Tuesday, February 2, 2016

High Performance Cycling - Specific Intensity: Big Gear Training

by Gordo Byrn

Early in my triathlon career, I decided that I need to do some “fast training.” So I warmed up, found a safe stretch of road and did 8x1 mile MAX on 1 mile easy spinning recoveries. My 8x1 “all out” session kicked off a block of high-intensity training that ruined months of smart training.

Remember that building, then protecting, your specific stamina is the most important aspect of your triathlon fitness. It is the foundation upon which your racing rests.

When I build the specific prep phase of an athlete’s training, I am usually seeking to improve one of three aspects:

  1. Increase the athlete’s power reserve so they have the ability to lift power over rollers, short climbs and in strategic situations
  2. Improve the athlete’s ability to lift effort on long, aerobic climbs
  3. Improve the athlete’s straight ahead Threshold power

Alan Couzens’ Horses For Courses series will give you an idea about the type of race that best fits your attributes. Similar to matching your athletic skills to the course, your best race will result from matching the specific intensity within your training program to the requirements of the course.

To build that capacity to lift effort, and not screw up the run leg of the race, I favor two categories of specific intensity: Big Gear Training and Progressive Threshold Training. Today, I’ll cover Big Gear and tomorrow I’ll cover Progressive Threshold.

Big Gear Training
This is low-cadence, high-torque riding. Early season, I will use all terrains (flat, rolling, climbing) and all riding positions (sit, stand, TT).

As I move closer to my goal race, the terrain and position shifts towards the specific demands of the course. Even very close to my goal race, I always keep a little bit of each type of terrain and position in my training week.

Examples of sets that I use in each type of terrain follow. Each of these sets is done with low cadences of 45-75 rpm (based on your strength and what your knees can tolerate):

  • Flats - One or more sets of 5x8 min Mod-Hard (70.3 race watts), 2-minute spin recovery after each interval. Place this set early and late within long flat rides or use as a stand-alone midweek main set.

  • Rollers - Leave yourself over-geared and ride in the rollers. Maintain a Steady average but let power rise, over rollers with the terrain dictating your effort. Keep your HR moderate and never enter your Threshold HR zone.

  • Climbs - Include 30-90 minute big gear efforts when climbing. Your HR stays moderate and never enters Threshold HR zone. An example of how I track these sets is total vertical gain in my big chain ring. This type of training is an excellent way to start the transition of “gym strength” to the road. I do a ton of it early season.

It is very tempting to increase intensity (via increasing HR) as fitness rises. However, the beauty of big gear training is the large amount of work that can be tolerated in your program. So it is best to progress in terms of total minutes of work.

View your big gear training as intensive stamina work at a moderate HR and seek to collect total minutes.

Follow your big gear work with Steady main sets where you hold your cadence at 88-92 rpms for 20 to 60 minutes. Watch that you keep your overall program balanced in terms of cadences, terrain and riding position.

Most athletes, gravitate to a specific riding style. Keep as many tools in your athletic portfolio as possible.

Next, I’ll cover how to improve your ability to TT on the flats.


Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog at coachgordo.wordpress.com.

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