I recently received a question from a fellow TCSD member regarding increasing his 20K time trial speed. He is training with power, and using intervals from 6-20 minutes at FTP, or slightly above, and has been doing some VO2 training with 2-5 minute intervals. He feels that fatigue resistance may be a weakness in his ability in bringing his time trial speed up.

The topic is rich. Articles, lectures, blogs and forums are full of advice and comments about how to get faster. I’ve thought about this a little, and decided I may as well add to the discussions out there. I don’t have decades of experience coaching high level athletes to a higher level, but I have been involved with coaching many new runners and triathletes. I am also self-coached, and have read ridiculous amounts of opinions and have tried some out myself. I’m not sure those are great qualifications, but I have no doubt that some of the stuff out there is written by less qualified athletes and coaches. I’ll at least add something for you to ponder as you develop your training and racing plans.

Time trial speed can depend on a lot of things. To avoid a super long post that I never get around to finishing, this will be broken up into segments. I’ll address FTP first. Some other topics that come to mind when I am getting ready for a time trial include: Aerodynamics, Rolling Resistance, Warm Up, Fueling, Momentum, Fatigue Resistance, and “Go Time”. I’ll review these in future posts (hopefully soon).

FTP

Functional Threshold Power: This is the theoretical maximum power that you can maintain for 60 minutes. Unless you are actually doing a time trial that takes 60 minutes, it is not likely that you could accurately measure this. Recommendations for testing your current FTP typically are doing a 20 minute test instead of 60 minutes because it is easier to focus, and then subtracting 5% from that value. This is an estimate of your true FTP, but so would a 60 minute test because you are assuming that this is the best you could do. There are a lot of potential errors in doing any of these tests, so some cyclists prefer to have a specific training week and routine for their test. The test can be done on a trainer, rollers, or on the road. Generally, it is recommended to do the test on a fairly flat road, without stops or turns that require much slowing, and favorable weather conditions (low heat, low winds), although some athletes prefer a stationary trainer so that they can reproduce the testing environment. Significant test results can only come from a well designed plan and successful test. I have tried this and sometimes end up with a poor test. What do you do with that? A poor test doesn’t give you the information you need. I prefer to track my CP20 and CP60 for different races and rides, and when one stands out I’ll usually use that to determine where my FTP is.

Now, what do you do with that number? First, I use it in WKO+ and Training Peaks, where the FTP is used to calculate intensity factors and training stress scores. The TSS is used in the performance management chart to track changes in fitness and fatigue, which I am finding rather useful. FTP is often referred for use in training and racing (particularly in time trials). If your FTP is 300 watts, you can theoretically expect that you can hold that power for 60 minutes. So, if your time trial is going to take you 30 minutes, you should be able to hold over 300 watts.

Using the power meter on every ride, and becoming familiar with where your power falls at different intensities is very valuable. The power meter gives a very objective measure of your effort. Speed varies too much depending on winds, road conditions, and elevation changes. Of course speed is the end result you are looking for in a time trial, but speed varies too much to measure your performance in training and racing. It is extremely valuable in becoming familiar with your perceived effort and the resultant power output. Hills, temperature, winds, cadence, gear selection, fatigue and position on the bike can all affect your perceived effort. By referring to your power output and how you feel, you can learn a lot about your strengths and weaknesses. Heart rate also provides feedback. I don’t use heart rate very often to change what I am doing, but I want to know about how I am riding affects my heart rate and my perceived effort, and do they match my power output. If my heart rate and power are low, but my perceived exertion is high, then I might be too fatigued or my cadence and gear selection may not be optimal.

I think it is crucial to learn how your riding is affecting you and your actual power output. There really is no short cut for this. You have to spend a lot of time on the bike, and you have to experiment. You probably have a style of riding that is comfortable to you, but who knows if that is optimal. Performing different types of intervals (length of interval, length of rest), riding different terrain (hills of different lengths and grades), and trying different gearing and cadence can provide some great variability in training, but also provide new pieces of information. I am pretty much always interested in how my legs feel and the power output. I also compare my respiratory rate, or just how hard I am breathing to how my legs feel, the power output, and occasionally my heart rate.

