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Using your commute as training

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Knowledge level: Intermediate

Commuting

Article posted: 21/03/2013

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If your time for training is limited, maximising your gains from any time available for cycling is essential and, if you commute on your bike, these miles definitely should not be wasted. With these four ride suggestions, two for the morning and two for the evening, you can make sure you’re getting the most out of your ride to and from work.

Importance of Training Zones

Being able to objectively measure intensity is key to efficient and effective use of training time. The most affordable way to achieve this is by using a heart rate monitor. If you’re following one of the British Cycling Training Plans, you’ll already have conducted a Threshold Test and, from the results of this, assigned your accurate and personal heart rate training zones. If you’re not following the plans but still want to make the most of your riding, buy a heart rate monitor, undertake the test and find your zones.

Morning Fasted Commute

If your commute is typically between 30-60 minutes in duration, riding fasted is an excellent way to develop riding economy, enhance your body’s ability to burn fat as a fuel and facilitate weight maintenance or loss. Do not eat any food before setting off on your ride but you may have some water or a black tea or coffee. It’s essential that the entire ride is in Zones 1-2. With low blood sugar levels you will not be able to sustain any harder efforts and, if you attempt to, you will not get the benefits from the ride and will probably come to a grinding halt. When you first start attempting this session, ride primarily in Zone 1 but, as your body adapts, try to ride at least 50% of it in Zone 2. Make sure you have some food available to eat immediately when you get to work as you will feel very hungry.

The so-called Sweet-Spot zone has received a lot of press recently and is a great intensity to train at. It’s found at the cusp between the upper end of Tempo and the lower end of Threshold.

Morning Recovery Ride

A genuine recovery ride is an excellent use of a morning commute. It’ll speed up your recovery from a hard or long ride the previous day or give your legs a gentle reminder of what you expect from them if planning a big ride. Ride a flat route, keep the bike in the small chain-ring and spin super easy. You should barely feel as if you are applying any pressure on the pedals, think crystal cranks, as if any pressure would break them. Also your heart and lungs should hardly be stressed at all. The entire ride should be in Zone 1 so make sure you allow some extra time if necessary.

Evening Sweet-Spot

The so-called Sweet-Spot zone has received a lot of press recently and is a great intensity to train at. It’s found at the cusp between the upper end of Tempo and the lower end of Threshold. This translates to upper Zone 3 and lower Zone 4. If you’re training on feel and perceived exertion, you’ll have to be concentrating on your effort and any conversation will be in short clipped sentences. After warming up for ten minutes, ride efforts of up to 20 minutes at this intensity and you’ll soon notice the benefit. Using this zone is a great way to incorporate some focused training into a commute.

Evening Tabata

Tabata training is named after Dr Izumi Tabata who was the primary researcher looking into the impact of high intensity training on aerobic/anaerobic performance at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. He took two groups of elite speed-skaters and subjected them to two different 6-week cycling training regimes. Both groups trained for five sessions per week but whilst the first group performed pretty standard moderate level intensity exercise for each of their sixty minutes sessions the second group followed a radically different protocol. For each of their five sessions, after a warm-up they would perform 7-8 20 seconds near maximal sprints with 10 seconds recovery in between equating to about four minutes of real work. At the end of the 6 weeks both groups were tested for improvements in both their aerobic and anaerobic capabilities. The moderate intensity/longer duration group did show a significant improvement in their aerobic capacity but not in their anaerobic. However, not only did the high intensity/short duration group unsurprisingly increase their anaerobic capacity, but also showed a greater increase in aerobic ability. Warm-up well for at least 10 minutes and find a quiet stretch of road without any junctions or sharp bends. Using a moderate grade hill can help to keep the intensity up. Perform the same 20 seconds sprints with 10 seconds recoveries as in the study. However, if you’re not use to this form of high intensity workout, it’d be a good idea to start with just 3-5 repeats and then build up to the full 7-8 protocol. Warm down for the rest of your commute.

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