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Why riding slower will make you race faster

How riding slowly can make you faster
(Image credit: Zwift)

As we have mentioned in an earlier article, you should focus your training around the polarised training concept. This involves making sure 80 per cent of your training is done at low intensity (slow) with 20 per cent of your training comprising high-intensity interval sessions. The key to the polarised training model is ensuring that your easy rides remain easy (slow).

One of the most common mistakes the majority of amateur cyclists make is feeling that they need to ride hard on each session in order to make an improvement. They spend large amounts of time training in this heavy intensity domain (the sweet spot) as they are often too afraid to go slow. 

The benefits of incorporating these slow training rides allow a coach or athlete to tailor a training plan around an athlete’s physiological traits and time limitations. So how can these slow training rides make you a better and faster rider?

Increase fat burning

Carbohydrates and fats are the main sources of energy utilised by the body during exercise. Exercise intensity has the biggest impact on which source we derive energy from.

While fat burning is highly individual, fat oxidation (usage) is lower at higher intensities for all athletes, independent of their diet and other factors. Therefore, riding at a lower intensity will help you to increase the utilisation of fat as a fuel source.

Zwift has a number of group rides available to any individual on a daily basis, hop online and join a slightly slower group ride for your next couple of rides and ramp up that fat oxidation.

Keep it easy, even with reduced training time

With the daily demands of work and family life, training can take a hit owing to the lack of time to train. You should still polarise your training with this limited training availability.

Studies have shown improvements in endurance performance with as little as three to five hours of training per week. The secret to this winning formula is ensuring you remain disciplined and follow the philosophy so that you can maximise the high-intensity sessions and reap the benefits.

When its time to go hard, give everything

When cyclists remain disciplined and go easy on the easy days, they are able to produce the effort required to perform quality high-intensity interval sets. Exercise in this severe (zone 5+) intensity domain results in various physiological adaptations such as increased muscle oxidation capacity and hydrogen ion buffering capacity.

The benefits from these sessions include improved VO2 max, lactate threshold and peak power output (PPO), which are all important variables associated with cycling performance.

Keep the hard riding to a minimum

Spending a minimum amount of time in the severe intensity domain is sufficient to achieve significant performance improvements. These sessions can comprise more 'aerobic-type' intervals such as 8 x 4 minutes above 80-per cent of peak power output or sprint interval sessions such as 10 x 30-second maximal efforts.

There are a number of variations to these sessions, including Tabata intervals, but the primary aim of these sessions is to repeatedly stress the physiological systems that will be utilised during cycling. These repeated stresses cause super-compensation, and when coupled with slow/easy riding, results in improved performance.

Give indoor training a try

Indoor cycling using applications such as Zwift can greatly assist your adherence to these workouts and ensure that you keep the slow sessions at the pace they are supposed to be. It will help you avoid being suckered into a group race day on what was supposed to be an easy spin. These can be done using a turbo trainer or a smart bike.