Mistake #1: Too hard or not hard enough
I want to go fast all the time and test the limits of my body on every workout. That’s why I love endurance sports! For me it is a way to find out what I’m made of and to see how hard I can push myself. Logically, if I want to push myself harder and go faster, I need to train for that and push myself to the limit every day, right?
One of the biggest mistakes I have made as an athlete, and seen countless other athletes make, is training too hard on easy days and then not being able to train hard enough on hard days. In the past I would go do a group ride on an easy day (I mean, I’m just sitting in the group, it can’t be that hard?!), and then my legs wouldn’t recover enough to push myself to a new level on my hard days. Training turns into more of a flat line where “easy” is just below the line, and “hard” is just above it.
Training should be more of deep valleys (easy workouts) below the line and tall mountains (hard workouts) above the line. When you have an “easy” day prescribed, it means your body has a chance to absorb all of the hard training and racing from the past few days and a chance to recover for the hard days ahead. When athletes go too hard on their easy days, they don’t give their body that chance for recovery and will go into the next day’s hard workout not yet recovered enough.
Seriously, easy workouts are the bane of my existence. I hate them. It is so boring to just roll around slowly while watching the group ride fly by at 30 mph. Unfortunately, easy rides are one of the keys to getting faster. Just by spinning the legs or going on an easy run, the muscles you just asked everything of in your last days of hard training are contracting and relaxing, flushing new blood in and out of your tired muscles. A true easy day will help to speed your recovery and prepare for the hard days of the week.
On the hard days the goal is to GO HARD. Like you’re about to fall off the treadmill hard (but try to avoid that). Or attacking so much you’re about to get dropped from the group ride hard. However, if you went too hard on your easy day, your body will not be able to go as hard as it needs to. The combination of truly hard “hard days” and truly easy “easy days” (with a few tempo or endurance days thrown in between) are what will help you get to the next level.
If you are like me, and probably don’t go easy enough when you need to I suggest this:
On your easy days, start going at an effort that you think is easy...and then go even slower. My easy rides probably average about 12 mph (but who cares about speed anyways on easy days!), and when I ride up any kind of incline my only goal is to make my legs only work enough so I don’t fall over. Hide your computer in your pocket, grab your friends, spin to a local coffee shop, eat that croissant, and spin back home. Your legs will thank you during tomorrow’s 10 x 3 minute all out efforts.
Professional cyclist turned professional triathlete living in Boulder, CO.