Five training sessions for the time-pressured cyclist

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Five training sessions for the time-pressured cyclist: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, two hours and four hours

Targeting a sportive or race but don't have much time to train? Fear not, here are five sessions, from 15 minutes to four hours

As cyclists, most of us have lots of demands on our time which can impact how often, and for how long, we can get out on the bike; juggling our careers, family and social lives.

Therefore, if you’re training for a sportive or embarking on a season of racing, it’s important to ensure that when you jump on the bike, you are getting the most of each season, regardless of how long you have.

And that’s the trick – you don’t need hours and hours in the saddle to get quick, and there are sessions which you can squeeze into as little as 15 minutes.

With that in mind, here are five sessions for the time-crunched cyclist, covering 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, two hours and four hours, which will ensure you’re getting the most out of each ride, be it a short commute into work or a four hour ride with friends.

Throughout I’ll refer to your training zones as this ensures you’re working at the correct intensity – particularly important if you’re short of time and want to get the most from your ride. Find out more about your training zones in this article.

Training for an event this summer but don’t have much time on the bike? Get the most from each ride with these structured sessions (Pic: Velothon Wales)

15 minutes – cadence drills

How do I do it?

2-3 minutes of steady riding

Ten minutes of:

One minute at 120rpm, one minute at 60 rpm

2-3 minutes steady riding

Why should I do it?

Fifteen minutes on the bike doesn’t sound a lot – because it isn’t. However, with this session, working to improve your muscle memory and your pedaling efficiency, you can make the most of that time. It’s ideal to do on your daily commute as it isn’t too intense, so you won’t arrive into work looking like you have just completed a mountain stage of the Tour de France.

Switching the cadence up means your body has to follow the same muscle memory patterns, but at different leg speeds. This reinforces that muscle memory, helping your pedal stroke to become smoother and less choppy, and improving the transfer of power from your legs to the pedals – ultimately giving you more usable power for the same effort.

– How to improve your pedalling efficiency –

In this session you need to focus on staying solid and stable in the saddle. When you first start, 120rpm might seem very fast and 60rpm very slow, so you might find yourself bouncing in the saddle. This is exactly what you need to try and avoid.

If 120rpm is too much, then start off at 100rpm and build towards being able to hold 120rpm for one minute at a time. Likewise, if 60rpm is uncomfortable then try 70rpm and then build towards 60rpm. Another thing to remember in this session is to try and keep your speed or power the same across , using your gearing to adjust the resistance.

You can use a ride as short as 15 minutes to work on your cadence and pedalling technique (Pic: Campagnolo)

30 minutes – high intensity interval training (HIIT)

How do I do it?

Five minutes steady riding in zone two

30 seconds seated max effort
30 seconds rest – no pedalling
30 seconds seated max effort
30 seconds rest – no pedalling
30 seconds seated max effort
30 seconds rest – no pedalling

Eight minutes easy

Repeat intervals above

Cool down

Why should I do it?

This is a really intense session but is a great workout across the board as it has positive aerobic, anaerobic and strength benefits. Just be prepared for it to hurt.

Sprinting at a maximal intensity for 30 seconds will help you build muscle, thus helping to create more power. The repetition will also mean you get an aerobic workout as 30 seconds isn’t a sufficient amount of time to fully recover from a 30-second sprint.

As a result, your aerobic system (your heart and lungs) will need to work overtime to process as much oxygen as possible in that period to recover as much as possible.

Doing two sets of three sprints will actually mean you do almost six minutes in total at VO2 Max (the maximal amount of oxygen you can take in and process) during this session. It’s a tough session so it’s really important that you ride very easy during the eight recovery to allow your body to recover and be ready for the second set.

One hour – progressive threshold efforts

How do I do it?

15 minutes warm-up

2×10 minutes progressive effort. Start at the lower end of zone four and progress to upper zone four gradually over a ten-minute period. Aim to hit threshold heart rate or power (there’s more on that in this article) after five mins and finish right at limit of zone hour in the final minute of each effort.

