In Part 2 we looked at how to increase VO2 and your climbing speed by doing high intensity interval work.

In this section we will look at how to increase your stamina and endurance and your all-round power. 

Whilst these workout can be done in the hills, these are designed primarily to be done on flat roads, such as a quiet country road or a bike path. Many cyclists – particularly here in Taiwan where there are abundant mountains – neglect ‘flat work’. They either find it boring or think they can get better quality training in the hills.

Boring? OK, maybe, sometimes! However there are several great reasons to train on flat roads as well as in the mountains. 

  1. Pedal stroke, form and cadence: because you are peddling almost all of the time on flat roads, you are forced to focus on your pedalling more. Efficiency in cycling is key, and a smooth, flowing pedal stroke can save you a lot of energy over a long ride. Also, in the mountains we are often grinding the pedals as the road gets steep. On the flats, the rider can change into any gear to work on his or her cadence. Doing training at a low cadence then a high one allows the rider to stimulate all the leg muscles, to engage the core and the glutes, all of which can help keep cramp away in the mountains.

2.  Complete control over power output: When in the hills, the incline decides how much the rider can push, and demands a certain power to stay on the bike. We all know that feeling when we go fast at the bottom of as hill and feel great, but by the top we are barely to turn the pedals. When riding on the flat, the cyclist can decide when to go faster or slower, and has complete control over the effort level. Therefore, the training can be very specific and highly detailed. 

3. Rest is guaranteed: when riding on the flats, the rider can at any time go easy. In the hills, this is not always the case. If you’ve just out in a hard 5 minute effort on a hill then want to rest, if the road is still going uphill, your ‘rest’ is not really going to be proper rest. 

4. Burn more fat: on the flats you can ride five, six, seven hours or more at a very steady state, say at about 80% of your maximum. This is the zone in which your general power threshold can be improved, and this is also the zone at which your body begins to burn fat as fuel. In the hills there is a lot of descending as well as climbing, so you cannot get the same high quality steady work done.

We should remember that some of the world’s greatest climbers have come from the Netherlands and Belgium, both very flat countries. The great Eddy Merckx is a great examples is Remco Evenepoel, who just won the Vuelta a Espana this year and the World Championships. All that flat riding, both steady and hard, builds a very solid and deep power base. 

Remco, good at… everything.

Here are two workouts that I recommend for any cyclist, which are particularly good for beginners.

  1. The 3 x 5 @ Upper Tempo: 

When I first started cycling at 15, I had no idea how to train, so I would go out twice a week and ride as fast as I could for ten minutes, then take a 3 minute break, then do it again… and again… until I felt sick!  

Turns out this is a great way for the beginner to get strong and to learn about what their body can do.

Why? Well, with this kind of workout you are pushing your body to just about its limit, then resting, then doing it again. At the same time you increasing the muscularity in your legs, and you’re also stressing the body in a way that will allow you to ride at a higher average speed generally, whether in the hills or on shorter or longer fast rides. 

Riding at 30km/hr for an hour is for a beginner a common goal. But most beginners cannot ride for 30km/hr for an hour.

But they can maybe ride 5 minutes at 30km/hr. And if they rest a little, they can do it again. And again. Gradually, the will be able to increase the duration to 15 mins at 30km/hr, then to 20, then, before long, they will be able to do it for 60 mins. 

30, it’s the Magic Number.

Here is the 3 x 5 @ Upper Tempo Workout:

10 mins easy cycling at 40-60%

5 mins at 75% effort

3 mins easy peddling

5 mins at 90-95% effort 

2.5 mins easy

5 mins at 90-95% effort 

2.5 mins easy

5 mins at 90-95% effort 

2.5 mins easy

10 min Cool down

And done. As you get stronger you can increase the duration, so make it ten minutes instead of five. Or, you can also increase the intensity, to make the effort 96-100%. Finally, you can also do more of the 5 minute intervals at 90-95%, as many as your legs will allow. This is a great way to build up your base strength, power and top speed. 

Flat is… erm… flat.

B. Over Under & Pyramids

This workout is a great one to teach the beginner control over their effort levels. It really stresses the system in a positive way too, to help increase the resistance to fatigue and to build all round strength.

10 mins Warm Up 40-60%

3 mins at 75-85%

3 mins at 86-95%

Repeat this 4-5 times (these are ‘Over Unders’)

3 mins rest

3 mins at 76-85%

2 mins at 86-95%

1 mins at 96-105%

1 min at 106-115%

1 mins at 96-105%

2 mins at 86-95%

2 mins at 76-85% (This is the ‘Pyramid’)

Cool down

Change the effort percentages as you need, and feel free to cut or add to the duration for a shorter or longer ride. Also you can do 2,3 or 4 Pyramids as you get stronger. 

If you do one of these workouts in the week, plus a climbing workout (see Part 2), and a longer easier ride on the weekend, you will soon see improvements! 

Hope these help! In Part 4, we will look at the important of rest and at the mental side of cycling

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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