Improving the average power output you can sustain over the course of a ride or race is critical to becoming a faster rider. Incorporate this simple fact into your training and you can become one of the faster riders in your group. A great way to build power is to do time trial intervals twice a week. These can be done in short 1-hour workout sessions during the week so you can still get your long endurance rides in on the weekends.
When riding a time trial, you are essentially riding at or near your anaerobic threshold – the point at which you go into an anaerobic state and fatigue rapidly sets in due to lactic acid accumulation in your blood stream. The more power you can generate for sustained periods without going anaerobic, the faster you’ll become. The purpose of this workout is to mimic the time trial effort for two 20 minute intervals.
The workout is tough, but it can be done in less than an hour and the results are significant. Follow the workout faithfully for 8 to 10 weeks and you could increase your average power output by 10 or 15 percent, which would certainly reshuffle the pecking order of your favorite weekend group ride in your favor.
First, warm up with 10 minutes pedaling an easy gear. Then, change to a harder gear and pedal at your threshold steadily for 20 minutes. Take 5 minutes to rest by spinning in an easy gear, then go hard for a second 20 minutes, again at your threshold. The second effort will be much harder than the first because you are already a bit fatigued, but push through for maximum training benefit. Finally, rest with 10 minutes of soft pedaling in an easy gear. Repeat twice per week for 4 weeks. Take a rest week. Continue to train during your rest week, just skip the threshold intervals. Then, repeat for the next 4 weeks. You’ll see noticeable improvements in just a few weeks, but continue the entire regimen to maximize your power for the season.
To get the maximum benefit out of this workout, it’s critical to get the intensity right. You need your threshold efforts to be at the all out maximum capacity that you can sustain for a 20 minute period. Go too hard and you’ll “blow up” before 20 minutes is up. Go too easy and you won’t be working hard enough to improve your power output. To get it right, you need to maintain a hard effort for the whole 20 minutes but have nothing left at the end. The effort should be very much like riding a time trial. In fact, a great way to find the right intensity is to ride an 8 or 10 mile time trial and measure your average heart rate over the course of the race. Then use that heart rate average as a guideline for your 20 minute interval efforts. A local club time trial race is safe, fun, and gets you to push yourself much harder than you likely would on your own solo training effort.
Having a good place for this workout is also important. Look for flat or slightly rolling terrain with minimal traffic interruptions, or use an indoor trainer.
Time trial interval training is a basic building block that should be the centerpiece of a good training regimen for anyone looking to get faster on the bike. As always, consult your physician before undertaking this or any other training routine.
Tom Catalini is the author of Road Biking Massachusetts, a cycling guide book available on Amazon.com, and cycling blog www.RoadBikingMassachusetts.com.