La Vie Velominatus: Train Properly

La Vie Velominatus: Train Properly

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There are few pleasures in life as great as to achieve a goal, to accomplish something that doesn’t come easily. Great lessons are taught through this activity; we learn that it is our determination and not our doubt that defines our limits. We learn that through studied discipline we can cultivate the skills required to work incrementally towards becoming what we want to be.

This is true for our personal, social and professional lives – and any other aspect that I may have left off. But to achieve our goals is usually a rather complicated mess; it requires introspection, it often requires reliance upon others to do their part or at least not interfere with you doing yours, and it is usually rife with hard choices of long-lasting and difficult to understand consequences.

In its most basic form, Cycling provides us a path to discovery in a less complicated model than do our actual lives. We train our bodies, we become more healthy. We become more healthy, we train more. We become stronger, we go faster. We derive more pleasure from our efforts. We experience reward for sacrifice. We associate progress with the pain of an effort. We enjoy Cycling more. We ride more. We become healthier still. We become stronger still. We go even faster. We suffer more. We associate more pain with a greater sense of achievement. And though it all, we discover it that unlike every other walk of life, in Sport we are islands: what we find here is only what we have brought with us.

Eventually, exercising will become training. The activity becomes richer with the application of the discipline that comes with this rebadging. Exercise is something you do regularly but without structure. With training comes a study of your body and how it responds to stimulus. Long rides have a different effect on the body than do short ones. Successive hard efforts have another effect, as do longer and shorter periods off the bike.

Training Properly requires discipline and patience. It means you don’t just throw your leg over your machine and pedal off to ride along tree-lined boulevards. Training Properly means having a plan for each day. It means heading for the hills one day, and the plains another. It means controlling yourself and not trying to set your best time up the local climb because you feel good that day. Training Properly means restraining yourself on a group ride and not joining in on the town line sprints if your plan doesn’t call for it. Training Properly means leaving for a ride despite the rain falling from the heavens and the loved ones whom you leave at home.

Training Properly comes down you and you alone; much can be learned from books and coaches, but the path is yours to walk. The discovery is yours to experience and to shape into what you are seeking. There are, however, some basics to keep in mind. Also keep in mind I’m not a “Sports Doctor”, “Physiotherapist”, or “Smart”. And never take medical or sporting advice from Some Guy On the Internet.

  1. Break your muscles down, and allow them to build back up. This is the fundamental principle of Training Properly. Hard efforts break your muscles down. You body will respond by building them back stronger than they were before. This process takes time. Be patient.
  2. Observe Rule #5 when appropriate. In accordance with #1 above, laying down the V is handy for breaking the muscles down, but not so much for allowing them to build back up. Lay down the V one day, then give your body a chance to build back up, either through rest or through low-intensity recovery rides.
  3. Learn to listen to your body. There are good pains and bad pains – learn to tell the difference. Good pains include burning lungs, gun aches, road rash, and the like. These pains will lessen during a ride or even go away completely. Proceed carefully, but learn to push through them; if they don’t go away, they get classified as bad pains. Bad pains include different types of knee pain and chronic pains in, for example, your shoulders, back, or neck. Knees are especially sacred and should be looked after carefully; see a physiotherapist for this and if they prescribe time off the bike, take it. Rushing recovery on a sensitive injury may seem tough and in compliance with Rule #5, but may set you back more than being patient and recovering fully. If you suffer from chronic pains, consult a fitting specialist and work on your position.
  4. Train to ride farther than you need to. Incrementally increase the distance of your training, until you can ride farther than you need to. If you are training for a Sportive or race of 140 kilometers, train to ride 160 or 200; you will arrive for your event with the confidence that you can easily handle the ride and will have something in reserve should things not go according to plan.
  5. Save competing for Race Day. Being competitive is for racing, not training. Set goals for a ride, and adhere to them. Don’t chase after a rider who passes you on a climb when you are on a recovery ride. Don’t lift your pace when you see a rider ahead who you think you can catch. If you don’t race, pick a day or two every week where you try to catch every rider you spot on the road – but remember that they should also be adhering to their own training plan; don’t sit on uninvited and don’t hinder their training through your antics.

