It’s Winter break, you planned to sneak away for an hour in the middle of the day to get your ride in. When the time comes, your kids, home from school, have some sort of lunch emergency. Your dog got into the presents under the tree and not only is there a mess to clean up, but you didn’t account for wrapping everything two times. You’ve managed to avoid those hiccups then your eyes catch a glance of the sink filled with dirty dishes. Just when you are deciding whether or not you really have time to get out the door for a ride, your phone vibrates with a new Google Calendar notification saying that you have a meeting you haven’t had a chance to fully prepare for.
How can you fit it all in? How can you make it work? How can you get the most bang for your buck and prioritize the rides that count? I work with a lot of athletes who are timed crunched. Those athletes have big goals and task me with the plan of preparing them with the sort time frames they can offer. Here are the steps and things I consider when making their training plans.
Determine the Goal
The first thing you should do with any workout is establish the overarching goal. Is the goal to continue to build a base with aerobic work? Is the goal to up your threshold with tempo, sweet spot, or threshold work? Maybe you are working on VO2 or any host of other things. There is always more than one way to approach the goal on the day. If you know what you are trying accomplish then you can better fit those goals into the timeframe that you have available. Take this a step further and establish a goal for the week.
Once you know your goal for the week you can start developing your workouts. If you know that you want to work on threshold then you might plan for 2 critical threshold workouts. If you know that those workouts will both be 1.5 hours each then pick that days that you have the most time and focus to complete those workouts. Once you have those focus workouts planned, fill in the other days with solid aerobic building rides.
What Can I Skip?
I know you’re thinking it. Can I just skip those aerobic rides? The answer is no. I know that when you are a time crunched athlete it’s tempting to fill in every moment you have with interval work because it feels like you get the most out of it. Feels is the key word though. Aerobic work is key to your overall fitness. Your body makes adaptations during aerobic rides that it can only make on those times of rides and cannot make on harder interval rides. Therefore you have to complete these types of workouts.
An important point however, is that aerobic ride is not synonymous with recovery or easy ride. All that aerobic means is that you have your breathing under control during the ride. It isn’t necessarily recovery. A recovery ride on the other hand, will have very little load on the body. In fact, the goal of recovery rides is to feel more recovered after the ride than before. These truly easy and recovery rides, can sometimes be skipped. Here’s why. If your goal is recovery, you can accomplish that in other ways. Take your dog for a walk, do a little stretching, go on a short hike with your family. Just move your body in a way that feels good and makes you feel more ready for tomorrow’s workout.
Consistency is Key
I have 6-8 hours a week and I can break that time up any way I want, what should I do? Consistency is key. I would so much rather have you ride 5-6 times a week with 1-2 rest days than to load your weekends really heavy and then take 5 days off. Frequency is going to be your best friend for fitness gains. Do your best to spread what time you have out evenly.
Is Weight Training Worth It?
I get this question so frequently. I only have 6-8 hours a week to train, should I split it between the gym and my bike. The jury is a little out on this one. Depending on who you talk to, you might get different answers. I believe that you have to look back at your goals. If your ultimate goal is to be fast on the bike, then the bike should take priority because it is the sport specific training that you need in order to make the biggest improvements. The gym is extra. If you have extra time, the gym can certainly make you better, but it shouldn’t replace a critical workout. But…But…ok I’ll give a little bit here. There are always exceptions.
During the ‘off-season’ or base training season, the gym can play a good role in building a stronger foundation and it might be worth playing a little bit of a balancing act. Once the racing starts though, I recommend shifting focus toward the bike. During the season, you might consider keeping your strength up with just a quick 15-20 minute strength workout that you can fit in anytime. Cycling is a non-weight bearing sport so to help build bone density and prevent injury, it’s good to include some weight bearing exercises and core work into a routine.
But…but…I love the gym and what to do it anyways. When should I do it? I get it. Most people exercise for fun anyways so we have to make sure we are doing the work we actually enjoy. If you like the gym, go to the gym. I recommend doing your gym workouts after your cycling workouts. This way you are still fresh for your cycling workout. I also recommend doing your gym workout on the hard days so that your easy and recovery days are still recovery. The gym is not a recovery day. You have to unload your body and still gift yourself the rest you need.
Don’t Forget to Unload Your Mind You’re making it all work. You’re basically a modern day superhero. Maybe you’re the person who people utter in your wake, “I don’t know how they do it.” Congrats! Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back and take a break mentally. Mental stress will play a role in your riding as well. Pedal your problems away