Protect your posture with dynamic core training
Tour de France cyclists have to maintain a good posture on their bike for incredibly long rides. “Core strength is very important for riders,” insists Taylor. “They do a mixture of TRX exercises, resistance band stretches and Swiss ball workouts, as well as the typical battery of core exercises like planks, crunches and twists.”
The riders prioritise dynamic exercises such as Russian twists and one-legged planks as they better replicate the imbalances and ever-changing dynamics of riding a bike. But the key is consistency. “Some riders use core work as a pre-training activation session whereas others programme it into their evening routine,” reveals Taylor. “This regular core work supports the riders on the bike as well as in their daily life.”
Become a data geek
Ineos riders use a variety of technological tools to monitor their training and recovery, from performance-recording Garmin bike computers and heart-rate monitors to goal-planning Training Peaks software and the calorie-counting LIBRO food diary and nutrition app. They even use advanced Supersapiens glucose biosensors – coin-sized devices worn on the upper arm which provide real-time glucose feedback to help riders monitor their energy levels and fuelling strategies.
“We have a lot of information at our disposal, given that every bike is instrumented with a power meter, and we measure the riders’ heart rates in every session, which is very useful,” says Taylor. The advantage of using performance trackers and nutrition apps is that it takes the guesswork out of training so you know exactly what you need to do, when and why.
Build up your bones
The Ineos riders do single and double leg presses, split squats, glute bridges and lunges to build up their leg strength. “Whilst the quadriceps is the primary muscle group used in cycling, these exercises target all of the muscle groups used in both seated and out-of-the-saddle cycling,” explains Taylor. “I am a big advocate of strength work for endurance athletes as there is good research that it may improve maximum power output at the end of races.”
But in order to build pure strength, without adding heavy muscle bulk, the riders focus on low reps (3-6) and low sets (3-5). “We are not necessarily trying to build muscle, because it is heavy, but we’re trying to develop strength and power, which transfers into cycling performance,” says Taylor.
These strength sessions also have a protective function. A review published in BMC Medicine revealed that individuals who practise non-weight-bearing sports such as cycling are more likely to suffer from low bone density and osteoporosis. “Because cycling is a non-load-bearing sport, unlike running, bone mineral density can be very low,” warns Taylor. “But there is some research which suggests that increasing your resistance training off the bike may improve your bone mineral density.”
Get hot at home
The Tour can be swelteringly hot so riders prepare by training indoors with the heaters pumped up. “We’re just trying to raise the athletes’ core temperature and do light exercise in the heat to improve some of their physiological responses, like sweat rates,” explains Taylor. “We are also looking at passive heating, such as hot baths, to get their bodies warmed up and improve adaptation.” Research by Liverpool John Moores University has shown that simply taking a 40-minute hot bath after training in normal temperatures can elicit improvements in resting body temperature and sweating performance to help you cope better when exercising in the heat.
Push and pull at your fitness level
To raise their fitness levels Ineos riders ‘push’ and ‘pull’ at their personal fitness limits in training. “When we’re trying to improve a rider’s power output, for example, the first way to raise that bar is to do efforts just above race duration but below race power to ‘push’ up that bar,” explains Taylor. “But the second way is to work under race duration but over race power to ‘pull’ that level up.”
For example, if you want to do a 30km ride in one hour, practise by riding for 33km at 27kph, and by riding for 27km at 33kph, to ‘push’ and ‘pull’ at your fitness limits. “You will build strength and capacity on the bike and train your body to deal with more power,” says Taylor.
Do hard intervals for cardio gains
High-intensity interval training helps to strengthen riders’ hearts and lungs for racing. “The main things you get from high-intensity sessions are the ability to put out a higher power output and to prepare for those shorter sharper efforts, which can form a race-winning move,” explains Taylor.
These high-intensity workouts typically involve repeated efforts at 80-90 per cent of heart rate max. “Around 2-3 sessions (per week) will involve training of a high-intensity intermittent nature,” says Taylor. “This involves repeated short blocks: typically 3-6 blocks of high-intensity efforts – anything from 30 seconds to 8 minutes of effort – interspersed with brief low-intensity periods of 2-5 minutes that allow for a partial recovery from each block.”
This ensures you keep challenging your body to adapt to your training stimulus. “With high-intensity exercise we are also trying to accelerate the removal of lactate between efforts, so that you’re able to get your body to tolerate the successive increases in lactate production during high-intensity exercise,” explains Taylor. This helps to push back the moment at which your body feels fatigue so you can train at a higher intensity for longer.