Note that for everything that follows I assume that you have properly warmed up first (ridden for 10 – 20 minutes) before you start. I also assume that you are fit and healthy enough to undergo strenuous exercise. I have explained elsewhere that I am not a coach and have no exercise qualifications! So you attempt any of the following entirely at your own risk. I can’t be held responsible (and neither can EGCC) if you keel over and die when attempting these sessions! But I’ll take the credit if you feel like you just might.
Sprint Training (Neuromuscular Power)
I have two basic sessions that I use for my sprint training.
Find some flat quiet roads. Ride easily, pick a gear (probably 2 or 3 bigger than you were pushing easily – so NOT enormous), get on the drops ready, check around that there is no traffic. Then out of the saddle, jump/accelerate as fast as you can. You want to be in a gear that allows you to “spin out” (ie hit max revs) after about 5 – 10 seconds. That’s all there is to it. 5 – 10 seconds of maximum all out acceleration. Give it everything. Rip the bike to pieces, powering it forward using your arms, legs everything! Once you’ve done your sprint, change back down and ride really easily for 3 to 5 minutes to recover. That might sound like a long recovery but the emphasis here is on quality. Every sprint must be to the max.
If you’re not revved out in 10 seconds then you should have been on a smaller gear. If you rev out in less than 5 seconds then pick a bigger gear next time. You’ll soon get the hang of it! The exact duration of the sprint is not critical – but do keep them short. You can’t give it max for 30 seconds. It is the max acceleration that is important and not the top speed. I’ll often do these in the small ring and I don’t get hung up on timing the recovery time either.
You should be doing between 6 and maybe 12 or so sprints in a session. This session will develop explosive power that will help you “jump” (out of corners, responding to attacks, kicking off a sprint). You may not feel like you’ve really done much when you’ve finished. Or you may feel that your legs have turned to jelly long before the end. If that happens, call it a day – remember it’s about quality and if the quality drops then it’s time to stop.
You can vary these sessions by starting faster and in a bigger gear or starting slower and in a smaller gear. Track sprinters will also practice from a standing start to really focus on developing strength.
These are “the Daddy” sessions. At least in my book! Find a hill or a section of a hill that takes about 20 – 30 seconds to sprint up (again, trial and error – you’ll find somewhere that suits). You roll up to the hill, pick your sprint start point, boom – sprint uphill out of the saddle to your imaginary finish line. Give it everything. Throw the bike at the line – imagine that you’re going for the win every single sprint.
When you finish your sprint your legs will be screaming and you will be gasping for breath. I sometimes see stars after a good sprint. I have on occasion felt like I was drowning because I was so short of breath. I have not actually been sick doing these (recently), but I do find that a few “sicky-burps” are quite common. In short – these babies hurt!
Having crossed the line, change down some gears and roll easily to catch your breath. Turn around, roll down the hill and get ready to repeat. You’ll need about 5 minutes or so to recover from each sprint. Again, I don’t time the recovery – it’s 5 minutes, maybe a bit more. Whatever till I’m ready to go again.
At the start of the season I’ll do maybe 3 of these (often after a set of Flat Sprints). I will gradually build up adding more each week. When I am flying I can do a set of 8, take an extended rest and then come back for another 5. You’ll know when you’ve done enough. Your legs will crumple before you reach your sprint finish line. When that happens there is no point in doing any more – you’re done. Good session!
Anaerobic Training (developing FRC – Functional Reserve Capacity)
In order to develop your FRC, you need to be working above your sustainable power output. This means faster/harder than the pace that you ride an evening 10 at. Typically this means that you need to be doing some kind of intervals (you work hard for a period, then you rest. Then you repeat a few times). There is no getting away from the fact that these are going to hurt. You will be working at a pace that is not sustainable. You will get out of breath, your legs will scream and your heart will pound. Hey, it’s great to be alive ain’t it!
As ever, there are loads of different anaerobic sessions out there. These are a couple of my “favourites” (ones that I use most often).
Find a hill that takes between 2 and 5 minutes to ride up. Ride up it as hard as you can! You need to pace yourself so that you don’t die/max out until just when you reach the top. So on a 5 minute climb, this means holding a little back at the beginning and just keeping on the pace so that gradually over the course of the climb you get further and further into oxygen debt (i.e. your breathing gets harder and harder and your heart rate goes up and up). If you train with a heart rate meter, you should be pretty close to your maximum heart rate by the end of the interval. If you train with a power meter, then you should be aiming to keep the power at or around your maximum 5 minute power output for the whole climb.
Take a breather, roll back down the hill. Prepare yourself and then do it all again. You’ll need maybe 5 minutes to recover between intervals. If you do 3 or 4 of these hill repeats then that is a pretty good session.
2-Stage Hill Repeats
These are a little shorter than my standard hill repeats and harder to pace without a power meter. But they are excellent at replicating what happens at the finish of many road races which often finish up some kind of a rise in the road (this usually thins the bunch out a bit and slows the riders down – both of which make the judges jobs that bit easier. Trust me. Trying to place 50 riders sprinting across the finish line in a bunch sprint is a nightmare of a job!). In these race finish situations, the pace winds up really high over the last kilometre or so meaning that you are already in oxygen debt before you even get to the 200 metres to go yellow flag – and then you have to try and sprint!
So how do we do these beauties? I like to find a hill that has a bit of a gentle ramp and then kicks up steeper at the end. You want to ride about a minute or so on the gentler slopes at about the power/effort that you can maintain for only about 5 minutes (so about as hard as you can for the previous Hill Repeats). Ideally you then reach the steeper bit of the climb after about a minute – then bang, you attack for 30 seconds (give it your best sprint). Go as hard as you can for that 30 seconds – by which point you should be spent (if you’re not, then you didn’t sprint hard enough -try harder next time!).
As before, roll your legs over; take a breather; ride back down the hill and get ready to go again. As before, take 3 to 5 minutes or so rest between efforts. Start with 3 or 4 of these and then build up. You may find it helpful to do say 4, then take a 15 minute easy ride and then come back for some more. That way you get more quality efforts in. And as ever, it’s that quality that counts.
Threshold Training (Time Trail pace training)
Now I should make it absolutely clear here that my time trialling ability is poor. Very poor! So why anyone would take any advice from me on this is beyond me : But I’ll include a couple of sessions here just for the sake of completeness.
No magic here. Ride at time trial pace (so your “10” or “25” effort) for between 5 and 20 minutes. Then rest 5 minutes (ride easily) and then repeat. Two twenty minute efforts would be a good session. You can build up by starting with maybe four 5 minute efforts (5 minutes rest between each). Then next session try to extend efforts out to 6 minutes. Then 7 minutes; then next session 8 minutes. Then maybe switch to three 10 minute efforts (still 5 minutes rest between).
Sweet Spot Intervals
The “sweet spot” is 88-93% of your FTP (Functional Threshold Power). So 88-93% of the power that you put out in a 25 mile time trial. If you have a heart rate meter, then it is about 92-98% of your time trial pace heart rate (so NOT you maximum heart rate). Basically it is a bit below time trial pace, but still pretty hard. The idea here is that training at this level is hard enough to stress your body and cause it to get fitter/ improve your time trail pace – but at the same time, it is not as draining as riding actually at threshold. That means that you can do more of it and recover more quickly. Hence the term “sweet spot”.
Once you’ve figured out your sweet spot pace then intervals are pretty much like the Threshold Intervals. Try and ride for 20 minutes at sweet spot; rest 5 minutes and repeat. If you can’t manage 20 minutes to start with, do three 10 minute intervals and build up the duration gradually.