It depends on how much riding you did over the fall and what your objectives are. Elizabeth Wicks races 12- and 24-hour events. Last week I discussed how 76-year-old Wicks trains for sustained speed. She does a specific type of intensity training, sweet spot workouts (described below), which are the optimal way to build sustained power.
This week I describe how a 62-year-old man should train for climbing power.
Training for a Mountainous Event
My friend Ted is training for a mountainous event. In just 90 miles (150 km) he’ll climb seven passes totaling over 14,000 ft. (4,300 km). There are time cut-offs at different points and he has a total of 10 hours to finish. Last year he missed a cut-off and DNF. His goal is 8:00 hours.
Ted sent me his training plan to review. Overall his plan is solid. He’s been riding five to seven hours a week for the last three months with about a dozen rides of around three hours. The longest was four hours. In contrast Elizabeth was training 8 to 13 hours a week last fall including back to back centuries Thanksgiving week.
Base -> Build -> Peaking – > Taper
A training plan should be divided into phases, each with a different purpose.
- Base is to increase your endurance.
- Build is to increase your power while maintaining your endurance.
- Peaking is to simulate the event,
- Taper is to recover fully so you are fresh at the start.
The correct type(s) of intensity training depend on the purpose(s) of the phase.
He has two big training goals:
- Ramp up to a long ride of eight hours. He only ramped up to a six-hour ride last year and that wasn’t enough.
- Build up his sweet spot power workouts to a total of an hour in the sweet spot (more below)
Here are the phases Ted has built into his plan:
- The first nine weeks include endurance rides every other week of 2:00 to 2:30 hours and brisker tempo rides primarily in zone 3: still able to talk comfortably but not whistle, 84 – 94% of anaerobic threshold aka lactate threshold (AT), 76 – 90% of functional threshold power (FTP).
- The plan also has VO2 max intervals and technique drills here.
- The next five weeks include weekly endurance rides increasing from 2:00 to 4:45 hours, sweet spot rides for power and unstructured intensity rides.
- Base training also includes recovery rides, general strength, core strength and stretching.
Break: At the end of his Base training he has a one-week break so he is fully recovered for the next phase.
Build: The Build phase is five weeks with endurance rides every other week increasing from 4:45 to 8:00 hours and brisk tempo rides primarily in zone 3 the alternate weeks. He includes sweet spot workouts each week; shorter workouts the weeks of the long rides and more challenging workouts the other weeks. He also includes unstructured intensity workouts in the weeks he isn’t doing long rides. On an unstructured workout instead of the discipline of specific heart rates for specific times he’ll just mix up riding hard and easily. He’ll continue to do recovery rides, core strength and stretching exercises but will drop general strength to save his legs for riding.
Break: At the end of his Build training he has a one-week break so he is fully recovered for the next phase.
Peaking: This phase is also five weeks. The first week he’ll do a 6:00 hour ride, the third week a 7:00 ride and the fifth week an 8:00 ride. From his prior training we know that he can ride for 8:00 hours. He’ll make the long rides are as similar as possible to the mountainous event to dial in gearing, pacing, managing time off the bike, nutrition and all the other factors that go into a successful ride. He continues his sweet spot, unstructured intensity and recovery rides, core strength and stretching.
Taper: He’ll taper for a couple of weeks so that he’s fresh for the mountainous ride. He’ll do a 3:00 endurance ride, a tempo ride, a sweet spot ride, an unstructured intensity ride as well as recovery rides, core strength and stretching.
More endurance rides. Last year he did 15 endurance rides. His 2020 plan includes only eight endurance rides. The plan has endurance rides of 2:00 to 2:30 every other week in January and February and then in March weekly rides of 3:00 building to 4:45 the first week in April. He is training for an endurance event and I suggested he do more endurance riding. He’s already done a four-hour ride so I suggested doing a mix of 2:00 to 4:00 rides in January and February and building up to a 6:00 ride the first week of April.
No VO2 max. He read Joe Friel’s book Fast after 50. Friel writes that a modest dose of VO2 max work can help aging cyclists retard the decline of aerobic capacity. VO2 max and aerobic capacity are the same: the maximum amount of oxygen consumed during all-out exercise in activities that use the large muscle groups in the legs (and / or arms). Friel is correct that VO2 max workouts can slow the decline of aerobic capacity and in general this is a good goal.
