Remember the days when cycling workouts were just based on time and distance? Now, most athletes are bombarded with a constant stream of performance data that can boost performance but which can also lead to information overload.
However, while it may seem complicated, there are only a few workouts that I view as keystones to making big gains in bike fitness. If you're training for an Olympic-distance race this season, here are three bike sessions that can help power you to a PR.
These workouts are great for triathletes of all levels. Beginners may have to carefully pace themselves through the breakdown set and 20km-time trial, but as your event draws near and your fitness improves, aim to complete these workouts at full length and appropriate intensity.
30/30s: This workout consists of 30-second intervals at VO2max intensity separated by 30-second active recoveries. This seemingly innocuous session is nonetheless a great way to develop power and speed. Start with 10 repetitions, and as you progress gradually add reps and lengthen the work intervals (up to one minute) to progressively accumulate more time at or above lactate threshold.
This workout was pioneered by French researcher Veronique Billat, who studied different interval formats for runners. She found that performing work intervals as short as 30 seconds (with 30-second rest intervals) permitted athletes to accumulate more time (in aggregate over the course of an entire workout) at VO2max than did longer work intervals.
The reason? Well, by performing smaller chunks of work you are able to maintain a higher overall speed (higher power in cycling) from interval to interval.
You'll likely feel this workout is pretty easy for the first three or four intervals, but by the time you get to the 10th one, you'll be begging for mercy. Your effort for the work intervals should be pretty close to all-out, but be careful not to go too hard in the beginning because you want to be consistent throughout the set.
If you get ahead of yourself and can't maintain the quality of your effort level, cut your set short. Then, the next time you perform the set adjust your effort to finish strong.
Complete this workout once a week to boost your body's ability to handle the intense effort required for an Olympic-distance bike.
Breakdown Set: This benchmark workout will provide you with a good sense of your 40K form. You should progress to this workout after doing 30/30s twice a week for six to eight weeks. Then, complete this set four times over the final one to two months before your key race to prepare you to maintain your goal race pace.
The format of the workout breaks your projected time for the 40K-ride down into three-minute intervals, which should be ridden slightly faster than your goal race pace.
For example, if you hope to split 70 minutes on the bike you should complete 23 repetitions of three minutes at race pace plus one to two miles per hour. Your recovery interval is always one minute of easy spinning. If you're using heart rate as a guide, ride three to five beats above your projected race-day heart rate during the work intervals.
20K Time Trial: This is another benchmark workout that should be done at race pace and incorporated into training once a month, especially during your race-specific preparation period a few months before the event. If you use this workout early on in your build-up and record the session data, you can repeat it later on to evaluate your progress and adjust your program as necessary.
After a thorough warm-up on the bike, launch into a 20K-time trial at 40K-race pace, then follow the effort with a cool-down spin. This workout serves as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the sustained effort you'll put forth on race day. A large part of having a great bike leg is possessing the confidence to go for it and not hold back because you're afraid your body can't handle the intensity.
These three workouts should make you more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Enjoy the process, and always be aware of the impact your training has on your body. These workouts are strenuous and will only make you faster if you allow time for adequate recovery.