In the previous installment, I shared a few tips for beginners looking to up their pace on the saddle. Those will give you a solid foundation to build from. From there, these following tips should help even further.
GET LOW AND AERO
As you build up to higher speeds, you’ll notice that you expend great amounts of energy simply pushing air aside. They say that a rider’s body accounts for 80% of the aerodynamic drag while cycling at high speed. You might as well make this knowledge work for you and adopt the principles of aerodynamics.
The simplest way of improving your aerodynamics is to decrease your frontal area to the wind. All that requires is to adopt a lower riding position, such as using the drops on a road bike and keeping your elbows tucked in. On a flat-bar bike you can simply bend your torso lower.
Your aero also benefits hugely due to clothing. Riding in a zipped-up, tight-fitting jersey and spandex shorts will decrease the amount of excess clothing flapping in the wind, and reduce the chances of your skin chafing.
STAND UP AND GRAB TWO HARDER GEARS
There are many reasons why you’d want to pedal out of the saddle. It could be to stretch out your legs, or to relieve pressure on your groin from being seated on the saddle for a long time. You could even launch a sprint.
Most out-of-saddle situations are easiest to transition into when they are accompanied by two clicks to harder cogs. When out of the saddle, your body will naturally adopt a slower cadence, because your body weight is on your hands as it goes into each pedal stroke. You have to prepare for this with your gears by shifting to harder gears. Two cogs is usually enough.
STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE
Your back and abdominal muscles make up your core, the foundation for your hips and legs to pedal your bike. Cycling is one of those exercises that rewards good core fitness, but doesn’t build it at all. With a stable core, your legs can put out more power without having to worry about supporting the rest of your body. Try performing planks, bridges, and yoga poses like the “downward-facing dog” pose.
WORK ON YOUR SPRINT
Sprints are explosive accelerations, yielding very high speed within a very short period of time. Good sprinters make use of their bikes’ frame and wheel stiffness in order to put their muscle power into the two contact patches of the tires to the ground. This usually shows up as the bike swaying or “dancing” underneath them, in step with each pedal stroke.
With a sprint, you’re basically relying on your muscle tension to push a heavy gear from a low cadence to a very high one in as little time as possible. This takes a lot of trial and error, but is worth practicing seriously.
WISE UP TO INTERVAL TRAINING
At the simplest level, interval training involves short periods of hard efforts, followed by short periods of recovery. This cycle repeats. This kind of training confuses and forces your muscles to adapt, and is better for building muscle compared to long rides at a steady pace.
The hard efforts must be really hard (maybe 9 out of 10 on a perceived exertion level), while recovery must be really easy. One simple example would be to go 5 minutes all out, then 3 minutes for recovery, repeated 5 to 10 times. There are plenty of interval training programs out there, but one benefit they share is that they compress an effective training regimen in a short amount of time.
A turbo trainer can be better for this kind of training, since there’s more consistency, but you can do interval training on the road as well. You can do intervals on the flats to work on your sprinting, or do them on a familiar hill to work on your climbing ability.
ACTIVATE DIFFERENT MUSCLES WHILE PEDALING
Cycling is heaviest on the quadriceps muscles, the ones in front of your thigh. When fatigue sets in your quads, it will become harder to continue pedaling for extended periods of time.
Learn to rotate the effort around your legs’ other muscles, particularly those at the back. Your glutes are powerful engines for extended seated climbs, while your hamstrings can take some of the load off your tired quads and maintain forward propulsion on the cranks.
How do you do this? The trick is in your saddle position. Moving rearward allows your glutes and hamstrings to share the effort. Combine this with a smooth pedal stroke, one that’s similar to scraping the bottom of your foot at the lowest point, and you get a great way of maintaining speed while extending your endurance.
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