When starting to train for a race, sportive or multi-day event, things can initially look a bit overwhelming. Training plans that utilise a wide array of different techniques can seem all-consuming, and at first appear aimed at a WorldTour-level rider rather than the humble club cyclist who has to juggle their training schedule with work and life.
Fortunately, Dan Lorang is on hand to explain why those interval, cadence and high intensity sessions are just as important as long weekend rides, helping to squeeze more from your limited time on the bike. Lorang is a coach for the Bora-hansgrohe WorldTour team, and if his training techniques work for six-time Tour de France green jersey winner and reigning world champion Peter Sagan, then they should be able to give your performance a boost, too.
So whether you’re in training for your first sportive, are a Haute Route veteran looking to shave time off of your personal best, or want to make a breakaway from the peloton during your next race, Lorang’s six tips will help you get across the line faster than before.
1. Use a heart rate monitor to spot things a power meter won’t
This might come as a surprise to you, but a power meter isn’t the be all and end when monitoring your performance. In fact, Lorang claims that a heart rate monitor, and using your heart rate functional threshold (FTHR), can give you a clearer overview of how your body is performing compared to a watt-based system.
“Heart rate is good because it is always a reaction of the body from all the input that it gets – both from training but also the outside environment,” explains Lorang. “When you go for an easy ride and your heart rate is higher than normal by more than five beats, there is a reason for this – either you have a high temperature or you may have had a bad sleep the night before and your system is working on it.
“A power meter can tell you if you are able to push your normal power or not, but it doesn’t give you a real value, which is why the combination of both is quite interesting. When your normal training pace is around 150-160 watts, and you are used to going at 120 heart rate, when you try and do the same and your heart rate is 130, it shows there’s something wrong.
“Sometimes, you can even prevent an infection breaking out if, when you spot that your heart rate is off, you go home and rest.”
While a power meter is undoubtedly a useful tool for serious, performance-chasing cyclists, a heart rate monitor offers training insight at a fraction of the cost and offers the opportunity to experiment with data-based training.
Fat metabolism training session
2.5-hour+ ride at 65-75% of functional threshold heart rate (FTHR)
Include six-second sprints every 30 minutes
2. Give your weekend ride a fat metabolising edge
The most straight forward session on any training plan is a steady two-to-three hour endurance ride penciled in with riding buddies on a Saturday or Sunday morning. And, as well being a chance to catch up and stop for a coffee, the ride can be a key part of your training, too.
Cycling at a lower intensity will help train your body to use its fat stores as an energy source, which will help with longevity come race day.
“The acid fat reserves are nearly unlimited, but you need to train to use them economically,” says the Bora-hansgrohe coach. “It takes energy to use it, and it takes a long time to get energy from fat, but the more often you train this, the better it works.”
"The acid fat reserves are nearly unlimited, but you need to train to use them economically. It takes a long time to get energy from fat, but the more often you train this, the better it works"
By generating energy from fat, the body can save its carbohydrate stores for high intensity efforts. And if utilised correctly, the likelihood of hitting the wall and blowing up should be reduced, according to Lorang.
“It’s all about saving energy," he says. "When you look at the pros, if they have a 200km race and the carbohydrate stores are empty in the last 50km of the race, they won’t be able to follow the main attack.”
However, don't take your foot off the pedal the whole way around. It's key to include some short, sharp sprints to keep your carbohydrate metabolism trained - otherwise, the bursts required to stay on a chaingang or to win a sprint finish will be diminished. You could even turn it into a bit of fun with your mates, with the slowest getting this week's round at the coffee stop.
Threshold intervals training session
5 x 60 seconds at high cadence in an easy gear. Two minutes recovery between sets
3-5 x eight minutes (preferably on a climb) at threshold heart rate. 5-8 minutes recovery between intervals at 80-100rpm
Ten minutes cool-down
3. Use intervals to raise your FTP
Your functional threshold power (FTP) - the maximum power or heart rate you can sustain for an hour - isn’t something to measure once and just use as a yardstick forever more. FTP is dependent on your current overall fitness, and it's possible to see gains within just six-to-eight weeks of doing regular interval-based sessions, Lorang says.
Increasing your FTP will allow you to use less energy to produce the same amount of power, so you're able to hold onto the group for longer on a climb, or lay down more power as you make a breakaway.
“I’d recommend doing threshold intervals once a week, but if you’re close to a race or event, then perhaps twice a week,” says Lorang.
“A good combination is a threshold session on a Saturday and then a fat metabolism session on Sunday – you’ll empty your carbohydrate stores with intervals, and the following day your body has to go into its fat stores earlier because its carbohydrate stores are low.”
Over/under threshold training session
3 x six-second sprints. Three minutes recovery between sprints
3-5 x 15-minute intervals, each comprising of 60 seconds at 100-105% threshold heart rate, followed by four minutes at 85-90% threshold heart rate. Repeat three times per interval
Five minutes recovery between sets
Ten minutes cool-down
4. Teach your body to utilise lactic acid as an energy source
Lactic acid gets a bad rep for producing that burning sensation you get in your calves when on the limit - but what if, rather than it being a debilitating reaction in your muscles, you could use it as a source of energy? It isn’t actually as daft as it sounds. Contrary to popular belief, lactic acid isn't a waste product and can be harnessed as a fuel which can be processed to produce energy.
“The body is able to use lactate as an energy source, but you have to train this,” explains Lorang. “You have build up some lactate transporters, known as MCTs (monocarboxylate transporter).”
When in the red, the body generates lactic acid to keep the muscles supplied with lots of energy. The side effect of this is an increased acidity in the muscles, with this imbalance leading to that stinging senstaion. But by improving the efficiency of your MCTs, the body is able to use the lactate more effectively, keeping that stabbing pain to a minimum.
“With over and under sessions, you’re producing lactate, and then you are working exactly in the zone where you are able to use it – normally around 80 per cent of your threshold – so you get your body used to using lactate as an energy source.
5. Practice high torque/low cadence to help on the hills
When riding up a climb, the common thing to do is shift into the lowest gear and spin your way to the summit. But you could find yourself flying up the very same hills with slight more ease by employing a training technique that takes the complete opposite approach.
“Go into a big gear and ride at a really low cadence (around 40rpm)," says Lorang. "Do stints of ten seconds, 20 seconds and 30 seconds. The aim is to try and produce quite a lot of power while focusing on using the right muscles – particularly the glutes.
“You can compare it a little bit to maximal strength training in the gym,” he adds. “The problem is that we know that the body can do good training in the gym, but there’s only a 50 per cent chance of it translating to the bike – some athletes are able to do this, but others don’t benefit from it."
High cadence training session
Ten minutes warm-up
5 x one-minute high cadence (more than 120rpm in an easy gear). Two minutes recovery between each interval
6-10 x 30-second all-out sprints (cadence between 90-110rpm) with 3-4 minutes recovery
Ten minutes cool-down
6. Teach your brain how to spin without thinking
While high torque/low cadence training sessions can help build muscle strength for climbing, it's equally important to work on riding at a high cadence.
“For a sprint, the best cadence you could achieve is around 115-120rpm, so at some point in your training you must be able to get to this cadence, while also producing some power,” explains Lorang.
“You have to work on the motoric skills and this will enable you to reproduce this cadence even when you are fatigued and tired."
If going for a three-hour ride, Lorang recommends building in some cadence work into the last hour to improve your muscle memory when spinning the pedals. Alternatively, you can add a high cadence session into the turbo trainer schedule.
“It’s something you should repeat in training often – both when tired and fresh – and by training at different cadences, you get a bigger spectrum of what is possible for you as a rider," adds Lorang.