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Olympian Sebastian Coe once said long, slow runs “produces long, slow runners."
That theory has, in some runners, been proven wrong, especially with those new to the sport.
But his point has merit. You need speed work if you want to move fast.
The same, it would seem, is true for cycling, which has become so popular since the pandemic started that bike shops are running out of bikes.
Here are some ideas on how to work some serious speed into your next ride — or simply spice things up a bit.
“There’s a misconception among cyclists that anything less than two hours on the bike isn’t a good workout,” an article by A.C. Shilton in Men’s Journal notes. “But that’s simply not true.
“Chad Timmerman, the head coach for cycling training app TrainerRoad, says that his ideal workouts are ‘high density,’ meaning they pack a ton of hurt into a short window of time. To do this, Timmerman relies on hard efforts with short rest intervals for carefully targeted workouts where everything has a purpose and no time is wasted.”
Timmerman’s workout is something he calls “power pyramids.”
“They’re short, fast efforts, but they get progressively less friendly with the rest,” he said, meaning the intervals get longer as the rest period shrinks. “So you’re really stressing your system to get your heart rate back down.”
Warning. The article notes this is a “fairly difficult workout; if you’re not in great shape, expect it to hurt, a lot.”
- Warm up with 10 minutes of easy spinning, followed by three one-minute-long efforts with 30 seconds in between. These efforts will bring your heart rate up and get you ready for the hard work ahead.
- Ride for two minutes at a near all-out effort (9 on scale of 1 to 10).
- Rest for 30 seconds.
- Ride for two-and-a-half minutes at slightly easier effort (an 8).
- Rest for 30 seconds.
- Ride for three minutes at a 7.
- Rest for 30 seconds.
- Repeat the intervals, but reverse the order. Only allow yourself 30 seconds rest between each interval.
- Rest for five full minutes between sets, then repeat the entire pyramid two full times.
- Finish with at least 10 minutes of easy spinning in a light gear.
“Because it starts and finishes high, it should be a real struggle,” Timmerman said.
California-based coach Chris Burnham offered a “maximum aerobic intervals” workout in the same article.
“The 30 second efforts at the end are to completely exhaust maximal aerobic ability and drive a bigger aerobic adaptation,” Burnham said.
- Warm-up with 10 to 15 minutes of riding at a conversational pace.
- Next, do four intervals of 12 minutes just below your threshold power. Aim for about an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
- Recover for six minutes between efforts with an easy spin, making sure to take in fluids.
- After your last rep, ride for 30 minutes at an endurance pace. This should be a pace you could talk at, but you shouldn’t be dawdling. Somewhere around a 6.
- Finally, do eight maximal intervals (as hard as you can go) of 30 seconds each with 30 seconds recovery.
- After the last interval, cool down for at least 10 minutes.
Another workout in the article is what Aidan Charles of Connecticut calls a “strength builder.” Weightlifting can help, he notes, but “to really create force, you need to build power on the bike.”
The article suggests finding a “slight grade lasting at least four minutes” for this workout:
- Warm up with at least 10 minutes of riding at endurance intensity (a 6 out of 10), then 10 minutes at low-tempo pace (7).
- Bring your heart rate back down, and then begin the hard part of the workout by completing three eight-minute-long tempo intervals (about an 8). Take two minutes of rest between each.
- Next, on a slight uphill, do four minutes of riding in a gear big — enough to force you to pedal at just 50—55 RMP. The effort level should be in your high-tempo zone — an 8.
- Rest for three minutes, then repeat the workout three more times.
“The key to doing this workout right is to keep your upper body relaxed,” the article notes. “The power should be coming from your legs, not the rocking of your torso.”
- Lastly complete four 20-second uphill sprints. Start in a huge gear, going 5 miles per hour or slower. Get out of the saddle and accelerate as hard as you can while maintaining good form.
- Take at least 5 minutes of rest between each sprint so your muscles fully recover.
- Cool down and spin out your legs for at least 10 minutes.
Speed work is good whether you are running, walking or cycling. It not only makes you fast, but also fitter.
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