As difficult as it is for me to write this – outside there is over a foot of snow – you lucky people south of the equator are now firmly in the warm embrace of Summer. This means you’re pulling out the bib shorts, slotting those dark lenses in to your sunnies, popping on your ultra-fast tyres (just going to drink a comforting cup of tea) and working your diary around races and big rides with your pals. The chances are you’ve got a couple of big, important rides this season, so we’re going to take a look at some tips to improve your preparation for the big event.
Before a big event, a lot of athletes taper their training. What this means is that they reduce the volume and frequency of their workouts to allow the body to recover fully prior to the big day. Research has shown that tapering is most effective when; you reduce the volume of exercise by around 40-60%, keep the frequency of training either the same or reduced by a maximum of 20% and largely maintain the intensity of your training.
So your tapering program should concentrate predominantly on a reduction in the volume of your training, but what training you do should be at a similar intensity and only slightly reduced frequency. So how long should you taper for? This is a tricky one, generally you should reckon to spend between one and two weeks prior to the event on a tapering routine, but this is something which is individual and worth experimenting with. It is likely to depend on your schedule, what races you’ve done and also how you feel.
Your tapering routine should also be progressive, with a large initial reduction in volume, followed by small decreases. This progressive tapering can significantly improve its effectiveness and allow you to adapt to larger, or smaller tapering schedules as time and circumstances allow.
Don’t worry about ‘losing’ fitness through tapering, research has shown that while there is a slight reduction in muscle fitness, the effect of this is outweighed by the positive impact of rest on your muscles, body and mind.
Overload Training and Super-compensation.
Another training method to talk about is overload training in the week before your taper begins. Overload training is where you significantly increase the volume and intensity of your rides thereby increasing fatigue levels. Evidence
suggests that a significant increase in the intensity of your training (or overloading) before your taper can significantly improve your final performance. This is because the body will super-compensate during your recovery period, leaving you flying for the big day.
This is something which you should be careful with, try it for a couple of days first – as cycling is low impact you’re unlikely to injure yourself, but experiment carefully and see if you feel the benefit. Remember if you create bigger peaks in performance, there will inevitably then be bigger troughs or recovery periods.
Nutrition is very important, we are after all what we eat. Carb loading is something most people are probably familiar with – however excessive carbohydrate consumption immediately prior to the big day (as has previously been popular) can make you feel bloated, which will obviously negate any positive outcome from a high carbohydrate diet.
Research has shown that your body processes carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen) most effectively in the immediate 20 minutes after exercise. From a recovery point of view as well, protein (used by muscles to repair after exercise) is most easily accepted in the first 20 minutes after exercise. What this highlights is the importance of your post-exercise routine. Quality recovery drinks with a thought out carbohydrate and protein mix (check out the High 5 recovery powder and the Clif Builder Bar which are brilliant) followed by a carbohydrate rich meal a bit later (my favourite is a tuna pasta bake, good carbs and protein) can help to give you that boost for the big day.
While tailoring your training to get maximum performance by pushing hard and using techniques like overload training is good and can help you improve your performances significantly, it must be used with caution and you should be aware of the dangers of over-training. It is quite normal to feel tired, but if you over-train, chronic fatigue can last for months and seriously set you back.
Key indicators of over-training include a change in your mood (just ask your nearest and dearest!), interrupted sleep, increasing fatigue and an increase in colds/bugs. While overreaching (overload training) is part of training you need to be aware when you’ve overdone it so you can avoid making the same mistake and stay on the green line in the graph above. Monitor your recovery times and your post-recovery performances, if you’re at all in doubt as to your mood just ask a family member! Take rest days and be as disciplined with resting as training – resting is just as, if not more, important.
Take a minute to sit down with your diary and work out which events are key for you. Plan your rest days and tapering schedule, then be disciplined about sticking to it! When the weather is great you have to be disciplined if you’re on your taper schedule or a rest day. Hard – but if you have planned out the key events in your season then you know it’ll be worth it for the great performance!