By Chris Carmichael
Many cyclists – particularly as we get older – gravitate toward one, steady speed and effort level. It’s not slow, necessarily, but the problem is that once you spend too much time training at your one sustainable speed, you lose the ability to accelerate. You lose that snap you need to jump on a wheel, accelerate across a gap, or sprint for the city limit sign.
To add some summer snap on top of the steady aerobic fitness you have gained throughout the spring, I have a 4-week training program for you. It’s based around three key workouts and an endurance or group ride, repeated over the course of three weeks, with a recovery week on Week 4. For riders who can ride 5 days a week, there’s an optional fifth day included.
Key Workout #1: Leadout Sprints
One of the mistakes people make with sprint workouts is always going from straight from recovery to full sprint. In reality, sprints and accelerations in group rides and races happen at the end of a hard ramp-up. The speed builds and builds, and ends with a full-power sprint.
In Leadout Sprints, each interval is 4 minutes long. Ride the first minute at Tempo, second minute at SteadyState, third minute at ClimbingRepeat power or FTP, and the fourth minute at PowerInterval or above FTP. For the final 15 seconds (3:45 to 4:00), sprint all out for the finish line. Take 6 minutes easy spinning recovery between intervals. Refer to CTS Field Test Instructions and Training Zones for calculations.
Key Workout #2: Speed Intervals
Speed Intervals take into consideration the reality that no sprint or acceleration is just one effort. Whether it’s the final laps of a criterium, the city limit sprint, or the sprint for the singletrack at the beginning of a mountain bike race, you have to be able to accelerate hard several times in quick succession.
Each Speed Interval is 4 minutes long, and it includes “on” and “off” times. For instance, in the first week you’ll accelerate hard (“on”) for 15 seconds and recover (“off”) for 45 seconds, then continue repeating this cycle for the full 4 minutes. In Week 3 they transition to 30-second “on”, 30-second “off” efforts.
Key Workout #3: High Quality Sprints
Even though most real-world sprints start from higher speeds (hence the Leadout Sprints workout), there is still room in a training program for high-quality sprints focused on achieving maximum power for each effort. These are the 12- to 15-second all out sprints starting from a rolling 12-15mph, and separated by at least 5 minutes of easy spinning recovery.
For the High Quality Sprints, gearing and body position are important. You want to accelerate a heavy gear (high resistance to start with) but not so heavy that you spend the entire 12-15 seconds just getting the gear moving. That’s a different workout (Stomps or Power Starts) for a different part of the year. For High Quality Sprints you want to be pedaling at about 60-80 rpm with some resistance and your hands in the drops, and then jump out of the saddle and sprint hard all the way through the end of the period. By the end your cadence will likely be 110-120rpm. If you’re starting at 50rpm and ending at 90rpm, the gear is too big.
Why a Three-Week Build?
One of the topics we discuss frequently in the office is about when it’s appropriate to do the hardest workouts and biggest workloads first, and when it’s appropriate to build up to the hardest workouts.
If this were a block of lactate threshold training, where the intervals were pretty long, the intensity well defined, and the technique quite simple, then I’d start with the biggest workload in the first week and then gradually make the workouts shorter over the next two weeks as athletes accumulate fatigue.
The four-week block of training in the Summer Speed training program relies heavily on technique. In the first week, riders are generally figuring out how to sprint and how to manage the work and recovery times. It’s the Learning Week. Your training files are likely to be a mess, and that’s OK. You’re getting the work done, and it’s not wasted time or effort. At the same time, heaping on loads of work when you’re learning is just going to build a ton of fatigue without a ton of productive stress.
Week 2 is Refinement Week. This is the second time through each of the key workouts, and you’re able to refine the technique because you know what you’re doing. You know more about the pacing so you can be effective for the first and last effort within an interval, for instance. Because of this, we can add a bit of workload.
Week 3 is Full Gas. By this point you can execute the workouts very well. For most athletes, the training files look great because the efforts are consistent and the power outputs are high. The number of efforts and intervals is highest here so we can wring the biggest stimulus out of this week.
The fourth week of the program is a rest week, but still incorporates the same basic schedule as the weeks before it. You still have the three key workouts in the week, but the number of intervals is cut in half compared to Week 3. The total workload is lower, but intensity of these intervals should be full gas, just like Week 3.
Using Your Speed
If you want to break out of the “diesel engine” type of riding many cyclists naturally gravitate toward, this four-week program can help get you the snap you’ve been missing. It’s not perfect for everyone, and I’ve designed the number of intervals and efforts to be suitable for a moderately fit masters rider.
A highly competitive rider may need a greater number of intervals and/or intervals that were longer. Novice riders should be able to execute the workouts as written, but they may see their power outputs decline steeply toward the end of the workouts because they have power, but not repeatability.