3 Important Cycling Workouts Podcast

The 3 Most Important Cycling Workouts

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, Coach Adam Pulford lays out the 3 most important cycling workouts you need to include in your training, why each workout is important, how to organize them in your training, and how to do them properly to increase your performance and durability.

Episode Highlights:

  • The 3 most important workouts you need to include in your training
  • How to establish your baseline
  • How to organize your training
  • Finding the proper rhythm to your training
  • How to progressively overload yourself for continued improvement

Episode Resources:


Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform

This Week’s Sponsor:

Thanks To This Week’s Sponsor:

Stages Cycling

This episode of the TrainRight Podcast is brought to you by Stages Cycling, the industry leader in accurate, reliable and proven power meters and training devices.

Stages Cycling offers the widest range of power meter makes and models to fit any bike, any drivetrain and any rider, all manufactured in their Boulder, Colorado facility. They’ve expanded their offerings to include the Stages Dash line of innovative and intuitive GPS cycling computers covering a full range of training and workout-specific features to make your workouts go as smooth as possible.

And now, Stages is applying its decade of indoor cycling studio expertise to the new StagesBike smart trainer. Check out their latest at www.stagescycling.com

CTS TrainRight Membership

This episode of the TrainRight Podcast is brought to you by the CTS TrainRight Membership. The TrainRight Membership helps you get the most out of your limited training time so you can improve your performance and achieve your athletic goals. 

With the membership, you get access to science-based training plans, an 800+ workout library, an app to track your progress, and advice from professional coaches in a private forum.
Go to trainright.com/membership to learn how you can start training right and use code TRAINRIGHT for a free 14-day trial. 


Episode Transcription:

Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.

Adam Pulford (00:06):


Adam Pulford (00:06):

The team at CTS. This is the train right podcast. Our show for endurance athletes who want to learn how to train more effectively and improve their performance. I’m coach Adam, Pulford your host for the cycling. In addition to the show where it’s my job to interview top coaches, scientists, experts in athletes, in the world of cycling to bring you actionable training tips that you can apply to your own training. Make sure to also listen in on a running edition of the show with my cohost Hillary Ellen, which alternates weekly with the cycling episodes. Now let’s dive into the show and learn how you can train.

Adam Pulford (00:39):


Adam Pulford (00:46):

This episode of the train wreck podcast is brought to you by stages cycling the industry leader in accurate, reliable, and proven power meters and training devices. State is cycling offers the widest range of power meter makes and models to fit any bike, any drive, train in any rider, they’re all manufactured in their Boulder Colorado facility and they’ve expanded their offerings to include the stages dash line of innovative and intuitive GPS, cycling computers, covering a full range of training and workout specific features to make your workouts go as smooth as possible. And now state is, is applying its decade of indoor cycling studio expertise with the new stages, bike smart trainer, check it all out@wwwdotstateofcycling.com. This episode of the train rate podcast is brought to you by the CTS train, right membership. The train right membership helps you get the most out of your limited training time so that you can improve your performance and achieve your athletic goals with the membership. You get access to science-based training plans, an 800 plus workout library and an app to track your progress along with advice from professional coaches via an online private forum, go to train right.com backslash membership to learn where to start and use code train, right for a free 14 day trial. Again, that’s code train, write in all capital letters for a free 14 day trial,

Adam Pulford (02:15):

Welcome back, or welcome to the train ride podcast. I’m coach Adam, Pulford your host for the cycling and triathlon shows for those who have been tuning in on a regular basis, fellow coach and co-host Hillary Ellen runs the ultra running show. Be sure to check out her episodes as well as we both weave in and out of all things, human performance with the end goal of helping each of our listeners to improve their performance, swim bike, and or run, uh, the past three episodes that I’ve put out have been a series of basic training concepts. Today. I want to wrap up the series with a summary of those ideas from the episodes and give you real world applicable workouts and information that you can apply to your own training. So why a summary? Because even though I call them basic concepts, they are basic from a fundamental standpoint, not basic as an over-simplistic.

Adam Pulford (03:14):

In fact, some of this can be quite complex, confusing and hard to put an action was my job as a coach and as an educator to make it simpler and easier to understand, I then want you to be able to put those concepts into action for your own training purposes. So before we start summarizing the training concepts from the past episodes, I’ll remind you that we first need a grounding of where we get our training zones and the intensities from and how we establish them. So we use a term called field testing, and this can be swim, bike or run for the purpose of this episode, all focused simply on, on cycling and for field testing. What we’re really talking about is it’s crucial for establishing baselines and training. And in physiology, we set training zones and you have a better idea of knowing where your limits are or what I call your edges.

