While any riding will help there are some workouts that are more effective than others. Some rides are to get your ready to train. Others are to help you recover. But there are certain key workouts that require a lot of effort and payoff with big improvements. Spring is just around the corner so here are the top 5 workouts that will improve your speed, endurance and help burn the winter pudge by spiking up your metabolism.
Warning: As with any exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to do intense exercise.
These are power based intervals I created based on research on increasing VO2 max and thresold power. To do these properly you will need a power meter and have tested your functional threshold power. These are among the hardest intervals I have ever done so if you have less than a year of training under belt or are coming off a layoff, don’t do these as you will probably throw up if done correctly.
The performance gains from these are quite rapid so the prescribed intensity is for the first time you do these intervals. Usually each workout you will increase either the number of intervals or wattage you do them at after the first workout.
Warmup 15-20 minutes
30 seconds at 135% of FT power / 30 seconds easy Repeat until you can’t sustain the wattage.
As wattage fluctuates I would usually set a target and when you can’t sustain 10-20 watts below that level the workout is over.
For example, if your threshold is 300 watts then your Velmax target for your first workout is 405 watts. It’s okay to go above but don’t drop below 400. When you can’t keep it above 395 watts, the workout is over and cool down. The first time you do these it is common to only get 15-20 repeats. Keep the same wattage target until you can get over 30 repeats. When you can up your wattage for the next workout by 10-15 watts.
Athletes I work with have gone from averaging 400 watts for 18 intervals to 450 watts for 31 intervals in just 3 weeks. This translates into increased higher sustainable power, higher sustainable heartrates and better recovery ability from hard efforts.
The reason they work so well is that the 30 second work period really drives the heartrate up but the 30 second recovery isn’t enough for your heartrate to come down much. With each interval your heartrate and oxygen usage keeps going up until you hit your Vo2 max. The recovery time is enough for your legs to clear a bit allowing your to do more work than you could if it was continuous. This allows you to accumulate a lot of time at your maximum oxygen capacity eliciting a rapid improvement in your cardiovascular system. While very effective, I once again to not try these if you aren’t used to intensive training.
Tabata intervals are named after the doctor who did the research into the effectiveness of short high intensity intervals versus longer, moderate exercise. Tabata describes the interval protocol. 20 seconds work/ 10 seconds rest repeated 8-10 times. Dr. Tabata’s research showed these intervals to be the most effective for eliciting improvement in both the aerobic and anaerobic system.
The key is the maximal efforts with shorter recovery periods. Incomplete recovery leads to an increase in oxygen debt leading to and improved ability to process oxygen. In a six week study these intervals done 5 days per week increased VO2 Max by 13 percent, aerobic capacity by 14 percent and anaerobic capacity by 28 percent. This is with only 20 minutes of exercise a day including warmup and cool down.
20 seconds hard / 10 easy spinning X 10 repeats = 5 minutes of hell
Then ride easy for 5 minutes and do it again.
Gauge you effort level based on your current fitness level. If you are new to cycling or just getting back into go about 80% instead of all out. If you have been training regularly give each 20 second interval a 100% effort. Don’t try to pace yourself, just attack each interval like its the last in the set.
If you are using a power meter you want to target 150% of your functional threshold power for the 20 second hard efforts. When you start do just one set of intervals but as your fitness increases you should increase the number of sets you do.
4 X 4 intervals
Norweigian researchers Hoff & Helgerud have found you can get better increases in cardiac output from frequent high intensity exercise than longer but less intense training. The basis of Hoff & Helgerud’s endurance training theory is the 4×4 interval. This means 4 intervals of 4 minutes each, at 85-95% of HR max (for top endurance athletes between 90-95% of HR max), with low-intensity breaks of 3-4 minutes. This is training which is meant to give the biggest increases in VO2max âEUR” which according to Hoff & Helgerud is the deciding factor for endurance (something I only partly agree on but anyway).
The theory is based on training the heart at maximal Stroke Volumes to expose it to maximal shear stress – conditions which are only reached at the highest heart rates. Why 4 minutes? Apparently it takes over 2 minutes for the heart to reach maximal stroke volume under these conditions, so you need to keep working for a longer period of time in order to get maximal training effect here. They have found that intervals that last longer than 4 minutes usually mean a drop in intensity and are therefore less effective.
The researchers had the athletes doing multiple days in a row of just 4×4 intervals (up to 18 sessions in 14 days) with 2-4 weeks of lower volume training to facilitate recovery, while still maintaining the gains without as much work needed. On average subjects saw a.5% improvement per workout.
The experiments have led to large increases in VO2max, up to 10% increase in the course of the experiment for already highly-trained athletes. If you are training with a power meter or heartrate monitor do the intervals as follows: Warmup 15-20 minutes. 4 min at 120% of your threshold power at high cadence 100-110rpm or build to your maximum heartrate from the fitness test.
– Recover for 4 minutes
– Repeat for a total of 4-6 times.
– Cooldown for 10-15 minutes
Muscular endurance intervals
This workout is good for increasing force development. Putting out a lot of power is the combination of pedal cadence and gear selection. Aerobic conditioning and pedaling drills will let you spin, and this workout will help you be able to do it in a bigger gear. This workout is great because it works the cardiovascular system and really works the legs. In time your legs won’t get as tired from sustained hard efforts.
While doing the low rpm intervals focus on being smooth and relax your upper body. If you have knee problems switch to higher cadences until your knees don’t hurt.
Do this workout twice a week with at least two days between workout as your legs will take longer to recover from this workout than higher candence aerobic riding.
Warmup 15 minutes building up top end of your aerobic range (90% of your average heartrate from your fit test) Cadence 90-100 rpm.
Work set 5 X 10 second stomps with 3 minutes recovery between efforts (choose a hard gear, slow to walking pace and then stomp on the pedals trying to accelerate as hard as you can for the 10 seconds). 5 minutes easy riding after the stomps followed by 10-30 minutes at 70 rpms at the top end of your aerobic zone. (If you are using a power meter this will be 85-90% of your Functional Thresold wattage). Cooldown 10 minutes easy spin to clear the legs and gradually bring down the heart rate.
Your Functional Threshold (FT) for practical cycling purposes is the maximum heart rate or power you can sustain for about an hour. The higher your threshold power the faster you can go for a sustained period without having your legs blow up on you. Very simply, the way to raise your anaerobic threshold is to ride at your threshold heart rate or power for progressively longer periods. These are hard but effective. If you have done the fitness test you will have calculated your anaerobic threshold heart rate and/ or power if you have a trainer or on-bike meter that measures wattage.
Start with 2 X 10 minutes at your threshold heart rate with 5 minutes recovery between intervals.
Each week increase the amount of time of the intervals by 2 minutes until you are up to 20 minutes each.
To increase from there look to add a third interval or multiple days of threshold intervals in a row. This can be very taxing but when you recover from the workouts you will be stronger.
Mixing it up
While you will get your biggest improvements in fitness from high intensity workouts there is still a need to longer and easier rides. While you can build great endurance performance with the workouts listed above, if the events you do are long (ie. over 2 hours), you need to get your body used to spending that kind of time on a bike. As well, lower intensity rides are great in promoting physical and mental recovery. Sometimes it’s hard to push yourself hard enough to get the training benefit from intervals because of mental burnout, so mixing up your training is a great way to keep fresh mentally and keep progressing physically.