While Jens Voigt is no longer racing on the WorldTour, his retirement has been anything but relaxing.
Starting with setting an hour record (which has since been beaten), he’s Everested, climbing 8,848m / 29,028.87ft (the vertical elevation of the mountain), which took 26.5 hours and covered 400km / 248.54mi. And, just last month, he attempted to run seven marathons in seven days — an effort that was unfortunately curtailed by a bacterial infection in his leg after his fourth marathon.
With that, it’s safe to say Voigt knows his way around a training plan. We caught up with him just after the Tour Down Under to find out his best tips and tricks for staying fit.
1. No shortcuts
Even with a pro career spanning nearly two decades, when it comes to hard work Voigt was never able to find a quick and easy way to get fast.
“Lesson A, you’ve gotta do the miles. Your fitness should be, in the ideal scenario, shaped in a triangle or pyramid. On the bottom is a big strong layer of base miles, the next layer on top of the base miles is a little smaller with a little more intensity, and on top of that is more intensity. In the end, the tip of the pyramid should be the high point of your season or where your objective is.
“Picture the pyramid, if you reduce the basement miles to a smaller piece and you throw a lot of intensity on top of it, it looks like a pyramid just the other way around — is that going to be stable? Not it’s not, it’s going to fall down, and then it takes you half a year to repair the damage.”
2. Dropping a few pounds
Whether you’re a pro coming back from the off-season or just trying to burn off some festive ham and eggnog, there are times when we could all stand to lose a few pounds.
“When I started training again after the off-season and I wanted to lose some weight, I would often wake up, have a cup of coffee and be on the bike more or less with five or ten minutes, no breakfast.
“That start into training forces your body to go quickly into fat-burning metabolism, and your body is just forced to use fat cells for energy, but, after two hours into the ride (maybe 1 hour 30 for an untrained person), you need to start eating carbs. So you would then need 60g of a muesli power bar every hour (or 30g every 30 min), because you want to burn fat, but you don’t want to run yourself into the ground.”
3. Intensity is important
“Riding four times a week for three hours gets you to a certain level, but never further than that. If you want to compete and be in races, then you need to do intervals. If you ever want to have a (racing) license or compete in a Gran Fondo or whatever, you need to do intervals and train your body to work harder, to recover, work harder again, and then recover again — change of rhythm, that’s important.
“And as bizarre as it might sound, five one-minute efforts makes you a better rider even if you’re aiming for a three-hour bike race. Short and vicious workouts will make you better.”
4. Don’t overdo it
Too much too soon is something just about every rider has done at some point in their riding career. But that fast group-ride, all-day epic or Wednesday-night crit straight off the couch might do more harm than good if you’re not ready for it.
“Let’s say you’ve had a bad winter and you haven’t trained, don’t train too hard and too fast too early. I see that so often, people want too much too fast and then they burn themselves out and they get injured and they are frustrated and pissed off.
“Just be honest with yourself, you know: ‘I had so much stress with work this winter and with the kids and I haven’t trained for three months’. You cannot go out on a five-hour bike ride if you’ve had three months without the bike.”
5. Training on the road
Although Voigt is no longer pinning on a number, he’s still away from home quite a lot doing race commentary, helping out the Trek-Segfrado and fulfilling his ambassadorship commitments with Fitbit, Tour de Cure, Tour Down Under and Tour of California to name a few.
With this, he now faces some of the challenges many of us do, that is not always being able to get out for a bike ride.
“I try to adapt to the situation I’m in. If I have a hotel close to the airport or outside the city, it’s easy just to hop on your bike and find a bike path somewhere — but not in the city center.
“I had a trip last year to Bangkok, there is no way I would try to navigate the bike paths in Bangkok! But you can always find a little city park where you can run, or the hotel gym is always open. What I sometimes do is run or walk up and down the fire emergency stairs — that hotel in Bangkok was 25 floors… If you do that two or three times, that’s a serious workout.”
6. The mental game
Sometimes the hardest part of a workout is just getting out to do it.
“The biggest challenge for me is to beat that inner voice that says ‘just lay in bed, you don’t need to train anymore, you don’t need to get ready for the Tour de France’. For me, that is always the big issue.
“After you overcome that inner voice a few times and you go out and do the intervals, it does hurt you. But I’m sure everybody who’s ever done it will tell you they feel so much better after the workout. You will be proud of yourself and you will feel really clean.
“It is really rewarding to just sometimes go, ‘I’ve got to be strong for basically one minute,’ or say ‘I’m gonna go put on my shoes and bike stuff’. Once you’re out there, it’s fun and you enjoy it, then it’s less of a problem. Just to get going at the start is the biggest challenge.”
One of Voigt’s many claims to fame is, of course, his mantra of ‘Shut up legs’. He stressed the value using of one-liners when you’re in the pain cave to motivate you to push for just a little longer — one of his other favorites when it came to racing was, ‘Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever’.