Be patient. Have discipline. Train Properly. Vive la Vie Velominatus.

// La Vie Velominatus

  1. @tessar

    @Buck Rogers
    BsC in Biophysics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This is why I chose it, apart from the fine dames and high standards of teaching there.

    Depending on which story you believe, that may or may not also be the reason Saxo Bank had their pre-season camp there…

  2. 2.5 hrs before start of the first Omnium Road Race (circuit) for myself and there is a Cobblestone section on the course — and a fountain! Racing on GP4 set and Conti Sprinters. This is a good day !!

  3. @King Clydesdale
    Nowt wrong with weight training as long as you aren’t over loading too much,common sense will tell you if you are as you need to use weights suitable to your body size. If you don’t/can’t ride much over winter then it’s a great way to keep things ticking over.

    eg I’m 5,11, 11 stone 3 lbs and use Two 10 kg weights (dumbells)…lunges, steps up on a chair or on you kness to standing with alternate legs (killer without weights), big strides either side with your legs meeting in the middle, squats. Start off with 1 set of 15 and just increase as you see fit.
    There’s loads of variations. You can do it at home aswell.Best music for weights…Pantera.

  4. @Calmante

    I definitely don’t believe in over doing it with moving the cleat back, because it really is necessary to have enough foot length to provide a nice round stroke. However, the calves and other muscles in the lower leg do not provide any power to the pedals. They are merely fighting your upper leg, regardless of how massive they are. This isn’t my independent opinion…

    Steve Hogg says it best on his site, if you haven’t tried it, you just don’t know.

    Ah, dear sir, I must respectfully disagree.

    Your suggestion that lower leg calf muscles are merely stabiliser muscles is, I think true for some of the time, and for some people, most of the time, depending on your stroke, and how you employ it.

    @Mctyke I think is quite right. “Ankling” is a very important technique that can provide additional power above and beyond what the large muscle groups are providing. Refer to this link to Cycling Tips Blog for further explanation/info.

    From my experience, as I’ve become more adept at using this technique (and it takes plenty of practice) I’ve noticed substantial increase in power whilst climbing.

    I think of it this way. It’s like adding a short lever onto the end of a long lever. It enables two possibilities:

    a) The application of a greater collective force of two levers (one large, one small) to be applied to the crank than using the one large lever alone, or…

    b) An amount of force to be applied to the crank that is equivalent to what the large lever might apply, but employs the smaller lever to contribute to the the system and thus conserve energy from what the large lever would otherwise have had to contribute.

    As the two levers are employing separate muscle groups, it is drawing energy from two energy sources as such. (granted, one much smaller than the other. That’s why this particular technique has a reasonably short half life)

    The point is that this is something that has to be learned and practiced. All of your muscle systems can contribute to propelling you forward, from your core stability, to hip flexors, to the large lever muscles, to the small lever muscles. Some systems are just more obvious than others, and it’s too easy I think to focus only on the large power contributors.

  5. @Vin’cenza


    This. Like most things its a compromise. Farther back is good for endurance; farther forward is good for top end power, sprinting and attacking.

    I will go on this advice @Nate to move my cleats (Mavic) forward as much as 5mm this weekend. I am 6’3″³ and truly wear a size 43, but racing with a 44 to allow foot swelling and to improve my dainty appearance. Cleats are kept pushed all the way back to feel it right on the ball of my foot. My sprints and long duration and intensity have been acceptable, but not memorable. Always want to see if there is more potential mechanically wherever it can be unturned. My favorite quote again (not my quote) “Races are decided over very small differences.”

    Heh, I’m 4 inches shorter and a foot size longer than you. I have no contribution to make, just wanted to carefully point that out.

  6. @mouse

    You have the audacity to disagree with me, you fucking tool? You can go fuck yourself. KIDDING! I’ve got nothing but love for you, mouse.