However, Ted has a lot to accomplish in 28 weeks from January to July and if he includes VO2 max workouts he’ll have to forego other types of workouts. I suggested he not do the VO2 max workouts and do more endurance riding instead. If he’d done more riding in the fall including longer rides and had a bigger endurance base, then including VO2 max workouts in the winter would have been okay.
Technique drills help. Ted had his right knee replaced. He included in the plan starting in the base phase one technique ride a week, e.g. one-leg pedaling and various drills to smooth out his stroke. Instead of one ride dedicated to drills I recommended that he include a few minutes of drills in several different rides.
Ted is also planning to do strength training this winter. Because he is trying to strengthen his right leg I recommended doing single leg strength exercises, e.g., single leg press and step-ups. He should use a resistance appropriate for his right leg. He should also do the exercises with his left leg, but at the same resistance as the right leg.
Sweet Spot Workouts
The basic training principle is overload + recovery = improvement. The harder you ride, e.g., VO2 max workouts, the more overload on your body so that should make you fitter faster. However the harder you ride fewer intervals you can do and the more recovery you need between hard days. The sweet spot is the intensity at which the combination of intensity and recovery produces the maximum total overload. The sweet spot isn’t very hard. It’s the top of zone 3 and the bottom of zone 4: still able to talk in short phrases, 93 – 97% of AT, 88 – 94% of FTP.
Ted’s plan includes sweet spot workouts starting in March while he’s still ramping up his endurance. The longest pass will take him approximately 1:15 hour to climb. Because the climb will take 1:15, his plan builds up to a set of hill repeats with a full hour of riding in the sweet spot and recovery on the descents.
Ted is again constrained by time. Ideally he could ramp up to his 8:00 ride by early April. After a week’s break he could then devote the five weeks of his Build phase to sweet spot and unstructured intensity workouts and do just enough endurance riding to maintain his endurance. However, in his Build phase he is still ramping up to an 8:00 ride. The fact that the longest pass will take about 1:15 is irrelevant to how much sweet spot he should do. He should pace himself on the climbs so that he’s just riding in zone 3 and not creeping up into the higher part of the sweet spot.
I recommended that he abandon his goal of an hour in the sweet spot. Because he’s doing sweet spot workouts while he’s still ramping up his endurance I suggested that he increase the total amount of time in the sweet spot by no more than 10% a week.
Whether intensity training is appropriate in the winter depends on how big an endurance base you’ve built. If you just started your endurance riding in January then winter intensity training isn’t for you. If you resumed your endurance training last fall but are still significantly ramping up your long rides then a bit of intensity training is okay but your primary focus is endurance riding. If you’ve put in several months of endurance riding and already ramped up your long rides then intensity workouts are okay. But don’t think you must do hard workouts in the winter!
The type(s) of intensity training should be determined by the type of event you are training for. Elizabeth is training for sustained speed and Ted is training for long climbs so the sweet spot is the right kind of intensity training for them. If one of them enjoyed hammering on club rides or racing then I’d recommend harder intervals. Effective intensity training should follow a hierarchy: build a large endurance base, then sweet spot, then zone 4 (just under AT and FTP) and then zone 5 (just above AT and FTP). How far up the hierarchy you should go depends on your events. If you’ll never ride above your AT why punish yourself by going farther?
My eArticle Intensity Training: Using Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power to Maximize Training Effectiveness describes the human power train: how your fuel is stored and burned, how power is then generated and how to improve your pedaling economy (analogous to improving miles per gallon.) The eArticle explains intensity training including the pros and cons of various ways to gauge intensities. It includes a dozen different types of intensity workouts and over 50 sample workouts depending on your goals. The 41-page eArticle Intensity Training: Using Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power to Maximize Training Effectiveness is $4.99.
My two-article bundle Your Best Season Ever: Plan your Training, Peak for your Event. In part 1 I walk you through the same process I use with my clients to assess your strengths and weaknesses, develop attainable goals and then how to create a personal multi-month plan with phases to reach those goals. I then explain how to create your personal workouts including:
- Exercising at the right intensities,
- Recovering fully to allow progress,
- Measuring your progress, and then
- Adjusting the plan.
Part 2 shows how to develop, test and employ a personal strategy for your big event of the season. I use as examples a hill climb, a time trial, fast club rides, a 100K and a 100-mile ride. You can extrapolate from these how to develop a peaking strategy for your own events.
The 69-page two-article bundle Your Best Season Ever: Plan your Training, Peak for your Event is $8.98.
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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.