Adam Pulford (04:11):

It’s time to go find that edge. And for most cyclists, I like to use a 20 minute time trial, especially if I’m teaching to a bigger audience like this for, for our listeners to wrap their heads around, to make it kind of standardized I’ll link the, Oh, I’ll get information for the 20 minute time trial that I use. And I’ll link it to our show notes of how to do this and how to use, uh, or how to use a calculator, to create training zones from there for my own athletes, I have a week of testing ranging from anywhere between max effort, sprints, to all out VO, two efforts. And then I use a 20 or a 30 minute time trial, depending on the athlete phenotype the history of their training, how well they’re doing. And sometimes I’ll even extend that out to a 60 minute time trial.

Adam Pulford (05:02):

All of that is what I call the individualized approach to coaching and training. And I’ve actually got a future episode lineup for that. So for now, let’s try to keep it simpler and go with what everyone I think will benefit from. And that’s again, keeping it simple to that 20 minute time trial. And again, for more information on how to do the field test and create zones, if you don’t have them already established, I’ll link that in the show notes, be sure to, um, go to our landing page at train, right.com and, uh, go to train Ray podcast and you’ll find it in there. So the title of this episode is called the three workouts everyone needs. So let’s get right down to it. Okay. So what are the three workouts all start at a high level, and then I’ll go more in detail after that the first workout is endurance miles.

Adam Pulford (06:01):

It’s an aerobic ride. It’s one to two hours and maybe up to five or six hours, I’ll get more, more detailed here in just a minute. The second workout is a threshold workout where we’re aiming for 30 to 40 minutes of total time and zone at threshold. We’ll explain what that means. And that’s per session. The third workout is a view to max workout. We are aiming for 15 to 20 minutes of total time in zone per session. And that’s going to be the hardest workout. Now let’s just come back and go a little deeper into what each of those means back to endurance miles. This is an aerobic ride, and this is your foundation. This is where the majority of riding will be. Okay. It’s important to know that that endurance miles ride, it will be in your base phase all the way through your specialization phase or your peaking phase.

Adam Pulford (06:58):

It is a core part of everything that you do when you’re using CTS or training peaks terminology it’s commonly referred to as zone two. Okay. Now, if you’ve listened to the past episodes with Tim [inaudible] conductor Seiler, where we talk about a three zone system, this, this intensity that we’re talking about is actually the upper end of zone one, and you go back and when you listen to it, you’ll understand how and why we sometimes refer to a three zone system in particular. It’s two, when you’re looking at broad basis of athletes or bigger groups, it’s, it’s easier to see, uh, uh, things happening. Okay. Um, there’s more to it than that, but that’s high level. And during smiles is an aerobic development workout and it sets the stage for higher level training and durability. It’s the bread and butter. Okay. And, um, you also want to make sure that as you’re developing yourself and incorporating endurance miles in, then after you get the aerobic base built, you’re progressing with one long ride per month to go deeper aerobically.

Adam Pulford (08:08):

A good rule of thumb is, is going deeper by expanding or going longer by 10 to 20% each month. So an example of that is, you know, say we’re into April. Um, and your longest ride has been around three hours. The next month extend up to three and a half hours. So you’re just, you’re progressively overloading, even your long ride per month. And as I said before, is you want to get proficient at one to two hours of this aerobic intern smells riding and build up to probably five or six hours for a one day ride. I know that sounds like a lot, and I’m not telling you to do that every week. What I’m saying is you want to progress up to that and everyone’s, everyone’s going to be a little different and capped out on what their long ride can be. But it’s important to know that in general, you D you want to progress that long ride with volume for reasons that Dr.

Adam Pulford (09:02):

Seiler, uh, talks about extensively on, uh, his episode, talking more about athlete durability. Now let’s talk about thrush, the threshold workout. As I said, we’re aiming for 30 to 40 minutes of total time in zone per session. What is this intensity? This intensity is what we call zone four or threshold training threshold, meaning functional threshold, power, FTP, commonly called in the literature. Okay. And when we’re referring to a three zone system, that’s the zone two that we’re talking about? Your goal here is to either extend the time that you can ride at, or just below FTP or it’s to increase your FTP by doing shorter intervals that are above threshold. Generally speaking, we’re looking at eight, 10, 12, 15, or 20 minute intervals. And an example of in intensive FTP workout would be four by eight minutes at, or slightly above functional threshold power with about four or five minute recovery in between.

