No doubt you’ve all now started your winter training programs in preparation for next year. And if you haven’t, then now is the time to start fretting. The new season is mere months away after all.

As you all know, I aim to race like a pro. But I also aim to train like a pro too. This week I’ve already done forty hours low intensity on the bike, done a few core strength sessions in the gym, challenged the public to a race on a static race bike as part of a crass publicity stunt to placate the demands of my sponsors, and kept up with my schedule of clenbuterol micro-dosing. As you can imagine it’s tricky to juggle all this with the demands of being a successful blogger (I use the word ‘successful’ in the loosest possible terms, i.e. not at all).

However, club mate, rival and generally faster cyclist than me, Jim Ley, disagrees with my approach. He trains a mere 45 minutes a week (or something) and is still showing us all a clean pair of heals on the Sunday club run. I resolutely refuse to follow any training advice he has to offer – if it hasn’t been tried and tested by generations of professional cyclists and passed down through the years by folklore and Shamanism, then I really don’t want to know – but I’ve reproduced a recent blog post of his below. Some of you amateurs might find it useful.

Why train like a pro?

Everyone seems to want to train like professionals, they look at the professional rider and try to imitate what they do in their own training. Many of the coaches that train professional athletes develop reputations based on their subjects performances and success; this reputation is then harnessed to sell their experiences and insights to the public into how the pros train. But few amateurs can train like pros for many different reasons, so why do so many want to?

Professional Athletes

Have forty hours a week to train, and are close to their limits of potential. They have at least five to ten years of hard training behind them before they even became a professional athlete. Some are required to perform every week of the season and compete in a full program of competition, while others will peak for just a single event in a year – or in the case of the Olympics, once in every four years. Cycling is their job, and like everyone, require a holiday from their job once in a while. Some dope (obviously not all, but we’ll assume far more pros do than amateurs).

Amateur Athletes

Meanwhile have far fewer hours a week to train (let’s say eight is a reasonable average). Most amateurs have barely got near to fulfilling their potential as a cyclist. They’re probably in their first years of training. They choose their own schedule, racing when they want to, and when they can. Cycling is a holiday from their day job. Drink, eat, party (maybe).

Forty hours vs Eight hours

Professional athletes have nothing but their training to do with their time – it’s their job, and everything else is secondary. The amateur has to fit their training in around their job. The professional is forced by simple energy requirements to do a particular sort of training for a lot of their time – they simply can’t eat enough to go harder. They’re forced to split their hours say 80%, 15%, 5% in different zones. The amateur, however, can split their hours differently as they aren’t restricted by the same limits.

So, just because a pro spends 28 hours of their time with their heart rate below 75% of maximum, this doesn’t say anything particularly relevant to what an amateur with only eight hours available should do, any more than the fact a pro spends 12 hours with their heart rate above 75% does.

Limits approached vs heaps of potential

When you’re unfit, there are very rapid gains to be had: your VO2max rapidly responds to training, neuromuscular pathways get the muscles moving better and there’s plenty of room for your muscles to get bigger or to adapt to get more fuel and oxygen to them. The trained athlete who’s been doing this for years though doesn’t benefit from such rapid gains: their VO2max will be close to their genetic limit, their muscles will already be packed full of capillaries.

So the response to training is different, but that also means the type of training to elicit that response need not be the same either.

Ten years background vs Six months background

Certain components of fitness come from shere volume, having years of cycling behind you has completed the adaptations that let you cycle for hours every week logging mile after mile. The body has had time to build all the adaptations it needs, the amateur doesn’t have this, and their body is also likely still changing a lot as the weight comes off from the new found exercise.

Hundreds of miles per week cycling is maybe reasonable after five years of adaptations, but crazy after six months.

Targeted races vs Racing when you want to

Professional sportsmen have very specific demands as to when they are expected to perform well. Whoever is paying their wages will expect good results in specific events. For some that is one chance every four years at the Olympics, for others, it means performing every week for months on end through out the season. The amateur athlete can do an event anytime in the year, any place, any where.

Holiday from sport vs Sport as holiday

When your job is training and competing every day, you’ll need a decent break where you stop doing the things you do all the time. A chance to kick back, relax, do something different – drink, party, eat whatever they please. So taking a holiday from training makes sense. If you’re doing the sport because you enjoy it, taking a break becomes a self enforced torture as you’re desperate to do the things you enjoy.

Taking a break from your job is likely done for different reasons than taking a break from your training – don’t confuse the two.

Doping vs Drinking

Whilst not all professional athletes dope of course, many do, and many of the big name coaches made their names coaching doped athletes. In some periods it was impossible to even make the start line unless you were doping – for example in endurance sport during the early 90s, EPO was so widely abused you had little choice. Doping changes how you train, even if not how you can compete: doped athletes recover faster, are able to go harder in sessions. Everything is different, and not just that thing are working at a higher level. The amateur athlete tends to abuse their body in a lot of different ways, through drinking, partying etc. This kind of ‘drink and drugs’ have very different effects on training than the drugs a professional athlete consumes.

Four pints on a Saturday night will affect Sunday’s workout very differently from a large dose of Human Growth Hormone.

You’re different

Professionals are different to amateurs, planning your training can be good and helpful, but doing the same as a professional but in a reduced down form is unlikely to be logical. Everyone needs training which helps them deal with their limiters: professional limiters are likely to be radically different to those of the amateur, and as such so should their training.

Thanks to Jim Ley for letting me republish his article. It’s unusual to find such informative writing here on In The Saddle. You can view the original on his blog.