Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Bike Training - Planning a Season

Lined up on the start line when the gun went off, by the time I got clipped into the pedals I was at the back of the pack already, gapped by the peleton racing down the open road ahead of me. This jarred me out of my comfort zone and I had to dig deep to close the gap. The first several kilometers were spent hanging near the back in an effort to stay out of the wind as much as possible. But it was more of a cross wind than a head wind and I found myself working harder than I wanted at this early stage in the race. Meanwhile, at the front, a young rider from the Elite category, Derek Snider, was putting his stamp on the race early causing frequent surges as the peleton fought to match his attacks. With the usual surges at the front at every corner and hill, life at the back of the peleton was proving to be more difficult than I was comfortable with. I moved up in an effort to minimize the "accordion effect" which helped a little but that first hour was a lot of work.

Into the second lap I took the race into my own hands and attacked off the front ahead of the gravel section. I expected my move to be matched by at least a one or two others but the entire pack let me go, not seeing me as a threat. For four or five kilometers, I was given a leash of about 500 meters. I maintained a  steady Threshold effort to stay ahead, hoping that eventually I would be joined by one or two others. It was a fairly hard pace but at least it was MY pace and towards the end of the gravel section I was joined by Snider. The pace increased for 2 or 3 minutes until we were joined by 6 or 7 additional riders. With 9 riders strong, a rotation was quickly organized and for the remainder of the race until about a kilometer to go, I alternated between a low threshold and above threshold effort as I switched between drafting off the pack and taking my turn at the front.Approaching the finish line, the pace increased until with less than 500 meters to go it was an all-out sprint to the finish. I gave it everything I had and crossed the line with nothing left.


The above scenario describes a typical road race. The first half of the race is hard but manageable at somewhere around low Threshold effort but with frequent anaerobic surges. Somewhere during the second half of the race, the attacks begin. Now the pace goes above above threshold for 2-3 minutes as the attack is made or matched. If a successful attack is made then the pace alternates between mid-Threshold and above Threshold as one alternates between taking turns at the front and recovering in the draft with recovery time dependent on how many are in the break. The fewer riders in the break, the less recovery time. Finally, there is the all-out sprint to the finish line.

So how does one train for the above scenario? Well, for certain, a good deal of Threshold riding is required. In addition, there are frequent surges with recovery done at Threshold. There are extended VO2 max efforts of 2-3 minutes or more with recovery again at Threshold. And there are extended efforts alternating between just over Threshold and just under. Finally, there is the all-out sprint to the finish.

What would a training workout for the above scenario look like? Here's a stab:

10 minwarm up
40 minlow Threshold with 20 s surge every 3 minsimulate first half of a road race
5 minrecoverymental break because the trainer is mentally hard
5 minlow Thresholdback to race pace
3 minVO2 Maxsimulate an attack
12 minover/unders - alternate between 1 min above Threshold and 1 min below Thresholdsimulate taking turns at the front of a 2-man break
5 mincool down

80 min TOTAL

Even though it's only 80 min, the above workout is hard. One doesn't just jump into the above workout. "You can't get there from here!" Rather, one needs to train to be able to do the above workout. The workout becomes the training goal.

Case study

So if you can't get there from here, how do you get there? The answer is that you structure your training schedule around achieving your target workout. The above scenario describes my Winter bike training goal which I'll use as a case study in designing a Winter bike training program.

The above workout becomes the key workout that would be executed in the weeks leading up to the first road race of the season. I've kept it short purposely to minimize time spent on the trainer yet sufficiently hard to induce a good training effect. Importantly, it is specific to the demands of road racing. The demands of a time trial or a shorter triathlon/duathlon would be simpler. In those cases, the key workout would centre around time spent at Threshold. The demands of a longer triathlon/duathlon or road race would have a large endurance factor but still, the key workout in a Winter training program would revolve around time spent at Threshold or, preferably, sweet spot (more on this below).

A training schedule should be structured around key workouts. The key workouts are "what gets you there from here". Typically, one can manage 2 or 3 key workouts per week at most. All other workouts are structured around the key workouts.

