Focus on the Fundamentals Not Marginal Gains
Athletes often focus on the specifics, however the importance of focusing on the fundamentals: training, recovery, and functioning gear—these are the things that will bring you the greatest return for your investment of time, sweat, and energy.
I receive a lot of questions about very specific topics—fasted training, supplements, recovery products, restricted breathing devices, and so forth. The list is endless, sometimes there's some low hanging fruit. Most of time though it's unsubstantiated marketing hype and just another way to spend your hard earned £££.
So what is most important and frankly what is going to give you the biggest return for your investment of time, sweat, and energy?
Lets assume those specific things are the 5%, have you fully utilised the remaining 95 % ?
As you are aware Team Sky coined the phrase marginal gains, though it isn't a new concept and has been used in everything from chess strategy to ancient Japanese philosophy. However, as a result of Team sky continued dominance, many athletes have firmly latched onto the idea that seemingly insignificant changes will incrementally add up to substantial gains. The thing is, pro riders are so developed physiologically to win that they have to find these little things to make the difference. In fact, they’ve likely spent 10 years developing the 95 percent and have it dialled.
So what should you focus on? What comprises that 95 %? It’s simple:
When I look at the 95% of training the INSCYD supported pro teams complete, it’s not all this amazing complexity. As a matter of fact, I tell my athletes all the time, there’s a whole lot of ways to get to your peak fitness. Using INSCYD testing allows the coach and rider to prioritise their training strategy, so that you avoid training sessions that delay progress. So that 95% when you’re talking about training it's really simple. It’s about the right balance of volume and intensities and rest is your rest proportional to the amount of time you’re putting on the bike. Are you executing the work effectively. So again, find the intervals that you can do really well, again, doesn’t have to be complex, sometimes complex is hard to execute. Finally the the bigger picture of timing and periodisation. Again I keep it simple. I prefer not to give my athlete a different workout every single day, I like to use a KPI (key performance indicator) and go into a block with one or two specific interval workouts, that you’re doing for the entire phase.
Using Today's Plan I have my athletes give me an self assessment of their recovery and RPE of a particular training session. It's very common to see things like, started the intervals, It wasn’t in the legs, did an OK workout, then the next day, really struggling, just wasn’t feeling it. A riders assessment of their recovery for the week is always interesting, more often than not it contradicts what they have been saying during the week. Assessing where you’re at and how recovered you’re feeling is a really hard thing to do. As endurance athletes we want to fool ourselves, we ignore the signs. Again, we can go into all those little one, two and three percent's for recovery. At the end of the day, the 95% of recovery is just that ability to recognise where you are, and then adjust your training and your recovery time accordingly. The overwhelming majority of athletes that come to me just need to more sleep, the missed time adds up to at least a full nights sleep every week.
In addition to sleep, I see time and time again athletes complaining that they have low energy. The solution is really simple, it’s eat more-especially on the bike. Trying to maintain a certain energy intake, so you can maintain particular weight isn't ideal. What riders are missing is this huge component of actually just giving your body fuel. Whatever diet you give to humans, they will adapt to it. Some diets quicker than others, some diets like a high fat diet, take a little bit longer to fully adapt to. When we look at performance, then there are some aspects of physiology that do not change whether you’re adapted or not. When intensity is really high, physiology dictates that you need glycolysis. So whether you are new to sport or have been training for years if the exercise intensity is high enough, you’re still going to need glycolysis. Carbohydrate will be your main fuel source. So as with your training there is not one diet that is the solution for all problems dietary needs. A high carbohydrate diet or a high fat diet or a keto diet is not a solution to all problems. If you want to train your carbohydrate and your fat metabolism, you would have no doubt have heard a lot about the keto diet and metabolic flexibility, well, you’re actually making your body very inflexible. The reason being your body becomes really good at using fat, and really poor at using carbohydrate. Same thing that would happen if you if you always were on a high carb diet, you become pretty inflexible.
Using INSCYD we establish your carb combustion rates in addition to the optimum FatMax zones for endurance rides. The the only way to maintain any sort of metabolic flexibility is to give different challenges to the body with different training stimuli. We don’t train the same every day and we should do the same with nutrition. Some days, high carb, some days low carb high protein, I'm not an advocate of fasted training.
Just to be clear, over the years I've had some lovely bikes. So I’m not discouraging anybody if they want to buy a really nice bike, do it. Maybe it will make you feel faster and it’s a psychological boost. Just don’t expect it to change performance necessarily in radical ways. Every year manufactures marketing hype make claims that their latest release is an improvement on last year which was the best bike money can buy. Sure the racing bicycle frame/equipment has been slowly refined over the last 30 or so years to provide the best combination of strength/weight/stiffness/comfort.
However, by introducing an aero element to equipment and the frame, you are by definition, compromising one or more of the above qualities. Typically, this is comfort as the frames are so stiff.
So if you are happy that the x watts you may save with the aero frame are worth it, especially if you are spending hours and hours at 35km/h+ then the aero frame is for you. I feel that the gain from an aero frame would be too small to be noticeable to the average rider. Wheels and tyres; can transform any bike frame so it may be worth investing in deep rims if you are a speed merchant.
A professional bike fit, well fitting clothing and an aero helmet should be a consideration. It's also worth taking the time to learn how to maintain and repair your bike. A clean, regularly serviced bike is less likely to let you down and in the long run and save you money on repairs and maintenance.