It happens every single time I post a review of a research paper comparing different training methods.
Facebook comments pop up critiquing the training protocols or results produced by the study.
And that is a good thing.
I applaud those who subject new knowledge to a healthy dose of critical thinking. And I would encourage anyone to make this a habit when presented with new “miracle” training methods.
However, often these comments will also reveal that the reader has not fully understood the intention of the involved paper. Or the nature of research in general.
That is not the reader’s fault.
Rather, the scientific community is to blame for not communicating the strengths and shortcomings of its findings well enough for the avid amateur cyclist to understand.
It is also on me.
People expect too many answers from a single study
Whenever I share a review of a research paper, I will get comments on Facebook along the lines of:
The riders in this study weren’t well trained enough for this study to be interesting.
This training protocol doesn’t cover all aspects of conventional cycling training, so the results don’t matter.
The gist of it is usually “not all aspects of this study are 100% representative of MY situation, so the study is useless”.
Yep, you’re right about the first.
But I will also suggest you’re wrong about the second.
Most often, the training interventions in experimental studies are not designed to accurately represent all aspects of optimal training organization. And certainly not optimal training organization for all riders at all performance levels.
And here is why.
What you need to understand about cycling science
Here is what you need to understand about cycling research.
A single research experiment can only ever answer a single research question (at best, a very limited number of questions).
Like “which is better, training model A or B”.
Or perhaps even “which is better, training models A, B, C or D”.
However, you will never find single studies examining “which is better, training models A-Z, and for age groups 20-25, 26-30, 31-35 and so on”.
E.g. the study on 30/15 vs 4×5 min intervals examined the question of which of the two interval sessions provide the best physiological adaptation.
In order to answer that question with a high degree of certainty, you need two similar groups of cyclists to undertake two similar training regimes where the only difference is the style of interval used.
And you need to allow a sufficiently long training period for adaptation to take place.
If the only difference between the groups were the interval style, we can (more) safely assume any differences in performance gained is due to the different intervals.
The scientists apply a training intervention that will best answer their specific research question. That protocol will usually co-incide with some, but seldom all aspects of conventional training for best possible progress in real life.
Don’t infer answers the study does not provide
Notice, the research question in the 30/15 study was NOT “what is the best way of applying the 30/15 interval”. Nor do the authors ever state that the 30/15 interval should necessarily be performed twice weekly for 10 weeks.
Those were not questions they intended to answer with this study.
Figuring out what is the best way of applying the 30/15-interval would have required a whole different study (probably several of them).
This is what makes the application of cycling research challenging. The question of how to best organize your training is notoriously complex in nature.
You simply will not find the answer to that question in a single research article. Rather, you will have to consider a whole range of findings from a long sequence of studies into isolated research questions.
What is more, you will also have to consider anecdotal evidence and experience on topics that have yet to be subjected to thorough research.
And you need to figure out how to best apply this information in your specific case.
This just happens to be the lofty ambition I have set out to facilitate with this website.
The tricky communication
The rigorous nature of research reports makes for dull and non-friendly reading.
Yet, this meticulous style of reporting is required to sufficiently explain the applied methodology for fellow scientists to review and/or reproduce.
Communicating the results, providing real-life applications, highlighting strengths and weaknesses of research findings AND doing so in an exciting and reader-friendly way is notoriously difficult.
I suspect this is why hardly anyone is doing it. Still, I find great joy in attempting to achieve the above. And I will keep trying to do so, and in time, hopefully get better at it.
For now, I just wanted you to understand why we will not find the Holy Grail of cycling training in a single 10-week research paper.
And please understand that the training protocols in experimental studies are designed to answer a very specific research question only. They are not designed to represent the optimal way of organizing your training.
On that note – rant over. Have a great day!