Three principles that should be adhered to when planning a training schedule are:
  1. Consistency
  2. Progressive Overload
  3. Specificity

Consistency (weekly)

Consistency of training provides the foundation upon which fitness is built. For me, the best way to achieve consistency is with a weekly schedule that follows the same pattern. The routine of the weekly schedule helps in making the workouts easier. When I know that Wednesdays are a key workout day, I can prepare mentally for the workout and "just do it" without giving it much thought. Routine and good habits can be amazingly powerful in this regard.

Key workouts

The first thing I do when designing a schedule is pick my key workout days. For example, this Winter, my key workout days are Wed and Sat. I'm training two sports this Winter, running and cycling, so I've split my two key workouts between running and cycling. Wednesday is my key run workout day and Saturday my key cycling workout day.

Recovery "workouts"

The next most important workouts are recovery workouts. Recovery is the other side of the stimulus/response coin. While key workouts provide the stimulus for the body to adapt by getting stronger, the body gets stronger in response during recovery. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" but only if you give yourself adequate recovery. What constitutes "adequate" is highly individual; finding just the right amount of recovery is largely a matter of trial and error. Recovery can be either a very easy workout (e.g. very light spin) or complete rest and again depends on the individual as well as current training load. I prefer an easy workout for recovery but have had times during a heavy training load where I've felt the need for complete rest.

Moderate workouts

Once key workouts and recovery have been scheduled, "moderately intense" workouts can be scheduled in the intervening days. While a focus on key workouts will get you partway there, our sport of choice (whether cycling, running, duathlon, or triathlon) are mostly aerobic and, as such, the higher the training load the higher the fitness. Or, as is often espoused on the various training forums from Slowtwitch to the Wattage group, "more is more". Basically, what this means is that the more you train, the better you'll perform. It's been my experience that one can get a lot of mileage, so to speak, from just training a lot. As such, these "moderate" workouts are important. I tend to not worry to much about the intensity at which I execute these other workouts. Rather, I'll take what my body gives me, always keeping in mind when my key workouts are and making sure I save enough back for those.

A typical week

Putting it all together, after penciling in my key workouts, recovery and moderate workouts, my typical training week from now until Spring, will look something like this (Note: I've not included my runs in order to try and keep things simple):

Mondayrecovery workout or rest day60' light spin, 30' jog or rest 
Tuesdaymoderate workout20' x 2 @ high Tempo - low Threshold
Wednesdaykey workout (run)20' x 2 @ high Tempo - low Threshold
Thursdayrecovery workout or rest day60' light spin, 30' jog or rest
Fridaymoderate workout20' x 2 @ high Tempo - low Threshold
Saturdaykey workout (bike)see schedule
Sundayrecovery or easy60 min light spin or rest

In addition to bike training, my schedule also has to accommodate run training. Hence, Thursday's bike workout is recovery because it follows a particularly tough run workout. Melding run training with bike training can make the weekly schedule a bit more complicated but not overly so. The focus on key workout days is to put forward a solid effort whether that's on the bike or the run or both. The focus on recovery days should be on recovery whether that's following a key bike workout of a key run workout. The moderate intensity/duration workouts tend to be done more according to how you feel. If you're feeling good, give a little extra. Feeling a little fatigued, go easier.

Progressive Overload (blocks)

The principle of progressive overload goes back to Ancient Greece and the story of Milo of Croton. Milo was a 6th century BC wrestler who was renowned for great strength. It is said he developed his strength by lifting a bull daily from when it was a newborn calf. As the calf grew into a bull so Milo's strength grew.

Simply put, progressive overload is "start with what you can do and as you get stronger add more". There a really only two ways to add more. One way is to make the workout harder (e.g. more weight, more watts, faster lap times, etc). The second way is to do it for longer or more often. We'll use both in designing my Winter bike training schedule, starting with the weekly key workout.

