Structuring Your Training
You should plan on two key foundational sessions per week that cannot be missed, then the remaining riding sessions can be built around these “critical” sessions. If you perform more than two sessions per week, these will be central to your focus. Earlier in the season, your objectives will likely be cycling-specific muscular endurance and muscle tension (big gear) work. Your two foundational sessions will last 70 to 150 minutes each, and each session will be interval based—but this does not necessarily mean high intensity! Here’s a typical session for each type of workout:
» Muscular endurance and fitness: This session focuses on Zone 2 to Zone 3 intensity, with extended intervals and very limited time to truly recover, despite variations in intensity and cadence. The goal of this session is to improve cardiovascular fitness and hold form while creating massive muscular fatigue. This means that any “rest” between intervals should involve a drop in power but should not include pauses in pedaling. For these types of sessions, you can mix RPM, staying within 5–7 RPM of either side of your base, and mix power, staying within Zones 2 and 3. Maintaining pedaling through changing intensity and RPM for 40–90 minutes of a main set will become challenging, and doing it with fluid pedal strokes, a relaxed upper body and perfect form will be a substantial challenge.
» Muscle tension: Your other foundational session might include a muscle tension, or big gear, workout. Your intensity might remain at Zones 2 and 3, but the lower RPM will create a different stimulus. The goal of this session is muscular recruitment and endurance, so following a warm-up, your intervals would be 7–16 minutes in length at Zone 3 at variable cadences 15–35 RPM lower than base. These are done seated, with your lowest cadence at a speed at which you can maintain a fluid pedal stroke and not incur too much knee strain. Form is critical, with a relaxed upper body and constant tension on the chain throughout. If your chain is bouncing, or you are forced to reaccelerate with each pedal stroke, you are either pedaling at too slow of a cadence or too high power. Complete recovery is needed between these intervals, so very easy pedaling—or even stopping—is fine between intervals.
If you have these sessions central to your weekly training, you can build your additional riding around them. This may include outdoor road, mountain or cyclo-cross riding, or additional trainer sessions at a lower Zone 2 endurance focus. The only addition to these sessions would be periodic inclusion of some very high intensity and threshold work. Once every seven to 14 days most athletes should include some higher power work. I like to include short 1–2-minute intervals of Zone 4 work, often up to 20 repetitions with short rest, to maintain the top end. Even this is not your highest intensity! Once or twice a week I’ll also include some very high intensity work, often only lasting 7–10 seconds and accompanied by lots of rest. This neuromuscular work is not physiologically stressful, but it does offer good overload and muscular recruitment.
If you are forced to make your longest ride of the week on the trainer, you should still include variance. Don’t make the mistake of simply sitting on the trainer and spinning for four hours. While volume is critical for overall triathlon performance, you don’t have to sit all day on your trainer to get it. Just remember: Lower volume means higher intensity.