Words: Mark Fenner                                                                      Photos: Phil Gale, Matt Rousu

We all have certain races or routes on an evening social ride where we feel great and seem to be able to excel against our peers. Other times we get smashed by them. It’s a case of sometimes you are the hammer and sometimes the nail. What is it with certain courses or types of terrain that makes us either fly or flop? The answer to this is that we all have different physiologies and therefore limiters to our performance. Understanding what it is that limits us enable us to not only pick races that suit our strengths as target events, but also understand what types of training we can use to improve our performance further.

What are the things that could limit an athlete’s performance? Are we centrally limited and by this, I mean is our heart and lungs etc not developed enough or genetically capable of pumping enough oxygenated blood to the working muscles? Or are we peripherally limited whereby our working muscles cannot extract enough oxygen? Another theory by Dr Tim Noakes from South Africa is that we can also be limited by the governor which is the brain. Although each of these limiters to our performance can be addressed by just training and racing to a degree, understanding exactly what limits us can enable us to target specifics.


We can also look at the muscle fiber distribution of individual athletes. This can often be as simple as looking at the body shape of an individual. Skinny tall people with an ectomorph body type tend to be more aerobic athletes with a big central engine (VO2 Max) and the capacity to ride hard for long periods, climb big hills well and generally just be strong out on the road or trail. Shorter more muscular athletes tend to be mesomorphic and more centrally limited, but, with great sprint power and the ability to do repeated hard attacks and smash punchy climbs. Athletes with a combination of both attributes can do a little of everything and with specific training can become particularly strong in one of these areas.

So how do these different physiologies and limiters to performance actually influence the types of events we should target if we are looking for our best performances and also influence the types of training we should undertake?