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Train Like Lance Armstrong

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Lance Armstrong became the best Tour de France rider in history by revolutionizing the way cyclists train. But instead of following the time-honored principles of training longer and harder with Rockyesque fervor, he and his coach, Chris Carmichael, decided to train more efficiently. It's no longer enough, or even a good idea, to try to simply outwork your opponents. Instead, the most efficient way to win the Tour is to outsmart them.

Here are five ways Carmichael and Armstrong outsmarted their opponents to win six straight Tours. These principles can help you achieve your own goals.

1. Motivation. Not one aspect of your training is as important as motivation. In fact, nothing else is even close. With enough motivation, you will succeed at some level. It's the one ingredient that assures success and, when lacking, will lead to failure. Here is what Carmichael has to say about Lance and motivation:

"Lance Armstrong can be beaten at the Tour de France, but only by an athlete who is better prepared than he is. To accomplish that, an athlete would have to be more motivated than Armstrong, and I believe the depth and intensity of Lance's motivation comes from a place very few people can understand, let alone match. He's the hardest working man in the peloton, perhaps in the world of sport, and his commitment to excellence in training, nutrition, equipment, and team selection have elevated him above everyone else." [1]

Also, being motivated yourself makes motivating others a natural extension. A few years ago, Armstrong recruited a young rider for the Postal team, Floyd Landis, who was talented but unfocused. Taking him under his wing, he taught Landis the importance of treating his training and racing as a job. As a result, Landis has turned into a major force in the pro peloton. This year, he's won a handful of races, and he's led Armstrong through the mountains in the Tour, finishing fourth in the final time trial.

Champion rock climber Wolfgang Gullich once said, "The hardest part about training is making the decision to start training at all," meaning that once your mind is focused, every subsequent step is easier.

2. Singularity of Focus. Again, breaking with tradition, Carmichael and Armstrong work toward one goal, winning the Tour de France. This was instigated by Johan Brunyeel, the director of Lance's U.S. Postal Service team. There are many races in cycling, but the Tour is the biggest, by far. Winning the Tour is more important than winning every other race of the season. With this in mind, Armstrong trains with one objective, while most of his rivals still look toward winning numerous races. This single-minded focus is a huge advantage.

Armstrong's Postal squad is built entirely around helping Lance win the Tour. Most other teams are not structured this way. In fact, the team of his main rival, Jan Ullrich, attempted the dual task of helping him win the Tour and helping sprinter Eric Zabel win the sprint stages. They paid for this lack of focus on both ends—Ullrich fell to fourth place in the general classification and Zabel failed to win a single stage.

The lesson is that those with a singular goal will always have an advantage.

3. Efficiency. Motivation alone is enough to give you results, but if you have an efficient plan, those results are likely to happen much quicker. The entire Beachbody concept is based on efficiency. Most of us don't have hours a day to spend exercising. But Armstrong makes his living by winning one bike race, so it makes sense that he should spend all day long training, right?

Wrong. Traditionally, cyclists have done this, even going so far as setting early-season mileage goals that aim to "get a lot of miles in the legs." Many still train this way. But Carmichael strayed from this old-school attitude, instead trying to cut down on time spent on the bike:

"Lance doesn't waste time on his bike. He knows the goals of the day's workout before he leaves the house, and once his power meter tells him he has ridden long enough to accomplish those goals, he goes home. Extra time on the bike isn't necessary and just leads to more fatigue and longer recovery periods." [2]

Carmichael thinks that efficient training leads to not only more time away from training, but also a more relaxed attitude. With the belief that's he's been as efficient as possible, Armstrong can more freely go about his daily tasks of being a father, businessman, philanthropist, and rock star accoutrement.

4. Periodizational Training. Armstrong trains in blocks, starting in the off-season, leading toward a peak during the race in July. His blocks have different goals than most of yours, but the principles are the same. You should not train your body the same way all year long. Instead, focus on different energy systems.

In Armstrong's case, weaknesses, or places where radical change may be needed, are focused on in the off-season. Then he'll work on more and more subtle items as he gets closer to his goal period. You can't peak all year long, so it's better not to always try to be in your best condition. Sometimes, we let ego get in the way of the goal. We only focus on our strengths or do what we're good at. But that is not the best way to reach a goal, because if you train your hardest you will have good days and bad, even good periods and bad. Each time you switch your training you go through an adaptive period where your performance suffers, but this will make you fitter in the end.

A case in point: Armstrong got creamed by two of his primary rivals in a time trial just over a month before the start of the Tour. There was panic in the press, but for Carmichael and Armstrong, it was business as usual. Those other guys had peaked too early, whereas Lance was still coming into form. During the first mountain stage in France, he gained massive time on both of them.

5. Nutritional Periodization. Again, a revolutionary concept. Actually, it's only revolutionary in that it was planned periodization. Traditionally, cyclists would gain weight in the off-season and then try to burn it off at the beginning of the race year, which is a type of random periodizational training that isn't too effective. But Carmichael figured that if Lance didn't gain so much weight, he could instead focus on getting his body to use fuel more efficiently. Therefore, he cycles his eating throughout the year.

In the winter, he eats far fewer carbs because he isn't burning so many calories. Because high performance isn't necessary (i.e., no races), he will train his body to more efficiently burn fat for energy but will restrict his carbohydrate intake. This comes in handy during the race season, when he needs to hold onto glycogen stores as long as possible. So by withholding some carbs (he still eats some and never approaches anything resembling an Atkins approach), Lance trains his system to be more efficient.

During the season this will change, and he'll add more and more carbs as the races get more intense. Your body will not function at its highest level without carbs (which you know if you've read almost anything I've written). So as Lance starts to race, his diet becomes more carb-oriented. During the Tour, Armstrong may consume up to 1000 grams (4,000 calories) in carbohydrates alone. Carmichael says, "If Lance tried to race on a low-carb diet, he'd die."

If this strategy sounds familiar, it's because we're always prescribing similar eating styles at Beachbody, especially for P90X®. Some form of periodizational nutrition works for almost every individual, because it's very rare that we do the same thing, in the same way, throughout the year. In a very basic sense, proteins make muscle, fats make the body function properly, and carbs give it energy for both athletics and brain function. So the more sedentary you are, the fewer carbs you need, but as your activity level changes, your carb level must change too if you want to perform your best.

1. From Carmichael's column at www.thepaceline.com
2. From www.cyclingnews.com

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