Consider the pottering cyclist - the man with no plan. Easy in the valleys, steady on the drags, no holding back on the climbs. We have all ridden with someone like this, and silently admire their free spirit. They ride, then they rest. To some degree, they also become faster on their unwritten programme.
Casual cyclists get fitter because they apply a training stimulus. They recover, the body adapts(super-compensates) and it allows them to attack their local climbs a little faster. The length and quality of the super-compensation effect depends on the consistency of training before the rest period. It is a delicate balance though, as an endless motivation and appetite to push the limits with maximal efforts will only bring exhaustion and an inability to adapt to training.
In the same way, if the time between stimulating with hard efforts is too long a rider will experience involution, or a gradual return to their original capacity. Balancing frequency and intensity is vital in sending the curve of improvement skywards.
Our three main bioenergy systems, whilst described to be independent, operate in unison at all times when we pedal.
By starting at a slow speed and gradually ramping it up, the body will shift from the aerobic oxidative system, using mostly type I fibres, to the anaerobic glycolytic system and type IIa (slow glycolytic) and type IIb (fast glycolytic) fibres. If a rider then leaps into a sprint, they will call on their last line of defence: the ATP-phosphocreatine system.
Adaptations to the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems differ from system to system. Where capillary density, blood volume and muscle fibre content can be increased better by stimulating aerobic zones, muscle contraction force can be improved by recruiting greater numbers of motorunits: the connection point which links the neural signals of the brain to our muscle fibres. One adaptation without the other would be useless.
Each of these energy systems can be targeted by training specific zones: bioenergetic specificity. But if repeated over-stimulus is detrimental to achieving progressive overload and supercompensation, then it is logical to target another system while the other adapts. This approach is one supported by American physiologist Stephen Seiler but it is nothing new.
There are no gates or doors though. We will always be using each of the three systems just in differing ratios. At all times these systems will contribute to the total energy which is made available: the ATP yield.
• The intensity of our effort determines the primary energy system we use but all systems overlap
• Specifically targeting an individual system will increase the possibility of supercompensation but over stimulation can be detrimental
DAD ARE WE THERE YET? HOW ABOUT NOW?
Whilst bioenergetic specificity is observed to be a very effective way of training, targeting the correct intensity is vital. I regularly see data from riders who have ridden with a specific training outcome in mind but the intensity was either too hard or too easy.
Take the aerobic threshold, which marks the first breakout of lactate, the first hike in
glycogen usage. According to the zones established from a FTP test, riding in Zone 2 is within the aerobic oxidative system. This may not be the case.
You could be riding much harder than your true zone, and missing the benefits from bioenergetic specificity. Determining a rider’s lactate turning point based on the FTP test - a number which could be inflated by specific training at sub-threshold and aerobic capacity - is a guess. Riding with certainty you are within your target zone is much more adviseable.
Riding at or below aerobic threshold for aerobic endurance benefits is effective. If the training objective in a specific session is aerobic endurance, it makes sense to target it accurately. I would recommend a lactate test to obtain a lactate profile. Training aerobic endurance ineffectively may have the same stimulus but at a higher metabolic cost and stress on the immune system. Riding on the safe side of your aerobic oxidative system will make you a more efficient user of fuel.
If you find yourself justifying pushing harder than your true zone as ‘no pain, no gain,’ ask yourself which part of a race you will be riding at this intensity? The answer is that it is not one which will decide a race.
So is a PB endurance ride designed to enhance your economy of movement necessary?
Recovery rate is proportional to the amount of physiological disturbances from a given training stimulus. Latent fatigue is essential when attempting to achieve progressive overload of the various systems that will invoke supercompensation but this is something you must make plans for, with controlled recovery to follow. The danger of riding higher and longer into an aerobic zone is that you may have expected those rides to reduce latent fatigue.
You may then enter your next quality session with a build-up leading to fatigue, and a
complete failure to achieve the intensity required to drive improvement. Remember, easy means easy.
• Endurance training doesn’t have to be intense all the time.
• Be clear about the objective of each and every session to make them time well spent
• Recovery days are not the only days when we can reduce latent fatigue
FROM THE BOTTOM TO THE TOP
There can be little debate on the ATP-PC system. The intensity needed to fully deplete muscle stores of ATP is as little as 10 seconds. Whilst muscle composition is a large factor in the force we can produce, neural activation and neural fatigue play an important role along with energy storage.
All of this can be trained, and it has been shown that training this area with a higher frequency will result in increased availability of metabolic substrates – more firelighters on the BBQ!
As we reduce our phosphocreatine levels we ask more of our anaerobic glycolytic system, which in turn creates more hydrogen ions and reduces the force our muscles can produce. This buffering of
lactate within a training session is designed to stress the body’s ability to maintain high intensity. These PC stores can be expanded by training this way - so now the idea of solely training our bioenergy systems becomes less secure.
There is no silver bullet. Equally, a scattergun approach to training to obtain the best result is just as bad. We need to be specific in what we are training and why. If you have a coach, question them: you paid the money so you deserve to know what the training objective of each session is. If you are self-trained, take the time to be introspective and honest with yourself and ask "did I really achieve what I set out to?".
In the end it is you who will harvest the results of your training. Make sure it counts.
If you would like our help at Elevation Coaching to formulate a progressive training plan to smash your goals and keep the fun in cycling get in touch at email@example.com
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