10 minutes easy pedalling in between each effort

Cool down

Progressive threshold efforts can be done on the turbo trainer (Pic: Roz Jones)

Why should I do it?

This is a great session to improve your threshold power. Generally there are two ways to increase your threshold and these are known as push and pull: you can work slightly underneath your threshold and push it up, or you can work slightly above and pull it up.

– Six things you need to know about… lactate threshold –

This session aims to encompass both principles by starting just below threshold and then building throughout the effort to finish above threshold. The best thing about this session is that you can adjust it quite easily as you get fitter. So instead of taking a ten-minute break between the two intervals, you could cut that down to five minutes. Or instead of doing 2×10 minutes, you could do 2×12 minutes. My advice is start with the format outlined above. It should feel about a 8/10 in terms of effort, but once it starts to feel more like a 7/10 then make it a bit harder.

Got two hours to spare? Head for the hills! (Pic: Media-24)

Two hours – zone five hill efforts

How do I do it?

Warm up for 30 minutes in zone two

5×5 minutes zone five

Six minutes recovery between each effort

Cool down for 30 minutes in zone two

Why should I do it?

This is an ideal session if your are looking to improve on short, punchy climbs – the kind that you will come across if you are aiming for something like the Tour of Flanders sportive, or countless events in the UK which take place on similar terrain.

The efforts here are relatively long at five minutes, but because they’re also very intense you need a good amount of recovery between each one. The key is not to get carried away in the first effort and it’s where using a power meter can rally help you gauge the effort. You are aiming for five consistent efforts all in zone five, so if you blow up after the first one the accumulated amount of time in zone five won’t be as high.

– How to train with a power meter –

Ideally you would do these efforts uphill but you can also do them on the turbo at home. Another option is to do the first 2-3 minutes on the flat but finish up a shorter climb – you can be flexible depending on where you live and the terrain. In this session, feel free to mix it up between seating and standing – its important to work on both.

These efforts are also particularly beneficial if you are looking to get into road racing. Zone five efforts like these are commonplace in a road race, where there are constant attacks and accelerations, so are a great thing to practice before you enter your first race.

Once again, as with any intense effort the key is to keep the recovery (and the warm-up) nice and easy. Focus on the efforts themselves and not the overall average heart rate or power for the entire ride.

Sometimes it pays off to just go and ride your bike with your friends (Pic: Science in Sport)

Four hours – go and ride your bike!

Why should I do it?

This doesn’t sound like a training session at all but it’s actually one of the most important sessions that, as a coach, I use with all my athletes. We all got into cycling because we love to ride our bikes and sometimes it’s important to get too bogged down in numbers and intervals.

Four hours is also a relatively long ride, so there is going to be a natural training benefit just from riding for that amount of time in one go, especially in terms of your endurance. This is the time to go out with friends and enjoy the benefits of the work you have done on the turbo and in shorter ride.

How do I do it?

If you also want to add some structure into a four hour session then it would be by polarising the ride. This means that you either ride at a very comfortable, fully aerobic (zone two) pace, or at threshold and above.

That means you’re let off the leash on climbs of anything up to 20 minutes, so why not go Strava hunting? See what improvements you have made, and see whether you can beat your previous best or move up the leaderboard – perhaps even grab a KOM.

However, if you’re riding hard on climbs that needs to be balanced out with periods when you’re riding far easier and recovering. Therefore, after a hill re-group (if you’re riding with your mates) and then cruise onto the next part of the ride.

Otherwise, if you’re training for a specific event then try and make your longer rides as specific as possible to your target event. That doesn’t mean you have to ride up an Alpine pass but instead it could mean riding at threshold into a headwind for 30 minutes to simulate the effort. Or if you only have small climbs why not do repeats to try and achieve the same amount of elevation gain as in the Etape du Tour sportive?

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