My cycling mojo is currently somewhere off with the fairies or has slipped into my running shoes. I reckon this has led to a 40w dip in my FTP or it could just be that whenever I try to get on two wheels I am over fatigued from lots of running and unable to perform as well on the bike as I would like. Either way, it’s time to get the cycling back on track.
Wahoo’s KICKR (reviewed here) is a pretty sweet BLE/ANT+ trainer for my me-time in the shed doing the workouts below.
Pondering: I reckon that very many workouts are designed to achieve the exact same physiological outcome to that of many other workouts. All these different variations exist, it seems, to merely spice up a standard, periodised plan. And that’s fine. Here are some of the basic workouts that I do:
The Classic: 2x 20 minutes
My motivation to progress with these from 2×15, to 2×20, to 3x 15, to 3×20 and then to 2x 30 seems to have also somewhat waned in recent years. 2x 20 minutes probably delivers the best bang-for-your-FTP-boosting buck
- Intensity: Anything upwards of 85% FTP but 92-95% would be a good target range.
- Cadence: You should be aiming for race cadence or thereabouts. Yep, you know you need to be over 90rpm probably.
- Recovery: 3-5 minutes should be enough
- Frequency: You could do this twice a week to specifically aim to boost your FTP or you could do it once every alternate week as more of a maintenance session
If you are under-trained aerobically and training for an Ironman then there may well be better sessions out there for you.
The Miracle: HIT/HIIT
I read an article where coach Gale Bernhardt suggests 3x-7x 30 seconds
- Intensity: @ 80% of maximum power. That’s your maximum power for 30 seconds from your CP curve…not 80% FTP.
- Cadence: Personally I would aim for higher than race cadence to make this more achievable (for me)
- Recovery: 4’30” aerobic/spin recovery
I wouldn’t be that convinced that this will perform ‘miracles’ however it would be a nice session to include as race day looms in the weeks ahead.
You may have watched various programmes on TV that ‘prove’ that high intensity interval training works wonders for the masses. You are an already fit triathlete I presume. So don’t expect miracles.
I’ve read other articles that suggest that 30 seconds to near exhaustion should be followed by a mere 15 seconds of standing recovery before repeating again and again. It’s fun to try to see how many of these you can do. I managed 6 once. But then you look at the average watts you achieved for each 30 seconds and see that fall as you go from one rep to another. So the structure and focus on Bernhardt’s suggestion seems more sensible to me – albeit less fun.
The Pain: FTP Intervals
Depending on how well-trained you are you should be able to do an FTP race effort for between 40 (yep) and 70 (or more) minutes. So 3x or 4x 10 minutes at or above FTP is going to become pretty tiring, pretty soon. As race day draws near you would want to decrease the durations and increase the intensities. So start out at 3x 10′ and progress to 5x 5′
- Intensity: 100-105% of FTP is where you start out with the 3x 10′ reps. You progress over the weeks to 115% of FTP, if you can, for 5x 5′ reps. For lots of people a 6 minute flat-out effort is a VO2max effort, so don’t be disheartened if you can’t do the 5×5′ reps at that 115% intensity, that is ‘to exhaustion’ for many people.
- Cadence: Race cadence or slightly over
- Recovery: 5 minutes spin, maybe even longer for the shorter, harder intervals.
- Frequency: If you are younger you could probably build to 3 of these a week if you were so inclined as well as including a ‘classic’ session. As you get older, you take longer to recover, so think about that. Think also about the motivational toll some of these harder sessions can take, if you are genuinely motivated you will find pushing yourself much easier when the going gets tough. If you can’t, you can’t – just try to push your parameters bit by bit, and don’t aim for something you will never achieve.
The Box Set
If you are sitting comfortably in front of your computer or TV, then those long rides of 2,3,4,5,6 hours can get you some serious TV time. If not TV time maybe you like bike gaming-time on Zwift? I prefer the TV myself. Each to their own.
- Intensity: aerobic
- Cadence: You want to be at race cadence. If you are recovery levels of aerobic intensity then I would up the cadence to over 100rpm.
- Recovery: From what exactly are you recovering 😉 Keep going young padawan.
- Frequency: 2-3 times a week would be good in your base period. Life gets in the way of course. Perhaps only one of those super long rides per week is enough.
If you are training for a sprint triathlon then one of these sessions every other week would be alright. You want a half-decent aerobic base to conserve all your anaerobic reserves for as long as possible in the race. The vast majority of you training for the longer triathlon distances, in reality, are going to be racing in Zone 2/Zone 3 at best ie aerobic threshold ish. If you are planning on doing a 5 hour IM bike in Z4 (ahem) then you won’t be reading this blog for training tips – or you have your zones wrong 😉
The reality is, for the longer rides, the averagely trained Age Group athlete will find it hard to do a constantly high Zone 2 intensity ride for >3 hours (yep, I know you and I can do that…I mean the other, average, people 😉 ). But the reality also is that if you progressively train your aerobic energy systems you WILL be able to do that level of effort…and more. So don’t do the first hour of your 3 hour ride at Z3/Z4! Start off at 90 minutes or 60 and progress but do NOT faff around in zone 1 at a recovery level…push your aerobic threshold (Z2/Z3 boundary). As you get better do sessions that repeatedly take you over and under that Z2/Z3 boundary.
If you think about FTP it’s a little confusing when translating it to an actual interval workout. You just know that the intervals get harder as you do more of them.
An alternative approach to training with %ages of FTP for the higher intensities is to look at something like XERT.
XERT factors in your general fatigue state on that day as well as fatigue introduced progressively through your workout. It just makes sense that your maximum power available (MPA) at any given time will lessen with the more anaerobic work/training you do. Well, it makes sense to me anyway.
Thus XERT specify their workouts as %ages of MPA (kinda like the inverse of W’ if you want to think in FTP terms, thank you Mr Liversege)
The point of mentioning XERT was to maybe get you to think that there are other power-based approaches to consider if your current approach doesn’t seem to be working (eg if you are undertrained or older and less likely to recover quickly)
Summarising The Confusion
If you are a 27 year old who can run 5k in 24 minutes, a 43 year old who has just given up golf, or a 63 year old who could just about finish Pru Ride London (100 miles) then give a little thought to the tri training you are about to embark upon. An HIM plan that I might follow might not be suitable for you…ie any old plan off the internet could be entirely inappropriate. As might some of the sessions I’ve listed above. You are going to be spending VERY MANY hours a week training, make sure you are at least doing roughly the right kind of training.
For most tri newbies, the cake will be boosting your aerobic fitness. The icing on that cake will be boosting your training performances around and above your anaerobic threshold. You train to have your cake and eat it when you race.
Have a think about exactly what you are trying to achieve. The following link is a nice rough and ready spreadsheet (you can ignore the extension warning it gives, sorry). It’s not pretty but it helps you calculate training zones. Further down in the spreadsheet I’ve cut and pasted various table from British Cycling and elsewhere that tells you what training at all those different levels does for your physiology.