Racing a bicycle is always a challenging experience and it is not for everyone, but I encourage every cyclist to at least try a bike race at one time or the other. There are lots of options from racing on gravel bikes, to road races to cyclo-cross, mountain bike and track racing. All have their own specific demands and needs, and I suggest you find a race that is local to you, and you have the bike for it! For example, if there is a local cyclo-cross race coming up next month and you already have a gravel bike, then jump in there! You have 4 goals in finishing a bike race: 1) Learn the overall experience of preparing for the event, proper nutrition, warming-up and racing. 2) Make a new friend. Meet someone there and introduce yourself. Friend them on social media. Stay in touch. 3) Push yourself! Go for it! It’s important to push your limits on a regular basis and keep life interesting. Suffer a bit. Feel the desire to quit and don’t. 4) Bask in the accomplishment of racing your bike and doing something new and keeping life interesting. It doesn’t matter what place you get, just enjoy the feeling of racing hard and pushing it.
I started racing bicycles when I was 11 (now 53) and I raced constantly from 11 till I was 27, when I retired from Pro racing. Since then, I have raced here and there for kicks and grins and to remind myself of the things I have forgotten! All those above goals I mentioned are why I race now. While highly competitive, I have long ago let go of the need to win every race, understand/know the limits of my current FTP and also know what it takes to win. I am happy to just enjoy some good overall fitness and go racing whenever I want to and still be competitive in the 50+ age group. And yes, during the race, I wanted to quit. I didn’t.
They are the races that define champions. They require grit, determination, iron will and high wattages… for a long time. All of the classics feature some defining type of terrain or environment that make the race even harder than normal. Roubaix has the cobbles, Flanders has the steep hills that go up old farm paths, Milan-San Remo has the Poggio climbs after 6 hours of racing and even here in the states, Battenkill has gravel roads and narrow bridges, and Copperopolis has ridiculous globs of pavement packed on top of old pavement one shovel full at a time. Cold weather, brutal crosswinds, dirt in your eyes, mud that coat your rims preventing any sort of predictable braking, massive wheel eating potholes and horrible so-called roads that contribute to the muscle pain which strikes fear in every racer. The intimate knowledge that the unpreventable, undeniable, unavoidable muscle twinge will turn into pedal debilitating cramps and end your race is the feeling that every classic rider fears. The last sip in your water bottle, the sound of ‘pssssst’ of your tire going flat when a critical attack occurs at the front, the unexpected crosswind that has never occurred on this particular section of road before, the flat and gel-less back pockets in your jersey when all you need is just one more packet of miracle calories all define the experience. When one by one your teammates fall by the wayside, from punctures, bonks, lack of watts, cramps and crashes and you alone are the last man left standing, it’s then that you want the confidence to know you have done your homework. You have pushed through the rain and cold, you have gone farther on less water, you have done more morning rides without food than anyone out there, you have suffered more on the indoor trainer in the basement staring at the blank wall dreaming about this moment and finally the realization that all those movies you play in your head are now your reality. These are the characteristics of the spring classics winners, the top finishers and in the races that define the man, it can make a career and at the very least make a season, but it can also crush the spirit of the hardest and toughest of the hard men over time. Once cracked, the hard man endures over and over, but eventually those cracks form into gaps that can’t be closed and eventually turn into looks of consolation from faces of the fans on the side of the road that tell you that you aren’t getting back on and your day for winning is over. This is a classic and just as they define the man that does battle in them, it is critical to define the physiological demands of those classics so I can tell you at the bare minimum what makes the difference between the winners and the losers in the classics. What are the physical requirements of the winners and what are the demands of each race from a training perspective? Are those demands similar in some way to other races? If you know what is coming and how many hills you’ll have to do, can you use this knowledge to hyper focus your training? Can you learn something about those races that give you an edge this spring in your own backyard classics?
The ridiculously complicated demands of a “classic” race need to be defined to understand the determining factors of success and by analyzing the power files from them, we can gain some insights to apply in our own training and races in the next couple of months, but know that smart training alone does not make a hard man…
Let’s examine two files from racers in the classics last year, one file is George Hincapie’s fine 6th place finish in Tour of Flanders and another is a first place finish from a Masters 40+ racer in the Tour of Battenkill. Both of these racers know what it takes from a physical and mental perspective and have won many races which contain all the elements needed to define the classics man. Let’s look at Tour of Flanders first as it is one of the most insanely difficult races in the world. The first thing that is apparent from George’s power file is that the first two and half hours were pretty darn easy, so easy for George that he only averaged 64% of his threshold power, which is at the lower end of his endurance zone. Of course, this was on purpose as well, since cycling is a sport of energy conservation and George as the protected leader of the BMC team on the day had only to ride in the peloton, stay out of the wind, and suck wheels as best as he could. These two and half hours are an important fat burning zone for George to take advantage of and one characteristic of Pro Tour riders is their ability to burn fat at a relatively high intensity and for a longer time than other cyclists. George’s body, with over 17 years of pro racing adaptations accumulated in it, has mastered this economical fuel strategy. It’s one that you can master as well, without necessarily having to race your bike for 17 years at the Pro Tour level. A simple thing you can do in training is to go out on your longer training rides before you eat breakfast. Take plenty of food with you, including a good source of protein (Turkey & Cheese sandwich will do) and then at the hour and half mark start eating and continue on your workout. Repeat this workout until you can get to two and half hours before eating or feeling hungry and then you’ll have begun the process of teaching your body to burn more fat as fuel. It’s important that you don’t ride too intensely in those hours before eating, so keep your intensity in your endurance zone (56-75% of FTP).
