Last week, we talked about the concept of using “play” to avoid the drudgery of high-intensity training.
Lactate threshold (LT) is highly trainable. Using the proper workouts, you can improve the percent of maximum heart rate you can sustain, and improve the amount of power you generate at a given heart rate. You can also boost your body’s ability to process lactate. This lets you venture over the threshold where lactate is accumulated, but rid it from your tissues quickly. These improvements mean big gains in useable speed and power.
That’s all well and good, but how can you boost your lactate threshold and reap these wonderful benefits without turning your workouts into “dread sessions”? Remember, endurance athletes should spend large amounts of training time—some say as much as 25 percent of total on-bike time—at heart rates (or power production rates) ranging from 10 percent below LT to slightly above.
The answer we provided last week was simple: Turn Work Into Fun. Here’s how:
Fast groups. Make an effort to hook up with riders who are as fast or slightly faster than you. Train with them once or twice a week. The effort required to stick with the group on climbs and hang in during chases and sprints will equal a tough structured workout. But the mental effort is less demanding because your mind is occupied with group dynamics and bike handling. You’ll know you’re working hard, but you’ll have little time to dwell on it.
The group doesn’t have to be large. In fact, just one training partner can be enough as long as you have the same agenda. A spirited 2-man time trial along with competition when hills or designated sprint lines approach means you’ll each get a great workout. In fact, it may be harder than in a big group, because your partner will see to it that you don’t hide in the back—especially when plugging away into a headwind!
Training races. Some bike clubs have a week-night racing series, usually criteriums. Fun, but they won’t teach you climbing tactics or how to ride in an echelon on a long, windy road. So, talk your clubmates into making part of the weekend ride a “race.”
Warm up by riding for an hour until you arrive at a country road loop that’s about 15-20 miles around. If it has stop signs or lights, make a rule that everyone has to obey them. You could also use a shorter circuit that has no traffic controls, but riding around in circles isn’t as much fun as using a longer loop.
Re-group at the start of the race loop and begin. All tactics are fair—the idea is to see who can get away or win the sprint at the end just like in a regular race. Training like this expands your ability to “read” a race. It’s great for your fitness, and the miles will go by fast because you’re having fun and competing.
Club time trials. Some riders hate time trials. In a road race, they can draft in the pack. The pace is easy part of the time. But in a time trial there’s nowhere to hide. The secret to success is to ride flat out for the distance. If you rest, you lose.
Time trials put you right at your lactate threshold. Or, in the case of TTs lasting less than an hour, slightly over lactate threshold. That’s prime training intensity. So, it pays to psych up and get out there for club time trials. They’re good for you!
Use the adrenaline of competition to ease the pain of intense effort. You may even find that you have a talent for the concentration required for top performances against the clock.
Hills. Climbing is automatic intensity. If you have a hilly route, ride it twice a week. Bear down on the upgrades. Ride some in a large gear at a fairly slow cadence. On others, shift lower and spin faster. Sprint the short ones and apportion your energy up the longer one. Stand for the first climb, remain seated for the second, alternate on the third.
Hills are hard work. But when climbing is your goal for the day, ride as many as you can. This natural pain is easier to tolerate than intervals mandated by a watch. Besides the valuable time spent at your lactate threshold and beyond, riding hills builds leg strength and develops your climbing technique. You’ll finish these workouts feeling the satisfaction that comes with getting the most out of your training time.