    I do disagree, though. Let me think on it a bit before I post a rebuttal…

  7. @minion
    Princess feet here. And the R3 Aristocrats posted yesterday have prompted me to start looking again for an ultimate shoe. Perhaps Zxellium Ultimate !!

  8. Yes mouse. The “mud-scraping” pedal stroke is acting thru the calves. There is an advantage in certain zones of the pedal stroke instead of relying on only power acting in 2/5 of the total stroke.

  9. I got new shoes and pedal / cleats last week, nothing too fancy just some Scott road comp (these in black – cheap & stiff ) and some Shimano SPD SL.

    I started off with the cleats too far forward and then couldn’t get comfy in a central position so I ended up sliding them all the way back so it feels like the ball of foot is just in front of the pedal spindle. I’ve had about 8 fairly short rides using them and after the 3rd ride I started getting aches in the upper guns that felt like the muscle groups were working in a slightly different way or were being worked harder. These aches soon passed and I now ‘seem’ to be putting out more power and going faster than with my previous shoe / cleat position. Now this could be for a few reasons, the shoes are considerably stiffer than my previous ones and I could just be applying more V-power, but I’ve had no aches in my calves at all which makes me think these are maybe working less now?

    I have a fairly unscientific to most things in my life including bike fit so will leave the cleats where they are for the time being and see how I get on with them. The real test will probably come on a longer ride.

  10. Having had two Retul fits done with a very informative fitter, I’ve not only improved my position, but also learned why that position is better. My road-bike might have a pair of spacers and an inline seatpost, but biomechanically, it’s what I needed. I may not look as pro, but pain should be in the guns, not the neck.

    When you properly analyse every angle and measure every variable (as you do on a Retul scanner), you can know exactly when that “faster” position ends up hurting you. On my TT bike, my body’s natural instinct was to hang off the saddle, in order to get the arms level, with a 90-degree elbow angle (both comfy and pro!) – with the right saddle (a thoroughly anti-V Cobb saddle), that position seemed both comfy and aero, but the Retul fit showed a flaw: I had my knees too far out front over the axle, overstressing the ligaments and losing power because my quads had to work at inefficient angles. By moving my torso back a bit we reached a better position for my legs – and had to bring the aerobar assembly back (and slightly up) to compensate and return my arms back to their (correct) initial position. Surprisingly, my back is now flatter (by exactly 2 degrees) – more power, less injury-risk, and more aero – in one strike. Conversely, my road-bike position changed from a setback post and short stem to a medium (110mm) stem and inline post – and while the saddle-to-bar drop is slightly shorter now, the actual body sits lower since the elbows aren’t locked straight anymore; again, more power, less discomfort, more aero.

    Having seen the cleat conversation here, we also discussed their placement on my new White Princesses, as well as crank-length. I ride 175mm cranks, since that’s what my 58cm road-bike and 60cm TT bike came with – but I’m open for changes. In short, the fitter’s opinion (as a former racer and current biomechanics researcher) is that placing the axle slightly behind the ball of the foot is a good idea for those that ride with the ankle down on the downstroke, but that extreme placements are not the best of ideas for regular cycling. What’s irregular? Ultra-distance, where nobody really knows, or triathlons, where the reduced work done by the calves might help keep them fresher for the run. In both cases, he recons the idea is highly unresearched and, just like 155mm cranks now and 190mm cranks in the past, might end up a fad. The foot is a very strong device, and the calves are easily up to the task (IE, not the limiting factor) of transmitting whatever V your quads may be delivering.


    Depending on which story you believe, that may or may not also be the reason Saxo Bank had their pre-season camp there…

    That was one hell of a week. Many of my friends went on a ride they held in the northern Galilee, or to watch the mock-crit (more of a parade) on the cobbles of Jerusalem – I believe it was Nick Nuyens who slipped and crashed, but I’m not entirely sure. Later that week, my mom happened to meet the entire Saxo Bank team chilling at the pool in her small desert town.

