Last month we debunked the LSD (long slow distance) myth of winter training. I don’t know about you, but I had fun with that article, and with many of the comments you sent me. So much fun that I thought we’d do it again this month.
On the Origins of Myths
I think myths come from two basic sources, misunderstanding and history. Historical myths are easy to understand, just imagine a grumpy old codger saying, “We’ve always done it this way!” Whether people like it or not, technology, science, and tactics all change. Adapt or die.
The myth of misconception is harder to deal with, and it’s confounded by miscommunication. Here’s an example – our first myth – lifting weights will make you a better cyclist. Well that’s wrong, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
First though, lifting weights will make you stronger. And, we’ve all heard people say something like “I want to be a stronger cyclist,” or “if I were stronger on the hills I wouldn’t get dropped.” Well that is a miscommunication. You want to be a more fit cyclist, you want to be a faster cyclist, but you probably don’t care about being a stronger cyclist.
If you can’t lift your bike onto the roof rack after the ride, you need to get stronger. If you can’t keep up with the group, then you need to get faster. No, they are not interchangeable, and no, they don’t mean the same thing. Quit being lazy with language.
Okay, so you want to ride faster, but isn’t being strong a key component to being fast? Ah, back to our misconception. Let’s explore that… “If I can push harder on the pedals, I can go faster.” Well no, not really. How hard do you think you push on the pedals now? It’s not as hard as you think. Newton’s Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So push on the pedals hard enough, and your butt will come off the saddle. But wait (totally intended that pun, if you caught it) you might say, I only weigh 150lbs! Yep, so if you’re going to the gym and doing anything more than lifting 150lbs – body weight squats – you are wasting your time.
In fact, at time trial power, the effort you use to push down on the pedals is pretty equivalent to the effort of getting out of your chair – you have plenty of strength for that. The issue is making that effort 1.5 times per second, or over 5,000 times per hour. The limiting factor is obviously not strength, but rather endurance. And endurance is limited by aerobic fitness, not strength.
So that is busted myth #1. Now let’s look at another, one with a more practical and timely application. I submit for you’re your consideration – low cadence intervals. First just let me say that these are hard on your knees and rather risky. But many cyclists do these, so let’s take a closer look. These intervals are done for several minutes at a cadence of 50-70rpms. They are supposed to make you stronger, and a better cyclist. We’ve already discussed why strength is not a limiter, so we’ll leave that alone and consider the other aspects. Maybe this workout is specific to racing, since specificity is a cornerstone of good training? Do you race uphill at 50rpm? Me neither. Surely then your heart rate or power must be elevated, and this workout is building aerobic fitness? Go ride 50rpms for 10 minutes with a power meter or heart rate monitor and you’ll see that’s not the case.
So this is a worthless bike workout, but how is it as a strength workout? We already discussed that you can only push so hard on the pedals before your butt comes off the saddle. Your butt doesn’t come off the seat, so these intervals are like doing multiple leg presses at less than your body weight. You wouldn’t do that in the gym, because it’s worthless as an endurance workout and as a strength workout. Plus, it’s hell on your knees.
If you are completely lost on what to do for training now that I’ve revealed the myths of LSD, weights, and big-gear repeats, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll share some ideas. If, on the other hand, you’re convinced that I’m wrong, I’d love to hear from you. Before you write me, though, please remember two things. First, that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” And second “In God we trust, all others bring data.”