Training: The Rocky road to better cycling performance

There are three simple steps to being a contender… oh, and a turbo trainer. Let Rocky show you how

by Myles McCorry - Myles@bikepure   November 21, 2009  

Turbo training pic © Vicki Atkinson

Keep your hands up, he’s hurtin

Keen and excited for the season ahead? Nervous about your impending form? Worry not; I have the solution, the Balboa solution. Simply follow these three steps and I will guarantee you a better season than last. No magic or potions, just a trio of easy steps and progress for any competitive cyclist will result. Measurable improvements in personal best times, stage race placings or club run sprints. 3 simple progressions.

Step 1 “You’re natan but a washed up punk” (accept this)
Step 2 “I vill break you” (take the challenge)
Step 3 “He iz like a peece af steall”(determination to succeed)

Feel the calf muscles grow already? That's the Rocky effect and we haven't even got around to the other half of our training tag team…

With our seasonal climate of four months winter, three months spring and five months disappointment, most of us possess a turbo trainer. The triangular torture machine that sits folded and unwanted under stairs, damp in garages or under a bed in the spare room with the ‘special’ video collection. It wasn’t hard to buy the thing, another excuse in the local bike shop for the latest bling.

But while your turbo was easy to buy the sad fact remains that most of us find it hard to generate any sort of noise from the said tool. Which is a waste because they are a great training apparatus; I would go so far to as say the best. £100 spent on a turbo will return, pound for pound, results and value that no carbon–Kevlar bottle cage or new slick lid could ever offer. A carbon seat post could feasibly reduce your 50-mile time trial count by a few seconds – the turbo trainer however can offer minutes advantage.

I coach a pool of semi talented young, and not-so young cyclists and their improvements over previous years, are nothing short of remarkable. It's the turbo and the three steps. They will not rewrite your genetic code, give you the lungs of Tom Boonen, or the chemist of Tyler Hamilton. They won’t even make you win, if you haven’t been close before, but they will tender positive development, so take a deep breath, hold it and run over the three mystical steps and go and dig out your turbo.

This effect is a simple result of training in a controlled, regulated environment. The weather in the shed is always Majorca, the road surface same, excuses are banished. The opponents are singular and unvarying. It has been noted that an hour spent on a turbo is worth two on the road: this may be true if calorie counts and watts per hour are examined.  The amount of time we spend freewheeling or descending on a spin is extraordinary! Attach a pair of SRM power cranks to your steed and watch the power-reading buck between nothing and 400w at traffic lights, and any nothing reading is time wasted. Turbo sessions demand constant exertion, no rest: a desired labour can be obtained and pedalling style perfected. An effort of self determined duration and intensity that can increase with adaptation.

Say it with me “training”

From a ten second sprint to a 40-minute climb, an indoor trainer is the reinvention of the fixed wheel, without the drawbacks. There is little argument against them. Spend a few more quid and Tacx, and Elite both offer a reasonably accurate power monitoring, and having an actual note of your daily watt output, is a physical display of the essence of training. Watch the evidence of your body acclimatization to effort, as your third 200-watt session requires an effort less demanding, proven by the pulse monitor display. Controlled, reliable and ready. Your turbo is also the only place where I think Level three and four intervals can be done effectively and in safety. No traffic, no variants…a class piece of kit.  So why don’t we use them?

Dull, dull, and dull. Dull as a wet, sick, Monday afternoon. Pure dishwater. Even with the now standard silent resistance, turbos are not only dull, but also annoying to the lay, non-cycling partner, and so, banished to the least invasive, pokey hole of the house, (wife/mother least irritated). A session begins spinning, full of hopes and dreams. A glance at the watch you notice just 4 minutes have gone by. Then 5, five and a half, 6, 6 minutes and 14 seconds. Somewhere a hole has opened in the space-time continuum. Conjured by the whirling legs, a hole is torn to a parallel universe where time lingers… a lot. Your freshly salted eye, sees the second hand on loiter as the lactic acid burns, and already you’re unhappy. I too have had soul stripping turbo non-events lasting less than ten minutes. And they are pointless.

So you have decided, that you need the training, and that the turbo is the most time-effective way of improving performance. How do you get the mind round? …. By distracting it. Sorted. Lull the brain away from the monotonous pain and on to something else.

Movies (and the three steps, obviously).

The Rocky way…

One working Turbo should placed in a ventilated room, within clear view of an old TV. The DVD player should be then hooked up three feet in front of your winter bikes bars, just out of the sweat zone. You’re ready. Ready for a new training life. A happy one. Pacifed into form by quality film. Initially in December 30 minutes of captivating training time will be accompanied by TV watching. Your mind detached from the job at hand, transformed to a galaxy far, far away. Forgetting the sore legs and concentrating on ‘the box’.

