Words by Dave Smith.
As many regions start to relax the rules concerning exercising outdoors, it can be a shock to finally ride a bike that moves and steers, and requires technical skill. And that damn gravity feels more real on a climb than on a computer screen.
In addition, not everyone can maintain a laser focus on training, conditioning and nutrition by filling those weeks with indoor training, virtual races and baking keto banana bread.
So let’s look at how you can approach a return to outdoor training given three likely but very different scenarios – the ‘sofa and Netflix’ lockdown, the ‘regular virtual riding and 5 days total of yoga’ approach, and the ‘still doing 20 hrs a week because I can’ lockdown.
Sofa and Netflix
If you took the inactive course of action during lockdown, prepare to simply not enjoy how the effort feels on some days for a few weeks. But enjoy the fresh air and freedom. Expect to take twice the length of your lockdown to get your prior fitness back, but with that in mind, take responsibility for how it feels now and make a commitment to keep exercising consistently. It’s likely that you didn’t have any stage races or classics cancelled, so look towards having your previous level of fitness back by mid-summer. Don’t get carried away measuring your training or performance; let your pleasure come from freedom to ride, and seeing weekly progress, plus the simple fact that you’re back in nature. If you decide that on days X/Y/Z each week you will exercise, and that exercise is simply what you do on those days, you don’t need to be motivated. You’re just doing what you always do. I’d suggest avoiding high intensity efforts for a few weeks, keep the rides flat and fun, and only occasionally try a hard and fast effort to feel the wind in your purple/shaved lockdown mess of hair.
You may feels some aches and pains other than in your legs from stiff muscles having to activate again to hold you on a bike, support your weight when riding out of the saddle, looking up the road, and perhaps some saddle soreness. In fact maybe now is the time for 30 days of yoga on YouTube….
Just Ticking Over
If your approach to lockdown fitness was just to stay quite active, trying to eat well and avoid huge weight gain and managing to get 4-8 hrs of exercise each week, well done for that – it hasn’t been easy in the face of a stressful situation.
As you venture back into the outdoors, expect a few aches and pains from actual gravity, and using micro-muscles that maintain a good cycling position on a bike that moves around under you.
Don’t go crazy with increasing training volume, but of course you really should slam in a massive ride to celebrate freedom. If you’re able to visit cafes be aware that a normal ride might not burn away a few large slices of cake, don’t undo the good work you did to (almost) maintain your pre-lockdown weight.
So you smashed the smart trainer daily, twice daily, raced e races and v races and ‘Everested’ in the garden shed. What now? Firstly, don’t crash the first time you have to corner. I’d suggest that a good strategy is to get some low intensity high volume hours done as it’s likely that this was neglected indoors. But supplement it with some hard race-level efforts occasionally. This polarized approach should allow you to rise up another level from the beast mode you stepped outside with. And also bear in mind that you may actually need to throttle back a little and not get carried away with a crazy high volume.
A period of lower level but longer duration training can provide a huge boost, and just a couple of short interval sessions per week will help to maintain high-level power.
You can cut back on some of the off-bike conditioning you may have done, reducing this to 1/3rd of the volume will maintain your hard won condition but free up valuable time to recover from your on-the-bike work.
You may find that you don’t need to get as many calories from carbs if you’re reducing the intensity of training, a 5 hr steady ride will be more fat reliant than a 3 hr virtual race.
Ride slow, ride fast, ride near, ride far, ride flat, ride climbs, eat little, eat loads, but stay safe and see you out there!
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Based in Girona, Dave Smith has been involved in coaching cyclists in all disciplines for almost 30 years. A former GB national and Olympic road coach, Dave has trained Tour stage winners and Olympic medallists, world champions and numerous national champions. In addition he has applied his quirky and counter intuitive thinking to help dozens of regular cyclists, polo players and F1 drivers. He offers bespoke training and nutrition plans to endurance athletes from novice to professional.