Building Your Power Foundation.

Is it too early to begin next year’s foundation training?  Yes!  You need a break at the end of the season. If you are planning on a big 2022, and you are just finishing your 2021 season, it’s not too early to plan though! You do need to take a break to re-charge your batteries, and that usually lasts a 2-4 weeks, but that is also what I consider as prep for 2022. Now is the time to really plan for 2022 and once your enter into the off-season training phase, I want you to consider some of the below workouts and training principles to make 2022 great!

I really don’t like the phrase, “Base Training” because it produces images of long, slow distance training where your watts are at 60% of your threshold and you just putter along in your ride.   Too many athletes and coaches believe that an athlete has to do “Base training” first and before any other type of training can be started.  Now, I’ll concede that if you are a Pro cyclist and training for a huge season in Europe in 2022, then yes, you should be doing some serious “Base training” right now.  Riding your bike for 4-6 hours a day at endurance pace will help continue to develop your aerobic system and also prevent you from peaking in January.   But, everyone else?  Forget it.   We don’t have the time to put in 4-6 hours a day at a slow pace, stopping at coffee shops along the way and enjoying the sights. 

For most of us, we have only 1-2 hours a day to train and we have to make the most of those hours, optimizing our training for the highest ROI.  If we took that 1-2 hours a day and rode at endurance pace, then what would happen?   We would lose fitness and get slower.  There is a relationship between time and intensity that must be respected and the lower the intensity the longer the time you should ride in order to stress that energy system.  If you really want to improve your endurance system, then riding at endurance pace for 4-5 hours is what you need to do.   A 2 hour ride will not be long enough to create the necessary stress on the body in order to adapt and improve endurance.   So what is the correct intensity for your 1-2 hours of available time?   This is the tempo zone, Level 3 on the Coggan Power Level chart and from 76-90% of your functional threshold power (FTP).    

Riding at tempo pace is a challenge and not easy, but it won’t make you peak in January either. By pushing yourself a little harder this winter in your shorter sessions (many of us are stuck on the trainer all winter too!) you’ll be able to stress your aerobic system appropriately enough to continue improving throughout the winter.  In a previous article, that was titled, “The Next Level”, I talked about how to train in order to get to that elusive next level of fitness and riding at the tempo level this winter is one of the keys toward moving to that next level.   You have to be willing to trust and believe that training in the tempo zone will create the training stress you need as your “Power Foundation”.   This phrase, “Power Foundation” is how I prefer to talk about winter and pre-season training as it doesn’t conjure up those dreaded thoughts of LSD training, and more focuses one on the ‘power’ side of the equation, since your goal is to increase your power at threshold this winter.  Overall aerobic fitness improvement is always something that we all want to accomplish every season as more fitness=more fitness and you will be riding faster than previously.   

What types of workouts should you do this winter to make sure your “Power Foundation” is sufficiently challenged?   I have written below three workouts that are perfect for both indoor and outdoor workouts, as each can be adapted to either environment.

Tempo with Bursts and Big Gear efforts- This workout is designed to make you ride at a relatively high intensity keeping your aerobic system taxed, but not so much that you can’t do the big gear efforts afterward.  The big gear intervals are done afterward since your muscles will already be fatigued from the tempo work and then make you summon more strength to do the work.  The big gear efforts are there to help you create some additional muscular strength and translate any weight training you might be doing onto bike specific work.

Warm-up (WU): 15 minutes. Main Set (MS): Then Nail it for 60 minutes at 80-83% of your FTP, with 20 bursts (every 3 minutes!), hold for 10 seconds at 120% of your FTP. EASY 10 minutes. Then do 20 minutes at 80-83% of FTP and this time do big gear intervals- Put it in your 53:13 – 50 rpm and every 2 minutes, (so 10 total)… Slow down, stick it in the 53:13, stay seated and then use strength to push it to 90rpm.  Once you reach 90 rpm, and then back to your tempo pace. Cool-down (CD): 10 minutes easy spinning

Tempo and Sweet Spot intervals- This workout is designed to both fatigue your muscular endurance and cardiovascular system. By doing two longer 30 minute intervals at your sweet spot(88-93% of FTP or Upper tempo/lower level threshold pace), you’ll really have to work and stay focused but it will be ‘do-able’.  After you do the 30 minute efforts, then you’ll have to ride at tempo for 45minutes, but at lower level tempo pace, which again will be challenging but stress that muscular endurance system.

WU: 15 minutes steady.MS: 5×1 minute fast pedals- over 110rpm with 1 minute recovery between each. Then do 2×30 minutes at 88-93% of threshold, right in your sweet spot. Rest for 5 minutes easy between each. Then finish with 45 minutes at 76-80% of FTP. Nice tempo, but not hard. CD: 15 minutes.

Solid tempo workout- This is your bread and butter winter workout where you get plenty of tempo work done and that will challenge your cardiovascular system and is sure to make you “red in the face” with some early, hard work to assure you are awake.

WU: 15 minutes steady and smooth, getting the legs going.MS: After you are warmed up, do (1) 3 minute effort all out to get the carbon out of the legs, shoot for 115-120% of your FTP. Then do 5×1 minute fast pedaling intervals with 1 minute rest between each. Ride for 20 minutes at endurance pace and faster cadence than your normal self-selected cadence by 5rpm. Legs just spinning a little faster than they want to! Then do 60 minutes at Tempo pace, NOT race pace, but a notch below uncomfortable, but do-able and at your normal cadence. Tempo Pace is 76-90% of FTP. CD: 10 minutes.

These workouts are just some of the great variations on Tempo that you can do this winter.  The goal is to keep improving, without peaking in January and build your ‘foundation’, so that you’ll be ready for more intense threshold work later.   These workouts are for riders that don’t have 4-6 hours to ride each day and will keep your fitness higher throughout the winter than normal, but that means you don’t have that far to go in order to peak for your key event in the spring.  Give these workouts a shot and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your new higher threshold this spring!

Hunter Allen is a is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and “Cutting-Edge Cycling,” co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes.