Commute to Success Part 2
Sites like Strava are ideal for this as you can easily see your own times and speeds, but you can just as easily time yourself from the roundabout at the end of road A to the bus stop just past the pub on road B. Just don’t test yourself too often, don’t expect to see improvements week on week. Instead set a base time, go away and train hard, have an easy week and then test yourself again (so maybe run it once a month).
As we are at the stage of the season where people are moving away from simple base miles and are looking to start to include some kind of higher intensity into their riding, there a lot of very simple techniques that can be worked into your daily commute to not only start to push your limits more naturally but also make you a better, more efficient cyclist at the same time.
This could range from things like pedal efficiency, gearing and cadence, to climbing technique or how stable and confident you are at descending, things like positioning on the bike, when to be in or out of the saddle, or riding as aero as possible.
Introducing these small aspects or changes into parts of your ride can help build stronger foundations on the bike, making you more efficient, smoother and potentially faster.
As an example, I often get people to start to work on pedalling smoother and trying to keep a higher cadence for short bursts throughout their ride. If they have a rolling route, then the aim would be to stay seated for as much as possible of the ride. On any climbs or drags, when they roll onto them and get an urge to lift themselves out of the saddle, they are encouraged to stay seated, change down a gear and to keep spinning as much as possible.
They should continue to keep a high cadence, changing gear whenever required, but to hold that technique. It is important not to focus on speed to start with as it will more than likely drop, so instead focus on pedal stroke and cadence. This will not only help your pedal speed and efficiency, but also your base power and core stability, plus you will be working harder than normal, and so pushing your body to a higher zone/level for short periods.
This in turn will help build up your cardiovascular fitness and your aerobic capacity. You are therefore starting to include short intervals into your routine, without really noticing. This is great as sometimes people are put off even by the mere thought of a session including hill reps or intervals (read as PAIN!), so by doing it this way, you are introducing them more subconsciously.
Other aspects, like positioning on the bike, are also something that can be worked on very easily. If, for example you are training for time trialling, then think about your position on your training bike. The aero position on your TT bike that you have spent hours and a lot of money perfecting will no doubt be completely different to your training steed. I am not suggesting lowering the front end and clamping on aero bars to hammer through rush hour traffic with, but think about how you can position yourself to start to work the same muscles and get used to being in the lower position.
Simply riding with your hands on the hoods, so you can still easily reach the brakes, closely mimics being on TT handlebar extensions, forearms flat and with the elbows at 90 degrees to flatten your back and drag you slightly forward on your saddle, combining to put you in a much closer position to that of your TT one. Again, do it in small bursts to start with – into a headwind is ideal – to allow time for your body to adapt to the position and the slightly different degree with which your muscles are used.
You can do similar things with over gearing or riding in a set position on the bike, or sitting and standing at certain points on the ride. I often use markers like traffic lights or lamp posts as part of sessions, but there are many different ways and various tricks to use, not just to get you to work harder, but also to mix the sessions up and make them more fun. A lot of this comes down to planning, thinking ahead and, if you use one, having a coach who will use the options available to you specifically – terrain, routes, and your strengths and weaknesses – coupled to your targets and not just give you a set training plan and let you get on with it.
Commuting is a great form of training, and done right can be super effective.
So, start to think about what you want to achieve from every ride. What can you work on, improve or perfect, even when just taking it easy? Remember that not every session needs to be full on. Work hard when you need to, and ease up on other rides to let your body recover.
Ride sensibly, mix things up and sit back and watch the improvements in your riding.