Key workout

The key workout for the scenario above is basically a 40 minute Threshold set followed by a 20 minute Threshold set. Progressive overload is achieved by making each set progressively harder. The first set is made harder by throwing in a 20 second anaerobic surge every 3 minutes. The second set is made harder, first by throwing in a 3 minute VO2 max interval and then by finishing the set with over/unders. To attempt to jump right in with the workout would be akin to Milo attempting to lift a fully grown bull having never lifted the calf. Rather, my schedule will start with two 20 minute intervals and become progressively harder through adding "more" each week.

By starting with two 20 minute intervals, I'm already partway towards my ultimate goal because the second interval in the ultimate goal is a 20 minute interval. So I'll start by pushing out the first 20 minute interval, adding more each week until I'm at 40 minutes while at the same time throwing in some 20-s anaerobic surges. At the same time, I'll make the second interval progressively harder by adding a VO2 max interval at the 5 minute mark followed by one or moreover/unders (i.e. 1 minute above Threshold followed by 1 minute below Threshold). Each week, I'll make that second 20 minute interval harder by extending the duration of the VO2 max interval as well as the number of over/unders.

If I had a second key bike workout to give, I'd supplement that first key workout by doing something more specific. For example, I might focus on a set of over/unders, a set at Threshold with surges, or a set of VO2 max intervals. But since that second key workout is a run workout (at least until March), that option is off the table.

Moderate workouts

In addition to making the key workout progressively harder, progressive overload is also achieved by progressively adding "more" time on the trainer during each 3-week "block". For example, up until New Year's, I've been doing fairly unstructured training of about 3 bike workouts per week. Starting in January, my schedule adds an extra bike training day per week for a total of four (see training schedule below). After 3 weeks, an extra "spin" is added on Mondays to bring my weekly bike workouts to five. Six weeks into my schedule and that extra "spin" becomes a moderate 20' x 2 workout. And 9 weeks into my schedule, another easy spin is added on Thursdays to bring my weekly bike workout total to six. By that point, I'll also be finished with my run training and so my key run workout will become a second key bike workout.


In addition to recovery from key workouts, it is also desirable to include some recovery from the progressive increase in training load. It typically takes from 4-6 weeks for the body to adapt to a training stimulus. Thus, most training schedules will build in a "recovery week" at the end of a 3, 4, or 6-week block. Alan Couzens refers to this as the unloading period. On the Wattage group, they call it "coming up for air". As with recovery days and recovery workouts, recovery weeks are specific to the individual and a matter of trial and error. Personally, I like to schedule a semi-recovery week at 3 weeks and a more focussed recovery week at 6 weeks. Thus, my training "blocks" are 6 weeks long but with a mini-recovery built in at 3 weeks. How much recovery I take at the 3 week point depends on how I feel.


Specificity refers to tailoring your training towards your target event. In the somewhat complex scenario that we started with, the target event was a cycling road race and the ultimate key workout a fairly complex workout involving different intensities and energy systems. The key point here is that the ultimate goal of training is to prepare yourself for your target event. As such, your key workouts should become to more and more resemble the demands of your target event. To "get there from here", we generally start with workouts we can achieve now and structure the workouts to more and more resemble our target event as much as is feasible. This is a strategy not unlike that used by the renowned running coach Renato Canova. This article, well worth reading, discusses Canova's approach.
"This method has led to a 2:03 marathon (Moses Mosop), a world championship (Abel Kirui), and the third-fastest half marathon in history (Florence Kiplagat) in just the last year and a half." 
In the world of long distance triathlon or long gran fondos where endurance or the ability to comfortably complete a long distance bike leg is the key, a similar strategy to that used by Canova can be applied. Start with shorter, harder intervals. As you get closer to your target event, the workouts become longer and slower. Whereas a more traditional training approach involves easier workouts that get progressively harder, this "reverse periodization" approach involves workouts that start out harder and get easier (in terms of intensity) but more specific (i.e. longer) as the target event is approached. The added appeal of this reverse periodization approach is that it is conducive to Winter training. Rather than having to do 3-4 hour trainer workouts to traing for an Ironman event or Gran Fondo, for example, you can keep the workouts short but intense until it's time to move outdoors and longer rider become much more palatable. Using this approach last year, I took my longest trainer ride of 2.5 hours to Florida where I logged over 1,000 km in two weeks, including 2 rides at 160+ km. Reverse periodization works!

