Myth Buster: Debunking Five Misconceptions in Cycling

January 31, 2024

Despite numerous advancements in sports science, outdated and counterproductive beliefs about training and fitness still persist in the world of cycling. In this article, we will explore five widely held misconceptions and provide a more modern perspective on our understanding.

Myth 1: Base training should only involve long, slow, easy rides.

We appreciate the importance of base training. It helps develop your aerobic system, build muscle endurance, and reinforce good movement patterns, preparing your body for the demanding efforts later in the season. It directly benefits your fitness since cycling heavily relies on aerobic capacity.

While base training remains a crucial aspect of improving speed, it doesn't necessarily require the old-fashioned long, easy exercise routines. Such methods demand a significant amount of time, a luxury most of us unfortunately lack. Even if you have the time, maintaining the discipline for such training can be challenging. Fortunately, there's a better way: training the aerobic system through slightly higher intensity, shorter workouts.

Sweet spot training is an excellent example, illustrating that base training can be done in a time-efficient manner. This approach allows for more flexibility, incorporating group rides and even early-season races for added enjoyment and consistency. Coupled with personalized adjustments for adaptive training, modernized base training stands out as one of the most effective and important methods to enhance cycling performance.

Myth 2: Train as hard as you can as long as you don't collapse.

Cyclists often glorify the toughness of the sport, equating the ability to endure pain with a symbol of strength. The idea that the harder the training, the better, is a common misconception. However, in many cases, the opposite holds true.

Understanding that recovery is essential for improvement is crucial. Training places the body under stress, stimulating adaptation and subsequent fitness gains. Applying too much pressure or allowing insufficient recovery prevents your body from making these improvements, hindering your progress. That's why the principle of the minimum effective dose is so valuable in training, using the least amount of stress to achieve the desired results.

There are also significant physiological differences between easy and challenging exercises and their impact on the body. Training plans are designed around this fact, meaning some exercises are intentionally easier than others. If every session is overly strenuous, not only will you exhaust yourself, but you may neglect crucial aspects of fitness development. While tough training has its time and place, it's not the case for every workout.

Myth 3: You need to ride the full length of your target event in training.

There's a common belief that long events necessitate equally long training rides, which might seem reasonable on the surface. However, despite the importance of specificity in training, replicating your race time isn't always necessary. In fact, 90 minutes or less of training can adequately prepare you for much longer races, a fact demonstrated by many professional athletes.

The type of effort you put into the race is more critical than replicating its duration. Extremely long races are predominantly aerobic activities, with brief bursts of intensity at higher levels. Therefore, a robust aerobic system becomes the ticket to success. Achieving this doesn't require all-day workouts; it simply involves smart, organized training that fits into any schedule.

Longer rides in training may still be beneficial for fine-tuning specific aspects of performance. Factors such as fueling, hydration, and bike adaptability may play a role in very long-distance races, and short-term exercises may not fully reveal your mastery of these elements. However, replicating the exact race length is unnecessary, with two to three hours of endurance riding often sufficient to identify areas for improvement.

Myth 4: You need to determine your rider type and tailor your training accordingly.

We all aspire to ride like professional athletes. Unfortunately, what works best for elite athletes doesn't always suit amateur enthusiasts. The common concept of "rider types" is a perfect example. According to this logic, every cyclist is genetically predisposed to be a sprinter, climber, or all-rounder, and training aims to optimize these natural strengths. While this method is how world-class athletes refine their skills, there are several reasons why it might not be the best approach for you and me.

Firstly, it's an incredibly limiting way to approach cycling. Focusing solely on a specific type of riding or racing style restricts your exposure to the full spectrum of experiences the sport offers. It also limits your understanding of your own capabilities, hindering your overall development. Various types of cyclists find success in diverse events, and staying open to choices might bring surprising results.

Lastly, this notion ignores the incredible potential your body has for improvement and change. While you may naturally gravitate towards a discipline, with proper training, you can develop any aspect you desire. Choose a goal and work towards it.

Myth 5: Losing weight always makes you faster.

Weight concerns have long been ingrained in cycling culture, with stories of athletes going to extreme measures to shed a few kilograms prevalent at every level of the sport. However, modern science helps us separate fact from fiction, and the truth is that, in most cycling scenarios, your weight isn't as crucial as you might think.

The most important factor is power. Your ability to generate power by turning the pedals is what propels you forward, and most cycling takes place on rolling or flat terrain, where overall strength is a key advantage. In fact, except for the steepest climbs, it's the combination of power and aerodynamics that determines your speed; weight only plays a significant role in long, steep ascents.

Yet, many cyclists still fixate on the numbers on their weight scales. While losing weight through cycling can be beneficial for athletes with valid health reasons, for others, it might be counterproductive, often accompanied by a decrease in strength. For this reason, focusing on becoming healthier and stronger, consuming high-quality diverse foods to fuel your training, and prioritizing consistent training may be more effective. Your body is likely to improve with enhanced fitness and performance, and most importantly, you'll become faster.

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