The Tempo Trap
Most training programs for endurance athletes include a fair number of ‘tempo’ workouts (80-90% of FTP; ‘medium-hard’). This is great for building muscular endurance, aerobic capacity, and cardiovascular efficiency. However, it’s common for athletes to spend too much time in this zone. It's understandable why: extended riding at tempo creates lingering fatigue. Motivated endurance athletes use this as a sign of effective training. What's really happening, though, is we're getting better at riding tempo pace, and most races are not won by going "medium hard" (with the exception of long-course triathlon and ultra-endurance athletes).
Enter the Burst
One way to to build race winning speed is to add short, repeated bursts (10-15 seconds) of anaerobic pedaling with steady-state work in between. The bursts create a repetitive load on the anaerobic system which is not taxed during typical steady-state workouts. The body also learn to recover from an effort without having to go all of the way down to easy pedaling. Picture a steady hill with a short, steep pitch in the middle, followed by more steady climbing beyond. So long as we're below threshold, we should be able to recover from that burst.
Who is this for?
This is beneficial for all disciplines of cycling, including triathlon. Unless you’re racing Ironman Florida (sorry, Florida), riding and racing in the real world is almost never on totally flat, consistent courses. Even long-course athletes aiming to maintain steady output face hills, wind, surges, and attacks. For short-course athletes the severity of these changes is often much higher. In off-road races (mountain bike, cyclocross), repeats of short, intense bursts of power are essential for success. Burst workouts also help steady-state athletes make training more time-efficient, taxing multiple energy systems, with less residual fatigue.
First, decide the duration of the intervals (see list below) and how long to "recover" at tempo between bursts. Typically, this time would be 2:50. If you're an advanced athlete or recover quickly, shorten to 2:20 or even 1:50. If you choose 2:50, perform a burst every time the stopwatch reaches a multiple of 3 minutes: (2:50 tempo + :10s burst = 3:00). Maintain that pattern until the interval duration is reached. In a 15-minute interval, you would repeat five 3-minute cycles. Between interval blocks, recover by pedaling easy for 5-7 minutes.
Choose one line to use as a workout. They get progressively harder down the list.
Each time you do this workout, challenge yourself by increasing the total interval time.
18 minutes: 3 x 6 minutes
20 minutes: 2 x 10'
30 minutes: 3 x 10'
30 minutes: 2 x 15'
40 minutes: 2 x 20'
40 minutes: 1 x 40'
45 minutes: 3 x 15'
50 minutes: 2 x 25'
60 minutes: 3 x 20'
60 minutes: 2 x 30'
60 minutes: 1 x 60'
● 10-15 minute warmup
● Intervals w/ duration from above list
○ ___ Minute - ride steady tempo (80-90% TP).
○ 10-15 second burst every - 2-3 minutes.
○ Repeat until interval duration is reached
○ 5-7 minute recovery between (easy spinning)
● 10 minute cooldown - Easy spinning after last interval.
Data from this workout completed by an elite off -road racer on inside ride e-motion rollers. A full hour of tempo with bursts every two minutes, for a total of 30 bursts! Notice how the heart rate (red) jumps with every burst but recovers almost completely when the athlete returns to tempo power (pink).
Example workout - 2 x 20 minute tempo with bursts every 3 minutes. This makes for a total of 12 bursts and a total workout time of 1 hour 10 minutes, including warm-up and cooldown time
This article was written for the blog at Inside Ride Rollers, makers of the finest rollers on the market. If you're interested in purchasing a set, contact me for a discount code.