There are a lot of training recommendations for increasing your FTP, but if you can figure out how to increase your power at the same perceived exertion, then your FTP would likely increase. This is somewhat analogous to Jim Vance’s “envelope runs“.

With so much talk about increasing FTP, it is obviously important. FTP is quite individualized though, and I find it interesting when someone on a group ride asks me what my FTP is. My FTP is going to be quite a bit different from most people’s FTP with similar race performance because I am a larger athlete. Power to weight ratio is probably more meaningful, but people don’t ask me what my power:weight is. Tracking your own FTP is valuable in measuring your improvement.

Specificity in training has its value, but is also talked about too much sometimes. In preparation for an important race, some race specific type training can be helpful, but I suspect that too much specificity won’t be enough stimulus for improvement. Variability in training, and an occasional breakthrough workout where the training stress or intensity is much higher than you are used to can provide a lot of improvement. So, doing intervals 6-20 minutes long at just above FTP can provide some improved fitness and a slowly improved FTP, but I think more benefit may be seen from more variability. Periodization can help organize some of this variability into your training. The training cycle usually is thought of consisting of macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle. In more familiar (and simplified) terms, the macrocycle is the plan for the year, the mesocycle is the plan for the month, and the microcycle is the plan for the week. Breaking up the annual training into segments allows us to plan for the week (and the day) what workouts need to get done. I think the further out you are from the key event, there should be more variability in training. So, for cycling, getting out the mountain bike, riding a single speed or fixed gear, doing intervals that you challenge your weaknesses, or doing different types of races than your key race can provide a lot of stimulus for growth.

Exercise is a hormesis model, where the stress from exercise (although initially damaging) provides stimulus for adaptation during recovery where you become stronger and more fit. If you are training at your FTP all the time, you’re probably well adapted to that and are just maintaining your level of fitness rather than boosting it. Doing less specific training, things that you aren’t well adapted to already, you can create a lot of opportunity for growth. I can give a lot of examples, but I think it’s good to just be on the lookout for new ideas. Using suggestions in articles, books, blog posts, and training with different groups can provide ideas of workouts to do that you normally do not incorporate into your training. Here is a short list of ideas I have used.

-Attend a spin class, and if the class is not very difficult, make it more difficult by adding more resistance to the flywheel.

-Do over distance training. Pushing your legs to ride beyond what they have previously done is one stimulus. Another is riding to the point of fatigue, and then see how long you can hold your FTP.

-Intervals such as 1 min on, 1 min off X20, or 30 sec on, 30 sec off X20 allow you to not worry about the power because you are just riding as hard as you can. Review the data later and see your progress. Remember that the last half is where the real workout is because you are fatigued.

-Explosive intervals (5-20 sec) with long rest, or working short explosive intervals into your long ride.

-Spin-ups, spinning as fast as you can for a minute.

-Isolated leg training. I’ll often end my ride with 5 miles of ILT, riding with only one leg, alternating every minute or so. Powercranks would be awesome for this, and the testimonies are quite impressive.

-Ride a long hill standing. Try doing it at high cadence and at low cadence.

-Ride a long hill, trying to increase your power by 10 watts every minute.

-Ride a long hill, changing your cadence every minute.

-When cresting a hill, keep pushing, shifting up every time your cadence approaches 100. Once in your highest gear and approaching a cadence of 100, sprint for 5-10 seconds (however long your legs can take it). Extending the hill is a good workout, but can have great advantages in racing too.

Motor unit recruitment an important component of training. When you push yourself to higher intensities, you will recruit additional motor units to fire. This also happens in long distance training because as motor units become fatigued, new ones are recruited. If you only do work at or below your FTP, you are not tapping into these additional motor units and are limiting your power output. I’ll go over this more when I write about warming up, but realize that working some very high intensity work into your exercise routine will allow you to do your aerobic intervals at higher powers.

Why is there so much about FTP? Although there are a lot of components to bike racing and time trialing, we generally train to get more fit so that we can be faster. Your FTP is your best power for an hour, so if you can improve that, you should be racing faster. Don’t give up the long intervals just above FTP, but mix in some other challenging workouts stressing all your physiologic mechanisms while you learn more about your strengths and weaknesses.

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