Putting it all together

In my case study, I started with a race-specific key workout I'd like to be able to achieve (specificity). I then put together a weekly schedule oriented around my key workouts (consistency). Finally, I made each workout progressively harder in such a way as to form a bridge towards my ultimate key workout (progressive overload). The resulting 12-week Winter bike training schedule is shown below.

Additional Notes

This is a Winter bike training schedule. My run training is not shown and the schedule has been setup within certain constraints, the most notable being an aversion to time on the trainer. Once the switch to Daylight-savings time arrives, and it becomes more feasible to ride outdoors, my training schedule will change towards becoming even more "specific" towards my target event, as should yours. In my next blog, I intend to cover how to know when you are making progress.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Egg Nog Jog, 2012

They said it was zero degrees Celsius but it felt much colder than that. I had intended to wear shorts and a short sleeved t-shirt but went with tights and long sleeved t-shirt. Still, with only one layer, I was feeling the cold during my warm up. My warm up took me along the tail end of the course in reverse direction. I ran up the stupidly steep hill to the 10k marker, turned around and ran back down. By the time I reached the start line, they were just about to play the national anthem.

Five-four-three-two-one and we're off! This year I tried something different. Normally I like to pace myself, saving my harder effort for the second half of a race. But being a little overweight this year, I decided on the strategy of using the downhills to gain time I'd likely lose on the uphills. With the first 1.5 km being downhill, it was a fast start for me.

I had a pretty good view of the pack in front of me running the first mile down Winston Churchill. The first 3 or 4 runners opened up a gap pretty quickly but after that, the next 10 or so were grouped fairly close together. Initially, there was a bit of a gap between me and the group ahead but by the bottom of the mile long hill I had pretty much closed that gap and even passed a few. Those few that I passed soon passed me back once we made the turn up the hill onto Sideroad 27

One of the runners I passed was Brad Mailleux of Feet in Motion. Brad and I have a friendly rivalry in this race, finishing within 3 places of each other in 5 races since 2006. Last year, I passed Brad closer to the start of the race but he passed me back on the long, steep hill at about the halfway mark. This year, I passed him later but he passed me back much earlier. So I spent most of the rest of the race watching Brad's back get gradually smaller.

The rest of my race was fairly uneventful. The wind was from the South East this year which meant a bit of a tail wind running the "rollers" along Sideroad 27. I had a great view of the leaders making their turn onto 10 line. The larger group of 10 or so runners just ahead of me, gradually pulled further ahead and strung out a bit. I more or less maintained the distance to Brad until the big hill at the halfway mark where he opened up the gap a bit. I made it to the top of the big hill alright but on the longer, more gradual hill up to Sideroad 32, I could feel a side stitch coming on and slowed a bit before it got worse. The gap to Brad began to open up.

I was losing speed to the developing side stitch. Remembering something I wrote in my previous blog about a lower cadence requiring less oxygen consumption, I extended my stride, relying on my legs to make up for speed lost by relaxing my rate of breathing. It worked! The side stitch gradually disappeared and I began to close in on the runner ahead.

For the rest of the race, I concentrated on pushing off with my legs and opening up my stride. The track workouts I'd been doing since early November were paying off. My legs were more than capable of handling the punishment I was putting them through. I didn't catch Brad but I did finish 9 seconds faster than last year, finishing in 15th place, 1st in my age group... again. Two places behind Brad... again!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter Bike Training - Getting Through the Workout

One of the biggest hurdles to Winter bike training, I've found, is getting on the trainer in the first place. As high as my level of motivation to train is, there is just something repugnant about doing 20 minute plus intervals on the trainer that results eventually in an aversion to climbing on the bike indoors. This article, the second in a series of Winter bike training articles I intend to write about, discusses how I get through my power training interval workouts.

