Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Back to Basics - What is Training?

In cycling there are three main types of training which can be defined as:

physiological - adaptation of the physical attributes of the body
technical - development of physical skills and techniques
psychological - development of mental skill and techniques

The Training Effect

The human body is a very clever design and in essence if it needs to do a particular action frequently then it can adapt itself to become better at that action.

In very simple terms if you want to run fast then you keep running as fast as you are able and  over a period of time the body will make changes enabling it to run faster (see the science below). If you keep pushing to what seems to be your limit in this way the body will adapt in a wide range of ways to make that possible. All of those adaptations put together create the “Training effect”.

This is hardly new science and it is how human beings have trained for sport, for war, for work and for survival over many thousands of years.

At the same time human beings have used the basic training methods to develop technical skills, lots of repetition and carefully building up the parts that make a technique to become more effective. That's the way farmers learned to plough the land and also how soldiers learned archery. Those same principles apply now to those of us wanting to become more effective cyclists.

In psychological terms repeating a process enough helps to alter the pathways in the brain and is part of the effect of technical skills training. In addition the brain is able to learn things through effective thinking techniques such as visualisation and can benefit from strategies to boost morale. It isn't really surprising that increased morale actually boosts physical performance.

What do we need to do, and what do we need to understand, in order to become better cyclists?

The answer to that question depends on a wide range of variables including the specific areas of cycling where we want to improve. Do you want to ride further, faster, climb better, sprint better etc. These specifics will be addressed in the following blog postings starting with the one constant in cycling; pedalling

The Science Bit

There is an excellent explanation of the theory of adaptation in physical training from Colorado Sports Training at;


In simple terms all organisms have the ability to respond to stress by adapting.

If your circumstances mean you have to run away (e.g. from large carnivores) frequently then your body increases the capacity of the heart to pump enough blood, increases the capacity of the lungs to supply oxygen to be carried in the blood and increases the number of fibres brought into use in the leg muscles. Of course if you have to run away too many times without giving your body time to rest and to make those adaptations while resting then you are likely to get caught (and eaten). This is where evolution kicks in because the better adapted are more likely to survive and breed etc.

By carefully planning your training you persuade your body, by creating the right amount of stress, that it needs to adapt and then you give it the necessary time and nutrients to make the adaptations and you become more effective.

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