The Top Cycling Workouts

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The Top Cycling Workouts


Warning: As with any exercise programme, please consult with your doctor to ensure that intensive exercise is safe for you.

While there are some exercises that are more successful than others, any riding will help. Some drivers will get your train packed. Some will help you recover. But there are some primary workouts with big improvements that require a lot of commitment and payoff. Spring is just around the corner, so here are the top 5 cycling exercises that will boost your pace, endurance and help you burn the winter pudge by spiking your metabolism.


Velmax Intervals

These are power-based intervals that I created based on VO2 max and threshold power increases analysis. You will need a power metre to do this correctly and have checked the threshold power level.

These are among the hardest cycles I’ve ever done if you’re doing less than a year of belt training or come out of a layoff, don’t do this as you’re probably going to throw up if you’re done properly.

The performance gains from these are quite fast, so for the first time you do these intervals is the prescribed intensity. Generally, any workout you do will either increase the number of intervals or wattage after the first workout.

Warmup 15-20 minutes

Velmax intervals

30 Seconds at 135 per cent FT power/30 seconds easy Repeat until wattage can not be maintained.

I would usually set a target as wattage fluctuates and if you can’t hold 10-20 watts below that level the workout is over.

For example, your Velmax goal for your first workout is 405 watts if your threshold is 300 watts. Going above is all right, but don’t drop below 400. The workout is over and cool down if you can’t keep it above 395 watts.

It is normal for you to get only 15-20 repeats the first time you do these. Hold the same goal for wattage until you get more than 30 repetitions. If you can increase your wattage by 10-15 watts for the next workout.

In just 3 weeks, athletes I work with have gone from an average of 400 watts at 18 intervals to 450 watts at 31 intervals. This translates into increased sustainability of higher power, more sustainable heartbeats and enhanced recovery potential from hard efforts.

The reason they work so well is that the 30-second period of work really drives the heart rate up, but the 30-second recovery isn’t enough to get your heart rate down a lot. Your heart rate and oxygen use will continue to rise with each interval until you hit your Vo2 max.

The recovery time is enough to clear your legs a bit so that you can do more work than you could if it were constant. This allows you to accumulate a lot of time at the maximum oxygen capacity of your cardiovascular system, resulting in rapid improvement. Although very successful, if you are not used to intensive training, I will not try these again.

Tabata intervals

Tabata intervals are named after the doctor who conducted research on the efficacy of short intervals of high intensity versus longer, moderate exercise. Tabata defines the protocol of the interval. Twenty seconds of work/10 seconds of rest 8-10 times. Work by Dr Tabata has shown that these cycles are the most important for optimising the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

The key is a maximum effort with shorter periods of recovery. Incomplete recovery leads to higher oxygen debt resulting in an increased oxygen processing capability. Such cycles made 5 days a week in a six-week study improved VO2 Max by 13 per cent, 14 per cent aerobic capacity and 28 per cent anaerobic capacity. With just 20 minutes of exercise per day, including warm-up and cool-down.

20 Hard seconds/10 easy spinning X 10 repeats= 5 hell minutes Then ride easily and do it again for 5 minutes.

Gage the level of effort based on your current level of fitness. If you’re new to cycling or just getting back into it, go for 80 per cent instead of everything. If you’ve been training regularly, give a 100 per cent effort to every 20-second interval. Try not to pace yourself, just attack every interval like the last one in the set.

You want to target 150% of your functional threshold power for the 20-second hard effort if you use a power metre. If you start doing just one set of intervals, but as your fitness increases, you will increase the number of sets.


4 X 4 intervals

Norwegian researchers Hoff & Helgerud found that frequent high-intensity exercise can lead to better increases in cardiac output than longer but less intense training. The 44 interval is the basis for the endurance training theory of Hoff & Helgerud.

This means 4 intervals of 4 minutes each, with low-intensity breaks of 3-4 minutes at 85-95 per cent of HR max (for top endurance athletes between 90-95 per cent of HR max).

Such training is meant to give the greatest increase in VO2max âEUR “which, according to Hoff & Helgerud, is the decisive factor for endurance (something I believe only partly but anyway) The theory is based on training the heart at maximum volumes of stroke to expose it to maximum shear stress-conditions that are reached only at the highest rates of heart. Why 4 minutes?

– Recover for 4 minutes

– Repeat for a total of 4-6 times.

– Cooldown for 10-15 minutes

Muscular endurance intervals

This exercise is ideal for increasing the production of strength. The combination of pedal cadence and gear selection is bringing out a lot of power.

You will be able to spin aerobic conditioning and pedalling drills, and this workout will help you do it in a bigger gear. This workout is great because the cardiovascular system is working and the legs are really working. Your legs are not going to get as tired of sustained hard efforts in time.

Focus on being smooth and relaxing your upper body while doing the low rpm intervals. If you have knee problems, switch to higher cadences until it does not hurt your knees.

Do this workout twice a week with at least two days in a workout because your legs will take longer than higher aerobic cadence riding to recover from this workout.

Warm-up 15 minutes to build up the top end of your aerobic range (90% of your average fit test heart rate) 90-100 rpm.

Work set 5 X 10-second stomps with a recovery of 3 minutes between effort (choose a hard gear, slow to walk speed and then stomp on the pedals trying to accelerate as fast as you can for 10 seconds). Five minutes of easy riding at the top end of your aerobic zone, followed by 10-30 minutes at 70 RPMs. (This will be 85-90 per cent of your Functional Threshold wattage if you use a power metre). Cooldown 10 minutes easy spin to clear the legs and reduce the heart rate gradually.

Threshold intervals

Your Functional Threshold (FT) is the maximum heart rate or power you can sustain for about an hour for practical cycling purposes. The higher your threshold power, the faster you can go without your legs blowing on you for a sustained period of time.

Put simply, for increasingly longer periods, the way to increase the anaerobic threshold is to travel at your heart rate or power threshold. These are difficult, but they are effective. If you have completed the fitness test, if you have a treadmill or on-bike metre that measures wattage, you will have measured your anaerobic threshold heart rate and/or power.

Start with an interval of 2 X 10 minutes at your heart rate threshold with 5 minutes of recovery.

Increase the interval time by 2 minutes each week until you’re up to 20 minutes each.

Look for a third interval or multiple days of threshold intervals in a row to increase from there. This can be very taxing, but you’ll be stronger when you recover from the workouts.

Mixing it up

While you get your biggest fitness benefits from high-intensity workouts, you still need to ride longer and easier. While you can build great endurance strength with the workouts mentioned above, you need to get your body used to spend that kind of time on a bike if the events you are doing are long (i.e. over 2 hours). Also, in promoting physical and mental recovery, lower intensity rides are great.

Because of mental burnout, it is sometimes difficult to push yourself hard enough to get the benefit of the training from intervals, so mixing up your training is a great way to stay mentally fresh and keep progressing physically.



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