With the first two and half hours out of the way, then next highlight of a classic is just the sheer energy required to complete it and finish well. Flanders is a 6-hour race and in those 6 hours, George burned 6123 kiloJoules, which is roughly equivalent to 6700 kiloCalories and that is a lot of food! It’s a lot of food to eat afterward in order to recover, but it also means he ate a ton of food on the bike during the race as well and that’s not just gels and bars as he needed to do have plenty of protein as well to balance his blood sugar. The ability to shovel down mass quantities of food during a hard race is critical for a classics rider and digesting that food is also critical to keep the energy levels high, so make sure that you have a solid nutritional strategy for a hard race. Foods you can eat quickly, packages that you can open with your teeth and sometimes hold in your teeth during an attack, along with something substantial that will ‘stick to your ribs’ and keep you going for an endurance effort that lasts longer than your normal 2–3-hour race.
Besides the fact that George’s normalized power for the 6 hours+ was a superhuman 342 watts, what is unique about many classics is that the ‘make or break’ time usually is determined via some key characteristic of the course itself which requires an outlay of wattage that you must be prepared to create. For the Tour of Flanders this begins after 4 hours of racing and when the peloton begins hitting the famed hills in the Flanders region and then George cracks out an hour at a normalized power of 404watts, so the ability to ride at your FTP, above it and just below it for quite a while is something you’ll want to plan for in your own classics races this spring. The knowledge that you are going to have to kill it for a certain period of time and that is not going to win you the race, but if you don’t kill it, then you will for certain lose the race, is knowledge and a commitment that you must clearly understand and be ready for. This effort puts you in a winning position but doesn’t win you the race and preparing for to do that is something you can train. One workout that I would suggest is built around this philosophy and “pre-fatigues” you then requires you absolutely crush it for that ‘make or break’ time followed by just heinous effort in the final 45 minutes is below:
“The Powerful Classic”
20 minute warm-up
4 x 1 minute fast pedals.
Ride at your endurance/tempo (56-90% of FTP) for two hours making sure that you get in a hilly ride or if you live in a flat area, do a ton of little 20-30 second bursts simulating speed changes in fast and slower cadences.
At the end of this two hours, then do 6 x 2 minutes- FLAT OUT- on a flatish road. WITH FULL recovery- so about 4 minutes at endurance pace.
Then do 6 x 30 seconds- with a hard SPRINT at the start- FULL recovery- about 3 minutes
Then cruise for 20minutes easy. Then do
6 x small ring sprints- 75m– Start from 10mph– 39:16, 39:17 only and wind it out- 135rpm+
6 x big ring sprints–250m-Start from 18mph- 53:16, 53;15, 53:14- Wind it out.
Now, ride at your Sweet Spot (88-93% of FTP) to the 10-12-15 minute hill for the serious work…
Kill it up, and riding on the edge of your limit (100-105% of FTP) up the hill – DO 5 repeats.
REST for 10 minutes between.
Ride at your endurance pace (56-75% of FTP) for 30 minutes and stop at a store for your favorite caffeinated energy go juice and some light food (preferably with a little protein in it).
Now, the work begins…..ride at your sweet-spot for the next 45 minutes, pacing yourself just over threshold on the climbs and digging a deeper and deeper hole in which to push yourself into at the end of the ride.
Recovery shake and mass quantities of food after the ride is necessary. Stretching is super important too.
While the Tour of Flanders isn’t a race that most of us will ever get to do, the lessons from this Uber Classic can be applied to our own backyard classics such as the Tour of the Battenkill. This classic road race has everything that makes a classic, a “Classic” including the “classic experience”: same punishing gravel roads, tough weather conditions, leg burning steep hills all combined with tough, nasty, hard as nails riders. The ‘classic experience’ is so desired that the pre-registration sold out within a few hours and it has become one of the largest one day races in the USA, including eight separate fields of Category 4 racers! Let’s examine two key features of this classic so that you can prepare for any race this spring. In contrast to the Tour of Flanders in Europe, shorter classics in the US are built for us working stiffs and typically start with a quick pace and then speed up! In our masters winning file, we see that the first 5 minutes or so are done at warm-up pace, but then the pace goes through the roof and culminates with a hard two minute hill done at maximum power. The wattage in the first 30 minutes is stochastic or highly variable and contributes to the intensity of the event, as our masters’ rider averaging 327 watts normalized, while his average power is only 244, indicating that there is plenty of time resting and not pedaling followed by hard bursts (attacks) of high power. The variable nature of the race is something that you will have to prepare for and the ability to change speeds is paramount in spring classics. Changing your pedaling speed isn’t the only thing that is necessary to do, but it’s also key to be able to ride near your threshold power and then do multiple hard bursts of watts in your anaerobic capacity zone (121-150%) all the while recovering to your threshold. So, in reality there are two things you need to train for: 1) rapid and seemingly random cadence changes and 2) pushing your cardiovascular system to its threshold and then demanding short bursts of power with high force on the pedals.
The ‘make or break’ point comes in every race and knowing where it occurs is knowledge that can be hard won and that point on the course can be the same place every year. In the amateur Battenkill races, that point is near the finish as all of the pretenders have been eliminated and the winners begin to emerge from the front group. In the final 20 minutes there is a tough climb that has a bit of stair step nature to it, but is generally uphill for six and half minutes and this is the location of the final battle. The hammer goes down here with our masters’ rider attacking at the bottom with a vicious 420 watt+ effort for a minute and then riding at 108% of his threshold for next five and half minutes to escape the front runners and then solo to the line. This “race winning” effort is something that I have seen over and over in hundreds of race winning files and you should incorporate it into your training program this month and throughout your training. Here it is and plan on doing at least 5-8 of them in each session:
Each interval begins with a 30 second sprint(15second out of the saddle) with and you must average 200% of your Threshold wattage in these first 30seconds with a peak of at least 300% (If you are using a cyclo-computer, try to reach at least 28-30mph and hold for 30seconds). Then ride for 3minutes and really hammer at 100-110% of your Threshold wattage(or the best speed you think you could maintain for an hour), and then finish with an out-of- the-saddle 10 second burst after the three minutes is over and try to reach 200% of your threshold wattage again, or 28-30mph. Rest for 5-6minutes between each.
