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Maximum Performance for Cyclists: The Physiology of Training Paperback – April 1, 2005
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First the positives. The book is well referenced and thus gives the impression that the principles outlined are based on well designed peer reviewed studies and papers published in respected medical and physiology journals. The efficiency of a program based almost exclusively on interval training is appealing. It certainly takes less time over the course of a week and suits my limited race schedule (only 4-5 races in the year) and work schedule. The intervals are always hard, but that's how you improve.
Now the negatives.
First, the most obvious drawback is that most athletes like to train with other athletes for cameraderie and motivation, and Ross's program of 4 days of intervals followed by 3 days off isn't something you can easily talk your bicycling buddies into. So you're on your own which decreases the fun and the competitive push that comes from "beating the other guy to the sprint point". Ross does mix (and recommends) "racing" into the 4 days of training later in the year, and I interpreted this to mean I could substitute a "hard group training ride" to keep from going nuts with only intervals.
Second, Ross includes weight training prior to the race season but then makes no mention of it. Most training programs recommend continuing with a maintenance weight program during the season. I think with this book you have to "fill in the blanks" a bit and modify the plan with some common sense such as continuing some maintenance weight training.
Third, I just can't take three days off in a row without training. I get cranky and my legs ache and twitch. I have also found that on the first day back after three days off my performance is definitely subpar (although the next day can be superlative). Thus (again this goes against Ross's ideas) I at least spin, do some weights, or walk around the lake with my wife.
In summary, (based on my personal experience only) if you're going to follow the program I think you need to use some commonsense and modify the schedule to fit your needs. Some previous experience with training programs would be helpful. I'm not sure this book is a good choice for someone just beginning on the bike.
For muscles, fitness for cycling comprises of increased mitochondria in each muscle cell (the cells 'batteries') and increasing the blood supply to the muscles by growing new blood vessels (angiogenesis) to optimise oxygen delivery and waste removal. A compelling argument as to why muscle fibres type IIa are optimal for cycling is given, and then ways in which to train so as to increase mitochondria, angiogenesis and performance of type IIa muscle fibres are provided, all referenced.
The author makes the point that traditional cycle training aims at volume of many hours riding to develop base endurance, then adding intensity and recovery. This is proven with many outstanding athletes having world championships and gold medals from it. This long slow miles approach is based on the then revolutionary training techniques of late Arthur Lydiard who produced a group of world champion middle-distance runners in the 50s and 60s. So why change a good thing? Citing referenced research, Ross contends, however, that long slow base miles can actually hinder performance by working only type I muscle fibres.
In essence what the book says is that to optimise performance intensity and recovery are the keys. This means hard work, intervals with maximal effort accompanied by recovery periods. Improved cycling performance is body adapting to vigorous exercise, and he defines how to optimise the adaptation. He contends that improving mitochondrial numbers in muscle is attained by starving the body of carbohydrate during a ride, and suggests riding for an hour on an empty stomach and taking a protein/carbohydrate meal with you to eat at one hour. Likewise starving the body of oxygen (anaerobic training) optimises new vessel growth (angiogenesis). An excellent chapter on determining lactate threshold and personalised heart zone targets is perhaps one of the best available in the current crop of training books. Other chapters include an excellent summary of flexibility and stretching techniques and the expected chapters on bike fit, workouts, nutrition and training plans
The book is referenced and sensible in approach. A must read for those serious about cycle training who want a sound scientific approach to maximising your time on the bike.
I am a family doctor who cycles. I don't know Dr Ross or have any financial interest in his work. No competing interests.