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10 pre-season cycling tips

-By: Tomas Swift-Metcalfe

Last modified: April 16, 2014

10 pre-season cycling tips to consider before you start training for the next season

intended audience: amateur cyclist & other endurance athletes with 2 + years experience.

It’s in the pre-season that any significant gains in performance are made. Most athletes use the pre-season to rest, recover, unwind and prepare for the new season and introduce novel ideas to their training and approach to the season.

1. Choosing your objectives.

It’s best to limit yourself to one or two objectives. It’s very hard to peak more than two times a year, so this is a limit, generally the few the peaks, the higher these peaks become. When choosing objectives it’s important to realise what the state of the opposition will be at various points in the season. For example, if you get into shape quickly (like yours truly) the beginning of season is a good target. If you’re ‘slow’ you’ll probably choose the end of season. It generally takes an absolute minimum of 8 weeks for a young athlete with little extra weight to gain full fitness. In non-competitive events, spacing these events so that you’ve got enough time to prime, prepare and tune your form is important.

2.) Season planning

Once you’ve chosen your main objectives, you need to sit down (with your coach if you’ve got one) and figure out how to approach objectives and which new training methods, or equipment your going to introduce in the new season (e.g. a new bike osymetric chain ring, etc.) It’s easier to adapt to changes if you apply them in the pre-season, rather an in-season. In fact, it’s a big mistake to introduce dramatic changes, to training, equipment or life style in mid-season.

3.) Preparatory training.

Preparatory training usually involves load bearing work to rebuild after a hard season. This is especially pertinent for cyclists. Do at least four weeks preparatory work before beginning a more specific training plan. It might be an idea to maintain any gains made in strength and flexibility throughout the season. Some endurance sports athletes benefit from an ‘endurance base’, versus training high intensity. This is probably most relevant to runners.

4.) To gain weight or not to gain weight?

For most endurance athletes, weight gain isn’t an issue, as most tend to be naturally thin. How much weight to gain (or not to gain) depends on how long you’ve got to loose that weight. Generally you can’t loose more than ~0.5 kg per week without impacting your performance and health negatively. And it isn’t easy, 0.5 kg per week equates to a caloric deficit of at least 4500 Kcal per week, which is tough going. Another notion to keep in mind is that a large initial drop in weight is usually not fat mass but water usually bound to glycogen within the muscles. Consider this ‘false’ weight loss; as soon as you load up for a race, you’ll put it all back on. So actually reducing body fat is tricky and needs to be done with care. Brownell et al (1987) say:

Reducing the magnitude of caloric deficit, carefully planning the nutrient composition of the diet, and increasing the duration of the weight loss period should minimize the loss of lean tissue and maximize the loss of fat

Rule of thumb 1-2 kg is okay to gain in the pre-season. More than this is a lot of hard work to shift in season.

5.) Train skills, acquire new ones.

In season you wont have the opportunity to develop new skills, as normal training and competition leave little scope to alter your way of doing things. For example, if you wish to improve your bike handling, pre-season mountain biking is a very good place to start, however it might not be the most effective training in season.

6.) Gym work.

A lot of research has shown that strength work benefits cyclist if these strength gains made in the pre-season are maintained through the season. Once weekly maintenance session is sufficient in-season and this wont adversely affect normal endurance training training.

In conclusion, in well-trained cyclists, strength maintenance training in a competition period preserved increases in thigh muscle CSA [cross-sectional area] and leg strength attained in a preceding preparatory period and further improved cycling performance determinants and performance.

7.) Relax!

The pre-season is a time to enjoy the ‘forbidden’ things and kill those craving off for the coming season. Everyone has their Achilles heel. Be it food, drink, partying… Athletes are human too and the pre-season is the only time to indulge these things.

8.) Sort out health niggles.

Health niggles, little things like minor (but necessary) surgery that will see you out of action for a couple of weeks should only be done in the pre-season if at all possible. While it may not seem like it, a two week stop in activity mid-season is very hard to recover from, or at least reach the level you would had you not stopped. That said short breaks up to 5 days mid-season can be very beneficial. Sort out health niggles in the off-season.

9.) Rest up.

Rest is a funny one. Before athletes would stop for long periods of time, however nowadays many train straight through the pre-season. Older athletes find it harder to gain form and generally take less time off. The also seem less affected through the entire season being able to maintain for longer. If you believe in periodisation, then the rest period of the off-season equates to the recovery period in a macro-cycle.

10.) Speaking of periodisation…

Base miles are usually put in by many in the pre-season and I’ve used this approach on occasion. Nowadays I find it hard to adopt my typical ‘reverse periodisation’ approach in early season, so I’m going with a gentler approach, doing slow base miles. The reason will become obvious soon 🙂

References for the direct quotes:

Brownell, K. D., Steen, S. N. and Wilmore J. H. (1987) ‘Weight regulation practices in athlete: analysis of metabolic and health effects’ Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise 19(6) pp. 546-556

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, E. A. and Raastad, T. (2010) ‘In-season strength maintenance training increases well-training cyclists’ performance’ European Journal of Applied Physiology 110(6) pp. 1296-1282

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