Many people find themselves living very active lifestyles – making time to ride several days a week, finding groups to join, and having a very consistent training routine. Depending on your goals for your fitness, you may find yourself frustrated that you aren’t making any gains in your speed, endurance, weight loss, or overall fitness even with an already active routine. Why is this?
Let me introduce you to “Junk Miles”
Junk Miles are very similar to junk food. It is like putting excess amounts of something into your body that might not have the quality nutrients your body needs. When we talk about training, riding too many Junk Miles is like focusing on quantity rather than ‘quality of training‘. An example could be doing the same ride or same pace every time you train; or never making time to ride alone with a specific workout goal.
To produce psychological changes in your body that will help you with improving that endurance, speed, power, and metabolic efficiency that will jump start your weight loss, your training plan needs to include the basic principles of training: specificity, overload, adaptations, and recovery. If we refer back to our nutrition metaphor, think of this as the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you’d want to focus on putting into your diet.
Specificity of Training:
Specificity means “if you want to be good at something, you need to do that thing.” So, if you want to be a better bike rider, you need to ride your bike. If you want to be a better runner, you need to run. If you need to improve your skills on a mountain bike, you need to do skills work. It’s pretty simple. Specificity ties into what we call ‘periodization of training’. This is where you plan out your year and gradually make your training efforts simulate those efforts you would experience in a race or event. If you are not a racer, maybe you have a challenging ride coming up like a bike packing trip or touring parts of Europe on your bike (such as tackling famous climbs like Alpe d’Huez). You want your training to start to mimic the type of efforts you would do on these rides. This is where ‘overload’ comes into play.
Overload in training is when you are gradually increasing time and intensity in your workouts. There are many systems you are working when you are training, such as the heart, lungs, and muscles.
Setting a baseline for your training by knowing your FTP (functional threshold power) is a great way to establish training zones and create a more specific routine that will help you work on different areas such as endurance, strength, climbing, VO2 (like climbing steep hills), anaerobic efforts (sprints, accelerations, or something you commonly do on a mountain bike). Check out our blog on how to do a field test and determine your training zones.
For my athletes, I recommend shorter and more focused interval workouts during the work week with time for the longer endurance rides on the weekends.
Now that you have a routine that involves a specific goal and specific effort (with increasing load), your body can start to create psychological adaptations to the training. These adaptations include: heart (plasma volume, stroke volume, cardiac output), lungs (VO2), and muscles (increase muscle glycogen storage, increase muscle mitochondrial enzymes, increase slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers, ATP stores). In order for this to happen – recovery is going to be an essential ingredient to your training recipe.
Recovery is the most important piece to your training, as this is where your adaptations to the training occur. Recovery allows your muscles and body to heal so the next time you do your ride, you can give it 110%. If your body is not recovered, you won’t be able to get the most out of that workout. I recommend to many of my athletes to take 1-2 days completely off during a normal training week. For some athletes, work and schedule conflicts will only allow them to ride a few days a week so there is plenty of recovery already built into their routine.
There is a fine line between enough recovery and too much recovery where you would start to lose fitness and lose the gains you have made. Not enough recovery can cause excess fatigue, a plateau in your fitness, and can lead to burn-out. This is where your coach comes in handy as they can help monitor your recovery on a higher level and make sure you’re getting just the right amount.
Training Solo or in a Group?
When we talk about ‘Junk Miles’, we need to address group riding vs. solo riding. There are many benefits to training in groups or riding with friends such as: increasing your motivation to ride that day, camaraderie, learning new roads or trails to ride, and challenging yourself. Group rides can also mimic the intensity of the event you are training for! However, when group rides become the only form of training, they can easily turn into ‘junk miles’ as they don’t follow the important principles – specificity, and overload. The reason is most groups do the same loop and have the same people each week so you are essentially doing the same thing everytime. Or if you are always riding with someone, you are probably either not challenging yourself, working on your specific weaknesses, or you might be training too hard all the time. These can all cause that dreaded performance plateau that we talked about earlier.
When you train alone, you have a chance to focus on your weaknesses and improve in areas you need to improve upon. What I recommend to my athletes who love training with groups is to mix it up each week and some weeks focus on the interval training, other weeks join the group ride. By varying your training, you can not only get rid of the excessive ‘junk miles’ but still incorporate your favorite group rides and gain the benefits of improving your performance and reaching your goals by your more focused approach!
About Melissa Ross:
Melissa Ross is Co-Founder and Cycling Coach of Potential Energy Training and Nutrition. Melissa’s 12+years in the sport as an athlete and 6+ years as a coach has taken her all over the world from touring Italy, racing across Europe and the US as a professional road cyclist, to becoming a pro mountain biker, exploring the trails across Arizona and even recently finishing 13th in the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa and making the podium 2 years in a row in the Leadville Trail 100! Currently Melissa is expecting her first child in September so can be found taking casual rides and hiking with her 2 border collies. Melissa has an incredible desire to help other people reach their full potential and bring the passion of having a healthy lifestyle into their lives.