If you are looking to take your training and racing to the next level, then S.M.A.R.T training may be exactly what you need. Follow these training principles and you will be on your way to a podium finish:
Be Specific: Make your workouts specific to the event(s)/race(s) you will be doing. Here are some examples of how to do that.Include interval sessions similar to the climbing you will encounter. For example, if you know that your next race has a lot of 4-minute climbs, then perform 4-minute intervals. Start off with 3-4 of them and build up to 6-plus minute intervals, with 4 minutes' rest between each.
“Mimic” time trials (TT’s) into your routine: Pick a course similar to what you may encounter in your next race and perform it 2-4 times at your expected race pace. Take 5 minutes' rest between efforts. These TT’s will help you get faster and will also push you mentally and physically. If you want to challenge yourself, try to make each interval faster than the previous one.
Maintain Momentum(mtn bikers only!): If you want to go fast on the mountain bike, then you need to learn how to handle your bike better and maintain your speed (as much as possible) throughout the trail. Ride your mountain bike often and practice these skills:
Look into the turns.
Shift gears often, adjusting for the changes in the terrain.
Brake before and after the turns if you must, not into them.
Visualize/memorize the course, so you know what is coming up next. This is known as pre-planning.
Pick a smaller, touger section, about 10-20 minutes in length (i.e. some part of the trail you want to work on) and practice the skills above by riding at least 4 to 5 times per training session, once or twice a week.
To improve your technical skills you need to constantly focus on them, and re-inforce them by doing them over and over in the same way. A small course like the one described above will do exactly that.
Become Accountable: Take your training/racing to the next level by either hiring a coach and/or telling someone close to you your goals. By doing so, you become accountable and much more likely to accomplish your goals. Having a coach can take you to another level because you're forced to report to him/her on a daily/weekly basis. If you don't believe me, take a look at today’s top professional racers, including Christoph Sauser, who is sponsored by Specialized, or look at Lance Armstong. Both have a good grasp on how to train and why. Yet, each uses a coach to take their training/racing to the next level.
Rest and Recover: Ask any successful professional racer, and they will tell you that Rest & Recovery are EXREMELY IMPORTANT. When you train you stress your body out. After a hard training ride, your body needs to fully recover, or you won’t make the improvements needed to become faster. You don’t recover=you don’t get faster! If you put a larger emphasis on recovery between races/hard training sessions, you will get faster, I assure you.
*There is one key point here: recovery means recovery.* As a coach and Professional racer, it amazes me how hard a majority of racers go every day. Most train every day with one day off per week. This is good, but many of them also go too hard on their easy days and not hard enough on their hard days. Easy days have to be really, really easy. If you think you are going too hard, you are! That’s how easy it must be.
Train Harder: The next mistake many racers make is that they do not go hard enough on their hard days. Hard should be VERY hard! A good way to do this is to incorporate intervals into your training. Intervals work extremely well because they break your workout into shorter increments, which pushes you very hard and mimics racing pace or even harder. Try the following interval-set the next time you are out training, and you will see what I mean:
Do a 20-30 minute warm-up with easy spinning. Find a section of road (or hill) that takes about 4 minutes to finish. Try to go as fast as you can up the road/hill, pacing yourself at the same time (i.e. start off at 10 mph and aim to finish at 10 mph also.) Don’t start at 20 mph and drop to 5 by the end. Turn around and spin easy/coast back to the start for 4-6 minutes. Repeat this 3-5 times. By the end, you should be tired and beat up. If you are, then you had a successful interval session.
Be specific, maintain momentum, become accountable, rest and recover, and train hard: Do this and you will become a smarter and faster racer!