It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut on the bike. Most of us have a route, do the route, and never really deviate from the route. But ‘the route’ is the very thing that is holding us back. Instead, cycle training (like running and swimming), should incorporate a variety of different sessions, all of which will make you a faster, stronger cyclist.
Written by: Ian Murray
If you do all your bike training at one speed, I beg you, stop. Challenge yourself to become a better, faster cyclist by incorporating variety into your cycling program. Even a short ride can be extremely valuable to your fitness, as long as you give it purpose and variation in intensity.
Before you next head out for a training ride, plan out three key elements:
Duration: Measure it in miles or kilometers, minutes or hours, but know how long your workout will be.
Intention: Have a purpose, a focal point, some element you want to improve. Examples of this include holding a steady cadence of 85-95 rpm; relaxing some tense area of your body (jaw, shoulders, hands, etc.); pacing each climb so you are stronger over the top than at the bottom; shifting ultra quickly and silently by soft-pedaling for a fraction of a second when you throw the lever; scraping the bottom of the pedal stroke so you have a more perfect circle in your pedaling motion. There are thousands of focus points and even the tiniest ones are valid.
Intensity: One of the many human wonders is our ability to adapt. If you put your body under some physical demand, or stress, it will make changes to handle that stress. If you ride every ride on flat, with no wind, at 13 miles per hour, your body will get really good at doing that one specific thing and nothing beyond that.
Here are a few basic options:
This is a refreshing, healing time of active recovery, a great ride to do eight to 20 hours after a challenging run or a very tough ride. Do it on flat, use easy gears and build your cadence slowly so you loosen up as you ride. No matter what metric you use to gauge your effort (heart rate, power, speed), we can all agree on the term “very easy.”
Bike Hill Repeats (BHR)
This is a staple workout for many Triathlon Training Series athletes. It is a strength workout similar to what you can do in the gym, but it’s exactly specific to cycling: After a 12-20-minute warm-up, climb a hill seated with a comfortable effort, and using a gear at 55-65 rpm. Focus on every degree of your pedal circle. Repeat that climb three to six times with at least 90 seconds easy spin back down between each.
This workout, when done correctly, is taxing. It will challenge several aspects of fitness, such as neuro-muscular, cardio and speed, with its short intervals of intense effort. After a solid warm-up of 20 minutes easy, and three to five more minutes of moderate riding, find a false flat, a road that rises ever so slightly. In the big ring, stand out of the saddle and attack the bike up to speed for three to five seconds. Then, settle in the saddle but continue to increase bike speed for another five to 20 seconds. Take a full three to five minutes of recovery before you a launch again, and don’t exceed five rounds in your first workout. The entire effort shouldn’t exceed 30 seconds in your first few weeks—one short-sharp interval a week is plenty.
If you are stuck in a cycling rut by training at the same speed, break through to new levels of bike fitness with these elements. Remember to plan ahead so that you depart for each ride with full knowledge of what you’re doing and why.
Ian Murray is an elite-level USAT coach, head coach of Triathlon Training Series and the host of the coordinating DVD box set.