolate candies, the M&M Principle I’m talking about states that in order to become more effective at what you do, you must minimize unneeded tasks in order to maximize the time and attention you can devote to the tasks that move you forward. This means focusing on your goals, having a plan to achieve them, and sticking to that plan so you do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.  

Maximizing the Quality and Impact of Your Workout Time:

Start with an Awesome Warm-up
The body cannot handle high workloads without a proper warm-up; one that fires up your energy systems and muscle fibers while working up a sweat. It also serves as a good time to minimize distractions and maximize your focus on the task at hand. So what does a high-quality warm-up look like? Here is a great example:

A 15 minute warm-up consisting of:

  • 5 minutes of easy spinning
  • 3 minutes just below time trial pace (about 90% of lactate threshold heart rate)
  • 2 minutes of easy spinning
  • 1 minute as hard as you can go
  • 1 minutes easy spinning
  • 1 minute as hard as you can go
  • 2 minutes of easy spinning

We are looking for the highest quality warm up without burning up too much energy or sacrificing too much time. By properly warming up the body, you’ll be ready to handle the workloads you’re about to encounter and get the most out of the training session, physically and mentally.

Now that you’re warmed up, it’s time to get the most out of your workouts.

Optimize your training schedule
With the M&M Principle, it’s important to be as fresh as possible for each workout, and part of that comes from scheduling your high-intensity interval workouts carefully. Workouts are most effective when you’re able to maintain the right intensity level for the entire duration of the workout. In other words, if you need to sustain 33 kmh and a power output of 265 watts for three 10-minute intervals in order to increase your sustainable power at lactate threshold, but you’re too fatigued from yesterday’s workout to get anywhere near that, you’re not going to make progress. For most riders, it’s best to put a full day of either recovery or endurance riding between workout targeting lactate threshold power. And if you’re doing even higher-intensity workouts, like VO2 max intervals, put two days between them. When you’re fresh and your muscles are full of fuel, your power output during intervals will be higher and you’ll make more progress more quickly.

Know when to say when
Too many cyclists let their pride get them in deep trouble. You might start your ride with the best intentions, but if the quality of your efforts drop into the toilet after just a few intervals – or even halfway through your second set – it’s important to recognize the futility of continuing and then promptly change your plan for the day. Remember that intervals are only effective if they are completed at the right effort level for the right amount of time. A lactate threshold interval that’s too short or underpowered does you no good. The same is true for VO2 max intervals, sprints, and climbing repeats. Even endurance rides can and should be cut short if you’re struggling to reach your normal cruising speed or intensity. I’d rather see any of my athletes skip the last set of intervals or turn around and shorten a ride instead of flogging themselves unnecessarily on the road. If you’re wondering how to tell the difference between wimping out and turning around for a good reason, consult the following guidelines:

  1. If there’s a big discrepancy between your perceived effort and your speed or power output. In other words, if you can normally cruise at 25 kmh and today you feel like you’re doing a time trial effort to get to 25kmh, cut the ride short.
  2. If, during an interval set your speed or power output falls more than 15% from the beginning of the set, it’s time to call it a day and go home. (Note: Be sure you’re not overcooking the first interval or two, though.)
  3. If you’re fighting the urge to get off your bike and curl up to take a nap at the side of the road or trail, it’s not going to be a good interval training day. Do a short recovery ride and take a nap – in your bed.

Focus on recovery nutrition
Failing to eat sufficient calories is one of the biggest mistakes people make when they move to a lower-volume training plan. They erroneously assume that if they’re riding fewer hours – and perhaps fewer days – each week, they need to drastically cut back on their caloric intake. But think about it this way: if you’re increasing the intensity of your rides and incorporating high-quality intervals, you’re burning more energy and doing more work during each hour you spend on the bike. As a result, your actual energy expenditure each week won’t drop very much even though you’ve cut back on the hours or kilometers. And while it will take a few weeks to find that happy balance between eating too much and too little, it’s better to err on the side of eating a bit too much for a few weeks. If you see your weight increasing after three weeks, that’s clear indication you’re caloric intake is higher than what you need to support your training.

Eating the right foods is just as important as eating enough of them. Since your workouts are going to be higher-quality, and that often means higher-intensity, you need to be vigilant about replenishing depleted carbohydrate stores immediately after your rides. You can’t have a high-quality workout tomorrow when you start with only partially-full fuel stores.

Keys to maximizing recovery nutrition:

  1. Consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour – in the form of bars, gels, and sports drink – while you’re on the bike. This will help enhance the quality of your training and give you a jumpstart on post-ride recovery.
  2. Drink a carbohydrate-rich recovery drink immediately upon returning from your ride. Your body is primed to speed glucose back into muscles in the first hour after exercise; take advantage of it. These drinks, like GU Recovery Brew are also rich in electrolytes and contain a bit of protein to help accelerate glycogen replenishment.
  3. Eat a balanced meal within 60 minutes of your ride that contains high-quality sources of carbohydrate and protein, like whole grain pasta and breads, brown rice, salmon, tofu, or chicken breast.
  4. Stay hydrated. An active cyclist should be consuming about 3.5 to 4 liters of fluid every day. That includes days when you don’t exercise, and may increase even higher if you’re training harder or in hot conditions.

Start Training with the M&M Principle:
Now all of this requires some practice. But when used properly, you’ll find that by using this idea you will make your training program and workouts more effective, and shorter!

Adam Pulford is a coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS) and an avid road cycling, mountain bike, and triathlon competitor. Jim Rutberg is a coach for CTS and co-author of seven fitness and nutrition books with Chris Carmichael. To find out what CTS can do for you, and to receive our free newsletters, visit www.trainright.com.

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