Unfortunately, it will require more than simply jumping on the bike and heading out for another training ride.
To accomplish your goals and get faster, you’ll need to incorporate a few basic principles into your training routine — and then make them a habit. Here’s what you should be doing to make it happen.
1. Be consistent, ride frequently.
Meeting up with your friends for a Sunday morning ride is a good thing. But if that’s all you’re doing — even if it’s for a 2- or 3-hour ride — it isn’t going to get you faster. Remember the short rides count, too, and the more often you get on the bike, the faster you’re going to be. Whether it’s a quick interval session on the indoor trainer or a 30-minute commute, ride as often as you can. Those 10-second sprints and slogs to work in the dark will add up.
2. Join a group ride once a week.
Group rides will do two things for your cycling that training alone won’t: improve your bike handling and let you ride at a higher speed. By forcing yourself to deal with other twitchy riders, you’ll make small movements to correct your line in order to avoid an accident.
Eventually, this will help you gain comfort and have more confidence and control on the bike, which are essential skills if you’re thinking about racing. And, of course, a good draft from a big group of cyclists will never hurt your average speed.
So even if you hate it at first, join a group ride once per week at a minimum.
3. Get a training partner who’s faster than you.
This one is a no-brainer. Not only will riding with someone force you to keep up, but you’ll also get to spy on his or her training habits. Whether it’s interval workouts, recovery practices or nutrition choices, pay attention to what your partner’s doing. It just might work for you, too.
4. Strengthen your hamstrings.
For cyclists, the quad show is real. But just like guys with big upper bodies and toothpick legs, balance is always the key. To even things out, make sure you spend plenty of time strengthening the back of your legs, namely the hamstrings. This will help prevent injury and improve your upstroke, which is one of the keys to developing an efficient pedaling technique and a faster cadence.
5. Ride through the winter.
During those long winter months, you’ll lose your fitness and pack on the pounds quicker than you might think. To maintain what you’ve gained during the warmer months and set yourself up to get even faster in the following year, you’ll have to train during the winter. This means setting up an indoor trainer, aerobic cross-training and hitting the weight room. It will all make you a faster cyclist and keep you from having to drop a lot of weight when the cycling season begins again.
6. Watch your diet.
To get faster, you’ll need training sessions that include hard intervals and long, slow endurance rides. But to get the most you possibly can out of those workouts and recover properly once they are over, you’ll need to place a major emphasis on your diet.
Unscientifically, this means skipping the large pizza and wings after a 3-hour ride and opting for a quinoa salad and grilled chicken instead. And those extra pounds you’ll avoid by eating oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast instead of a Sausage McMuffin will help you out on the road — especially on those monster climbs.
7. Ride up hills often, and practice going down.
Everyone suffers riding uphill. The key, though, is to suffer for the shortest amount of time possible, which means conquering the crest as fast as humanly possible. Seek out the biggest climbs in your area, do hill repeats and learn how to pace yourself so you don’t bonk halfway up.
But just as important — and an aspect that a lot of cyclists ignore — is to practice the descents. Learn to control your speed, and know how to enter and exit corners; this will make you safer and provide you with the necessary confidence to tap those brakes a little less, which can result in big time savings. After all, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to shave a minute off your ascent if you’re only going to concede even more time to your opponents on the way down.
8. Ride fast or slow, but stay away from the in-between.
It’s easy to get stuck doing a majority of your miles in zone 3. The problem with this: Sooner or later you’ll hit a plateau, and any improvement will be marginal. To get the most benefit from your time on the bike, you’ll need a good mix of slow rides in zones 1 and 2 and hard interval workouts that take place in zones 4 and 5.
Instead of keeping an eye on your GPS to see whether you’re going to beat your best average speed for a common training ride, use it to help you stick to the plan. If it’s supposed to be a recovery ride, make sure your heart rate doesn’t rise too high, even if you’re feeling good. Save your energy for those long or hard days on the bike when you’ll need to pour all of your power into that series of intervals. It’s the only way you’ll begin to see significant gains in your fitness and speed on the bike.