  11. @tessar
    Interesting stuff. There have been a number of posts recently that have got me to thinking that I need to look at my bike fit especially my position in the drops where I think there is potential for both more comfort and power/efficiency.

    Once the Keepers Tour is out of the way, I might start with some experimenting and possibly a fitting (now is not the time to be messing with something that works reasonably well and might not be “wrong”).

  12. @Chris
    I’d never advise experimenting before a big tour, but I still did so – did my road-bike Retul a week before a 600km, 3-day (non-competitive) tour. In fact, I had just bought the new bars my fitter recommended and was busy wrapping them when the car came to pick me up.

    If your current position works, of course it can wait. In my case, without a guru to guide me, I kept fiddling with my fit until I found something I thought was right, but still brought me pain. I had the saddle bit right – instinctively, trial and error brought me to the biomechanically-correct position, which I discarded since it didn’t “look pro” (well, it just looked wrong – saddle slammed forwards on a setback post). The bars are where my trial-and-error just didn’t work, since I tried to solve each problem or pain individually, rather than look at it holistically and consider the entire body and my own limitations (I was very inflexible at the time). I had aches in my back which got so bad after 30-40km, that I wouldn’t be able to turn my head the day after a century. There was no way I could do the ride that way.

    Enter the Day 1 of the 600km ride: 220km horizontal, no pain whatsoever. Enter day two, and apart from that bolt of pain the first time I sat on the saddle, I was still painless through another 220km. By day three, my palms became sensitive (tingling when applying pressure – this remained for a few weeks), but my back was alright, and I still had the power and will to sprint between gaps and pull the worn-out weaker riders back to the group.

    There’s nothing more reassuring than knowing your setup has been verified by tracking your body’s motions at millimetre accuracy.

  13. @tessar
    You’ve obviously given this some thought and paid good attention to the reasoning behind the changes.

    I can see that a proper fitting might work but the experimentation process that I have in mind is going to require a number of long rides and testing saddles as well as positions. I also want to work on my core strength first so that I can be sure that I can rule out any other factors. I just don’t have the time to get any of that in at the moment.

  14. @Vin’cenza

    Yes mouse. The “mud-scraping” pedal stroke is acting thru the calves. There is an advantage in certain zones of the pedal stroke instead of relying on only power acting in 2/5 of the total stroke.

    One thing has little to do with the other. Later tonight, I’ll explain myself with some diagrams… But you don’t use your calves to “mud-scrape;” you use your hamstrings.

  15. The site is all wonky and won’t let me log in…

    I’ve decided to put this issue on hold until we hear from Meg Fisher about her experience.

  16. @Calmante
    Log in should be working again…let me know if its not. Gotta love the ol’ cache.

  17. So after years of riding Mountain, BMX, etc. I decided to get another road bike. It’d been years. I had inherited an Italian made Bianchi with Campagnolo on it in my early teens, but I outgrew it. I had a CX bike for a bit, but it was a single speed, and just did one thing only very well. I really wanted to get back to those long days my youth. We would ride our bikes from just after the cartoons were over in the morning until we were in trouble for being late for supper. I’ve wanted to commute to work and get here faster than in my car. I’ve wanted to race with my friends. I’ve wanted to really dish out the V on my mountain bike, and there is only one way to do it La Vie Veloiminatus. My good friend and local legend at the LBS where I work part time is a pro. He’s telling me “Jew half to train Fred, No jus ride!” So here I am with the latest object de carbone (my other bike is just as sexy only in the off road sense), a new Composite framed, Ultegra equipped, skinny tire’d rocket ship that I fail to look pro, or even remotely demonstrate a magnificent stroke upon. What have I gotten my self into. I went on a 50km “club ride” with the C-group and held my own. I was all proud that the B group didn’t catch me before the top of the one big climb, only to find out they had a flat along the way… I’m slow, I know it. But train I shall. V and dime brothers. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Here’s my first real ride:


  18. @Calmante


    Yes mouse. The “mud-scraping” pedal stroke is acting thru the calves. There is an advantage in certain zones of the pedal stroke instead of relying on only power acting in 2/5 of the total stroke.