The classics are unique here and abroad and using our power meters and data collection devices, we can better understand just how freaking hard they are and whether or not we even want to train for these evil mothers. Once the commitment is made though, you have some serious training to do and the great thing about that is that you get to ride your bike more! So get out there and go for a training ride!
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!
Can’t match your outdoor output? It could be one – or – all of these things…
There are a number of reasons why you can’t produce as much power indoors on a turbo as you can on the open road, and the biggest one is purely a matter of mechanics – a turbo applies resistance through the entire pedalling circle, whereas there’s no significant resistance at the bottom and back of the pedal stroke on a road bike. This is 90% of the reason your watts are lower indoors.
Think about how you ride as well. On the turbo you’re essentially ‘locked’ into a single position, and we create effective watts by using our upper body as we ‘wobble’ the bike outdoors. Indoors, it’s very difficult to use all of your collateral muscles.
Heat is another big factor. Indoors you will get hot, whereas outdoors you will at the very least have more of a breeze and fewer walls hemming you in. The cooler your body, the higher the wattage you can maintain.
Then there’s the mental aspect – going nowhere fast. I’d say this is huge. Most cyclists I know love to ride because they love being outside, going to a cool location and riding at maximum speed. There’s great satisfaction in being able to travel long distances under your own power.
One other thing to consider is where you are measuring your power output. It can be measured in multiple places on your bicycle, but the closer the measuring device is to where the power is being transferred from your foot to your bike, the more accurate the reading.
If you measure power in your rear wheel, you’ll lose 7-10 watts from inefficiencies in the drivechain system. So 250 watts at the pedal is probably 240 watts at the hub of your smart trainer.
Then there’s your bike. If you can mimic your exact fit from your bike to your indoor trainer, you should be able to produce the same watts, right? But there’s also this thing called gravity, and virtually everyone will produce more power outside while climbing (seated or standing) than on the trainer.
Gravity is a powerful form of resistance and the ability to stand and climb or stay seated and use your entire body to help push down on the pedals is significant compared to just riding in the saddle on a trainer. One British racer I coached could only hold 300 watts at his FTP on the flats, but put him on a climb and his FTP was 360 watts.
The turbo trainer does have its place. Of course we are tough endurance athletes so you’d better be able to overcome any negative self-talk or you might find needlework is a nice hobby… but it does take practice and it takes purpose. What is your goal and why do you want it more than anything else?
I ride indoors because I’m doing specific intervals that I just can’t do outside, racing in Zwift or coaching a client over TrainerRoad. All of those are motivating factors for doing my best.
So there are benefits. Working out indoors has always been a very effective way to train. You have fewer distractions, no traffic, no stop signs. You can do perfect intervals every time and address the correct energy system with no guesswork.
It can help you produce more power, full stop – whether it’s higher or lower indoors or outdoors doesn’t really matter as long as your power output is going up.
The expert: Former pro cyclist Hunter Allen is founder of the Power Training Principles used by thousands of cyclists. He owns The Peaks Coaching Group and is co-founder of the TrainingPeaks software. He is also co-author of Triathlon Training With Power and Training And Racing With A Power Meter. More info at peakscoachinggroup.com
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!
Using your power meter in cyclocross is not only effective, but arguably one of your best weapons in pushing yourself to the next level. Cyclocross brings its own set of demands in that you must be able to create quick bursts of effort over small obstacles, leap off the bicycle and run while carrying it for sections as long as 30 seconds – all the while maintaining a your race pace. Cyclocross might not seem like the best place to utilize a power meter, since there is hardly time to get a sip of water from your bottle, much less look at those tiny numbers on the handlebar, but there are quite a few ways you can use a powermeter to improve in cross. What if you knew the best tire pressure to run for optimal power output , traction and puncture resistance? What if you knew the correct gearing to use in that upcoming race when you have to cross the tilled farmers field? How important is your warm-up and how much does that impact your race? The answers and more can be found with simple power analysis of your training and racing files and that’s the true “power” of a power meter for cross. You are going to use it more as a post-ride/race tool and not so much focus your hard-core cross race rehearsal or race itself and from that perspective you can use that information to tailor your training so you’ll be ready for the next race.
While the data from a cross race is invaluable, I won’t try and fool you, there are barriers to utilizing a power meter and it’s data as well. First off, you need to understand what all those squiggly lines mean in the download and how they relate to the terrain, your effort and even your line on the course. Coaches like myself have been using power meter data now for over 10 years to help their athlete improve in a variety of cycling disciplines and while consulting a coach can definitely shorten your learning curve, it’s not required. For those of you that are more artsy, fartsy(as my mom used to say), and less analytically inclined, all this data might be a bit much and conversely… for all you engineers out there, you might become too obsessed with the numbers! On the whole, once past the learning curve, I know you’ll really enjoy training with a power meter and the new dimension it brings to your passion in cycling.
Power meter files from ’cross races typically average about 20 to 40 watts below an athlete’s actual FTP, since there’s so much “down time” when the athlete is either coasting down a technical hill, off the bike and running or just experiencing a lack of traction. The difficulty of putting the power to the ground skews the power numbers down, and one has to take this into consideration when reviewing cyclocross power files. Because of these running and technical coasting sections, it’s hard to determine the exact muscular demands of cyclocross. When viewed in a Quadrant Analysis plot, which breaks down a ride based on time spent with different force outputs and cadences, a ’cross race contains the largest amount of amount of the effort in Quadrant II, which represents slow pedaling and higher force, but Quadrant III (slow pedaling, low force) and Quadrant IV (fast pedaling and low force) are also heavily represented.