Adam Pulford (10:17):

That’s a good starting point for anybody who wants to increase their functional threshold power to start in on four ride itself. And you do all of that with a total ride time of around 75 to 90 minutes. In total, in Tim’s episode, we talk at length about how to do this, especially with sub LT training or pure middle in up to threshold training approaches. Now you can scale this up to 40 to 60 minutes of time in zone per workout. And what that might look like is four by 15 or three by 20, if you’re looking at the very upper end of that, that threshold workout, but it’s a early workout. You need to progress up to that. Okay? And you can start with two by 20, and then you can slowly, you can add another one. You can go two by 20, and then even go a 10 minute interval.

Adam Pulford (11:11):

After that, the whole idea there is you’re accumulating time in zone, and you want to make sure that it’s in that zone four or that threshold power zone. Now, if people are being intimidated by 60 minutes at work and threshold, first of all, you can do it with a well established training zones that are accurate for you. This is human physiology. However, if you’re new to training, scaled down, go to go to 15 or 20 minutes and a good way to do that. Three by eight, three by eight at threshold, that’s going to help move the needle and get you training very well into that threshold zone. And even if it is two by 10 to start things off progressively build up next, the VO two workout some of my favorite, and also not some of my favorite. They’re very, very hard to do, but the reason why I love them, and the reason why I love giving them to athletes is because you really get a lot of performance out of it.

Adam Pulford (12:17):

Excuse me, as I take a drink. So with the VO two max workout, we’re aiming for 15 to 20 minutes of total time and zone per session. This is that zone five when you’re using CTS or training peaks terminology. And Dr. Siler refers to this as mid to upper and of the zone three, simply put it’s very hard. Okay. The goal here is to increase your VO two max, meaning the maximum amount of oxygen that you can fit into your lungs. More [inaudible] equals more oxygen or fuel to the working muscle. And that means the faster you can go, the harder you can go, the more you you can recover and you can do more work. You can also apply the extensive or intensive approach to these meaning aim for the lower end or the upper end of the [inaudible] zone and go longer or aim for a harder VO two effort depends on how you organize the concept of, of this session, which we’ll get into here in just a minute.

Adam Pulford (13:25):

Okay. But think extensive or intensive, do I wanna go longer or do I want to increase the power and go harder? Generally when I’m prescribing these workouts or writing training programs, I’m starting with three, four or five minute interval durations. And again, I want to aim for 15 to 20 minutes of total work time. So what that looks like is potentially a five by three minute, with three to four minute recovery in between or five by four minutes, with four minute recovery in between to get that 15 to 20 minute, total time in zone per session. It’s important to note here that the recovery periods need to be almost equal to if not greater than the interval time itself. This is to recover fully from the VO two effort, which is very intense so that you can hit the power on the next interval. It’s all about the power on this, because if you’re hitting the proper power, you’ll get the proper than dilatory response in your system to train the VO two max, uh, frequent, um, a frequent problem that I see athletes do is they think they’re going hard enough, but they’re really not.

Adam Pulford (14:45):

These are very hard. And again, with properly calculated training zones, you’ll know where the lower end limit is. And you’ll know where the higher end limit is in. Generally, you, you need to stay in that zone. Generally, people just don’t go hard enough. They don’t go long enough. And that’s the second common mistake that I find out fleets. Um, not doing VO two workouts with is they, they, they don’t go long enough. Oftentimes people say, I’m doing one minute VO, two workouts. Oh, really? How long is recovery while they’re really hard? So I take three or four minute recovery. That’s that’s not a VO two workout. You have too much recovery per the work session in there to make it simple, simple. Once you kind of cross over about 90 seconds in duration, the ever becomes mostly aerobic in nature. Then you keep on going.

Adam Pulford (15:38):

And that’s why I say three minutes is better than one minute is better than 90 seconds. Okay? Because we need to get aerobic and we need to go really hard. So in general, go longer. How long three, four or five minute interval durations. And you want at least equal work to rest ratios, if not a little bit longer. What I tell my athletes is if you need an extra minute or two to gather yourself and recover in order to hit that power, that prescribed VO to power on the next interval, do it because I know I’ll get a better result out of them. I’ll get a better result from the view to a block of training. Now you can scale this up if you’ve, if you’ve been training for years and you’ve even done some of these workouts, you can scale up to 20, 25 minutes, even up to 30.