    One thing has little to do with the other. Later tonight, I’ll explain myself with some diagrams… But you don’t use your calves to “mud-scrape;” you use your hamstrings.

    I want abuse, but you’re just going to give me diagrams. How disappointing.
    Can’t wait to mark them up to show you how I’m right. Heh.

  19. @mouse



    Yes mouse. The “mud-scraping” pedal stroke is acting thru the calves. There is an advantage in certain zones of the pedal stroke instead of relying on only power acting in 2/5 of the total stroke.

    One thing has little to do with the other. Later tonight, I’ll explain myself with some diagrams… But you don’t use your calves to “mud-scrape;” you use your hamstrings.

    I want abuse, but you’re just going to give me diagrams. How disappointing.
    Can’t wait to mark them up to show you how I’m right. Heh.

    Ah… It’s going to have to wait. I want to read about Meg’s experience first. Here’s a little preview for you, though, with some added abuse, just ’cause you asked so nicely.

  20. @Calmante
    Heh, heh.

  21. @mouse

    Oh, awesome… I chortled. Good job.

  22. Very interesting discussion about cleat position. I like to cycle long distances, generally between 100-160 km over varied terrain, and have never found fatigue in the calf muscles to be a limiting factor, despite positioning the ball of my foot above the pedal axle. What I have found is that having the cleat in this ‘forward’ position gives me the option of using a more exaggerated ankling (‘mud-scraping’) technique at intervals during very long climbs, usefully bringing into play different muscle groups and allowing others to recover. I can’t imagine having the same flexibility with a mid-foot cleat position.

    Here’s another thought to throw into the mix. When walking/running I believe the achilles tendon stretches and contracts – energy is stored in it and is recovered with each step, providing some extra forward propulsion. Wouldn’t the same be true during a powerful pedal stroke? If so, wouldn’t you lose this by using a mid-foot cleat position?

  23. @McTyke
    That is exactly what my fitter suggested – that these tendons acts as springs, and return most of the energy “lost”. I’m sure a mechanical device could do that more efficiently (a runner’s example is Oscar Pistorius, ‘Blade Runner’, whose prosthetic carbon legs were said to be more efficient than a human foot) – but the human leg is still highly efficient.

    That being said, McTyke, 100-160km might sound like a lot, but it’s not much in the context of cycling: The pros race 200km races regularly (Tour stages are often that long), and some Classics are over 250km. Of course, this is not to be taken as a personal insult – they’re long distances for me as well – but it’s not extreme for a single ride. RAAM riders or Randonneurs do multiple times these distances – and it’s usually in these races where you see all sorts of experimental setups to reduce fatigue. The same probably applies to triathletes – many of whom are open to experimental ideas and fads, and their only goal on the bike is to suffer as little as possible to save strength for the run – mid-foot placement might do just that. It remains an experiment, of course.

    None of that for me, though. After a few hundred pedal-strokes in each position, changing by increments of a millimetre at a time, I ended up with my SPD-SL cleats precisely in the middle of their adjustment range, which means the ball of the foot is about 3-4mm in front of the axle center. According to the live Retul measurements, my stroke was most magnificent in that position. It also feels the most natural to me, and doesn’t seem to overstress anything or force my to change my preferred technique.

  24. @McTyke
    Thanx V gentlemen. Will be taking my (your) suggestion to have 4 to 5mm in front of the axle and my 5mm seat post height “want” to the fit session tomorrow. I will see how it applies to my 6’3″ physique… and 44 shoes.

  25. I’m wondering how this whole forward-backward cleat dichotomy applies to faire la danseuse? As a single speeder off-road, I use an enormous range of RPMs in my riding. I enjoy long climbs out of the saddle on my road bike at low RPM.. I would assume there is relevance here….eloquent post, by the way.

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