Tuesday, February 2, 2016

High Performance Cycling - Specific Intensity: Progressive Threshold Training

by Gordo Byrn


Part 1 -Specific Intensity: Big Gear Training
As an elite, I struggled with my ability to really crank on the flats. Some things I realized about myself:

I had a mental block that I needed to overcome -- a fear of blowing up. So I always rode with a psychological governor. It wasn’t until the end of my elite career that I overcame this limiter by completely exploding myself in an effort to win Ironman Canada!

Aggressive aero positions aren’t optimal for me -- to generate big power, I need my elbows quite close to my hips and a relatively open thigh:torso angle.

I had very little training volume at high-power work rates. Because I was training for long-course triathlon, most of my training load was focused on 70-85% of functional threshold power. I did a little bit of work around 90-95% and almost nothing over threshold. This made a lot of sense when training for a specific ironman event, but it left a hole in my overall athletic portfolio.

As a result of limited experience at high work rates, I lacked experience with how high-intensity feels on a bike. Combine this with my internal governor telling me that I was “going to die!!!” when I went fast, and I struggled to get my bike speed much above half ironman effort. As an aside, if you underperform with your short-course open water swimming then you share this limiter with me.

The position limiter was easy to fix: stop stretching myself out and closing my hip angle. The other limiters were addressed step by step.

  1. Gain experience with the desired work-rate by climbing for goal duration. Use your preferred riding position -- this usually isn’t your TT position.

  2. Still doing climbs of goal duration and power, start to incorporate periods of TT position. At this stage, you might need to insert recovery intervals so that you can maintain your goal output in the TT position.

  3. Back off the grade of the climb, switch to TT position intervals. At this stage, you might need to reduce the main set duration to shorter than goal duration. Maintain your goal output for the intervals.

  4. Perform flat intervals, TT position for up to two-thirds of the goal duration. Maintain your goal output for the intervals.

Workout examples for each step are below. Assume the athlete has a climbing FTP of 250 watts but averages about 215 watts for his flat TTing. Goal is a 10% improvement in 40K TT so about 235w.

  1. 60-minute climbs, any position at 235w. If you don’t have a 60-minute climb then you place yourself at a disadvantage. Intervals aren’t the same for intensive aerobic development.

  2. 5x12 minutes of climbing at 240w with middle 6 minutes of each interval done TT position; 3 minutes Easy To Steady effort (60-70% FTP) between each interval.

  3. Grade of 2-4%, TT position for 3x15 minutes at 240w. If you struggle to hold the power then increase the grade; 5 minutes Easy spin after each interval.

  4. TT position, flat course, 5x8 minutes at 240w with 2 minutes Easy spin after each interval.

Make each step workout the “key” bike workout for the week and repeat each workout three times before you progress. Please a benchmarking week after each step (Week 4, 8, 12 and 16).

Benchmark yourself with the following:

Week 4: Best effort 60 minute climb -- any position
Week 8: Best effort 40 minute climb -- TT position
Week 12: Best effort 20 minute flat TT
Week 16: 18.6 mile (30 km) flat TT

This type of training will improve your cycling performance over all distances.

Remember to make sure that your specific stamina is well-established before starting the threshold training and that you maintain it during a block of specific intensity.


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

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