The 3 little pigs is a children’s story about how 3 little pigs work together to be better than the big bad wolf. Independently the big bad wolf has it over them.
In the same way that the 3 little pigs work together, your cycle sessions each week need to work together to develop your overall fitness, so that the big bad wolf doesn’t huff and puff.
There are three key sessions that you should look at including into your training in order to develop specific components of your cycling fitness.
The long ride develops your aerobic fitness and makes your heart and lungs more efficient. This fitness development will see an increase in the size of your heart and the amount of blood it can pump with each beat. The body will get more adept at transferring oxygen from the environment to the muscle cells that need it. There will be an increase in capillarisation (growth of the capillary beds within the muscles). There will also be an increase in mitochondrial density (there will be more little power houses within each muscle cell).
In the early part of the season, or if you are a beginner, this session is likely to bring you the greatest benefits, but only if you do it consistently as well as alongside the other sessions.
How long is long enough? This will depend on what distance race you are preparing for. For a sprint or Olympic distance three hours will be ample but for an Ironman you will need to build up your fitness to handle significantly longer. That is the end point of how long your ride should be, so make sure you start off much shorter and progressively build on the duration of the previous week.
This session should be performed at an intensity that you can maintain a conversation at. The intensity in itself shouldn’t be tiring, but the accumulation of duration is what tires you out with this session.
A speed session is done at a higher intensity than the long ride and will develop a range of physiological performance variables depending on how it is structured.
A time trial session will develop sustained speed and your ability to tolerate and clear lactic acid. This can be beneficial for Olympic distance athletes as well as Ironman athletes, although the Ironman athletes will be doing their race pace TTs at a slightly lower intensity than if they were racing Olympic distance. After a warm up, ride as hard as you can for a set distance or duration, then cool down. The shorter the distance you are racing the shorter the TT efforts can be and the higher the intensity they should be.
Threshold intervals will increase your ability to ride at a sustained pace. Due to the minimal rest involved there will be a slow accumulation in lactic acid. After a Warm Up complete between three and six repetitions of between 8 and 15 minutes (or longer depending on the goal of the session).
VO2 Max Intervals are done at the highest intensity you can maintain and are very short duration with plenty of rest. These intervals lift your top end speed and effort. At the high intensity you will get a surge of lactic acid, but plenty of chance to clear it in the recovery period. After a Warm Up complete one or two sets of five to ten reps of between 3 to 5 minutes at high intensity, with an equal amount of recovery between reps. If doing two sets, spin for five to ten minutes between sets.
There are a couple of ways to develop specific leg strength for cycling. The most optimal way to do so is on the bike. But this can be complimented by a weights programme. The two main ways to develop strength on the bike are to do Hill Reps or Low Cadence Big Gear strength intervals. These sessions will increase the strength of the cycling muscles and generate sustained power output.
For Hill Reps ride to the base of a hill for your warm up. Ride up the hill either to the top or for a pre determined duration. Once there descend back to the start point (for recovery) prior to repeating between three and ten times (depending on the duration of the interval).
Low Cadence Big Gear sets are similar to other intervals except you will be shifting to a big gear and/or cranking up the resistance on your wind trainer and ‘grinding’ at a low cadence (between 50 & 70 Rpm) prior to getting a short rest where you spin your legs at a higher cadence in a lower gear against less resistance. Start off with 3x 5min and build to 3x 10min over time, keeping the rest period relatively short (between 1min and 4min}.
Fitting it Together
Just like the three little pigs weren’t always together (think the straw house and the house made of sticks), you don’t want to be doing each session every week. Depending on your experience, level of fitness, how close your events are and what events you are training for will determine how these sessions fit into your programme. The older you are, the less fit you are or the less experienced you are, the more rest and recovery from the intense sessions you will need. It might be best to do a long ride and either a strength session OR a speed session, plus a recovery ride each week. If you are younger, more experienced, or more fitter, you may be able to get away with a long ride and two higher intensity sessions each week.
This article was originally written for and published by Triathlon New Zealand in their TRIbe newsletter.
If you would like further advice feel free to contact Coach Ray.
Coach Ray is the Head Coach & Director of Qwik Kiwi – Endurance Sports Consultant.
Coach Ray specialises in assisting first timers and recreational athletes to achieve their sporting goals. He can be contacted at www.qwik.kiwi, firstname.lastname@example.org 021 348 729. Make sure you sign up to his monthly informative newsletter.