In this guest post from High-Performance triathlon coach, Garth Fox, learn how variety should be an essential component of your training and discover 5 ways to achieve greater adaptations and performance improvements.

‘Train the same, stay the same’. Nothing could be truer in the world of endurance training. Yet many athletes will execute the same training sessions in the same way, week after week, expecting that to make them faster, stronger, fitter. It will not. It will keep you at the same level. In order to coax an adaptive response out of the body, a training session needs to have a mildly destabilizing effect on at least some of the body’s physiological systems. This in turn triggers a cascade of signals at a molecular level, resulting in a slight but very real remodeling of some the performance characteristics of those systems.

A Law Of Diminishing Returns

A recent study by Canadian researchers investigating this signaling cascade following a series of high intensity training sessions found that the ‘loudness’ of the signal was reduced with each subsequent training session, even when the intensity (of each otherwise identical session) was slightly increased.

In other words, they found that ‘bang-for-buck’ from a given bout of exercise, no matter how hard, succumbs to the law of diminishing returns even the second time in succession that you perform it! Read on to learn how best to inject some essential variation into your bike training.

1. Get Creative with Cadence (rpm)

The same two sessions performed at difference cadences, even if at the same effort level or power output, will provide a quite different training stimulus from one another. For example a 60 minute effort at 90rpm at 40% Critical Power one week can be varied the second week to 20 min at 90rpm/20 min at 80rpm/20min at 100rpm all still at the same intensity but subtly changing the demands on leg muscle fibres, which will result in further adaptation from what is otherwise the same training session.

2. Imaginative Intervals

Often it is possible to improve a specific physiological characteristic with very different approaches. For example a ‘traditional’ route to improving an individuals’ maximal aerobic capacity is to perform a series of intervals at around 90% of HR max each lasting 3-5 minutes with equal periods of recovery.

However it has also been shown that performing 30 sec maximal sprints with 30 sec recoveries in blocks of 5 minutes at a time can also improve maximal aerobic capacity. Read more about HIT training here.

Far better to alternate these two methods in order to achieve the best maximal aerobic capacity adaptive response than to stick with either one or the other for weeks on end

3.Stand Up To Change Up

Standing up on the pedals ‘en danseuse’ as the French call it, has a higher energy cost attached to it than remaining in the saddle due to the fact that the leg muscles have to carry some of bodyweight which previously was supported by the seat. You can use this. Rather than staying seated all the time, learn to insert measured periods of time out of the saddle into a regular training ride. It will feel different, unusual and exactly what you need to subtly alter the training stimulus.

Out of the saddle

4. Disturb The Rhythm

Whenever you get into a nice rhythm during a training ride and start feeling comfortable, mess it up! Throw in some 10-30 second maximal sprint efforts with long recoveries, increase or decrease cadence for a period by using gears that you would not ordinarily self-select, change pace to speed up on flats and grind slowly up hills and vice versa.

Essentially what you are trying to do is get out of your comfort zone on a regular basis, not always by going harder but by going ‘different’.

As long as recoveries between any of these variations is long enough, even maximal sprint efforts will not greatly increase subsequent fatigue but the training effect will have been enhanced.

5. Vary Training Blocks

Do you always do the same session on the same day of the week at the same time? If so, change something. Likewise, rather than sticking with traditional 3 weeks build training, 1 week of recovery, try a different shape of training block such as 10 days on, 4 days recovery which you can repeat then change again. This allows for the chronic loading of training to be another form of variation which destabilizes the body and keeps it guessing and adapting.

Make It Work: Example Training Sessions

  • Cat n’ Mouse – Rather than always riding your favourite climb steadily, get together with 2 or 3 mates of similar ability and take it in turns to lead the group on the climb for 1 minute at a time. You can go as fast or as slowly as you want but each takes his turn in rotation and the goal is to drop the others in the group by 30 metres to score a point. Most points at the top wins. Constant pace change is a superb conditioner.
  • Structured Chaos – There is no reason why you cannot insert a range of efforts from 5 second peak power through to 4 minute VO2 efforts into the same ride and do that ride on a regular basis. But to keep the body off balance, arrange the efforts each time in such a way that one ride is never an identical replica of another – a session which my coaching athletes like to call ‘The Wild Thang!’
  • Use Pre-Fatigue – Any ride performed when fresh will feel very different from the same ride performed when the legs are fatigued from previous efforts. The training stimulus will also be altered and the body will notice the difference. Typically it is useful to use pre-fatigue to help develop endurance and to use freshness to develop power. So for example a cycling specific weights session performed the evening before a long endurance ride can amplify the training stimulus we are trying to achieve.

Try these 5 ways to vary your training and see if they work for yourself! You can find out more about Garth at his website.