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Article - 9 September 2011

Cycling sessions to target different fitness components

Written for Cycling Plus Magazine:

Boost Your Fitness Before the Lights Go Out

The light summer evenings are drawing to an end. But this does not mean your hard earned condition has to. You can still target several components of your cycling fitness with these four high quality sessions, tailored to make the most of the fading evening light. Here’s how:

1: Strength endurance session – 90mins

Sometimes referred to as ‘tempo training’ this session is about spending time just below your threshold. As such, the pace should be brisk and the effort level comfortably hard. Including low and high cadence intervals in the session also builds very specific on-bike strength endurance and leg speed.

HOW: Warm-up by spinning an easy gear on the flat for 10 minutes. Then do 2 X 30 minutes separated by a 10 minute easy spinning recovery. The first 30 minutes is done at a cadence of 10-15 rpm lower than you would normally select (So 75-80rpm if 90 rpm is your default cadence). The second 30 minute block is done at a cadence of 10-15 rpm higher. Each 30 minute block is done at the same ‘tempo’ intensity. Cool down with 10 minutes easy spinning. The key is to keep both effort level and cadence constant whether on the flat, hills or downhill.

2: Threshold boosting session – 60mins

If you have ever ridden a 40km time trial then you will be familiar with threshold intensity. It is very uncomfortably sustainable, requires real concentration and considerable motivation to maintain. Sessions which include short periods of time at this intensity with even shorter recoveries really improve your ability to keep your ‘hand to the flame’.

HOW: Warm-up by spinning an easy gear on the flat for 10 minutes. Now gradually ramp the effort level over the next 10 minutes and even include a few ‘surges’. Now nail 3 X 8 minutes intervals at your threshold intensity separated by 2 minute easy spinning recoveries. Cool down with 10 minutes easy spinning. It is important to ensure that you meter out your effort equally over each interval and from the first interval to the last. There is no real benefit to ‘blowing up’ before the session is complete.   

3: Power and pedalling efficiency session – 45mins

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a fabulous means of getting ‘bang for buck’ from very limited training time. A group of Canadian researchers have shown that not only do very hard, short efforts lead to a whole range of favourable physiological adaptations in the muscles, but they do so very quickly. Just a handful of these sessions will significantly improve your cycling power. The researchers also speculated that the rapid improvement is, in part, probably due to neuromuscular adaptations.  In other words, the all-out bursts of effort involved may sharpen neurological pathways associated with pedalling, resulting in improved efficiency.

HOW: Warm-up with 15 minutes easy spinning on the flat. Then perform 2X10 minute blocks of 10 seconds maximal effort in a medium gear, followed by 20 seconds easy recovery. Continue this pattern until the first 10 minute block is done then spend 10 minutes easy spinning before nailing the next 10 minute block. Cool down with 15 minutes easy spinning. 

4: Active recovery session – 30mins

If you perform sessions 1-3 during the week and also include a longer aerobic base building ride at the weekend, this leaves you with three days to recover. At least one of these should involve elevating blood flow which helps to flush the metabolic waste products from the system generated by training at the higher intensities. It is all about helping your body to absorb the harder training sessions. However, it cannot be stressed enough that for it to be effective it must be executed perfectly. Perfection in this case means slowly. If a hill is involved, no matter how gently you climb it, the session was too hard. Remember easy, gentle spinning only - the sort of riding you could do with your grandmother!

HOW: Just spin the pedals for 30 minutes on the flat. No hills. No big chain ring. No ego.

So go out and trip the light fantastic while you still can. One more solid block of quality training before the season is out will give your engine a nice tune up before the long winter months. After all the turbo trainer is not going anywhere!

Read the previous article: 4 Steps To The Perfect Taper.

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