Using your commute as training

Using your commute as training

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Knowledge Level: Intermediate

If you are trying to follow a structured training plan to build your cycling fitness, finding the time to get in the quality miles can be a struggle. If you commute however, these rides can be so much more than just rides to and from work. Follow these tips to make the most of your cycling commutes.

Go longer

Especially if you are on your ride home, you are in your kit and out on your bike already so why not extend your commute to make it more worthwhile? You may need to think a little bit more about your nutrition during the afternoon but, adding some quality extra miles, efforts or hill reps to your inbound commute, is an incredibly time efficient way to train.

Following the British Cycling training plans

If you are following any of the British Cycling training plans, many of the shorter midweek sessions can be adapted and completed during your commute. You may have to tweak your route slightly to find suitable stretches of road but many of the workouts can easily be ticked off on your rides home.

Tailor your efforts to intensity

If you are not following one of our training plans, it is important that you understand how to monitor your training, using either heart rate or power, to determine the length and intensity of the efforts that you factor into your commutes. Once you understand intensity and have an idea of the areas of cycling fitness you want to target, you can use our indoor training workouts as templates for sets and reps that you can include in your commutes.

Not every day

The British Cycling training plans are all designed to deliver the perfect blend of workouts and recovery. If you are devising your own training plan, it is essential that you don’t attempt too many high intensity sessions. Ignore this and you will diminish your training returns and risk overtraining. A good rule of thumb is that a hard day, which can be taxing regarding either intensity or duration, should always be followed by an easy day.

Morning carbohydrate fasted commute

If your commute is typically between 30-60 minutes in duration, riding carbohydrate 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. In your bottle on the bike you can have a protein drink to sip during the ride. This won’t impact the benefits of the session, but will help you recover quicker from it. It is 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 your breakfast available to eat immediately when you get to work as you will feel very hungry.

Morning recovery rides

A genuine recovery ride is an excellent use of a morning commute, especially if you have done a tough ride the evening before. It will 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 the next day. 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, and that your heart and lungs are hardly 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 is 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 are training on feel and perceived exertion, you will 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 will soon notice the benefit. Using this zone is a great way to incorporate some focussed 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, they also showed a greater increase in aerobic ability.

To perform this session, 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 are not used to this form of high intensity workout, it would 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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