Despite a great start to 2015 I’ve allowed a worrying thought to creep into my mind: “Why didn’t my power improve much since Spring last year? And what if the same thing happens again this time?”

I made some of my biggest gains in the early part of 2014, yet saw little improvement after visiting Mallorca in May. I didn’t lose that power but any further progression was negligible. I upped the miles and did more than a few tough rides during Summer and Autumn. So why was that?

A positive mental attitude is important when training but this was difficult to shrug off.

If I’m going reach October feeling fresh and powerful I need to train train harder (read: smarter) and avoid making the same mistakes as last year. Luckily I’ve found a great coach in @FuseCycling. He’s selflessly dedicated to my personal goal. I know he devotes a lot of his free time to answering my questions, reviewing my data, and developing strategies for my future workouts. Most importantly he understands me and is always one step ahead. Somehow knowing exactly what’s on my mind.

“You’re either A) A great coach or B) In my head?”

So of course later the same day I allowed myself that destructive thought – an email landed in my inbox with the title “Upcoming Training”. Perfect.

* Fuse Cycling also hand build incredibly good quality wheels. I will be using some myself this year during my training and Hill Climb attempt. If you’re looking for some new hoops. Look no further. You won’t find better for the money.

What Do We Already Know?

Studying my riding habits throughout 2014 a few things became apparent. (This is why a Power Meter is such a good investment! And should always be priority for anyone wanting to get serious about training). Without this information it would be almost impossible to constantly tweak my training to give the best results. We’d otherwise be shooting in the dark.

To quickly summarise our findings:

  • I respond well to high-intensity training.
  • However I have a tendency to get past the point I can recover easily. Then struggle to get back to where I want to be.
  • I’ve been on a plateau for a while. My power hasn’t dropped off significantly but it also hasn’t increased too much either.

We’ve already established that I’m a serial over-trainer. We addressed this and I now take two full days off the bike a week. It was difficult for me to do at first but is slowly becoming routine. The positive effects are already showing, as my power to weight ratio is better than it’s ever been for a vO2 max effort.

That was just finding the first piece of what is likely a rather large and complex jigsaw puzzle. Now it’s time to grab the box, tip it upside-down and sift through the bits scattered around the place. In the end it should reveal a nice pretty picture, but not without some hard work first.

The First Tweak: Intervals Until Failure

Just over half of my training is done in the garage on a cheap Tacx magnetic resistance Turbo. I spend anywhere from two to four hours a week on it, enjoying the picturesque view of a brick wall and an old fireplace.

Yup, this is my view for 50% of my rides.

I’m someone who loves to ride a biycle up hills. We have plenty of those nearby. Why not just ride up one of them instead? This doesn’t exactly sound like fun (and it’s not in the true sense of the word) so why do it? A number of reasons! But put simply: There is no better “bang for your buck” than high-intensity sessions on a static bike. On the Turbo no turn of the pedals is wasted. There’s no freewheeling. No traffic. No excuses! Every minute on the Turbo is a minute well spent. A ride out to the hills is 20 miles each direction, and I wouldn’t be able to fully commit to each interval the way I can on a Turbo with no distractions or fatigue.

“If you want to get fit and fast. This is the best way.”

Typically workouts on the turbo are a set number of repetitions at a specified level of effort. I’ve been following this method for over a year now and the results have been great. But this year we’re looking for immense.

An example of a workout designed to improve 5 minute power might be “5x5x4 @ 115%”. Which would mean repeating a five minute interval five times, with four minutes rest between efforts. The effort is at 115% of FTP (Functional Threshold Power). For me, it would be:

Do this five times:
5min @ 342w
4min rest

It’s a tough session by any standards and is a great way to improve five minute power. However it isn’t specific to me. It’s a workout designed to cater for everyone. From the newcomer to the experienced. It’s a number of reps that is doable but tough. It will absolutely leave you knackered afterwards, but will it push me into the Top Ten at the National Hill Climb?