When you examine your power file from a ’cross race, one of the first things you might notice is that it looks a lot like some of those criteriums many of you did earlier in the year: loads of stochastic power spikes, easily discernible laps and big “race winning” type efforts are all commonalities to criteriums. A cyclocross power file will define the power bursts needed in the race, reveal the amount of rest in each lap and show the overall training stress accumulated in the race. One thing that’s important to identify in a cyclocross power file is the number of efforts you have above your FTP and how long each of these efforts is. In other words, how many matches you needed to burn. A cyclocross “match” is a little different than a match in a road race or a criterium because most likely you will already be at your FTP and then have to do hard efforts above it, depending on the terrain and your competition. In this case, the matches are really just bursts of flames coming up from the already raging fire! However, identifying these flames and their intensity will allow you to train more specifically for the effort.
After reviewing hundreds of cyclocross race and training power files, I have determined that a specific training workout good for ’cross is one that I call the “30-30-30” workout; it’s made up of 30 seconds at 150% of FTP, 30 seconds coasting (0% of FTP) and 30 seconds of running. The “30-30-30” workout is done continuously for 10 minutes and then a rest is taken for five minutes before doing two to four more sets total.
The “30-30-30” Cyclocross workout
15 minute warm-up, level 2.
(1) – 5 minute hard effort at 110% of FTP
5 minutes easy- Level 2.
2 x 10 minutes — 30- 30 -30. Which is 30 seconds RIDING hard as you can, 30 seconds not pedaling and coasting, 30 seconds dismount and running fast…. REPEAT.
10 minutes Level 2 after each 30-30-30 block of efforts.
4 x 2 minutes- at 150% of FTP. Anaerobic Capacity work.
REST 2 minutes after each.
10 minutes Level 2
Finish with 10 x 1minute FAST PEDALING at 110rpm+. 1 minute on, 1 minute off at 80rpm
15 minutes cool-down
One of the most important reasons to use a power meter is to training for the demands of the event, and this reason is highly applicable in the case of cyclocross. Addressing the specific needs for a strong anaerobic capacity along with highly-tuned technical skills (dismount the bike, run with the bike and remount) creates a perfect blend of a workout in the “30-30-30,” which you’ll find below. Along with this anaerobic capacity workout, cyclocross demands a strong FTP, so the traditional Level 4 threshold workouts done at 4 x 10, 3 x15, and 2 x 20 minutes at FTP are important for the successful ’cross racer. As Sam Krieg, a coach for the Peaks Coaching Group and Elite ’cross racer said, “The ability to train with power on your ’cross bike and develop specific ’cross workouts has allowed me to not only coach ’cross riders more specifically, but also improve my own fitness. My favorite workout is the ’30-30-30′ that Hunter developed because of the structure it provides – the nearly identical similarities to my ’cross races – and it forces me to go hard for the entire 10-minute set.”
Kris Walker, the 2009 national champion in the Masters (45-49) Time Trial and 2008 Masters Cyclocross events adds, “As a classic steady state rider, my forte is my ability to hold a constant power for the entire event, and cyclocross is very challenging to me because I have to train my weakness , anaerobic capacity. After reviewing my power files with Hunter, we were able to determine just exactly how much anaerobic work I was going to need in order to be on the top step of the Cyclocross National Championship podium.”
Cyclocross is another discipline within cycling where using a power meter in order to train more quantitatively and also more specifically to the demands of the sport allows racers to improve their performances. A key component of this improvement hinges on the ability of the athlete to mimic the demands of upcoming ’cross races and develop training routines for them. As the popularity of cyclocross continues to gain momentum, more and more racers will be using a power meter to collect data, analyze the demands of the events and then train for them.
This is an article that Hunter wrote for Cyclist Magazine based in the United Kingdom. The author of the column Michael Donlevy also asked Hunter what he likes to call “quickes”, which are just some quick random questions.
Is there a best time of day to train? I’m a morning person, but I have many clients who ride better in the afternoon. Best time of the day to train: when it’s best for you.
What’s the first thing I should do after getting off the bike following a training session? Stretch! Stretch those quads, hamstrings, calves and shoulders, and open up the chest with some back bends or ‘up-dogs’.
Does a lot of sweat signal I’m unfit? Not at all. It just means you have an efficient cooling system. Congrats!
Longer or harder? This is the million-dollar question and the answer, of course, is both. First off, you have to define the demands of your event. Is it five hours plus? Is it a short one-hour race? This is where you start to determine which is more important. Riding harder with more intensity close to or at and above your FTP will make you faster, period. FTP – functional threshold power, the maximum average power you can maintain for around one hour – is the most important physiological determinant of performance, so if you improve your FTP by 30 watts doing intervals, you’ll be faster.
When I coached the winning solo woman for the Race Across America, Janice Sheufelt, she did FTP intervals. I wanted her FTP as high as possible so she would be fitter, but she also did some huge 40-hour rides to make sure she had the endurance. So my answer is always to do your intensity first, increase your FTP, then work on the longer rides as you get closer to your event.
Endurance rides help to increase your aerobic ability, which helps to bolster your FTP and also increases your stamina, which is the ability to maintain as close to your FTP power for as long as possible. ‘Endurance’ is the ability to complete a long ride. Most of us can do that. ‘Stamina’ is the ability to hold close to your FTP for a long time, like six hours. Many events require more stamina than endurance.
