The pain of quality over quantity training

Adam Semple Columnist

By Adam Semple, Adam Semple is a Roar Expert


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    Castration. That’s what I think of when I submerge my mind in the foresight of a training program of quality over quantity. Much more suffering, on account of making up for lost time.

    Pain. Lactic. Hurt station platform one. As you can see I’m trying to keep it simple and god knows how simply god-damn painful the quality option is…

    The problem is, Quality is THE option. There are no two ways about it. Quality over quantity is as obvious as picking a 1950’s Fiat 500 over one of those rollerskatesque thing’s that Fiat produce today. It’s a no brainer.

    I am not your coach. Nor am I a scientist, or a trainer of any degree for that matter. I am merely the product of a real estate agent mother and a self-taught landscape gardener father, which means I can cut to the chase without worrying about being wrong. (That was my disclaimer.)

    The problems we have nowadays are first world problems. Too much time to train because we all have too much money, leading to too much time on the bike, too much eating, too much worrying about how many milligrams our bikes weigh. Too many avenues of social media to complain about or contemplate various aspects of previously declared FWP’s.

    Generally the idea here that more is better, when it certainly is not. When did it become un-common knowledge that less is more? It’s a metaphorical phrase yes, yet still so practical.

    Recovery has become a thing of the past because to ‘harden up’ has worn its way into our ever-so egoist society, even when we’re becoming so much more socially and culturally progressive.

    Unfortunately there is a difference between someone being proper-soft (adjective – one who refuses to suffer the required amount to improve in endurance ability), and sick/injured/unknowledgeable.

    Training huge miles has become a social go-to point in avoiding the label of said softness. The result being many miles at a lower intensity, as opposed to fewer miles at a higher intensity.

    Many of the people I see riding long miles are stuck in this same trap. To think you can train as far as the pros is one thing, but what you’re missing is the intensity.

    Oh so you think you can do both? Good luck. Professionals train 25-35 hours a week because they are exactly that; professional. Hardened soldiers of the European mountains and crosswinds.

    Professionals train both length and intensity only because they can recover from it. They don’t faff around all day, nor do they kill themselves all day. Their efforts are still concise and calculated, but recovery is more readily available so they can train more.

    If you want to build your base endurance all year, no worries, go out and ride 200 watts all day. It is a different task to follow bunch accelerations over and over at 600/700 watts, or time trial at 400 watts for 20km.

    If all you ever do is 200 watts, these goals are unachievable. Achieving these outputs require training for them; efforts, repeats, intensity. Yes there may be a period in your year to just ride base miles at low intensity, but the majority of an amateur athlete’s year should be focussed around various methods of increasing specific areas of ability. Strength, power, vo2.

    You could have a massive endurance ability, but if your muscles can’t recover from bunch accelerations, you’re going to be cooked by the end of the race.

    The easy option is to just go out riding all day and come home saying you’ve done five hours and you’re a tough bastard. You’re not. It’s harder to do three hours full tilt than it is to do five hours of just riding with your mates.

    Find your limits of strength and aerobic threshold, then push them slightly, over and over, recovering completely on days when needed.

    Try and keep your intensity rides to short distances, don’t allow yourself to ride around all day fatiguing at the benefit of nobody. Recovering from brutally hard efforts is more important than doing ‘extras’.

    Try two-to-three hour rides. Build your efforts over four weeks, in both distance and intensity, then back right off for a week and start the build process again.

    Remember, recovery is equally as important as the effort itself. I can’t emphasize that enough. What are you achieving doing several hours of ‘extras’ after the bunch ride that you just rode at 80%, instead of 100%? If you’ve done an 80km bunch ride and you can do three hours extras afterward, you didn’t ride hard enough.

    Don’t sacrifice true suffering and high quality efforts, for ‘extras’. Sure there is a time and a place for long miles, base endurance training, but always consider how it is actually harder to do quality than it is to do quality.

    Once you’ve done three 30 minute threshold efforts or 50 sprints in a row, you can start to feel good about yourself. Until then, you need to harden up.

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    The Crowd Says (1)

    • Columnist

      January 10th 2013 @ 1:17pm
      Lee Rodgers said | January 10th 2013 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

      Welcome to The Roar Adam, great to have you on board!

      some very interesting research has shown that Long Slow Distance (LSD) rides are only truly beneficial if over 6 hours long. then and only then does the body begin to make the ‘peripheral adaptations’ that you’re looking for – namely, changes in mitochondria, myoglobin and the body’s ability to use and store glycogen.

      just briefly: myoglobin is an oxygen-binding protein and an increase in this leads to more oxygen being stored in the muscles.

      mitochondria are our aerobic engines and having a lot of these mean that our body uses less glycogen stores – therefore we can exercise for longer.

      and glycogen is a fuel derived as glucose (sugar) from carbohydrate and stored in the muscles and liver. it’s the primary energy source for high-intensity cycling. reserves are normally depleted after about two-and-a-half hours of riding. if you do your LSD properly though you can increase the body’s ability to store glycogen, so, you increase your stamina through increasing the body’s glycogen store.

      phew..! but who has the time to go hit it for 6 hours a day? and do you really need to? what Adam writes about here is now beginning to be backed up by hard scientific research, that looks at the benefits to be gained from High Intensity Training (H.I.T)

      the result of HIT? simple: increased performance ans gains in peripheral adaptations.

      what is also interesting here is that, if you are a seasoned cyclist, high volume training alone won’t lead to continued increases in mitochondrial density. several studies suggest that for well-trained cyclist and triathletes, high-intensity interval training is necessary for achieving increased mitochondrial density—no matter how much time you have available for training.

      what does this mean for us as cyclists? it means that you can achieve similar results with high intensity effort as with very long, slow distance riding, and at a fraction of the time.

      one excellent example of this approach is Oscar Freire, triple World Champion who, due to a persistent back injury, just couldn’t sit in the saddle all day, day after day. he often pout in just 15-18 hours a week, and heck, it worked.

      Adam speaks the truth though – HIT hurts. it’s beyond hurt, if you do it right. it’s i-need-my-momma pain. but the effort bears fruit, for sure…

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