What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Five Favorite Workouts

With today’s closer look at using the Sufferfest videos for a power-based workout, it’s worth noting that winter is not a time for just long slow distance. Intensity has its place the whole year through. Last year, Matt McNamara wrote an entertaining piece on his five favorite workouts – they’re just as applicable for August as they are heading into the winter. Read on!

By: Matt McNamara

August is a dangerous month; a full season of racing has left many athletes tired and ready for the fall break. Often motivation to train hard wanes and a season’s worth of fitness can disappear in a few weeks. Rather than tossing away all that hard work, here are a few workouts to help pull you through those hot August sessions.

August is like Friday. It’s pretty close to the off season, or pre-season if you ride ‘cross, but it’s still work and you have to put in the time to get the payoff. Fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same dreary intervals you’ve done all season. Five minute VO2max efforts, two by twenty minute threshold efforts, and the dreaded one minute max efforts can get a bit tired by August, so I thought I’d offer up a few alternatives to keep you motivated.

The Endurance Razor
This is quickly becoming one of my favorite workouts on days when motivation to ride hard is tough to find. Athletes are often faced with having limited time to train and tend to compromise the endurance component in search of greater speed and high intensity. This workout walks the line between being a true endurance effort (because it’s not terribly long) and a true tempo workout (because the intensity averages tempo).

Here’s the 411:

First, set your computer to the “average watts” view and keep it there the entire workout. Start the ride averaging approximately 65-70% of Threshold Power for the first 20 minutes. For this example let’s use 200 Watts as our 70% value.

After twenty minutes at 200 watts start to increase your average power in 1-watt increments over the next 60 minutes. You want to add 20% of your starting value, in this case 40 watts, by the end of the hour. Doing the quick math you can see that you want to add a watt to your average about every 60 – 90 seconds. A much slower pace than you are likely used to for an ‘interval’ but there is a caveat. You cannot lose a watt on average, ever! If you drop a watt on average you have to sprint thru that watt and up to the next one, then return to your steady-state pacing.

As the hour continues you’ll find it a bit harder to add a watt, and a bit harder to keep from losing a watt – therein lies the fun! Over the course of the hour your intensity will rise, but the effort is easy enough that it doesn’t go above threshold. If you want to add to the fun do this on a rolling course! That will really help with pacing a steady effort. Typically a 90 minute workout like this, including a 10-minute easy spin cool down, will be around 100 TSS points and .82 – .85 on Intensity Factor, perfect.

The Tempo Razor
Similar in concept to the endurance razor above, the Tempo Razor is a bit higher intensity and includes stints at and above threshold. Start with a regular 15 – 20 minute warm up to get the body going, then try to do the following two times:

Working in two by thirty (2x30min) intervals (5min easy between) do the following: set your power-meter so you see the ‘average’ watts view for the interval. Start at the bottom of zone 3 power ( ~80% FTP) and build to the low to middle of zone 4 by the end (eg 90-95% FTP) . A good plan is to ride 5min at ~80%, then punch up your power in small surges until you are averaging steady in the 82-85% range. Ride that a few minutes then bump intensity until you get the average to ~88% FTP, repeat until you get to ~90%+ of FTP by the end. It may take some trial and error to figure out the pacing. You will likely be over threshold in the last 5 minutes or so trying to get those last few watts. Finish the ride with 5 MAX EFFORT/GOOD FORM Sprints of about 15-20s…rest 3 min between each, then cool down.

Overall intensity of the interval should average around 90% of threshold, but will normalize a bit higher, probably 95-97% of threshold. This is similar intensity to a ‘sweet spot’ interval (88-93% FTP for 60 minutes), but is paced differently and taps the VO2 system in the last part of the effort. A great workout, albeit a tough one.

MAP to Threshold
This is a favorite for a number of reasons. First, it works both VO2 and Threshold systems in a single interval. It also helps with those hard race level efforts that define a break-away or the start of a cyclo-cross race. Lastly, it allows for a very natural progression in length over a block of training, and as you develop over the years. Here are the details:

A short crisp warm up of no more than 20minutes at ~70% of threshold power (hey, it’s a focused day right?). Once warmed up do two minutes at your Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP, best 5 minute value is a good proxy) followed by at least five minutes at your threshold power. I usually clip a ‘new’ interval after the first two minutes and put a ‘short’ (~20 s) tempo level recovery at the start of the threshold segment. This small respite allows you to return to threshold pacing straight away, and gives the interval an above threshold average when combined with the MAP segment. Plenty of recovery between these.

The progression is to add time to the threshold segment each week. Normally I’ll add 1:00 – 2:00 minutes per week. Keep recovery at roughly 1:1 for these efforts. As you develop as a cyclist keep lengthening the effort until the total interval is about 15:00 minutes long.

FTP Coastdowns
This is just fun. Great for variety in a workout, it also helps with the repeated surges of racing. Spend the first forty five minutes warming up with a minimum of 350-500 kilojoules in your legs. Do a couple of 30 s efforts to open up the legs during the warm up.

The workout starts with two minutes at your threshold power (FTP). Using your ‘average power” view on the power-meter, ride 2:00 at FTP then semi-soft pedal until power drops 10 watts, taking a minimum of 15-20 seconds to drop, then hard accelerate (near sprint) until your average power is back at FTP. Repeat the soft pedal, ten watt drop, hard acceleration back to FTP sequence for 8-10 minutes. The coast/tempo efforts average approximately 80-90% FTP and get a bit easier as the interval progresses. The hard accelerations are usually between 5 and 40 seconds, average between VO2max and 1 minute maximal power, and get harder as the interval progresses. The farther into the interval you get, the harder it is to surge back to your average FTP. You have a lot of control over the ‘coast’ portion so don’t make it too easy! These are supposed to mimic the pacing and hard accelerations found in a race. Rest for 10 minutes between efforts and try to do between 2 – 5 of these in a session.

Group Ride Redux
Often one’s motivation to ride hard is derived from doing the local ‘weekly world championships” that dot nearly every community. These hard, mid-week, race level efforts are fun, build skills, and help keep your race fitness up. Next time you go try this variation:

Attend the regular group ride, but make your goal to keep your average power as low as possible with a few caveats. The first is that you have to spend the entire ride in the front 10% of the field. You should also contribute to the pace making by taking pulls at the front during the ride. Next you have to contest any and all sprints by either contributing to a strong lead out or sprinting for a place. Finally, you have to try and have at least 10-15% of your ride time at zero power. This is a fun variation to the usual “hard as possible” approach to group rides that we often default to.

The end of summer can often mean a decreased motivation to train in a focused way for those athletes coming to the end of their season. It is also a good time to spice up your workouts by trying something new. The five workouts here are just the tip of the creativity iceberg when it comes to effectively training with power. Give them a try and see what else they may lead to in your personal creativity. You may end up creating new workouts that expand on the concepts above or find whole new ways to challenge your body and mind to continually improve.

About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. This fall he is continuing his Performance Webinar Series that explores a variety of ways to improve your racing and training. Matt is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. Learn more by visiting them online at www.sterlingwins.com.

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