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The Science Behind Becoming a Better Cyclist

Nov 30 2021
By Laura Roe Stevens
5 min read
Close-up of cyclist riding bike outside against blue sky.

The world’s best cyclists have two things in common.

First, they love the thrill of a competitive ride. Second, they utilize the latest scientific techniques to continuously measure and boost performance. Today’s tests, run by experienced sports medicine professionals, show cyclists exactly where to improve and strengthen to garner faster speeds, tackle hills with power, and to enjoy the sport more.

As a competitive triathlete cyclist with more than 20 years riding 150 to 250 miles a week, Mike Siemens, Corporate Director of Exercise Physiology at Canyon Ranch, knows a thing or two about the sport. He has benefited from the science that he now utilizes when training athletes.

“Many beginner cyclists are surprised when seeing a small-boned rider with thin muscles tackle a race with as much power as the bigger riders with larger calves. Those who perform the best when riding are often not who fellow riders expect, based on their amateur assessments of body structure. There is so much more to strong cycling ability,” says Mike.

To ramp your cycling performance to the next level, experts agree it’s critical to learn about your body composition and to create a nutrition and exercise plan (including strength training off the bike) that will get — and keep you — at your ideal ratio of fat to muscle. Mike helps clients discover their Lactate Threshold level 2 and power output at this level. That is the highest amount of power (speed) a person can sustain without accumulating lactic acid and having to slow down. A person can ride at or below their lactate threshold L2 for hours in a trained state.

“Over my 30-year career at Canyon Ranch, I’ve trained many recreational riders preparing for their first triathlon, or charity ride. I love working with them because I raced so much and understand how much fun and joy comes from feeling great on a bike.”

At Canyon Ranch cycling guests can be tested for lactate threshold levels during a cycling test. It measures for most of the markers that are scientifically proven to be key predictors of cycling performance. These include:

  • Power output at the lactate threshold (LT2) and Wpeak at LT2.
  • Peak power output (Wpeak) indicating a power/weight ratio of ≥5.5 W/kg. This is the most power a person can generate when pedaling all out like in a sprint for 30 seconds.
  • The percentage of type I fibers in the vastus lateralis muscle of your quadriceps. Type 1 fibers are slow twitch fibers that support long distance endurance efforts. Type 2 are fast twitch fibers which support sprinting explosive movements. Great endurance cyclists have more type 1 fibers.
  • Maximal lactate steady-state, representing the highest exercise intensity at which blood lactate concentration remains stable. This means the highest amount of power (watts) or speed, the cyclist can generate, while having their blood lactic acid amount stay the same. This shows if the athlete is burning mostly fat for fuel and is able to neutralize (buffer) all the lactic acid produced. This is an ideal sustainable condition for hours and hours.
  • Unique breathing patterns. This test looks for a lack of tachypnoeicshift, found in professional cyclists, that may enhance the efficiency and metabolic cost of breathing.

“Our assessments are really cool and not easy to find outside Canyon Ranch,” explains Mike.

Body composition measurements are also conducted to determine body fat percentage and fat free mass amounts. The goal, generally, is to achieve and maintain a healthy body composition that is roughly under 25% body fat for men and under 38% body fat with adequate muscle mass for women. These metrics allow Canyon Ranch performance science and nutrition experts to create exercise programs and nutrition plans customized to your specific health and performance goals.

“Whether your goal is to race in a triathlon or ramp up weekend rides with friends, testing like ours and expert training and nutrition plans will not only get you there, but have you loving the ride.”

A headshot of the Director of Performance Science, Mike Siemens

About the Expert

A headshot of the Director of Performance Science, Mike Siemens

Mike Siemens

MS, RCEP, Director of Performance Science

Mike works one-on-one with our guests, creating customized exercise programs for a wide variety of fitness levels and movement goals. He also hires, trains, and mentors our team of Exercise Physiologists, and develops programming for the department.

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