Everyone has a ‘bathtub’, or level of fitness. Some bathtubs are small with tall walls and a small drain, like a track sprinter’s. Others are wide with short walls and a big drain, like a randonneurs. What most of us want is a large bathtub with tall walls and a big drain. The height of the walls represent your FTP, the size of your drain represents your aerobic efficiency and the taps are the watts of resistance. The water represents the lactate and other byproducts of hard work, and the total volume of the bathtub is your overall fitness. To increase the height of your walls (FTP), you fill the bathtub up to the edge and hold the water there, just before it spills. To increase your aerobic efficiency, you fill the tub three-quarters of the way up and keep it there – water in equals water draining out – by ‘firehosing’ the bathtub for 30 seconds and then turning off the firehose just before the water spills over. This increases the size of your drain and the height of the walls. This is basically what intervals do.
In terms of a plan, do at least two days of work on your FTP each week and one long ride per week. Twice a month, your long ride should be at least 15% longer than your longest ride from the previous month until you reach 20% more than your target race/event time.
You can focus on one or the other, but ‘training stagnation’ is the enemy of improvement, and this is where intervals are so important. If you work on increasing your endurance for six months but all of your long rides are five hours, you’ll be adapted to that five hours and you’ll no longer see improvements. If you do 6×10 minutes at FTP four times a week, your FTP will increase to a certain ceiling and no higher. By combining a long ride with hard intervals you’ll break out of that stagnation and challenge the body to adapt to the new higher level of training stress. Continual improvement means continually increasing your total volume and intensity. And rest helps too.
Training only one energy system will give you one-dimensional ability. Almost all cycling requires being good in all the physiological energy systems, so you need a good blend.
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. This has been the 25th year that he has conducted training camps in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
With the advent of power meters, one of the age old questions asked by many can finally be answered. How much training should I do before I rest? When should I take my rest week? As coaches and athletes, we have never really been able to determine the best time for an athlete’s rest week other than going by the standard 3:1 work/rest ratio(which is very good btw) or listening to your body (also a good thing). However, these can be somewhat arbitrary and subjective. Some riders can go longer than 3 weeks before needing a break, and others need a rest after only a week of focused training, while others might be able to go for 6 weeks before needing a true rest week. Discovering your ideal work/rest formula is just as exciting as discovering your threshold improvement formula. This is one of the many changes that have occurred in training for cycling since the introduction of power meters and cutting edge software. Now, that we can quantify training load and the corresponding response to that training load, finding your ideal work/rest formula is only a matter of time and data analysis.
What is your work/rest formula?
Let’s examine an athlete that I have coached for five years in order to better illustrate the principles behind this concept. The rider is Gilbert Ducournau, a young rider, 22 years old and a Category 1 that was striving to turn professional at the end of 2015. He has been racing seriously since he was 17 years old, and each year has progressed up the ladder in both categories and FTP. As he has progressed and matured as an athlete, his ability to recover has also improved and over the years we have had to update his work/rest formula. In year 1(figure 1) of his training, he was barely able to train hard for two weeks before he needed a rest week. Gilbert was new to endurance sports and really struggled with the initial training and frequently needed breaks in order to recover in the first four months of training. After the fourth month, he was able to handle nearly 6 weeks without a rest week. However at the end of the 6th week, he did get sick and had to rest for two weeks. Therefore in retrospect, he still wasn’t ready for that long of a block of training.
Know your goals
As we jump forward to year 4 of his training, where Gilbert achieved a Category 2 ranking, and he was able to sustain a very hard two weeks of training, followed by 3-4 days of rest and then train hard again in the early season. As Spring approaches, he was able to consistently increase his training load for 8 weeks with short micro rests, so that his TSB(Training Stress Balance) never dipped too low, hovering around -24 and -12. In the middle of this phase, he went to a training camp which significantly upped his training load and now his TSB dropped to -50 and this created the needed rest week. During the summer, he was able to consistently train hard for two weeks with one week of rest. This was an interesting year and one that will be important for you to understand and look for the pattern in your own workouts.
The pattern here was:
1) He was able to train very hard for two weeks, but then needed a rest week.
2) He could train relatively hard, and then only take 2 to 3 days easy and continue on this schedule for 8 weeks.
This brings about the questions, which was better for him? Which is better for you? Will a 2 week very intense block of training be better than 8 weeks of steady hard work? The answer to this question depends on the goals of the athlete. If you are in the beginning of the season and need to improve your FTP quickly with some hard focused weeks of training then that will be a good choice. Another scenario to use the 2:1 formula, is if you are in the middle of racing season and/or need to get a quick bump of fitness, then do the 2 week intense block. If you are building to a peak of fitness and your “A” goal, then stick with the longer, and steadier progression. The take home here with Gilbert is that I was now seeing a nice pattern of improvement based on two different work/rest formulas. This could now be used in future seasons.
In Year 5, we finally saw his true sustainable training ability come to fruition. His season was up and down, as he had a great spring, but unfortunately crashed and fractured his hand in 3 places which required surgery, and then a month later, a second surgery. These two events dramatically slowed down the middle of his season, however, if we looked at his season as two separate parts, we saw a very different rider in this 5th year of hard training. The first half of the season, he was incrementally building his CTL up to the middle of February and then pushed very hard for 4 weeks driving his CTL to a career high of 96. This was a new pattern, but made sense in that his previous year he was able to train hard for 2 weeks and not quite as hard for 8 weeks, so was now splitting the difference with a hard 4 weeks of training. At the end of that 4th week, he didn’t need a big rest period(more than a week) like previous years, but a solid 7 days of easy riding brought his TSB positive and then he now maintained between 90-98 CTL for the entire month of April and kept his TSB just barely positive for good results on the weekends. While, I had predicted that he could hold a solid 4 weeks of training, it wasn’t obvious that he could do this from his data, so I had to rely on his previous year 4 data to see that the expected outcome would be 4 weeks splitting between 2 and 8 weeks.
