OK - This is my offering to the many cyclists I come across - especially since I started leading cycling tours - who haven't gone into the science of their sport in any depth, and need to get a basic picture of how thay can train to become better cyclists.
I am immensely indebted to the many experts from whom I have learned to love the science of sport training including: Mark Evans, Tudor Bompa, Joe Friel, Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Edmund Burke, Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan and many others.
This is a distillation of all of the stuff I picked up from these masters. I'm obsessed with whittling things down to the nitty gritty. It may come, at least in part, from a life spent as a jazz improviser: I need a set of fundamental principles upon which I can base all my meanderings - or it may be the other way around: I ended up in this profession because I hate to do things the same way twice.
Either way, this is my attempt to distill the art of training the human body to be better at cycling so that we can construct training plans based on these principles that work progressively towards personal goals.
This is very much an over-simplification, and doesn't take into full consideration the aspect of endurance for example, but some of the finer details are sacrificed in order to give a very clear picture of the major building blocks of cycling fitness. Feedback is most welcome!
The bottom line:
FORM + POWER
FORM can be also referred to as Technique. However, for a cyclist to have good technique they must first have an efficient position. This efficient position will allow the cyclist to get the most out of their body with unimpeded biomechanics, maximum comfort, and cardiovascular efficiency so that the power transferred to the pedals is always optimized. Finding your best position on a suitable bike is such a personal quest, and an informed process of trial and error is the only real way, though a basic range of measurements can be calculated. The more hours you spend riding, the closer you get to your ideal. Keep a cadence of above 90rpm as this allows for better muscular efficiency and helps inhibit the build-up of lactic acid.
POWER is a result of FORCE + SPEED.
FORCE refers to the muscular force with which you move the pedals. SPEED is your cadence. You should work on both independently once you have enough hours of spinning logged.
FORCE WORKOUTS: The simplest way of thinking of workouts that develop force is like weight training on a bike. Choose a high gear and push as hard as possible against it. Start with 20 second intervals every 4-5 minutes and build up to longer intervals with less recovery.
CADENCE: Initially, the effect of boosting your cadence will have a negative effect on your heart rate. Your body can be taught to work at a much higher cadence with no increase in heart rate, but a period of anatomical adaptation is required. You can work on this by including high cadence drills at the start of your workouts. Start with 3x: 1 minute on, 1 minute off, spinning at a cadence above 110, with the rest interval at a comfortable cadence. Even if you do the rest of the ride at a cadence that feels normal, you will find that the body adapts gradually to using a faster cadence naturally.
SPRINTS: The other side of the coin of speed is to work on the shortest intervals at maximal levels of both power and speed. During the early season these workouts serve to transfer the benefits of force workouts to the more efficient application of this force at a higher cadence. This will help build the bridge between FORCE and SPEED!
POWER: Workouts that develop the application of force at an optimum cadence are power workouts. Once the elements of force and speed are well established, power
workouts at different intervals should make up the bulk of your
structured training sessions.
Different riders need different types of power depending on the racing style or discipline for which they are training. A typical basic power workout would require holding maximum power for that interval while maintaining an optimal cadence.
INTERVAL DURATION: For intervals working on power at short duration, the rest interval (RI) should last 2-3x as long as the effiort. For intervals above 2 but below 5 minutes, the RI is generally equal to the hard effort - eg 3minutes on, 3 minutes off. Above that, the RI is between 5-10 minutes, or enough to give sufficient recovery to do the same effort again. For developing power over durations more than 10 minutes, cruise intervals can be useful - these allow a brief respite of around 1 minute every 5-10 mintues which helps keep you focused for the duration required, especially working on durations up to - and over - the hour. It should be clear that a power meter will be extremely useful at this point.
POWER REQUIREMENTS FOR DIFFERENT RIDERS.
The time triallist typically will work towards optimizing Functional Threshold Power (FTP). This is the maximum power that can be maintained for around an hour. Of course Ironman triathletes and those working towards longer events will also need to work beyond that time span, but FTP is still the most basic focus of a TT rider. If you're working towards a shorter event like a prologue you will need to work on your 30min, 20min and even 10min power depending on the event and personal weaknesses. Power-to-weight ratio is not at its most crucial for a TT rider.
The classics rider will need to maintain a high output over a long period of time, but will also be required to be able to increase the power output for periods of 3-5 minutes or more to deal with short sharp climbs, and bridging gaps to attacks or breaks in the group. This rider will need to maximize FTP and also at power intervas from 3min to 8mins. Power-to-weight is also less crucial than sheer power.
The climber refers to the specialist for long climbs with varying and sometimes extreme gradients, and must be able to cover attacks and constant changes in rhythm. FTP is very important, but work must be done at all intervals above 90seconds, with extra focus on ability to sustain out-of-the-saddle intervals for up to 5 minutes. Power-to-weight is at it's most crucial for the climber.
The sprinter does not need much else other than maximal output of power for a period of 20-30 seconds. Of course they will also be required to keep up with the whole group up until the point at which launched to the finish, but this will develop naturally as a benefit of the fitness required to be pushing yourself to the extremes of human power output.
If you test yourself for power output at 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and FTP (one hour), you will get a pretty good idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are. If you're not sure where your talents lie - or you're a committed all-rounder - you'll want to address weakness in any of them, but even if you intend to specialize you will find crossover benefits from working on developing power at most intervals, especially at the start of your program.
Of course this is an over-simplification by design. Much more can be studied to give detail to your workouts and structure to your periodisation, building as specifically as you desire towards your goals. However, the essential building blocks are here and you will be on the right track if you keep these principles in mind and apply them in a progressive way.
Some useful links: