The 5 best cycling workouts
While any riding will help, there are some workouts that are more effective than others. Some attractions are to prepare you to train. Others are to help you recover. But there are certain key workouts that take a lot of effort and reward big improvements. Spring is right around the corner, so here are the top 5 workouts that will improve your speed, stamina, and help you burn winter fat by revving up your metabolism.
Warning: As with any exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure vigorous exercise is safe for you.
These are power-based intervals that I created based on research on increasing VO2 max. and the power threshold. To do this correctly, you will need a power meter and have tested your functional threshold power. These are some of the hardest intervals I’ve ever done, so if you have less than a year of training or are coming off a layoff, don’t do these as you’ll probably throw up if you do it correctly.
The performance gains from these are quite rapid, so the prescribed intensity is for the first time you do these intervals. Typically with each workout you will increase the number of intervals or the power at which you do them after the first workout.
Warm up 15-20 minutes
30 seconds at 135% power FT / 30 seconds easy Repeat until you can’t hold power.
As the wattage fluctuates I usually set a target and when you can’t keep 10-20 watts below that level the workout is over.
For example, if your threshold is 300 watts, your Velmax target for your first workout is 405 watts. It’s okay to go above, but don’t go below 400. When you can’t keep it above 395 watts, the workout ends and you cool down. The first time he does this, it’s common to only get 15-20 reps. Keep the same wattage goal until you can get more than 30 reps. When you can, increase your power for the next workout by 10-15 watts.
The athletes I work with have gone from averaging 400 watts for 18 intervals to 450 watts for 31 intervals in just 3 weeks. This translates into more sustainable power, higher heart rates, and better recovery ability from hard efforts.
The reason they work so well is that the 30 second work period really gets your heart rate up, but the 30 second recovery isn’t enough to get your heart rate down much. With each interval, your heart rate and oxygen use continue to increase until you reach your VO2 max. The recovery time is enough to clear your legs a bit allowing you to do more work than you could if it were continuous. This allows you to accumulate a long time at your maximum oxygen capacity causing a rapid improvement in your cardiovascular system. While they are very effective, once again don’t try them if you are not used to intensive training.
Tabata intervals are named after the physician who conducted research on the efficacy of short, high-intensity intervals versus longer, moderate exercise. Tabata describes the interval protocol. 20 seconds of work/ 10 seconds of rest repeated 8-10 times. Dr. Tabata’s research has shown that these intervals are the most effective for gaining improvements in both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.
The key is maximum efforts with shorter recovery periods. Incomplete recovery leads to an increase in oxygen debt which leads to a better ability to process oxygen. In a six-week study, these intervals performed 5 days a week increased VO2 Max by 13%, aerobic capacity by 14%, and anaerobic capacity by 28%. This is with just 20 minutes of exercise a day, including warm-up and cool-down.
20 seconds hard / 10 easy twists X 10 reps = 5 minutes of hell
Then drive easy for 5 minutes and do it again.
Calculate your exertion level based on your current fitness level. If you’re new to cycling or just got back, do 80% instead of everything. If you’ve been training regularly, put in 100% effort at every 20-second interval. Don’t try to set the pace, just attack each interval like it’s the last in the series.
If you’re using a power meter, you want to aim for 150% of your functional threshold power for 20-second hard efforts. When you start out, do just one set of intervals, but as your fitness increases, you should increase the number of sets you do.
Norwegian researchers Hoff & Helgerud have found that better increases in cardiac output can be obtained with frequent high-intensity exercise than with longer but less intense training. The basis of Hoff & Helgerud’s theory of resistance training is the 4×4 interval. This means 4 intervals of 4 minutes each, at 85-95% of HR max. (for high endurance athletes between 90-95% of HR max.), with low intensity breaks of 3-4 minutes. This is a workout that is meant to give the biggest increases in VO2max âEUR”, which according to Hoff & Helgerud is the deciding factor for endurance (something I only partially agree with, but nonetheless).
The theory is based on training the heart to maximum stroke volumes to expose it to maximum shear stress, conditions that are only achieved with the highest heart rates. Why 4 minutes? Apparently it takes longer than 2 minutes for the heart to reach maximum stroke volume under these conditions, so you need to keep working for a longer period of time to get the maximum training effect here. They have found that intervals that last longer than 4 minutes generally mean a drop in intensity and are therefore less effective.
The researchers had the athletes do several days in a row of just 4×4 intervals (up to 18 sessions in 14 days) with 2 to 4 weeks of lower-volume training to facilitate recovery while maintaining gains without as much work as needed. On average, subjects saw a 5% improvement per workout.
Experiments have led to large increases in VO2max, up to a 10% increase over the course of the experiment for athletes who are already highly trained. If you are training with a power meter or heart rate monitor, do the intervals as follows: 15-20 minute warm up. 4 min at 120% of your threshold power at a high cadence of 100-110rpm or increase your max heart rate from the fitness test.
– Recover for 4 minutes
– Repeat for a total of 4-6 times.
– Cool down for 10-15 minutes
Muscular Endurance Intervals
This exercise is good for increasing strength development. Giving a lot of power is the combination of pedal cadence and gear selection. Aerobic conditioning and pedaling exercises will allow you to turn, and this exercise will help you to be able to turn in a higher gear. This exercise is great because it works the cardiovascular system and really works the legs. Over time, your legs won’t get as tired from sustained exertion.
As you do the low-rpm intervals, focus on being smooth and relaxing your upper body. If you have knee problems, switch to higher cadences until your knees don’t hurt.
Perform this workout twice a week with at least two days between workouts, as it will take longer for your legs to recover from this workout than higher-temperature aerobic driving.
Warm-up 15 minutes building the upper end of your aerobic range (90% of your average heart rate from your fitness test) Cadence 90-100 rpm.
Work set of 5 x 10 seconds of stomps with 3 minutes of recovery between efforts (pick a hard gear, slow down to a walking pace, then hit the pedals trying to accelerate as hard as you can for the 10 seconds). 5 minutes of easy riding after stomps followed by 10-30 minutes at 70rpm in the high end of your aerobic zone. (If you are using a power meter, this will be 85-90% of your functional threshold wattage.) Cool Down 10 minutes of easy spinning to clear your legs and gradually lower your heart rate.
Your Functional Threshold (FT) for practical cycling purposes is the maximum heart rate or power you can sustain for approximately one hour. The higher your power threshold, the faster you can go for an extended period without your legs exploding. Very simply, the way to raise your anaerobic threshold is to pedal at your threshold heart rate or power for progressively longer periods. These are harsh but effective. If you have taken the fitness test, you will have calculated your threshold anaerobic heart rate and/or power if you have a trainer or meter on the bike that measures power.
Start with 2 X 10 minutes at your threshold heart rate with 5 minutes of recovery between intervals.
Each week increase the amount of interval time by 2 minutes until you reach 20 minutes each.
To increase from there, look to add a third interval or multiple days of threshold intervals in a row. This can be very tiring, but when you recover from training you will be stronger.
mixing it up
While you’ll get your biggest fitness improvements from high-intensity workouts, you still need to make wrinkles longer and easier. While you can build great endurance performance with the workouts listed above, if the events you do are long (ie 2+ hours), you need to get your body used to spending that kind of time on a bike. In addition, minor wrinkles are excellent for promoting physical and mental recovery. Sometimes it’s hard to push yourself hard enough to get the benefit of interval training due to mental exhaustion, so mixing up your training is a great way to stay mentally fresh and keep making physical progress.