Keep the Fitness You've Earned

Training & Health

10/15/2008| 0 comments
by Chris Carmichael

Keep the Fitness You've Earned

One of the biggest crimes in human performance is the willful loss of the fitness gains made during the course of the season; and it’s about time you stopped the cycle.

One of the biggest crimes in human performance is the willful loss of the fitness gains made during the course of the season; and it’s about time you stopped the cycle.

Fall should not mean the demise of your hard-earned fitness. There is no need to gain 20 pounds between mid-September and November 1, nor is there any good reason why you have to go from the front of the group ride to struggling at the back for the winter. While you shouldn’t try to maintain your peak race fitness throughout the year, staying in good physical shape year-round is part of leading a balanced, active lifestyle.

In order to make appreciable improvements in your aerobic conditioning and sustainable power from year to year, it is essential to retain at least 75% of your peak summer fitness through the fall and winter. When athletes go into hibernation and allow their aerobic engines to lay dormant for too long, it can take two to three months of training to regain lost fitness. It simply doesn’t make sense to expend three months of energy just to get back to where you’ve already been.

Fortunately, your summer fitness is easier to keep than it was to gain in the first place. If you cut your training volume by about 25%, and eliminate most of the structured interval sessions, you’ll notice your top-end speed and ability to handle repeated accelerations diminish. Let them go. Your goal is to reduce your overall training load (recuperate from the season) while still retaining the majority of your aerobic conditioning (prepare for next year). Your top-end performance will come back more quickly next spring if you don’t have to spend months rebuilding the aerobic engine necessary to support it.

Fall Training

You’re not well suited to being a couch potato anyway, so the end of the summer cycling season should just be an opportunity to use some of the other sporting equipment in your garage. The exact mode of exercise you choose doesn’t really matter, as long as it addresses your needs as an endurance athlete. The best activities for cyclists are weight bearing and require nearly continuous movement, including running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, cyclocross, racquet sports, basketball, hiking, and soccer.

While cyclists have highly-developed aerobic systems, we run the risk of being very one-dimensional athletes. Weight-bearing exercise is beneficial for the integrity of bones and connective tissues, and since you are almost certainly less efficient as a runner than you are as a cyclist, you can apply a lot of stress to your aerobic system in less time than you normally spend on your bike. Honing your cycling technique has made you very economical on your bike, but that economy of motion disappears when you enter a different sport.

Strength Training

Any discussion of fall and winter training inevitably gets around to the question of strength training. While resistance training, particularly in the form of lifting weights, can improve cycling performance, your decision to renew your gym membership should depend on the time your have available.

As an endurance

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