Getting on the Trainer

As discussed above, the first hurdle to overcome is getting on the bike trainer in the first place. There are a number of things I do to help in this regard:
  • have a clearly defined goal
  • develop a regular routine
  • train with others
  • avoid the trainer (pace yourself)
  • mix it up
  • you can only do what you can do

Have a clearly defined goal

A clearly defined goal, such as completing an Ironman event, getting that first bike race podium, getting ready for a season of Centurion races can instill a desire strong enough to overcome any aversion to the trainer. When training for my first and only Ironman, I had a picture of Bill Vieira pasted on the wall in front of my trainer. Of course, I'm not serious but Bill did have a strong work ethic, was constantly pushing us, and was a powerful motivator which is the point I'm getting at: you need a powerful motivator and a strong work ethic to get through these workouts. Which brings me to the second part of this tip: make your goal a shared goal. For the above Ironman, there were four of us training in parallel and feeding off each other and this helped raise certainly my motivation level if not that of the others. Without such a goal, you might find yourself questioning your need to do those interval workouts.

Develop a regular routine

A solid routine can be a powerful tool. Habits become automatic. You don't think about why you're doing these behaviours, you just do them. In fact, sometimes the problem to STOP doing them. Generally, this happens with bad habits but good habits can also start to take on a life of their own. All you have to do is get them started. Develop a weekly routine and 'just do it!'

Train with others

"Misery loves company." This is one of those things my mother used to say that I never quite got... until I started doing trainer workouts. Sign up for a spin class. Or more than one. Get together with a buddy to train. When you've paid the money, have a set time, and friends who will mock you when you skip a session, you're more likely to do the workout. I've also found that having people around me helps me get through the workout somehow even when my workout may be different than theirs. Having people around me while I train seems to give me a lift.

Avoid the trainer

This might sound counter intuitive; how can avoiding the trainer help when it comes to getting ON the trainer? But starting your Winter training season too early can make for a very long season. It may be the case that you DO have a clearly defined goal. In fact, you may be highly motivated even excited about getting on the trainer to start training towards your new goal. Three or four months in and "not so much". That aversion to the trainer grows as your enthusiasm diminishes. So pace yourself! Do some maintenance training up until you're truly ready to get serious about power training. If you time it right, you'll have to endure only 2-3 months of trainer time as opposed to the 4-5 months that starting too early would require.

Mix it up

Last year, I started riding with my new cycling team doing Winter trail rides. Thursday was a mountain bike ride around one of the industrial developments in Etobicoke. Saturday and Sunday were trail rides. We rode through snow and cold and it was fun. This served as a good counter balance to the more boring trainer workouts. This year, I'll be doing Winter trail rides again but I'm also bringing running back into the mix. Though running lacks the specificity of bike training, it can help build up that aerobic base. And it gets me outside which I love (see 'avoid the trainer' above).

You can only do what you can do

Power intervals are hard! Sometimes I find myself just "not ready" to do that scheduled threshold workout. This seems to be a common misgiving amongst contributors to the Wattage group. The frequently quoted answer to this "not readiness" is "you can only do what you can do". If you have the legs then go for it. If you don't have the legs, don't sweat it. You're still going to get in a decent workout. Save that quality workout for another day. It will come. The important thing is to get on the trainer anyway. Rome wasn't built in a day and raising your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is a cumulative endeavor and not realized in a single workout.

Getting Through the Workout

Ok, so you've gotten on the trainer and you're in your warm up routine but you've still got two 20 minute threshold intervals to get through. Twenty minutes is a long time. How do you stay focused for such a long period of time? Here are some of the techniques I use.

  • watch the clock
  • pace yourself
  • find a rhythm
  • divide and conquer
  • shut up legs
  • keep your cool
  • audio/visual

Watch the clock

Some kind of time keeping device is essential for doing trainer intervals. There are a number of devices that are useful to have for doing intervals which I'll discuss in a future blog but a clock is one of the most important. Most readers of this blog will have some sort of heart rate monitor that comes with a timer. The one I use, a Garmin, has the advantage of being able to pre-program your interval workout. But any clock will do the trick. A clock helps with pacing as well as dividing up that long interval into segments. But mostly it just helps to know how far you are into the interval and how long you have to go.

As mentioned above, my Garmin has the capability of pre-programming a workout. I use this functionality to program my interval workouts.

