I often get asked how to get faster or how to climb better, but those are hard questions to answer, because they’re so broad that you can’t really address the question briefly. It’s like asking how to get healthier. Well, there are a hundred different things you could do that would all potentially help. There’s probably even an optimal combination of those things that will be great for you, but it’s hard to articulate the best approach in a short answer.
Luckily, I’ve also been asked recently a more specific question about training. Should I ride slower in order to ride faster? Well that’s an interesting question that more directly addresses the issue, and I think the best answer is “sometimes.” A slightly more specific question would be: How much slow riding and how much fast riding should I do in order to get faster? The answer to this latter question would be that most of your riding at a given time will be “slow,” conversational riding. Depending on what kind of rider you are and where you are in your training cycle, 60-90% of your riding should be “slow.”
The reasons for this boil down to a few key points. Two of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re training to get faster is that they spend too much of their time riding slow, or that they spend too much of their time riding moderately hard. The problem with this is that the one never provides enough of a training stimulus that your body has to adapt by getting stronger and faster. The problem with the other is that you’re always stressing it a moderate amount, too much to ever fully recover and too little to actually get the full benefit of more intense training. Realizing that hard riding at various intensities is they key to getting faster, someone might include too much hard riding in their routine, but this can be just as bad as not riding hard enough.
The key is to find a good mix of steady endurance riding while mixing in harder efforts of various types throughout your training cycles in order to stimulate further development of strength, muscular or cardiovascular endurance, cardiovascular efficiency, maximal cardiovascular output, and/or mental tolerance to the sensations associated with the various intensities. This mix will vary throughout the seasons or years, but it should always be a mix.