Adam Pulford (16:26):

If you think you can handle it. I do have some athletes that can do that quite well. Um, after that the, the power starts to decay and then you probably won’t get too much out of it. You can also scale this down. If you haven’t, if you’re new to training, you haven’t done much in the way of view to work. Start with 10, work yourself up to 15 minutes per session. And again, aim, but you want to start with about three minutes of interval duration. So that could look like three by three, better yet four by three. Okay. To start to get up into 10 minutes, plus 15 minute plus is really the goal, but start with where you’re at and progress up from there. Now, generally, if you’re working the, the right zone, as I said before, you want to go a little bit longer, could to get the proper response out of this.

Adam Pulford (17:15):

And they’re all, they’re really hard. Um, as you listened to a Dr. Sailors, uh, episode, you’ll, you’ll understand how hard that is. Scale of one to 10, it’s a nine going on 10. In other words, now next up is, you know, so those, those are the three workouts that I just described. And I know it’s a little bit of clickbait because he say three workouts that all, all you need are these three workouts in the workouts that I told you have a total time and zone. And then it gave you some examples of, of how to work that. So let me clarify how these are the three workouts that you’ll incorporate into your training and into your annual plan. And really you don’t really need to deviate much more than this. Okay? So in Tim’s episode, we talk about puritization or Oregon as in your training.

Adam Pulford (18:09):

And even if, you know, you keep it very simple, very traditional by mapping out, say the first six to eight weeks of training as primarily a robotic in nature and versus six to eight weeks. It’s um, from a calendar standpoint, meaning January, February, a little bit into March, that’s what I’m talking about. About the first six to eight weeks in a cycle, primarily aerobic, you’re doing a lot of endurance miles and you’re progressing along ride from there. If you want to take a three week training plot block approach with one week easy, here’s how it could look. You start with extensive threshold training for three weeks, you then take a recovery period. You then move into another three to four weeks of intensive threshold training, and you take a little recovery period. You then go into an extensive VO, two max training block. You take a little recovery period.

Adam Pulford (19:07):

Then you cycle through an intensive view to match phase for three, four weeks. If you cycle like that and stay the course with proper training zones, the workouts that I just gave you, I don’t think you can go wrong. Keep in mind. You don’t want to forget to progress that long ride every month or so, like I talked about in terms of that, um, those long endurance rides, but this will take you about 24 to 26 weeks to do, and that should bring you to the, uh, to about July, okay. Where you can then check in, you can freshen up and you can do field testing again, to see how much progress you’ve actually made. Most of us, you know, if you’re into, uh, races and events and that kind of thing, you’re, you’re doing that. But by that time period, but don’t forget to field test to check and see if you’ve made progress from there.

Adam Pulford (20:03):

You can simply repeat the cycle. Okay. Progressing. So the overloading yourself with going a little bit longer, or a little bit harder based on the train, the new train zones, hopefully that have been reestablished and maybe adding in an extra interval here and there, you cycled that twice in a year. All of a sudden we’re in the holidays, you eat some cookies, you shut things down for a week or two, and then you do it all all over again. Now the one thing that I would change in there would be two, you perhaps instead of one of the threshold workouts that I talked about and still keep in threshold intervals, keep that in mind. But if, if you do races or mass start events, as part of your goals in goal races, you want to be doing some group rides. Okay. Now how to incorporate this in is do one group ride a weekend in substitute that for a threshold session, for example, and you do this in place of the threshold, because this is unstructured and you kind of have a mix of intensive and extensive threshold work going on.

Adam Pulford (21:15):

Meanwhile, you know, it could be long, you know, a long ride too, and could sometimes count for that long progressive ride. But my main point here is if, if your, if some of your goals incorporate racing or, um, have the specificity for mass start, you need to be doing group rides and you can still get that work done or that energy system work done. Um, by swapping those two out, generally speaking, I don’t encourage people to swap out their view, to work out for a group ride, for example. Um, I’d rather keep that separately because I get more, uh, I get a higher benefit from the video to work, um, in that regard.

Adam Pulford (21:54):

Okay. So

Adam Pulford (21:59):

If you, if you didn’t listen to my episode with Tim, definitely do it. Okay. Get through this episode, but then go back and listen to that one, because I do think it’s, it’s one of the better episodes that shores up, uh, how to do some of this in detail. But in there we talk about establishing a proper rhythm to your training by rhythm. I mean a pattern in the week. I like the you, I like the phrase rhythm, and I think it’s, I think it’s actually Tim’s, um, you Tim’s a word, but it speaks more to the impulses going into the body. We make, we make, uh, a fun music analogy, um, with that in the training itself. But, um, I think rhythm really speaks to how the impulses are going into the body from, uh, uh, training, resting, training, resting, and adaptation sort of way. Simply speaking for that rhythm. We’re talking about a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, deeper training days. The rest of the days are either aerobic or recovery or rest.