Build it up slowly, start with several level 1 (120ishHR) sessions: Sit-coms suit great. After a few weeks when the legs are turning freely, progress in early January to solid base work. An old Tour de France stage viewed will fire up the imaginings of April form and lone breakaways. Put the heart-monitors upper alarm to 60% of max and match the leg speed of the pros. After a few weeks the body gets to love it. The new cocktail of 100 revs per minute and a western. In this measurable situation, increases in performance can be made succinctly. Steady, monitored improvements. Training sessions become linked to DVD rental. January sees action series and short comedies all around 70 minutes; February is the month for the blockbusters: 90 minutes, with the odd interval thrown in during a chase scene.

Only then, in early March will the ‘three steps’ bring you to your finest form. Base done, race form approaching. Bring on Rocky. Sylvester Stallone’s four movies are the finest turbo fodder ever produced (not the last two about the kid and the retirement muck).

The films have it all. Made for turbo training. The initial slow build, the first thirty minutes spinning happy at 110 revs per minute. Becoming engrossed in the plot, small guy can conquer the world. You are Rocky, I'm Rocky and so’s my wife. Ignoring the noise the 52 by 18 is making behind, the first fight sequences, no one needs to tell you to up the tempo, an involuntary ten minutes is spent just under threshold as Rocky gets the shite knocked out of him by the champ. (Step 1, “You’re natan but a washed up punk” old coach Mickey’s words stimulate a passion within).

Defeated, we recover at upper level two for what follows in the glorious steps, especially in Rocky 4. The Italian stallion takes on Ivan Dreago and the KGB. The subsequent training montage is where you acquire the improvements on last season results. 1 hour into the movie you are totally, involuntarily, right there with Rocky. Once the trumpets start; no Lance book, no Induraine time trail, no Quickstep last kilometre will offer surge training fervour like the intro “din-in eaaa… din-in eaaa” that accompanies Balboa on his final training run in Philly before the big fight.

Rocky ain’t takin' the shit. He pounds beef, runs up mountains and outruns Ladas. (Step 2: “I vill break you” his/ your opponents taunt: it can be done, rise up. If Rocky can beat the entire Polit Bureau then I can do a 21-minute 10). You’re there with him, spinning 125 revs a minute. This log lifting and one arm press ups, 130 revs a minute. 75 % of your heart rate banished as you match him on the speedball. It is fantastic, cinematic muck. But the seasonal advantage is there. The three quotes from the movies inspire dreams of glory and victory and get off your ass and try harder.

The hypnotic Hollywood offering gives you 97 minutes assistance to the goal. Three 10 minute upper level three intervals, and a sense of possibility. All in one session. 1500 calories burnt and ten places ascended. (Step 3“He iz like a peece af steall” :The thoughts of your training partners on where this youthful ambition and new found power have come from. Mid April your compound indoor training, has gently advanced you to the cycling god you see in the mirror). After 10 viewings of Rocky, punching the air in round 12 as you spin 350 watts… you’re a contender: “Aid..rie..nne”

5 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Ok Ok Ok - this fella's right - turbo in the garage, waiting to be used, At home with farm flu at the mo. as soon as i'm better i'm gonna give it a go.

posted by Simon [59 posts]
24th November 2009 - 14:31

like this
Like (0)

what's farm flu? is that like a more generic swine flu?

cactuscat's picture

posted by cactuscat [301 posts]
24th November 2009 - 14:37

like this
Like (4)

Bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease -------sounds like farmageddon!!!!!! Who knows - some kind of flu - the docs don't wanna know - apparently there are several types of flu going round - swine & 'normal'!!

posted by Simon [59 posts]
25th November 2009 - 16:51

like this
Like (4)

Had my turbo, laptop, speakers and training dvds but the best thing was a winter roadbike and clothing-sorted.

Oh and few pals to ride with.

Shouldn't ride hard in winter -avoid overtraining.

Besides one hard cardio session a week is enough in winter for most to prevent loss of fitness nad overtraining syndromes,

Zaskar's picture

posted by Zaskar [137 posts]
28th February 2010 - 1:42

like this
Like (0)

Im after a decent turbo trainer, one which is cheap but effective and wont cause too much stress to my bike. Anybody got any ideas where I can find such a key piece of equipment?

2 wheels please!

posted by mancsi [119 posts]
11th March 2011 - 15:42

like this
Like (3)