Being the Boff – 7 Steps to Radically Improved Performance >by Marc Wilkinson
Hoping to perform better without changing your training programme is like expecting to become a maths boff while working on only the simple equations encountered in first-year algebra. If you want to improve your performances, says Mark Wilkinson, you can't train the same way all the time – your fitness will just settle in at a fixed level.
Your body's tendency to merely maintain the status quo means that if you want to get better your workouts must progress to a higher level of difficulty. To progress, you could simply increase your intensity, volume, and/or frequency of training over time. As long as you weren't exceeding your body's ability to adapt, you would steadily improve. The trick would be to avoid exceeding your body's biomechanical and physiological limits - too much stress would actually begin to break your body down, rather than build it up.
This guileless pattern of gradually increasing the quantity of work you do, the speed of your workouts, and/or the frequency with which you train is the simplest way to alter your training over time in hopes of improving your performances. Such progression does produce performance gains, but by itself it can never help you reach your ultimate potential, because it ignores the fact that your training must also be goal-oriented.
There are a number of specific things you need to accomplish in order to optimise performance, and these goals aren't always reached merely by fiddling with the 'work-load knob' on your training programme. To get stronger, fitter or faster, you must focus on individual goals and work towards their individual achievement – eventually they will all come together in a winning way.
The 7 commandments: 1. Expand your VO2max (maximal aerobic capacity) to the greatest possible extent, so that your body becomes a huge energy-creating machine. As your capacity to process oxygen increases, your ability to exercise without fatigue increases dramatically, and the difficulty of various movement speeds decreases. To put it simply, you can cycle further and faster. DO THIS BY increasing your weekly mileage, but by no more than 10% per week.
2. Increase the strength of your muscles and connective tissues. Doing so fortifies your body against injuries and thus allows you to train and progress without unplanned interruption. Becoming stronger is also the first step on the path to improved economy. DO THIS BY increasing your weekly mileage, and using bigger gears when cycling.
3. Lift your lactate threshold (LT) to the highest-possible level. LT lift-offs increase all of your race paces and make it possible to move at faster-than-ever speeds without fatigue. DO THIS BY increasing your heart rate during the interval or by increasing the length of the interval.
4. Maximally pad your power. This is not just about greater force, but learning to exert it more quickly. Power means faster, more explosive movement. One way to augment your average power output is to simply boost VO2max and lactate threshold, but developing maximal power also requires the utilization of special training techniques which increase your muscles' amount and rate of force production. DO THIS BY increasing your HR during the interval on a bigger gear or by increasing the length of the interval as well as using a bigger gear when cycling.
5. Become as economical as possible. You want Honda efficiency from a huge, Rolls-Royce exercise motor (VO2max). Remember that possessing a great VO2max is synonymous with having an expanded heart, as well as muscles which have the capability of processing incredible amounts of oxygen, while being economical means moving along at decent speeds while your heart is still puttering along moderately and your muscles aren't forced to gear up all their oxygen-processing capacity. (In other words, even though the movement speed is high-quality, you're 'operating' at only a modest fraction of your VO2max, giving you lots of room to pick up your pace without exceeding your oxygen-handling potential.) DO THIS BY practising point 4, above, and increasing the length of the training interval.
6. Restore yourself regularly and systematically, healing the muscular, connective-tissue, nervous-system, and endocrine traumas which are the natural result of hard training, and thus permitting further hard work and a relentless approach toward your ultimate goal. This restoration would include one prolonged period each year during which your body totally refurbishes itself, making far more than the minor repairs required between workouts. DO THIS BY taking a complete 4-6 week period off the bike.
7. Develop specific endurance. It's not enough to be a physiological thoroughbred, with good VO2max, LT, economy, strength, and power in a rested body. You must also develop the ability to function smoothly and efficiently and with minimal fatigue at your goal speed - the one that will take you to a PB in your key competition of the season. DO THIS BY combining all of the above in a systematic method.
Train step-by-step That's a lot to do! And of course, you can't accomplish all those goals at once - with the same kind of training. It would be ridiculous to expect to maximally increase your VO2max - a physiological change that depends on rather large amounts of intense training - at the same time as you were attempting to enhance your rest and recovery.
It would also be foolish to expect to optimize your lactate threshold at the same time as you were making large gains in power, since the former depends on continuous movement for 20 to 30 minutes at a time at moderately difficult paces and also the performance of long intervals (lasting for six to 12 minutes or so) at about 88 to 90 per cent of maximal, while the latter necessitates shorter blasts at considerably higher speeds and special power-building drills.
And it's silly to throw yourself into power training without first building a broad platform of strength; the upgraded strength will protect you from injury during the high-intensity power-promoting workouts, and maximal gains in power simply can't be achieved unless muscles first develop the ability to generate greater force. The lesson is that you must do things in step-by-step fashion when you train, rather than attempt to improve everything at once.
It's important to remember, too, that the gradual development of proficiency in your sport changes the way your body adapts to training and necessitates an actual change in the make-up of your training programme. After all, you want to ensure that further performance progress can be attained.
NEXT MONTH: Periodization – the science behind a winning training programme.
Marc Wilkinson is a former National Road-Cycling Champion and Springbok Captain. An expert on cycling fitness and nutrition, he still competes in events as a veteran, writes training programmes, and consults to Virgin Active, Powerade, Cape Argus Pick & Pay Cycle Tour and Fast Fuel about developing opportunities in the cycling market. His company, Sportstyle, specializes in sports marketing, sponsorship development and training expertise in the cycling industry, consulting to both individuals and companies on the marketing and various other aspects of cycling as a sport and the nutritional and training requirements associated with it.
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