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Winter Training: The Season of "Trainer-tainment"
Why racing all winter long may not be as beneficial as you think.
By Hunter Allen, Coach and Power Training Expert at Peaks Coaching Group
It’s that time of the year again and for the Northern Hemisphere, those colder days are coming and you’ll be spending more and more time on your CycleOps Hammer smart trainer (if you don’t have one, get one now - they are awesome!) and using the various devices for “trainer-tainment.”
Since indoor training has become less boring and quite entertaining now, I am finding that more and more cyclists are spending time inside. This can have a great impact on their fitness and also the type of fitness. Let’s say, for example, that you spend 6-8 hours a week indoors, and the majority of that work is done near your FTP. If that’s the case, then you will be getting closer and closer to your theoretical FTP ceiling as the indoor riding continues.
The more time you spend focused on one area of fitness than another, the more adaptations and improvements you’ll see. Of course, this will be limited by the amount of training stress you can handle and the available time you have to create it. After all, Jens Voigt didn’t get an FTP of 400 watts because he only rode his bike for 6-8 hours a week! At the same time, I have begun to see lots of riders falling into a similar trap of focusing on only one type of indoor riding: Racing inside Zwift.
There are tons and tons of races inside the Zwift application now, and for many it is a great temptation to just race all the time. This is really unsustainable because your body will eventually tell you to stop, and you will also begin moving in a downward spiral of fitness.
"You see, racing, while highly variable, doesn’t always give you the training stress across the different physiological energy systems you need in order to become successful at racing."
If you race a lot, you will spend plenty of time at tempo, FTP and some anaerobic capacity, but the amount of “consecutive” or sustained time you spend in any of those areas is limited. As you know by now, if you want to improve your FTP, then you need to do a minimum of a 10-minute interval at your FTP. However, in a virtual race (and IRL too), you may spend only a minute here, two minutes there, 30-seconds here, etc. with micro rest periods between, and this just doesn’t cause enough sustained stress on the body to enable it to adapt and improve.
That sustained consecutive time you spend in one zone or another is really the magic you need in order to improve a specific energy system. Even sprinting, if you only did 3 second sprints, you would never cause enough stress on the neuromuscular system to see an improvement in your 15-second – 300-meter sprint outside.
This off-season, make sure that you have a very clear goal and plan to improve the areas that you want to improve, and don’t get sucked into doing training races all winter long. Two races a week is plenty, and that should give you ample amount of time to get in two other highly specific workouts to give you the improvements you are looking for. The good news is that you can race and perform structured workouts within Zwift.
I offer some great pre-built training plans that come in the structured workout builder format inside TrainingPeaks, which allow you to download a .fit file or .zwo file to run inside your smart trainer or inside virtual training applications, including Zwift and Rouvy. My plans offer you a variety of workouts that challenge all your training zones, ensuring that even though you might be doing the “threshold improvement” plan, you’ll also get enough work in the other zones to give you improvements all around.
There are a ton of different training plans available. Just send us an email if you can’t find what you are looking for or have some questions about how to piece multiple plans together for your upcoming season.
Here’s a taste of some of the workouts offered in our training plans, complete with .fit files – perfect for use with your CycleOps smart trainer:
Criss-Cross Sweet Spot and a touch of VO2!
15 minutes working into Endurance (Power Z2, HR Z2, RPE 2-3), with 3 x 1-minute fast pedals to wake up legs.
Main Set 1: Sweet Spot Crisscross Intervals
A crisscross interval is an interval in which you vary your efforts to really teach your body to clear lactate.
Complete 2 x 20 minute intervals at 89-92% of FTP (Power Z3.5, HR Z3.5, RPE 3-5), then every 2 minutes pop it up to 120% of FTP (Power Z5, HR Z5, RPE 6-7) for 30 seconds and recover back to 89-92% (nothing below 85%).
Rest 5 minutes between intervals. Ride all other times at Endurance (Power Z2, HR Z2, RPE 2-3) pace.
Terrain: Flat to low grade climbing.
Continue onto MS2:
Main Set 2: VO2max Intervals
Find a long stretch of road where you can complete this workout without stopping or interrupting the interval efforts.
Complete 2 x 5 Minutes at VO2MAX (Power Z5, HR Z5, RPE 6-7), with 3 minutes of rest in between.
Discontinue intervals if efforts fall below FTP (Power Z4, HR Z4, RPE 4-5).
10 minutes of easy spinning in Active Recovery (Power Z1, HR Z1, RPE <2).
15 Minutes of easy spinning and riding into your Endurance Zone (Power Z2, HR Z2, RPE 2-3). Complete 3 x 1-minute fast pedals in warm-up to prepare your legs for the workout.
Main Set: Micro Bursts!
Do 3 x 10-minute Micro-Burst Intervals. A 'Burst' is 15 seconds ON followed by 15 seconds OFF. The ON portion is 150% of threshold power. The OFF portion is 50% of threshold.
Make sure your cadence stays at 90rpm for BOTH the ON and OFF portions. Repeat this pattern continually for 10 minutes. Spin easy for 5 minutes between intervals.
Ride at Endurance (Power Z2, HR Z2, RPE 2-3) for the rest of the ride.
10 Minutes of easy spinning.
Hunter Allen is internationally known as one of the top experts in the field of power meter coaching.He co-authored, "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" with Dr. Andrew R. Coggan and it has been translated into eight languages.
He created and teaches the USA Cycling Power Certification Course for USA Cycling Coaches, along with teaching an online power certification course. He has traveled to over 20 countries teaching the principles of power training to more than 3000 coaches and cyclists.As a coach, he has coached athletes to World Championships, National Championships, Tour De France along with helping local beginners and juniors to excel.
He founded Peaks Coaching Group in 1996 to focus on developing the artful science of efficient power training for which Peaks Coaching Group is still known for today. With over 50 coaches, the Peaks Coaching Group continues to lead in coaching cyclists with power meters. You can follow Hunter on Twitter @hunterpeaks or over at his blog.