The “holy grail” of training
The middle of the year was a bust with recovery from his broken hand. But, the fall and winter have been very good for Gilbert as he has been training for the Vuelta a Tachira in middle of January . Looking at Figure 4 below, he has been able to maintain an incredibly steady and incremental ramp rate of 5-8 TSS/week as an increase in CTL that peaks at 137CTL at the end of 2014. This has been his longest, continuous block of training and his highest CTL ever. This long ramp of training load increase has been sustainable because of two things: 1) Ability to handle this type of training. 2) Short rests within the build period that allow for some recovery. These short rests are critical to keep fatigue at a level which still allows for hard training and focused efforts.
Hard training does not always require absolute freshness and the mark of a successful cyclist is one that can train hard while tired and still gain a tremendous training response from it. If you have made it this far in the article, note that you have now gotten to the magic of using a power meter. Pay attention closely! By using a power meter, and watching your Performance Manager Chart to modulate the exact amount of fatigue(negative Training Stress Balance) and freshness (positive Training Stress Balance), you can continue training while fatigued for a very long period of time. Let’s examine Gilbert’s PMC with a higher level of detail (Figure 4), so you can easily understand this concept and how to use it in your own training. The most important detail in this Figure 4 is that the blue CTL line continues its steady march upward with short bumps of hard training followed by short rests. This allows Gilbert to continue to train hard and rest just enough in order to train hard again. He continues to increase his CTL to the peak of 137, without a single day of positive TSB in the entire 12 weeks of training! Practically speaking, what does this mean from day to day, week to week training? I planned his training so that he would do 3-4 days of hard training, followed by 2-3 days of easy riding.
This can also be viewed as “block” training, where the athlete trains in a “block” of days, and then rests until he is ready to resume training. In this case, I did not allow him to have full recovery and forced him to return to training with some fatigue in his legs. The combination of work/rest changed radically from the two weeks on and one week off, or just steady hard training. Now, he has been able to achieve the holy grail of training, the ability to train very hard to near exhaustion in 3-4 days and then recover quickly in 2-3 days, ready for another block. These micro-rests are critical in the equation as it’s that small recovery that allow the TSB to move toward a positive number (not become a positive number though!). It is critical in your own training that you watch your Performance Manager Chart closely so that you don’t become too fresh. I would recommend allowing your TSB to get to -10, but not any closer to 0, in order to maintain the constant ramp rate.
Training has always contained a bit of “Art” along with the science of exercise physiology, however there are 3 strategies that you can use in your own training. First, try the strategy of two weeks hard and one week easy (also try the 3:1 ratio as well), especially if you are relatively new to the sport. Secondly, try to extend the length of your harder weeks, so that you can do up to 4 weeks without a full rest week. This period will contain the micro-rests, and the first time you embark on this journey, I recommend you reduce your overall intensity just a little and by that I mean reducing the number of intense days, not reducing the percentages in your training zones. This will be the toughest transition for you, but if you can do it and keep your CTL ramp rate between 5-8 TSS/week, then you will be on the right track. At the end of the four week block, take a mandatory rest week no matter if you feel tired or not. This will guarantee that you don’t over-reach too much. The third strategy is to employ the full blown “block” training method for a period of 8-12 weeks. After you have been successful in strategy number 2, and you have enough time leading up to your priority “A” event, then employ this strategy.
Remember, on your hard training days, you have to ride hard or long, it can’t be a medium intensity workout, and you have to do this for a minimum of 3 days in a row, followed by days off and easy days. Your rest days are a minimum of 2 days where you ride easy or completely rest. Do not take more than 4 rest days though, as that will raise your TSB too much. Constantly watch your Performance Manager Chart to see your TSB numbers making sure that you continue to stay in negative territory (from -10 to -70). What you have successfully accomplished now is determining exactly when you need to rest! This is obviously a more advanced concept, but anyone with a power meter and TrainingPeaks WKO software can easily understand the data behind all the training.
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former Professional Cyclist. He is the co-author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of TrainingPeaks Software, and is the CEO and Founder of the Peaks Coaching Group. This has been the 24th year that he has conducted training camps in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
The FTP test has been written about by hundreds of coaches, journalists, and others since Dr. Coggan and I created the FTP testing protocol back in 2003. It has been a constant source of amusement and bewilderment over the years to see it misinterpreted, misconstrued and wrong in many articles. Other articles have gotten the concept correctly, which is a relief. If you have questions on how to properly execute the FTP test, then grab a copy of our book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” where we detail the exact protocol.
But, this article isn’t about FTP. It’s about the 1 minute test, which is also often done wrong, done incorrectly or not done at all. The 1 minute test is a test of your anaerobic capacity (AC) , or your ability to do hard, hard work without using oxygen. These are very short efforts by nature and range from 30 seconds out to 2minutes.
Riders with a strong AC can attack very hard up a short hill, or attack with 1km to go in a race, or are good at doing hard, short efforts and recovering quickly. Riders that do not have this ability are generally better at aerobic efforts like steady-state riding for a long time, like doing a time trial, triathlon and climbing. There are riders that have both a strong AC and aerobic ability and these riders are a threat to win nearly any race. These are the riders winning the very hard one day classic races and also the grand tours. It is rare when you see a pure steady state rider win a stage in the Tour unless it’s a mountain top finish and the rider can just grind the legs off the other riders slowly and painfully.
