Cycling Training: Stop Wasting Time on the Small Stuff and Master the Big Stuff

cycling fundamentals

I joined my usual club ride one day, to go for a long day in the saddle when I noticed something important. It didn’t take me long to realize that this finding applied in other sports, apart from cycling, and other areas of life. 

As we headed south towards some beautiful, quiet roads and great climbs I listened to the conversation of the guys riding in front of me. One said to the other rider “I’m doing these fasted rides lately. It’s the most efficient way to train your fat oxidation.”

Being a cycling coach and having tried all kinds of methods I thought: “Damn, how big your aerobic base should be, to use this strategy to reach the next level.” 

The thing is, this rider was focusing on a marginal gain. A training that only works one part of training: fat metabolism. It’s taxing and you can’t do it often, the cost is high. But you skip all the important fundamentals. The training sessions like base miles, sweet spot, threshold, and VO2max intervals that we know for sure make you faster. Even the best pros like Egan Bernal don’t think, “Carajo! I know why Roglic is faster! Fasted rides. 

The problem is that too many athletes sweat the small stuff before they sweat the big stuff. No matter if in cycling, triathlon, or running.

The Grit to Master the Fundamentals in Cycling

“The best of the best are the best in the basics.”

A great quote I remember a good coach gave me. And that’s how it is. Looking at the best cyclists in the world they are all masters of doing the same over and over again. Boring. And I struggled myself to embrace the boring fundamentals that give you more than 80% in return. 

For instance, I can pretty easily spend my life as a cyclist obsessing over every detail. Should I train on an empty stomach? Should I train at altitude? Should I change my intervals to a low cadence to recruit more muscle fibers?

I think all these strategies have a place in cycling, but they shouldn’t be the priority of my training plan. Instead, I should focus on mastering the fundamentals, week after week. For example, doing two quality interval sessions, like sweet spot, each week. 

What if… Conquering Alternatives

In my opinion, people waste too much time obsessing over small details. As James Clear stated “the what-ifs, the could-bes, the minor details”, are things that have a small impact on performance, but keep you away from the things that give you 80% of a performance gain. 

  • Looking for the next “superfood” that may have some performance boost, but you haven’t fixed your diet yet. Superfoods, if they even exist, won’t benefit you if you don’t eat a balanced diet that provides all the carbs, proteins, and fats as well as all important micronutrients. Don’t seek the details.
  • Obsessing over new and exciting workout methods that promise the next breakthrough like block periodization. Don’t get soaked up in shortcuts. They may make you faster at first, but won’t last long if they’re not sustainable. But if you could train consistently for months and get your intervals in, that adds up. 
  • Considering what kind of wheels to go for to make your bike even lighter and forgetting to take care of yourself. Carbon wheels and frames are great and they look awesome, but your body is your weapon when it comes to gains. Shed some pounds and you may think you’re flying.

No matter what, the greatest performance enhancer is action. You don’t need more time riding, more money for gear, or a better plan. You just need to master the basics. 

Embrace the Fundamentals of Training

We avoid the fundamentals because they don’t sound as sexy and exciting as new approaches from studies. Just get rid of all the unnecessary stuff and what is left isn’t much. Base miles, sweet spot intervals, and threshold work. But it’s scary to commit to it. 

It’s embarrassing telling your buddy you did the sweet spot work without lots of progress. But it’s far easier claiming you’re training on that “sleep low method” recently. 

Simplify your life as a cyclist and go all into the basics. Stop wasting your time overthinking about small stuff that doesn’t make a lot of difference. As I said do more of what already works.

How useful is fasted training if you can’t finish your threshold intervals 2 times a week? How useful is a superfood if you can’t stick to your diet week after week? How good are those new tires if you can’t keep up with the pack?

If you can’t build a broad base of endurance and master the fundamentals, the top has no space to be built upon.

Ready to Improve Your Cycling Performance?

If you enjoyed this and want to improve your cycling performance, then get your hands on one of my plans on TrainingPeaks and ride faster for longer, or click below to get my specific base, build, and peak plans for amateur and elite cyclists:

  1. RV The Block Periodization Plan, 4 Weeks (6-8 Hours)
  2. RV Improve Your FTP, 8 Weeks on 6 Hours, 10 Hours, or 15 Hours
  3. RV Road Racing Build, 8 Weeks on 6 Hours, 10 Hours, or 15 Hours

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James Clear: Stop Wasting Time on the Details and Commit to the Fundamentals