I know you have spent a lot of time this winter on the indoor trainer doing workouts watching videos of everything from Rambo to “real-life” cycling videos like the ErgVideos. These are great tools to increase your fitness in the winter, go to the next level and also to maintain your hard-won fitness from last season. It’s always a battle in the winter with cross-training exercises, cold weather (for most of us!), indoor riding and just how much intensity to do indoors and outdoors on the good days. I prescribe a lot of tempo and “sweet-spot” work in the off-season in order to limit the upper intensities. If you ride at the higher levels in the winter, you risk peaking too soon and creating a lull in your fitness in March, right when most of the racing starts in the US. To prevent this from happening, it is important to continue this building of your power foundation.
“Base Training” vs. “Power Foundation”
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 2014, then yes, you should be doing some serious “Base training”. 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 those 1-2 hours a day and rode at endurance pace, then what would really happen? We would lose fitness and get slower. For most of us, riding that slow will not be challenging enough to create any training stress and therefore adaptation (improved fitness). There is a relationship between time and intensity that must be respected and when you ride at lower intensities, then you need to ride longer in order to create enough stress for adaptation. Therefore, I like to call what most of do in the winter and early spring, your “Power Foundation”. This is the type of riding that contains more tempo and sweet-spot work, essentially more intensity (but not too much!) than riding around at endurance pace. Building your power foundation, I believe, is critical for the coming season in improving your FTP, and also preparing for the entire season of racing, so that you are consistent throughout the year. In the late winter/early spring, you should be finishing the power foundation phase and transitioning from indoor riding to outdoor riding. This signals the time in which you need to solidify your winter fitness, especially if you have risen up a level (!) and begin adding in more and more work at your threshold and a little above.
Let’s Start with Your Sweet-Spot.
Before beginning to ride right at your FTP for extended periods of time (longer than 10minutes) I would recommend you do some final work at your sweet-spot (88-93% of FTP) and then move onto work right at your FTP and above. This is one of my favorite workouts that I use for many of my athletes regularly in February and March.
Sweet-Spot with Bursts
15minute warm-up with (1) 3-minute effort at 90% of your FTP, then 5minutes easy,
Main Set: Nail it at 88-93% of your FTP for 60 minutes, with 20 bursts (every 3 minutes!) to 120% of FTP, hold for 15 seconds, and return to previous pace (88-93% of FTP)
EASY 10 minutes riding at endurance pace 56-75% of FTP
Then do 30 minutes at 88-93% of FTP and this time do big gear intervals- every two minutes. Slow down to 12mph, put your chain in the 53:13, stay seated and then use strength to explode on that gear and push it hard for 30seconds or if you reach 90rpm, stop when you reach one of those criteria first and return to 88-93% of FTP.
In order to start transitioning into race fitness, finish with 5 hard sprints – Start in your 53:16 from 20mph and sprint for 250 meters each, 4-5 minutes rest between each.
Cool Down: 10 minutes easy spinning at less than 56% of your FTP.
To remind you of the Coggan power training levels, see figure 1.
Incorporating FTP Workouts
During February and March, along with continuing to ride at sweet spot, you need to begin incorporating riding right at your functional threshold power and also doing some forays above it to prepare for the higher intensities of racing. I recommend at least one day a week of training specifically at your FTP and then one day in which you incorporate shorter intensity as well. I like to incorporate the shorter intensity on the weekend when you are doing a longer ride, by including it in the first two hours and then using the last hour or two to focus on your overall aerobic endurance through tempo and sweet-spot work.
The one focused day of threshold work needs to be highly focused and designed to just address your FTP and nothing more. This allows you to dig deep into the “well of courage” and push yourself for maximum training effect. I recommend doing this workout for improving your FTP.
FTP “Well of courage”
Warm-Up: 20 minutes-endurance pace 56-75% of FTP
MS: 5 x 1minute fast pedal over 120 RPM to get legs opened up with 1 minute rest between each. Ride at 10 minutes easy at 56-75% of FTP after those warm-ups. Now, dig in the well of courage and do (4) x12 minutes at or just above FTP- so 100-108% of FTP – Nail these and push in the last minute up to 110% of FTP! Do NOT kill it in the first 2 minutes though, so start out and ramp up to your 100-108% of FTP. REST for 5minutes between each.
After completing the (4) x 12 FTP intervals, ride for 20-30 minutes endurance pace (56-75% of FTP).Finish with one more 12 minutes at FTP interval to completely bury yourself! Make sure you push it hard and do your best completing a total of 60minutes at FTP for the day!
Cool Down: 10 minutes at least than 56% of FTP
Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
On your weekends, make sure you are getting in at least one day of group riding as this is fun and it will also help to develop your race fitness with short, hard bursts and simulated attacks. I recommend to my clients to do a group for an hour or two and then go longer afterward if they can. This really makes a difference in your endurance and stamina for the upcoming season. On the other day during the weekend, it would be great to work on your shorter, more intense efforts. I recommend this workout:
Weekend: “A bite of it all”
Warm Up: 15minutes at 56-75% of FTP.
Main-Set: Do (3) x 1 minute fast pedaling. Then do (4) sprints- BIG RING –Put your chain in the 53:15 and start from 22mph. Only do two gear shifts in these sprints to 14, then to 13. Rest for 3-4 minutes between each and get psyched for the next sprint!
After you finish your sprints then do (2) x 12 minutes JUST BELOW threshold- so about 88-93% of FTP watts in order to get in a little more sweet-spot/FTP work. Do your best to hold it there! Rest for 5minutes between each.
Now, finish the workout with 4 x 2 minutes on a flat section of road. 2 minutes ON, 2 minutes OFF. Do your best to hold 130-140% of FTP on the effort. Lastly, ride at endurance pace for 20 minutes (56-75% of FTP)
CD: 5 minutes (<56% of FTP)
Training this early spring should be focused around making sure you have the overall power foundation developed and then building your threshold power on top of that. It’s critical that as you get closer and closer to race season, that you begin incorporating shorter, more intense intervals that stress your anaerobic capacity (30sec-2min efforts) and neuromuscular power (5-15 sec.). The transition from winter to spring training is more important than most riders think as the demands of racing are very specific you must be prepared for them along with prepared for the entire season. One important final note to discuss is the importance of entering the race season with your “battery” 100% charged. This means that you should make sure you rest between hard workouts and keep yourself relatively fresh. Digging a hole in this transitory time can be a recipe for disaster. I recommend taking a rest/easy day after every 3 hard days of training, as this will guarantee that you are well rested for the next block of training and are not getting fatigued.
The 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 season. 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. 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 “Triathlon Training With Power”, “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.