This Simple Change to Your Training Week Yields Big Improvements!

 

By Chris Carmichael

One of the most common training schedules for amateur cyclists is the 4-day Tues/Thurs/Sat/Sun plan. It’s a great plan for a couple reasons: four workouts a week provides enough consistency to keep you moving forward, you can generate enough weekly workload to see continued improvement, and there are three rest/recovery days built in to your week. But to take a big step forward this spring, I want you to commit to adding one more workout each week to create mid-week training blocks.

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The addition of a Wednesday workout gives you a three-day block in the middle of the week, a rest day on Friday, a two-day weekend training block, and a rest/recovery day on Monday. This alternation of a 3-day block and a 2-day block can be very beneficial because back-to-back workout days provide an opportunity for cumulative stress that amplifies adaptations. However, because you’re increasing your workload by removing a recovery day, I recommend that you select a 3-week period for this type of block training. With more advanced riders I sometimes schedule 3 weeks of this type of block training, one rest/recovery week, and then another 3-week block.

Structuring your weekday block

Weekday workouts are typically reserved for hard interval training because these workouts tend to be shorter than your weekend rides. They also tend to be solo workouts, whereas weekends offer the opportunity to ride with a group. And when you’re scheduling back-to-back workouts on three consecutive days, you have to arrange your interval workouts for maximum effect. That means you do the hardest workout first. In order to be effective, you need to be able to reach and maintain the intensity level necessary to see improvement. When athletes schedule PowerIntervals (max-intensity, VO2 max intervals) on the third day, perceived exertion is sky high but heart rate and power output are often suppressed. In short, they’re too fatigued to benefit from the workout.

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So instead of doing intervals on Tuesday and Thursday with an endurance ride on Wednesday, which is another very common practice among athletes who normally ride 5 times a week, I recommend a three workout progression that gradually declines in intensity level while gradually increasing in time-at-intensity. Here’s what I mean. All workouts below are 60minutes total ride time, including the following interval sets. Download CTS Field Test Instructions and Training Intensity Range Calculations.

Tuesday: PowerIntervals – 3 sets of 4x1minute intervals with 1min recovery between intervals, 4minutes recovery between sets. Cadence should be 100+rpm. Interval intensity is 10/10 or 120+% of your CTS Field Test power output. Heart rate is not a good indicator of intensity for these intervals because of the lag-time in heart rate response.

Wednesday: Threshold Ladders – three 9-minute intervals with 5 minutes of recovery between them. During each 9-minute interval you’re going to hit three separate intensity ranges. The first minute is a PowerInterval (see above). Then you step down to ClimbingRepeat intensity (9/10, 95-97% of CTS Field Test Heart Rate, 96-100% of CTS Field Test Power) at 90-95rpm for 3 minutes. After that the final 5 minutes of the interval are at SteadyState intensity and 90-95rpm (8-10, 92-94% of CTS Field Test Heart Rate, 90-95% of CTS Field Test Power).

Thursday: SteadyState Intervals – 3x10minute intervals at 90-95rpm. 5 minutes easy spinning recovery between intervals. Advanced rider option: Tues – 2 sets of 7x1min PowerIntervals (1min rest between intervals and 5min rest between sets; Wed – 3x12minute Threshold Ladders (2/4/6 instead of 1/3/5 in terms of the times-at-intensities and 6min rest between intervals); Thurs – 3x12minute SteadyStates with 6 minutes rest between intervals.

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Another option we often use is back-to-back days of the same interval set, whether it’s PowerIntervals (VO2 max training) or SteadyStates (lactate threshold training). If you do the same interval set two days in a row you will most likely notice that you can hit the same power outputs on the second day, but your perceived exertion will be higher. In some cases your heart rate will be slightly (about 5 beats) depressed as well. This is normal and it’s OK to proceed with the entire second workout. On the third day of the block, include intervals at a lower intensity.

The PowerIntervals on Tuesday are a VO2 max workout; very difficult but very short. The Threshold Ladders on Wednesday start out hard to generate a lot of lactate in your muscles, which you then have to process while continuing to ride at intensities closer to lactate threshold. This workout is very good for building lactate tolerance. And the SteadyState intervals on Thursday are performed at a level that should be at or slightly below your lactate threshold. It’s a cornerstone workout by itself, but placed at the end of this block it provides additional time-at-intensity and leverages the work you’ve already done on previous days.

Structuring your weekend block

With a hard series of interval workouts in the middle of your week, Friday should be a rest day or a 30-minute recovery spin. And during this period you only need one of your weekend rides to include hard efforts, whether they’re intervals or surges during a group ride. Ideally, aim for a 2+ hour Saturday group ride (or a 1-hour criterium if you’re racing) and a 2+ hour Sunday endurance ride. This combination adds enough additional volume and intensity to build on the weekday intervals, but doesn’t add so much fatigue that you can’t recover in time for the next 3-day block next Tues-Thurs. Obviously, the specific recommendations above won’t be perfect for everyone, but the concept is something all athletes should be able to apply to their training. Training blocks amplify the training stimulus provided by individual workouts, and when you plan your workouts correctly you can achieve gains that are disproportionate to the addition just one more weekly training hour. Chris Carmichael is the CEO/Head Coach of CTS, the proven coaching resource trusted by thousands of amateur and professional athletes since 2000. For information on CTS Coaching and Camps visit www.trainright.com or call 866-355-0645. 

Comments 5

  1. Pingback: Training Week 1 – Luciano Brunette's Blog

  2. How about for the commuter who uses the afternoon commute for training. I ride to work (13 miles) 2 or 3 days a week and home anywhere from 23 to 45 miles. Usually 2 of 3 (the weeks I do 3) commutes home are intervals, with the day between 2 (if I ride three) as recovery. Weekends usually involve 1 ride that is a mix of intervals and cat 5 hill (1-1.1 mile long 5%) repeats and then just a long day – 4.5 to 6 hours in the saddle. I am a Clydesdale, 49 y/o, male physician – so this is my release and relaxation – I will never challenge anybody but myself. Do you still suggest 3 intervals in midweek?

  3. This is why CTS coaching is so beneficial! All of these factors are incorporated into the weekly/monthly schedule and I don’t have to try to figure out how to do it on my own. I KNOW I’m training now instead of just working out. I can see the results and I get ongoing feedback on progress. It’s a tremendous benefit and well worth the money.

  4. Thanks so much Chris for that information. I was looking for some direction on how to improve. I’m usually the every other day rider. I’m almost 56, not racing, but am competitive and enjoy a great ride outdoors. I’m good at climbing (can always improve) and need to improve on flats. It looks like the Tues-Thurs will definitely help for increasing strength and wattage. Question on the weekend ride, especially on Saturday. What would you consider a good interval or surge workout? I appreciate your input Chris and all the time and effort and sacrifices you have made so many of us can improve and enjoy our ride. I’m pretty sure I have all of your DVD’s! 🙂 Have a great day and thanks a million – – – – – Kristin

  5. Great coaching tips as always! A question on weekend workouts which I use primarily for endurance paced / aerobic workouts. Would it be preferable to ride 6 hours in one day with a day off following or 2 days back to back for 3 hours? Obviously a person can ride harder each day for 3 hours but if the objective is staying in the middle of the endurance zone and that can be maintained for 6 hours is there a difference in benefit?

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