20' x 2 interval workout programmed on Garmin
At the end of each step in the program above, my Garmin gives a series of beeps, starting 5 seconds before the end of each step. This lets me know when my 10 minute warmup is done, when each minute of my main set is done, and when my 5 minute rest interval is done without me having to actually watch the clock. A word of caution: you might not want to have your device beep every minute while doing your trainer workout in a room full of friends and peers. They will get annoyed.

Pace yourself

As important as pacing is in your macro cycle, it's equally important while doing your intervals. It does take some practice to get it right. Initially, the tendency is to start out too hard. The interval feels easy at the start but by about halfway through the interval it no longer feels easy. In fact, usually well before that, things start to get tough.

Heart rate profile from first 20' x 2 workout of the season.

The chart above shows my heart rate (HR) for my first 20' x 2 interval workout of this season. There are a few things to note from this chart. First, notice at the start of each interval (at 10 minutes and 35 minutes), it takes awhile for my HR to plateau. The interval feels comparatively easy during this early part of the interval. So, for the first couple of minutes or so, I start out too hard, making the rest of the workout a lot harder. By the time I'm into the second half of the first interval, I'm no longer able to sustain that initial effort. This is reflected with a decreasing HR. My performance seems better for the second interval in that I do a better job at pacing myself and thus am able to keep my HR up but in actual fact my performance, as measured by my power meter, was significantly poorer for the second interval again reflecting less than optimal pacing. Ideally, you should pace well enough that your effort gets stronger towards the end of each interval. Further, you should pace so that the effort for the second interval is stronger than the first.

The chart below graphs my HR for my most recent interval workout of the season: a 20' plus 25' effort.
Heart rate profile from most recent interval workout of the season.
What the above HR profile shows is that my effort (as reflected by HR), increased steadily throughout the first interval. The same pattern held for the second interval but was even stronger. My power meter wattage profile confirmed a slightly stronger effort for the second interval than the first. My pacing was good for this workout.

Find a rhythm

Another technique I find useful for doing a successful interval set is to find a rhythm and try and hold it. There are a number of ways of doing this. In running, it might be incorporated as part of your arm swing. In cycling, I make it part of my pedal stroke. I also use 'counting' to help. Most of you will be familiar with Count Von Count of Muppets fame who was obsessed with counting. Well, I'm the Count Von Count of cycling. It might not be as crazy as it seems. As a musician, I'm familiar with counting. Musicians count bars throughout a song. We generally count in groups of 4 beats to a bar. A phrase is typically 16 or 24 bars long so we also learn to group bars. Transferring this skill to cycling (and running), I've learned to group pedal strokes in groups of 4, 16, and 32. I pretty much know when I've done a group of 32 pedal strokes without consciously thinking about it. Knowing my cadence (for both cycling and running) typically falls between 86-90, I've learned to count off a sequence of 88 "beats" (roughly one minute) without thinking about it. Thus, I can get through each minute of a trainer interval without looking at the clock. Counting helps me to know where I am within each minute. It also helps me to establish my rhythm. If I start to slow down (or lose power), I know it right away. (As an aside, I also count strides while running. I use this in races to help me get through the race without having to look at my watch. Typically, by the time I've counted 4 minutes, I can see the next km marker). A computer that gives cadence can provide similar feedback but I've found that nothing beats finding that rhythm and holding it.

Divide and conquer

This refers to breaking that long 20 minute (or more) interval into smaller segments. I like to break down my main intervals into segments of 3-5 minutes. For example, I will group a 20 minute interval into segments of 3 minutes. This gives me 6 segments of 3 minutes plus a final 2 minute segment. During each 3 minute segment, I change position on the bike. For example, for the first 3 minutes, I'll ride on the hoods, the next 3 minutes in the drops, and the 3rd three minutes riding upright. Now I'm halfway through the main interval and I repeat the cycle: 3 minutes on the hoods, 3 minutes in the drops, 3 minutes upright. By the end of 2 cycles, I have 2 minutes left and that's a cakewalk. Breaking the main interval up like this helps me get through it easier.