Adam Pulford (23:08):

We also talk about progressive overload specifically in that episode with Dr. Siler, we’re talking about overload over time. And when I just went through that 24 week example, just before this, if you go through that and then repeat it, you’ll go to new Heights. If you’re training properly, you’ll have higher power. You’ll, you’ll do longer rides. You’ll hold up better throughout. And you always want to be aiming to make a change in that regard, pushing yourself on those deeper training days. And as Dr. Seiler said, though, this takes time. It’s not just one week you train. And then all of a sudden you’re super better the next week. No, no, no. It takes multiple weeks. And when you approach it like that, and when you approach it, not only like a half a year at a time, but years at a time, and perhaps for your blocks at a time, you then have the bigger picture mentality needed to know where you need to go be patient with your training because it takes time. It really does. And assuming that you’re doing deliberate training, like I’m talking about here, setting proper training zones, not lying yourself, not giving yourself a FTP vanity number or something like that. And doing the field test, doing the, the zones and doing the proper work, you’ll get the results.

Adam Pulford (24:34):

And finally, this concept of becoming durable or building durability in athletes, it’s all over Dr. Sollars, uh, episode that he and I did and durability is what every athlete wants to what every coach wants for their athlete come race day or challenge day or Saturday. When the group ride, you want to be able to go the distance, have the legs for the sprint or the heel climb. You want to perform late in the game when it matters. And you want to be able to do it every time you want to be able to do it today, the next day, the next stage, if you’re doing stage racing, you want to do it month after month and year after year, again, it takes time. It’s grit, it’s resilience. And this is what we’re talking about. Durability. I think this is Dr. Seller’s word. If anybody can have a word that’s, that’s his, I think it better describes what we’re talking about in this regard. And so cycling through training in recovery and training and recovery, and then testing and training and recovery doing that on a long-term basis. That’s how you get durable. It takes time, but you’ll get it

Speaker 3 (25:50):

All right now

Adam Pulford (25:52):

In a final summary, I’ll, I’ll say that there’s, you know, there’s a million ways that you can train and that’s both a blessing and a curse. You can simply start pedaling or running from where you’re at right now and call it training. But at some point, if you want intentional change or to hit specific goals, you need to get more specific with the intensity in established training rhythms in an organized way, in order to get to where you want to go in a very simplistic way, having a well-developed aerobic foundation with properly set training zones, you can then move from low to high end of threshold training from low to high end, a VO two max training, make sure that you get in that long ride once a month and you’re progressing and not really have to think much more about it.

Adam Pulford (26:44):

I hope that helps. I hope it helps wrap up the, kind of the series of what you’ve been hearing from me. What I’ve been trying to teach you in terms of these basic training concepts originally in, in the very first one, I said, you know, what spurred me on to do this was that there’s a lot of noise out there. There’s a lot of confusion in terms of how to train, right? And I figured since we got a podcast called the train ride podcast, uh, we needed to drill down deep into what that means and then give you the tools to go out there and do it. So I hope that this shapes it up. I’m really curious to hear if people are putting these concepts into play or trying these workouts and are organizing their training in a deliberate way, drop it in on comments, um, you know, on our landing page or you, or you can write in on the Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts, uh, go ahead and rate these things too, because the better the ratings and the more comments it helps to drive and shape what these episodes look like for you as promised, we’re going to reach out and see what more of that you want and what maybe you want less of in the upcoming episodes.

Adam Pulford (27:58):

But for now, I mean, interact with us, let us know what’s working. What’s not, but I really do hope that you’ve gotten a lot out of this basic concept series. Thank you again for listening and being a part of the train ride podcast.

Speaker 4 (28:15):

Thanks for joining us this week on the train rate podcast, we hope you enjoyed the show. Make sure to visit our website@trainright.com forward slash podcast, where you can find social links, bonus content, and more about CTS. Go ahead and subscribe to the podcast. So you’ll never miss a show and leave us a rating on iTunes until next time, train hard train, smart train, right?


Comments 1

  1. Adam, thanks for your basic concept series and your follow up summary podcast. It has really helped me put into perspective what my CTS training over the last 15 years has being trying to establish and accomplish.
    I would be interested in how to recover fitness after an injury or illness.

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