What about you? Where is your AC as it relates to the rest of your energy systems? Is it one of your strengths? Or is it one of your weaknesses that you could improve? Knowing how much power you can put out for 1 minute will help to you to determine which races or events might be best for you, understanding when you should attack and put your rivals in a bit of difficulty. Understanding your 1 minute power can also help you to determine your freshness or fatigue. Your AC is highly dependent on your current level of fatigue. If you are really fresh, then your AC will be very high and your average watts for that 1 minute will also be high. Conversely, if you are fatigued at the end of a hard 3 week block of training, your AC will be low and your 1 minute power will be low. Knowing this, it is obvious when you should test your AC to achieve the highest power output…..at the end of a rest week, when you are very rested. If you took your rest even further (haha!) and sat on the couch for a month not riding at all, then went out and did a 1 minute test, it most likely would be your highest 1 minute ever. It would hurt bad and you might puke, but it would be the highest average watts for a minute.
How to properly test your one minute.
Since freshness is critical for your best 1 minute test then, you test it the first thing in your ride. It’s not necessary to warm-up very much and certainly don’t do any intervals before your 1 minute. If possible, you should do your test on a tough hill, with about a 5-9% gradient. If it’s too steep, you’ll have a hard time turning the pedals over in the last 15 seconds, so the ideal hill actually flattens out a little bit right at the top. I really like to find a hill where you do crest the top of it just after you finish the 1 minute, so it’s easier to recover after. If you do not have a hill to attack, then do the test going into the wind, so you have more resistance to push against. Before you go out to test, you will also need to adjust your “fields” in your computer head unit so that you can see: Lap Time, 3 second Power, and cadence. You will touch the “lap” button on your computer when you begin the test and then again when you stop, so that you can learn your average right at the finish of the test and also easily find it in the downloaded data. AND, it’s super important that you can see your lap time, because at 37 seconds, you will swear that you had to have ridden for a minute already. If you can’t see that timer, you will stop early and then will have to wait till the next rest week before doing it again.
Here is the exact testing protocol that you should use to crack out your best 1 minute.
Warm-up: 20 minutes of easy riding at endurance pace so that you end up close the base of your testing hill or area. If it takes 1 hour of riding to get to your testing hill or area, I would encourage you to drive and park, so that you have only about 20-30minutes of riding to do before the test. Just an hour of riding could impact your wattage average. This should be no more than 70% of your threshold power (FTP) . Keep cadence between 85-95 and the pressure on the pedals light. Now, do (3) x 1 minute fast pedaling drills, where you keep the wattage at 70% of FTP or lower, and just increase your cadence to 110-120rpm for a minute and then ride at 80 rpm for a minute. It is VERY IMPORTANT your watts stay below 70% of FTP. This is about spinning the legs, and keeping the watts low. Do NOT blow your 1 minute test by putting out too much power here.
Main Set: Now, you are ready for the 1 minute test. But, guess what??? The test is actually going to be 1 minute and 5 seconds! Yes, you will need to test for 1 minute 5 seconds, so that you capture your very best 1 minute. When you start, you aren’t able to touch the “lap” button on your computer head unit and accelerate out of the saddle at the same time, so by doing the test for 1 minute 5 seconds, you’ll be able capture the very best 1 minute of wattage output.
When you start, most likely you will be in your big chain ring (I recommend it). Jump out of the saddle hard and sprint for 15 seconds, then back in the saddle and hammer for another 15-20seconds giving it your best. It is VERY critical that you go ALL-OUT for the first 30-40 seconds of the test and then just die a thousand deaths in the last 20 seconds. The last 20 seconds should feel like it is taking 5 minutes and you are pedaling in squares and barely moving. I promise, you won’t be going that slow and your watts will still be pretty high. To produce the highest average wattage for 1 minute though, you need to absolutely KILL IT in the first 30-40 seconds. There is no holding back. There is no thinking that you’ll go harder in the last 10 seconds. You are going to be blown no matter what and the majority of your anaerobic capacity system is used in the first 30 seconds, so it’s better to completely exhaust that AC system with a max effort right in the beginning.
After your 1 minute, continue for the rest of your workout. This is probably a good day to also do the other durations in the “Power Profiling tests”: 5 second sprint, 5minute Vo2 Max and 20 minute FTP test. To learn the exact protocol for these, grab a copy of my and Dr. Coggan’s book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”. Today is a great day to do some testing and training and as Dr. Coggan says, “Training is testing and testing is training”. Or, you might want to do a long ride with sweet spot work, or even just some great FTP intervals in the next hour of the ride. The main thing is that you got in the correct testing of your Anaerobic Capacity and now you will know how this relates to the rest of your physiology.
Let’s examine two different tests where the first athlete did not test correctly and then the second one did. (In both figures, the yellow line is the power output). Our first athlete does the one minute test, but does NOT go hard enough in the first 30 seconds. You can tell this because the last 30 seconds of the effort is a “flat” line. This means that this rider had enough energy left to produce the same power for the last 30seconds, whereas their power should be degrading throughout the last 30 seconds. See figure 1 below.
For the second rider, this rider does the test properly, with a hard sprint out of the saddle. Notice how this rider’s power peaks and then begins falling off immediately. It continually drops off to nearly the end of the test when he musters up just a little bit more energy for a small increase in the final seconds. This is how to properly execute your 1 minute test. See figure 2 below.
In figure 3 below, we see another good example of a 1 minute test. This rider also starts very hard, not quite as hard as the rider in figure 2, but still a hard effort. This riders power continues to degrade for the entire effort and he leave nothing on the table, so to speak. Incredible effort here as well.
