We’d like to share an enlightening e-mail about indoor training from ultramarathon cycling legend Lon Haldeman — followed by Coach Fred Matheny’s response.
Lon won the first 2 Races Across America in the early 1980s and set numerous endurance records. Now he operates PAC Tour, which has given thousands of riders the chance to cross the U.S. at a pace of 110-140 miles per day.
PAC Tour also holds several week-long training camps every March in southern Arizona. It’s the process of getting in shape for camp while in cold, snowy Wisconsin that prompted Lon to explain how he goes about it.
Lon’s ‘90% Rule’ for Indoor Training
Now that the indoor season has started I’m back riding the old Monark ergometer I’ve been using since 1982. It has a belt hitched to a furnace fan to add pedaling resistance and make a cooling breeze.
To help keep my heart rate up, I made a couple of other modifications too. I replaced the handlebar with chrome high-rise bars from a kid’s String-Ray. Then I took off the seat so I have to stand for entire workouts.
The handlebar is high enough so I can’t lean on it and cheat the weight off the pedals. I push a big gear at about 60 rpm. The position isn’t very efficient, but it raises my heart rate 10-15 bpm over what it would be sitting and spinning the same wattage output.
One thing I’ve realized over the years is a basic formula for maintaining fitness. It seems if I can accumulate at least one hour per week within 90% of my max HR, then I have had a good training week.
Years ago, my max HR was 200 bpm, so 90% was a goal of 180. If I did 3 workouts per week with my heart above 180 for 20 minutes, I felt I had a good week. Same thing for 6 workouts at 10 minutes each above 180 bpm.
Doing 2 workouts with 30 minutes above 180 bpm was tough. Doing one workout with 60 minutes above 180 bpm was impossible.
As I write this, I’m 25 years older, and my max HR is about 180 bpm. My training goal of 90% is 162 bpm. I’ve been using the goal formula of 60 minutes per week at over 90%. I think it’s still pretty effective.
Including warm-up, cool down and steady riding while watching TV, sometimes I only ride 3 hours per week. But I still seem to get in okay shape for Desert Camp. I realize it would be much better to be riding up to 3 hours on several days to maintain or improve my endurance.
For many years, I rode all winter for 3-4 hours per day and my heart rate probably never got over 160. I wasted a lot of training time, but I learned how to stay on the bike!
I just wanted to report my “One Hour per Week Over 90%” rule. I’m not sure how much scientific sense it makes, but it is a good rule of thumb that seems to work for me and is easy to calculate and remember. Maybe other riders will find it effective, too.
Coach Fred’s Reply
Your training formula makes plenty of sense, Lon. Lots of studies show that high intensity is the most potent producer of fitness. These experts often advocate 3 interval sessions per week with heart rates in the 90% of max range. It looks like you’ve discovered by trial and error what the lab folks figured out through experimentation.
As you pointed out, it’s hard to ride long with your HR at 90% of max. That’s time trial pace. Doing it indoors, without distractions, is brutal. For me, it’s much “easier” to ride at that intensity outside.
Past the 20-minute mark (or so), you’ll experience a rise in heart rate even though you’re pedaling at the same intensity. This is called cardiac drift and is almost impossible to prevent even if you keep downing sports drink as you ride.
If you have a trainer like the CompuTrainer that displays wattage, the newest research shows that great gains are possible with only 2 interval sessions per week. You do 5 repeats of 3 minutes each, with3 minutes of easy spinning between each one.
The intensity is the key. You need to do the hard parts at a wattage equal to the average wattage you can maintain for 6 minutes all-out. This is what exercise physiologists call “velocity at VO2 max” or vVO2 max. It will create heart rate above 90% of max by the end of the 3 minutes.