by Hunter Allen
Maximizing your speed is the outcome of your ability to produce power, the economy of the bicycle, along with the efficiency of the bicycle. Ultimately as we all know, the goal is to go faster. The easiest way to do that is to produce more power or watts on our bike. You should also make sure that you have an aerodynamic bike with aero wheels and that your bike is as light as possible at the same time making sure it’s stiff enough to maximize energy transfer from you to the rear wheel, which is where efficiency comes in(along with lubing your chain!) Since we are all trying to go faster, and once you have the most economical and efficient bike your wallet can afford, then you have to focus on creating more watts and unfortunately that’s the harder side of the equation, since this involves work, which is expressed in kilojoules (kJ) or more commonly known as sweat. As a coach, my job focuses on making sure that your hard work is efficient and effective in moving forward to achieving your goal (more speed!). Let’s look at a couple of ways that you can directly increase your speed on the bicycle through smart training using wattage as the measuring stick by which you are improving.
I was chatting with some newer coaches at a seminar that I taught earlier this year, and one of them asked me a question, “What is the most important thing we should train our beginner/lower category racers in order to go faster?” FTP, functional Threshold Power is the most important single factor that can be improved to make an athlete faster. As Dr. Andrew Coggan always states at our seminars together, “It’s an aerobic sport, dammit”, which he means that since nearly 90% of our success is based on our aerobic capacity (the ability to uptake oxygen , combine it with fuel and get it to our muscles to create force-we are essentially big air and water pumps!), then it makes the most sense to improve your ability to pump air and water. Before you do anything else, you have to increase your FTP and in order to do that, you need to work close at your threshold and create stress which your body will absorb and adapt to become stronger which in turn allows you to produce more watts and go faster. First, you need to know what your FTP is, so you’ll have to do a FTP test, which is either a flat-out 60minute time trial or a 20minute time trial. If you choose to “man up” and do the 60minute test, your average watts from that will be your FTP. If you choose the easy way out, then take your average watts in the 20minute test and subtract 5% in order to get a close approximation of your FTP. Once you know your FTP, then you can begin designing workouts around this in order to improve it. Think of your FTP has the height of a tabletop above the floor. When you first start in cycling, your table will be low to the floor, but as you train more and more, the legs get longer on your table and the height of the tabletop increases above the floor, till eventually you reach the ceiling. Now, what is the easiest way to pick up a table in your room and move it? You get a buddy on one end of the table and you on the other, you put your hands just UNDER the table top and you lift it up! Right? You can’t walk up to the table pretending you are Spiderman with sticker fingers and sticking your fingers to the top of the table to lift it up from the top, although that would be handy. If we transfer this analogy to your training, then I would suggest doing workouts just below your threshold in order to lift the threshold up. One of my favorite workouts is actually where you pick the table up and put it back down again, so to speak. This is called, “FTP Criss-cross intervals” and I recommend doing this at least twice a week in the early season and then once a week later in the season. This workout addresses your FTP in the first hour and then in the second hour addresses both your FTP and also your muscular strength, finally giving your neuromuscular power a shot in the leg with a few sprints.
Warm-Up:15minute warm-up with (1) 3 minute effort at 100% of your FTP watts in order to shock the system and prepare you for the next hour. Ride easy for 5 minutes, and then begin your main set of work. Nail it at 88-95% of FTP for 60 minutes, with 20 bursts (every 3 minutes!) to 150% of FTP watts hold for 10 seconds, and return back to 88-95%. After completing the hours, ride EASY 10 minutes at less than 56% of your FTP. Begin the second block of sub threshold work by riding for 20-30 minutes at 88-95% of your FTP, but this time do big gear intervals- 53:13 – 50 rpm from 12 mph to 31 mph every 2minutes, so 10-15 total…so slow down, stick it in the 53:12, stay seated and then use strength to turn the big gear over until you reach 85-90rpm or 30seconds, whichever is first and then return to your previous sub-threshold pace. Ride easy to recover for 10minutes at less than 56% of your FTP. Finish the workout with 5 hard sprints – your gearing should be around 53:16 for these and starting from 20mph and sprinting for 250 meters each. Make sure to rest for about 5 minutes between each sprint. Cool-Down: 10 minutes easy spinning at less than 56% of FTP.
The next workout you can do to improve your FTP, would be to ride right at your Threshold. These are a little more difficult, but also very effective. I suggest doing these about 4 weeks before your first race of the year and then at least once during the week during your racing season, thereby giving you two days of threshold work a week. Hey, this is the number one thing that is going to make you better, but you’d ought to accept it and get on with the work! I suggest that you start out with 15 minute intervals at your FTP in the beginning and progressing toward longer efforts until you reach 45-60minutes straight at FTP.
