The nights are long, the days are wet, Christmas is almost upon us… a cyclist's thoughts turn to questions of fitness and luckily we've got just the man to answer them, Dave Smith road.cc's resident health, fitness and training guru.
If you would like to ask Dave a question about your cycling fitness, training or health you can drop him a line at fitness [at] road.cc or you can email us at info [at] road.cc putting Fitness Q&A in the subject line
I’ve just signed up for the Marmotte next July. Help! I have experience doing sportives in the UK, some of them hilly but none longer than 80 miles. How should I prepare?
Dave Smith: Not much will prepare you if you’ve never ridden in the Alps, but you can be more prepared.
Spend loads of time on the bike, get used to eating on the go, get your position dialed as discomfort can be a bigger issue than fitness.
Long climbs can be replicated by riding into headwinds, especially useful if you don’t live in a mountainous area. I’d suggest weekend trips to North Wales, the Pennines or Scotland. Get used to climbing, then climb some more, even doing repeats on something like the LLanberis pass. Closer to the time, you might want to consider heat training – turbo training with a fan heater worked for my first touring trip to a desert region.
Can you suggest a couple of turbo sessions that won’t take long to do but that will boost my fitness during winter? I do usually do two sessions mid-week and ride outdoors at weekends.
Dave Smith: The quickest and nastiest is the Tabata, which has been hijacked to refer to any short interval session. As an aside, you’ll read of HIIT, or high intensity interval training - I would suggest that all interval training should be high intensity.
Warm-up for 4 minutes
Do 8 maximal 20 second efforts, with 10 seconds recovery.
Cool-down for 4 minutes.
Another favourite is 10 x 1 min max, 1 min recovery – with 5 mins warm-up and cool-down.
I think the key to turbo work is to make it high quality, get in, get it done. Have fun!
I started riding time trials half way through last season, and was pleased with my speed but found the main issue to be comfort on the TT bars. Any suggestions to prevent neck and shoulder ache?
Dave Smith: Yes, I have two suggestions which I’m currently doing myself in preparation for a few TTs next year.
When you watch TV, lie on the floor, resting on your elblows and looking up. This works on conditioning the neck and upper back muscles.
Second, place your forearms together in front of you with elbows touching. Raise your hands to the ceiling until you feel constrained by the tightness in your shoulders. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, then repeat 3 times, something you can easily do daily.
In my first life as a cyclist, 30 years ago, riding a fixie was popular through winter. Now no one seems to do it. Is it not seen as effective use of training time any more? My current riding mates had never heard of fixies other than as hipster transport. Is it worth trying again?
Dave Smith: Riding a fixed wheel bike used to be done in winter when beards were the preserve of lumberjacks and north sea fishermen. The reason given was known as ‘souplesse’ – call it style and ease of movement if you will. The reality is it develops strength from climbing in a big gear (plus upper body strength), and enhanced efficiency from high rpm on descents/flat. There are also arguments that fewer components to go wrong in winter, though personally I’ve never had a front or rear mech’ break on me.
To answer your question, it ‘might’ make you a better rider, but can be a ball-ache on group rides and choosing the right gear can be an issue if you live in a hilly area. If you ride alone and live in an area with rolling hills, give it a go!
Is a bike fit really worth spending money on? They seem to cost a lot, and I’m reluctant to pay out the cash if I could get an OK position myself.
Dave Smith: If you’ve ever bought a new car, I assume you adjusted the seat and reach/height of the steering wheel? Otherwise you’d be silly. Getting a ‘bike fit’ is not essential, but getting your bike to fit is. There are various useful online guides and even the professional and very credible services can’t quite agree on what a perfect position is. Personally I found big gains from a professional bike fit, but depending on the level of riding and your goals you may find it adequate to go for a DIY job.
Dave Smith has been involved in coaching cyclists in all disciplines for more than 25 years. A former GB national and Olympic road coach, Dave has trained Tour stage winners and Olympic medallists, world champions and numerous national champions. In addition he has applied his quirky and counter intuitive thinking to help dozens of regular cyclists, polo players and F1 drivers. He rides 250 miles a week on and off-road in all weathers.