Even though a lot of people who read this blog don’t race and aren’t particularly interested in it, I have a feeling that everyone who comes here gets greater pleasure out of riding when they are riding properly.

This post will discuss a simple method for cycling that may make you faster without making it seem like you’re really working out.

A little personal history

My wife and I welcomed our first kid together exactly seven years ago. I made an effort to continue racing for a short period of time, but family life got simply too stressful for me to continue. There were regular discussions centred around a training programme similar to the one I used before I had kids, and it became impossible for me to continue. Those who have young children will understand what I mean when I say that balancing “normal” life with cycling may be challenging, particularly if you like riding quite a bit.

At that time, I made the decision to “ride for enjoyment,” “smell the flowers,” and just take pleasure in being able to ride my bike whenever I had the opportunity. To tell the truth, it was terrible. Every climb turned into a lung-burning workout, single track became more of a chore than an enjoyable challenge, and group rides were miserable.

A novel idea: training in blocks

It was around the year 1998 that I first came across articles in editions of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Action that presented riders with an alternative approach to the scheduling of their training.

A number of coaches, including Dean Golich and Dave Morris, were proponents of the practise of arranging strenuous training on consecutive days. In point of fact, they recommended that cyclists push themselves to their limits for two or three consecutive days, then take two or three days off from riding entirely (or ride very slowly) in between. At the time, the widely acknowledged practise among cyclists was to avoid performing hard intervals or extremely hard rides back to back. This ‘block’ sort of strategy, on the other hand, clashed with that practise.

I reread those articles and made the decision to incorporate some of the ideas into my “just riding along” mentality in order to see if doing so would assist me in locating whatever it was that I felt was lacking in my life. When it comes to matters of physical fitness, I have the impression that there is a certain threshold level at which mountain riding starts to become a lot of fun. You will know that you have reached this level when you are able to keep your momentum going over moderate inclines and pedal over tricky hills and rock gardens without exerting an inordinate amount of physical effort. And despite the fact that this degree of physical fitness is different for each person, if you have been riding for any period of time at all, you will be aware of what it is for you.

Basic Block ‘training’: how to do it

When you are following the block training concepts, you won’t even feel like you are working out since they are so straightforward and easy to understand. Because there are no intervals, power metres, or heart rate monitors, you freeriders may relax and stop worrying about being hurt.

  • Day 1: Ride for x minutes balls out. ‘X’ should be the longest period that you can devote to riding on a given day. For me it was about 1.5 hours. What does balls out mean? Whatever you want it to mean. Just ride harder than you would at easy or medium.
  • Day 2: Ride for 75% of x minutes, balls out. Attempt to maintain the same intensity as the day before. Because you are riding for a shorter period of time you can do it. I’d do an hour.
  • Day 3: Ride for 50% of x minutes, balls out. This last day try to go hard. It is going to hurt but just try your best. I’d go for a hard 45 minute ride.
  • Day 4, Day 5: Rest. Do nothing. Spend your time with your family. If you need to get on a bike, commute to work or go for a spin around the block. And imagine your significant other’s surprise when you schedule your rest days for the weekend!
  • Day 6: Easy but not too easy. This day was designed to get my legs back underneath me as a means of preparing for repeating the cycle. I’d try to go for 45 minutes and try to gauge if my legs were ready to go again the next day. If not I’d take another easy day.

Repeat for 3 weeks then take an easy week. Basically cut all the durations by half or more but try to maintain some intensity.

Results

After about six weeks of using this type of schedule I was totally floored by my progress. All of a sudden I could go out with friends and hammer again. Sure it wasn’t like it used to be when I’d ride epics all weekend and race. But by golly if I wasn’t having fun again. Obviously there are limitations to what I could handle: after two hours or so, I’d start to fade fast.

Another benefit from this type of training is the ’stage race effect’. This effect was hammered home on a weekend when I was fortunate enough to join one of the mountain biking trips my friends did. You know, the kind of weekened where you go to a cabin and ride Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Sunday morning, and then drive home. After the block scheduling I found myself riding really well over consecutive days and, since all the other people on the trip still rode like I used to, it was a real confidence boost to hang with them given the relatively limited amount of time I devote to riding.

I cannot emphasize enough what this ‘program’ had done for my happiness.

Conclusions

My kids are older now so I’ve got a little more time to ride, and I’m following a more regimented training plan. However I still incorporate block training principles on the micro level.

Lots of us have limited time to ride and lots of you aren’t interested in structured training programs. But by changing around your schedule just a little bit, you can ride the same amount of time that you are now while seeing some real gains in your level of fitness.

Of course, I am not saying that you can’t have fun just riding along. But, personally, I think it is more fun to ride along just a little bit faster and for a little bit longer.