Last cross season is finally a thing of the past. You might be removing your toe spikes for mountain bike rides, finding seized bottom brackets full of sneaky 2018 mud, designing kits, and thinking….cross is coming, but what do I do? We’re here with a four-month series to address just that: What the heck DO you do in the months of June through September to train for cyclocross? There are lots of answers, but here’s a start!
If you haven’t already begun adding up endurance miles, June is the time to add base training for cyclocross. The purpose of a base period is to establish physiologic adaptation to endurance training volume, and these rides are typically done in power zone 2, with the occasional addition of zone 3 (tempo or sweet spot). The term “base” is just that: A base from which to build more fitness and greater physiologic flexibility. Cyclocross races are a series of explosive power surges built upon a 45 – 60 minute threshold (zone 4) effort. In order to adapt and recover from these power surges (out of corners, after transitions, and up climbs), cyclocross training will require short, very high intensity intervals. But, before your body can adapt to, and recover from, repeated short, intense efforts, it needs to accommodate volume. Volume gives you the physiologic means from which to build intensity: Thus, base!
Base fitness generally takes about six weeks to establish before adding bigger efforts to your riding, but this can vary quite a lot depending on an athlete’s age, or more importantly, their “athletic age”. For instance, an experienced 25 year-old athlete may have many more months and years of riding behind them than a 45 year-old athlete who is brand new to cycling. The newer you are to riding and racing bikes, the longer you may want your base period to be in order to develop the appropriate physiologic adaptations needed to move on to higher intensity phases of training. One way to track this adaptation is an analysis of heart rate versus power over time. A well-executed base period will display an overall reduction in heart rate compared to a power constant. For instance, if your average heart rate over the course of the same, or similar, two hour ride at 160 watts (all other variables including sleep, rest, life stress etc. being constant) becomes progressively lower over the course of 4-6 weeks, it’s likely that you’ve established enough physiologic adaptation to continue on to a new phase of training. Your base has been established! This is a crude way of analyzing base, and there are more pieces of helpful information to monitor efficiency and fitness, but this is a great metric for the self-coached athlete, or the curious athlete to use when they’re establishing base fitness.
Keep in mind that in some instances it’s okay to add intensity to this period of base volume and endurance riding, especially if you’re a multi-discipline cyclist, but use these efforts sparingly, as they represent body systems with limits and require careful recalibration for the future cyclocross season. Remember that intensity can add up quickly: If you’re racing on the weekends during spring and early summer months, you likely don’t need to add intensity to your weeknight training plan during the base period. If you’re feeling ahead of the curve, add some zone 3 (tempo) riding to your weeknight training, but save true intensity and hard riding for cyclocross. It will be there for you when you need it, and you’ll be physically and mentally fresh enough to make it count. Retaining volume and specificity (zone 2 endurance with occasional zone 3 tempo riding) will give you the aerobic base from which to build upon later in the summer and fall.
In addition to building volume, June is also a great time to begin a strength routine. As a caveat, I’m not a certified strength coach, but I believe a functional strength practice is very helpful for cyclocross. Additionally, Anne is an ACSM certified strength coach and loves to build custom strength workouts for athletes (we have some cross specific strength plans available for purchase!). Where your strength practice begins depends on your history in the weight room, your current strength status, and any injury history you may have. But in general, we all have opportunities for improvement in the gym. Strength training can help improve pedal force and efficiency, balance, coordination, and most of all, it can help prevent injuries during a season of high volume, high velocity racing. If you’re not sure where to begin, think about exercises that might help with explosive power, or with any nagging injuries or pain you’ve had in prior seasons. Always start with core (abdominal!) exercises, and move on from there. And remember; focus on form over all else in a strength training routine. If you’re still not sure where to begin, ask trusted coaches: We love putting together personal strength routines.
And finally, June is the best month to explore new roads or trails with friends and training partners, or by your lonesome if that’s your jam. Base miles are for long, beautiful days on the bike. Add volume where it fits in to your schedule, and start thinking about “intensity” in July (oh…and running!). More on that, soon!