Cycling is not just something you do at the weekend: 5 days of midweek training showdowns
Why and how midweek training sessions are vital to drive up your cycling ability [Don't tell your mate on facebook, this will make you better!]
As your pounding legs under the office desk are probably telling you right now, cycling is hard. And it doesn’t get easier. Or at least it doesn’t get easier if you are building the levels of intensity up – perhaps you want to be race competitive, perhaps you want a new PB, what ever it is you have to earn every new meter, every extra power output. I certainly learnt that day in, day out at my cycling lab - Athlete Lab
Like many endurance sports, you have to have what Eddy Merckx described as simply a ‘passion’ for it. A hunger, a desire that drives you up hill after hill, in the pissing rain. That’s what the most successful cyclist of all time replied to William Fotheringham, author of his biography; Merckx: Half-Man, Half-Bike - when he posed the question on what drove him to win every bike race out there; or more illustratively put: ‘It was stronger than me. I was a slave to it’ [Great stuff].
And so to get to the point, just doing your weekend club rides – if you want to be any good – is frankly letting yourself down. You have to invest in a dedicated, structured, time intensity training program. There was a great rule quoted by Velominati – ‘Keepers of the Cog’ in fact it was number 11 in their list – ‘Family does not come first. The bike does’ – now I won’t start preaching you have to leave your wife & kids, but a few early morning starts might have to be your sacrifice. If your groaning you should watch the motivational video below – ‘Welcome to the Grind’.
So here are a few sample midweek training sessions/goals that will both excite you and produce results
Monday – Going for the Hour Record (arguably the hardest session goes on Monday)
The Hour Record is one of cycling’s most grueling, yet sought-after, titles. For decades it pushed the boundaries of cycling with the previous record holders (23 in total) being a roll call of the elite cyclists which defined there era – Desgrange, Egg, Coppi, Merckx, Indurain and Rominger. Since the UCI created new rules and moved the record back to Eddy Merckx’ 1972 distance of 49.431 kilometres (complete with the same bike as a standard) only two riders have succeeded - Chris Boardman (2000) and Ondřej Sosenka (2005) – and now it seems that Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin & Bradley Wiggins will be fighting it out in the spring.
Right enough of the history lessons – want a video on it follow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2yyKopuetc
Without the use of a velodrome you can set yourself a grueling hour test on a state of art cycling trainer such as those found in Athlete Lab and use your average power as a measure of ‘greatness’. Minus wind resistance, positioning & track placement, the hour record of the 35-39 age group had an average of 303watts (NP) over the hour. How tough are you?
Notably, this test is a great way to train;
- Pedal stroke. Applying power to the pedal rotation both through the push and the pull. Think like you are drawing a square next to your gears. As your legs start to burn in the test you may forget the ‘push,pull,push,pull’ so this is an excellent way to train your legs to do this subconsciously (I for one struggle at this).
- Pacing. Tonight I did an hour test at Athlete Lab and although spiking up towards 320-340watts in the last 5 minutes, my average was a disappointing 260. Perhaps not quite as bad as my first FTP test below, the session was punctuated with spikes in power which ultimately rapidly brings down your energy & power. In the first 20minutes it stood at 272watts and for this test you would hope to inch it up for the next 40minutes.
There is a notable blog from Alex Simmons, Technical Director of RST Sport which looked at the World Hour Record for Masters Men (35-39) - here Describing the pacing needed to set a 48.317 km distance. I think the graph says it all:
Even the most naive cyclists knows the killing climbs up the Alps & Pyrenees determines the outcome of the Tour de France. There is absolutely no faking it up a hill. And apart from improving that power to weight ratio (by laying off the cheeseburgers Jim) improved climbing comes from strong legs, body, heart, lungs and arguably a little bit of sheer will & stubbornness could also be a deciding factor. In order to improve any of these factors on a typical working week – complete with commuting back & forth to the office – just well doesn’t really work. Those Londoners reading this and manage to charge up Highgate hill on those dark, cold January mornings I take my hat off to you.
So in order to ‘climb’ up a profile such as the one that features in Alp d’Huez, you better start convincing your trainer or the guys at Athlete Lab that you can handle it and take up the challenge before board meeting on Tuesday.
Wednesday – Competitive Race or ‘Fight Club’
Before we knacker you out too much this week, we want to see what you are made of.
@AthleteLab this form of training session is described as follows:
‘These intervals are designed to take you well into your anaerobic zones (dark side) and to improve your cardio-muscular-respiratory fitness.
Attack, Attack and Attack is the main word!’
Basically it is as close to a competitive race as you can get in the midweek office routine and is an excellent way to mark your progress week on week (& maybe get some bragging rights over your boss). And anyway you didn’t think this whole list would be boring graphs?
The intervals typically peak at 115% of your FTP, with the slope building from 80%. Each rider features in one of the boxes on the projected screen and victory could be measured on average wattage for example. The other figures include heart rate (if you have a monitor), speed, distance and the right hard bar is your RPM. The training program will bark commands on the screen (along with the trainers, although the riders are typically pushing themselves to the max so this is NOT like an annoying spin class were the instructor is consistently talking!) like increase cadence or get ready for a jump in effort. At the end of the session you are automatically emailed a profile (alongside other details) of your workout so you can monitor your progress.
Thursday – Sprint intervals
Short sharp intervals are designed to improve cardio-respiratory fitness and recovery. In a race have quick cardio-respiratory recovery is essential, if you can recover from an attack quicker than everyone else, you can launch the next attack whilst everyone else is still trying to recover. Unfortunately for a weekend warrior cyclist, racing off the lights on your casual weekend rides doesn’t really give you the same standard of training.
Sprint intervals can typically be after an initial 8 minute steady warm-up – with increasing intensity – separated by a brief recovery period. Sprints of 115% (at 1 minute in length) or 130%-MAX (30secs) should typically be grouped together in 5,6, if you are cruel 8 sets. And just to be extra mean give a 2 minute recovery and then beast them again!
Friday – And you thought it was over – Off the bike weight session
Keen cyclist can dramatically improve performance on the bike by engaging in a focused resistance training program throughout the year – not just when you can’t be bothered/its too frecking cold to go out! You should be doing your indoor cycling training then anyway. No I am talking about scheduled weight sessions which will strength not just your legs but your core & back – ideal for those long, endurance rides or blindly race winning sprints (we have already covered that you now can show Cavendish a thing or two).
Your catalog of weight exercises should include:
- Squat – a compound, full body exercise with trains your thighs, hips, bum, quads (just to get a bit scientific vastus lateralus medialis and intermedius), hamstrings and back. Importantly for cyclists in strengthens bones (you do know that alot of pros have low bone density and some even have osteopenia in their spines – one step away from osteoporosis – nice NYTimes article here on that).
- Hamstring curls to give which will help when sprinting towards the finish line as well as in the steep section of a single track climb. Having strong hamstrings also balances out the quad muscle giving you more power overall.
- Deadlift – Don’t be frightened this exercise ‘activates’ a variety of muscle groups including:
Gluteus maximus and hamstrings to extend the hip joint; quadricepts; adductor magnus to stabilize the legs, your abdomens (six-pack in no time) and forearms.
Now you have earned a Friday night drink……but go to bed early for that club riding on Saturday morning. Cycling is a cruel mistress.