I loved Helen Kelly's article on CyclingTips "How To Become A Better Time Trialist" so much, I was inspired to contribute some additional perspectives. In this 3 part series I'll offer some other ideas around preparing your mind, body and training philosophy to get better returns in time trialling, and for that matter, any cycling where high performance is desired.
PART 1: TRAINING PHILOSOPHY - The 51% rule and Return On Investment
One of my favourite things as a coach, in designing preparation and training, is playing around with the principle of specificity. In very simple terms this principle says if you want to improve in something, then practice that something. And if you want to get really good? Practice that something a lot.
What works even better for me is an applied version I call the 51% rule. Practically, this means that if something is important to you and you want to improve it, at the very least, 51% of your total preparation time (including racing in the lead up to targeted events) wants to be practicing that exact “something”. For example, if you want to ride better, hours on the golf driving range are unlikely to help. More relevantly, if you want be a better climber, lots of overspeed red zone reps on the flats isn't going to yield maximal return on investment (Or is it? More on that later). But even more importantly, in a sport like cycling where objective measurement such kms, cadence, HR, zones, reps, sets, watts, gearing etc. are such big drivers of training decisions and behaviour, it's very easy to be seduced. Sometimes we focus on a particular isolated component at the expense of others. The assumption is that all the components, including the one we've been focusing on, will integrate when the time comes later on. Well, some of it will, but some of it doesn't.
So back to simple? If you want to be a better time-trialist, not only do you have to ride your TT bike a lot more often, but you also need to do/create as many TT races as possible within your constraints of time and other resources. I'm talking the whole of Time Trials here, not just the bike, effort, speed and time goal, but also the “one off” nature of it. An audience, the whole race and event routine from when you get there, the one-shot-only factor, sleeping in a different bed, being consistent with food etc.
To look at this another way, what do you reckon Lionel Messi spent most of his time on when he was a junior? That's right, it wasn't endless sprints or even cone to cone passing drills, it was 3 v 3, 5 v 5 or 6 v 4 small sided games in tight spaces where it was about beating your mates and hopefully showing them some awesome skills as well. And now, guess what he's really good at? It's also why when British Cycling was setting up their Academy they initially baulked at including an up and coming Mark Cavendish. He didn't hit the numbers in the lab tests. But fortunately (for them) they realised that the year before he'd won 20 races. By demonstrating the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, even in a very measurable sport like cycling, Cav was in.***
Now this concept may sound incredibly obvious or even naïve, but the amount of coaches and riders out there reducing their training and riding to get a kick-up in a specific area, while forgetting all the other integrated factors involved in high performance, is amazing. This is especially so due to the sport science, data driven nature of a sport like competitive cycling. In the western led culture of a more reduced approach, we often underestimate the effectiveness of staying very close to what we want to get better at. We often don't even look for subtle but effective opportunities for improvements within the specific task.
So if you want to be better at TT? The single biggest thing you can do is get as much experience and practice of a TT. Things like the lead-up, short term preparation, official countdown, the clock, accountability of the performance and the singular attempt, are all critically important to practise as part of the whole – the actual thing you want to get better at. This applies even more so to those with restricted time availability, which lets face it, is everyone from the weekend warrior up to Ellen van Dijk or Tony Martin. The art then becomes how to balance this with other contending priorities in your cycling program and life.
In the following articles I'll discuss ways of optimising your mind and body for time trialling. Until then, enjoy the hurt.
* Image: New York times Christophe Ena/Associated Press
** Image: Zimbio David Ramos/Getty Images Europe
*** “Sky's The Limit: Wiggins and Cavendish: the Quest to Conquer the Tour de France” by Richard Moore.