Behind the Spokes: Insight into the training of a pro cyclist
Author: Colleen Gulick, Ph.D (ExPhys), MS, BS (BioE), EIT (ME), CSCS
For those who know me, it’s no secret that I am a planner.
I like a structured week, a solid routine, and training that allows me to measure progress. What can I say; I’m a science geek at heart. Compounding this obsessive organization is a support team just as detail oriented as myself, donning multiple world champion titles, record setting achievements, and Olympic coaching accolades.
The result is a weekly plan with 17 hours on the road bike, 5 hours at the track, 4 hours at the gym, 3 hours of bike/equipment maintenance, 4 hours of sponsor/social media work, and countless hours thinking up new ways to improve.
That’s 33 hours per week dedicated to cycling, not counting the travel and actual race time during the season. Plus, I have what I refer to as my “real person” jobs… where I work in R&D, write educational content for multiple supplement and sport companies, and own a consulting and coaching company (Podium Sports, LLC).
While the hourly distribution shifts a bit depending on the time of year, there are always 4 main components of my training:
- On the bike training,
- Equipment maintenance
On the Bike Training
I spend about 360 days in the saddle each year. The workouts vary by the season, how I’m progressing, and what races will be coming up next. If I know that there’s an important race with a short punchy hill, then I’ll be doing plenty of hill sprints in the lead up to the race. If there’s a large lull in races then I’ll probably be doing plenty of longer rides over 3 hours at a time. With so much time in the saddle, it’s important to have a good training group, a solid playlist of podcasts, and scenic training routes to keep myself sane.
The track training varies throughout the year but not as much as the road miles. This is due to my status as an omnium rider.
The omnium is a cycling event similar to the decathlon in track and field. There are four races over varying distances that take place during the course of a single day; the rider with the best cumulative placings is the winner. Thus, riders that are skilled at only sprinting or only endurance are unlikely to win. I have to train for both.
It’s the “jack of all trades” event in cycling.
This means that my track workouts include every aspect: sprinting, endurance, and repeatability.
I love the gym. I grew up in my mother’s physical therapy practice where I was introduced to the basic mechanics of lifting at a very young age. I was always trying new exercises and experimenting with different exercise and weight combinations. This curiosity developed into an intellectual exercise and, eventually, a career path as I interned and was hired as a strength and conditioning coach for USA Beach Volleyball while I pursued my master’s degree. Needless to say, I enjoy the challenge and opportunities that the gym provides.
My strength is an area where I shine and it is key to my success on the bike. So, I spend a lot of time in the gym throughout the winter and spring.
I focus on creating a balanced gym program with a push and pull exercise for the lower body, upper body, and core, in every workout.
A new piece of equipment that I have added to my arsenal this year and I’m excited about is the Exxentric flywheel machines.
Bike and equipment maintenance takes up a surprising amount of time. However, it is a necessary task since my safety and performance depend upon it. To me, there is nothing more careless than a racer who does not take time to properly work on their bike, as this lack of attention can cause others unnecessary harm. Every week, or after every ride in the rain, I do a thorough cleaning of the bike. This involves wiping off the road grit, cleaning the chain, charging gears and checking tires for cuts that may indicate they need to be replaced. While this is time consuming, it helps to identify wear and tear before it becomes a problem and prepare by ordering new parts, if needed.
Training at a high level for any sport requires nutritional planning. For cycling, the main obstacle is planning food for long training days. I need snacks to take to the track during training and plenty of water bottles. Plus, the last thing I want to do when I finish a tough workout is cook. So, grocery shopping ahead of time and food prepping is essential.
One aspect of nutrition that poses a challenge for me is gluten. I was diagnosed with Celiac disease over 10 years ago. Throughout this time I have become very well acquainted with what foods sneakily contain gluten (like soy sauce) and what options are readily available during travel (Thai and Mexican always have foods that are naturally gluten free). Luckily, the development of gluten free foods (like the Go Condition Snack Bars) has come a long way in the past decade, significantly increasing my options and making life much easier.
Rolling it all Together
I think when many people hear “professional athlete” they envision someone who: trains, eats, sleeps, and that’s pretty much it.
This is probably the ideal scenario for optimal sport performance and is likely the lifestyle of choice for many athletes.
However, as someone that has never sat still well, that type of existence is not at all appealing to me. I enjoy being constantly active.
Thus, my weekly activities of: on the bike training, gym, equipment maintenance, recovery/nutrition, and work keep me plenty busy, but I always enjoy sharing my passion for cycling and sport science.
So, I hope to see you soon be it on the bike, in the gym, or anywhere in between.