This next workout I call, Tabletop Edge Threshold efforts: 2 hours-
Warm-Up: Ride for a nice 15 minute warm-up with watts under 76% of your FTP. Now get ready for your main set of work with (1) blow out effort with watts at Threshold for 3minutes, recovering for 5 minutes at endurance pace. Now, you are ready for efforts, right at your FTP, so start out with 2 x 15 minutes at threshold watts (100-105%), and giving yourself a little rest for 5minutes rest between each. At the end of those intervals, you could do another one, or continue to improve your endurance with 90 more minutes after the 2nd effort with watts at upper end of endurance pace, which would be from 80-88% of your FTP. Cool-Down: 15minutes at less than 56% of your FTP.
The final way for you to improve your FTP or increase the height of your table is through VO2 max, or drilling holes into the top of your tabletop! Yes, you can take a self-drilling hook and screw it down into the top of your tabletop and then lift the table up from the top, but if you do it too often, you’ll leave your tabletop with holes in it and eventually it will collapse on itself. However, occasionally, like when you are in the final stages of building for a peak of fitness, or if you are in a slump, then some really focused work on your Vo2 max will bring up your FTP. Doing Vo2 max work means doing intervals at 106-115% of your FTP from the three to eight minute range. These are super hard efforts, where your respiration rate will be very high (over 50x a minute), they will be painful and you’ll have to push very hard to stick with the wattages needed to elicit a response. Improving your absolute Vo2 Max is impossible after a certain point of development, you are only born with a certain size of lungs and that can’t be changed, however improving the efficiency of moving O2 from your lungs into your heart and bloodstream can be improved along with improving your velocity at Vo2 Max. There is that speed thing again, and doing intervals at Vo2 Max, improves your speed at Vo2 Max, so that’s incredibly helpful in races. I recommend one to two Vo2 Max workouts per week during the period in which you need to be doing this intensity. Again, limit this work, as putting too many holes in the top of your tabletop will eventually make it collapse. Give this work out a shot, it is designed to increase your cadence as well as teach you to use cadence to increase your watts when you are suffering and someone attacks or when you are on form and you feel so amazing that you want to attack after doing 5 minutes at vo2 max. I call this workout the “Vo2 Max Overdrivers”
Warm Up: 15 minute easy spin and then do 30 seconds in easiest gear with the fastest cadence possible without bouncing, then do a 30 second recovery. Repeat this three more times. Now do 20 seconds at cadence 5rpm faster than before with 20 second recovery. Repeat three more times. The final part of the warm-up is now 1minute fast pedaling efforts at cadence 5 slower than first sets, with 1 minute recovery. Repeat three times. Relax for 5-10 minutes of endurance riding while mentally psyching yourself up for the “Overdrivers”. The main set begins on a hill or into the wind and each interval is five minutes long at cadence 10 slower than typical self-selected cadence. Each interval is done at 110-115% of FTP in order to guarantee you are stressing the Vo2 Max system. The “overdriver” part comes at the end of the interval where I want you to do a final 30 second hard burst changing to three gears easier(or the easiest gear you have) for 30 seconds, spinning faster and pushing harder to really fatigue the muscles and increase the respiration rate just a little higher! Do 5 intervals of 5minutes each. Recover for 5 minutes between each at your endurance pace 56-75% of FTP.
Returning back to our goal of increasing your overall speed in bicycling, we have learned that improving our FTP and Vo2 max are the foundations of increasing speed on the bicycle. While it’s great to buy new faster stuff (yes, you can buy speed!), eventually you have to work on your engine in order to go faster. Pushing that tabletop higher and higher will also eventually reach the ceiling in your room, but making sure you are approaching and close to that ceiling is the best thing you can do for more speed. Keep in mind that your training first begins on the aerobic system and the higher your FTP, the faster you’ll be period. While FTP is king, you can’t neglect the smaller contributions of the energy systems either, as they all play a role in winning. Spend most of your time on the three workouts above and then get in some shorter anaerobic intervals along with some sprinting and throw in a bunch of long endurance rides as well.
Hunter Allen has an obsession with speed and does just about everything to increase it, whether on the bicycle, in the car, on downhill skis, and even online. He has fast online training programs available at www.shoppeaks.com , which feature improving your speed through FTP and Vo2 max improvements. You can contact Hunter directly www.PeaksCoachingGroup.com for personal coaching and camps.