A cyclist’s ability to push through multiple hill repeats, multiple attacks, tons of sprints, and an almost unending amount of accelerations is key to riding at the front of the peloton. Races and group rides may present multiple challenges that force us into the red zone many times each lap, and the rider that masters each challenge without fatiguing is the one with the best chance at success.
As we all know, cycling is an endurance event in every meaning of the word. The races are long, there's always another hill, mental endurance is crucial to keep going, and you need thousands upon thousands of miles in your legs. Even shorter efforts like a long finishing sprint require endurance.
However, your ability to put out high wattages in a single instance is just as important. In many cases a race or group ride has one big obvious challenge, and if you can put out the highest watts on that obstacle at just the right time, you might be able to create a gap that leads to a top finish.
The ability to turn on the afterburners is a skill that must be trained, just like endurance, in order to create a winning move. How do you train for these two different demands in cycling? Which should you train first, and how do you weave the training into your program most effectively?
Peak power and repeatability require different types of training, and the order in which you train them is also critical. Peak power should be developed first, as it will allow you to transition to repeatability later in the week, month, or season. Once you have those peak numbers, repeatability will be a little easier to deal with, and you’ll have higher power numbers to begin with.
Peak Power TrainingBefore trying to increase your peak power, you must be rested and ready so that you can put out a maximum effort in each interval and strive for the highest wattage in each. This is different from repeatability because you will complete fewer intervals, but each interval will have a higher average wattage. The length of the rest period between intervals is also much longer; you need to recover completely from the previous interval before cracking out the highest number of watts possible for the next one and the next.
One of the goals of this exercise is to recruit as many muscles as you can during the interval in order to create those maximum wattage numbers, so make sure you stomp harder than you have before. Push yourself and give it all you’ve got in each effort.
We all know of racers or riders who seem to launch themselves as if shot from missile silos, instantly creating a big gap from everyone else. That is the peak power ability you want, if even just for one monster effort. Many times that one monster effort is all it takes to create a winning situation; your first attack will be your best and hardest, since you’ll be the most fresh and your anaerobic work capacity most likely won’t be exhausted yet, and this is your best chance for success. With only one big missile in your silo, you’ll want to use it very carefully and time it perfectly. The second, third, and fourth efforts won’t be as powerful, even if you have plenty of recovery time between each.
Before you hit the road and start hammering up a bunch of local hills, consider your upcoming events. What is the key obstacle in each one? Base your peak power efforts on those requirements. For example, if there’s a two-minute hill in an upcoming race, start doing some two-minute hill repeats. Make your training as specific to your racing as you can. If you can find a hill with the same gradient and road surface than the hill in your race, practice there.
The workout itself must be done when you are rested and ready for absolute max efforts, so be sure to give yourself a couple days of easy riding before the workout. During the workout, ride easy with some basic warm-up drills (such as one-minute fast pedaling drills and short bursts) but nothing long or near your threshold. You want to preserve as much of your freshness as you can. Once you begin the intervals, give them all you have and really push it to the finish of each one in order to completely exhaust yourself. The rest period between each one is absolutely critical; make sure you rest long enough between each. If the intervals are two minutes each, the rest period should be five to six minutes long for complete recovery. The reason for this recovery, again, is that you want to be able to hit those max numbers again and again for as long as you can. It is peak power output that makes the difference here, so you are aiming for the largest wattage output you can create in each effort. Consequently, as you fatigue you’ll want to lengthen the recovery intervals, as well, so that you can fully recover and hit those max wattages again.
Repeatability TrainingThe ability to repeat efforts at a similar wattage over and over again takes practice. Lots of practice: lots of intervals, lots of sweat, lots of hard work. A good way to do it is by executing intervals to exhaustion (ITE). This means continuing to do interval repeats until you can no longer produce enough watts to elicit the proper training response in the targeted physiological system. ITE is based on your average watts in the third interval in your session, and you will typically stop the interval session when your power drops off about 5-12% (depending on the length of the interval) from the average watts in that third interval. (See the table below for a guideline on when to stop doing intervals.) Check out the book I wrote with Dr. Andy Coggan, Training and Racing with a Power Meter, for a more detailed discussion on ITE.
To increase your repeatability, you have to push yourself further in your interval repeat sessions. Should you do six repeats? Ten repeats? Four? If you have a power meter, it’s simple to determine the optimal number of repeats needed for maximum training adaptation, because the power meter allows you to quantify your effort in each interval and determine how quickly you fatigue from interval to interval. A power meter also equips you to execute the perfect number of intervals in each workout, thereby maximizing your training time.
The keys to working the repeatability side of the equation are to do intervals within your pacing ability while still making sure the wattage is intense enough to train the appropriate energy system and keep the recovery period short, not allowing your body a full recovery from the previous interval. This is a key differentiator from attempting to improve your peak power.
|When to stop interval repeats
based on watts achieved in third effort
|Interval||Avg. Drop in Power*|
|15 seconds||When peak power
drops 15-20%, or
when avg. power for
the interval drops 10-15%
|*The percentage drop in average watts is based on the number of watts achieved in the third effort. For example, with 5-minute intervals a rider is ready for rest when his/her average watts for an interval are 5-7% lower than they were in the third interval.|
TimingWhen do you train these two types of intervals? How do you plan this into your training? As I’ve mentioned, the peak wattage efforts must be done when you are most rested, and I would expect that to be on Tuesday or Wednesday. Repeatability can be targeted later in the week; perhaps Thursday is the best day for this kind of work.
When during the season do you put this into action? The peak power efforts should be focused on first, so I recommend a solid six workouts (one per week) of the peak efforts before you start on repeatability. After you've done six weeks of peak power work, add in the repeatability intervals so that you do both things during the week. If you don’t have that much time, I suggest four of the peak power workouts in three weeks, then moving to repeatability for a minimum of four weeks. By periodizing the training in this order, you’ll see greater gains in your peak power and notice greater repeatability when you get to this phase.
All in all, you’ll be faster than ever!
If you'd like expert advice about how to improve your repeatability and peak power, plus professional support while you do so, contact us today! Your success is our goal; it's the reason we do what we do.
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter and Cutting-Edge Cycling, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com.
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