The 1 minute test is not an easy test and it hurts, but the great thing is that it’s over quickly! How you do the test is critical to creating your best average watts for that minute. It’s important that you do the test at the end of a rest week and on a steep enough hill. Be careful about using any energy on the ride to the hill and then just slam the test right from the start. You’ll die a thousand deaths, but at least you put out your best watts ! Be sure to test your 1 minute every 8 weeks, just like you do your FTP, as it can give you a great indicator of improvement in your Anaerobic Capacity and also tell you if you are too fatigued. After a rest week, you should have a good test, and if you don’t then it probably means you need a couple more days of rest. I hope this helps you to learn even more about your unique abilities and the areas you should and should not train.
So you’re ready for your first FTP test? Like every other field of expertise, power cycling has collected a string of acronyms—TSS, CTL, ATL, SST, IF, and of course FTP. Improving your FTP (functional threshold power) is one of the most important things you can do for your training–whether you’re Zwifting, gravel grinding, road racing, shredding MTB trails or touring the countryside.
So what exactly is FTP?
Do you want the short answer or the long answer?
In simplest terms, your functional threshold power, or FTP, is the maximum power you can maintain through an hour’s effort without fatiguing.
But it’s actually much more complicated.
The word “threshold” has become synonymous with the word “confusion” for many athletes. To make it worse, there are several other terms for the same thing: anaerobic threshold (AT), lactate threshold (LT), maximal lactate steady state (MLSS), and onset of blood lactate (OBLA). I’ll use the term lactate threshold (LT) for my explanation.
Exercise physiologists have known for more than thirty years now that your LT (the level of exercise intensity at which lactate begins to accumulate in your blood) is a powerful predictor of your endurance performance ability. This is because, although your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) sets the upper limit to your aerobic energy production rate, it’s your LT that determines the amount of this VO2max that you can utilize for any length of time.
There are complex body factors that determine LT, but essentially your LT tells you how well your muscles are able to match their energy supply to your energy demand, which in turn determines the fuel “mix” (i.e., carbohydrates versus fat) your muscles use and how they fatigue. Consequently, functional LT (especially when expressed as power output) is the single most important physiological determinant of performance in events ranging from a 3km pursuit to a three-week stage race.
Your LT (or FTP) provides a solid basis for any power meter-based training program, because your level of effort when exercising at a given intensity depends upon your power output relative to your power at FTP. When your power output exceeds your FTP, you’ll fatigue quickly. When your power output is just below FTP, you’ll be able to maintain it much longer.
So how do you figure out your FTP? One way is to get laboratory testing done with blood samples. FTP determined this way, however, is often significantly below what athletes and coaches think of as a threshold.
A much more convenient, simple, and possibly more accurate method of determining your FTP is to use data collected by your own power meter as you ride. There are a number of different ways to do this, all of which provide very similar estimates of FTP. I think the best way to do it is to jump on your bike and go for a ride specifically designed to find your threshold, and I’ve got a good one for you below. This is without a doubt the first big step in the adventure of training with power.
The Hunter Allen 20-minute FTP Test
Your goal in this test is to average the highest watts possible for a lengthy period of time. (Hint: When you get to the main effort, make sure to pace yourself so that you don’t tire too quickly.)
1. Start out with a 20-minute warm-up, which means just riding along at a moderate pace, at about 65% of your max heart rate (HR), which is what we call your endurance pace. (Be sure to do the same warm-up at the same intensity each time you do the test.)
2. Next do three fast-pedaling efforts at 100 rpm for one minute each, with one minute of easy recovery pedaling between each set, to further prepare your muscles for the effort ahead. After these three sets of fast pedaling, ride easy for five minutes at endurance pace (65% of max HR).
Now the real test begins.
3. Ride 5 minutes all out. Punch it and hold it! Start at a high pace, but not so high that you die at the end. You should have a little energy held in reserve to kick it toward the finish line in the last minute.
The goal of this first part of the effort is twofold: first, to open up the legs for the rest of the test, and second, to measure your ability to produce watts in the VO2max power zone. This initial 5-minute effort also helps to dispense the “freshness” that always exists at the beginning of a ride; your next effort will produce power that is more likely to be truly representative of your FTP.
4. Ride 10 minutes easy at endurance pace.
5. 20-minute time trial. Try to do this on a road that’s fairly flat and allows you to put out a strong, steady effort for the entire 20 minutes. Don’t start out too hard! Get up to speed and then try to hold that speed as steadily you can. If you’ve never done one of these efforts before, I suggest trying it on a steady climb or into a slight headwind, which forces you to put out a maximum effort for the entire 20 minutes.
6. Ride 10-15 minutes at endurance pace, pedaling easy.
7. Finish the ride with 10-15 minutes easy pedaling.
Your goal in the main portion of the test (the 20-minute segment) is to produce the highest average watts possible over the entire time. The test doesn’t work if you start out too hard and suddenly run out of energy, because you won’t be able to produce your true maximal, steady-state power. It’s always better to start out in the first two minutes a little under what you believe to be your FTP, build up along the way, and then ride at your maximum level in the last three minutes.
Now that you’ve done the test and downloaded your data, find your average power from the entire 20-minute effort. Take this number and subtract 5% percent from it. The result is your functional threshold wattage value. For example, if you averaged 300 watts during the 20-minute time trial, 5% of 300 (300 x 0.05) is 15, and 300 minus 15 is 285. Your FTP is 285 watts.
The reason for subtracting 5% from your average watts during the 20-minute test is that your true FTP is the highest average power you can maintain for sixty minutes. Most athletes have a hard time putting out maximal effort for sixty minutes, however, and those who can learn very quickly that a sixty-minute time trial is not much fun. I’ve found that twenty minutes is a more realistic time frame. It’s obviously a shorter time period, however, and it incorporates more of the athlete’s anaerobic capacity, which skews the wattage data by about 5% over a sixty-minute effort. By subtracting that 5%, you end up with a wattage number that should be very close to your true FTP.
Ready? Go! What’s your FTP?
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter, 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.