3 Ways to Maximize Your Workouts With Limited Training Time

By CTS Coaches Adam Pulford with Jim Rutberg

With all your commitments, work, family, and unexpected problems that arise how can you get the most out of your limited training time on the bike?

Whether you are the recreational cyclist with a busy life schedule or the racer who wants to hone in on the specifics that can take you from the back of the pack to the podium, tune in to these time-tested principles that can minimize wasted efforts, maximize the impact of your training, and help you achieve your goals more efficiently.

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The M&M Principle

Now, before you get too excited by thinking that the secrets to success in cycling are found by eating little chocolate candies. The M&M Principle I’m talking about states that in order to become more effective at what you do, you must minimize unneeded tasks in order to maximize the time and attention you can devote to the tasks that move you forward.

This means focusing on your goals, having a plan to achieve them, and sticking to that plan so you do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Maximizing the Quality and Impact of Your Workout Time

1. Start With an Awesome Warm-up

The body cannot handle high workloads without a proper warm-up; one that fires up your energy systems and muscle fibers while working up a sweat. It also serves as a good time to minimize distractions and maximize your focus on the task at hand.

So what does a high-quality warm-up look like? Here is a great example:
A 15-minute warm-up consisting of:

  • 5 minutes of easy spinning
  • 3 minutes just below time trial pace (about 90% of lactate threshold heart rate or power)
  • 2 minutes of easy spinning
  • 1 minute as hard as you can go
  • 1 minutes easy spinning
  • 1 minute as hard as you can go
  • 2 minutes of easy spinning

We are looking for the highest-quality warm up without burning up too much energy or sacrificing too much time. By properly warming up the body, you’ll be ready to handle the workloads you’re about to encounter and physically and mentally get the most out of the training session.

Now that you’re warmed up, it’s time to get the most out of your workouts.

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2. Put the Right Amount of Rest Between WOrkouts

With the M&M Principle, it’s important to be as fresh as possible for each workout, and part of that comes from scheduling your high-intensity interval workouts carefully. Workouts are most effective when you’re able to maintain the right intensity level for the entire duration of the workout.

In other words, if you need to sustain a power output of 265 watts for three 10-minute intervals in order to increase your sustainable power at lactate threshold, but you’re too fatigued from yesterday’s workout to get anywhere near that, riding those intervals today at 240 watts isn’t going to help you make progress (at least not toward building power at lactate threshold).

For most riders, it’s best to put a full day of either recovery or endurance riding between workout targeting lactate threshold power. And if you’re doing even higher-intensity workouts, like VO2 max intervals, some athletes need two days between them. When you’re fresh and your muscles are full of fuel, your power output during intervals will be higher and you’ll make more progress more quickly. If you are scheduling a week of training or a even a longer block, put the hardest, highest-intensity efforts early in the week or block.

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3. Know When to Say When

Many athletes let pride get them in deep trouble. You might start your ride with the best intentions, but if the quality of your efforts drops off a cliff after just a few intervals – or even halfway through your second set – it’s important to recognize the situation and decide if you need to change your plan for the day.

Remember that intervals are only effective if they are completed at the right effort level for the right amount of time. A lactate threshold interval that’s too short or underpowered is no longer applying the appropriate stress to the system you’re targeting. It’s not necessarily a wasted effort; it’s just not a lactate threshold effort anymore. The same is true for VO2 max intervals, sprints, and climbing repeats. If you are in a phase of your program when you need to be precise about accumulating time-at-intensity, like during a block of lactate threshold work or VO2 max work, then you may want to consider cutting workouts short when you can’t hit the right intensities.

Even endurance rides can and should be cut short if you’re struggling to reach your normal cruising speed or intensity. I’d rather see any of my athletes skip the last set of intervals or turn around and shorten a ride instead of flogging themselves unnecessarily on the road. If you’re wondering how to tell the difference between wimping out and turning around for a good reason, consult the following guidelines:

  1. If there’s a big discrepancy between your perceived effort and your speed or power output. In other words, if you can normally cruise at 180 watts and today you feel like you’re doing a time trial effort to get to 180 watts, shorten the ride.
  2. If during an interval set your power output falls more than 15-20% from the beginning of the set, it’s time to call it a day and go home. (Note: Be sure you’re not just overcooking the first interval or two, though.)
  3. If you’re fighting the urge to get off your bike and curl up to take a nap at the side of the road or trail, it’s not going to be a good interval training day. Do a short recovery ride and take a nap – in your bed.
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Start Training With the M&M Principle:

The M&M Principle can be applied to almost any aspect of training. When you look at a component of what you’re doing, from your nutrition program to the technology you’re using or how much sleep you’re getting, ask yourself: “What barriers to success can I minimize in order to maximize the effectiveness of my time?”
Adam Pulford is a coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS), the Team Director for Team Ridebiker, and has worked with the Twenty16 Pro Cycling Team. He is also and an avid road cycling and mountain bike competitor. Jim Rutberg is a coach for CTS and co-author of seven fitness and nutrition books, including “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”. 

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Comments 7

  1. Pingback: 13 Easy Wake Up Tips For Early Morning Workouts - CTS

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  3. Your advice about perceived effort during the main portion of the workout is great, but it seems that your warm up takes a “one size fits all” approach. As an older rider, I can tell you that a good warm up is more important to me now than it was when I was younger, but I have also had to adjust how hard I go when I warm up. I tend to warm up longer now, but with less intensity. For example 7 to 8 minutes easy spinning, 2 to 3 minutes at about 80% lactate threshold, 1 minute at 90% of lactate threshold, 2 minutes easy spinning, 1 minute at 80% lactate threshold, then 1 minute easy spinning. I never go 100% during my warm up, it just robs me of the effort that I want to put out during the training portion of the ride.

    1. Post

      Absolutely. You still need a good warmup if you’re on a trainer. Since your workouts are most likely shorter and higher intensity because you’re indoors and doing intervals, it will also be very important to take enough time between sessions to promote adequate recovery. If you notice your interval quality diminishing after a series of workouts, consider adding more time between sessions. Similarly, if your performance during an interval workout just tanks, use the information above to consider whether to continue it or cut the intensity back and finish the ride as an endurance session or recovery session. Jim Rutberg, CTS Coach

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