The truth is for maximum benefit a workout needs to be tailored to the individual. We are trying to improve my five minute power. The only way to do that is to stress the vO2 system enough to stimulate improvement. In order to do this the minimum time spent at vO2 Max per interval is about three minutes, and could be anywhere up to eight at a time.

So more is better? Not necessarily.

Could I have done more than the prescribed five efforts? Would that benefit my training? Why not just do 10? How many is enough?! When should I stop?!

“Train just enough for success.”

Intervals need to be consistent and must be in the correct training zone throughout the effort. In this case vO2 Max (105-120%/312w-370w of FTP). If I can no longer hold enough power for the duration of the interval, I’m no longer stressing the correct system and am receiving no benefit from my suffering.

That’s when it’s time to call it a day.

With this knowledge future sessions would look more like:

5min @ 342w
4min rest
Average power < 312w

If I fall below an average of 312w during an interval I know I am not putting out enough watts over sufficient time to actually improve. At this point I’m going backwards and need to stop.

Tweak 2: Double Sessions

This is where we need to be careful, but done correctly these sessions will have amazing benefits to my training.

The way to increase fitness is to gradually increase stress. This could be intensity, duration, or frequency. The key is to raise any one of these while maintaining the others. By doing two workouts in a day I can up the stress without compromising on my recovery time. The temptation will be to do too much too soon. Or try to maintain an intensity that is above what I can comfortably sustain. We really want to avoid creating unnecessary fatigue, potentially undoing some of our hard work.

My double sessions are likely to include one high intensity and one steadier tempo/threshold effort, to be done at least four hours apart and with a decent meal in between. If I can squeeze in a nap during the rest period that will promote growth hormones. A nice little bonus, further increasing the positive effects of the day.

Double sessions also increase fat burning, which will help me stay lean. Following a workout, especially an intense one, your body continues to burn fat during recovery. The harder the workout, the longer this fat burning continues. By doing two workouts in a day you get this fat-burning benefit twice.

In the wise words of Fuse Cycling

The most important part is going to be the bits in between. Always hydrated, well fed with good nutritious food, unstressed and relaxed and good sleep and perhaps even more important motivated too. The turbo sessions are going to hurt but you will be able to do them, even if you have to throttle back a bit. Your focus must be in between. You want to get all the gains from the work you have done, that way you will become as fit as you can, and then the Nats will be all about whether that is enough. Which is essentially what that sort of comp is all about. Give your body the fuel, nutrition, liquid and rest that it needs and it will adapt and you will be ready for the next assault on your legs. Onwards and upwards climbing the ladder.

Well said that man!

I now have a weeks worth of this new approach to training in my legs. Overall I’m stronger and lighter than ever and I can’t wait to continue with the new sessions. Finally I’m breaking through my plateau and it’s a fantastic feeling. I’ve not felt this level of accomplishment on the bike for some time and it’s a great motivator.

My week in training Feb 9th – Feb 14th:

Monday: X-Train

Squats. Sit-ups. Push-ups. Plank.

Tuesday: 6 x 5 x 4 @ vO2 Max

Five minute intervals at vO2 Max until failure, which came at a total of six. I did as many as I could (which was three) above 6w/kg then continued until I could no longer sustain 320w average for 6 minutes.

Wednesday: Social recovery ride with the coach

A nice easy ride, but probably won’t make a habit of doing them on a double-session week. Great to see Rich though and we had a lovely natter and lunch. This ride probably helped mentally more than physically as it was some much needed time away from the stress of work and my computer.

Thursday Double Session:
3 x 12.5 @ 307w // 3 x 3 x 3 @ above 6w/kg

The morning session was extremely tough and I struggled on the last set but never gave up. After a bit of recovery (sadly no nap this week) the afternoon was much better and I stayed above 6w/kg for every interval. I was left buzzing and it felt like a day well spent.

Saturday: 72 miles with a vO2 Max hill climb effort & a bit of tempo