Four simple tips to build cycling power

So, you want to become the next powerhouse on the bike like the 2004 Ironman Hawaii champ Normann Stadler, but you're not sure exactly where to start. Do you simply ride more miles, hit the hills, or make friends with Hans and Franz in the weight room?

All of the above. Here are four simple but effective tips to help you add more horses to your legs this season.

Put in the miles

Sounds easy, but spending more time on your bike is key to boosting race-day performance. Do all the miles have to be hard? No, but you do have to put in more saddle time than you normally would each week.

But wait, I only have 12 hours to train each week; how do I swim, run, lift, have a real life and ride more? The key is to take a three- to six-week block and spend most of your time riding.

Maintain one or two short weekly swims and runs to hang on to the feel, but all your other available training time needs to be in the saddle. Outside of a few key sessions, keep all rides aerobic, comfortable and in the hills when possible. Just build that base.

Build power in the saddle

Now, what do you do during these key rides? One ride each week during this period should be focused on power and strength. While this session can be done on the trainer, it's best to complete the workout on the road, and some athletes even build it into the middle of a long ride.

This workout is a sub-anaerobic threshold set, which means your heart rate/watts/lactate should stay about 10 percent below the speed/effort that you could maintain for a 45- to 60-minute effort. If you are using heart rate as a guide, keep it about 10 to 20 beats below AT. This is a somewhat hard effort, but not hard or very hard.

If you do this workout on the trainer, get in a 15- to 20-minute gradual warm up, then in the aero position go through a 20- to 45-minute set (begin at 20 minutes and add five to 10 minutes each week) where you alternate every three minutes between a bigger gear (pushing less than 70 RPM) and a smaller gear (spinning 90 RPM or faster). Follow this set with a cool-down.

If you do this workout on the road, find a gradual incline of three to five percent for the main set. Stay in the aero position and switch every three minutes between a big and small gear. Make sure you have large enough rear cogs so you can actually spin while staying at a sub-anaerobic threshold effort. After all, the goal of this workout is to help you develop aerobic, not anaerobic, power. Work too hard and you will be wasted after 10 minutes.

The key to this session lies in switching gears. You could just put it in the big ring and hammer for 45 minutes, but by alternating between spinning an easier gear and grinding out the miles in a harder gear you build strength yet maintain muscle memory. Muscles may be clever, but their memory is very short-term, so if you simply push a big gear for a long period of time, the fast-firing neurons grow stale and become inefficient.

Injury prevention is also important. The stress that long-duration big-gear intervals put on your knees is huge, so switching up every three minutes is a must.

Pump it up

If power on the bike is what you are after, then it can be useful to stay in the weight room through to the early part of summer. As you get closer to your important races, simply shift into a maintenance phase, as athletes can start to lose strength in as little as a few weeks.

If you have yet to do any lifting this season, no worries, it's not too late. You won't be able to go through a full schedule, but anything you do can help your cycling strength. Just be sure to build into a weight routine very slowly, always maintaining correct form, and consult a knowledgeable tri buddy or the trainer at your local gym for a few tips.

Take a seat

The last, and the easiest, power-training tip is something you can perform every time you stop then start during a ride. The most common practice when powering back up to speed after a stoplight is to get out of the saddle. This is fine, but when standing you use your body weight to help generate speed.

Try staying seated after you click back into your pedals, using only the muscles in your legs to get going. It's like doing a set of single-leg squats every time you start back up. No, this is not a substitute for the gym, just another way of building strength. Don't power so hard in the saddle that you blow out your knees, but it's OK to put in a somewhat hard to hard effort until you get back up to pace.

That's it; simple, really. Ride more in the hills, work some bigger-gear intervals, stay in the gym longer and keep your butt in the saddle when powering up. It's not too late to increase power -- just focus on the bike for the next month or so, and then look out, Normann.


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