Training with specificity is important, especially as an athlete gets closer to their event. Once the aerobic engine has been built from months or more of generalized training, it’s time to adapt the training to meet the specific needs of the event. Training with specificity is not limited to just the type of intervals that an athlete would perform, but also the terrain that they will encounter and necessary skills. For example, if an athlete planning on a gravel event with very rough terrain and plenty of short, punchy climbs, these would be two specific areas to target during training.
While training with specificity is very important, it’s also important to not spend unnecessary time training for discipline specific demands that will not be encountered during the event(s).
Simply said, don’t spend time training something that exists in the sport but that you won’t encounter.
Cyclocross is a very good subject of this statement.
‘Cross is a very unique sport in that there is terrain in some ‘cross races that you might not ever see in any of your other events. Examples of such terrain include sand, snow, or wood chips. Likewise, there is often at least one point on the course where racers will be forced to dismount, run with their bike, and then remount. While this may happen in a mountain bike race or even some gnarly gravel events, it’s not a “mandatory” part of mountain bike course construction and layout.
A specific example:
For many years I held a weekly Tuesday cyclocross training practice where we did all sorts of drills and had some short races at the end. As the years progressed, we started spending more time practicing shouldering and then running with our bikes. While this is a good skill to have in ‘cross, as I reflected on my races, not once did I need to shoulder my bike. It was a dry year and the nature of our courses did not involve any stairs or long and steep runups where shouldering would have been advantageous. The only dismount during the races was for the barriers, and most riders were “suitcasing” their bikes with a top tube grab and carry. This was actually the same for several years in a row. Was this a huge loss of time? No, but probably a skill that we didn’t need to continue to sharpen week after week.
Another example from ‘cross would be riding through sand. Again, a great skill to have and can really develop some amazing bike handling. There are also some similarities between riding in loose sand with mud and snow. BUT, if none of your races will include a sandpit, then perhaps spending time and energy seeking out sand to practice in is not the best use of these precious resources.
More obvious examples can also come from the duration of the events. If an athlete is targeting “shorter” races such as criteriums, time trials, cyclocross, UCI XC mountain biking, and even sprint triathlons, riding for 5+ hours during the height of the season can be downright counterproductive. This can be a hard pill to swallow for those out there who, like me, love to ride their bikes. And I’m not suggesting that there is not value in long, low intensity rides during the base period. However, as you get closer to your events, this type of riding will likely not benefit your performance.
If you're into podcasts, this is a super listen:
And here are some great articles to help us all think about the specific demands of our events:
I encourage you to train with specificity, and if you have questions or need help with this, I’m ready to lend a hand!
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.