Another technique I further use is to change cadence for each 3 minute segment. For example, I may start the first 3 minutes at around 94 rpm. After 3 minutes, I'll add a gear and pedal at, say, 86 rpm. This necessitates a re-calibrating of my rhythm but I've become accustomed to this. This technique helps to break up the longer interval into segments. An added bonus is that it trains me to ride with power at different cadences. Riding outside, one is never able to ride at a constant cadence; even the smallest of rises will induce either a change in cadence or a significant change in power output. So I find it useful to learn to ride at the same power output over different cadences.

Switching cadences also emphasizes a slightly different metabolic area from one cadence to another. Riding at  a lower cadence will stress the legs more while riding at a higher cadences stresses the cardio-vascular system more.

The formula below shows the relationship between power, force, distance and time.

P = F x D / T

Another way to write the above formula is

P = F x C

or Power = Force x Cadence. In other words, to keep the same power at a lower cadence, more force is required. By pedaling at a higher cadence, you can produce the same power with less force. One might think that we should always be riding with a higher cadence because less force is required but keep in mind the cost of pedaling at a higher cadence is a higher oxygen consumption and a decrease in efficiency (efficiency tends to be higher with a lower cadence).

Some people use the above technique to advantage in a time trial by alternating between a lower and higher cadence. While emphasizing one side of the metabolic coin, you're effectively giving the other side a rest. By the end of 3 minutes at a lower cadence, my legs are ready for a bit of a break. By the end of 3 minutes at a higher interval, my VO2 system is ready for a bit of a break.

Another technique I use to help break up the monotony of the long interval sets is to throw in something different periodically. For example, I'll stand for ~20 seconds (32 pedal strokes) in the middle of my low cadence segment. This works out to once every 6 minutes which, in addition to helping break up the monotony, helps me stretch my legs and ease my lower back a bit. Another thing I might do is throw in a ~20 second sprint periodically, usually during a higher cadence segment. This has the added benefit of being sport specific to cycle racing as it simulates matching the frequent attacks and surges that occur throughout the course of a bike race.

All the above techniques effectively break up one long interval into segments making it easier to get through the interval.

Shut up legs

As "techniques" go, this one is fairly crude. But I find that it works. Inevitably, there will come a point within an interval where my legs start to complain. Usually this occurs about halfway through the interval. When this happens, I tell my legs to shut up. Jens Voigt is the author of the "shut up legs" phrase and there is probably no more respected rider in the peleton than Voigt. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me. But there's a little more to this technique than just telling your legs to shut up. It involves using that discomfort, embracing it, and learning to pedal "in the moment" or, as Coach Rob used to say: "get comfortable with being uncomfortable".

Keep your cool

There is no greater saboteur of an interval workout than over heating. When you over heat, your heart rate goes up and your power goes down. The photo below shows how seriously I take adequate cooling. What the photo doesn't show is that I also have the 2 side windows open as well as 2 small fans on the piano behind me. I can't stress enough how important it is to keep from over heating.


Audio and visual aids can help get you through your workout. The music should be upbeat and not sleepy. A good source of upbeat music put together specifically for trainer workouts is VeloBeats. Here you can download podcasts of workout "sound tracks". These are also available for free on iTunes which makes it convenient for loading onto an iPod. Just do a search on velobeats.

DVDs can be a good way to get through a trainer workout. The prescribed workouts themselves on these DVDs are not so useful IMHO but the workouts are usually broken down into segments and the segments themselves can be used during your own workout to help divide up the workout with the video portion of the DVD helping you to get through your own workout. Spinerval and Sufferfest are two makers of DVDs for trainer workouts with Sufferfest being the better of the two, in my experience.

An online tool that I've heard good things about is TrainerRoad. It's a visual aid in that it gives you live feedback of your power output. Your power output is measure either using an ANT-compatible power meter that feeds data into your computer or, if you don't have a power meter, there is a "virtual power" option that uses the power curve of known trainers to compute your power output. I haven't tried it myself but know a couple of people who have with good feedback from both.


This concludes my discussion of tips and tricks I use to get through my power interval workouts. My next blog will discuss how to schedule a Winter season.