Most of us could improve from better and more specific training methods. However, before you begin any training program, you will need to analyze the physical demands of being a successful cyclist. Knowing where your performance-limiting deficiencies are will allow you to define your training program by setting specific targets toward which you will try to improve.
There are five basic training systems:
1. VO2 Max: This is your rate of oxygen delivery to your muscles. A large portion of any training program should emphasize developing your VO2 to its maximum potential. Although the VO2 value of each cyclist has been thought of as being fixed through genetic influence, there can be significant gains with the appropriate volume and intensity of training. During a specific training phase, three to five weeks is the maximum training period for your VO2. Any additional VO2 training during a specific training phase would be fruitless and could lead to reduced VO2 levels caused by over training one system and detraining the others.
As you probably know, researchers can measure how much oxygen in used, or consumed, by your body as it makes energy. This is done in a lab with equipment that analyzes the volume and composition of your expired air. Researchers can subtract the amount of oxygen exhaled to calculate how much oxygen was used by your body to make energy.
VO2 = the volume of Oxygen consumed per minute.
2. Lactate Threshold (LT, a.k.a. anaerobic threshold-AT): Successful LT training allows you to increase your ability to work at a higher percentage of your maximum heart rate while remaining in an aerobic state. This form of training is always followed after VO2 training. The rationale is to first develop your engine's total capacity, and "tune it up" with other types of training. A significant increase in your anaerobic threshold can be accomplished with specific training over a brief period of time. This is one of the quickest systems to train once the aerobic conditioning has been completed.
During cycling, you can perform up to a certain intensity without accumulating lactic acid in the blood. When this threshold intensity is exceeded, lactic acid levels rise, muscle glycogen becomes depleted and performance declines. This exercise intensity is often times called the lactate threshold and anaerobic threshold.
3. ATP-CP (Sprint Training): The energy for muscular
contraction is derived from ATP. When a muscular contraction
occurs, the stores of ATP are broken down to produce other
ADP + P + Energy (Adenosine Diphosphate + Phosphate + Energy)
However, these ATP stores are quickly depleted, and another compound, Creatine Phosphate (CP), also known as phosphocreatine or PC, is broken down resulting in energy release. This energy can combine with the ADP toe synthesize ATP for additional energy for muscular contraction. Therefore, it is important to train this system to let your body adjust to the chemical processes taking place in the muscles.
4. Anaerobic Power: The other type of the anaerobic system is the lactic acid system. This system used muscle glycogen (stored as carbohydrate) and then blood glucose as fuel to form ATP. This system accounts for most of the energy generated in all-out efforts of approximately 30 seconds up to several minutes in duration. This system derives its name from the accumulation of lactic acid in the body. Once the ATP-CP system has been exhausted, your muscles can continue to produce ATP an aerobically through the release of food energy, i.e., glucose. Within this system, carbohydrate is broken down without oxygen -- the end product is lactic acid.
Training this system will allow you to increase your ability to produce energy in an anaerobic state. This type of training is very demanding and should not be confused with anaerobic capacity training (aerobic intervals with very little recovery between efforts).
5. Aerobic System: The aerobic system utilizes oxygen and fat as its primary source for energy production. This system is used most of the time when intensity is kept below approximately 72% of maximum heart rate. The aerobic system undergoes more than 20 steps within the muscle's cell before ATP is produced. For this reason, the aerobic system is a slower producer of ATP during exercise. However, this system produces a greater amount of ATP.
Training the aerobic system can improve the delivery of oxygen to the muscles by carrying more oxygen within the blood as well as improving your muscles' ability to extract more oxygen delivered to working muscles. This form of training is very important because it increases muscle enzyme utilization, fuel efficiency, and aerobic function which accounts for the greatest volume of training undertaken.