speed workout

Add This Fun and Effective Cycling Workout for Developing Speed

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By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS

As COVID19 has forced athletes to delay their goals for the season and train solo instead of with groups, many cyclists have built a stronger-than-normal base of aerobic and lactate threshold power through interval workouts and indoor training. And even though we don’t know when we’ll be back to riding and racing together, I recommend adding some acceleration and speed work as a fun way to get some snap back in your legs.

A lot of people work on leg speed with high-cadence drills at low power output. These are the drills where you shift into an easy gear and spin as fast as you can. They are good for getting you to focus on maintaining body control and not devolving into a bucking, herky-jerky mess. But to be a fast cyclist and not just a fast pedaler, you have to produce high power outputs with a high cadence!

High Power From High Cadence Is the Secret to Acceleration and Speed

Lactate threshold power and a big aerobic engine are essential for all-day performance, holding a high pace on climbs, and taking pulls (when we get back to that). But when you do a lot of that work in training, you tend to lose the agility to rev your pedals to get up and go. During a normal cycling season, your group rides and races take care of some of this speedwork, and training focus often turns to even more specific efforts like downhill sprints, uphill sprints, or high-speed paceline work. In the absence of group rides and races, following workout is one of my favorite go-to interval sessions, especially for athletes who have been doing longer and steadier workouts for quite a while.

Another good reason to do speedwork now is that you likely have good aerobic and threshold fitness, meaning you have the power and time to get the most out of speedwork without compromising event-specific training. This will all come in handy later. To make the quick moves to cover a gap, tack onto the back of a breakaway as it’s going away, or seize the opportunity to win with a lightning-quick jump out of the final corner… for that you need the ability to go from 90rpm to 120rpm in the blink of an eye and keep hammering at high power until the move makes it, you cross the line, or you’re back in the draft.

Speed Intervals

Speed Intervals are a series of short accelerations and I like to keep them so short that you basically “rev the engine” and then gently spin down as you decelerate before revving up again. Each effort is 30 seconds and the recovery between efforts is also 30 seconds. I also like to have athletes do these efforts seated and in the drops so you develop the ability to accelerate quickly without having to stand up every time.

On a relatively flat road, start out by riding at a moderate speed (15-20mph) and in a moderate gear you can pedal at about 90rpm. To start the first effort, stay in the gear you’re in and accelerate hard. Your cadence will rise rapidly and you may reach your maximum effective cadence (pedaling faster than this will make you bounce in the saddle) before the end of the effort. Maintain this cadence at high power output until the end of 30 seconds. Back off the power but keep your legs moving as you coast down to a slower speed over 30 seconds. Then accelerate again. Continue in this pattern until you have completed 8 efforts. Pedal lightly and recover for four minutes and repeat the set of 8 x 30sec efforts.

For intermediate riders, a good workout would be 2 sets of 8x30sec efforts, with 5 minutes of easy spinning recovery between sets. Beginners may want to start out with 3 sets of 4x30sec efforts (4 minutes easy spinning recovery between sets) and make the sets longer as you gain fitness. Advanced riders can perform one 16-minute effort of 30/30sec SpeedIntervals. This features the same total time-at-intensity as the intermediate workout, but without dividing the efforts over two sets. Sometimes a rider may need to reduce total time-at-intensity when moving to a single-set workout (from 2 sets of 8×30/30 to one 12-minute 30/30 SpeedInterval), and then progress from there.

Heart rate is a poor training tool for this workout because the efforts are so short that your heart rate response will lag behind the actual effort. Your heart rate will continue to rise after the 30 seconds is over. Power is a much better way to measure the consistency of your efforts and your power output during these efforts should be at least 20% above your lactate threshold power output. If you’re seeing a significant drop in power output from one effort to the next in the final few efforts (more than a 15% drop from one effort to the next), then it’s a good idea to modify the sets to 6 consecutive efforts instead of 8.

Incorporating a SpeedIntervals workout once or twice a week is a great way to get some speed into your legs and add some variety into the long blocks steady efforts you’ve been using to develop lactate threshold and aerobic power.


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Comments 1

  1. if you were going to do this on a trainer indoors, would this work better off with more inertia or less? specifically a kurt kinetic road machine with the bigger “pro” flywheel or the standard smaller one? should you expect (aim to) spin out by the end of the 30 sec interval?

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