How To

My favourite training session: Jens Voigt

Intervals and hellish climbs to improve your FTP

Jens Voigt enjoyed a stellar career spanning three decades, during which time he won stages at the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, and won multiple stage races, including the Tour of Poland and five Critérium International titles.

Earning a reputation as one of the peloton’s toughest riders for his penchant for a day-long breakaway and his ability to seemingly suffer more than his rivals on the road, with Voigt’s “Shut up legs!” war cry quickly catching on, the German became a fans’ favourite before retiring in 2014.

Jens Voigt used intervals to build his max power output (Pic: Rob Evans, via Flickr Creative Commons)

But what goes on behind-the-scenes when you are preparing to put your rivals in the hurt locker? Voigt has already shared his advice on how to suffer like a pro with us, now it’s time to share two of Voigt’s favourite training sessions.

And typically for a man with a great tolerance for pain, it’s a leg-numbing interval session which he says helped get the best out of him on the road.

“A 40-20 session was a favourite,” Voigt told RoadCyclingUK. “A 40-second interval at 80rpm, with your wattage a little above your threshold [the maximum power or, if you don’t have a power meter, heart rate that you can sustain for an hour]. Then it’s 20 seconds recovery, trying to spin your legs as quick as you can, then back to 40 seconds.

Related reading: Six things you need to know about… lactate threshold

“It can boost your maximum power output and also get your body used to the changing rhythm of racing if that’s what your target is,” Voigt says.

“On a climb, for example, an attack often is 40 seconds – nobody can put in a sustained attack for three minutes or more. I always found it got me more race fitness, as opposed to just miles.”

Voigt was no stranger to putting his rivals in the hurt locker (Pic: Sirotti)

The key, Voigt says, is to find the right power output at which you are at your limit for the session. First-timers should be looking to perform two sets of five repeats, he says, where the last interval can only just be finished, and with practice it can be done on feel.

“If it’s too easy then you haven’t done enough watts,” Voigt, who was no stranger to stamping on the pedals in anger, says. “If the watts drop on the last one and you can’t complete 40 seconds then you have done too much.

“It could take a bit of experimentation to get started but also remember your body will change during the season,” Voigt continues, with the wattage or effort level required for the first time you complete the session likely to change as you get fitter.

Voigt recommends incorporating the session into a longer ride by starting with a easy 50-minute warm-up in zone two (find out more about your training zones here) to get the blood flowing before starting the first set, then 50 minutes in zone two before the final set.

Once you can do five repeats comfortably, you can then look to do ten repeats per set (so ten minutes worth), making for a two-hour session.

Voigt’s not done there and his second ‘favourite’ session – though in reality it’s one he didn’t enjoy – helped him to improve on climbs, key for a man who, at 6’3″ tall and 77kg, was among the bigger riders in the peloton.

“Though I really hated it, this was effective for me – heading to a climb to do ‘sitting-standing climbs’,” Voigt says.

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“It’s one minute seated climbing, followed by one minute standing and it’s done at a constant cadence of 100rpm, including when you stand – that’s really difficult when you’re climbing.

Voigt says he hated the sitting-standing climbing session – but it got the best out of him (Pic: Sirotti)

“Then you do two minutes of both, then three minutes – straight after each other – and then back to two minutes and finally back to one minute.

“That is vicious. Your heart rate will sky rocket and in my case power was at about 380-400 watts. It’s not about power, it’s the cadence you count.

“It really hurts, but they are the ones that work. This helped me a lot.”

Voigt recommends using a climb which is at least 18 minutes long in order to complete the whole pyramid and feel the whole benefit, though some UK riders may have to adapt the session. But if you don’t want to cheat, there’s always the turbo!

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